Even though the Northeast just got battered by another snowstorm, spring is in the air. Even though the groundhog saw his shadow in Punxsutawney, Pa, pitchers and catchers are reporting in less than three weeks. So, with most difference-making free agents signed, it can be a safe time for contenders, pretenders, sleepers, and rebuilding,
The Contenders:1. Obviously, then Yankees. A very strong rotation with C.C.-Burnett-Vasquez-Pettite-Joba/P
hil Hughes. A HOF left side of the infield, a perennial All-Star at first, and a breakout candidate at second in Robinson Cano. A so-so outfield, but Curtis Granderson should fit in nicely at the new Yankee Stadim, and Swisher is steady if not spectacular. Throw in the best closer of all time, and all the money in the world to patch up weak spots at the trade deadline, and the recipe for success is there, per usual.
2. The two-time defending NL champ Phillies show no signs of resting on their laurels. Essentially swapping Roy Halladay for Cliff Lee keeps this team at the top of the National League. Add that to Hamels, J.A. Haap, Joe Blanton and Co., and there is a solid rotation. A power-laden lineup with speed and depth. Should represent the Senior Circuit again in the fall classic.
3. Red Sox Nation was disappointed when Jason Bay didn't resign, but Theo Epstein did not sit on his hands. A busy offseason hauled in Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro, Bill Hall, another Ramon Ramirez, Adrian Beltre, and the best free agent starter on the market, John Lackey. Lackey joins Josj Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Tim Wakefield and a healthy Daisuke Matsuzaka to shape baseball's best rotation. Superior defense and high OPS should make the Sox the wild card favorite if they fail to unseat the Yankees atop the AL Beast.
4. The two-headed monster of Carpenter and Wainwright should make the Redbirds the flavor of the NL Central, where 85-88 wins should do the trick. Keeping Matt Holliday was huge, as Albert Pujols has a partner in crime to scare the pitchers in the National League. Dave Duncan could coax soild years from the likes of Brad Penny and Kyle Loshe. An otherwise unspectacular lineup could see a serious upgrade is Colby Rasmus breaks out. Ryan Franklin needs to be as good as last year.
5. No one can accuse Ken Williams of inactivity. The White Sox GM is the quintessential wheeler-and-dealer. He traded young hurlers Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda for Jake Peavy, hoping a return to health for the former NL Cy Young Award winner will put the ChiSox into the promised land for the second time in 5 years. Mark Buerhle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd back up the ace to make up a good rotation. Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez need to give this team more than they did last year. Gordon Beckham should be even better. Alex Rios, who knows? Mark Teahen trade was a good one.
I see these five as the primary threats to capture the World Series trophy.