Major League Baseball in 2009
A special home-grown Q & A


When I started this web site back in 2003, one of the first efforts I spent time on was a preview of the baseball season. Over the years I’ve actually had a couple of decent moments with my predictions and observations. And now, as I work on getting the site back up and running at full speed, I find myself approaching the sixth anniversary of In My Backpack and start of another baseball season.

Players are arriving in Florida and Arizona… another edition of the World Baseball Classic is on the schedule… and this web site is working on getting back into game shape as well.

So, with some research needed and writing to do before a regular season preview is ready to go… how about a sports column with some questions and answers… based solely on my thoughts… for the 2009 season?

Are the Yankees really that good? Or, are all these signings just poorly invested money?

(I can’t believe I’m saying this.)

Yes. They are that good.

But… (I can absolutely believe I’m saying this)

There is a catch.

In my mind the best signing the Yankees made this off-season was one of the most recent. Guy named Andy Pettitte.

Ok… before you go thinking I’ve lost my mind… Pettitte is a back of the rotation starter these days. At best. The pure and simple, no extra conditions added, knowledge that Andy Pettitte is striding to the mound to start that day’s game will be striking little fear in the opposition these days.

However… his signing did something that no other signing, trade or acquisition of any kind did for them. It added depth.

Mark Teixeira is a tremendous player and he will put up some monster seasons… potentially MVP earning seasons… for New York. I actually consider him the most valuable player… the best player… in their locker room right now, bar none. But… you know… so they win games 15-6 instead of 9-6. Does that really matter on their march to 95 or so wins and the playoffs?

Impressive… sure.

Potentially leaves Boston scrambling since they had hoped to use him for years to come in a number of their solutions for aging veterans… absolutely.

But regular season, changes the landscape? I don’t know.

The big changes… the additions that they hope bring championships… don’t involve Mark Teixeira. They involve pitching.

C.C. Sabathia.

A.J. Burnett.

Those changes.

And here’s where I start to have questions.

Has anyone else noticed that Sabathia seems to get tired in October? And before you start telling me about how anyone that starts five of Milwaukee’s last eight games (or whatever it was… we all recall he was pitching alot late last year)… how great was he for Cleveland in 2007?

Numbers please…

Sabathia has pitched in the postseason three times… 2001, 2007 and 2008. Let’s look at the past two years, when he was counted on as a dominant difference maker…

Year - opponent Starts Record ERA Innings Hits - walks
2007 - NYY 1 1-0 5.40 5 4-6
2007 - BOS 2 0-2 10.45 10.1 17-7
2008 - PHIL 1 0-1 12.27 3.2 6-4

So he’s 1-3 in 4 starts. He’s pitched a whopping total of 19 innings in those 4 starts… less than 5 innings per outing. And, in those 19 innings, there have been 44 base runners.

(Initial thought? Wow. I thought it was bad, but better than that.)

Now… to a degree, this is all a bit misleading. For his career, Sabathia has always been stronger in the second half of the regular season than he has in the first half. Overall, his September numbers are very good. And let’s face it, he’s getting more support from the New York roster than he has from previous teams.

I’m just asking a question or two though… which is based on… does he get tired? Does his history suggest postseason dominance? Because let’s face it… the Yankees didn’t sign him so they could make the playoffs. They signed him to win in the playoffs. That’s something he hasn’t done… and both Beckett and Smoltz have. Because while New York is expecting Cy Young like performances from him all year long, Boston has already told Smoltz he’s there to destroy the opposition in August, September and October and not to concern himself otherwise.

On to A.J.

Season Starts Innings
2003 4 23
2004 19 120
2005 32 209
2006 21 135.2
2007 25 165.2
2008 34 221.1

Hmm… ok… so only two years where he’s made almost all of his starts… 2005 and 2008, when he made it over 30 starts both times. Let me ask you two questions…

Number one ~ Do you know what 2006 and 2009 have in common? One answer… and the one I’m going to give you… is that he will be wearing a different uniform than the one he wore the year before. 32 starts in 2005… buh-bye Florida, hello Toronto. 34 starts in 2008… opt out clause… toodles Toronto, howdy New York.

Number two ~ Ok… 20-plus starts might not be too bad. An average of 28 per year. That’s good. But… he’s also averaging 180 innings per year over those four years. 180… divided by 28… about six and a third. And that six and a third roughly holds up every year in Toronto, where the math of number of starts times 6.1 brings you right to the neighborhood of his innings pitched total. How’s that bullpen looking in New York? Solid? Because for the money Burnett is getting, he’s giving them two-thirds of a game every time he takes the mound.

The major theme to consider for him is easy enough for fans of the Yankees to see… Are you really comfortable with a number two guy that won’t go much beyond 180 innings per season over the next three years and has a history of delivering his largest quantity of efforts only in seasons when he is looking for dollars at the end of the rainbow?

So, I admit it. The Yankees look incredible. I’m impressed with their team overall.

But… I hate their outfield defense. (Well… actually, that’s kind of misleading… they’d have to have some defense in the outfield in order for me to hate it. And, they don’t.)

I’ve got no clue who is pitching in the seventh and eighth innings on most nights. And… according to Burnett’s, and what I would expect from an aging Pettitte, and what should be found offered by an unknown end of the rotation… I don’t know who’s pitching the sixth inning.

Love Sabathia… like Burnett… don’t fear either one in October. (And amazingly… I didn’t tell you either one of them would be getting hurt. I was just telling you history suggests they aren’t strong contributors… either when it matters or from year to year.)

On top of all of this, there’s the little Joba problem. I think you at least have to wonder if he can last a full season or if there’s more to his arm troubles than we know.

Anyway… Pettitte adds depth. He gives them options.

And since I can’t tell you these guys won’t play regularly in 2009… and when they do play during the season, they usually play very well… I think you have to say it is not an illusion. The Yankees spent a ton of money and got some talented players. And as long as they are on the field and not in a doctor’s office… this team should be one of the very best in the regular season.

Were the Red Sox really losers this off-season?

Yes… and no. For 2009… no. For this season, you could make an argument they had the best off-season of any team heading into next year.

I think the Red Sox, legitimately, have some concerns about parts of their batting order. David Ortiz is the best example of this. Will he be healthy for the whole season? And, if he is, will he put up dangerous numbers? I’m not looking for 80+ home runs and 200 RBIs and destruction of the American League from him… but 35-40 home runs is a reasonable target. And… what makes Ortiz a better example of where I am going on the long term commentary than a player like Mike Lowell, who is recovering from surgery and also presents some 2009 questions … is what does Ortiz offer in 2010… 2011… and beyond? See…

Boston thought Mark Teixeira was the answer to these questions. Kevin Youkalis isn’t the classic number four hitter. But, he will make you pay for avoiding Ortiz. If you walk Ortiz you have a better chance of him safely reaching second base with Youkalis hitting behind him than you would with virtually any other batter in professional baseball. But what if Ortiz and Lowell don’t bring decent hitting and power to 2009? Answer… in the early plans… Teixeira.

And what about 2010… 2011… and beyond? Ortiz and Lowell are older. They might be fantastic for a season or two (or three). But you have to begin thinking beyond those years as well, even if it’s just to consider it. Again… answer… Teixeira.

So… yes… by not signing Mark Teixeira, unquestionably the organization’s top acquisition target this year, and possibly the most desired player since Curt Schilling in November of 2003… the Red Sox were losers this off-season.

That said…

The Varitek situation couldn’t have gone any better for them.

They haven’t traded any young, major parts of their organization.

Pedroia and Youkalis signed long term deals that should work out very nicely for them.

They backed up great risks like Rocco Baldelli with a solid retaining of Mark Kotsay (which effectively gave them depth in case Baldelli can’t play four or five straight games).

And… let’s face it… the Red Sox are a team targeting good regular season numbers, but designing rosters for postseason success. Their bullpen looks very solid. Their rotation could hit a point where it’s healthy and nine decent starters deep. And in the playoffs there is a good chance they will be sending Beckett and Smoltz to the mound… two of the most dominant and successful pitchers in the playoffs this side of Curt Schilling… backed up by Lester and Matsuzaka with Papelbon to close.

Oh yeah… just some rumors-to-be possibilities to keep in mind. Not that I’m advocating signing Curt Schilling, but has anyone else noticed him digging in to the Boston scene? Radio appearances… his private business interests. In short, if he is working out, and they do wind up needing a starter mid-season, Boston probably has a better chance than anyone of landing Schilling for August, September and the playoffs.

Plus, they do have some flexibility in the payroll. I don’t think they want to commit it, but it is there if they need something in July.

So… losers on a major acquisition… sure. But overall I think Boston is pretty happy with the past few months right now. They’ve certainly won more battles than they’ve lost. And the team is very solid.

Any teams that look like sleepers for this season?

San Francisco comes to mind right away. No doubt about it, there are questions here. But let’s face it… if they didn’t have questions, they wouldn’t be sleepers. The Giants need some hitting… they have to score more runs. But they have enough pitching to be interesting, and even dangerous.

Milwaukee and Atlanta interest me. I think the Brewers… even with Sabathia gone… might actually be able to succeed in 2009 since I doubt they will enter the season with a ton of expectations. The problem for both the Brewers and the Braves is that… unlike San Francisco… there are a few more talented… or at least as talented… teams in the National League East and Central for them to contend with. The West is kind of a battle between a bunch of average to slightly above average teams on a 162 game quest to be good. The Brewers have the Cubs… the Braves have the Mets and the Phillies.

Does Tampa count as a sleeper after last year? Probably not.

Everyone is talking about Oakland… so let’s skip them.

In fact… I don’t know if the American League has any team that qualifies as a sleeper.

Thanks to the World Series last year, the Rays join the Yankees and the Red Sox in the East… shouldn’t be anyone else there. In the West the A’s might contend, but it’s likely the Angels will run away again. I don’t see anyone challenging them.

And the Central? Geez… how many times can we back the Tigers? So what you end up with is really alot like the NL West… average teams fighting to be in the playoffs. And since everyone except Kansas City has at least been in the mix recently, I can’t see I see any stunning results.

So San Francisco… and if you wish, Milwaukee and Atlanta.

What teams might disappoint?


Now hold on… don’t get the wrong idea from that. I like the Rays. And didn’t you see I even wanted to toss their candidacy in for a sleeper pick? They are definitely in the conversations as one of the top four or five teams in the American League.

But even if they are better, I don’t think they are going to improve on the results of the 2008 regular season. And, to be realistic, I expect a slightly lower finish. Let’s put it this way… even if you’re the third best team in your league, if the top two teams play in your division you don’t make the playoffs. So if we can agree that Boston may be better… and that New York may be better… and Tampa might slip a couple of games to 90-92 wins in a simply brutal division… see where this is going?

On top of that, when thinking Rays… check out the Tigers. Everyone… well, at least me… thought they were set up nicely after that year they made it to the World Series. Good manager… nice combination of talent… just a few things to work on, but a winnable division around them. Does Detroit’s approach to the year after their World Series sound familiar? Manager? Talent? Ok… how has that worked out in Detroit, without Boston and New York to fight with for about 25% of your regular season games?

I think the Mets could be 85-90 wins and out of the playoffs bad, and that would be a disappointment. To my way of looking at it, they haven’t addressed their starting rotation. (Freddy Garcia? Really? No… I’m serious… really?) And I don’t like their bullpen at all. Granted, they got Rodriguez cheap compared to his expectations… but he hasn’t been dominant since the playoff run that earned the team a championship and him a reputation. Huge numbers… hardly lights out.

I outlined my thoughts about the Yankees up above. But so many people are discussing possible problems for them that I think the only way to include them in this group… where more was expected and less ultimately realized… is if everyone stays healthy and they miss the playoffs.

How about a quick thought or two on each division?


The American League East is where it’s at for regular season excitement. Tampa, New York and Boston will, in some way, each play about a quarter of their season against the other two from this group. And even if two of these teams go to the playoffs, at this moment one very good team will be staying at home when October rolls around. Plus… don’t forget… if they beat each other up enough, a team in the Central could sneak in and steal the wild card.

In the AL Central… I don’t know. I need to do some more research into it. Minnesota and Cleveland should have good teams… but they will have some weaknesses. Detroit and Chicago need to sort out some troubles, but both have enough talent that if things go right they will be there when September arrives. In fact, Detroit could run away… but I’ve lined up for that ride before. I suppose I’ll go with the Tigers right now, because I do like alot of what they have in place. But, there is a real chance that since I feel like I’ve fallen for their potential before, I may feel differently when I start looking in depth a few weeks from now.

The AL West? California. And it will be a sequel… no challenge in the regular season… then not enough to get past the tougher competition in the playoffs.

The NL East… geez… I don’t know. Not enough information. Philly took home the title last year, and should be good in 2009. But I keep looking at that team and I get the feeling they are on the verge of falling apart. Stay with me on this… there always seemed to be something wrong here… players wanting more from their contracts… players giving great quotes to the media about whatever… all sorts of little elements taking place and swirling around. Now… when there is a big picture item… like winning a championship… many times a team can put those to the side and succeed regardless of the distractions. But once that mission is accomplished, quite often the motivation isn’t the same and the desire to get paid takes over (for one example). I wonder if following last season, there might be a letdown waiting to happen. The problem with sticking with that? Well… look around. Do you buy in to the Atlanta story? I might… but not right now… I still think they are the third best team in the division.. The Mets? Johan and the four question marks. This division could be very, very good… but I don’t believe it will be all that exciting.

The NL Central. Hmm… I sort of like what Milwaukee has tried to do to keep the dream alive. I actually hope they are successful in 2009. And I see some improvements for just about every team out here. But… nothing shocking will happen in this division because none of these teams are in a position to spend any more money. Houston… Pittsburgh… Cincinnati… all of these clubs are pretty much in place. None will be in a position, that I can see, to make a trade like Milwaukee did last year to add a big name during the season. And don’t forget… Toronto, California, and Milwaukee all thought they would be getting draft picks that included a first rounder when they made offers to Burnett, Teixeira and Sabathia. How did that work out for all three of them? Two of the three wound up with lower picks because New York signed them all. Not that such a perfect storm will happen again, but you have to believe a team like Milwaukee, even if encouraged to take some risks to make a trade, will have that in mind when asked for big prospects. They’re not guaranteed that first rounder in return if they lose the player at the end of the year. All of this means… take the Cubs again.

The NL West… I’m just not sure yet. I suppose I like Arizona. They have a couple of chips they could trade if needed. They have the pitching. But… LA and San Francisco could be better than I expect them to be. Let me think about this one.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at