March 2012

Prediction: Tigers go to the World Series

Justin Verlander

We’ve reached that point in the year when I attempt to forecast which teams will be division winners. I’ll start with the American League.

Of all the moves that were made during the offseason, three have the potential to impact the chase for the AL pennant.

The obvious one is Albert Pujols to the Angels. And then there’s Prince Fielder signing with the Tigers, who are leaps and bounds ahead of the other teams in the AL Central. The midseason addition of Doug Fister to their rotation proved to be the best move made at last year’s trade deadline. Fister has a change to be a 20-game winner, with a full-year in Detroit and a lineup that will score runs in bunches. And I think AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander may be better this year than in 2011.

Yu DarvishBack to those impact moves: If Yu Darvish can stay healthy, the Rangers should make another trip to the postseason. Keep in mind that we have the additional Wild Card team this year, so here is how I see the AL shaking out:

I like Rangers over Angels in the West, and I the Yankees will rise to the top of the East while Detroit wins the Central in a runaway.

As for the Wild Cards, I’ve got the Angels and Red Sox playing the one-game playoff for the chance to advance to the Division Series. I have the Angels winning that game, which means they will have to play Detroit in the DS. Detroit will have the best regular-season record but, this year, that will mean playing the first two games on the road in Anaheim. Regardless, I still see the Tigers winning that series.

That means Texas and New York would play the other series, and I’d take the Rangers in that one, setting up a rematch of last year’s ALCS between the Rangers and Tigers. Adding Prince to the lineup gives the Tigers the edge and, unlike last season, Detroit advances to the World Series.

Orioles should follow Rays model

Should the Orioles be using the Rays as a model for handling young players? I ask this question based on the renewed contract of catcher and “face of their organization” Matt Wieters.

Tampa has in recent history given its young and potential superstars long-term deals early in their careers. Evan Longoria, and most recently Matt Moore. This strategy has proven effective not only in the sense that the organization is showing confidence in them, but it also has proven to save the club money when they buy out some arbitration years.

What happened in Baltimore is why the Orioles face a long road out of the basement in the American League East. Wieters came to the Majors with huge expectations. While he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, he hasn’t fallen on his face either. In 2009, he played in 96 games , hit .288 with nine home runs and had 43 RBIs. In 2010, he played in 130 games, batting .249 with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs. Last season, Weiters played in played in 139 games and hit.262 with 22 home runs and 69 RBIs.

Defensively he was a Gold Glove winner and ranked second among qualifying catchers in base runners caught stealing at 37 percent in 2011. His numbers are pretty impressive. How impressive were they to the Baltimore front office? They renewed his contract at $500,000, $20,000 above league minimum.

I’m sorry, but if I’m trying to build an organization basically from scratch, the first thing I’m going to do is treat the players at least fairly, especially when you are dealing with the catcher that is going to be handling your young pitchers and taking the biggest beating on the field on a daily basis.

I was 21 years old when I came to the Big Leagues back in 1986, and I got a $60,000 raise after my rookie year. That was 25 years ago. And I was a set up man in the bullpen.

Tampa has put the blueprint out there on how to build a small market team and make it successful. It is up to other organizations to take notice and maybe follow suit. I’m sure Matt Wieters will be professional and do his job, but you can’t tell me that he feels respected by his organization.

There are many players who are way overpaid, but in this case — even if they had contract talks and the two parties were way apart on a number — the front office can renew him at any number they want. To renew him at $500,000 is disrespectful when there will be rookies on that team who don’t have a single at bat in the Big Leagues making only $20,000 less than the starting catcher, who has two years and 119 days in the Majors. For you Wieters fans, get a good look at him over the next four years, because I see him sprinting out of Baltimore when he becomes a free agent.

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