Monday, January 9, 2012

4 Questions for 2012: The MLB

In the second part of the "4 Questions" series, I will take a look at Major League Baseball. The hot stove was simmering in the offseason, and as we approach spring training, (really, it is closer than you think) lets take a look at where all of the moving and shaking has left us.

Free agency and trades dramatically altered the baseball landscape this offseason. The Los Angeles Angels, Miami Marlins, and Cincinnati Reds all made bold moves to improve their chances this season. Which of these teams made the biggest improvements, and which team is in the best position to compete for a playoff berth?

The Angels, Marlins, and Reds all made huge moves this offseason. The Angels were the big winners, landing all world first baseman Albert Pujols (10 years, $240 million), and top of the line starter C.J. Wilson (5 years, $77 million). This move immediately changed the Angels from 2011 afterthoughts to 2012 contenders. The Miami Marlins finally have a new stadium, and though they're under federal investigation, this did not stop them from spending like Barrack Obama. The Marlins acquired Jose Reyes (6 years, $106 million), Mark Buehrle (4 years, $58 million), closer Heath Bell (3 years, $27 million), and manager Ozzie Guillen. They also got Carlos Zambrano via trade. The Reds, although not active in free agency, made a big splash by trading inconsistent pitcher Edinson Volquez and three of the team's top porspects to the San Diego Padres for 24 year old ace Matt Latos.

Each of these teams added impact players. The most improved team, at least in the short term, has to be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Pujols, although aging, is a once in a generation talent. He is someone you can build your lineup around. C.J. Wilson will pair with Dan Haren to become one of the most devastating one-two punches in the majors. Although these other teams made significant improvements, they do not compare to adding guys like Pujols and Wilson.

While all of these teams will have more wins in 2012, not all will reach October. The Marlins are better, but will not get to the playoffs. They inherit a tough division, with Philadelphia and Atlanta to knock out of the way. Although this team is more talented, it will be the definition of dysfunction. With loudmouth Ozzie Guillen, malcontent Hanley Ramirez, and the combustible Carlos Zambrano, the season could unravel at any moment. I don't know what is more fragile, Josh Johnson's right arm or the Miami clubhouse. Also, as good as Jose Reyes is, he seems to get injured every year. This team will fall to either injuries or a lack of chemistry before making the playoffs.

While the Marlins won't make much noise in the stacked East, I believe the Reds and Angels have what it takes to make the playoffs. The Angels now have a powerful enough lineup to go with their stellar pitching rotation. Look for them to be neck and neck with the Rangers, and for the Wild Card to come out of the AL West this year. In the NL, Cincinnati is in prime position to take over the NL Central. The Brewers are a mess with the Braun PED suspension, the Cardinals just lost their superstar and manager, and the Cubs, Astros, and Pirates are in rebuilding mode. That leaves the Reds, who added an emerging star in Latos to join Cueto and Mike Leake at the top of the rotation. Together with a lineup anchored by Joey Votto, the Reds should win in a weakened Central division.

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