Baseball America

2012 Major League Preview And Predictions

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

1. NEW YORK YANKEES

Best-Case Scenario: RHPs Michael Pineda and Hideki Kuroda provide quality support behind LHP C.C. Sabathia in the rotation, eliminating New York’s biggest weakness.

Worst-Case Scenario: With a lineup featuring six projected starters on the wrong side of 30, the Yankees aren’t as healthy or productive as expected.

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
Here’s Baseball America’s 2012 predictions
AL EAST Yankees
AL CENTRAL Tigers
AL WEST Rangers
AL WILD CARDS Angels, Rays
AL PENNANT Rays
NL EAST Phillies
NL CENTRAL Reds
NL WEST Diamondbacks
NL WILD CARDS Nationals, Cardinals
NL PENNANT Phillies
WORLD SERIES Phillies over Rays

In The Spotlight: Sabathia has embraced rather than shrunk from the challenge of pitching in New York, and he has become the team’s most indispensable player.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Pineda.

Next First-Time All-Star: Brett Gardner.

2. TAMPA BAY RAYS

Best-Case Scenario: Tampa Bay rides the best athleticism and pitching in the AL East to the top of baseball’s strongest division.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Rays don’t solve questions at catcher, shortstop and closer, causing just enough difficulties to keep them out of the playoffs.

In The Spotlight: Tampa Bay had five starters with double figures in wins last year, yet LHP Matt Moore has better stuff than all of them.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: 1B Carlos Pena.

Next First-Time All-Star: OF B.J. Upton.


3. BOSTON RED SOX

Best-Case Scenario: Boston’s pitching is healthier this season, and the team plays like it did from mid-April through August a year ago.

Worst-Case Scenario: The hangover from September’s collapse persists, and the Sox don’t find solutions at shortstop or in right field.

In The Spotlight: If RHP Daniel Bard can make the transition from set-up man to starter, he’d go a long way to shoring up the back of Boston’s rotation.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: RHP Andrew Bailey.

Next First-Time All-Star: Bard.


4. TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Best-Case Scenario: Commissioner Bud Selig decides to realign the Blue Jays, making them an instant contender for a division title or wild-card berth.

Worst-Case Scenario: Toronto has to settle for being the best fourth-place team, by far, in baseball.

In The Spotlight: RHP Brandon Morrow can overpower hitters, but can he refine his offspeed stuff and command to give the Jays another needed frontline starter?

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: RHP Sergio Santos.

Next First-Time All-Star: OF Colby Rasmus.

5. BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Best-Case Scenario: RHP Jake Arrieta and LHP Brian Matusz bounce back, and LHP Zach Britton continues to develop, allowing Baltimore to feel good again about its rotation of the future.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Orioles waste time worrying about a few extra wins in the short term rather than building for the long term.

In The Spotlight: Matusz, whose 10.69 ERA last season was the worst in major league history for a pitcher with 10 starts.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: LHP Wei-Yin Chen.

Next First-Time All-Star: OF Nick Markakis.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

POSTSEASON CRYSTAL BALL
MVP: Evan Longoria, Rays
Cy Young Award: Jered Weaver, Angels

1. DETROIT TIGERS

Best-Case Scenario: Detroit rides 3B Miguel Cabrera, 1B Prince Fielder and RHP Justin Verlander to an easy title in baseball’s weakest division.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Tigers’ defense, especially with Cabrera at the hot corner, proves to be their Achilles heel and the supporting cast isn’t strong enough.

In The Spotlight: Cabrera hasn’t played the hot corner regularly since 2007 and not at all since 2008.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Fielder.

Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Doug Fister.


2. KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Best-Case Scenario: Kansas City’s young talent continues to mature and the team contends a year ahead of schedule.

Worst-Case Scenario: The pitchers continue to lag behind the hitters, and the Royals still lack true front-of-the-rotation options.

In The Spotlight: 3B Mike Moustakas, whose 2011 rookie season (.263/.309/.367) paled in comparison to equally ballyhooed 1B Eric Hosmer’s (.293/.334/.465).

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: LHP Jonathan Sanchez.

Next First-Time All-Star: Hosmer.


3. CLEVELAND INDIANS

Best-Case Scenario: OF Grady Sizemore regains his health, LHP Ubaldo Jimenez reclaims his 2010 form and Cleveland plays like it did in the first half of last season.

Worst-Case Scenario: Sizemore gets hurt again, Jimenez continues to struggle and the Indians play like they did in the second half of last year.

In The Spotlight: After making three straight all-star teams from 2006-08, Sizemore has played in just 210 games since.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: 1B Casey Kotchman.

Next First-Time All-Star: C Carlos Santana.

4. MINNESOTA TWINS

Best-Case Scenario: C Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau and OF Denard Span stay healthy and reignite an offense that collapsed in 2011.

Worst-Case Scenario: Minnesota’s stars can’t overcome their physical problems and its pitching staff continues to backslide.

In The Spotlight: In the first season of his eight-year, $184 million contract, Mauer delivered just three homers and a .729 OPS.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: OF Josh Willingham.

Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Scott Baker.

5. CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Best-Case Scenario: DH Adam Dunn, RHP Jake Peavy and OF Alex Rios start living up to their combined $178 million in contracts.

Worst-Case Scenario: The White Sox are as old and bad as they look on paper, and the front office continues to undermine their future by refusing to spend on the draft and the international amateur market.

In The Spotlight: GM Ken Williams has presided over a swelling payroll, declining big league club and a threadbare farm system.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: OF Kosuke Fukudome.

Next First-Time All-Star: SS Alexei Ramirez.

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

1. TEXAS RANGERS

Best-Case Scenario: RHP Yu Darvish is an upgrade on departed C.J. Wilson, OF Leonys Martin provides stability in center field and Texas is better than ever.

Worst-Case Scenario: After winning consecutive AL pennants, anything less than a World Series championship is a worst-case scenario for the Rangers.

In The Spotlight: OF Josh Hamilton wasn’t at his best while battling a groin injury in the second half of 2011, and a publicized drinking relapse put contract talks for the pending free agent on hold.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Darvish.

Next First-Time All-Star: Darvish.

2. LOS ANGELES ANGELS

Best-Case Scenario: A huge investment in 1B Albert Pujols and LHP C.J. Wilson provides immediate dividends and pushes the Angels past the Rangers for the first time in three years.

Worst-Case Scenario: A lineup that featured just one regular with an .800 OPS a year ago continues to undermine a talented pitching staff.

In The Spotlight: Pujols. While Wilson can slide in as the No. 3 starter in a deep rotation, Pujols will have to carry the offense.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Pujols.

Next First-Time All-Star: OF Mike Trout.


3. SEATTLE MARINERS

Best-Case Scenario: C Jesus Montero and 1B Justin Smoak show why Seattle traded Michael Pineda and Cliff Lee to get them, and they team with 2B Dustin Ackley to form the heart of a productive lineup.

Worst-Case Scenario: The offense remains a laughingstock and finishes last in the league in scoring for a fourth straight year.

In The Spotlight: Coming off by far the worst season (.272/.310/.335) of his career, is 38-year-old OF Ichiro Suzuki nearing the end?

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Montero.

Next First-Time All-Star: Ackley.


4. OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Best-Case Scenario: Oakland’s latest round of dealing veterans (Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez) works out better than its previous trades and actually provides a foundation for the future.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Athletics continue to spin their wheels when it comes to getting a new ballpark and contending.

In The Spotlight: The A’s desperately need power, leading to a $36 million contract for Cuban OF Yoenis Cespedes.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Cespedes.

Next First-Time All-Star: 2B Jemile Weeks.

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST


1. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

Best-Case Scenario: Philadelphia rolls to a sixth straight division title with most of the same cast that provided No. 5 a year ago.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Phillies have the oldest roster in the NL, which leads to serious injury issues, and 1B Ryan Howard is slow to come back after tearing an Achilles tendon last October.

In The Spotlight: OF Domonic Brown got his first shot at big league playing time two summers ago, and now Philadelphia needs him to realize his potential with Howard out.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: RHP Jonathan Papelbon.

Next First-Time All-Star: Brown.


2. WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Best-Case Scenario: LHP Gio Gonzalez makes an easy transition to the NL, RHP Stephen Strasburg holds up over a full season and OF Bryce Harper hits 20 homers as 19-year-old rookie, allowing Washington to dethrone Philadelphia.

POSTSEASON CRYSTAL BALL
MVP: Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
Cy Young Award: Roy Halladay, Phillies

Best-Case Scenario: The Nationals aren’t ready to contend and drop all the way to fourth place in the division.

In The Spotlight: OF Jayson Werth disappointed in the first season of a seven-year, $126 million contract, hitting just .232/.330/.389 in 2011.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Gonzalez.

Next First-Time All-Star: Strasburg.


3. ATLANTA BRAVES


Best-Case Scenario: Atlanta rides its pitching depth to its first NL East crown since 2005.

Worst-Case Scenario: Inadequate on-base skills plague the offense, and the Braves can’t shake off last year’s September collapse.

In The Spotlight: OF Jason Heyward went from Baseball’s Next Great Hitter in 2010 to a sophomore bust in 2011, batting .227/.319/.389.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: LHP Robert Fish.

Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Tommy Hanson.


4. MIAMI MARLINS


Best-Case Scenario: OF Mike Stanton leads the league in homers, RHP Josh Johnson wins the Cy Young Award and the investment in RHP Heath Bell, LHP Mark Buehrle and SS Jose Reyes pays off as the Marlins celebrate their new name, new logo and new ballpark with their first playoff appearance since winning the 2003 World Series.

Best-Case Scenario: The Marlins find that money can’t buy everything, and 3B Hanley Ramirez and RHP Carlos Zambrano become headaches for new manager Ozzie Guillen.

In The Spotlight: Ramirez isn’t happy about moving off shortstop, and Miami wasn’t happy it paid $11 million for .243/.333/.379 production last year.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Reyes.

Next First-Time All-Star: Stanton.


5. NEW YORK METS


Best-Case Scenario: Ownership gets its financial problems straightened out so the Mets can stop acting like a small-revenue franchise.

Worst-Case Scenario: LHP Johan Santana’s comeback from shoulder surgery doesn’t go well, 3B David Wright can’t reverse his downward trend and New York has its worst season since losing 103 games in 1993.

In The Spotlight: Wright has declined steadily since a career year of .325/.416/.546 in 2007, and it’s becoming more likely that he’ll get traded rather than receive a contract extension.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: OF Andres Torres.

Next First-Time All-Star: LHP Jonathon Niese.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL


1. CINCINNATI REDS


Best-Case Scenario: With rookies (C Devin Mesoraco, SS Zach Cozart, 3B/OF Todd Frazier) plugging holes in the lineup and RHP Mat Latos buoying the rotation, Cincinnati looks a lot more like 2010′s division winners than 2011′s sub-.500 club.

Best-Case Scenario: The back of the rotation behind Latos and Johnny Cueto undermines the Reds once again.

In The Spotlight: Two years into a $30.25 million contract, LHP Aroldis Chapman has produced six wins, one save and not much evidence to believe his future is as a starter.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Latos.

Next First-Time All-Star: Latos.

2. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS


Best-Case Scenario: A full season from 3B David Freese, the addition of OF Carlos Beltran and the return of RHP Adam Wainwright make up for the loss of Albert Pujols and allow St. Louis to make a run at a second consecutive World Series championship.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Cardinals miss Pujols, manager Tony LaRussa and pitching coach Dave Duncan even more than feared, and they drop to the bottom half of the NL Central.

In The Spotlight: Wainwright finished in the top three in NL Cy Young Award voting in back-to-back years before missing all of 2011 following Tommy John surgery.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Beltran.

Next First-Time All-Star: Freese.

3. MILWAUKEE BREWERS


Best-Case Scenario: 1B Mat Gamel picks enough of Prince Fielder’s slack and 3B Aramis Ramirez provides enough of an upgrade at the hot corner for the offense to keep rolling and lead the Brewers to a second straight NL Central title.

Best-Case Scenario: Milwaukee misses Fielder’s 40 homers and 110 RBIs and watches the back of the rotation (RHP Shaun Marcum, LHPs Randy Wolf and Chris Narveson) fall far short of its 37 victories from a year ago.

In The Spotlight: Can OF Ryan Braun continue to thrive without Fielder and in the aftermath of his drug-testing controversy?

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Ramirez.

Next First-Time All-Star: RHP John Axford.


4. PITTSBURGH PIRATES


Best-Case Scenario: Pittsburgh’s youngsters take a step forward as a group and the team finishes above .500 for the first time since 1992.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Pirates won 19 of their final 62 games in 2011 while giving up 333 runs (more than any NL club during that span), two stats that prove to be bad omens for 2012.

In The Spotlight: 3B Pedro Alvarez was supposed to be a stud hitter when he went second overall in the 2008 draft, yet he hit just .191/.272/.289 in the majors last season.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: RHP A.J. Burnett.

Next First-Time All-Star: Alvarez.

5. CHICAGO CUBS


Best-Case Scenario: New president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer make enough moves to position Chicago to return to contention in 2014.

Best-Case Scenario: The Cubs don’t solve enough problems and learn that the rebuilding process will take longer than hoped.

In The Spotlight: If RHP Matt Garza gets off to a fast start, the new regime may try to trade him for a package similar to what the previous administration gave up to get him.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: OF David DeJesus.

Next First-Time All-Star: Garza.

6. HOUSTON ASTROS


Best-Case Scenario: Houston does a better job with the No. 1 overall draft pick than it did 20 years ago, when it passed up Derek Jeter and took Phil Nevin.

Worst-Case Scenario: The Astros lose 100 games for the second straight year and do so without finding any cornerstones to build around for the future.

In The Spotlight: After rebuilding St. Louis’ farm system and international program, new GM Jeff Luhnow left a World Series champion to undertake a significantly more daunting challenge in Houston.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: SS Jed Lowrie.

Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Bud Norris.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST


1. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS


Best-Case Scenario: With 1B Paul Gold­schmidt, RHP Ian Kennedy, C Miguel Montero and OF Justin Upton building on 2011 and RHP Trevor Cahill and OF Jason Kubel coming aboard, Arizona improves on last season’s 94 victories.

Best-Case Scenario: The Diamond­backs’ relative inability to get on base and miss bats catches up to them, and they’re not as lucky in one-run (28-16) and extra-inning (9-4) games.

In The Spotlight: Upton is a prime MVP candidate at age 24.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: Cahill.

Next First-Time All-Star: Kennedy.

2. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS


Best-Case Scenario: Pitching carries San Francisco to a World Series title, just like it did in 2010.

Worst-Case Scenario: A woeful offense keeps the Giants out of the playoffs, just like it did in 2011.

In The Spotlight: C Buster Posey sparked the lineup in 2010 and was sorely missed after he broke his leg and tore ankle ligaments last May.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: OF Melky Cabrera.

Next First-Time All-Star: Posey.

3. COLORADO ROCKIES


Best-Case Scenario: LHP Drew Pomeranz and RHPs Jeremy Guthrie and Juan Nicasio bolster the rotation, giving Colorado enough pitching to win the division.

Best-Case Scenario: Pitching continues to be a problem, the lineup struggles with four new starters and the Rockies decline for the third straight season.

In The Spotlight: RHP Jhoulys Chacin has been Colorado’s most dependable option the last two years. Can he become a frontline starter?

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: OF Michael Cuddyer.

Next First-Time All-Star: OF Carlos Gonzalez.

4. LOS ANGELES DODGERS


Best-Case Scenario: With the best position player (OF Matt Kemp) and best pitcher (LHP Clayton Kershaw) in the league, Los Angeles is able to fill in enough around them to sneak away with the NL West title.

Worst-Case Scenario: With their ownership and finances unresolved, the Dodgers have too many holes around Kemp and Kershaw.

In The Spotlight: Los Angeles needs more power, and having a first baseman (James Loney) who averages 12 homers a season doesn’t help.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: RHP Aaron Harang.

Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Kenley Jansen.

5. SAN DIEGO PADRES


Best-Case Scenario: San Diego uses its bounty of draft picks (five of the first 70) to add to a deep farm system and provide hope for a competent big league lineup in the near future.

Best-Case Scenario: The Padres can’t score runs, miss pitchers Heath Bell, Aaron Harang and Mat Latos, and challenge the Astros for the worst record in the league.

In The Spotlight: Acquired at little cost from the White Sox, OF Carlos Quentin provides power and could be an attractive trade chip.

Biggest Offseason Acquisition: OF Carlos Quentin.

Next First-Time All-Star: 3B Chase Headley.

Majors | #2012 #Season Preview

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