New Year's resolutions for American League teams
With 2012 drawing to a close, and 2013 about to begin, it's time for the 30 major league teams to make their New Year's resolutions. We start today with the now-15 American League teams, presented by division based on their order of finish in 2012:
The New York Yankees resolve to see how the other half lives.
The Yankees have paid $224.2 million in competitive balance tax over the last 10 years, and Hal Steinbrenner, their pragmatic managing general partner, has had enough. With the luxury tax limit increasing to $189 million in 2014, Steinbrenner has tasked general manager Brian Cashman and his staff with getting the team's payroll below that mark between now and Opening Day 2014. That focus on the bottom line has already led the Yankees to let Nick Swisher and Russell Martin sign reasonable deals with small-market teams without sufficiently replacing them in the lineup, and could cost New York one or both of Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano come next winter, as both are entering their walk year.
The Yankees can't cry poor -- at just shy of $189 million they'll still likely have the second-largest payroll in baseball in 2014. Getting below the tax threshold in 2014 will reset their tax rate from 50 percent to 17.5 percent, potentially letting them spend anew for 2015 and beyond. In the interim, the Yankees have lost their ability to out-spend their mistakes, and that alone could tilt the balance of power in the AL East, which they won last year for the 13th time in the wild-card era.
The Baltimore Orioles resolve to prove 2012 was not a fluke.
Everything about the Orioles' success in 2012 screamed fluke. They had a negative run differential until late September. They had extremely lop-sided records in one-run games (29-9) and extra innings (16-2), with those two records overlapping in just seven games. Their Pythagorean and third-order records painted them as a .500 team. Relief pitching, which is notoriously inconsistent on a year-to-year-basis, was a huge part of their success. Baltimore was fourth in the majors in relief innings pitched and fifth in the majors in relief ERA and no team led them in both categories. Its starting rotation, meanwhile, included just one pitcher to qualify for the ERA title and no pitchers who can be safely projected as above-average in 2013.
Sure, the O's hit a lot of home runs, but they did that in 2011 as well (fourth in the majors) and lost 93 games. A full-season of Manny Machado at third base and the likely arrival of Dylan Bundy in the rotation at some point during the season should help, but Baltimore will have a hard time keeping this resolution.
The Tampa Bay Rays resolve to continue to flaunt their rotation depth.
David Price, who is still just 27 and coming off a Cy Young-winning season, could be the veteran ace of a very strong Rays rotation in 2013. If all goes according to plan, the Rays will follow Price with 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson (26), sophomore lefty Matt Moore (24) who had a 3.31 ERA in his final 22 starts last year, righty Alex Cobb (25) who had a 3.16 ERA over his final 12 starts, and rookie righty Chris Archer (24), the top prospect from the Matt Garza trade.
There's more where they came from in the newly-acquired Jake Odorizzi, Alex Colome and rehab cases Jeff Niemann (remember him) and Mike Montgomery. James Shields? If Wil Myers has the impact he's expected to in the lineup, Shields, whom Tampa Bay dealt to Kansas City to land top prospect Myers, won't be missed.
The Toronto Blue Jays resolve to reach to the playoffs for the first time in 20 years.
The Blue Jays have made a ton of noise this winter, acquiring Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle (among others) from the Marlins in a single trade, gambling on the post-suspension Melky Cabrera, then adding NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets.
None of those moves was a slam dunk, however. Johnson is fragile and a free agent after the coming season, Buehrle has a lot of mileage on his left arm, Reyes is both fragile and overrated, the importance of doping to Cabrera's surge over the last two seasons has yet to be determined, and the team gave up major-league-ready, blue-chip catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud to get the 38-year-old knuckleballer Dickey.
Toronto appears to have chosen the right moment to strike, but as much potential as its turbo-charged 2013 roster might have, a lot will have to go right for there to be postseason baseball north of the border for the first time since 1993.
The Boston Red Sox resolve to meet everyone else in the middle.
There is great potential for mediocrity in the AL East in 2013 and no team better exemplifies that than the Red Sox, a team that will be more cost-efficient but doesn't seem to have greatly improved its 2013 outlook despite major roster upheaval. Is Shane Victorino any better than a healthy Carl Crawford? Is Ryan Dempster a better bet for the rotation than Josh Beckett? Is Stephen Drew a meaningful upgrade on Mike Aviles? Is having John Lackey back in the rotation a good thing? Can Adrian Gonzalez be replaced via platoons and job-shares? Will [enter just about any name here] stay healthy? The Red Sox made some nice upgrades to the back of their bullpen and their bench, but their offseason has been defined by half-measures such as those.
The Detroit Tigers resolve not to let anyone else in their division get any big ideas.
After adding Prince Fielder to a team that won the AL Central by 15 games in 2011, the Tigers were supposed to run away with the Central last year. Instead, some major holes on their roster left them vulnerable and they spent most of the season looking up at the White Sox before finally sneaking past them with barely more than a week left in the season.
That shouldn't happen again. With Torii Hunter in rightfield, Victor Martinez returning from a year lost to knee surgery to replace Delmon Young at designated hitter, and deadline acquisitions Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez still in place, the latter via a new five-year, $80 million contract, Detroit looks like a better team than the one that won the pennant in 2012.
The Chicago White Sox resolve to be gentle with Chris Sale.
The 23-year-old Sale was one of the primary reasons the White Sox managed to stay ahead of the Tigers for so long in 2012, but heading into 2013, Chicago is an 85-win team that just lost A.J. Pierzynski, who had a career year in 2012, and third-base stop-gap Kevin Youkilis. In pursuit of the Tigers in 2012, the White Sox rode Sale hard in his first year as a major league starter pushing him from 71 innings in 2011 to 192. Given that they're unlikely to be as much of a threat in the Central this year, they should take the opportunity to treat Sale with kid gloves. Doing so should pay off in 2014 and beyond.
The Kansas City Royals resolve to participate in the wild card race.
The Royals made their intentions clear when they traded Myers, one of the top hitting prospects in all of baseball and one ready to open the 2013 season in the major leagues, for two years of James Shields. Coming into the offseason, the Royals had an excellent young bullpen, a talented young lineup that had yet to properly coalesce and a joke of a rotation. They've since attempted to rebuild that rotation by re-signing mid-season acquisition Jeremy Guthrie, acquiring Ervin Santana and $12 million of his walk-year salary from the Angels, and trading Myers, Odorizzi, Montgomery, and another prospect to the Rays for Shields and Wade Davis. There's a lot of upside to this team, but, as with the Blue Jays, a lot will have to go right for their offseason upgrades to have the intended impact.
The Cleveland Indians resolve to take things slowly.
The Indians got off to a 20-8 start in 2011, and when the Tigers didn't bury them after they cooled off, they fooled themselves into believing they were contenders and traded their top two pitching prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez at the deadline. They finished under .500 anyway and last year, reality slapped them in the face with a 94-loss season that put them 20 games out of first-place by season's end.
This winter, the Indians took their first step toward undoing the Jimenez mistake by trading Shin-Soo Choo's walk year and spare parts to Arizona for top-10 pitching prospect Trevor Bauer and then signing Swisher to replace Choo via a four-year deal with a vesting option. With Travis Hafner off the books, Swisher's contract barely alters the team's payroll. That was a nifty little sequence. With Terry Francona in the dugout, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall in the lineup, Mark Reynolds replacing Casey Kotchman at first base, and Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, who missed all of 2012 due to Tommy John surgery, in the rotation, the Indians still won't be contenders, but they'll be better in 2013 and their future looks brighter than it did just a few months ago.
The Minnesota Twins resolve to trade Josh Willingham.
Willingham made the three-year, $21 million deal he signed with the Twins last December look like a bargain in 2012 by hitting .260/.366/.524 with 35 home runs and 110 RBIs for a lousy Minnesota team that played half of its games in offense-suppressing Target Field. That deal is now down to $14 million over two years and if Willingham hits at all in the first few months of the coming season, teams should be lighting up the Twins' phones trying to get him. Sure he's lousy in leftfield and has surprisingly little experience at first base, but the list of American League contenders that wouldn't want him for the stretch run and 2014 has to be a fraction of the size of the list of AL contenders that would.
The Twins have already traded the other two-thirds of their 2012 starting outfield in Denard Span (to the Nationals) and Ben Revere (to the Phillies). They're bottoming out. They need prospects and draft picks, not 34-year-old, defensively-challenged sluggers. Willingham at that price is a great trade chip, and Minnesota needs to cash him in.
The Oakland A's resolve to prove 2012 wasn't a fluke.
The A's have the same resolution as the Orioles, but they stand a better chance of keeping it. Like the O's, the A's benefitted from a strong bullpen and good fortune in one-run and extra-inning games, but none of those performances were as extreme. Oakland's rotation carried a greater portion of the responsibility for the team's success (3.80 ERA in 958 innings compared to a 4.42 mark in 937 2/3 for the O's), and the pitchers that comprised that rotation were almost to a man younger and more projectable than their Baltimore counterparts (the superannuated and not entirely road-legal Bartolo Colon being the obvious exception).
The A's also boast the best everyday player on either team in Yoenis Cespedes, who hit .311/.376/.533 with 14 home runs and 10 steals in 12 attempts in his healthy second-half, helping Oakland to a major league-best 51-25 record after the All-Star break. The A's can regress significantly from that pace and still contend for another postseason berth.
The Texas Rangers resolve to find playing time for Jurickson Profar.
Finding room for Mike Olt should be easy. With Mike Napoli, Michael Young and Josh Hamilton gone, the Rangers have plenty of room at first base, designated hitter and as a right-handed-hitting leftfielder for Olt, who could still use a little time at Triple-A, a level he skipped entirely in 2012 only to struggle mightily in his brief major league opportunity (.152/.250/.182).
To find a starting job for Profar, a shortstop prospect, would likely mean moving Ian Kinsler off second base (Gold Glover Elvis Andrus isn't going anywhere at short). That's a big commitment to make to a kid who won't turn 20 until after pitchers and catchers report and who was just 3-for-17 in his own major league look (.176, albeit with all three hits going for extra bases). Profar could also use some time in Triple-A, which he also skipped, but he shouldn't need much, and having lost out on virtually every player they targeted this offseason, at least thus far, the Rangers might need to take that kind of gamble on their top prospect.
The Los Angeles Angels resolve to take back the division.
They had the same resolution last year, and if Mike Trout hadn't had the flu in spring training and had opened the season in the major league lineup instead of spending a month in Triple-A, they just might have done it. Going 13-10 in April rather than 8-15 would have tied them with the A's at season's end. You can blame Albert Pujols' slow April, the rotation's swoon in August and intermittent bullpen struggles as well, but the Angels were still in the thick of the playoff hunt despite all that.
This offseason they've reinforced the bullpen with closer Ryan Madson and lefty Sean Burnett, jerry-rigged the rotation with Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas, and Joe Blanton, and, most significantly, stolen 2010 AL MVP Josh Hamilton from the Rangers. Signing C.J. Wilson and Hamilton away from Texas in consecutive offseasons while also adding Pujols and Trout to their lineup over the same period would seem to be enough for the Angels to reestablish themselves atop the division, but one must also factor in the loss of Torii Hunter, coming off a strong season, to free agency, Kendrys Morales in the Vargas trade. There's also the risk involved in Madson's return from Tommy John surgery, the considerable downside in their rebuilt rotation (following the departures of Santana, Greinke, and Dan Haren) and the fact that Trout is likely to regress some from his unreal rookie year. Perhaps the Angels' resolution should be to have a different resolution next year.
The Seattle Mariners resolve to sign Felix Hernandez through the end of time.
Let's face it, he's all they have, so they might as well make sure they keep him. Sure, long-term pitching contracts are almost always a bad idea, and Hernandez has a lot of mileage on his arm already despite not turning 27 until April, but sometimes you have to make an exception for a franchise player, and Hernandez is that. Imagine the Mariners without him: they'd be the Astros, a particularly poignant threat now that Houston has joined the division to keep Seattle from last place for the first time in three years.
Hernandez has two years left on his current deal, so there's no rush. Then again, the risk assumed in extending him early should allow the Mariners to sign him for a less than if they wait until after he has representative 2013 and 2014 seasons, which, of course, may be why Hernandez will make them wait.
The Houston Astros resolve to be better than you expect.
Because after losing 213 games over the last two years, they couldn't be worse. That said, they wouldn't mind a third-straight top overall draft pick in 2014.