It's that time again. The smell of freshly cut grass, peanuts, and beer will soon be in the air across the country, but for now it's located in Arizona and Florida. A lot of teams have made some great offseason moves. We saw three of the games top pitchers traded cross leagues and cross the country. We saw one of the games already best hitters move into a better ballpark with a better offense, which is scary to think of for pitchers in the American League facing the Tigers on any given day.
For now though, there still stands a mountain 29 teams must climb, and that mountain is the Boston Red Sox. They are still the defending champs, and despite losing Curt Schilling for a good chunk of the season (as it stands), they may have very well improved. Replacing Coco Crisp with Jacoby Ellsbury gives the Sox a similar defensive Center Fielder, but an improved bat that gives them a true leadoff man with the average and speed Ellsbury brings.
Without Schilling, Clay Buchholz enters the rotation. He probably won't immediately turn into the ace he's touted to be, but he can provide good pitching as a 5th starter for the Sox, with huge upside. Schilling struggled at times last year, and I feel that with the improved offense, and similar pitching that could actually be better, the Red Sox are still the team to beat and will remain that way until another team surpasses them.
Ellsbury (Right) will start the year in CF for the Sox, which leaves Coco Crisp's (left) future with Boston in question
1. Boston Red Sox: Their offseason was quiet, but the 2007 World Champs maintained their core and added improved talent from within. Manny Ramirez is said to be in the best shape of his life, and youth is working it's way into the rotation. This team remains the team to beat in the American League and all of baseball.
2. Detroit Tigers: One of the top offenses in the AL went from solid to scary in the offseason. Adding Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria, and moving Carlos Guillen to first base give the Tigers a top-notch offense with some solid pitching too. Justin Verlander can win 20 games this year with all the run support he'll get, and this team will challenge for the title of best in the AL.
3. New York Mets: This ranking will get me some heat, but with the best pitcher in baseball switching to the weaker hitting league, in a pitchers park, with a solid offense and a good defense at key positions (2B,3B,SS,CF), this team's offseason grade went from a big red "F" to a bright "A+" with sparkles around it. The rotation gets much better, the bullpen improves off of that with more rest and the return of Duaner Sanchez, and just how long does everybody expect Jose B. Reyes to stay in the cellar for?
4. New York Yankees: I believe this could be the best team in New York, but not until they're proven. Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy could be the best 1-2-3 since Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz, but they all have to start games first. The Yankees get older and younger in 2008. I except some players to continue to improve (Cano, Cabrera, and the pitchers mentioned), and some to decline (Damon, Abreu, Posada, Giambi, Mussina, Pettite, maybe Rivera). It's going to be an interesting year for Joe Girardi in his first year managing the Bronx Bombers.
5. Cleveland Indians: They could be #3 in my rankings, but I'm anticipating hitters to figure out Fausto Carmona to an extent. Travis Hafner should bounce back, and along with Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez the offense will be enough to keep this team in competition with a deep rotation, and they could very easily compete with the Tigers for a division title.
6. Los Angeles Angels: They improved the offense by throwing money at Torii Hunter, but don't expect him to repeat his great 2007 season offensively. Still, the mix of a good offense and very good pitching depth that improved with Jon Garland, along with a scary back-end of the bullpen, this team is easily favored out West in the AL.
7. Philadephia Phillies: This team got better, but not much. They lost Aaron Rowand, but the Brad Lidge trade allows Brett Myers to move back to the rotation that's in desperate need of a solid starter after Cole Hamels. The back end of the rotation will struggle, and they are still relatively weak at catcher, third base, and their relievers, but regardless, the Big-3 of their offense will power them to another competitive season. The biggest question is whether or not Brad Lidge can close games again.
8. Los Angeles Dodgers: Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Andy LaRoche can be a dangerous set for the Dodgers offense, which adds Andruw Jones to a already decent core. With Chad Billingsly emerging last season as a potential frontline starter, and a possibly healthy Jason Schmidt to go along with solid starters Brad Penny and Derek Lowe, this Dodgers team can turn some heads under new manager Joe Torre.
9. Seattle Mariners: Trading for Eric Bedard gave this team a big boost after they slowed down in the second half last year. Along with King Felix Hernandez, who everyone is still waiting to emerge into the ace he can be, this could be the best 1-2 punch in the majors, to go along with a top closer and good offense. But this offense can't have Richie Sexson batting near the Mendoza line all season if they want to compete.
10. Arizona Diamondbacks: The rotation is now one of the best in the NL with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren at the front, and youth is taking over the team. The offense wasn't the best last year, but I expect Justin Upton and Chris Young to improve, and Eric Byrnes to hustle this team to playoff contention. I expect them to compete again this year, very strongly at that, but I don't think they are tops in the NL like their record shows last year.
11. Toronto Blue Jays: If Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett could stay healthy they'd be one of the best front two starters in the majors. Halladay did start 31 games last season, but his prime may have passed and he is still an injury-risk. Shawn Marcum and Dustin McGowan both pitched well in 2007, and the Blue Jays add to that a breakout Alex Rios, a healthy Vernon Wells, and Aaron Hill who may end up being the best offensive second baseman in the AL. This team could be a potential sleeper for a Wild Card Birth.
12. Chicago Cubs: A Cubs are a pretty good team coming out of the NL Central, and they improved in the offseason. A core of Soriano-Ramirez-Lee is already dangerous, add some highly touted prospects (Felix Pie and Geovany Soto), and Kosuke Fukudome coming across seas, along with a change in the starting rotation, this team is solid coming from a weak division. Their biggest question is the closer situation; is it Marmol, Wood, or Howry, and can they get it done?
13. San Diego Padres: Same thing for them every year for the past few years. Great pitching, great bullpen, lackluster offense, though slightly improved. Adrian Gonzalez is emerging as one of the top first baseman in the league, but the surrounding cast isn't as impressive, especially in the outfield. However, his bat along with the Padres pitching could be enough to still land this team in the playoffs.
14. Atlanta Braves: I'm not as high on this team as others are. The rotation is old, plain and simple. John Smoltz is still great, but he's 41, how long can he go? Tom Glavine showed his inconsistencies and age last season, and Mike Hampton.....well, nothing needs to be said. Tim Hudson will be 33 this year and could slow down a little from his hot start last season, but he's a top pitcher for 2008. If Chuck James can emerge, the rotation will be risky but full of depth. Rafael Soriano is a move I like, and the offense still has Chipper, Tex, McCann and Francoeur, so they'll be the best third place teams in the majors, but they can compete if the starters can hold up for a whole season.
15. Milwaukee Brewers: They signed one of the worst offensive catchers in baseball, and an aging centerfielder who is suspended for 25 games. They still have a great young core in Ryan Braun (who will improve moving to a more comfortable position in left field) and Yovani Gallardo (who will hopefully get healthy soon) to go along with a good offense cemented around Prince Fielder, and Ben Sheets at the front of the rotation. They hope to find 2007's first half Eric Gagne, and they can compete in the NL Central.
16. Minnesota Twins: The rotation is more than likely to be a disaster behind Francisco Liriano, but with Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Delmon Young swinging the sticks, and Joe Nathan closing out games, they can still be a .500 team, or close to it. Look out for Carlos Gomez to be a sleeper who can either start the season for the Twins or come up sometime during the season and make an impact.
17. Colorado Rockies: Location, location, locaion. Offensive home/road splits can be tough for this team, both on offense and with pitching. I don't see them getting back to the Fall Classic again in 2008, and not even in the playoffs with their rotation, but with a top emerging shortstop in Troy Tulowitzki and a handful of top hitters, who knows?
18. Cincinnati Reds: Look, everyone! The Reds found a closer! And a top one at that! The rotation behind Harang is their weakness right now, and the biggest questionmark, because their offense is going to score runs, and now they finally have someone to close out those close games. This team will turn heads in 2008, and may even sneak in a run at a division title.
19. Chicago White Sox: How far the mighty have fallen. They dominated to 2005 post-season, and even won 90 games in 2006, but last year they were awful. But with the additions of Nick Swisher and Orlando Cabrera, they're looking to change that. Their former big 3 (Konerko-Dye-Thome) are getting old, but the offense as a whole looks a lot better than last year. With Javier Vazquez and Mark Buehrle at the front, and Bobby Jenks finishing games off, this team will realistically fight for third place in the tough AL Central.
20. Tampa Bay
Devil Rays: Their offense has great power, speed, and excellent potential. The bullpen looks solid, and the front 2 (potentially front 3) of the rotation could be great. Somehow though, the Rays will find a way to lose. They won't finish in last place, and could find their way to a third place finish if the injury bug hits Toronto again.
21. St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright came on strong in the second half last year, and Albert Pujols had a down year (.327-32HR-103RBI). Troy Glaus won't provide the protection Albert needs, and hopefully the offseason has helped rest his elbow, but all-in-all this team isn't built to win. With Carpenter out until at least August, and not enough offense to back up the rest of the rotation, this team will struggle. I can see them finishing around .500 if Albert remains healthy and Chris Duncan continues to improve.
22. Oakland Athletics: They traded away their best hitter and pitcher, and are in the rebuilding process. They have Joe Blanton for now, and Rich Harden is healthy (for now). They'll battle Texas for third place in the division, and they still might even lose Joe Blanton (and probably Rich Harden to injury), which would make them the celler dwellers of the West.
23. Texas Rangers: So far their best off-season signing is a 61-year-old Nolan Ryan. Seriously, it's the same for the Rangers, offense is solid with Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, and comeback player of the year favorite Hank Blalock making up a solid infield to go with 1B/C Jarrod Saltalamacchia. This pitching though, well, maybe Nolan Ryan should try to make the roster in Spring Training.
24. Houston Astros: The offense is actually looking pretty solid with the Matsui and Tejada additions to go along with Berkman, Lee, and Pence, and the Astros even added a closer coming off a great year. Their pitching after Roy Oswalt though is enough to lose them more than they'll win. Roy Oswalt may be on the block again come June and July.
25. Kansas City Royals: Yes, the Royals are 25th. That says a lot about the teams ranked below them. You have to admit, the front 3 of Gil Meche, Brian Bannister, and Zach Grienke isn't that bad, plus some solid players overlooked in Alex Gordon, Mark Teahan, and John Buck (and PED using Jose Guillen). I don't expect them to compete, but the Royals are progressing slowly.
26. Pittsburgh Pirates: This team isn't going to make any playoff runs, but they are moving forward. Locking up Freddy Sanchez for a few years helps, as well as a pitching staff on the rise with Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny. Other than Jason Bay and a few others, this team won't turn any heads.
27. Washington Nationals: Everything other than the rotation looks okay. Grabbing Lastings Milledge for 2 scrubs is a great pickup, and the new ballpark will help Ryan Zimmerman's power numbers. The return of Nick Johnson brings up the question of where to put Dmitri Young, and they may be interested in hearing some offers for young stud closer Chad Cordero.
28. Baltimore Orioles: Without Bedard, the rotation is bad other than a few flashes of brilliance from Jeremy Guthrie in 2007. Without Tejada, and possibly Brian Roberts if he's traded, the offense has Nick Markakis and that's it. The bullpen could be worse, but in the end, a bad team in 07 got worse in the offseason as they entered the rebuilding process with prospects from the Astros and Mariners, and possibly another big prospect haul in the future.
29. San Francisco Giants: Their best hitter is Aaron Rowand, need I say more? The rotation is very young and has great potential, but a bad offense in a pitcher's park isn't going to cut it. This team has a rotation for the future, and a lineup for the past.
30. Florida Marlins: They're the opposite of the Giants; solid young hitting and a bad kind of scary rotation. Scott Olsen is the ace right now, and he's a swing at the cops away from getting his butt whooped again. Hanley Ramirez won't be as good without Miguel Cabrera in the lineup driving him in, but he'll still be solid, although I can't vouch for anyone else on the team.