Sports

American League East 2009 Preview

yankees

New York Yankees

I don’t know if you have heard or not but the Yankees signed a few players this off-season. What you may not know is that their salary is lower than last year. They cleared over 80 million dollars off the bankroll to make way for this tremendous off-season. An off-season in which they’re dealing with the fact that they didn’t go to the playoffs. This was the first time this has happened since 1993 (they didn’t go in 1994, but no one did, it was a strike year).

They are moving into a new stadium that is going to bring in more revenue and higher profits, so really everything was perfect for this transformation that has taken place within the last three months.

The biggest holes were in the front of their rotation and at first base, and they did plenty to seal it up. As everyone knows they went out and acquired workhorse C.C. Sabathia, probable second or third pitcher A.J. Burnett, and first baseman Mark Teixiera. This takes Chein-Ming Wang out of the ace role, which he should’ve never been in anyway.

Their rotation is more solid and filled with more options than it has been in years. We know the first three pitchers in the rotation, but the last two spots are very intriguing. You have Joba the Hut as your probable fourth pitcher, and three pitchers (Ian Kennedy, Phillip Hughes, and Alfredo Aceves) vying for the final spot in the rotation. Those last two pitchers in the rotation will be vital to the success of the Yankees this year, or a weakness as it has been for the last four or five years.

New York fans had high hopes for Kennedy and Hughes that didn’t pan out at all last year, but it is a new year and new hopes arrive for these young potential aces.

With Texiera’s arrival it makes the departure of Jason Giambi a complete non-issue. Texiera has a better bat, more durability, and a much better glove. This acquisition makes the Yankees even more potent than in the past. The Yankees will have the quietly dangerous Johnny Damon leading off. I say quietly because no one seemed to notice his monster year last year. Then Jeter, Teixiera, A-Rod and Matsui.

Robinson Cano is a real question mark this year for the Yankees. Yankee coaches see him hitting 30 home runs someday, and hitting in the five hole. Slow starts have skewed his numbers over the last two years. If he can stay consistent this year, the Yankees could end up starting their entire infield at the All-Star game this year.

No offensive lineup in baseball has ever had this kind of ability to destroy a pitching staff. Literally, if their players live up to even 80% of their potential they could be setting records for runs in a year. Potential really doesn’t mean much though, as they Yankees have proved over the last half of a decade.

Diamond in the rough:

Nick Swisher (1B/OF): Ol’ dirty thirty (best nickname in baseball) was an off-season signing that no one seemed to talk about this year because of the enormous signings prior to him. He is an amazing option at back up, and has been a star with the A’s. He brings a certain calmness to the Yankees this year because he can step in and play just as well as any outfielder they have and will be a reputable back up for superstar Mark Teixiera.   I think he puts up a lot bigger numbers than anyone could of predicted and bring a stability to an aging line-up.

Might not live up to expectations:

Mark Teixeira (1B): I only say this because the expectations are so high for this young talent. Any thing less than 40 home runs and 120 rbi’s will be a disappointment, and we all know how well New York fans handle disappointment.  There are two ways super-stars can go in New York. “Do or do not, there is no try”

orioles

Baltimore Orioles:

Oh the Orioles, when will you get a break? Every off-season you have to sit and watch as the other teams in the A.L. East get better.

To make things worse, your usual whipping horse of the division went the World Series last year. There are some things you can really build off of though; you have a reputable ace in Jeremy Guthrie and a new young stud straight from your farm system in Nick Markakis. When you look at the rest of the team there is real potential all the way around, but that doesn’t make them good this year.

They received Felix Pie from the Cubs, who showed real promise last year with his speed and power. The Orioles are going to give him a chance to shine as their everyday left fielder. It is a great chance for this 24 year old to make the mistakes every young player has to and eventually become even better. Then there is Luke Scott who went nuts last year in a very little amount of time as a designated hitter. The only down part to that story is that the areas around that streak were filled with horrendous numbers. He has shown he can do it, but just not everyday.

You’re also going to hear catcher Matt Weiters’ name a bunch. He has enormous talent and could be in the lineup this year very easily. People are actually already saying he could be the best catcher in baseball.  Did I mention he still hasn’t played in the big leagues?

Lastly there is Adam Jones who came from Seattle in the Erik Bedard trade and made an immediate impact. He showed less power than he did in the minors, but he’s 22, he’s figuring things out in the majors at a time in which most kids his age can’t even see the light of the majors ahead.

Diamond in the rough:

Jake Arrieta (SP): Arrieta is considered one the best pitching prospects in the minors. He has heat in the upper nineties and dominated last year in the minors. He has a chance to get called up early in the year if things don’t go as planned for the team and he continues his upward swing throughout the minors. He is only 22 and has the ability to do whatever he wants against hitters at any level.

An additional player to pay attention to is Luis Montenaz who did very well as a late season call up last year. The reason I don’t know if he’ll make a big impact this year is that he has to take an outfield spot from either Jones or Pie. The pressure he puts on both of those players will either push them to excellence or make them play with paranoia.

May not live up to expectations:

Koji Uehera (SP): He figures to be the second pitcher in the Orioles rotation behind Guthrie. He has had high-level success in Japan, but the problem is that the success was for too many years. On opening day he will be a 34-year old rookie with the Orioles. His prior accomplishments have left Oriole fans looking for a lot from this starting pitcher, who pitched with Matsuzaka in the World Baseball Classic, but I believe their hopes will fall to the wayside once he is introduced to Major League hitters.

bluejays

Toronto Blue Jays:

Good news Blue Jay fans: you have one of the most dominate pitchers in the league, two very good outfielders..and…and, well that may be about it.

Roy Halladay is going to have another great year, if he steers clear of injury. Vernon Wells is going to hit around 20 home runs and have around 85-90 rbi’s. Alex Rios could take his game up to a new level this year with more power numbers to match his stolen bases.

Beyond that there is a lot of question marks. Is there a chance that Lyle Overbay gets back to his old numbers of when he was with the Brewers? Will Scott Rolen stay of the injured list and contribute offensively or will he hit 11 home runs in 115 games again this year? The bad thing about the Jays is that regardless of the answers to these questions, you pretty much know what you are going to get from this team.

There some blocks to build upon though. The bullpen was great last year. B.J. Ryan saved 32 games last year, Scott Downs posted an E.R.A. below 2.00 in 70 innings, and Jesse Carlson put almost as good of numbers in 60 innings. It just seems to go unnoticed when your offense and starting pitching don’t produce.

Offensively there is a bright spot in the making and his name is Travis Snider. He was rushed pretty badly into playing last year and didn’t make a huge splash but he will have a chance this year to get more playing time and learn behind Wells and Rios. He also has a better chance to see time with a weak player ahead of him in left field, sorry Adam Lind. I said it, you’re weak.

Diamond in the rough:

Jesse Litsch (SP): Litsch showed glimpses of greatness last year. He has great control, which he showed last year during a 38 inning streak during which he didn’t walk a single batter. He is able to work the strike zone well and consistently get ahead of hitters. Behind Halladay, I see his win total going from 13 last year to around 18 this year. If he could do that he could take away some of the pressure Halladay has each year to win every start.

Might not live up to expectations:

Scott Rolen (3B): Rolen has been one of the great fielders of the last eight or nine years, but his numbers have consistently diminished. In 2004 he hit 34 home runs, since then he has hit 46 total. I just don’t see where he is going to be worth anything this year offensively, which is a shame because the Jays gave up a beast of a man in Troy Glaus for his inept bat.

rays

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays taught us a valuable lesson last year, if you slightly change your name at the end of one year you will go to the World Series. They have all the pieces again this year to do the same, and added power with the acquisition of Pat Burrell.

The Rays strong point this year will be the same as last year, their speed and pitching. Quick note for the new baseball year, if I hear another announcer say “speed doesn’t slump”, when talking about the Rays I could possibly lose it. It is true though, when you have a team full of speed and intelligent youth, the sky is the limit.

Their line-up is just as scary as the Yankees this year, the only thing it lacks is a bunch of experience. You can look at that two ways though, it could be exciting because the only way for their young players to go is up, or you could worry about a lack of consistency. I think their young players are going to be a nightmare for every pitching staff that faces them this year.

You have to deal with Evan Longoria getting more comfortable everyday he plays. B.J. Upton’s shoulder now being healthy and not hindering the fact that he could glide into his first 30/30 season. The Rays still have Carl Crawford, the fastest man in baseball who, when healthy, is getting more rbi’s at this stage in his career then he ever has. Did I mention that he has a good chance of stealing 50 bases this year too?

The hard thing to comprehend about the Rays is that as good as their offense is it’s not their strong suite. That is put squarely in the hands of all their enormously talented young arms. Did you get to hear enough about David Price at the end of last year? Well you should of because he’s good, really good. Price has a great chance of starting this year and should give us a really sufficient opportunity to gage what he is made of.

Matt Garza is going to win 16-19 games this year. Sounds a little bold, but he just looked too good in the playoffs last year to think anything else this year. If that isn’t enough you also have to deal with their ace and second pitcher, James Shields and Scott Kazmir. Did I happen to mention that all four of the pitchers I just talked about are all under 26? There is a chance that the Rays are going to be good for a long long time. That’s what’s supposed to happen when you are bad for a really long time and get great draft picks, why isn’t this happening to the Royals?

Diamond in the rough:

Matt Joyce (OF): Matt Joyce was traded from the Tigers for a great young pitcher in Edwin Jackson. You never give up good young pitching, unless you’re the Tampa Bay Rays who have a boat load of it. Still, Joyce is viable threat to hit 20-30 homers this year, that is if he plays well enough this spring to earn a job in right field. If so he will be placed in the lower part of the order, but who can you imagine he’ll have on the bases for him? He does strike out a lot which gives me some worry, but as all good power hitters do he will learn some patience and refine his game. Don’t count on that happening this year but if he gets a chance to play this year in a consistent role he will put up big numbers at the end of a potent line-up.

Might not live up to expectations:

Pat Burrell (OF): This seems like a little bit of a risky pick saying Burrell is coming off a World Series win with the Phillies. One in which he was a huge part of. Also he had more home runs in 2008 than he’s had since 2002. There is something about Burrell though, whenever I start to believe in his number one draft pick potential he craps out on me. Do you know what happened to Burrell’s numbers the year after 2002, when he had his best stats ever? He hit .209 with 21 home runs and 64 rbi’s.It seems like whenever he is struck by success he pushes it away and continually disappoints you.

redsoxlogo

Boston Red Sox:

The Red Sox: always consistent, always wise, always plentiful in facial hair. They round out a three team race in the A.L. East that is as talented as anyone has ever seen. The best way to explain the Red Sox this year is kind of a middle point between the Yankees and the Rays, which I think could make them the most dangerous.

They don’t have as potent of line-up statistically as the Yankees and also don’t possess the team speed or pitching of the Rays. The scary thing for the Yankees and Rays is that the Red Sox have a good amount of all those things. They still have David Ortiz who had an injury plagued year in 2008 and will be looking to get back to the crusher he has been for the last 6 or 7 years. Kevin Youkilis, who broke out last year and could easily of gotten the nod for A.L. M.V.P. last year instead of his infield counterpart.

J.D. Drew, who picked up the slack for Ortiz’s absence in stride last year and had his best offensive year in Boston. Jason Bay who has hit every year he has been in the league. A center fielder named Jacoby Ellsbury who was a blur last year, every single he got seemed to turn into a run because of his unbelievable speed. Oh, and a second baseman who is the reigning M.V.P.

Their only real concerns are at third base with a gray-bearded Mike Lowell, and at catcher with equal age issues, Jason Varitek.

While everyone was paying attention to the Yankees and their spending this year, the Red Sox did a lot to improve their pitching. They picked up super veteran John Smoltz, and Brad Penny who has been as dominate as any pitcher in the league just a few years ago in Los Angeles. I think Smoltz will battle with relative youngster Clay Buchholz and another senior citizen in Tim Wakefield for the fifth starter in their rotation.

At the top of that rotation are three pitchers who could be as good as any three pitchers on any staff. Josh Beckett didn’t have his greatest year last year with injuries tampering with his speed, but history shows us that when he is healthy he is un-hittable. Jon Lester stopped being the guy who got past cancer, and started being the guy who pitched a no-hitter, and became a great pitcher and the prospect the Red Sox thought they had.

Lastly there was a guy from Japan named Matsuzaka who ended being almost as good as the wild expectations everyone had for him. If Penny can be even close to what he once was now in the fourth spot of the rotation and if Smoltz or Buchholz can seal off the fifth spot, that is a solid rotation. Also when they are done pitching and looking to save the win, they have maybe the best closer in the game waiting in the bullpen for them in Jonathan Paplebon. Not bad.

Diamond in the rough:

Jacoby Ellsbury (OF): I realize he’s not unknown by any means, but I put him here because of the jump in numbers I think he is going to have this year from last. I think his steals and runs go up by just a few, with his gaudy numbers last year (50 sb, 98 runs) it’s hard to go up too much. The real difference I see for him is home runs and rbi’s. It’s a unpopular thought, but I see Ellsbury going from 9 home runs last year to 16-18 this year. He had 47 rbi’s last year. This year I think he’ll be in the 65-75 range. Is this predicting too much for this second year player? Maybe, but I expect a lot out of this kid. The rest of the American League better hope I am wrong.

Might not live up to expectations:

David Ortiz (DH): He’s going to play less than 70 games this year, and this is going to continue for the rest of his career. I think that we’ve seen the last of Ortiz being a dominate player in the league. I just don’t think his body has a full season left in it. It’s going to continue to break down until the Red Sox are done dealing with it and ready to move on. That day could be sooner than you think.

Prediction:

1st Place: Yankees

2nd Place: Rays (wild card playoff spot)

3rd place: Red Sox

4th Place: Orioles

5th Place: Blue Jays

Leave a Comment

  1. I really liked your blog with the Orioles mention! A World Series maybe this year?!?

  2. Very nice Blue Jays information. I think Halladay will be a future hall-of-famer.
    I hope to be in Toronto for a game this fall. I am visiting from Peru.