It's never too early to look ahead to the next MLB season.
Just as I did a few weeks ago, I once again examine the pennant races as theyâre shaping up for 2013. Sure, itâs early, but what else are you going to read about? Bowl games between a bunch of non-BCS .500 teams? Now that some major free agent dominoes have fallen, and some major trades have changed the MLB landscape, here are my early 2013 MLB picks.
1. Tampa Bay Rays
Even after the trade of James Shields, no AL East team can match the Raysâ pitching. Manager Joe Maddon will prevent newcomer Wil Myers from absorbing too much offensive pressure.
2. New York Yankees
The decline of the pinstripes is happening before our eyes, but the roster still includes some of the best players on the planet.
3. Toronto Blue Jays
Will the All-Star rotation and lineup the Jays collected over the past two months equate to a division title? It quite possibly could. The AL East is much more winnable than anytime this century.
4. Baltimore Orioles
Just about every bounce went the Oriolesâ way in 2012. Thereâs been too little work done to bolster the pitching staff to expect any kind of a repeat from Buckâs troops.
5. Boston Red Sox
Now the Red Sox have overpaid two Drew brothers.
1. Detroit Tigers
Keeping Anibal Sanchez, signing Torii Hunter and the return of Victor Martinez are three reasons to believe in the Tigers in 2013.
2. Kansas City Royals
The trade with Tampa Bay for James Shields and Wade Davis will be the difference between finishing second and fourth. Shields is a big-game workhorse.
3. Cleveland Indians
A change of scenery will probably be good for both Shin-Soo Choo (traded to Cincinnati) and Drew Stubbs (received in return). But Terry Francona is the second-most (behind Shields) important acquisition in the division.
4. Chicago White Sox
We were oh so wrong about this team this past summer. Can they surprise us again?
5. Minnesota Twins
Still not enough pitching. Still not enough hitting.
1. Los Angeles Angels
So, the Angels once again make a huge splash in free agency. Now the belief is that the Halos can avoid a terrible start and take control of the division early. Now about that bullpenâ¦
2. Texas Rangers
The window is closing. No more Josh Hamilton. No more Michael Young. No more Mike Napoli. The newest wave of rising stars in Texas should carry the mantel well, but not well enough to top the Angels.
3. Oakland Aâs
If they could win it with the 2012 roster, they can certainly win this division with the 2013 group. But they probably wonât.
4. Seattle Mariners
So happy to see the Astros join the AL West.
5. Houston Astros
It is possible that the Astros will spend less than $30 million on payroll this year. The dividends better pay off down the road.
1. Washington Nationals
In a close call with the Braves, the Nats get the edge with Dan Haren as a No. 5 starter. But they must find a replacement for Adam LaRocheâs RBIs.
2. Atlanta Braves
B.J. Upton is no leadoff hitter. And who will protect Jason Heyward in the lineup until Brian McCann returns?
3. Philadelphia Phillies
The core group that won five consecutive division titles prior to last season is not ready to fold its tents yet. Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee comprise one of the best pitching trios in the bigs.
4. New York Mets
Trading R. A. Dickey was the right thing to do and the return was nice. But it doesnât help 2013 when you lose a Cy Young winner.
5. Miami Marlins
True to their name, this franchise now has the appearance of a minor league team in the old International League.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
In this tight division, one major injury, one major trade, one major breakout season can tip the scales. Could the trade be Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to St. Louis? Could the breakout season belong to pitcher Trevor Rosenthal?
2. Cincinnati Reds
Shin-Soo Choo should stabilize the lineup at the leadoff spot, but will his defense in center field be too big of a weakness? If Aroldis Chapman succeeds as a starter, the Reds could run away with this mediocre division.
3. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers were remarkably restrained during this winterâs free agency frenzy. Congrats to them for not overpaying for overhyped players. But thereâs not enough firepower here to overcome both red teams.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
Could this finally be the year when the losing streak is broken?
5. Chicago Cubs
Next year. No really, next year.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Whatâs not to like about this roster? Oh, the fact that it didnât challenge the Giants last season. Oh yeah. But give Don Mattingly a chance to have all the stars in the clubhouse from the beginning of spring training and weâll see how well he learned from his former boss Joe Torre about managing a roster full of superstars.
2. San Francisco Giants
Go ahead and pencil this team in as the host of the wild card play-in game.
3. San Diego Padres
Moving the fences in may propel Chase Headley headlong into the MVP discussion.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
The pitching should be sound, but whereâs the punch in the lineup to protect Justin Upton? Paul Goldschmidt? Jason Kubel?
5. Colorado Rockies
Another winter, another futile search for pitching.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Want more baseball? Check out Athlon Sports' 2013 Baseball Annual for the most complete preview available. Order your copy now!