Barring anything miraculous in the positive or negative sense, there are teams that we pretty much know their collective fates.
The Red Sox and Phillies are at the top of the food chain; the Yankees, Braves and White Sox can expect to be good; the Royals are basing their entire future and present on the fact that everyone worships their packed farm system—they’ll see you in 2014, just you wait!!
The Mets know where they’re at; the Pirates are the Pirates.
But other clubs have pressing questions of the make-or-break variety; questions that could lead to their rise or fall, depending on the answers.
Here are those teams and things can go right…or wrong in 2011.
Toronto Blue Jays
They’ve done a lot of stuff, but I don’t necessarily know if they’ve gotten better from last season.
With the departures of Vernon Wells, John Buck and Lyle Overbay, they lost 71 homers and replaced them with nothing but hope. Hope that the atrocious seasons from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were nothing more than blips; hope that Travis Snider will hit the way he did in the minors; hope that Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar won’t join forces to send new manager John Farrell to test the benefits of the Canadian health care system’s mental program; and hope that the young pitchers improve rather than stagnate or regress.
The Blue Jays could easily fall to 75 wins or rise to 90.
The departures of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes have gutted imperative parts of their bullpen. Joe Nathan is returning from Tommy John surgery and Matt Capps is still there for the late innings, but the foundation of their bullpen was based on the above names—names that are no longer there. The Twins won with competent, mediocre starting pitching and a deep, reliable bullpen.
They still have the mediocre starting pitching, but without the bullpen, they could have a problem.
Justin Morneau is a question mark returning from his concussion; Delmon Young had his career year in 2010; they’re replacing Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy with Alexi Casilla and, the biggest wild card, Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
I don’t care what the scouting reports say about a player coming over from Japan, you never know what you’re getting until they play in North America. You could be getting Hideki Irabu; you could be getting Hideki Matsui. You don’t know.
If the Twins bullpen falters, that’s going to damage their starting pitching—starting pitching that isn’t all that great to begin with. With the new middle infield, they could take a drastic tumble. They’re also in a division with two good teams in the White Sox and Tigers.
The front office has had unreasonably high expectations in the past and it, along with the enabling of diva-like behavior from Hanley Ramirez, combined to cost Fredi Gonzalez his job as manager at mid-season, 2010.
They have an impressive array of talent, but there’s something…off about them. Wes Helms at third base? Chris Coghlan in center field? 3-years, $18 million for John Buck? Trading for relievers Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb when, in the past, the Marlins set the standard for building a bullpen the right way by finding cheap, discarded arms?
That division is a nightmare with the Phillies likely to disappear into the distance a month into the season and the Braves probably the second best team in the National League.
Manager Edwin Rodriguez is on a 1-year deal and the club has had an on-again, off-again flirtation with Bobby Valentine. Owner Jeffrey Loria wants a “name” manager to helm his club heading into the new ballpark in 2012 and Ozzie Guillen, another object of his desires, just had his contract option for 2012 exercised by the White Sox.
Rodriguez did a good job after taking over for Gonzalez, but he’s not box office.
Like a prospective romance that for a variety of reasons all parties insist is over, Valentine and the Marlins are still eyeing each other lustily. Unless the Marlins are right in the thick of the playoff race in June, don’t—do….not—be surprised to see Valentine managing the Marlins.
San Diego Padres
Then they dealt away Mujica and Webb for Cameron Maybin who’s done nothing to justify his top prospect status as of yet—he’s not a prospect anymore, it’s either do it or don’t.
Who knows how the loss of Yorvit Torrealba—a terrific handler of pitchers—will affect the staff.
Again, I dunno…
“I dunno” is not cutting it in a rough division.
The Padres could fall from 90 wins to 75 if their pitching doesn’t perform.