Tuesday, I convened a Baseball Nation Round Table, with Jeff Sullivan and Grant "McCovey" Brisbee joining me. Here's what happened next ...
me: American League, 2012. Thoughts? Kidding! No, but seriously. Please give me your three best American League teams, with some short reasonings.
McCovey: Three is tough because the Yankees, Rays, Angels, and Rangers all have a good claim. But I'll go with Angels, Rangers, and Rays, if only because Michael Pineda isn't right.
Jeff: I've stared at the AL West the most by far so I'm already biased in favor of the Rangers and Angels. For a third, I'll volunteer the Tigers, to be different, and to give them some representation. Realistically it'll probably be the Yankees, though. Even if Pineda isn't right, they'll figure something out if they have to.
Jeff: Who wants to spend ten minutes thinking about Aaron Small?
me:Yeah, I was going to say ... Last year, Phil Hughes wasn't right and A.J. Burnett was just plain wrong and yet somehow the Yankees still won more games than anybody else.
Jeff:Hey, I'm not done with Aaron Small!
Went 10-0 in 2005. Drafted in 1989!
me: The Tigers would seem to have little chance of being one of the three best teams, unless we're going strictly by records; they could clean up in the A.L. Central, but you can't like them in a best-of-13 series against the best teams in the other divisions.
Speaking of which, nobody's going to mention the Red Sox at all? Most (or some) of the projections I've seen have the Sox two or three games better than the Rays. Why do you miscreants hate the Red Sox?
McCovey: Because I can't get that damned Dropkick Murphys song out of my head.
I was probably more harsh in my Tigers preview than I was for almost any other non-Astros team, but that's only because they're such clear favorites. They have the easiest road to the playoffs in baseball, but I think that makes it easy to gloss over their flaws. It's an imperfect (but still really good) team.
Jeff: I regret mentioning the Tigers because I just looked at their depth chart and am presently unconvinced
You have to think that they'll resolve the whole Delmon Young/DH thing by mid-summer, though. Right?
McCovey: Yeah. But either you have Miguel Cabrera at third, or Delmon Young in the outfield. I don't think Doug Fister is going to like either of those.
Jeff: Pretty sure what we've learned from Doug Fister is that he can do whatever he wants whenever he wants, like magic.
me: Or Cabrera DHing, Inge at third, and Young ... well, yeah.
Jeff: Fister will just allow all his balls in play to center field somehow.
As for the Red Sox, to go back five minutes in this conversation, I was hoping we could go the whole roundtable without mentioning them, for funsies.
It was a joke you guys weren't in on.
McCovey: The Red Sox are another injury away from being like the 2001 Texas Rangers. Scored 890 runs, allowed 968. So awesome.
(The Red Sox aren't that bad. But their pitching is pretty rickety. Still good enough to win the AL East, which makes them something like an elite team in baseball.)
Jeff: It's weird to notice that Josh Beckett has an ERA over 4 since joining the Red Sox. He's been just good enough to avoid a nasty, unjust reputation.
me: /might just let you guys take over...
Jeff: Say, Rob! Do you have any opinions to share with us?
McCovey: Type faster, dammit.
me: My mother raised a polite boy. I usually wait for a natural pause in the conversation before joining in.
me: My choices for the best teams in the American League: Yankees, Rays, Rangers ... with Angels and Red Sox obviously in the running. Really, we're in dart-throwing territory here, so this is really just a feel thing. And so necessarily imprecise and ultimately wrong.
McCovey: You type with your feet because you're eating pistachios, right?
me: Moving along ... Anybody care to choose a surprise team in the American League? I get asked this all the time on the radio, and I haven't yet come up with a good answer
McCovey: I could see the White Sox or Indians making a pretty good run in the Central.
Jeff: My automatic answer to that question is always the Blue Jays.
Always has been the Blue Jays, probably always will be the Blue Jyas.
Romero/Morrow/Alvarez, maybe as good as Lester/Beckett/Buchholz! Maybe.
me: Everybody loves the Blue Jays this spring ... except all the guys who simulate the baseball season. Those guys think the Blue Jays are a .500 team, roughly speaking. And I don't see a good reason to disagree.
Jeff: Well, you asked for a surprise, right? As in, a team that could exceed its projections?
me: Oh, I guess. Or maybe the projection's a surprise.
McCovey: I'm always wary of people with two last names, and Henderson Alvarez freaks me out. I like the Jays as a surprise team in almost any other division, but the AL East is just too brutal.
me: Presumably the A's and M's are out. Which leaves the Central, where only the ... 2010 division-winning Twins get no love at all?
Jeff: Projections are all based on seasons that've happened, and data that's been collected. I think the Blue Jays are young enough that a few players could take steps forward, but I'm writing this without performing any science so don't hold me to it.
me: Anyway, I sorta liked the Twins as a dark horse when I thought Morneau would be on the Opening Day roster. Without him, not so much.
Jeff: Here's a question for the group:
Which is, the two of you.
The Twins will be starting Chris Parmelee at first base. Tell me anything you know about Chris Parmelee.
Rob first. Looking for one fact.
me: Was unimpressive in Class AA action last season!
Jeff: Now Grant!
Off the top of your head!
McCovey: Drafted in the same draft as Tim Lincecum. There were rumors that the Giants had a pre-draft deal with him, and I was like, "Cool! A slugging first-base prospect! Not some boring old pitcher!"
Jeff: Parmelee's a weird case. I'll save further information in case I write about him later. But, the Twins...
Well the Twins could surprise, in that there's a lot of volatility, right? But they surprised in the opposite way in 2011.
me: I would be truly optimistic if they'd done one thing over the winter to improve. But they didn't, did they?
Jeff: Fun fact: with a little switcheroo, Royals --> oRyals --> Orioles
I don't know what that means. Probably everything.
me: Seriously, the Orioles are going to be better this season, probably not a joke. They still have a good manager and they still have all those young pitchers.
McCovey: That's like something out of "Lost." It's mythological.
Jeff:The thing about bad teams is that if they're not the Astros, there's always reason to expect northward regression, right?
With the Orioles, with the Mariners, with the Twins ... And then inevitably one of them sucks again
McCovey: From MLB Depth Charts:
1 RHP Jake Arrieta 2 LHP Wei-Yin Chen 3 RHP Jason Hammel 4 LHP Brian Matusz 5 RHP Tommy Hunter
Jeff:Aaron Myette just saw that and decided to charge his phone.
McCovey: I can see maybe one or two of those guys coming in around the league average, but that's as far as I'd go. Though it's cool that Matusz has looked better this spring. Pulling for that guy.
me: Don't forget Britton. He's not dead, is he?
McCovey: Shoulder inflammation
So, in pitching terms ...
On a respirator.
me: Oh. Dang. I hate when that happens.
Quick, MVP picks from you guys!
McCovey: Robinson Cano. That's how the Yankees will win the East again. He'll hit something like .350/.430/.710 and then go back to normal next year.
Jeff: Albert Pujols because my momma always told me I'm unoriginal.
McCovey: They'll have half of the Duncan family playing in the outfield by August because of injuries, but they'll still win 100 games because someone goes nuts. I'll say Cano.
me: I think we've already seen the best of Robinson Cano. And Curtis Granderson. And Jacoby Ellsbury.
My pick is Pujols, too. But a close second is Evan Longoria, who hit in crappy luck last season and still ranks as perhaps the best young player in the league. I think this might be the year he gets really famous.
McCovey: I think Tropicana Field will depress his numbers just enough every season to make that really hard.
Jeff: If I wanted to be super hipster I could pick Ian Kinsler for this. He could carry the Rangers' lineup when Hamilton messes himself up and Cruz messes himself up.
Jeff:So the question is, Rob - Does Pujols win the MVP in second place, or do the Angels beat the Rangers?
me: Pujols wins MVP with Wild Card-winning Orange County Angels. Naturally.
I think the National League voters got jaded after a few seasons of his brilliance. But the American League voters will enjoy getting to vote for him, for the first time.
McCovey: It sounds odd to say, but I really regret that there isn't going to be battle for one wild-card spot this year. It'd be especially interesting to watch the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Rangers, and Rays battle for just three spots.
me: Yeah, been thinking the same thing. Almost seems too easy now.
McCovey:Fine, one of those teams gets hosed. And then I guess another one of those teams gets to play just a single playoff game before going home.
162 games to play three hours. Baseball is such a bitch.
Jeff: That whole argument about manufactured intensity for the one-game playoffs rings hollow to me.
It is manufactured intensity, but it won't feel like it.
me:I think you almost have to be born before 1960 to hate the new format.
Jeff: I think you have to be special to hate...anything about baseball, really.
You can disagree with the changes, but hating them?
So much artificial, forced emotion. I think.
McCovey: I'd hate the addition of an NBA/NHL-style format where half of the teams make it. I'd march on Washington D.C. for that one.
Jeff: I would dislike it, and then I would get used to it, and then in time I'd probably even like it, just like the Marlins' home-run tower.
Think about it. A shortened regular season! More meaningful games at the end!
A true test of a team's depth in the playoffs!
I guess we're getting off-topic, though.
McCovey:I can deal with it with a best-of-13 division series, a best-of-15 championship series ...
Jeff:Let's bring this back to wrap up ... We talked about the AL MVP voters. Think said voters give the Cy Young and the Rookie of the Year to the same dude?
McCovey: I'll go with Dan Haren. I don't believe in first-half/second-half guys (or at least our ability to spot them), and one of these years he'll be awesome the whole time.
(And Matt Moore for ROY)
me:Haren's a great dark-horse candidate, but I'm sticking with Felix Hernandez and CC Sabathia as top candidates. And as I wrote yesterday, Darvish is obvious Rookie of the Year choice, if only because I won't believe Moore can go 200 injury-free innings until he does.
Granted, he's on the right team for it.
Jeff:I'd like to see Darvish win the Cy Young, the Rookie of the Year, the MVP, and a Gold Glove.
Jeff: I mean, I wouldn't like that at all, as a Mariners fan, but talk about a bizarro Golden Sombrero
Now you're being silly.
Jeff: Trouble with Haren is that he might not stand out among Weaver and Wilson, which shouldn't matter but which probably would.
Felix will stand out. Sabathia will probably stand out. Verlander will probably stand out...
Jeff:Feliz, Bard, Sale. Who does the best as a starter?
Don't trust Bard's control at all, so I'll go with ... Feliz?
Jeff:I'll also go with Feliz because I don't want to look disobedient. But it's really easy for me to imagine that going poorly.
Maybe his shoulder acts up, maybe the Rangers get tempted to flip-flop him and Ogando again.
In conclusion, the Rangers will be good and the Orioles will be bad. But maybe less bad than before. I'm glad we all had this talk!
me: Me too! But let me close with these words of wisdom!