West Coast baseball is suddenly sexy.
It’s hot. It’s hip. And, thanks to billions of dollars in TV money, the bankrolls — at least in Southern California — have certainly gotten a lot bigger.
The addition of the Houston Astros to the AL West may have slanted the debate about the best division in baseball back toward the AL East. But there is little doubt about which region’s teams dominated the offseason.
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are yesterday’s news.
For both Los Angeles area teams, money, it seems, is only paper. The big contracts who have flocked to the City of the Angels — and its suburb of Anaheim — drew plenty of attention.
Recently, Los Angeles Angels chairman Dennis Kuhl brushed aside a question of having to compete for the entertainment dollar with the neighboring Dodgers, instead looking at the bigger picture.
“The Dodgers are not my competition,” Kuhl said. “I have to compete with the sun and the beach and all the X Games and all the other things in Southern California.
“What the Dodgers are doing is great; it’s great for baseball. It’s awesome for Southern California. There are other teams west of the Hudson River. Look at the Giants ... and what the Dodgers are doing; what we’re doing. San Diego getting better every year. ... Oakland won their division, and that’s really exciting.”
Even Seattle has improved and boasts of the game’s best hurler in Felix Hernandez.
But it was the Angels who stunned baseball in the offseason by snaring Josh Hamilton. By placing the slugging outfielder in the same lineup as Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, the Angels became one of the favorites to win the AL pennant. Only Detroit could argue it has a better everyday lineup.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ brightest star is outfielder Matt Kemp. And the franchise, co-owned by the master of sports showtime, Magic Johnson, spent bushels of money to surround Kemp with talent, including Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez.
During the winter, Los Angeles paid — some say overpaid — pitcher Zack Greinke with a $147 million contract. Team chemistry remains the only question for the Dodgers.
Can the Dodgers and Angels and their free-spending ways overtake the San Francisco Giants, World Series champions in 2010 and 2012? Fans embraced the Giants’ carefree outlook, which masked a ferocious will to win.
And what’s not to like about San Francisco’s’ baby-faced MVP catcher Buster Posey?
The Giants didn’t do anything fancy during their offseason. They just added a few more little pieces, players who fit the Giants’ philosophy. And that can’t be bought.
How they’ll finish
1. Tampa Bay • Pitching, defense and Evan Longoria.
2. Toronto • Will division knuckle under to R.A. Dickey?
3. Baltimore • No repeat of 2012, but good season nonetheless.
4. N.Y. Yankees • Age and injuries rock the Bronx.
5. Boston • The golden age is over.
1. Detroit • World Series or bust.
2. Kansas City • Finally. More wins than losses.
3. Cleveland • Should fight it out for second.
4. Chicago White Sox • Lost too many pieces.
5. Minnesota • Mauer and Morneau. That’s it.
1. L.A. Angels • Great lineup. No bullpen.
2. Texas • Will be there should Angels fall.
3. Oakland • See Baltimore.
4. Seattle • King Felix and crew may win 85 games.
5. Houston • Third consecutive season of 100 losses.
1. Washington • Best team in the National League.
2. Atlanta • Jason, Justin and B.J.
3. Philadelphia • Needs big year from Ryan Howard.
4. N.Y. Mets • At least the Mets have David Wright.
5. Miami • Giancarlo Stanton should lead the NL in walks.
1. Cincinnati • Joey Votto returns to MVP form.
2. Pittsburgh • Andrew McCutchen is tired of losing.
3. St. Louis • Motte’s hurt and there isn’t a shortstop.
4. Milwaukee • Paper thin depth.
5. Chicago Cubs • Rebuild continues.
1. San Francisco • Cain, Bumgarner, Vogelsong and Buster.
2. L.A. Dodgers • How will the expensive parts fit?
3. Arizona • Gritty. Just gritty.
4. San Diego • Can Chase Headley repeat?
5. Colorado • Not enough pitching to compete.
Texas over Toronto
Los Angeles over Texas
Detroit over Tampa Bay
Detroit over Los Angeles
Wild Card game
Atlanta over Los Angeles
Washington over Atlanta
Cincinnati over San Francisco
Washington over Cincinnati
Detroit over Washington
The starting lineup
(Best players by position)
C • Buster Posey (San Francisco)
1B • Joey Votto (Cincinnati)
2B • Robinson Cano (New York Yankees)
3B • Miguel Cabrera (Detroit)
SS • Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado)
LF • Mike Trout (Anaheim)
CF • Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh)
RF • Giancarlo Stanton (Miami)
DH • Billy Butler (Kansas City)
SP • Justin Verlander (Detroit)
RP • Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta)
Drafts and trades. It’s the answer to how the Washington Nationals made such a swift — and to some — surprising climb to the top of the National League. But Davey Johnson saw it coming. Johnson’s the manager who raised eyebrows last spring by saying he should be fired if the Nationals didn’t make the postseason. Washington’s improvement from 80 wins to 98 is a matter of maturing draft picks and a few shrewd trades. Losing season after season gave the Nationals good draft positions and they picked well, taking Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman. Others, such as Gio Gonzalez, came via a trade. It’s a proven winning formula which made Washington one of the top teams in baseball.
Fall of the Yankees
Give the New York Yankees credit for beating back the grim reaper. Despite dire predictions the last few seasons, the Bronx Bombers have continued to slug their way to the AL East titles. But the predictions may finally catch up with them this season. By the time Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson return from their injuries, the Yanks might be buried. Derek Jeter won’t be ready for opening day and Alex Rodriguez is out until the All-Star Game. Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner won’t make up the difference. Andy Pettitte turns 40 and Mariano Rivera is 43.
Meet the new ‘62 Mets?
There have been periods throughout the history of Major League Baseball when expansion teams triggered huge offensive numbers. With the Houston Astros’ move to the AL West, it is the same as if an expansion team just entered the American League. So, expect even larger power numbers coming out of the L.A. Angels, Oakland and Texas. The past two seasons have seen the Astros lose a combined 213 games, and it doesn’t look as if 2013 will see any improvement, especially in the hyper-competitive AL West. Houston’s payroll is projected to be somewhere close to either side of $30 million, so odds are the Astros will match the last team to lose 100 games in three consecutive seasons: the 1962-65 expansion New York Mets.
— Martin Renzhofer