New York Yankees
2012 (projected): 94-68
Short of gaining access to their books, there is no way of knowing if the Yankees are being affected by Great Depression II: The Economy Strikes Back. Have the un-leased luxury boxes and empty Legends seats in the Stadium's lower dish caused them to pull back the ever-climbing payroll? Or is spending less part of an actual plan? No business is immune from the pitfalls of a bear economy, and the Yankees are a business.
Boston Red Sox
2012 (projected): 89-73
We predicted Carl Crawford to lose some hits and walks from the move into Boston's stronger lineup and away from turf, but 2011 was disastrous. Between a .155/.204/.227 April and a month of games missed due to a hamstring injury, Crawford's line never recovered. He looked uncomfortable at the plate, and his swing was at its most ugly when he needed to protect the plate with two strikes. The result? The same number of whiffs as in 2010 in 119 fewer chances. Crawford isn't just in Boston for his bat, though, as he is a superior defender and baserunner, too. He also at least started to recover when he returned from his leg injury (.272/.303/.462 in last 209 PA). Crawford used to claim his legs would be stronger if he got off turf, but PECOTA sees those wheels fading.
Tampa Bay Rays
2012 (projected): 86-76
As polarizing a player as exists in any major league market, B.J. Upton has displayed questionable baseball IQ at times. Those moments have caused two distinct parties to form: the haters and the apologists. The haters see a player who loses focus, is picked off by pitchers or thrown out by catchers far too often, and who strikes out looking even more frequently. The apologists see a very talented player entering his prime who has shown flashes of brilliance, such as his power display during the Rays' 2008 postseason run or down the stretch last season. The real Upton lies somewhere in between.
Toronto Blue Jays
2012 (projected): 76-86
One of the cons pulled by "Fast" Eddie Felson, Paul Newman's poolshark protagonist of The Hustler, is to sink an impossible rail shot while stumblingly inebriated. When his partner challenges him to repeat the trick, Felson misses badly. To the rest of the pool hall, Fast Eddie looks too hardheaded and hard-drinking to realize when he's been lucky. But when the bet is laid down for the second time, it's to the unsuspecting onlooker's surprise (and significant pecuniary disadvantage) that Fast Eddie straightens up and nails the shot. Joey Bats took what look like the hardest shot on the table—following up a season in which he quadrupled his career high in home runs—straightened his tie, squared his hips, and drilled one in the corner pocket.
2012 (projected): 73-89
If there's one word that best describes the Orioles' offseason front office situation, it's debacle. No, maybe spectacle. Catastrophe? Or maybe a simple "disaster" tag best applies. Any way you slice it, you'd think the Orioles were trying to give away a case of chlamydia as opposed to their general manager position last fall. Given that there are only 30 such positions in the entire world, you know there's a problem when multiple executives are uninterested in or flat-out turn down the job.
2012 (projected): 87-75
Detroit's salary structure has suddenly reached a level of elegant simplicity that would earn nods of approval from Steve Jobs and Dieter Rams. Their best players, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, are also their highest paid and are signed through their peak seasons—a situation that's more rare than you might think. Cabrera has no big salary increases scheduled through the end of his contract in 2016, at which point he'll be nearly 33 years old and ripe enough to sign a 10-year deal with the Angels. Verlander reaches his maximum $20 million salary this season, a bump that's more than covered by the expiration of Carlos Guillen's contract; when his deal ends in 2015, Verlander will be nearing age 32. Victor Martinez is the only other player slated to earn eight figures, but he should remain productive and will be off the books before he turns 36. A handful of supporting veterans earn seven figures on short deals, and the whole structure is supported by a plethora of low-cost youngsters in the rotation and filling out the lineup. There's very little dead money on the books, and that fiscal responsibility provides the Tigers with the flexibility they need to sign a veteran here and there to fill a lineup hole. Such flexibility primes them for a multiyear run of Central Division dominance during Verlander's and Cabrera's peaks—if they're bold enough to seize the opportunity.
2012 (projected): 83-79
The Indians' dirty little secret is that their rebuild hasn't really gone particularly well. Cleveland traded the previous-year's AL Cy Young award winner in consecutive seasons, C.C. Sabathia in 2008, Cliff Lee in 2009. While those two helped deliver their new teams three pennants, the Indians and their fans found solace in the potential of the players acquired in those trades. Unfortunately, that potential is quickly eroding. The key player acquired in the Sabathia trade, first baseman Matt LaPorta, was supposed to be a masher in the heart of the lineup. He's now 27 and a career .238/.304/.397 hitter in the major leagues. Michael Brantley, the second-best player acquired in that trade, looks like a fourth outfielder at best. The best player in the Lee deal was teenage pitching prospect Jason Knapp, but he has appeared in just 13 games since joining the Indians organization in mid-2009 thanks to a pair of shoulder surgeries. Carlos Carrasco, also acquired in that deal, looked like he might be turning into a solid major league starter last year, only to go under the knife himself: Tommy John surgery in September. He'll be 26 before he appears in another major league game.
Chicago White Sox
2012 (projected): 80-82
Having erred in not re-signing Jim Thome for the 2010 season, the Sox paid top dollar last year for Adam Dunn to fill their DH void, only to watch his slugger's license expire. How historic was Dunn's power outage? There have been 2,300 qualifying player-seasons where a batter slugged over .500, and last year Dunn became the first to follow up such a year by slugging below .300. Whether due to age, changing leagues, adapting to the DH spot, or some random Ozzieball curse, Dunn spent the season at sea, unable to catch up to the fastballs he has traditionally crushed and posting a stomach-churning .064/.235/.074 line against lefties. The good news is Dunn's superior batting eye remains intact, and a newfound commitment to offseason cage work may perk up his reflexes and remind him how to put bat on ball with authority. None of that will stop him from being a Canyonero-sized millstone in the field and on the basepaths. While he's certain to improve at the plate, his days as one of baseball's most feared one-trick ponies might be over, unless the three years and $44 million left on his contract say otherwise.
2012 (projected): 74-88
Strikeouts are fine for coastal city slickers, but they're too flashy for Midwestern types who believe pitching to contact is a wholesome, honest way to make a living. That's the message the organization sent (yet again) when assembling their 2011 rotation, not only by re-signing Carl Pavano and hassling Francisco Liriano, but by anointing Nick Blackburn a starter during the first week of March despite his awful 2010 numbers. Blackburn's brand of blandness was typically blah; he took the ball every fifth day until late August, and managed to provide sub-league average performances in all three defense-independent categories. Despite a high groundball rate, he can't keep the ball in the park. Surgery to alleviate a trapped radial nerve ended his season early. Unless doctors implanted an out pitch, expect more of the same.
Kansas City Royals
2012 (projected): 68-94
It has been a long, cold winter, but the Process finally began to bear fruit in 2011. The Royals served notice the future was on its way when they placed 10 players in our list of the Top 101 prospects in last year's annual and were anointed as having the top minor league system in the game. The evolution began in earnest in early May when top hitting prospect Eric Hosmer arrived after destroying Triple-A pitchers in just 118 plate appearances. It continued later that month when pitching prospect Danny Duffy was brought up to solidify a shaky starting rotation. They were followed in quick succession by Louis Coleman, Everett Teaford, Mike Moustakas, Johnny Giavotella, and Sal Perez. By the time Duffy toed the slab to make his start at Cleveland on August 27, the Royals lineup that night featured seven out of 10 players who were drafted and developed by the organization. In all, 12 players made their major league debut wearing Royal blue in 2011. The Process, indeed.
2012 (projected): 93-69
What can be said about Nelson Cruz's hamstring that hasn't already been said about James Patterson's prose or the Star Wars prequels? After three trips to the disabled list in 2010 with hamstring-related injuries, Cruz once again found himself back in the training room in 2011, limited to 124 games and inconsistent results. The 31-year-old Dominican has elite power and gave the world a prolonged taste of his talents during a remarkable postseason power barrage. But the injury issues cloud Cruz's future and severely restrict the potential of his offensive prowess. When healthy, Cruz could hit in the middle of any lineup in baseball. The key words being "when" and "could."
Los Angeles Angels
2012 (projected): 90-72
Ultimately, a more competitive AL West has done, and will do, the Angels good. As we saw in 2011, it's the unsuccessful seasons that lead to progress. The Angels are no longer a low-OBP organization. No longer a lousy offense without a star. No longer unable to lock up homegrown players to long-term contracts. No longer throwing way too much money at long-term contracts for aging relievers. No longer bitter. No longer under the spell of Jeff Mathis. No longer opposed to sabermetrics. No longer reluctant to play their young talent. No longer afraid to change.
2012 (projected): 73-89
After making his first three starts of the 2011 season, Dallas Braden was headed back to the 209 after shoulder surgery. When healthy, Braden made his bones on deception and location, getting ahead in counts with a mid-80s fastball (that could touch the upper 80s when he reached back for it!), then forcing awkward rollover swings on his well above-average changeup. His change plays well off the fastball with both velocity separation and late movement to the arm-side. Braden pitches with the confidence of a flamethrower, despite an arsenal with the intensity of a Disney movie. As a pitcher with a small margin of error to begin with, any residual effect from the shoulder surgery could spell curtains for his major league run.
2012 (projected): 69-93
The Great Man theory would posit Miguel Olivo accomplished something historical in 2011: he led his team in runs batted in, despite posting one of the dozen worst OBPs in post-Deadball Era history. Only a truly elite hacker could be both his team's most and least productive hitter, and Olivo is that hacker. He swings at nearly half of all pitches outside the strike zone. He swings at more than half the sliders he sees, and half the curves, and nearly two-thirds of a changeups, and 80 percent of splitters. He's a generational hacker.
2012 (projected): 87-75
The Phillies had the oldest hitters in the league last year by more than 15 months. Swapping Raul Ibanez for some combination of Domonic Brown, John Mayberry, and Laynce Nix will just barely offset everyone else being a year older. Over a certain time horizon, the process of locking every core player up in a long-term deal is the equivalent of nailing down the deck chairs on the Titanic. Even if you could guarantee that Chase Utley would be a Phillie forever, could you stomach watching the poor, hipless guy run out to second base every day? The cumulative effect of the extensions doled out to guys like Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins is that the team has remained largely the same, but older and more expensive.
2012 (projected): 87-75
Here at BP, we have an injury database that shows the history for each player's maladies. Under Jose Reyes, the word "hamstring" appears 11 times, including two entries in 2011 that cost him more than a month's worth of games. He won the batting title last year—offending many by taking himself out of the last game of the season following a bunt single in the first inning—but this is still a player who has averaged just 98 games in the last three years, and the only way he stayed healthy in the second half of 2011 was to simply stop running. Before the All-Star break, Reyes had 15 triples and 30 stolen bases. After, he had just one and nine, respectively. The Marlins believed enough in Reyes's health to sign him for the next six years, bumping incumbent All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez to third base in the process.
2012 (projected): 86-76
Finding a harmony between the scouting reports and defensive metrics about Freddie Freeman is impossible. Folks who watched Freeman know about his picking-and-scooping abilities as well as his strong arm, characteristics that fan the flames of contention. Freeman's offensive output is less controversial. He became the youngest first baseman in club history to belt 20-plus home runs during the regular season, and produced at rates better than league-average. The downsides to Freeman's season at the plate were his strikeouts (more than expected), issues against left-handed pitching, and wayward plate discipline. Still, receiving as much offense as the Braves did from a 21-year-old in his freshman campaign is a blessing more than a curse. The big question is whether Freeman will be worthy of the Captain Marvel Jr. nickname, or if he just becomes a solid everyday first baseman.
2012 (projected): 81-81
We blame House for this. Somewhere along the line jerks across America decided that they were just like the misanthropic physician—their brilliance and otherworldly excellence at work both created and somehow permitted their being a complete psychopathic tool. No. It might be true for a fictional character but that guy at your office is really just a gaper. For Bryce Harper that side of it is overblown. He gets attention for showing up an opponent who instigated it earlier in the game. He gets attention for buying eyeblack in bulk at Sam's Club and smearing it all over himself. But mostly what he gets attention for is hitting the snot out of the ball. And he's going to do that in spades. For a very long time.
New York Mets
2012 (projected): 77-85
Remember the cool Jason Bay? The guy every team wanted at the 2008 trade deadline and the guy who hit 36 home runs and drew 94 walks in 2009? That's the player the Mets paid for, but injuries have aged him before our very eyes. His bat has slowed down considerably and he's become a stiff, almost laughably bad defensive player. If you are expecting him to rebound to his old level, we have a bridge in the next borough over to sell you, and the Mets are on the hook for $32 million over the next two years for this guy, who clearly isn't Jason Bay anymore.
St. Louis Cardinals
2012 (projected): 91-71
Three days after winning Game Seven, Tony La Russa, the third-winningest manager in major-league history and the Cardinals skipper since 1996, retired. Less than two months after that, Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, complete with a 10-year post-retirement personal-services contract that will keep him on the Angels payroll until at least 2031. In between those two franchise-altering departures, scouting director Jeff Luhnow left to become the new general manager of the Houston Astros. It was as if every dream and nightmare came true for the Cardinals over the course of 11 months.
2012 (projected): 88-74
Deciding that a fat first baseman is more easily replaced at considerably less cost than the team's other great slugging star or one of the best second basemen in baseball seems like an eminently sensible choice, even before getting into whether Mat Gamel's time is now. That kind of bloodless calculus might prove to be a form of thrifty solace to Brewers fans worried about their team's post-Prince Fielder future, even if they don't make movies about it.
2012 (projected): 86-76
On the list of mistakes you can't afford, throwing down eight mil for an innings-eating junk-baller is one of those legacy misjudgments, the sort of decision that might have flown during the naughty Aughties, but ends up being a crippling budget-buster nowadays. But giving Bronson Arroyo a three-year, $35 million deal in December 2010, when he was already under option for 2011, will rank among the decade's worst deals, even if the Reds softened the blow by deferring payments out to 2021. Arroyo responded to his security by taking a tilt at the single-season homers-allowed records of Jose Lima (48, 2000 NL) and Bert Blyleven (50, 1986 AL).
2012 (projected): 74-88
If there's anything Theo Epstein and Jim Hendry have in common it's a history of poor contract decisions. Despite overseeing the Cubs' first back-to-back winning seasons in more than 30 years in 2003-04, Hendry's tenure as Cubs GM will most likely be remembered for the mammoth mistakes he made with Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano. Soriano has never lived up to his eight-year, $136 million contract, delivering just one season out of five better than 2.7 WARP, and Zambrano has been suspended or placed on the restricted list four times since signing his five-year, $91.5 million deal in 2008.
2012 (projected): 73-89
One day, one glorious day, the Pirates will return to the postseason, driven by their talented youngsters and years of hard work. When will the curtain go up on the Pirates in October? Not likely in 2012 or '13, and while 2014 is far off, 2015 might be a more realistic target. Until then, the future is always up, the present is always down.
2012 (projected): 61-101
After reaching agreement with Drayton McLane in May, new owner Jim Crane and his investment group were subjected to a great deal of scrutiny—and rightly so. As detailed by Baseball Prospectus contributor Maury Brown at Forbes.com, back in 1997, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a 104-page report detailing the practices of Crane's Eagle USA Airfreight company, which included paying female and minority employees less than white males doing similar work, failing to investigate employee allegations of sexual harassment, and destroying evidence pertaining to the investigation. In 2000, the Houston Chronicle reported that Crane told his subordinates not to hire blacks because "once you hire blacks, you can never fire them," and used various means of discouraging blacks and women from applying for jobs. The company's General Counsel corroborated those claims and was sued for violating attorney-client privilege. Ultimately, Eagle paid a $9 million settlement to plaintiffs for its discriminatory practices. Furthermore, another one of Crane's companies, Eagle Global Logistics, was sued four times by the Department of Justice over allegations of war profiteering, paying around $10 million in fines and civil suit settlements from 2006 to 2008.
San Francisco Giants
2012 (projected): 86-76
Like a later season of 24, Aubrey Huff has become nothing but a series of increasingly unrealistic twists. For the third year in a row, his VORP swung by at least 40 runs, this time dropping him below replacement level in the first year of a two-year, $22 million deal. His slash line when he was ahead in the count was nearly on par with his 2010 and career numbers. But when the count was even or the pitcher was ahead, Huff hit .217/.219/.301 with four home runs; in the same counts in 2010, he hit .282/.287/.510 with 21 home runs. Bruce Bochy admitted in September that Huff hadn't worked out enough in the offseason and had fallen out of shape. "Aubrey knows as we're coming into 2012 it's going to be a little bit different," Bochy said.
2012 (projected): 84-78
The Diamondbacks had a mediocre offense and a run-of-the-mill rotation and relief corps, and unlike the 2008 Rays, the last team to leapfrog their divisional opponents in a single season, their defense also placed in the middle of the pack, ranking 11th with a 0.714 defensive efficiency. The lone standout aspect of their attack, the third-best baserunning performance in the NL, was worth less than a win. So what made them so good? The uncomfortable truth for Arizona fans is that despite their 94 wins, the Diamondbacks weren't particularly good—surprisingly successful, certainly, especially in light of their shedding a quarter of their payroll and spending less than all but two other NL teams, but still something well short of the dominant performers that their record suggests they were.
San Diego Padres
2012 (projected): 79-83
San Diego had been almost universally picked to finish last in 2010. Had the Padres performed as expected that year, rather than teasing everyone with a run toward the postseason that was derailed by a 10-game losing streak at the end of August, fans might not have been as jolted by the 91-loss season that followed. If it wasn't obvious at the time, it is now: 2010 was a fluke.
2012 (projected): 79-83
Beyond finding a solution to their keystone problem, the Rockies must remember how to win at home in 2012. Coors Field may not play like it did when steroids were prevalent and the humidor wasn't, but it remains the most extreme offensive environment in baseball. In the past, the Rockies have used this to great advantage, bludgeoning unsuspecting opponents in their arena. Colorado won more than 50 games at home in three of the four seasons prior to 2011. Even that brought no postseason guarantees (the Rockies won 52 at home in 2010, but lost 50 on the road).
Los Angeles Dodgers
2012 (projected): 77-85
Given squabbles with Joe Torre and staff over his failures to hustle, baserunning blunders, and general lack of intensity, no player stood to benefit more from a regime change than Matt Kemp. He turned in an MVP-caliber season, leading the NL in homers and RBI, finishing third in batting average, fourth in on-base percentage, and second in slugging. He also led the league in WARP and runs scored, tied for second in steals, and took out the trash every day without being asked. He took home a Gold Glove, too, though our own defensive system wasn't much of a fan; the Total Zone system was alone in calling him significantly above average. Owner Frank McCourt's major parting gesture was to secure Kemp's future in Dodger blue with an eight-year, $160 million deal, alleviating one pressing concern for the incoming regime.
Excerpted from Baseball Prospectus 2012, edited by King Kaufman and Cecilia M. Tan, and written by R.J. Anderson, Bradley Ankrom, Tommy Bennett, Craig Brown, Derek Carty, Jason Collette, Cliff Corcoran, Jeff Euston, Ken Funck, Rebecca Glass, Steven Goldman, Kevin Goldstein, Gary Huckabay, Jay Jaffe, Christina Kahrl, King Kaufman, Ben Lindbergh, Sam Miller, Rob McQuown, Marc Normandin, Jason Parks, Cecilia M. Tan, Colin Wyers, and Geoff Young.
Top image by Jim Cooke.