Dan's Dugout: AL Races Should Have New Division Winners • Latino Sports


Dan’s Dugout: AL Races Should Have New Division Winners


Baseball free agency makes anything possible.

Just ask the Boston Red Sox, who have bounced like a yo-yo from the top to the bottom of the American League East standings and back again.

Thanks to the winter signing of David Price, the top lefthanded starter on the market, and the trade that brought uber closer Craig Kimbrel from San Diego for four prospects, the Sox seem headed upward again in a very difficult division.

Boston’s gain was Toronto’s loss, since Price pitched for the Jays after a midseason swap from Detroit but decided to leave for the Boston’s greener pastures — literally.

Troy Tulowitzki should put up big numbers for the Jays

Troy Tulowitzki should put up big numbers for the Jays

Toronto will have shortstop Troy Tulowitzki from the start, which helps, but his injury history is worrisome. So is the fact that Blue Jay sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are eligible for free agency after this season. At least MVP Josh Donaldson is still there.

It will be hard to beat Boston’s collection of young players, including Mookie Betts and Xavier Bogaerts, who will be supporting cast to the farewell tour of future Hall of Famer David Ortiz.

The Sox aren’t happy with the weight of Pablo Sandoval, the former San Francisco postseason star, or the defense of Hanley Ramirez, best-suited to the DH role that Ortiz holds, but the return of manager John Farrell from a bout with cancer is a huge morale booster.

Alex Rodriguez should reach 700 homers this year

Alex Rodriguez should reach 700 homers this year

Like Boston, the bullpen is decidedly better in New York. Adding lefthanded fireballer Aroldis Chapman, whom the Reds dumped for a tunafish sandwich and player to be named later, gives manager Joe Girardi a threesome of flame-throwers (along with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller) behind a questionable rotation.

The Yankees also are getting long in tooth, with age creeping up on such key players as Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia.

The Bronx Bombers won’t even be the most bombastic ballclub in the dynamic division. That title could befall the Baltimore Orioles, who have five players capable of 30-homer seasons. But Buck Showalter’s pitching is even shakier after the free agent loss of Wei-Yin Chen.

That leaves the Tampa Bay Rays, better known for scouting than spending, to bring up the bottom. They’re a pesky team but won’t score enough to support a solid pitching staff.

Ask the New York Mets about pesky: they led all five games of the 2015 World Series before the Kansas City Royals pecked away with their brand of small-ball, featuring speed, defense, and pitching. Whether the Royals can reach the Fall Classic for the third straight time is debatable, however.

The Chicago White Sox, despite the Adam LaRoche fiasco, have refortified their roster and

Jose Abreu may be a future home run champion

Jose Abreu may be a future home run champion

emerged as a serious contender. With White Sox park a friendly target for sluggers, both Todd Frazier and Jose Abreu could have home run crowns in their future. And Chris Sale, a superlative southpaw, could contend for the Cy Young Award.

Cleveland and Detroit also look stronger. The Indians have solid starters in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar and better offense with the addition of Mike Napoli, who makes Carlos Santana a DH. Having Francisco Lindor all season will help too.

Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and outfielder Justin Upton, stars plucked from free agency, boost a Tiger team that still leans heavily on Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez. Comebacks by Justin Verlander and Mike Pelfrey will help a pitching staff bolstered by new closer Francisco Rodriuguez.

Lorenzo Cain swings a .300 bat for the World Champs

Lorenzo Cain swings a .300 bat for the World Champs

Ned Yost’s Royals will rely on their keep-the-line moving offense, airtight defense, and strong bullpen. Kaycee makes few mistakes but also fails to produce much power; nobody hit more than 22 homers last summer. Lorenzo Cain, their lone .300 bat, leads a Kaycee attack that also includes Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, and Kendrys Morales, who knocked in 100 runs last year. Catcher Salvador Perez and closer Wade Davis may be the league’s best at their positions.

The Double-Vs of Yordano Ventura and Edinson Volquez head a rotation that also includes newcomer Ian Kennedy and erstwhile Atlanta ace Kris Medlen.

Minnesota, meanwhile, will have trouble breaking even. There’s just not even pitching to support a solid offensive corps led by Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe, Joe Mauer, Miguel Sano, plus blue-chip rookies Byron Buxton and Byung Ho Park. Ex-Yankee Phil Hughes and erratic Ervin Santana head a lackluster rotation, though Glen Perkins percolates in the pen.

Shunt the Twins to the AL West and they might contend for a wild-card slot.

The Houston Astros are by far the best of the West, with plenty of power plus Doug Fister joining a

Houston ace Dallas Keuchel won the AL Cy Young Award

Houston ace Dallas Keuchel won the AL Cy Young Award

rotation headed by Collin McHugh and defending Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel. The club has a new closer in Ken Giles, picked up from the Phillies at a high cost in prospects. Little Jose Altuve, a one-time batting champion, sets the table for sluggers Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena, and future superstar Carlos Correa, the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year.

Should the Astros finish first in their division, it would be their first title since 2001, when they were in the National League.

The Texas Rangers hope to defend their AL West title by switching Ian Desmond to left field and hoping for healthy seasons from Josh Hamilton (knee) and Yu Darvish (elbow), both of whom open the year on the disabled list. Like the Astros, the Rangers play in a hitter-friendly home field — good news for Shin-Soo Choo, Adrian Beltre, Mitch Moreland, and even Prince Fielder if he recovers from a spring bout with sleep apnea.

Texas ace Cole Hamels, starting his first full year in the American League, could be the loop’s best lefty. He’ll team with Colby Lewis at the top of a Ranger rotation that needs comebacks from Martin Perez and Derek Holland. Closer Shawn Tolleson is solid.

Mike Trout may be the game's biggest star

Mike Trout may be the game’s biggest star

On the West Coast, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim hope their 40-homer duo of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols will anchor a lineup buoyed by the off-season acquisitions of former Braves Andrelton Simmons, a remarkable shortstop, and Yunel Escobar, a solid bat. Garret Richards and Jered Weaver had a rotation that won’t send anyone to the All-Star Game. That means closer Huston Street will be busy again.

Seattle has huge assets in pitcher Felix Hernandez and slugger Nelson Cruz, players the M’s can build around. The problem is the team is aging, with Cruz, Robby Cano, and Adam Lind all on the wrong side of 30. The bullpen is awful too and may not be much better unless former NL All-Star Steve Cishek recaptures his former form.

Sorry, Oakland: somebody has to finish last. The rotation sags after starter Sonny Gray and lefty closer Sean Doolittle may yield his job to Ryan Madson if he can’t shake persistent shoulder woes.

Khris Davis and Josh Reddick anchor a rather anemic attack. Bob Melvin is in for a tough year.

Here’s how they’ll finish:

AL East: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Yankees, Orioles, Rays

AL Central: White Sox, Tigers, Royals, Indians, Twins

AL West: Astros, Rangers, Angels, Mariners, A’s

Wild card: Blue Jays over Rangers

Division Series: Red Sox over White Sox, Astros over Blue Jays

Championship Series: Red Sox over Astros

World Series: Mets over Red Sox

Elsewhere in baseball:

Arizona GM Dave Stewart says the return of Patrick Corbin, who missed the first half of last year after Tommy John surgery, will be a major boost to his ballclub . . .

The D’backs hope to leave 18-year-old Chase Field for a new ballpark yet to be built . . .

Pittsburgh will fill the Neil Walker hole by shifting Josh Harrison to second and playing Jung-Ho Kang at third . . .

Surprised to see the Nationals return top prospect Trea Turner to the minor leagues . . .

After a solid season in the Kaycee pen last year, Milwaukee’s decision to release reliever Franklin Morales may have been motivated by money . . .

Another ex-Royal, Jeremy Guthrie, is a late-spring free agent too after drawing his walking papers from the Rangers . . .

Former Yankee prospect Jesus Montero, claimed off waivers by Toronto, should thrive in hitter-friendly Rogers Center . . .

Ex-Met Bobby Parnell, who missed most of the last two seasons, should hook on somewhere after failing to make the Detroit varsity . . .

Former San Diego leadoff man Will Venable, whose dad Max also played in the majors, has found a job at age 33 with the Philadelphia Phillies . . .

The Red Sox rejected Carlos Marmol, who has been out of the bigs since 2014, but could add Jason Grilli now that the Atlanta closer has recovered from his ruptured Achilles . . .

The Mets, Dodgers, and Rangers are all looking for catching help . . .

Major League Baseball loves to brag about parity but a half-dozen teams could lose 100 this season: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Oakland, Philadelphia, and San Diego.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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