ANGELS – The most underrated team going into the season. Vernon Wells will rebound, the starting rotation will be the best in the American League. Scott Kazmir is as good as gone, but Matt Palmer steps in to win 13 games in the #4 spot. The Angels will win the Division.
ASTROS - The Astros will surprise a lot of experts by hovering around .500 all season. Wandy Rodriguez will win 14 games, J. A. Happ will win 13 and Jordan Lyles will be in the rotation for the second half of the season and play well. They won't compete in 2011 but will become a trendy pick for 2012.
ATHLETICS – The A’s will contend throughout the season, but the real news will be in where they play. As MLB wrings their hands trying to figure out what to do with the stadium, San Jose will approve financing for a new ballpark, forcing the issue. The A’s will work out a deal similar to the Nationals deal with the Orioles and the end of the 2011 will bring around the announcement that the A’s are heading to the South Bay.
BLUE JAYS – Jose Bautista’s home run total returns to Earth (22 tops.) And he becomes a strange test case of the post steroids era. He has hit 47% of his career homers last year, getting 54 after peaking at 16. That number will stick out, but unless proven otherwise, it has to be looked at as a fluke (unlike Brady Anderson.)
BRAVES – The Braves are good, but Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe come back down to Earth cutting their playoff run just short. Meanwhile Jayson Heyward continues to hit the ball well but Freddie Freeman isn’t ready yet.
BREWERS - The Zack Grienke trade becomes the sequel to the Mariners acquiring Cliff Lee. It looked great in December and it will fall apart grotesquely in practice. The basketball game heard 'round the world will keep the Brewers out of contention. They finish barely above .500. Meanwhile Prince Fielder is dealt to Colorado.
CARDINALS – Colby Rasmus never gets out of the doghouse and is dealt. Rasmus seems to think he has already lined up his MVP cred when he called out Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa last year. I can’t imagine life is getting any easier in Cardinal land, especially with the Pujols contract and the Wainwright injury looming over the team. Rasmus will be dealt at the deadline for pitching help and an eye on 2012.
CUBS – Mike Quade is as good as gone. The Cubs are in transition mode and Quade’s job seems to be keep the seat warm. Once some of the bad contracts are shed and some sort of direction if found, Quade will be axed. If he is the manager at the July 31st trade deadline, I will be stunned. LaRussa is courted to be the new manager for 2012 and hopefully brings Pujols with him.
DIAMONDBACKS - Justin Upton and Kirk Gibson have a tense confrontation. The result? He goes on a tear the second half of the season and becomes a trendy pick for 2012 NL MVP. The Diamondbacks finish dead last but there is hope for the future.
DODGERS – Don Mattingly will be a rotten fit for the Dodgers. It is not his fault that the Dodgers don’t have the personnel, but a team in flux like this needs a veteran manager, not someone who will have growing pains. Oddly, this is a team Grady Little should manage, but he is no doubt persona non grata in Dodgertown.
GIANTS – Brandon Belt will be the Giants first baseman by June. With a slimmed down and motivated Pablo Sandoval and a focused Buster Posey, the Giants will have three homegrown stars in their lineup to go with their homegrown rotation and bullpen ace. The Giants pull away and win the Division with a week to spare.
INDIANS – In a lost season in Cleveland, one star will regain his luster. Grady Sizemore will be the Comeback Player of the Year, hitting .300 for the first time in his career, getting his OPS near .900 and stealing 30 bags.
MARLINS – The final year in Joe Robbie Stadium (or whatever it is called now) will be amazing and with lots of empty orange seats. Mike Stanton becomes one of the truly exciting players in the game. Hanley Ramirez will have the best year of his career. Josh Johnson will pitch like an ace and the Fish will make the playoffs for their third time in their existence. Edwin Rodriguez keeps his job into the new ballpark.
METS – The July 31st trade deadline will be “Meet the Mets!” time for contenders. With the team facing an economic crisis and virtually no chance to contend, any healthy expensive body is being dealt. Carlos Beltran is good as gone if he can play. Jason Bay will be shipped off too. Maybe even Jose Reyes. David Wright too? It is possible.
NATIONALS - As all attention is placed on Hagerstown and the development of Bryce Harper, the big league club stumbles out of the gate and never recovers. To shake things up Jim Riggleman is let go right after Jim Leyland is fired from the Tigers. But when Leyland turns down the Washington job, interim manager John McLaren finishes the season as Washington looks to court Tony LaRussa in the off season.
ORIOLES – The Birds take a step forward, but Mark Reynolds swings and misses. Now of course Reynolds is going to strike out a lot. He already officially has 6 strikeouts and the season hasn’t started yet. But he will be exposed even more than he was before in Arizona and it just won’t work out in Baltimore. The team itself will start to make strides toward respectability, but Buck Showalter is going to get fed up at how many runners are left in scoring position after a Reynolds at bat.
PADRES - The Padres start the season off well but by June, reality sits in. Heath Bell is shopped around. The Phillies and Angels are interested and he heads north to Anaheim. Cameron Maybin flops and the middle infield of Orlando Hudson and Jason Bartlett are dealt at the trade deadline.
PHILLIES – Forget Jose Contreras, Ryan Madson or Kyle Kendrick as Brad Lidge's replacement. The Phillies will make a deal for a closer. Detroit's Jose Valverde will be available when the Tigers fall apart and he will be logging saves in Philadelphia by July. The Phillies will go on to win the World Series.
PIRATES - There will be lots of talk about how the Pirates are trying to turn the corner with Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen as the corner stones. But the team can't get out of its own way and Paul Maholm becomes trade bait. Jameson Taillon is on the big league club for good in July.
RANGERS – The good fortune that befell the AL Champion Rangers in 2010 goes away for the defense. They will hit well but will miss Vlad Guerrero more than they expected. The Michael Young controversy sorts itself out as an injury to Ian Kinsler puts Young at second base.
RED SOX – The Red Sox will have a solid year, but Josh Beckett will be the 800 pound gorilla of the season. He won’t get it on track and will resemble Jack Morris in 1993. That year Cito Gaston dutifully put him on the mound every 5 days out of respect until an injury mercifully pushed him off the playoff roster. In 2011, the Red Sox will look for any excuse to keep him off the roster 15 days at a time. The Red Sox make the playoffs but fall short in the ALCS.
ROCKIES - Todd Helton will finally run out of gas. And the Rockies will play half heartedly through June. At the trade deadline, hoping to give the team and the lineup a jolt, they part with a prospect and some other farm hands to bring in Prince Fielder. It pays dividends with some big homers in the thin air but he doesn't fit in with the straight laced Rockies clubhouse and is perceived as a mercenary by Colorado fans who prefer Helton. He bolts via free agency.
ROYALS – Alex Gordon will run out of chances but the Royals will surprise everyone by posting a winning season. Billy Butler will be dealt to a contender but never mind that Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be in Kansas City by June and give the team a major spark. They will finish the season 84-78.
TIGERS – The Jim Leyland era, which began so wonderfully with the 2006 Tigers, crashes and burns in the first half of the season. Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander will both be solid, but the team will stumble out of the gate and never recover. Leyland will be fired in June and a veteran manage is brought in to pick up the pieces. (Perhaps Ken Macha.)
TWINS – They will fight tooth and nail with the White Sox for the Division with Kansas City breathing down their necks. Delmon Young’s All Star season last year will prove to be a fluke and Justin Morneau just can’t stay healthy. And the good fortune of Carl Pavano will fall off the table and he will be removed from the rotation by July. As the Twins fall short, there will be whispering about replacing Ron Gardenhire.
WHITE SOX – The most fun team to follow this year will be on the South Side of Chicago. I didn’t say the best. I said the most fun. Guillen and Williams will be at each others throat and the Twitters updates will fly. But so will the balls off the bats of Dunn and Konerko. And Jake Peavy will return to make 20 starts, almost all of them in the second half and help pitch the White Sox back into the playoffs.