Five MLB Teams That Could Surprise in 2012
by Preston Barclay | Georgetown University
To surprise, one has to seemingly arise from a bottom feeder to league leader seemingly out of nowhere. Every year in the MLB teams who lost more games than they won the year before turn into contenders the next. While there are still several constants year in and year out like the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, others like the Rays and Diamondbacks have turned around otherwise dismal situations into winning ball clubs.
In 2012, there are five squads who, despite losing at least half of their games in 2011, appear poised to jump into the pennant race this season. Although some of these teams made otherwise outrageously aggressive transactions this winter, others still figure to improve based on the maturation of younger players, or in most cases, some combination between the two.
1. Cincinnati Reds (Last season: 79-83)
Combined with several bold moves and key losses by divisional foes, the Reds are the team to beat in the Central in 2012 after performing below expectations a year ago. Naturally, with the departures of the likes of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder from division heavyweights St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers, respectively, the division’s ripe for the taking and GM Walt Jocketty saw that the window of opportunity was now with the acquisition of ace Mat Latos from the beleaguered San Diego Padres, trade of stud set-up man Sean Marshall from divisional foe Chicago Cubs, and signing of closer Ryan Madson from the Phillies. Likewise, the club has top catching prospect Devin Mesoraco ready to fill the void left by veteran Ramon Hernandez, who signed with the Rockies. Expect a double digit hike in wins for Cincinnati and a playoff berth by season’s end.
2. Colorado Rockies (73-89)
After having picked the Rockies to run away with the NL West last year, I was shocked to see their fall from grace epitomized by the midseason trade of ace Ubaldo Jimenez to the Cleveland Indians for a quartet of prospects. This offseason however, GM Dan O’Dowd aggressively pursued the addition of several key veterans to complement a suddenly juvenile pitching staff. The club acquired 31-year-old Jeremy Guthrie from the Orioles to serve as guru to a rotation with only one other starter with over 30 career starts in the Bigs.
Across the rest of the diamond, O’Dowd’s biggest acquisition was the signing of outfielder Michael Cuddyer from the Twins, who should provide at least 20 home runs and a solid average to complement stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. The Rocks also nabbed veteran backstop Ramon Hernandez and shipped off disappointment Chris Iannetta to the Angels, while also employing Casey Blake to man the hot corner instead of incumbent Ian Stewart. To be honest, I thought Blake’s career ended (or at least should have) five years ago so I hope Colorado doesn’t expect much of anything from him. Regardless, the Rocks will be an interesting squad to watch in 2012 that will have its destiny in the hands of a young yet immensely talented quartet of hurlers in their rotation – Jhoulys Chacin, Juan Nicasio, Drew Pomeranz, and either Alex White or Guillermo Moscoso.
3. Miami Marlins (72-90)
Before the Angels stole their thunder, the Marlins were the talk of the league in early December. With a new ballpark, owner Jeffrey Loria committed to finally spending a little cash on his club — splurging to sign superstar shortstop Jose Reyes, left-hander Mark Buerhle, and closer Heath Bell, while reportedly offering the largest deal to Albert Pujols who instead signed with the Angels.
Regardless, the fish figured to improve without major acquisitions with the healthy return of ace Josh Johnson, continued development of budding superstar Mike Stanton, and rebound by star Hanley Ramirez. With the moves, the team figures to improve significantly, but just how much will likely be curbed by a contentious NL East division with four viable contenders.
4. Toronto Blue Jays (81-81)
Like the Marlins, the Blue Jays face an uphill battle as part of arguably the most competitive division in the entire league. While the Yankees and Red Sox are perennial contenders, the Jays also have to contend with the Rays who may just be the best team in the entire league with phenomenal rotation depth with the arrival of top prospect Matt Moore.
But on the face of it, Toronto will be a better club on the diamond in 2012 than 2011, and will figure to get even better in the future with a cluster of excellent prospects waiting in the wings. With MVP candidate Jose Bautista manning the outfield, the Jays will be turning to perhaps the best player the public knows, Brett Lawrie, to handle the hot corner, who figures to be a prime candidate for rookie of the year. Likewise, GM Alex Anthopolous plucked closer Sergio Santos from the White Sox who will lead an improved bullpen. Although the club lost out on Japanese product Yu Darvish and first baseman Prince Fielder, the club is still in a strong position to surprise in 2012.
5. Washington Nationals (80-81)
Often the laughing stock of the league, DC’s boys of summer appear on the precipice of becoming a perennial contender. 2012 might not be the year the club is ready to compete for championships with the legendary Bryce Harper still being groomed in the minors (but not for long) and young hurlers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann being stretched out and monitored after past elbow injuries. The squad’s young players continue to improve in conjunction with prime production from franchise player Ryan Zimmerman along with Jayson Werth and Michael Morse. The club’s boldest move includes the trade for budding ace Gio Gonzalez from the Athletics, who combined with Strasburg and Zimmermann, suddenly gives the Nats arguably the league’s most dynamic rotation outside of Philadelphia.
Going to school in the nation’s capital, there is a new buzz and excitement in the air that’s palpable surrounding this club. Although they will be in an uphill battle all year long as part of the National League’s most difficult division, the future is so bright in DC, you just might want to wear shades.Preston Barclay is a sports contributor for NextGen Journal. He is a rising junior at Georgetown University in the McDonough School of Business, while also serving as a sports columnist for the school’s student newspaper, The Hoya.