1. BOSTON – The Red Sox are mostly the same as the team that won the World Series last year. The biggest free agent loss was speedy centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, but then may have filled that gap with oft-injured Grady Sizemore. Sizemore has the talent, if he’s healthy, to make Ellsbury a distant memory and the Spring numbers he’s put up indicate that may be the case.
2. TAMPA BAY - Joe Madden may be one of the best managers of all-time. He’s kept his teams competitive on a budget. The Rays have won an average of 91.4 games per year for six years and never in that time has he payroll scratched a $75 million threshold. The team is young and talented with more stars like Wil Myers and Chris Archer coming every day.
3. N.Y. YANKEES – The Bronx Bombers are going to be in a dogfight for 3rd with the O’s and the Jays. Their roster moves with Ellsbury, Beltran and McCann don’t make the team much younger. They’ll perform, but big holes remain. The Yanks have an infield of Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, old man Jeter and Mark Texiera. It’s old and injured.
4. BALTIMORE – The Orioles will be competitive and could possibly win some other divisions in baseball. They added Nelson Cruz to a lineup that can already mash with Chris “Crash” Davis, Matt Weiters, Manny Machado and a (hopefully for them) rebounding Nick Markakis. The addition of Ubaldo Jimenez boosts the rotation.
5. TORONTO – There is no reason to think the Blue Jays will have a repeat of the horrible season they had last year. Injuries killed what could have been a contender last year. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, Dioner Navarro, Melky Cabrera is a nice nucleus to work with.
JP’s picks: BOSTON, NEW YORK, TAMPA BAY, BALTIMORE, TORONTO
1. DETROIT – The Tigers are the defending champions of the division and could be in a neck and neck race for the title this year. The roster is not as powerful and potent without Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta. Ian Kinsler should be a good addition. A managerial switch from Jim Lleyland to Brad Ausmus also contains some unknowns. As with last year's team, pitching won't be an issue with Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly in the rotation.
2. KANSAS CITY – It finally could be the year for the Royals. The club has not been in the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1985. The Royals are loaded with young talent that can't be denied. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Salvador Perez and Norichika Aoki are a young nucleus that can help win a title.
3. CLEVELAND – Terry Francona and the Tribe had a magical season last year. Tito will likely have his crew competitive again. The young stars ake this group fun to watch. Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and pitchers Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer could lead a new era in Cleveland.
4. CHICAGO WHITE SOX – There is a lot of buzz around Rookie of the Year favorite Jose Abreu. That is all.
5. MINNESOTA – There's not much hope for the Twins. They made some additions to the rotation with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes for what it's worth.
JP’s picks: DETROIT, KANSAS CITY, CLEVELAND, MINNESOTA, CHICAGO
1. L.A. ANGELS – Mike Trout's contract extension being signed, sealed and delivered just before the season began makes a potential distraction go away. You cannot expect Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols to have off years again. This team was 6th in runs last year. What could they do with everyone healthy and mashing?
2. OAKLAND – The A's have a talented offense but their pitching is suspect with a couple of big injuries in Spring Training. Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin went down. Can there be another trick up Billy Beane's sleeve?
3. TEXAS – The arrival of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo immediately upgrade the offense in a big way. Aside from Yu Darvish, the Rangers' pitching is a concern.
4. SEATTLE – Robinson Cano is surrounded by a lot of young talent and there is talk that he's stepping into the role of a leader. That's something that many questioned. The clock is ticking on Dustin Ackley's development. He's in the final year of his deal. Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker could be a potent three-man rotation by mid-year.
5. HOUSTON – Houston will likely pick #1 again in next year's draft. They are loading up on talent. They'll be competitive again one day.
JP’s picks: OAKLAND, L.A. ANGELS, TEXAS, SEATTLE, HOUSTON
1. WASHINGTON – The Nationals suffered a horrific start to last season and were buried in a whole they couldn't dig out of. That is despite being the best team in baseball at the end of the season, winning 63% of their games the last two months. The rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman gets better when Doug Fister returns from the DL.
2. ATLANTA – The Braves are a contender again. The division is a two-team race between them and the Nats. Pitching is going to be the big concern with injuries to Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor. Ervin Santana and Julio Teheran are nice start to a rotation, but more is needed. The lineup will score a lot of runs and this team will likely need them. B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla need to flip their slumps from last year. If not, some major changes could be coming.
3. PHILADELPHIA – The core of the Phillies is still talented, but is againg. This may be the last chance Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins have to turn this thing into a winner again. With Cole Hamels healthy, the rotation becomes one of the best in the league with Cliff Lee and A.J. Burnett performing well.
4. N.Y. METS – Adding Curtis Granderson will help, but the Mets won't be very competitive. Matt Harvey out for the year hurts their marketablility.
5. MIAMI – Aside from Giancarlo Stanton (who is at the heart of trade rumors galore), Jarrod Saltalamaccia (who won a ring wuith the Sox), Rafael Furcal (who used to be a good player) and Jose Fernandez (the reigning Rookie of the Year)... who are these guys?
JP’s picks: ATLANTA, WASHINGTON, PHILADELPHIA, N.Y. METS, MIAMI
1. ST. LOUIS – The Cardinals are going to be atop the league again. The young talent is more experienced and more has arrived with ex-Angels outfielder Peter Bourjos. One of the best prospects in baseball is also destined to arrive soon at the major league level in Oscar Taveras.
2. PITTSBURGH – The same team that fought tooth and nail last season and just won games, is back. They lost nothing major in the offseason. The problem – they gained nothing major.
3. CINCINNATI – The Reds are going to be in the thick of the division race again. If Johnny Cueto stays healthy, he Mat Latos and Homer Bailey lead a strong staff. Brandon Phillips and Ryan Ludwick could bounce back making this team more dangerous.
4. MILWAUKEE – Ryan Braun returns, but did the drugs make him something he's not? Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo make a great one, two punch on the mound.
5. CHICAGO CUBS – The only bright spots for the Cubs are young stars Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Mike Olt.
JP’s picks: PITTSBURGH, ST. LOUIS, MILWAUKEE, CINCINNATI, CHICAGO
1. L.A. DODGERS – They fell just short of the World Series last year, but that probably won't be the case this year. This is one of those rare cases where the highest payroll actually pays off. The lineup is loaded and the rotation could go six deep.
2. SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants may have a great tool in Tim Hudson. His leadership should be a big plus, but his impact on other pitchers could be more important. Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain are awesome. If Huddy can impact and rejuvenate Tim Lincecum, that would be huge. If healthy, the Giants will contend.
3. ARIZONA – Mark Trumbo and Paul Goldschmidt provide the pop for this roster. If either fall, so will this team to last place.
4. SAN DIEGO – San Diego has no real stars and the ones who could step up can't stay healthy.
5. COLORADO – If Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez can stay healthy, there is hope to move out of the cellar. Justin Morneau will help with that goal if he can have a late career resurgence.
JP’s picks: L.A. DODGERS, SAN FRANSCISCO, ARIZONA, COLORADO, SAN DIEGO
TANK'S PLAYOFF PICKS: AL: RED SOX, TIGERS, ANGELS, RAYS, ROYALS
NL: NATIONALS, CARDINALS, DODGERS, BRAVES, GIANTS
WORLD SERIES: RED SOX over DODGERS
J.P'S PLAYOFF PICKS: AL: RED SOX, TIGERS, A’S, ANGELS, ROYALS
NL: BRAVES, PIRATES, DODGERS, NATIONALS, CARDINALS
WORLD SERIES: TIGERS over DODGERS