By: Blake Tarrants, KCOU Sports
Pitchers and catchers report this week, full squads next week, and Spring Training starts in just 15 days for many teams! Every year, everybody gets the same chance. Everybody gets a month in the Cactus or Grapefruit Leagues to prepare and refine their players and get ready to start April at full strength. Everybody starts 0-0, with 162 games to go, and teams have more or less the same schedule, heavy with division games. Normally, though, there are clear favorites in each division. Some team, through the power of a large market, clever front office staff, or just drafting and developing all the right guys, is always favored to do better than others. In 2015, not so much.
In every division, there is that team. The best example today would be the Tigers in the AL Central. With four straight division titles under their belts, and a seemingly bottomless bank account that allows them to sign countless big-name free agents, trade for similar guys, and lock up some of the best players in the game to long-term, huge money contracts, the Tigers are the definition of a power house, and recently, an AL Central monopoly. However, that might be about to change. With Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Anibal Sanchez, three of their highest paid and crucial players all dealing with significant injuries that either shortened their 2014 campaign or hampered their off-season work outs, the Tigers might be about to face the consequences of a huge payroll and a mostly veteran team. Not to mention, they lost Max Scherzer, arguably the best pitcher in baseball over the last two years to free agency. This puts even more pressure on Price, Verlander, and Sanchez to front that rotation. With a seemingly declining Verlander about to start a five-year, $140 million deal, Martinez fresh off signing a four year contract, and Miguel Cabrera making Albert Pujols like money, Detroit will probably be saying goodbye to Price, Alfredo Simon, and Yoenis Cespedes after 2015, not to mention all of the players they traded to get those stars. In short, unless the aging and ailing Cabrera, Martinez, and declining Verlander do the near impossible and improve as they progress into their mid and late 30s, the reigning AL Central champions might be looking at a season full of painful and expensive turmoil.
The Athletics are another example. They had their chance last season, and GM Billy Beaned knew it. He traded one of the most promising position player prospects in all of baseball, SS Adison Russell and several lesser players to the Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, both gone now, through trade and free agency respectively. They also gave up their best power bat in exchange for a few months of John Lester, and we know how all that worked out. After their loss in the AL Wild Card Game to the Royals, the Athletics began cleaning house and trading all of their big name major leaguers: Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson, and Derek Norris for farm system depth and cheaper talent, such as Ben Zobrist and Marcus Semien, to name a few. However, despite Billy Beane’s reputation for making a lot out of not much, the As, on paper at least, do not appear to be a legit contender in 2015 in an AL West featuring the ultra-talented Angels, and revamped and hungry Mariners.
None of this speculation proves anything, of course. These teams, so different in their approaches to the game, yet so similar in their consistent greatness, are power houses in their divisions and in baseball as a whole for a reason. They win, and that’s what matters. The mark of a great team is that they win despite adversity. We will start to see in less than a month whether several of the best baseball franchises of the past decade can overcome odds and stats and continue to assert their dominance, or whether a new era featuring more equality and new stars is upon us.