Happy New Year! At least that's always how I look at the day after the Super Bowl when so many are dealing with hangovers from the game that officially put the football season to rest.
If nothing else, it signals the start of the baseball season and let's face it, nothing beats baseball. Let now turn our focus to the American League and examine the current betting odds on offer before we lock in our MLB picks.
Motown Leads Junior Circuit List Again
They've changed managers, will have a completely revamped infield from Opening Day a year ago and traded away one of their key starting pitchers. But one thing that hasn't changed for the Detroit Tigers is they're favored again to win the American League.
Detroit tops the AL futures odds at just short of 4/1 to bring home their 12th pennant, and third in the last nine seasons. Jim Leyland is gone from the top step of the dugout, and replaced by Brad Ausmus in his big league managerial debut. The former catcher will be ably assisted on the bench by Gene Lamont, a longtime assistant under Leyland.
Ian Kinsler comes over from Texas in the Prince Fielder trade, and will play alongside reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, who shifts from 3B to the opposite corner of the infield. Jose Iglesias upgrades the Tigers defense at short, and third figures to be Nick Castellanos' job to lose.
Doug Fister is gone from the rotation in another trade, but the Tigers still have Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. Detroit also added closer Joe Nathan, another former Ranger.
Trailing the Tigers in the AL Central on the MLB futures odds are the Cleveland Indians (12/1), Kansas City Royals (15/1), Chicago White Sox (30/1) and Minnesota Twins (50/1).
Red Sox Look To Defend World Series Title
The beards are gone, along with a couple of key members of last year's World Series champion roster, but the Boston Red Sox should still be right in the thick of the AL and East Division race. The Red Sox check in behind Detroit at 6/1 to repeat as league champs, and 8/1 to win their fourth World Series in 11 years.
Jacoby Ellsbury is the biggest subtraction from John Farrell's lineup, and replacing him at the top of the order won't be easy. Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli all return to form the nucleus of the lineup. The two biggest additions are veteran catcher AJ Pierzynski and reliever Edward Mujica. A key concern will be keeping Clay Buchholz in the rotation, plus getting another productive season out of John Lackey.
Ellsbury's defection to the New York Yankees should make for an interesting scene when the pinstriped posse makes its first visit to Beantown April 22-24. The Yankees are 6/1 to win the AL flag after also bringing aboard infielder Kelly Johnson, expected to take over at 3B for the suspended Alex Rodriguez, outfielder Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka.
The most important thing to watch this spring is how well David Robertson can fill the huge shoes left by the retirement of closer Mariano Rivera.
Tampa Bay is another team working in a new closer after the Rays signed Grant Balfour and acquired Heath Bell via trade. The Rays are 8/1 to win the flag, followed by the Baltimore Orioles (10/1) and Toronto Blue Jays (20/1) to round out the always competitive AL East.
Can Angels Finally Live Up To Expectations?
The AL West figures to give the AL East a good run for its money as far as the top division in baseball after a busy winter. Well, the best division four teams deep, that is.
It was supposed to have been the Los Angeles Angels' division to lose the last two years following big winter shopping sprees, and they fell flat both titmes. The Halos only made a couple of small moves this offseason, but are picked once again to be the best of the west as 6/1 choices to win the American League. The changes were bringing over David Freese from St. Louis to man third, adding veteran slugger Raul Ibañez and strengthening the rotation with Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs in the winter's biggest 3-team swap.
Texas and Oakland are both 8/1 selections in the AL. The Rangers have added offense by picking up Fielder in the trade with Detroit and signing free agent outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. They'll also turn back to Neftali Feliz to take over at closer. The Athletics signed Jim Johnson to lead their bullpen and veteran southpaw Scott Kazmir to join a talented and young rotation.
Seattle (12/1) threw a bank at former Yankee Robinson Cano, plus inked two more bats in Logan Morrison and Corey Hart. That should provide more runs for a pitching staff led by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.Last in the division, and the AL futures odds at 125/1, the main goal of the Houston Astros is to avoid a fourth consecutive 100-loss campaign. Houston's biggest changes were acquiring outfielder Dexter Fowler, starter Scott Feldman and relievers Jesse Crain and Chad Qualls. There are some talented youngsters starting to come into their own, like Jose Altuve, Jason Castro and Jared Cosart, but is it enough to win at least 63 games?