Baltimore

Ramble:  Losing Nick Markakis was a surprise, but not devastating.  Other than Nick, the winter was  a yawn.

Outfield:  Weaker without Nick.  Adam Jones remains awesome.  Alejandro De Aza and Travis Snider in the corners are average.  If Delmon Young is a reserve outfielder, mmm, not good.

Infield:  Chris Davis is back after his 2104 suspension.  Jonathan Schoop and J.J. Hardy might set a record for lowest combined obp between a starting second baseman and shortstop.  Manny Machado must have a colossal offensive year for the Birds to fly any significant height in 2015.

DH:  A combination of Steve Pearce, Delmon Young and Ryan Lavarnway should be above average.

Catching:  If Matt Weiters plays 130 games, the starting pitchers do well.  Ryan Lavarnway may actually get a chance to catch in the bigs on a semi-regular basis.

Starting Pitching:  Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez make a solid rotation.  If Ubaldo Jimenez could win a dozen games, the O’s could make a wild card spot.  By the way, Dave Wallace is a superior pitching coach.

Relief:  Can Zach Britton repeat 2014?  We shall see.  Darren O’Day will follow personal tradition and not have an era above zero until sometime in late May.  Tommy Hunter, Brad Brach, T.J. McFarland and Brian Matusz complete a rock solid bullpen.

AAA/AA Help:  Christian Walker (1b, especially if Chris Davis struggles early), Glynn Davis (of), Daniel Alvarez (of), Tyler Wilson (starter), Zach Davies (starter), Brock Huntzinger (relief).  Note:  The O’s tied for 10th in my A.L. development ratings. Thin soup.

Prediction:  Second and a wild card, but only because Tampa, Toronto and NYY are weak.

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New York

Ramble:  I despise the Evil Empire, but I will attempt to be fair (and brief).  Less the A-Rod winter circus (thank you, Lord), not much.  Free agents avoided the EE., less Andrew Miller.  Oh, boy.

Outfield:  Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran form a decent outfield.  Gardner and Ellsbury cover a lot of ground.  Beltran will attempt to stay healthy until the end of June.  Garrett Jones takes the place of an injured Beltran.  Chris Young is next in line.

Infield:  Mark Teixeira, fresh from the dead Stephen Drew, somebody not named Jeter at short and Chase Headley (remove his 2012 season, and discover a marginal offensive player) at third may cause a nervous string of games for Joe Girardi (who I fully admit is a fine manager and the only reason the ’14 NYY did not completely crumble).

DH:  A-Rod gets a few at-bats in a pathetic attempt to shut him up.  Eventually, Brian Cashman receives permission to release Star Quarterback Man.  Garrett Jones, if offered enough at bats, could be a productive dh.

Catching:  Brian McCann and J.R. Murphy form a solid duo, but if one falls to injury causing Andrew Romine and/or Gary Sanchez to enter the fray, oy vey.

Starting Pitching:  Losing Hiroki Kuroda and his 199 innings pitched to his home country of Japan was sweet.  Masahiro Tanaka must deliver 200 plus innings or the hurt is on.  C.C. Sabathia is offensive line massive.  Can he maintain a velocity near 90 after the fifth inning?  Doubtful.  Michael Pineda is determined to become C.C., Jr.  Nathan Eovaldi has a truck load of undeveloped talent.  Chris Capuano is a #5 starter, but anything else is folly.

Relief:  Losing David Robertson (39 saves) blew a hole in the bullpen.  Gaining Andrew Miller (but at far too much money, even for the Yankees) makes for a solid eighth inning guy.  If Andrew Bailey can find his former self, a quality closer is rediscovered.  David Carpenter must deliver his 2013 and 2014 Atlanta results.  The EE is dangerously shallow in the bullpen.  No quality help awaits in their system.

AAA/AA Help:  Francisco Arcia (c), Joe Pierla (2b), Rob Refsnyder (2b), Tyler Dugas (of), Jaron Long (starter, and the best home-grown pitcher in a long time) and Luis Severino (starter).

Prediction:  Third in the A.L. East because Girardi can out-manage Kevin Cash and John Gibbons (the worst manager in baseball) with no sleep and blinding headache following an A-Rod press conference.

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Tampa Bay (because Toronto is Nut Job City)

Ramble:  New faces to replace far too many departures include John Jaso, Kevin Jepsen and Drew Smyly.  Plainly speaking, the Rays are in a new land in 2015.

Outfield:  David DeJesus, Desmon Jennings and the largely untested Kevin Kiermaier backed by a cast of unknowns is an injury away from extreme challenge, though Steven Souza, Jr might be the surprise of the season.

Infield:  James Loney (1b), Logan Forsythe (2b), Evan Longoria (3b) and Asdrubal Cabrera (ss) are sure handed and have enough collective offensive talent to suit Kevin Cash (good luck, Kevin).  Nick Franklin will get plenty of time as Mr. Utility.

DH:  John Jaso when the knees are aching from too much catching.  Vince Belnome to determine if he can hit MLB pitching.  The same goes for Steven Souza.

Catching:  John Jaso and Curt Casali are competent.  They do no damage.

Starting Pitching:  Deep.  Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi (time to pitch well, Jake) and Alex Colome are as good as any starting five in the division.

Relief:  Grant Balfour in the ninth is pause for relief (no pun intended).  Ronald Belisario, Brad Boxberger, Ernesto Frieri and Kevin Jepsen should hold most of the leads presented.

AAA/AA Help:  Ryan Brett (2b), Mike Mahtook (of), Adam Liberatore (relief) and Cory Burns (relief).

Prediction:  If all goes well, they fight the EE for third.

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Toronto

Ramble:  Josh Donaldson was a positive addition (as opposed to negative subtraction).  Same with Russell Martin.  Not much else.

Outfield:  Michael Saunders, Dalton Pompey and Jose Bautista make for an above average outfield.  Dayan Viciedo and Kevin Pillar (the better of the two) will likely share left field until the return of Saunders.  Pompey has ability galore.  He advanced from A ball to Toronto in 2014.  A rare journey.  We will see what he brings in 2015.

Infield:  The ever dependable Edwin Encarnacion and Maicer Izturis handle the right side.  While Josh Donaldson’s bat will bring better pitches to Bautista and Encarnacion, his glove is a liability, though his attitude is pure dirt dog.  Jose Reyes logs another year at shortstop.  Justin Smoak and Ryan Goins will be the utility men.

DH:  Most likely a rotation depending upon who has the day off.  Smoak primarily, then Bautista and Encarnacion on the weekend.  However, if Kevin Pillar proves the superior of Viciedo, he will be in the dh mix as well.

Catching:  Russell Martin’s arrival prompts Dioner Navarro to ask for a trade.  No loss.  Josh Thole catches R.A. Dickey better than any other past or present catcher in R.A.’s professional life.

Starting Pitching:  The aforementioned Mr. Dickey, the underrated Mark Buehrle, followed in no particular order by Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and Marco Estrada.  Frankly, after Dickey and Buehrle throw, the bullpen better be ready for an early appearance especially if Stroman and Hutchison digress.

Relief:  Brett Cecil closes.  A cast of characters await opportunity and consistency.  Choose from Aaron Loup, Aaron Sanchez, Kyle Drabek (how and why this guy pitches in the bigs is testament to Toronto’s need for arms attached to breathing bodies), Todd Redmond, Rob Rasmussen, Steve Delabar and Chad Jenkins.

AAA/AA Help:  Derrick Chung (c), Daniel Norris (starter.  Though, he was rushed at the ripe old age of 21 from A+ ball to the bigs), Kendall Graveman (starter.  He began 2014 in A ball, then took the Norris express at the age of 23) and Randy Boone (relief).

Prediction:  72 wins if luck prevails.  Fire John Gibbons, now.

 

 

 

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