At long last, Spring Training camps open this week. While there are always minor moves to be made in the days that immediately precede and follow the pitchers and catchers reporting dates (and nobody is ruling out some surprise spring moves after a particularly wild winter), the heavy lifting is over. So we can safely analyze what the winter wrought.
Here's where things stand with the 15 American League clubs, in order of last season's finish.
Angels 2014 record: 98-64 2015 PECOTA projection: 91-71 File under: "World Series or bust"
The same contracts (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver) that make the Halos a "World Series or bust" kind of club are the very contracts that prevented them from making any major additions this winter. If anything, they subtracted by trading pending free agent Howie Kendrick to the Dodgers. But this was an underrated offseason for the Angels, because they added young pieces to the rotation (Nick Tropeano, Andrew Heaney) and brought in some Hamilton insurance in Matt Joyce (who will already come in handy now that Hamilton will miss Opening Day following shoulder surgery). With what projects to be a solid pitching staff and a Mike Trout-led lineup, the Angels might not win 98 games again, but they'll certainly be contenders in a deepened AL West.
Orioles 2014 record: 96-66 2015 PECOTA projection: 78-84 File under: "Still an East beast"
The O's waltzed away with their first AL East crown since 1997, and they did so by a 12-game margin. And yet, I doubt they'll be atop many people's AL East predictions for this year. That's what happens when you lose three prominent free agents (Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller) and are quiet on the replacement front. But don't believe the anti-hype with the O's. Travis Snider was a smart pickup for right field, the pitching staff is still strong, and the returns of Matt Wieters and Manny Machado will boost the lineup. Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette won't let this club become irrelevant.
Tigers 2014 record: 90-72 PECOTA projection: 83-79 File under: "World Series or bust"
An even deeper middle of the order, a less-robust rotation and, hopefully, a better bullpen. That's the outlook for the Tigers after a winter in which Max Scherzer left, Yoenis Cespedes arrived and the bullpen maneuvering was more on the low-profile front. The Tigers, gunning for their fifth straight AL Central title, will look very different in some areas -- Anthony Gose in center, Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon in the rotation, Jose Iglesias back at short after missing 2014 -- and those guys could all have big impacts. But the key remains the stars -- Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander, David Price, Joe Nathan -- and whether they can maintain (or, in the case of Verlander and Nathan, regain) their elite levels. Cabrera and Martinez are both coming off surgery, so their spring situation merits monitoring.
Royals 2014 record: 89-73 2015 PECOTA projection: 71-91 File under: "That was fun, let's do it again"
After finishing 90 feet shy of tying Game 7 of the World Series, the Royals faced some major personnel decisions this winter. Their budget compelled them to take some risks -- Edison Volquez (ostensibly replacing James Shields) fending off regression after his 2014 comeback campaign, Alex Rios (replacing Nori Aoki) bouncing back from an extreme power regression in Texas and Kendrys Morales (replacing Billy Butler) getting back to his '13 production level after a vagabond '14. The biggest strengths of the Royals will remain the same -- a beefed-up bullpen (which could be even better with Luke Hochevar back) and a stellar defense. And they still need a breakout season from Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
The M's came so tantalizingly close to October last year, and they've made the necessary additions to get them over the hump. Cruz adds the much-needed right-handed presence to the middle of the order, Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano profile as an effective platoon in right, and Rickie Weeks should be an effective bench option against lefties, at the least. A stellar rotation was kept largely intact (regression candidate Chris Young was not retained, while J.A. Happ was added), and James Paxton and Taijuan Walker can take it to another level. The M's haven't made the playoffs since 2001, but they'll be a popular pick in the AL West.
The Tribe fell three games shy of claiming a spot in back-to-back AL Wild Card Games. With the majority of the club under contractual control, the Indians had a relatively laid-back winter, but a trade for Moss could reap middle-of-the-lineup rewards, and Gavin Floyd could add a veteran boost to a young and promising rotation. Both guys are health risks, with Moss coming off hip surgery and Floyd having endured a litany of arm ailments in recent years. A lot has to go right, both with those guys and with veterans Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, who both battled injuries in '14. But the depth of the pitching staff, anchored by AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, the versatility of a lineup led by AL MVP Award candidate Michael Brantley, and manager Terry Francona's input make the Tribe a contender in a deep AL Central.
Blue Jays 2014 record: 83-79 2015 PECOTA projection: 83-79 File under: "October or bust"
The Blue Jays thought they had built a postseason-caliber club around Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey two years ago, and it didn't work out. This time, they made a bold free-agent signing of native Canadian and valued catcher Russell Martin and made a bold trade for Donaldson -- two players who will dramatically improve Toronto offensively, defensively and in the clubhouse. They also made a low-profile swap for outfielder Michael Saunders that could reap big dividends if he stays healthy. Combine the new guys with some of the young guys (Dalton Pompey, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez) who are ready for prominent roles, and the Blue Jays have a very good shot of ending baseball's longest active playoff drought.
Rays 2014 record: 77-85 2015 PECOTA projection: 86-76 File under: "Don't you forget about me"
New manager Kevin Cash might have, top to bottom, the AL East's best pitching staff on his hands. And that still means something. It means enough for PECOTA to predict the Rays finishing in second in the AL East. That might prove overly aggressive, because we have to see if the reformed lineup (with new acquisitions Asdrubal Cabrera, Steven Souza and Jaso, as well as David Price trade acquisition Nick Franklin) can produce. But just because the Rays have lost their most prominent pieces from the pitching staff (Price), dugout (Joe Maddon) and front office (Andrew Friedman) in the last eight months doesn't mean they're doomed.
With their local television situation finally resolved, the Astros had some money to spend this winter, and they invested in the bullpen (Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson) and the lineup (Colby Rasmus and Jed Lowrie), in addition to making trades that netted slugger Evan Gattis, the versatile Luis Valbuena and a potential rotation piece in Dan Straily. The Astros were awful at three positions last year -- first base, third base and left field. Now new manager A.J. Hinch has a roster with the depth to dramatically improve those spots, he has a high-power, high-strikeout lineup that will be fascinating to watch unfold, and he has a better-than-advertised pitching staff. Don't totally rule the Astros out as a surprise team in 2015.
Not many people realize the Twins scored the seventh-most runs in baseball last season. The problem, as has been the case for some time, is that the rotation (beyond Phil Hughes, who was an outstanding pickup) stunk. Once again this winter, the Twins invested in that rotation by signing Ervin Santana to join Hughes and last year's underwhelming addition, Ricky Nolasco. They also reunited with Torii Hunter, who could both help the lineup and instill a winning attitude. Don't go labeling Paul Molitor's club a contender, but with some intriguing young pieces like Kennys Vargas, Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton all either aboard or almost aboard, they could be pesky this year.
It can't get worse for the Rangers. It just can't. Last year's injury log is unrepeatable. So health alone -- most prominently, for Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Mitch Moreland and Yu Darvish -- could lead to a dramatic improvement in the win column for Jeff Banister's team. The amount of money tied up in the current core and the hard lessons of last season prompted a somewhat cautious winter for the Rangers, but they did make a big swap for Yovani Gallardo from the Brewers and also added Ross Detwiler from the Nats, so the rotation has some interesting pieces. Fielder's Peyton Manning-like return to form after neck surgery is the big key here. He'll be a spring focal point.