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Hamilton joins Pujols, Trout

Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton gets a hit during a spring-training game. Hamilton defected from the Rangers to bolster an already potent Angels' offense. The Angels appear to be the team to beat in the American League.
Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton gets a hit during a spring-training game. Hamilton defected from the Rangers to bolster an already potent Angels' offense. The Angels appear to be the team to beat in the American League.

Josh Hamilton joined forces with Albert Pujols and Mike Trout in Los Angeles, primed to pry the American League pennant from Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez in Detroit.

"They always say, 'There's always next year,' and next year is here," Angels ace Jered Weaver said.

Not so fast, big boys.

The Tigers feel they have some unfinished business to take care of after being so handily swept by the San Francisco Giants, and the only thing that could keep them from a return trip to the World Series is their bullpen.

Improving a lineup anchored by Triple Crown winner Cabrera and Fielder sounds difficult, but Detroit did it. Martinez is back from the disabled list and Torii Hunter is here to provide a potent lineup with even more punch.

Now the best-paid pitcher in baseball history, Justin Verlander leads a solid rotation with Max Scherzer and late-season addition Anibal Sanchez. But who will close after Jose Valverde's meltdown in the playoffs? Manager Jim Leyland may give hard-throwing minor leaguer Bruce Rondon a shot, but he's never pitched in the big leagues and was sent down to Triple-A after struggling this spring.

The White Sox didn't make many headline-worthy moves in preparing for a shot to usurp Detroit, but did lock up Chris Sale with a 5-year, $32.5 million contract, They also re-signed a rejuvenated Jake Peavy and brought in Jeff Keppinger to help boost a league-worst .221 average in the No. 2 hole.

One trouble spot in the lineup was caused by letting catcher A.J. Pierzynski leave for Texas through free agency. Tyler Flowers is ready behind the plate but he's going to need to help make up for the loss of 27 homers by Pierzynski.

Around the rest of the Central, the Royals swapped top-prospect outfielder Wil Myers for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis, but likely don't have the artillery to make a run. And the Indians spent a ton of money bringing in proven hitters in Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs and Mark Reynolds. In Minneapolis, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau appear to be at full health, but the Twins appear headed for a third straight last-place finish in the Central because their rotation is such a question mark.

The Toronto Blue Jays brought in a bevy of All-Stars, led by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and shortstop Jose Reyes, north of the border for their shot. Not to mention All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera and former aces Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.

The dynamic Reyes and Cabrera, returning from a 50-game drug suspension, should set the table for Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. How Bautista's surgically repaired wrist responds to the rigors of everyday play and how Reyes oft-injured legs do on the turf will determine how potent this offense is.

Tampa Bay locked up Evan Longoria for 6 more years. The White Sox signed young ace Chris Sale for 5. The AL West champion Oakland Athletics are hoping Yoenis Cespedes can keep them on top in a loaded division.

Heck, the Texas Rangers lost Hamilton and clubhouse leader Michael Young and they still think they're armed to be the best in the West with Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison leading a deep rotation.

And never count out the New York Yankees. They may appear more brittle than bombers in the Bronx, about to start the season with Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Phil Hughes on the disabled list. But Mariano Rivera is back for one last season of sawing off bats and closing out wins.

The Red Sox will brought in Cubs fan favorite Ryan Dempster and hope to put out of mind experiment Bobby Valentine and the last-place (69-93) finish to which he guided them.

One thing is certain: A bunch of swaggering bats are ready to give the Houston Astros a rude welcome to the American League.

AP division predictions


1. Tampa Bay Rays

2. Toronto Blue Jays

3. New York Yankees

4. Boston Red Sox

5. Baltimore Orioles


1. Detroit Tigers

2. Chicago White Sox

3. Kansas City Royals

4. Cleveland Indians

5. Minnesota Twins


1. Texas Rangers

2. Los Angeles Angels

3. Oakland Athletics

4. Seattle Mariners

5. Houston Astros

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