When last we met, we took a look at the arch-enemies of the Seattle Mariners. Namely, the M's neighbors and division-mates in the American League West. This week, as we roll merrily along through Spring Training and get one step tantalizingly closer to the 2012 MLB season, we take a look at the rest of the inhabitants of the American League.
Seattle won't play these teams as often as the four clubs in the AL West, but they're no less dangerous, nor any less worth being familiar with, than the Rangers, Angels and A's. While you couldn't consider most of these teams arch enemies of the Mariners, make no mistake: these teams are evil, evil, evil (well, except maybe for the Blue Jays) and won't feel any pity for you in the pits of their cold, black hearts.
Let's take a look at the bands of miscreants that make up the American League's Central and East divisions. It's always good to know what you're in store for.
The Tigers are easily the force to be reckoned with in the Central. They made one enormous acquisition (take that as many ways as you like) and look poised to capitalize on a strong season last year, when they made it to the American League Championship Series before being knocked off by the New York Yankees.
What They Lost: They lost Magglio Ordonez, Joel Zumaya, Brad Penny and Carlos Guillen, the latter of whom, of course, decided to retire after breaking camp with the Mariners. None of these losses was big for the Tigers, but two offseason injuries were: Al Alburquerque had elbow surgery that will likely have him missing half the season and DH/catcher Victor Martinez had season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL. The injury to Martinez would have been a huge blow, except ...
What They Gained: ... The Tigers signed Prince Fielder to a (frankly) ridiculous nine-year deal, which should more than make up for the loss of Martinez. Detroit also extended closer Jose Valverde and signed reliever Octavio Dotel.
Projected Lineup: How does a 3-4-5 of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Delmon Young grab you? Yep, absolutely terrifying. Throw in Alex Avila at catcher and Jhonny Peralta at shortstop and you're already putting out a top offense. They'll be joined by some combination of Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch, Andy Dirks, Ryan Raburn, Brandon Inge and Ramon Santiago, with Gerald Laird occasionally spelling Avila.
Who to Secretly Root For: If you don't mind "crybabies," Brandon Inge. The guy will be fighting for his job even more stridently this season with Cabrera moving to third base in order to make room for Fielder.
Who to Openly Root Against: Brandon Inge. Man, what a crybaby.
Comparable Villain: Mr. Sinister. There's something dumb and gimmicky about Sinister, but at the same time, something inexplicably cool. The 2012 Tigers could either be the team you hate to love or the team you love to hate.
The White Sox are just a few years removed from a World Series title, but an aging offense has had them crashing back to earth over the last couple of seasons. They don't look like threats to compete in the Central, particularly with the Tigers looking like the new powerhouse.
What They Lost: The Sox lost Mark Buehrle to the Miami Marlins and traded Carlos Quentin to the Padres, but lost just roleplayers like Juan Pierre and Omar Vizquel beyond that. Buehrle leaving was certainly the biggest blow. Oh, right ... and they traded manager Ozzie Guillen to the Marlins.
What They Gained: Not a lot, really. They got pitching prospects from the Padres and signed a bunch of minor-leaguers, but their biggest change is an entirely new coaching staff, under new manager Robin Ventura.
Projected Starters: With Buehrle gone, the rotation looks to be some version of Jake Peavy, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Philip Hunter and Chris Sale. You'd think the Sox are praying for an overachieving season from most of these guys.
Projected Lineup: On paper, the White Sox lineup looks sort of like the antithesis of the fearsome Tigers. Alejandro De Aza, Alexei Ramirez, Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn look like the top four, but Dunn and his team need a bounceback season from the DH in the worst possible way. Brent Morel, A.J. Pierzynski, Dayan Viciedo, Kosuke Fukudome, Alex Rios, Gordon Beckham, Brent Lillibridge ... not exactly mashers.
Who to Secretly Root For: Robin Ventura. Best of luck with this rickety team.
Who to Openly Root Against: This season's White Sox seem less worthy of scorn and more worthy of pity, in all honesty. That's how bad this Chicago team looks ... Mariners fans pitying you.
Comparable Villain: Mr. Freeze. There is a sadness to their story. A team driven to madness and desperation. Also, it gets cold in Chicago.
The most surprising team in the division last season, the Indians have mostly managed to stand pat from last season, while bolstering their depth chart in the offseason. They're hoping their players can continue to gel and mature together. If any team will challenge the Tigers in the Central this season, it will be the Indians.
What They Gained: The team re-signed Grady Sizemore and Michel Hernandez. They signed several free agents in the offseason, including Felix Pie, Casey Kotchman, Andy LaRoche, Fred Lewis, Ryan Spilborghs and Chris Ray.
Projected Lineup: The Indians have quietly assembled a pretty fantastic lineup of Michael Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Travis Hafner, Kotchman, Shin-Soo Choo, Jason Kipnis, Aaron Cunningham and Lonnie Chisenhall. Their offseason acquisitions of Pie, LaRoche, Lewis and Sizemore bolster the bench just plenty, which isn't even counting Shelley Duncan and Jack Hannahan.
Who to Secretly Root For: Take your pick. Even with Thome gone, this is one of the most likable teams in the American League.
Who to Openly Root Against: Any item of clothing that features racist icon Chief Wahoo. Ugh.
Comparable Villain: Gorilla Grodd. You never think about Gorilla Grodd, right? But then you turn around one day and BAM, super-genius gorilla firing a laser canon at you and wrecking shop. I'm pretty sure there's never been a better analogy for the Cleveland Indians.
It looks like it's going to be a long year for Twins fans. They lost a couple big names and don't look like they're going to be as strong as last season. (That's a bigger burn than it seems.)
What They Gained: The Twins picked up Joel Zumaya, Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit in the offseason. Protip: when your team's big offseason moves are "Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit," it isn't a productive offseason.
Projected Lineup: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are great, but there isn't a lot of protection for them in this lineup. It looks something like this: Denard Span, Carroll, Mauer, Morneau, Josh Willingham, Doumit, Danny Valencia, Alexi Casilla, Ben Revere.
Who to Secretly Root For: Hope that Mauer can recover from his last couple of injury-plagued years and once again become an elite player. I just don't know if I can handle two years in a row of him not being on the cover of "MLB The Show."
Who to Openly Root Against: Jamey Carroll looks like a hairless cat got possessed by a demon version of James Carville. So him, I guess.
Comparable Villain: Mr. Mxyzptlk. Mxy always seems like he could be cool or interesting, but pretty much every time he pops up, it ends up being filler.
Another season and another "rebuilding year" for the Royals. The team is actually starting to resemble a team that will be competitive at some point, as they continue to cultivate young players (and Jeff Francoeur) and look toward the future.
Projected Starters: Luke Hochevar and Chen will hold down the top of the rotation, as the Royals hope they can be the team to finally help Sanchez realize his full potential. Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy will hold up the back end of the rotation, unless a minor league arm can force his way into the conversation.
Projected Lineup: Alex Gordon, Chris Getz, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler is probably a better top four to a lineup than most fans (including Royals fans) would want to admit. Francoeur will follow, but there is a drop-off after that due to the loss of last year's red-hot Cabrera, as the likely lineup will be rounded out with Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain and Betancourt likely platooning with Alcides Escobar at short.
Who to Secretly Root For: The Royals in general and Billy Butler in specific. Everyone likes and underdog and everyone likes parity in baseball. Except Yankees fans, obviously.
Who to Openly Root Against: I guess you could root for Betancourt to play so badly that baseball teams stop thinking he's an everyday shortstop, but that would be petty and vindictive.
Comparable Villain: Captain Cold. Everyone bags on Captain Cold because he looks dumb and has a stupid name. But Captain Cold is actually completely awesome and a serious threat if given the right creative team. (That analogy went a little off the rails at the end there. I apologize.)
The laughing stock of the AL East used to be "every team but the Yankees." Now it's the Orioles. It really sucks to be an Orioles fan in 2012. This is another team for Mariners fans to pity.
What They Gained: Baltimore signed Endy Chavez, who is expected to be their new leadoff hitter. They also signed Wilson Betemit, who might end up being their DH. Spoilers: that's a downgrade from Vlad, no matter how old Vlad is now (he's 92).
Projected Starters: The Orioles continue to have plenty of young arms, although the question is whether they'll amount to anything. Zach Britton will be their ace once again. He'll be backed up by Jason Hammel, Wei Yin Chen, Jake Arrieta and Tsuyoshi Wada. That rotation will evolve over the year, as they have no shortage of youthful starters waiting in the wings. Shame about everything else.
Projected Lineup: Endy Chavez, J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Mark Reynolds, Betemit, Chris Davis, Robert Andino. Yeah, Jones and Hardy and Reynolds hit a lot of dingers, but they rarely come with ducks on the pond. Reynolds hit 37 home runs last year, but had only 86 RBI. He also batted .221 with an OPS of .806.
Who to Secretly Root For: The new hats. The cartoon bird is back, baby! woooooo
Who to Openly Root Against: Their owner, Peter Angelos, who has been steadily running the team straight into the ground since the 1990s.
Comparable Villain: The Lizard. It's not their fault that they're this way. They meant well and had such high hopes. And now look at them; they're a monster. A MONSTERRRR
The Toronto Blue Jays have all the pieces in place to be a contender. And they would be in every other division in the majors. Perhaps this inaugural year of double-Wild Card play will pay off in their favor. If nothing else, the classic uniforms are back, so whoever they're playing against, they'll at least be pretty to look at.
What They Lost: Lots of minor contributors. Also traded away Brad Mills.
What They Gained: Picked up a lot of roleplayers off waivers and via free agency, including Brian Bocock and Omar Vizquel. They got Jeff Mathis from the Angels in the Mills trade, which I feel works out in the Jays' favor. They'll have full seasons of Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus this year, which is another plus for Toronto.
Projected Starters: Ricky Romero is usually as good a number one pitcher as any in baseball, but is prone to the occasional hiccup. Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Henderson Alvarez and Dustin McGowan will help try to keep the Blue Jays in the hunt.
Projected Lineup: Yunel Escobar, Johnson, Jose Bautista, Adam Lind. Looks pretty good to me. Following that up with Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Rasmus, Marcus Thames and J.P. Arencibia looks even better. I really like this Blue Jays team and I hope they can make good things happen for themselves this year. You know, unless they're playing against Seattle.
Who to Secretly Root For: Jose Bautista. Pretty much robbed of an MVP last year and is somehow one of those players who manages to be recognized as one of the best players in baseball, while at the same time being underrated.
Who to Openly Root Against: Colby Rasmus's dad, one of the most contemptible tertiary figures in all of sports.
Comparable Villain: Mole Man. He's well wort rooting for. He was shunned by the egotistical and insensitive jerks of the surface world (the AL East) and is just trying to carve out a home for himself on Monster Island (Toronto). You can't help but find yourself pulling for him a little.
What They Lost: The Rays are the reason the Mariners have John Jaso this year.
What They Gained: The Mariners are the reason the Rays have Josh Lueke. They signed the lesser Molina (Jose) to a one-year contract. They also picked up Luke Scott from the Orioles for the year, looking to slot him in as DH. Their biggest acquisition in the offseason is the signing of the returning Carlos Pena.
Who to Secretly Root For: The team's attempts to get a new stadium.
Who to Openly Root Against: Longoria, who occasionally pops up on your TV trying to trick you into thinking he's catching a poorly-CGI'd foul ball with his bare hand, or is being so dumb that he can't understand that there is more than one hat in the world.
Comparable Villain: Sabretooth. Sabretooth is fine. He's a perfectly decent villain. Nothing dumb or cheap about him, completely respectable and formidable. Just ... you know ... not exceptional in any way whatsoever.
New manager Bobby Valentine looks to guide the Red Sox back to the postseason after a horrifying two-year drought. His team might be stronger than the 2011 version, or it might be weaker. It's pretty tough to tell at this point. The one thing you can be sure of is: it will be the Red Sox.
What They Lost: Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield retired, so it's a brave new world for the team. In a strange move, they shipped away Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for reliever Clay Mortensen. While Boston needed to bolster their bullpen, they don't have a shortstop in the system who is as good as Scutaro. Robbing Peter to pay Paul and all that jazz.
What They Gained: Postseason hero Cody Ross adds even more pop to the lineup. Boston also signed Kelly Shoppach to back up Jarrod Saltalamacchia at catcher and inked infielder Nick Punto from the St. Louis Cardinals.
Projected Starters: John Lackey will be missing the season due to Tommy John surgery. Most Red Sox will probably agree that they won't be missing him, but they're kind of jerks sometimes. Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz will be a strong top three, with Alfredo Aceves, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Daniel Bard all getting in the mix at various points. The transition of Bard from setup man to starter will be interesting to track. By the way, no discussion of John Lackey is complete without the following image:
Projected Lineup: Much the same as last year: Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Ross, Carl Crawford, Saltalamacchia and a shortstop platoon of Punto and Mike Aviles.
Who to Secretly Root For: Cody Ross. He's the best. His nickname is "Smiles!"
Who to Openly Root Against: Just pick whichever guy most rubs you the wrong way. That's usually either Pedroia or Bobby Valentine.
Comparable Villain: MODOK. You know, for a Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, MODOK does a ton of other stuff besides killing. One may further observe that, for an entity designed by geniuses and masterminds for the express purpose of doing one specific thing, he's usually pretty bad at that one thing. Just putting that out there.
New York Yankees
I think you know who the New York Yankees are.
What They Lost: Seattle has the Yankees to thank for top slugging prospect Jesus Montero. The Yanks also unloaded A.J. Burnett, who promptly shattered his face up in batting practice.
What They Gained: The Yankees needed to beef up their pitching situation, and beef they did. They got Michael Pineda from the M's, but also extended C.C. Sabathia, signed Hiroki Kuroda and David Aardsma and re-signed Freddy Garcia. New York also re-signed Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez and signed Raul Ibanez to a one-year deal. Plenty of former Mariners to now begin hating.
Projected Starters: Sabathia remains the ace, with Pineda now slotting in as the No. 2 in the rotation. Kuroda, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova wrap up a much, much stronger pitching situation than New York had in 2011.
Projected Lineup: Meet the new Yanks, (nearly) the same as the old Yanks. Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Brett Gardner. Same as it ever was.
Who to Secretly Root For: Pineda. Maybe he'll be happy with his new family. I wonder if he ever thinks of us.
Who to Openly Root Against: Jesus, just everyone.
Comparable Villain: Dr. Doom. The greatest villain ever created. The most brilliant, most powerful, most ruthless villain ever devised. Overpower him? He'll outsmart you. Outsmart him? He'll outgun you. Out-gadget him? He'll use magic. Oh, and he's also the monarch of his own country, so he can always pull "diplomatic immunity" on you. The only difference between Dr. Doom and the Yankees? Dr. Doom is awesome.
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