How they’ll finish from top to bottom in the American League:
1. Rays (93-69): The least-valuable franchise according to Forbes (worth $485 million) with the worst average attendance (18,645 fans) two years in a row continues to be one of the best at winning despite spending little ($77 million, 28th in MLB). They should finish around the 90-win mark again.
2. Tigers (92-70): A new manager and a handful of new pieces have been placed around back-to-back MVP winner Miguel Cabrera, who became baseball’s highest-paid player with an eight-year, $248 million extension. There’s just too much pitching at the top to not win the Central for the fourth year in a row and make another deep postseason run.
3. Athletics (90-72): Like the Rays, they squeeze a lot out of their budget, which is up $15 million to $83 million this season after back-to-back AL West crowns. Losing pitcher Jarrod Parker (13-8, 3.47 ERA in 2013) to Tommy John surgery this spring hurts, but Sonny Gray and A.J. Griffin should step up.
4. Red Sox (89-73): Jacoby Ellsbury (Yankees), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Marlins) and Stephen Drew (free agent) are gone and that’s why some think Boston will take a step back after making a 28-game improvement and winning the World Series last year. Pitchers Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy should keep them in the hunt for a repeat.
5. Rangers (88-74): Injuries in spring have hurt. Ace Yu Darvish (stiff neck) and fellow starters Derek Holland and Matt Harrison are all starting the season on the disabled list. New additions Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder are going to have to deliver instantly or they’re going to miss the playoffs again.
6. Angels (87-75): Mike Trout’s 8.9 wins above replacement rating in 2013 lead MLB. Highly paid teammates Albert Pujols ($16 million, 1.9 WAR in 2013) and Josh Hamitlon ($17 million, 1.5 WAR) hardly carried their weight, combining to hit .253 with 38 homers and 143 RBI. But if they pick it up a little, the Angels would have to improve.
7. Indians (83-79): Jason Kipnis (.284, 17 HRs, 84 RBI), Carlos Santana (.268, 20 HRs, 74 RBI) and Michael Bradley (.284, 10 HRs, 73 RBI) are entering the prime of their careers on an offense that finished fourth in runs in the AL last year. But heading back to the playoffs is going to be tough after losing pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez (Orioles) and Scott Kazmir (Athletics).
8. Royals (82-80): After finishing with their best record since 1989, the payroll was raised $12 million to make a run at their first playoff berth since winning the World Series in 1985. If third baseman Mike Moustakas hits the way he did this spring (.431, 4 HRs, 17 RBI), then there is a chance.
9. Orioles (80-82): Few expect Chris Davis to put up the same monster numbers he did last year (53 HRs, 138 RBI), and All-Star third baseman Manny Machado is recuperating from October knee surgery. Also, the pitching must improve (4.20 ERA, 23rd in MLB in 2013).
10. Yankees (79-83): Despite the reasons for hope and optimism — they added Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka; Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Michael Pineda are healthy — age and injury history could haunt them.
11. Blue Jays (77-85): Forty percent of the rotation is attempting to come back from major arm injuries. Slugger Jose Bautista has averaged only 105 games over the past two years. The second-longest MLB playoff drought (19 years) is bound to continue.
12. Mariners (77-85): Felix Hernandez ($23.5 million) and new second baseman Robinson Cano ($24 million) comprise more than half the $92 million Seattle is spending on payroll this season. Cano’s presence alone won’t help the Mariners eclipse .500 for the first time since 2009.
13. White Sox (72-90): The worst scoring team in the AL last year added Jose Abreu for $68 million, but the defense (AL-high 121 errors last season) must improve.
14. Twins (67-95): Former Marlin Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes were brought in to help the staff with the worst ERA in MLB (5.26). It won’t matter until top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano are ready for the big leagues.
15. Astros (57-105): We should see some of the prospects Houston developed while losing at least 100 games each of the past three years.