Sunday, March 09, 2008

MLB Preview #4: AL East

Boston Red Sox

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

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

Josh Beckett
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Clay Buchholz
Tim Wakefield
Jon Lester
Curt Schilling
Julian Tavarez

There's virtually no change to the starting lineup, which isn't a bad thing if you're the defending champs. Everyone's a year older, which may not be a good thing for guys like Ortiz, Ramirez, Lowell, and Varitek. But it should be a positive for guys like Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ellsbury. The only problem this offense has could be their depth, especially if they trade away Coco Crisp as predicted. The only other outfielders on the 40-man are Brandon Moss and Jonathan Van Every. With Ramirez and Drew's injury record, and Ellsbury's inexperience, that could be an issue. On the infield, Alex Cora is back, and he's joined by Sean Casey. It will be interesting to see if Kevin Youkilis sees any time at third base on days when Lowell has off. Youk has played third sparingly in the past few seasons, but his gold glove-caliber play at first indicates that he might still be able to handle the hot corner.
The Sox rotation may have lost Curt Schilling for the season, but in Clay Buccholz they add arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball. Add Beckett, Matsuzaka, Lester, and X-Factor Wakefield, and again they have a rotation with few holes. And then there's the bullpen, headlined by Jonathan Papelbon, again being supported by Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez, Julian Tavarez, Mike Timlin, and the Baseball Encyclopedia's number one entry, David Aardsma. The Red Sox are the Yankees with a competent front office. They scare me to death.

New York Yankees

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball Musings Rotation Evaluation
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

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

Chien-Ming Wang
Andy Pettitte
Phillip Hughes
Mike Mussina
Ian Kennedy
Kei Igawa
Jeff Karstens
Carl Pavano
Chase Wright

This is the lineup the Yankees will probably use. But as in the past, if I was running the team, my lineup would look nothing like that. I'd move Damon down to the bottom of the lineup (7, 8, or 9) and move everyone else up a spot. Or, if Posada can repeat his 2007 numbers, I'd move Jeter and Abreu up and slide Jorge into the 3 hole. Giambi is still probably a better hitter than Betemit and Duncan, but I don't want his glove anywhere near the field. I'd rather see Matsui at first, just because he's a competent fielder. This team, as usual, is not without its holes. Beyond Betemit in the infield, Duncan in the outfield, and Jose Molina catching, there really is no bench. Perhaps some of the higher profile non-roster invitees can fix that, though.
The rotation no longer strikes fear into the hearts of anyone, but all the starters have to do is survive for five or six innings and not give up more runs than this powerful (but lopsided) offense can score. At that point, Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain, and new acquisition LaTroy Hawkins take over, with the help of Rowdy Kyle Farnsworth. Between Rivera and Hawkins' age and Chamberlain entering his sophomore season, the bullpen won't be as perfect as it once was, but again with this offense they don't need to be.

Toronto Blue Jays

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball Musings Rotation Evaluation
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

David Eckstein SS
Lyle Overbay 1B
Alex Rios RF
Frank Thomas DH
Vernon Wells CF
Scott Rolen 3B
Aaron Hill 2B
Reed Johnson LF
Greg Zaun C

Roy Halladay
AJ Burnett
Dustin McGowan
Shaun Marcum
Jesse Litsch
Gustavo Chacin

The left side of the Jays infield is brand new, thanks to the addition of former Cardinals teammates Eckstein and Rolen. This is a solid lineup, even with a 40-year-old Frank Thomas, an injury-plagued Scott Rolen, and a Mitchell Report appearance by Greg Zaun. Their infield is very deep, thanks to every Indians middle infield farmhand who ever lived (or really just John McDonald, Marco Scutaro, and Joe Inglett). Outfield depth could be a problem, though. Adam Lind will reportedly start the season in AAA, and while Matt Stairs hit well enough to earn a contract extension, he probably should be used in the outfield as sparingly as possible. That really just leaves Scutaro and Inglett to back up Johnson, Wells, and Rios. Rod Barajas is the backup catcher.
The rotation has a great one-two punch, when both Roy Halladay and AJ Burnett are healthy. Behind them are three league-average pitchers in McGowan, Marcum, and Litsch. So it's not a bad rotation, but not one likely to make much noise in the AL East. Closer BJ Ryan will be supported by Jeremy Accardo and Scott Downs. Accardo and Downs may not be household names, but both posted ERAs under 2.20 in 60+ appearances last year. Brian Tallet, another former Indians farmhand, will also see decent time coming out of the pen.

Baltimore Orioles

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Brian Roberts/Freddie Bynum2B
Melvin Mora 3B
Nick Markakis RF
Aubrey Huff DH
Luke Scott LF
Kevin Millar 1B
Ramon Hernandez C
Adam Jones CF
Luis Hernandez SS

Jeremy Guthrie
Daniel Cabrera
Adam Loewen
Garrett Olson
Troy Patton
Radhames Liz
Brian Burres
Jon Leicester

The new look Orioles are very young up the middle, especially if the impending trade of Brian Roberts goes through. In fact, the only veteran left in the middle defensive positions (C, 2B, SS, CF) would be Ramon Hernandez, and he's only keeping the spot warm for top pick Matt Wieters. This team has some pop in Huff, Scott, and Jay Gibbons, and Nick Markakis's stock continues to rise. But they just don't have enough to do well in this division this year. The bench features Jay Payton and Tike Redman in the outfield and, well, that's about it.
Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for Jeremy Guthrie's newfound success in Baltimore. But when your team's ace is a guy you claimed off the waiver wire last year, that's not saying much. But Guthrie and Adam Loewen are a good start, and Troy Patton and Radhames Liz are right behind Matt Weiters at #2 and #3 on Baseball America's top 10 list for the Orioles. So the young core is there, but it's not quite ready yet. In addition to Guthrie in the starting rotation, the bullpen features even more faces familiar to Indians fans. Danys Baez will close for Baltimore, supported by Fernando Cabrera (also claimed off the waiver wire last year). Chris Ray, Jamie Walker, and submariner Chad Bradford help to make this a bullpen that will be envied by quite a few clubs.

Tampa Bay Rays

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Akinori Iwamura 2B
Carl Crawford LF
Carlos Pena 1B
BJ Upton CF
Rocco Baldelli RF
Clifford Floyd/Jonny Gomes DH
Evan Longoria 3B
Dioner Navarro C
Jason Bartlett SS

Scott Kazmir
Jamie Shields
Matt Garza
Edwin Jackson
Andy Sonnanstine
Jason Hammel
JP Howell
David Price

The Rays will finish no worse than fourth place in the division this year. Most educated estimates have them winning 85+ games and finishing third in the East. The young talent just keeps on coming. Sure, Carlos Pena and BJ Upton may not match their breakout 2007 numbers, but even a slight falloff would mean a very good year for the pair. And they're still surrounded by Akinori Iwamura, Carl Crawford, and whatever healthy production they can get from Rocco Baldelli. Cliff Floyd give the team some veteran leadership and some pop, and he'll fight for playing time with Jonny Gomes. I have to believe that the Rays will just play the hot hand there. New acquisition Jason Bartlett may not be great, but he's a step up from last year's shortstops. And then there's that Evan Longoria guy, who's been tearing up spring pitching. The bench is the lone weak spot of this Rays offense, as infielder Willie Aybar is the only name of note.
The starting rotation has its fair share of young talent in Scott Kazmir, Jamie Shields, and Twins pickup Matt Garza. Kazmir may still be rough around the edges, but he's becoming a dominant strikeout pitcher. David Price, last year's #1 overall pick is coming soon, too. Jamie Shields came out of nowhere in 2007, and the reason you didn't hear more about his is that the Rays pen was basically nonexistent. But Tampa Bay's front office made the relieving corps its number one priority this offseason, and while the changes weren't breathtaking, they should be effective. Troy Percival has been brought in as the new closer, moving Al Reyes (the only effective reliever in '07) to a setup role.