Thursday, March 03, 2005

MLB Preview 4: AL East

New York Yankees

Derek Jeter SS
Hideki Matsui LF
Gary Sheffield RF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Jorge Posada C
Bernie Williams CF
Ruben Sierra/Jason Giambi DH
Tino Martinez 1B
Tony Womack 2B

Mike Mussina
Randy Johnson
Kevin Brown
Carl Pavano
Jaret Wright
Tanyon Sturtze
Jorge De Paula
Alex Graman

A decent lineup. Of course, Joe Torre will decide to hit A-Rod 2nd and Bernie Williams or Matsui 4th for no apparent reason. Oh, and other than Matsui and and maybe Posada, Tino, or Womack), this isn't a good defensive team.
Pavano and Wright are coming off career years. But, this will most likely turn out to be a bad move for Wright. After a brilliant '97, he faded back into obscurity, only to be resurrected by the great pitching teachers in Atlanta. But, will he fare well without those teachers under the bright lights of the Big City? Also, when (not if) Johnson, Mussina, and Brown go down, who will step up? Steve Karsay? With no major changes in the bullpen, it will once again be up to some hitter - anyone! - to figure out that Mariano Rivera has thrown nothing but cut fastballs since 2001.

Boston Red Sox

Johnny Damon CF
Edgar Renteria SS
David Ortiz DH
Manny Ramirez LF
Kevin Millar 1B
Jason Varitek C
Trot Nixon RF
Bill Mueller 3B
Mark Bellhorn 2B

Curt Schilling
Wade Miller
Matt Clement
Bronson Arroyo
David Wells
Tim Wakefield
Byung-Hyun Kim
Abe Alvarez
John Halama

There are a few new faces in the lineup, but this is still a very solid core group. I put Renteria 2nd here, but you could easily drop him down to give your lineup a little more overall punch. Heck, who needs a guy who puts his bat on the ball and moves runners over batting second anyways? As for these starting 9 - they'll have to have some endurance. The bench features big names like Kevin Youkilis, Ramon Vazquez, Hanley Ramirez, Adam Hyzdu, and Jay Payton. Yep, that's it.
The rotation features a few new faces. This week's SI points out that the addition of Wells and Clement makes this the MLB's best rotation as far as control of the strike zone goes. Let's just see if Miller can stay healthy and Clement can prove to the doubters that he's worth his big contract. The good news is that the bullpen features some good names. Setting up for Keith Foulke will be Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, and Matt Mantei.

Baltimore Orioles

Brian Roberts2B
Melvin Mora 3B
Miguel Tejada SS
Sammy Sosa RF
Javy Lopez C
Rafael Palmeiro DH
Jay Gibbons 1B
Larry Bigbie LF
Luis Matos CF

Sidney Ponson
Daniel Cabrera
Erik Bedard
Rodrigo Lopez
Eric DuBose
Matt Riley
Bruce Chen
Kurt Ainsworth
Rick Bauer
John Maine

This is a lineup that should be able to compete in any division. Baltimore cleared their two-man logjam at second by sending Jerry Hairston, Jr. out west, giving Roberts the starting job full time. Mora can flat-out put the bat on the ball, and dropping Gibbons another spot in the lineup should help him return to his underrated 2003 form. Now it's up to Sosa and Palmeiro to stay healthy, and for Javy Lopez to avoid a slump in his sophomore AL season. Then, anything that Bigbie and Matos can and will do will be a bonus.
The rotation won't strick fear in anyone's heart. But hey, at least Bruce Chen gets to play for the same team two years in a row. And, on the bright side, the bullpen is just loaded. Setting up for new closer BJ Ryan is former closer Jorge Julio, Jason Grimsley, Steve Kline, and Steve Reed. The lineup and the bullpen (maybe with the addition of a big name closer) can compete in any division, and possibly even in this one. But can Ponson, Lopez, and the rotation hold up their end of the bargain?

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Carl Crawford CF
Julio Lugo/BJ Upton SS
Roberto Alomar 2B
Aubrey Huff RF
Josh Phelps DH
Danny Bautista LF
Travis Lee 1B
Toby Hall C
Alex Gonzalez 3B

Dewon Brazelton
Casey Fossum
Mark Hendrickson
Rob Bell
Douh Waechter
Jorge Sosa
Scott Kazmir

Do you like replaceable parts? Maybe you can be the guy who makes out Tampa Bay's lineup card. Besides the 10 guys listed above (Lugo or Gonzalez can't hold back Upton very long), you also have Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young, and Joey Gathright. Call me crazy, but I still love watching this team.
The rotation is full of questions, most of them being "Can (Brazelton, Fossum, Sosa, Kazmir) live up to expectations? I have a feeling the answer will be "yes" in at least two occassions. Meanwhile, a revolving door of mediocrity will continue to set up the seemingly resurgent Danys Baez. But will the former Cuban sensation get more than 33 chances to save a game this season?

Toronto Blue Jays

Reed Johnson LF
Frank Catalanotto DH
Vernon Wells CF
Corey Koskie 3B
Eric Hinske/Shea Hillenbrand 1B
Gregg Zaun C
Alex Rios RF
Orlando Hudson/Frank Menechino 2B
Russ Adams/John MacDonald SS

Roy Halladay
Ted Lilly
Miguel Batista
Josh Towers
Scott Schoeneweis
Dave Bush
Justin Miller
Ryan Glynn
Gustavo Chacin

JP Ricciardi is a much-respected GM. However, unless there's some master rebuilding plan I don't know about (and I'm not saying there isn't), this team appears to be heading in the wrong direction. Johnson and Wells are definitely building blocks for the future, and Catalanotto is one of the best veteran role players you could ask for. But what's there other than that? Sure, you can't blame Ricciardi for Hinske's sophomore demise, but where are the rest of the big name prospects?
The rotation has its bright spots, but not many. In what may be potentially bad news, it appears that Bush will get the last spot over Schoenweis. Schoenweis is another great reliever who thinks he's good enough to be used solely as a starter. If he's not, and the team tanks, look out. It appears that Justin Speier will be the closer. That's a decent choice, but surely not one that will strike fear in the hearts of AL East hitters. The only big names setting him up are virtual has-beens. Billy Koch returns not as a closer, but as a middle reliever, after being exposed as a fastball-only pitcher - and one who doesn't even have that much fire on his heater any more. Kerry Lightenberg, meanwhile, is most well known as the guy who took over as the Braves closer after John Rocker's collapse.

Well, that's it. I'll be in Georgia for most of next week, but I'll try to get the NL Central preview out before I go.