It's pickin' time, y'all! Let's get to it.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
1. New York Yankees
It's just too much. CC Sabathia might actually be above 60% for the playoffs assuming the Yankees do get there, and as unimpressive as AJ Burnett is as a #1 or even a #2, he's a pretty damn good #3. Their rotation could be nasty with Sabathia, the workmanlike and now-healthy Chien-Ming Wang, Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain. The fact that Pettitte -- who probably puts up around a 4.20-4.50 ERA -- really might be their fifth-best starting pitcher is ridiculous. I don't want to underestimate how good Joba Chamberlain really might be. He dominated last season.
The lineup isn't as imposing as some of the past seasons, but it's still pretty good. Johnny Damon was quite productive last year and probably has another solid year in him, Jeter's in serious decline but still better than most shortstops with the stick, and then you have Teixeira and eventually A-Rod will get in there. Teixeira and Rodriguez are likely the best 3-4 punch in the game, and A-Rod is only projected to be out until May 15 anyway. Then you have Robinson Cano, who is likely to bounce back some, and that should help make up for the potential step back Xavier Nady takes. Posada's back, too.
It's a pretty good lineup and a great starting rotation in theory. I think this is the year they start delivering on expectations and payroll again.
2. Boston Red Sox
If David Ortiz is healthy and hitting, it's still a horrible lineup for any pitcher to have to face. Youkilis, Pedroia, Drew and Bay are all intimidating, and maybe Mike Lowell has some gas left in the tank. Jacoby Ellsbury is likely to improve on his .729 OPS, too, and he's a burner to boot. Varitek stinks. Let's say that again: Varitek stinks. But this is a team that's going to have Jason Bay hitting sixth or seventh.
Beckett, Lester and Matsuzaka give them a front three that can hang with just about anyone. They could very easily win the division. Between the rise of the Rays and the restructuring of the Yankees, the Red Sox are almost the forgotten contender. I know that's weird to say, but basically no one is picking them to win the division (and I'm not either).
3. Tampa Bay Rays
Someone's gotta finish third and sadly I expect it will be the Rays. They could seriously be a better team than the AL champions of 2008 and still finish third. They could win 95 games and finish third. That's how far from the pack the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are in the AL, at least on paper right now. Any one of these teams would cruise to a division title in the Central or West. That's not a knock on anyone or AL East pride from me, it's just true. These are without any question the three best teams in the American League.
I still love their starting rotation, and I think their lineup could be better, particularly if Carlos Pena hits like he did in the second half (.260/.418/.531) rather than the first half (.236/.340/.438) of 2008. B.J. Upton should see his power return, too, as he's said the injuries he battle last year really sapped him of his strength. Pat Burrell should add some clobberin'.
What makes me put them third? Evan Longoria is looking to avoid the Noid (better Rookies of the Year than Longoria have flamed out). And most importantly I wonder if their remarkable bullpen turnaround of 2008 can hold up. That was the single biggest difference between the Devil Rays of 2007 and the Non-Devil Rays of 2008. They're going into Opening Day with 39-year old Troy Percival as the closer (4.53/1.23 when healthy last year). It just seems like a team this good would want to have some more reliable than a guy near 40 that missed an entire season two years ago as their shutdown reliever. Then again batters hit all of .178 off of Percival last year.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
Did you know that by Pythagorean record the Blue Jays were the second-best team in the AL in 2008?
Tampa Bay, 92-70
Chicago and Minnesota, 89-74
Los Angeles, 88-74
New York, 87-75
Kansas City, 72-90
I don't like Toronto to repeat that performance. You could probably guess that by the fact that I'm putting them fourth and am about to say, "I don't think they're close to the top three, and I even think with some luck and baseball weirdness junk we might even leapfrog the Jays," but instead I chose the most uninformative sentence possible. Look out, Plaschke, here I come.
5. Baltimore Orioles
We're going to finish last unless something terrible happens to Roy Halladay. By August or September the rotation might actually start looking passable, but for the start it's ugly, it's not likely Huff hits again like he did last year, Mora won't have the total numbers he had last season (I expect close to 2007 numbers), and while shortstop is improved, it's not like Izturis is a big difference maker. Good glove, hope he pokes some singles and steals some bags. I expect like last year this will be a fun team to watch for a while until the drag of the 162-game season sets in and it starts getting kind of repetitive.
Two things I really want to see: Adam Jones improvement (expect it, count on it, cherish it), and for the team to NOT COMPLETELY LAY DOWN AND DIE IN THE LAST TWO MONTHS. Please? Please please please?
I'm going to go quicker on the rest of the divisions because (1) I don't care as much, and (2) I don't want to write a damn book with this post.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
1. Cleveland Indians
I think you can write Travis Hafner off, but this team was so much better than their record last year (though either way they were quite disappointing) and I just find something appealing about them. It probably has something to do with Major League.
When I think of the Indians and GM Mark Shapiro and even Eric "Tommy Pickles" Wedge, I feel like Paul Rudd talking to Seth Rogen during the dinner scene in Knocked Up. "I like the way you move."
2. Minnesota Twins
I'm done picking the Twins to be bad. I'm never impressed with them on paper and they're pretty much always in contention. They'll probably win the division.
3. Kansas City Royals
Yes! Dayton Moore is not quite the über cool GM of the future some people were making him out to be when he came to KC from Atlanta, because he does weird, pointless things like signing malcontent Jose Guillen and COMPLETELY needlessly acquiring Mike Jacobs, but the Gil Meche deal has worked out, Zack Greinke is becoming the pitcher people thought he'd never become after his off-field issues, and Billy Butler might actually hit this season. I don't think they'll be good, I just think they're getting better. In some ways I think the Royals are getting better in spite of Moore, and that's not even pointing out how much better he is than his predecessors. I really feel for Royals fans. We're with ya, guys.
4. Chicago White Sox
Jim Thome hit 34 dongs last year but he's getting really close to being so fat and old that it all falls apart in one gloriously excruciating season. Paul Konerko is damn close to that, but he's not exactly Jim Thome, either. John Danks might never have as good a season as he had last year. I have nothing against the White Sox. I think Ozzie Guillen is a boneheaded manager but feel he's great for baseball overall.
Is this the fattest team in the league? Thome, Bartolo Colon, Bobby Jenks, Matt Thornton, Jose Contreras, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Quentin, Clayton Richard, Mark Buehrle. These guys are all listed at 230+. Colon is listed at 245 which is pretty absurd.
5. Detroit Tigers
There are few teams that have gotten it as right as Detroit did a few years ago only to IMMEDIATELY start getting it so wrong afterward. The follow-up season where they went 88-74 was just a slight tick back. Little did anyone know they were about to start trading for Dontrelle Willis and Gary Sheffield.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
1. Los Angeles Angels
They're not very good, really, but they're better than every other team here. It's that simple.
2. Texas Rangers
SLUGGAGE. I like that Nelson Cruz. He will have many runs batted in hitting fourth. Go fantasy team. Their pitching is still gross.
3. Oakland Athletics
Now God knows I love Billy Beane but since the Moneyball-era market exploitation doesn't work anymore he's seemed like a chicken with his head cut off trying to find new things to buy for cheap.
4. Seattle Mariners
You know what's sad? I'm psyched about Griffey being back in Seattle and all, but man...is he going to be horrible in Safeco Field or what?
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
1. New York Mets
The Lowe pickup is a lot bigger than it's been made out to be. Johan and D-Lowe Brown will try to erase the the memories of the collapses. (Editor's Note: This is what happens when the MLB 2K9 franchise rosters, after CPU trades, start invading your brain. I still think the Mets win the division. Unfortunately they're now managed by Jerry Manuel.
2. Philadelphia Phillies
No repeat! At least not in the division.
3. Atlanta Braves
Chipper Jones playing in the WBC was the most predictable injury I have ever seen.
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
1. Milwaukee Brewers
With Sheets and Sabathia gone I still think they'll find a way to win a division I don't expect to be very good at all. Kinda sad that Dale Sveum didn't get to keep his job, but also sort of neat for management to not just reward him with the manager's spot if they didn't really want him there just because CC Sabathia carried the entire team on his back.
2. Chicago Cubs
Dempster won't be as good, Zambrano is a lunatic, Carlos Marmol could blow any game in the eighth inning, and Kosuke Fukudome has been useless since George Sherrill messed him up last season. Derrek Lee's aging, too. I just don't like them to make any real run in '09.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
"I would like to rely on Todd Wellemeyer, Kyle Lohse, outfielder Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick, please!"
4. Cincinnati Reds
Dusty Baker wants the team to pick up broken-down old Gary Sheffield because they're friends. I hope they finish last and pine for Adam Dunn. No offense, Reds fans, but I must see Baker and the Brennamans try to explain where the runs went.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
The worst franchise in Major League Baseball. Not that they aren't showing any improvement. But they are undeniably, for the time being, the worst franchise in Major League Baseball until they can compete just one season. (We're second-worst. That Tony Pena Royals team that won 83 games puts them a leg up.)
6. Houston Astros
My pick for worst freaking team in baseball. Cecil Cooper was recommended by Bud Selig and he's as incompetent as you'd expect given that statement. Old Brewers stick together.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
Why? Webb and Haren, for starters, bad division for another thing, and they've got young guys that just might actually get better. Their 2007 division title was a fluke, but their 2008 crap-out doesn't seem like The Real Them either. Someone wins this division with about 84 wins no matter what.
2. San Francisco Giants
Yeah I said it. What?
3. Colorado Rockies
Yeah I said it again. What?
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
This is a hope prediction. I hope they tank. I hope they win 65 games. I really do. A GM as awful as Ned Colletti does not deserve to pick up Manny Ramirez, win division titles, and get excused for all of his rotten decisions. May the useful ghosts of Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, and Andruw Jones haunt your entire world in 2009, Ned.
5. San Diego Padres
Wait, maybe it'll be the Padres, not the Astros.
PLAYOFFS? I JUST HOPE WE CAN WIN A GAME.
Yankees over Indians
Red Sox over Angels
Yankees over Red Sox
Mets over Diamondbacks
Phillies over Brewers
Phillies over Mets (erased memories come back)
Yankees over Phillies
* There's no van.