Ken Davidoff's quick-take preview of the American League. Teams are listed in predicted order of finish in the East, Central and West divisions.
American League East
MANAGER: Joe Girardi, fifth season, 384-264, .593 (overall 462-348, .570)
GM: Brian Cashman
STADIUM: Yankee Stadium (50,287)
OUTLOOK: As always, expectations are as sky-high as the payroll. RHP Hiroki Kuroda, RHP Michael Pineda and returning LHP Andy Pettitte are aboard to improve the starting rotation, while DH-OF Raul Ibanez replaces the retired DH Jorge Posada.
CONCERN: Age, primarily with 3B Alex Rodriguez, SS Derek Jeter and Ibanez. They’re deep enough to overcome the loss of Joba Chamberlain.
BOTTOM LINE: They have a lot going for them, including roster depth, that should allow them to win the toughest division.
2. TAMPA BAY RAYS
MANAGER: Joe Maddon, seventh season, 495-477, .509 (overall 522-501, .510)
VICE PRESIDENT OF BASEBALL OPERATIONS: Andrew Friedman
STADIUM: Tropicana Field (34,078)
OUTLOOK: There’s no more surprise element to the upstart Rays. They’ve been upstarts for five years now. With most of their roster returning from last year’s AL wild-card entry, they should be in the race once again.
CONCERN: How will OF B.J. Upton, whose performance has ebbed and flowed over the years, deal with his impending free agency?
BOTTOM LINE: Their starting rotation should drive them to the postseason for the fourth time in five years.
3. BOSTON RED SOX
Manager: Bobby Valentine, first season (overall 1,117-1,072, .510)
GM: Ben Cherington
STADIUM: Fenway Park (37,493)
OUTLOOK: A historic collapse opened the door for prolific change, with Bobby Valentine and Ben Cherington replacing manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein, respectively. Red Sox Nation hasn’t felt this unstable in a long time.
CONCERN: The back of the starting rotation, the bullpen, shortstop and the corner outfield positions. Otherwise, they’re set.
BOTTOM LINE: There’s a great core of talent, yet too many question marks in the tougher-than-ever AL.
4. TORONTO BLUE JAYS
MANAGER: John Farrell, second season, 81-81, .500
GM: Alex Anthopoulos
STADIUM: Rogers Centre (49,260)
OUTLOOK: The Blue Jays didn’t make the big offseason splash that many industry folks anticipated. Instead, they’ll rely on internal improvements and a new bullpen featuring RHP Sergio Santos, RHP Francisco Cordero, RHP Jason Frasor and LHP Darren Oliver.
CONCERN: More than anything, it’s the competition. They’d be a power in the NL, but in the AL East? It’s awfully challenging.
BOTTOM LINE: The best fourth-place team in baseball.
5. BALTIMORE ORIOLES
MANAGER: Buck Showalter, third season, 103-116, .470 (overall 985-949, .509)
GM: Dan Duquette
STADIUM: Oriole Park at Camden Yards (45,363)
OUTLOOK: Remember a year ago, when skipper Buck Showalter was going to haul them upwards? Oh, well. New GM Dan Duquette doesn’t do much to dispel the notion this is a dysfunctional organization in a killer division.
CONCERN: Not one of their starting pitchers threw well enough last year to be considered even league-average.
BOTTOM LINE: The bottom. If they avoid 90 losses, it’ll be a triumph.
American League Central
1. DETROIT TIGERS
MANAGER: Jim Leyland, seventh season, 519-454, .533 (overall 1,588-1,585, .500)
GM: Dave Dombrowski
STADIUM: Comerica Park (41,255)
OUTLOOK: Just when their winter took a wrong turn, when DH Victor Martinez tore his left ACL in a workout, owner Mike Ilitch signed 1B Prince Fielder to a mammoth contract, ensuring the Tigers’ favorite status.
CONCERN: Will moving 3B Miguel Cabrera across the diamond, to make room for Fielder, actually work?
BOTTOM LINE: With Cabrera and Fielder providing offensive pop and RHP Justin Verlander anchoring a decent starting rotation, the Tigers should cruise back to October.
2. MINNESOTA TWINS
MANAGER: Rod Gardenhire, 11th season, 866-755, .534
GM: Terry Ryan
STADIUM: Target Field (39,504)
OUTLOOK: After an out-of-character plummet last season, the Twins replaced GM Bill Smith with Smith’s predecessor Terry Ryan. With C Joe Mauer and 1B Justin Morneau apparently healthy, Minnesota will try to resume life as a perennial contender.
CONCERN: Will their pitching return to its strike-throwing form of past seasons? Both the starting rotation and the bullpen were awful in 2011.
BOTTOM LINE: Nowhere as good as this year’s Tigers. Nowhere as bad as last year’s Twins.
3. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
MANAGER: Robin Ventura, first season
GM: Kenny Williams
STADIUM: U.S. Cellular Field (40,615)
OUTLOOK: Ozzie Guillen’s departure to Miami last fall ended a colorful era for this club, and now the Chisox move forward with inexperienced skipper Robin Ventura. It’s sort of a rebuilding mission, yet sort of not, given all the veterans still around.
CONCERN: Will DH Adam Dunn rebound from an absolutely horrific 2011?
BOTTOM LINE: They shouldn’t be awful, not with the likes of 1B Paul Konerko and LHP John Danks still around.
4. CLEVELAND INDIANS
MANAGER: Manny Acta, third season, 149-175, .460 (overall 307-427, .418)
GM: Chris Antonetti
STADIUM: Progressive Field (45,000)
OUTLOOK: Their quick start to 2011 is not remembered now, thanks to the Indians’ final record of 80-82, and there’s little reason to anticipate an upswing this season.
CONCERN: The future of RHP Roberto Hernandez, formerly Fausto Carmona. It’s not clear when he’ll be back after getting busted (and eventually cleared) for using a fake name.
BOTTOM LINE: The offense is all right, the pitching not so much. Looks like another forgettable season in Cleveland.
American League West
1. TEXAS RANGERS
MANAGER: Ron Washington, sixth season 427-383, .527
GM: Jon Daniels
STADIUM: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (49,170)
OUTLOOK: As they try for an AL pennant three-peat — and, still, their first World Series title — the Rangers will look to rookie RHP Yu Darvish to bolster an already good starting rotation, which also features converted closer RHP Neftali Feliz.
CONCERN: Feliz has experienced recent right shoulder problems, and RHP Joe Nathan hasn’t pitched a full year at closer since 2010.
BOTTOM LINE: They might possess the best roster depth of all 30 teams.
3. SEATTLE MARINERS
MANAGER: Eric Wedge, second season 67-95, .414 (overall 628-668, .485)
GM: Jack Zduriencik
STADIUM: Safeco Field (47,878)
OUTLOOK: The Mariners are slowly putting together a contender, with a farm system promising more talent on the way. Former Yankees C-DH Jesus Montero will be looked upon to provide offensive pop, as will 1B Justin Smoak.
CONCERN: The notion of hitting 3B Chone Figgins leadoff doesn’t inspire great confidence.
BOTTOM LINE: Not ready for prime time, especially with the powerhouse Rangers and Angels in this division. But getting there.