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Matt Smith is the editor and lead writer at BaseballGB. An Oakland A's fan, Matt has been obsessed with baseball since 1998 and started writing about the sport in 2006.

MLB contenders or pretenders

Writing up a summary of the key roster changes that have taken place recently led me scurrying to the essential MLBDepthCharts website to take stock of every team’s roster.

There is plenty of off-season remaining for teams to add new players, and potentially for teams to lose key players too (as the Tigers did with Victor Martinez last year). The 2012 season also taught us yet again that when we ‘predict’ we are really taking an educated guess and that there can always be a Baltimore or Oakland team that takes us all by surprise.

All of which is a long way of saying that we don’t have a definitive picture of who will be the main playoff contenders, but it’s still fun to take a guess during the lazy Christmas break.

There are now 15 teams in each league following the Houston Astros’ move to the American League and by my reckoning there are 8 teams in each (possibly 9) that have the potential to be genuine playoff contenders.

American League (ordered by division)

Boston, NY Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto, Detroit, LA Angels, Oakland and Texas (with the Chicago White Sox as a questionable ninth team).

The Red Sox probably have another move or two in them and I also think their poor 2012 performance was a combination of lots of different factors (Bobby Valentine being the main one) that will be improved in part due to a clean slate for 2013. The loss of James Shields from the Rays’ rotation shouldn’t be underestimated and their offence needs help, but they’ve got enough to keep them in the running at least. The White Sox could be on the edge of competing if things go their way and they add a couple of players, although the strength of the Tigers’ roster makes their task difficult.

The strength of the East and West probably will mean we get one Wild Card from each. If Seattle struggle then it’s even possible they and the Astros could ‘help’ the West produce three playoff teams.

National League

Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, Cincinnati, St Louis, Arizona, LA Dodgers, San Francisco (with Milwaukee as a questionable ninth team).

Atlanta and Washington should be set for a fantastic battle in the East, although I suspect the Phillies will pull themselves back up into the Wild Card running despite an infield defence that could make any groundball an adventure. I noted the other day that I like Arizona as a sleeper pick and the underdog role should suit them. Milwaukee are my ninth team here and may move forward if they can add a pitcher or two.

The outsiders

The above leaves Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston, Kansas City, Minnesota and Seattle on the outside in the AL and the Chicago Cubs, Colorado, Miami, NY Mets, Pittsburgh and San Diego looking to 2014 in the NL.

The Orioles have the most reason to complain after making the postseason this year. They consistently proved the doubters wrong during the 2012 and will be intent on doing so again in 2013. They haven’t yet responded to the improvements made by Boston and, in particular, Toronto, in their division so the doubt of a repeat performance seems reasonable.

There are ten playoff spots up for grabs and having 18 teams fighting for them would be a very healthy position to be in. If another great season in MLB is one of your new year wishes, you may well be in luck.

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