10 Storylines to Watch in the AL
Fall of the Yankees?
A bum hip and another go-round with PED allegations might mean the end of Alex Rodriguez’s career. Mark Teixeira’s injured wrist might require season-ending surgery. Curtis Granderson is out until early May with a broken arm. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, already up there in years, are coming off major operations. Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia are great, but this could be an ugly season in the Bronx.
After years of living in the shadows of the big moves routinely pulled off by AL East rivals the Yankees and Red Sox, the Blue Jays made their own waves this off-season. They traded their manager, John Farrell, to Boston, and acquired pitchers R.A. Dickey (last year’s NL Cy Young winner) and Mark Buerhle, shortstop Jose Reyes and disgraced outfielder Melky Cabrera. Talk about boom or bust.
Cleveland’s management might have rejuvenated some fan interest by making some big — and risky —off-season moves. Chief atop the list was the four-year, $56 million deal given to Nick Swisher, followed by the four-year, $48 million deal given to Michael Bourn. The Indians also traded Shin-Soo Choo for Drew Stubbs and added a pair of starters in veteran Brett Myers and 2011 No. 3 overall pick Trevor Bauer.
The Baltimore Orioles and Oakland Athletics shocked the baseball world in 2012 by advancing to the playoffs — the Orioles won a wild-card spot and the A’s beat the Rangers for the AL West title on the last day of the regular season. Can they repeat the feat this year? Baltimore made virtually no off-season moves, while the A’s did some tweaking but nothing major. Everything will need to go right once again.
The hapless Houston Astros allowed the Brewers and other NL Central teams to fatten up their records for the past few seasons. This year, they move to the AL West, where they’re likely to find the going just as rough with big-bucks teams like the Angels and Rangers becoming divisional foes. Houston did a complete teardown, meaning it’s likely years from even becoming competitive again.
Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera is coming off a season for the ages after leading the AL with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 runs batted in, making him baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since 1967. He turns 30 next month but is expected to have Torii Hunter hitting in front of him and Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez batting behind him. Will he be able to deliver an encore?
A year after unexpectedly signing Albert Pujols to a huge free-agent contract, the Angels surprised again by doing the same thing with Josh Hamilton. Not only does he add another monster bat to a lineup that also features AL MVP runner-up Mike Trout, but he also deprives the AL West-rival Rangers of their franchise player. Now the challenge for Hamilton is to remain healthy and productive in the glare of a big-city spotlight.
Speaking of Texas, the team lost Hamilton, lost out in the bidding for Zack Greinke and now reports are that CEO Nolan Ryan is unhappy with a new and lessened role. There is still plenty of talent on the roster with Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre, and some good young prospects on the way, but the window is closing fast for the Rangers.
Paying the Price
David Price won the AL Cy Young Award in 2012 after winning 20 games for the Tampa Bay Rays. But he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season, and the Rays have a history of trading talented young pitchers rather than paying them big bucks over the long term since their farm system is so deep in arms. If they decide to dangle the talented left-hander this year, a big-time bidding war could ensue.
Kansas City finally realized it’s not going to go anywhere with talented young offensive players, but no pitching. So the makeover began with a trade for former Angels righty Ervin Santana and continued when the Royals dealt outfielder Wil Myers, one of baseball’s top prospects, to Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis. They still have plenty of bats, so the gamble might pay off.