Tuesday, February 14, 2006

MLB Preview 4: AL East

Boston Red Sox

Coco Crisp CF
Mark Loretta 2B
David Ortiz DH
Manny Ramirez LF
Trot Nixon RF
Jason Varitek C
Mike Lowell 3B
Kevin Youkilis 1B
Alex Gonzalez SS

Curt Schilling
Josh Beckett
Matt Clement
David Wells
Tim Wakefield
Bronson Arroyo
Jonathan Papelbon

My thoughts on the addition of Crisp have been fairly well documented over the past few weeks. Loretta is much better than the common Boston fan probably realizes. As an established veteran, he won't get rattled by the big city, either. Loretta should help Crisp's transition by batting behind him. The bottom of the lineup doesn't look like it's a huge step down from last year's. For those wondering, that's the Alex Gonzalez that's been a Marlin his entire career to this point. If Youkilis, Lowell, or Gonzalez falter, Boston has a deep bench infield-wise. JT Snow (son of the late Jack), Alex Cora, and Tony Graffanino were all starters at some point last year, and likely could still start on most teams this year. Catcher is also deep, not that Jason Varitek needs much help. Established veteran John Flaherty will compete with the young Josh Bard for the backup spot. Both are good at handling pitching staffs, but I don't know offhand if either has caught a knuckleballer before. (Tim Wakefield normally used former backup Doug Mirabelli as his regular catcher.) There's basically no depth behind the starting outfielders, so that is something Boston will definitely have to address.
If everyone stays healthy, and that's a bit of a question for Schilling, Beckett, and I'm sure Wells to some extent, this is a solid rotation. The bullpen was Boston's biggest question last year. Keith Foulke returns as closer for the time being. He has some new help, too. It will be interesting to see how both handle the pressure of the big city. Julian Tavarez is a veteran coming from a perennial pennant contender in St. Louis, so he shouldn't have much trouble. But, he's known for his temper as much as his pitching. David Riske has been shaky over the past couple seasons, and one wonders how well his psyche will handle the boos if and when they come.

New York Yankees

Johnny Damon CF
Derek Jeter SS
Gary Sheffield RF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Hideki Matsui LF
Jason Giambi 1B
Jorge Posada C
Bernie Williams DH
Robinson Cano 2B

Randy Johnson
Mike Mussina
Carl Pavano
Shawn Chacon
Jaret Wright
Chien-Ming Wang
Aaron Small
Sean Henn

Plan of attack versus the Yankee defense: start by hitting it to the deepest part of the park, left center. Johnny Damon has a notoriously weak arm, so Matsui will try to compensate by getting to as many balls as he can. Once Matsui starts shading towards center, start pulling the ball down the left field line. This lineup has improved, though. Damon should take advantage of the short right field porch. Jeter is a natural #2 hitter. Giambi put up surprisingly good fantasy numbers last year, and Matsui knows how to drive in runs. But New York's depth starts to show with the fact that Bernie Williams is playing DH. The bench features Miguel Cairo and Bubba Crosby, and then it's all downhill from there.
The Yankee rotation is, well, the same. I have no idea if that's good or bad. They'll probably figure out a way to win a bunch of games anyways. Mariano Rivera gets some big help in the bullpen with the addition of Octavio Dotel and Kyle Farnsworth. Dotel faltered as a closer, but his time in Houston proved he is one of the best setup men in the league. Farnsworth is a young(ish), brash(ish) fireballer, but does he run the risk of becoming the next Jeff Weaver? Weaver let it all hang out in Detroit, but he lost his edge when he tried to tone things down in the Bronx. Farnsworth is a few years older, so that remains to be seen.

Toronto Blue Jays

Russ Adams SS
Reed Johnson LF
Vernon Wells CF
Troy Glaus 3B
Lyle Overbay 1B
Shea Hillenbrand DH
Bengie Molina C
Alex Rios RF
Aaron Hill 2B

Roy Halladay
AJ Burnett
Ted Lilly
Gustavo Chacin
Josh Towers
Scott Downs
Dustin McGowan
Pete Walker

This team may not be great, but they are deep. Well, at least at some positions. Apparently, JP Ricciardi's master plan involves collecting as many corner infielders as possible. I'm not sure how Wes Helms, Ty Wigginton, and Russ Branyan escaped his grasp. In fact, Toronto got great production out of their corner infielders last year, and they added new ones. Former ROY Eric Hinske drops down to third string at both 1B and 3B. Last year's starting catcher, Greg Zaun, now becomes a very qualified backup. The team is very thin in the outfield and, to some extent, the middle infield. John MacDonald is a veteran infielder with one of the best gloves in the AL. Frank Catalanotto, a student of hitting, is the only backup option in the outfield. He started as a second baseman, so he could perhaps play an overall utility role as well.
Burnett is one of this team's four huge pickups (along with Glaus, Overbay, and BJ Ryan). The Jays now have one of the best one-two punches in the league, but injuries are a problem for both. Lilly is serviceable. Chacin broke out early last year, but can he repeat that success now that everyone's seen him? In the bullpen, was BJ Ryan worth the money? Time will tell. Ryan does have two capable veteran setup men, Scott Schoeneweis and Justin Speier.

Baltimore Orioles

Brian Roberts2B
Luis Matos LF
Melvin Mora 3B
Miguel Tejada SS
Javy Lopez DH
Kevin Millar 1B
Ramon Hernandez C
Jay Gibbons RF
Corey Patterson CF

Rodrigo Lopez
Erik Bedard
Daniel Cabrera
Kris Benson
Bruce Chen
Hayden Penn
Eric DuBose
Adam Loewen

I took some liberty with this lineup. MLB.com has Millar starting in left and Jeff Conine at first. But I can't see Luis Matos' bat being taken out of this lineup. He may end up batting 9th with Patterson 2nd in real life, even though the numbers dictate my order looks better. How will this lineup fare? It depends on a few things. Did Roberts have a career year - one that will be tough to repeat, or a breakout year - that is, a sign of things to come? Mora hit 27 HR last year, so he can handle the #3 spot. Lopez will hopefully stay healthy at DH. Hernandez is a great hitting catcher in the NL, but the level of competition is much higher in the AL East. Gibbons probably better than a #8 hitter, but this lineup alternates left/right-handed batters well. The bench is full of serviceable backups, but no one with a name as recognizable as Conine's.
This is a very good young rotation that will only get better in the future. Lopez and Bedard are stars, and Loewen is one of the top prospects in the game. Benson isn't a star, and shouldn't be considered one, but he'll do a great job of rounding out the bottom of the rotation. The bullpen has lost many of its key guys, including BJ Ryan and Jorge Julio. It looks like LaTroy Hawkins will step in at closer. He'll need help from a group of no-names. Despite a decent lineup and an improving rotation, this bullpen may all but assure Baltimore of another fourth place finish in this division.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Carl Crawford CF
Julio Lugo SS
Jorge Cantu 2B
Aubrey Huff RF
Jonny Gomes DH
Travis Lee 1B
Toby Hall C
Sean Burroughs 3B
Rocco Baldelli CF

Scott Kazmir
Mark Hendrickson
Casey Fossum
Seth McClung
Doug Waechter
Edwin Jackson

I'll say it: this lineup has the talent to win the NL West. Unfortunately, their pitching staff would betray them greatly. That, and they're stuck in the ultra-competitive AL East. Crawford is one of the premiere leadoff men in the game. Lugo broke out last year with great numbers, as did Cantu and Gomes. All three will be well-sought in the coming years. Huff, whose trade value has diminished over the years, is still a good young ballplayer. Burroughs was disappointing at best in San Diego, but he's still a major league caliber player. Baldelli, who's coming back from injury problems, hasn't turned into the next Joe DiMaggio. With that being said, I put him at 9th as a compliment to his skills. He's not bad; his ability to get on base and then steal bases make him into a type of secondary leadoff hitter.
Um, wow, yeah. Kazmir, good. Jackson, decent. Fossum, never lived up to huge hype. Moving on to the bullpen, the picture doesn't get any rosier. The Rays have lost their last two closers Danys Baez and Lance Carter, and I dare you to name anyone left in their pen.