The American League East in 2009


In previous years, I’ve used the six divisional columns to predict records and make comments about the teams. This year, I’m debating the records part. There will still be a summary column… so I’m thinking of putting records over there if I do them.

For now… let’s take a look at the AL East. The listing of teams is in the order I’m predicting the division to finish…

No doubt about it… toughest division in baseball. Yes, Tampa still needs to prove they can deliver another strong performance, but I actually think 88-90 wins is quite possible for them without much of a problem at all. Toss in a man that arguably is the best pitcher in the division taking the mound for the Blue Jays, and, you could go a long way while arguing that the fourth best team in this division could threaten several of the best teams in baseball during an opening short-round of the playoffs.

When it comes to winning this race the only question with the big three is which team has come the closest to forecasting what their roster will do (meaning they’re all good on paper… we need to find out what will happen on the field). Will injuries strike? Will production match expectations? Which team made investments that will work… and which one made ones that won’t? The team that ended up preparing over the course of a few yesterdays for what actually happens this summer will end up taking the East.

Here we go…

Boston Red Sox ~ Why do I think Boston will win this division? One example is all I really need…

John Smoltz.

Ok… let me present this in a slightly different way. The Yankees signed major players because they needed to get better. They had to rebuild a rotation that was, in all honesty, well below average coming out of 2008 and heading in to 2009. New York needed to find help to even have a remote chance of making the playoffs.

Boston signed John Smoltz to help them win in October. And that’s it.

Boston went into the winter looking for help to win the World Series.

It’s a matter of perspective… a matter of perception… and, essentially, two different approaches completely. The Red Sox expect to be in the playoffs this year, and they have made some tremendous acquisitions to move in that direction.

I don’t think of anyone on this club as a regular season ace. Josh Beckett almost won the Cy Young award two years ago, but honestly, his numbers and reputation are made in the playoffs. He’s been the classic number two starter his entire career, and I don’t expect much more than that through this season. But… add in Matsuzaka… Lester… Wakefield… and you have a nice rotation there. So next we have Penny and Smoltz and Buchholz and… well… I’m actually expecting injuries or fatigue. (I look to Beckett and Wakefield to miss time… but please remember that Matsuzaka didn’t pitch for Boston the last time he starred in the World Baseball Classic, and he had troubles last year.) But even with problems, pitching shouldn’t be a problem.

Mark Kotsay starts the season injured… but he showed last season that he will be a valuable part of the club. He can join a deep outfield… Bay and Ellsbury will be there all the time, but Baldelli can’t play every day and J.D. Drew is… well… J.D. Drew. Nice when your fifth option could start for most clubs.

I happen to like Jed Lowrie, and I don’t think you can question the remainder of the infield around him with Lowell, Pedroia and Youkalis. I am concerned though… because with Lugo out, they don’t have much depth to be giving Lowell some days off (as he returns with a question mark or two after surgery). And with Lowrie committed to short, that weakness is only magnified with Kotsay out, because they can’t shift Youkalis.

But these are small thoughts for a long season. The only concern I have for Boston is after this year. Because I think Ortiz is winding down his career. I hope I’m wrong… but I don’t know where Boston goes to get a big hitter next season or the year after.

Tampa Bay Rays ~ Quiz time… name two similarities between the following four players… James Shields… Matt Garza… Andy Sonnanstine… Scott Kazmir.


Ok… here are mine…

Similarity number one… all of them won at least ten games last year.

Similarity number two… none of them are even close to sniffing 30-years old.

There isn’t much in Tampa not to like… and there is an awful lot to be impressed by.

Want offense? Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena form a great tandem in the middle of their order. Carl Crawford is still around… and he isn’t even one of their top names in the batting order. And oh… by the way… for all the complaining and trade talk that has followed Pat Burrell in recent years… the Rays stole him, he has a record of playing that says he will be there every day for them, and I think 35 home runs and 110+ RBIs is pretty likely as he transitions into a role where he gets some rest as the DH and doesn’t have to play the field as often (if at all).

Defense? Longoria is going to win some gold gloves. There isn’t much the outfield can’t track down. And… I think Dioner Navarro is underrated.

Pitching? Please… just rattled off the starting pitching. And they’ll start the season with last year’s phenomenon… David Price… in the minors.

I’m not expecting a division crown from them this year. I think 94-96 wins will be needed to do that, and I think they’ll drop a bit from last season. But 90-plus is possible… and a wild-card berth in the postseason with it.

New York Yankees ~ Originally I had them finishing second in this division. And this is what I was saying at the time: “They don’t belong here. They won’t finish second. (No… no… no… don’t look up. Look down. I should have them third in this division. And yes, I will explain… in a second… but first…)” Then when it came time to write the final draft of this column, I realized that yes, not matter how long it is, A-Rod being out mattered. So I moved them where I wanted to put them all along because of it. Let’s check out why…

Overall, I have the Yankees running neck and neck with Boston in my mind. I was even going to cheat and go this route… Yankees win the division, Red Sox win the World Series… because I do believe New York is better equipped in some ways to win during the regular season (Teixeira and Rodriguez being more bankable in March predictions for 2009 production than Ortiz and Lowell), while Boston is flat-out scary if they are healthy when October hits because no one is ever going to score on them.

Then you factor in that the Rodriguez injury may cost the Yankees a win or two or five in April and May. There would be your division difference… moves the Yankees to second place. Easy enough. Boston first. New York second. Tampa third.

So… now… why am I putting them third?

I don’t want to overreact to spring training stuff. So you won’t find me saying much about Joba looking positively average. Who cares? It’s March. But when I did my baseball Q&A, and said that I wondered about a ton of stuff when it comes to New York, I never at that time thought Rodriguez would be missing about 25% of the start of the year, with an injury that was being treated so he could play but would require more surgery at the end of the year.

Is it just me? Doesn’t this seem strange to anyone else? When was the last time you recall a major player… an elite level player… having surgery to stabilize an injury that was going to require more surgery?

In January or February if you had made a list and asked me A-Rod’s health against other things, I would have been significantly more concerned about: Sabathia come October (given recent examples of him tiring by the playoffs)… Burnett getting injured (which just seems to be a given when he switches uniforms or isn’t playing in a contract year)… Chamberlain being moved back and forth and back and forth and he still hasn’t thrown a huge number of innings in any season, but here we go with the brilliant starter talk again. Basically, I wouldn’t have thought twice about Rodriguez getting injured.

It’s not January or February… it’s not just the media and performance enhancing stories… A-Rod is hurt, the other things are still possibilities, and holy crap if the Yankees start slow, Teixeira is about to see exactly what he signed himself up for.

By the way… let’s just see if you can disagree with any of this…

From catcher to center field, the Yankees are bru-tal in the middle of the field. I’d say brutal defensively, but that implies there actually is some defense. There isn’t.

Is anyone else concerned that some of their players… Matsui and Posada come to mind as leading examples… are not only arguably more valuable as designated hitters than at their normal positions, but quite possibly by June or July may only be available for use as designated hitters? (That is… unless you just want to put a park bench out in the field and sacrifice anything in that area as at least a single.)

Ok… I’m done here.

Toronto Blue Jays ~ Yuck.

I read an article the other day that pointed out the Yankees and the Blue Jays already had more committed to the 2012 payroll than the Red Sox, Orioles or Rays. And, of that commitment, the Sox had Youkalis, Pedroia and Matsuzaka for about $3 million less than Vernon Wells and Alex Rios. (This wasn’t considering opt-outs and such, just a general examination. Anyway… think about that. Pedroia and Youkalis in 2012 will make $20 million combined. That’s less than Alex Rodriguez alone for that season… less than Sabathia if he stays… less than Teixeira… less than Wells… just amazing.)

What starting pitching do they have after Doc Halladay? Answer: as the season starts, none.

Do you like Scott Rolen? You should. His offense has dropped… but he still plays a good, solid game. I mean… you know… when he plays. He was on the field for 115 games last season, 112 in 2007, and has averaged 106 games for the past four years.

And here’s the scary thing… this team is getting older. I mean come on… I know resources are limited, and you’re competing with Boston and New York (and now Tampa). But the Red Sox take chances on Brad Penny and John Smoltz. The Blue Jays have Matt Clement and Kevin Millar. Think about that and come up with something nice I should say about this club. (I’ll give you time… but forgive me while I move on as you consider the subject…)

Baltimore Orioles ~ And now we arrive in the land of make believe. Let’s pretend Baltimore doesn’t have to contend with Boston and New York. And let’s pretend they don’t deserve to be ridiculed for incompetent ownership that let Tampa Bay build a sound-looking foundation while they tried to find a strong wind to piss against. Let’s just pretend… and look at the last few months…

Are Gregg Zaun and Adam Eaton going to be here when they’re good again? No… they’re not. (In fact… is Eaton good at all?) They, and most of the Baltimore signings can be summed up like this… the organization isn’t willing to lose 100+ games while trying to get the mess sorted out.

I’ll give them a slight nod, since they are bringing in some interesting talent and younger players. And they do have a few trade chips… like Zaun and Brian Roberts… that other clubs might be interested in during the year. (Stress the might… I’m just guessing here, but Boston probably won’t be placing Buchholz on the table for Zaun come July. And the new contract Roberts signed, from what I can tell, lowers his trade value.)

The thing is, you won’t be seeing much coverage of the 2009 Orioles. They’re bad… just not bad enough to get any sympathy.

The outfield is a great place to see what I mean. It should look like this on most days: Felix Pie, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.

Now… honestly… that’s not too bad. It’s not the best outfield in this division, let alone baseball. But you’ve heard of all those names. And it’s very young. Every one of the three has shown glimpses of being a solid major league player… with Markakis bordering on star. Good stuff. Two or three years away from experienced good stuff. You can build with that. Maybe one of them doesn’t work out… let’s say the likely name, Pie… but even that isn’t hideous.

So… outfield in place… who’s pitching?

I’m not complaining. They’ve cut ties with some burdens of contracts, if not just burdens of players. If some minor league talent develops, 2011 or 2012 could be really nice in Baltimore. But… stop me if I’m out of line…

Do the Boston Red Sox or the Tampa Rays look exceptionally old to you?

The Orioles have alot of work yet to do.

Alot of work.


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