1. New York Yankees
Why they deserve it: Their biggest weakness outside of a lack of organizational depth was a subpar pitching staff. By trading their young DH labeled a catcher they managed to acquire a solid young starter in Michael Pineda and signed Hiroki Kuroda to a one year deal.
Why they don’t deserve it: Not much help on the way from the minors and they have an aging team whose best years are well behind them.
- They may be a little long in the tooth, but the Yanks should still be able to hit their way to victory this season. Pineda had a poor second half and Kuroda won’t be as a good as he moves into an extreme hitters park but they are still considerably deeper than they were before.1
2. Texas Rangers
Why they deserve it: They have the best offense in baseball and play in one of the friendliest hitter parks in baseball. Their pitching staff should be improved and they’ve been to the World Series two years in a row.
Why they don’t deserve it: Their pitching is still suspect. Will Yu Darvish be as good outside a pitchers park and facing the best hitters in the world? Can Neftali Feliz successfully make the transition to the rotation? If both answers are no (and they might be) the Rangers will be in trouble with the improving climate in the AL West.
- There’s no reason to doubt the Rangers right now, they look better than they were last year and they were the best team in the AL.1
3. Los Angeles Angels
Why they deserve it: The Angels have arguably the best rotation in baseball. There’s no weakness 1-5 and they have very good depth in AAA. Their offense will add the greatest hitter in baseball in Pujols, plus Kendrys Morales to the lineup. Mike Trout looms large in AAA and there’s no way the Angels will put up with another Vernon Wells letdown.
Why they don’t deserve it: They’ve missed the playoffs the last two seasons in a row and have a shaky bullpen. They also have a questionable depth problem. Vernon Wells is blocking Mike Trout and Kendrys Morales is blocking Mark Trumbo. A trade is needed because their offense isn’t good enough to have hitters like that on the bench.
- The Angels will combine a good offense with great pitching. Their bullpen isn’t proven, but the system is stacked with bullpen arms, so these troubles could pass as early as 2012.2
4. Tampa Bay Rays
Why they deserve it: A full year of Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and James Shields is dangerous. Desmond Jennings can be one of the most dangerous players in baseball and they’ve reacquired 1B Carlos Pena, who should add another 30 HR’s to their lineup.
Why they don’t deserve it: The Rays have one of the best minor league systems in baseball, more pitching depth than they know what to do with and an incredible number of young talented contibutors. What they don’t have is an easy division or large payroll. At the end of the day it’s faster to buy a Carl Crawford than it is to develop one, the Yankees and Red Sox know this.
- The Rays have no weakness, they are a well-rounded team, and still they may not make the playoffs.2
5. Philadelphia Phillies
Why they deserve it: Halladay, Lee and Hamels are as good of a 1,2,3 as there is. They should get Utely back healthy and have added Hunter Pence to an already strong lineup. Papelbon in the 9th inning is a relatively sure thing as well.
Why they don’t deserve it: The back end of the rotation is terrible and they have literally no help on the way in their minors as the cupboard is bare not only in AA/AAA but in the lower levels as well. They’ll also have to go without slugger Ryan Howard for a large chunk of the year.
- The Phils have some fierce competition for the next few years, but their combination of pitching, offense and money will make them formidable in 2012.1
6. Boston Red Sox
Why they deserve it: They have one of the best offenses in baseball and will be getting Pedroia and Youkilis back. Crawford will almost certainly be better than he was in 2010. Getting Buchholz back could be the difference between October baseball and a disappointing September.
Why they don’t deserve it: This is largely the same team that completely collapsed to end 2010 except this time around they have no Theo Epstein, Terry Francona or Jon Papelbon and are depending on Daniel Bard to become a starting pitcher.
- The more you look at it, the more it seems the Red Sox could struggle in 2012 despite having an immensely talented team. By struggle, I mean only with 85 – 90 games.2
7. Detroit Tigers
Why they deserve it: They have two of the Top 10 hitters in the game in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Watching those two in the same lineup will be a treat for every fan. They also have possibly the best pitcher in baseball right now with Justin Verlander.
Why they don’t deserve it: The offense really isn’t great outside of Fielder and Cabrera. They’ve got enough depth and talent to win the weak AL Central, but their pitching simply can’t match up with the beasts in the East or the best in the West. Also the idea of Miguel Cabrera as an everyday 3B is being force-fed down everyone's throat as if it's an actual possibility.
- The Tigers are playoff team. Their minor league system isn’t great, but their team is built to be a contender for the foreseeable future and if they get hot at the right time they can be a threat to the Yanks, Rays, Rangers or Angels in the playoffs.--
8. Arizona Diamondbacks
Why they deserve it: They already had a good rotation, but bringing back Joe Saunders for another year only makes them that much better. There’s also the possibility of Tyler Skaggs, Pat Corbin or Trevor Bauer working their ways into the rotation in 2012. When this occurs they will overtake the Phillies/Rays/Angels for the best rotation in baseball.
Why they don’t deserve it: They’re young and were lucky the Giants lost Buster Posey. Outside of Upton, there isn’t much game changing talent in the field. Jason Kubel can hit but he hasn’t proven that he’s healthy or consistent enough to power the middle of a lineup as he’s being paid to do.
- The D-Backs are a well built team. Decent enough offense, good starting pitching, and stronger bullpen and TONS of depth in the minor leagues. They’re a Top 10 team right now, but in 3 or 4 years they could be a Top 5 team. At the same time, they could have a hard time holding off the Giants in he NL West.2
9. St. Louis Cardinals
Why they deserve it: They just won the World Series and have added Carlos Beltran to an already solid offense. Adam Wainwright will give them as much pitching depth as anyone in their division and they boast a core of strong middle relievers that can shorten a game. If they add Roy Oswalt as is rumored then they should jump up a couple spots in the rankings.
Why they don’t deserve it: They’ve lost that one player that made their offense special in Albert Pujols. Holliday and Berkman simply won’t have the same protection. After their first three starters, there’s no starting pitching to speak of. They’ve also lost Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa and will go without the best pitching coach in baseball Dave Duncan for a significant amount of time.
- Can the Cards win without Duncan, LaRussa and Pujols? I’m not so sure they can. I’d have a lot more confidence in their ability to win if Dave Duncan could return soon or if they signed Roy Oswalt.--
10. Atlanta Braves
Why they deserve it: Like any dangerous team, their strength begins and ends on the mound. They have good starting pitching right now, but have the minor league depth to sustain a solid rotation for the next decade. Their 7th, 8th and 9th inning relievers may be the best in the game. I’m expecting Freeman and Heyward to progress and having Bourn a full season should help.
Why they don’t deserve it: There’s no game-changing talent on the offense. They’re decent enough but unless Chipper Jones goes back in time 5 years and Freeman and Heyward go forward in time 5 years, they may not score enough to win.
- This is a good team, but too much can go wrong for the Braves. Their offense wasn’t great to begin with, but they’re only one injury away from mediocrity. The pitching staff is still good enough to make them an 85-win team at minimum.--
11. San Francisco Giants. Rotation and Posey/Belt may make them a playoff team again.1
12. Miami Marlins. This is a great team on paper.1
13. Milwaukee Brewers. Losing Fielder/Braun hurts, but they still have Front Row Amy.--
14. Washington Nationals. Another really good looking team on paper. We'll see how good they are once their prospects arrive.1
15. Toronto Blue Jays. Quietly plotting/preparing/maneuvering to overthrow the evil empires.1
16. Cincinnati Reds. Adding Latos/Madson takes them from after-thought to contender.2
17. Cleveland Indians. A good team, but still not ready to overtake the Tigers.--
18. Kansas City Royals. A young team that will be the best in its division in three years if they develop/acquire more pitching. A lot more pitching.--
19. Colorado Rockies. Continue to stockpile arms. Inevitably a few will pan out and nicely compliment a potent offense.--
20. San Diego Padres. Can't wait to see Grandal, Alonso, Quentin, Maybin, Headley and Blanks in the same lineup.1
21. Los Angeles Dodgers. Once sold, their new owner should be able to tap into one of the largest markets in the US and go on a spending spree beginning in 2013.1
22. Chicago White Sox. No Ozzie, no Buerhle, no Quentin. just lots of Adam Dunn.--
23. Chicago Cubs. Theo reacquires Rizzo. In other news the Cubs might be good again in five years.--
24. Minnesota Twins. Would you had ever expected a Ron Gardenhire club to fall so far?1
25. Pittsburgh Pirates. Lots of promising prospects. Now they just need to pan out.1
26. Baltimore Orioles. I'll admit, they might be really fun to watch in 2012. Could climb this list quickly.2
27. Seattle Mariners. In a division ruled by heavenly pitching and Texas sized bats, the M's lack both to compete in 2012.--
28. Oakland A’s. Their already deflated payroll has been cut in half for the 2012 season. This team needs all it's prospects to pan out, a new stadium in San Jose and a payroll four times its current size to compete in the AL West again.4
29. New York Mets. They had their chance to rebuild with David Wright and Jose Reyes trades. They chose neither, and are now bound for last place, a smaller payroll and no minor league depth to speak of.--
30. Houston Astros. A move to the AL West will actually make their future playoff chances worse.
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