MLB teams to watch in 2012
The Detroit Tigers spent this offseason adding to the power their lineup already possesses. Prince Fielder’s decision to sign with Detroit was probably the best way for him to go. Ideally, the Tigers are looking to revert back to the old school days of defense, with power on all corners of the field. The Tigers are now stocked with strength at first and third, and they have a strong outfield, all equipped with big bats. With his consistently powerful bat, and his solid fielding skills, the addition of Fielder to the Detroit lineup should be a smart one. But the decision may put other members of the team in a tough spot. If Miguel Cabrera’s transition from first to third base is not as smooth as expected, it could create problems within the lineup. If Cabrera can’t hold down the hot corner, Brandon Inge will have to step up. However, the problem arises with Inge’s bat. Last season, Inge struggled at the plate hitting a weak .196. If Cabrera can pull through at third, the Tigers will have a dangerous lineup that will threaten any starting pitcher’s ERA. With the meat of the batting order consisting of left fielder Delmon Young, right fielder Brennan Boesch, shortstop Jhonny Peralta, and the power hitters at the corners in Fielder and Cabrera, baseball fans everywhere can expect to see a prime slugfest in 2012.
The signing of Yu Darvish tells me one thing; the Texas Rangers have something to prove. The two-time defending American League champions came within a single pitch from winning the World Series in last season’s Fall Classic. This decision says owner Nolan Ryan, probably the greatest pitcher to ever take the mound, is tired of second place. They are betting $60 million that Darvish will get the franchise over the hump to win their first World Series. Key contract arbitration needs to be settled with Josh Hamilton (.298), Elvis Andrus (.279), Nelson Cruz (.263), and Mike Napoli (.320), in order to guarantee the same slugging we saw last year. The recent re-signing of Adrian Beltre was a step forward in regaining the same power of 2011. One move was vital to retain the Rangers’ top-tier status in the American League, and that was to re-sign starting pitcher CJ Wilson. With a 2.94 ERA, Wilson proved to be a consistent threat in the rotation last year, but he was signed by another team before ownership could act. Most of the Rangers worries should be gathered around retaining their talent, as opposed to going out and seeking different people. Do not be surprised to see the Texas Rangers win the American League, yet again. They could even win their first World Series in franchise history, this year.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays arguably have the best defense and pitching rotation in the league. With a seasoned rotation in James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Wade Davis, (combined ERA of 3.42 in 2011) opposing lineups will have trouble making contact. Matt Moore, rookie starting pitcher, is surrounded with high anticipation for his first full year in the bigs. If Moore can withstand a fast rotation and high numbers in the innings pitched column, he should be free of injury and perform very well in the 2012 season. Who knows, we may even see back-to-back rookie of the year performances (last year Hellickson, this year Moore) from Tampa Bay pitchers. This offseason, the Rays were worried about filling unstable holes in the diamond. Rays owners accomplished what they set out to do with new defensive pickups like the utility player, Jeff Keppinger, and signing the solid catcher in Jose Molina. Carlos Pena’s return to the Rays dugout should prove successful in a few ways. Pena’s All-Star attitude in the locker room will be good for leadership, his defense at first base is highly needed, and his bat should produce his normal 23 home runs and 80 RBI’s this season. Last year’s struggling offensive production could expect to see some improvement. The Rays are unlikely to bring Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon back for another year, so the DH position was filled by former Baltimore Oriole Luke Scott. Scott should provide power while Keppinger will bring versatility. With a healthy Evan Longoria and a young Desmond Jennings, the new additions should complement the old very well. This year’s offense can expect a huge increase in the number of runs scored since 2011, and could possibly make it to the World Series for the second time in franchise history.
The new and improved Miami Marlins have experienced a hectic offseason to prepare for 2012. Not only did they revamp their entire franchise with a newly designed name, stadium, and uniform, the Marlins are sure to make a strong impression this year with the roster moves that were put in place. While the Florida Marlins were always regarded as a small market team, the Miami Marlins do not appear afraid of going after the big names. Deals have already been made to acquire shortstop Jose Reyes, and pitchers Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle. The Marlins have even traded to get Carlos Zambrano, a move that is sure to strengthen their pitching rotation. The recent signing of a Mexican prospect, German Duran, should prove to be the right decision. Duran debuted in MLB with the Texas Rangers in 2008, and hit an average of .261. In 2011 he played for the Air Hogs in the Mexican League where he hit for an average of .338. His bat seems to be improving as his play in the field remains strong and versatile. Duran is likely to be a nice fit for the defense as he has the ability to play second and third base, as well as the outfield. As one of their final moves before the season starts, the Marlins are looking to sign the up-and-coming Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The slugger from Cuba is highly sought after and will likely sign a lucrative deal with the Marlins, and contribute to their already strong lineup. Does any of this sound familiar? In franchise history, the Marlins have only two World Series appearances, and they won both. If you look back in time to the 1997 team, big money was dropped and big moves were made during the offseason, taking them all the way to the World Series. We can expect a big year from the Miami Marlins.
Signing Jonathan Papelbon was a great move to replace closer Ryan Madson. Papelbon’s reputation as a shutdown closer should complement the starting rotation very well. While pitching for Boston in 2011, Papelbon recorded a total of 31 saves (7th in the league) with an ERA of 2.94. Papelbon’s history of consistency should give the starters something to feel good about. When a starter leaves the game with the lead, knowing that Papelbon is in the bullpen warming up, will provide a strong sense of security. However, Philadelphia already has an elite starting rotation with no-hitter Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. Even in the field, the Phillies are making solid deals. Re-signing Jimmy Rollins to a three-year contract will be great for the infield, as well as in the batter’s box. His speed on the base paths is nearly unparalleled, and Phillies’ fans can expect to see another great year from their shortstop. Don’t forget about the power that returns to the lineup. At first base, Ryan Howard will hope to repeat his performance from last year, hitting 33 home runs and recording 116 RBIs. Two other pickups should prove to be wise. Signing Hunter Pence to avoid arbitration was a great move, and will definitely add to the strength of the lineup with his .324 batting average. Also, the Phillies signed veteran Juan Pierre to a minor league contract, in order for him to compete to make the team. Whoever is battling for Pierre’s position better watch out, his 2011 batting average was .279 and I can’t picture him in a minor league uniform for very long in the near future. With the new additions, and a steady eye on the prize, the Philadelphia Phillies will be a frontrunner in the race to the 2012 World Series.
The team who has a powerful pitching rotation is always the team to watch, and the Washington Nationals are in the midst of setting themselves up for success. The franchise did a lot of improvement to this area by adding left-hander Gio Gonzalez into the mix. Coming out of the Oakland Athletics franchise, Gonzalez is sure to add the strength and consistency to a rotation sometimes lacking it. He racked up a total of 197 strikeouts last year, combined with an ERA of 3.12. But he isn’t the only strong pick up. The Nats also signed “Lights Out” Brad Lidge to handle their closing duties. Last year for the Phillies, Lidge pitched a total of only 19.1 innings, but shut down batters by recording 23 strikeouts. His 1.40 ERA should prove to dominate most lineups in the league late in ballgames. The pitchers set to return are also key for Washington’s quest for postseason play. The most highly anticipated is Stephen Strasburg, who is one year removed from Tommy John’s Surgery. In 2011, before his injury, Strasburg only pitched in a total of five games. However, in those five games he put up huge numbers in all aspects; he shut down hitters with an ERA of 1.40 and recorded 24 strikeouts in a total of 24 innings. The stadium even experiences a jump in ticket sales whenever he starts. Strasburg draws in 18,000 more fans on average whenever he is scheduled to start. The franchise witnessed a dramatic decrease in revenue when the star pitcher went down with an injury, dropping from $3.4 million a game to $1.1 million (see Strasburg). If the Nats can keep their pitching rotation healthy, and find a way to produce some runs on the diamond, they will be a team to watch in the 2012 season.