Wednesday, February 28, 2007

MLB Preview #4: AL East

New York Yankees

Johnny Damon CF
Derek Jeter SS
Bobby Abreu RF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Jason Giambi 1B/DH
Hideki Matsui DH/LF
Jorge Posada C
Robinson Cano 2B
Melky Cabrera LF/Doug Mientkiewicz 1B

Mike Mussina
Chien-Ming Wang
Andy Pettitte
Kei Igawa
Jeff Karstens
Carl Pavano
Phillip Hughes
Sean Henn
Darrell Rasner

Not much change for the Yankees lineup from the end of last year. Gary Sheffield is gone, but he was hurt for most of 2006 anyways. The only question is the use of Giambi, Matsui, Cabrera, and Mientkiewicz. Cabrera is a switch hitter and Mientkiewicz is a lefty, so a straight platoon probably won't happen, as neither would traditionally
hit well against lefties. I suppose it will just come down to health issues. Speaking of health issues, the Yanks could be in trouble again. They have a quality utility infielder in Miguel Cairo. But in Giambi, Mientkiewicz, Josh Phelps, and Andy Phillips, they're essentially carrying four first basemen (although Phelps can catch as well). If and when Damon and Matsui get hurt, this team will be in trouble again... until Brian Cashman tricks the Devil Rays into trading Carl Crawford for Chuck Knoblauch.
The rotation is OK, but they look far from title contenders. One has to wonder how much Mussina, Pettitte, and Pavano have left in the tank (or if Pavano even has a tank anymore). Hitters will eventually figure out Wang, and Igawa is said to have mediocre stuff at best. But surprisingly, help is on the way. The Yankees discovered that they were allowed to keep young players in what is called a "farm system," and they picked up a guy named Phillip Hughes. Hughes is arguably the best pitching prospect in the game right now. The Yanks also still have a bullpen that can bail them out of a few jams. Mariano Rivera will be set up by pr0ff3ss0r_f4rnsw0rth, former White Sox prospect Luis Vizcaino, and a still-alive Mike Myers.

Toronto Blue Jays

Reed Johnson LF
Alex Rios RF
Vernon Wells CF
Frank Thomas DH
Troy Glaus 3B
Lyle Overbay 1B
Greg Zaun C
Aaron Hill 2B
Royce Clayton/Russ Adams/John McDonald SS

Roy Halladay
AJ Burnett
Gustavo Chacin
Tomo Ohka
John Thomson
Casey Janssen
Shaun Marcum
Ty Taubenheim
Scott Downs
Dustin McGowan
Brian Tallet

This lineup lost Frank Catalanotto and Shea Hillenbrand, but if Frank Thomas comes anywhere close to the numbers he put up in Oakland last year, the Blue Jays should again challenge for second place in the division. (What a great thing to aspire to, right?) Vernon Wells is finally becoming a star, Alex Rios broke out last year, and Reed Johnson got on base like it was his job. (Oh wait, it was his job.) Overbay and Glaus are productive hitters, and Hill and Zaun are adequate for their positions. The only question is shortstop. Whoever can hit well enough to keep the - or at least hit better than the other two guys - will play. Predictably, the team is deep in the infield, but the outfield may need some help.
The pitching rotation would compete in most division, but as always Roy Halladay and AJ Burnett need to stay healthy. BJ Ryan is an established closer, and he will be set up by a plethora of converted starters.

Boston Red Sox

Kevin Youkilis 1B
JD Drew RF
David Ortiz DH
Manny Ramirez LF
Jason Varitek C
Mike Lowell 3B
Coco Crisp CF
Julio Lugo SS
Dustin Pedroia 2B

Curt Schilling
Josh Beckett
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Jonathan Papelbon
Tim Wakefield
Jon Lester
Matt Clement

If JD Drew can stay healthy, and if Mike Lowell can repeat the success of 2006, this is a very good lineup. So good, in fact, that Wily Mo Pena once again finds himself as a fourth outfielder. Julio Lugo is a better plan than people give him credit for, so the only question mark in the lineup is Pedroia. The bench is well-planned: Pena can and will see time at all three outfield spots this season. Eric Hinske can play first, third, and right, and I have a feeling his main role will be Lowell's backup. Alex Cora can play second, third, and short, and will serve as an insurance policy if Pedroia struggles. And of course Doug Mirabelli is back, because Captain Varitek doesn't want to embarrass himself by catching Tim Wakefield, or stick up for any catcher who does try to catch Wakefield.
The rotation features some names that are new, but very familiar at the same time. Matsuzaka is expected to make a smooth transition into the majors. Papelbon will debut as a starter, and Lester's health seems more and more promising each day. But as has been the case for the BoSox, the closer's role is still in doubt. This team is full of elite setup men like Mike Timlin, Joel Pineiro, JC Romero, Julian Tavarez, and Frontier League success story Brendan Donnelly, so the team at least has options. Right now, it appears that Pineiro has a slight edge over Timlin for the spot.

Baltimore Orioles

Brian Roberts2B
Melvin Mora 3B
Miguel Tejada SS
Aubrey Huff/Jay Gibbons DH
Ramon Hernandez C
Kevin Millar 1B
Jay Payton LF
Corey Patterson CF
Nick Markakis RF

Erik Bedard
Daniel Cabrera
Jaret Wright
Adam Loewen
Steve Trachsel
Hayden Penn

Huff, Gibbons, and Millar may seem like three players fighting for two spots, but the O's do have some options. Millar is the only righty of the group, so he's virtually guaranteed playing time against left handed pitching. Huff and Gibbons can both play first and right, and Huff can play third base as well. I suppose it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to throw one of them into left field either. As is the caveat with most teams in the AL East, this lineup would do well in most other divisions. Moneyball-ers are going to cringe at this outfield, as the trio combined for 86 walks last year, with half of that total coming from savior-in-training Nick Markakis. But Mora, Roberts, and Tejada can flat-out hit. I'm expecting big things this year from Tejada after an inspired performance in the Carribean Series. Despite his big contract, Ramon Hernandez remains the most underrated hitting catcher in the bigs. The bench features one current Orioles top prospect in Brandon Fahey, and two castoff top prospects from other organizations: Freddie Bynum from Oakland, and Team Canada hero Adam Stern from Boston.
The theme for this year's rotation is "Guys who were really good their rookie year... and Steve Trachsel." In all fairness, Bedard is one of the least-known aces in baseball, and Loewen still has time to match the hype that followed him through the minors. Cabrera is "effectively wild," and Trachsel isn't a bad guy to have at the back of your rotation, especially when he can lead the young guys by example. Baltimore has found a way to turn out good closers in the past few years (even despite Jorge Julio's collapse), and Chris Ray is just the latest. Ray will be set up by veteran reliever Danys Baez, Chad Bradford (sorry, I've run out of synonyms for "underrated"), Scott Williamson, and former Tigers workhorse Jamie Walker.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Rocco Baldelli CF
Delmon Young RF
Carl Crawford LF
Jonny Gomes DH
Ty Wigginton 1B
Jorge Cantu 2B
Dioner Navarro/Josh Paul C
Akinori Iwamura 3B
Ben Zobrist SS

Scott Kazmir
Casey Fossum
James Shields
Tim Corcoran
JP Howell
Seth McClung
Mark Hendrickson
Edwin Jackson
Jason Hammel
Brian Stokes

You know that your lineup has a lot of question marks when and can't agree on your depth chart. (I'm sure the same goes for other baseball sites, but those are the two I've always used.) The two agree that former Yankees/Dodgers superprospect Navarro will catch, Benny Boo will play short, and Crawford, Baldelli, and DudeYoureGettinADelmon will patrol the outfield. Of course, I gave Josh Paul at least a chance at catching, BJ Upton is still technically the shortstop of the future (until the Rays finally admit that his glove is better off at third or in the outfield), and Young's still a prospect (who may not have conquered his temper yet). Here's a quick rundown of some of the lineup options Tampa Bay has this year:
  • Wigginton can play first or his natural position, third. He's also seen some time at second base. If Wigginton plays third, there have been rumors of moving Jorge Cantu to first.

  • Iwamura was a third baseman in Japan, but there have been talks of playing him at second. (He can also play the outfield, but the Rays already have more than enough outfielders.) If so, that means Cantu at first and Wigginton or Upton at third.

  • The popular opinion seems to be that Upton should move from short to third. There are also those who think he should be an outfielder, but again the Rays are already set there. Moving him to short means that Igawa or Wigginton are set at third, which may also mean a move to first for Cantu.

  • Baldelli and Crawford are set unless they get traded, or Baldelli gets hurt again.

  • It looks like Young will play right, but the Devil Rays will want to give Elijah Dukes (another outfielder. See, I told you.) some playing time sooner or later.

  • The Rays have Greg Norton on the bench, who can play all four corner positions, and hit close to .300 in 300 at bats last year.

  • Paul can also play first base if needed.

  • DH Jonny Gomes can technically play the corner outfield spots, but again, he's not really needed there.
Scott Kazmir will continue to give Mets fans plenty of reasons to curse Steve Phillips. But beyond him, this pitching staff will need some help. Jae Seo is sure to do better than his 3-12, 5.33 ERA 2006. The rest of the starters have ERAs that hover around 5 and win-loss records that hover around .500, but as a team Tampa Bay would love to be hovering around .500 at the end of the year. It appears that Seth McClung will get closing duties for the Devil Rays this year, supported by Dan Miceli and Chad Orvella. (Speaking of Orvella, that's the last time I take fantasy sleeper advice from a magazine in my eye doctor's waiting room.)