Faceoff…Most improved MLB team heading into 2012

Justin’s Take

The MLB season is quickly approaching, and the smell of pitchers and catchers is in the air. Gloves are being broken in, bats are being cracked against the ball and cleats are being screwed in. Everyone is undefeated.
Looking back at this past offseason, many teams made big moves, while some stayed content with what they have.
The newly named Miami Marlins come to mind as a very improved team. With the addition of Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle, the fish have added to a solid pitching staff which includes Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco.
The health of the Marlins is a big concern. Jose Reyes in an injury prone shortstop and hasn’t finished a season in the last couple years. The addition of Reyes also leads to Hanley Ramirez having to bump over to third base, a position he has never played.
Staying within the division, the Washington Nationals made big strides in the NL East. The Nationals expect Stephen Strasburg to come back and be healthy and effective. I would also not be surprised to see Bryce Harper up in the bigs this year.
The Nationals made my favorite move of the offseason in acquiring Gio Gonzalez. This young pitcher is on his way to pure domination in the league. The Nationals also snagged closer Brad Lidge, and expect Ryan Zimmerman to have a stellar year.
The Nationals can make a push for a wild card, but it comes down to Jayson Werth getting back to his old ways.
The Detroit Tigers became a whole lot better with the addition of Prince Fielder. The vegan slugger will fit perfectly in Detroit and automatically bring them more wins.
The Yankees added Hiroki Koruda and Raul Ibanez in the offseason. Koruda was a very smart addition, but Ibanez will be a work in progress at the designate hitter position.
A sleeper pick for a very improved team is the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays added Reds reliever Francisco Cordero, along with White Sox closer Sergio Santos, to make an effective punch in the late innings.
The Angels made the biggest and most effective moves this offseason. They added the feared hitter Albert Pujols,“El Hombre,” who will absolutely thrive in LA. But what is more interesting is the Angels’ pitching rotation.
C.J. Wilson was one of the best offseason signings. He has no pressure in L.A., as he will be the No. 3 started behind the talented Jered Weaver and Dan Haren. This pitching staff will be something to watch this year.


Joes Take

The MLB offseason has focused mainly on the Miami Marlins and the L.A. Angels.
The Marlins added all-star shortstop Jose Reyes, as well as veteran Mark Buehrle and shut down closer Heath Bell. The Angels added the best hitter in baseball, Albert Pujols, and the best starter available, C.J. Wilson. But neither team is the most improved in the league.
As far as wins and losses relative to other teams in the division, neither is a lock.  In the NL East, the Phillies the favorites. The Marlins can add as many players as they want, but if Josh Johnson does not give them 30 plus starts they will not get close to winning the division.
Though the Phillies certainly haven’t gotten better, they are still a 94 to 97 win team.  Reyes, Buehrle and Bell cannot close that gap alone. Add healthy 20-game winner Johnson and it is possible, but still unlikely. Chances are, the Marlins will be fighting for a wild card berth.
The most improved team is the Yankees.  The Yanks had one glaring need and weakness that prevented them from getting far, which was starting pitching. They addressed it the right way by trading Jesus Montero — whom they did not need — for a great young starter in Michael Pineda, who last year at age 22 pitched to a 3.74 ERA with 173 strikeouts on a last-place team.
They also added Hiroki Kuroda, a great work horse and mentally tough veteran. Last year, Kuroda, had a 3.07 ERA and had over 200 innings pitched — exactly what the Yankees needed.
With the Red Sox a big question mark and the Rays showing no glaring improvements other than maturity, the defending division-winning Yankees did what they needed to do. They will not win many more than 97, but they have succeeded in widening the gap. They still have an all-world lineup and a close to unstoppable bullpen. Rivera at age 42 is still the best closer in baseball and with David Robertson as the best setup man in the league and Soriano as the seventh inning guy, starters usually just have to get to six with a lead to secure a win.
The Yankees for once will show you don’t need big names to have big improvements.  They will be the favorite to win the AL east and most likely the AL. Yankees have another year or two before they have to replace the rest of their core in Jeter and Rivera, — and even A-Rod soon, —  but these guys will be hungry for one more.