MLB 2010 – American League East


And in part six of our 2010 preview, we arrive in the best division in baseball.

Note… not the most competitive.

Baltimore may be improving.

Toronto is just a sad situation.

Still… best division in baseball. Why?

The two best teams in baseball are playing right here in the AL East. Quite possibly the three best teams in the American League are here.

New York Yankees
What I expect in 2010: 96-66, playoffs

What they did in 2009: 103-59, playoffs, won World Series

Key personnel changes: Let go of Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, while adding Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez. Time will tell if they got better… but they did get a little younger and likely are no worse. I guess Nick Johnson belongs here… if you care… I don’t. Randy Winn for about a million dollars? If you spent about forty-seven cents on something, would you consider it valuable? Do the math and tell me how much New York values Winn.

My expectations: I can no longer focus on age with the Yankees. It sure looked like it was true… that this club was getting older and out of touch. Now? I am not one that thinks the pitching worked for them last year in getting the championship… but when you check out the starting outfield for 2010... when you look at first base… when you consider that they did win… the fact is this team is a bit younger than it was even two years ago, and is likely still two or three seasons away from having to worry about age again. Heck, just cleaning out the amazingly dense roll call of designated hitters that were liabilities in any other position is going to help going in to 2010. And again, they won it all last season!

Losing Matsui and Damon, for a variety of reasons we can all appreciate, will hurt this club. The thing is… I actually think it helps them more than it hurts. As noted, having fourteen designated hitters can be a problem. That’s one thing out of the way. It also clears up money… maybe not judging by the current payroll, and maybe not because they’re concerned about payroll, but because that $15 to $20 million can be spent on other things. These were older players, battling injuries and fighting to stay on the active roster… and now the team can bring in some younger players.

Now… short and sweet… how did the Yankees win a dozen years ago? Their top two starters could at least compete with those on the opposing teams (not necessarily better, but capable of winning at least three to six out of every ten times their best faced the opponent’s best)… their three-four-five guys were always better than the opponent’s three-four-five guys… and their offense demolished the opponent’s three-four-five guys.

Well… have you looked? Because that’s what this team is designed to do yet again. I would take the best of the rotation in Boston… San Francisco… maybe even Detroit or Arizona… over New York’s. Seriously… Beckett, Lester, Lackey… Lincecum and Cain… Verlander as an ace… Webb and Haren? I think I would prefer any of those over Sabathia and Burnett.

But New York doesn’t have to worry about that during the regular season. Javier Vazquez is not being asked to out-pitch Zack Greinke every night.

Add it all up and the Yankees should cruise to a very comfortable AL East title.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): I worry about C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira if we’re talking about injuries. Not because either is due or even a concern for an injury. Frankly, it’s just that these are the two guys that are irreplaceable for New York. Beyond that, most of the pieces could be adjusted if the need to arises.

Nick Johnson added as a DH… well… Randy Winn is now there too, and… hmm… maybe that designated hitter logjam isn’t gone after all. Or, more precisely, let’s consider that Johnson and Granderson look everything like decent players. But… and hopefully you’ll follow my thoughts here… there are differences between decent players and winners. It’s the one belief I have that stats don’t support (and I don’t know if they ever will)… some guys will scrap and bite and kick for anything they can get and kill you. I don’t think Damon’s game seven against New York in 2004 was a fluke. Maybe Damon’s stats say it was… my mind says for everything you believe, good or bad, about Damon, he does everything he can to be involved in winning. Johnson… Granderson… Winn… etc… remains to be seen.

Another small thing is that right field breeze that turned the new Yankee Stadium into an ages 12 and under park last season. I do believe that good teams create their own luck. (Using a different sport to make my point… I may hate Peyton Manning, and may try to make fun of him at every opportunity that I find. The fact remains that there is a reason why offensive players thrive in Indianapolis. And it’s not because the front office and coaching staff works miracle after miracle in selecting players. It’s because Manning is an elite, all time great.) Good things happen to good teams because they’re good. Case closed. Replays may show the officials screwed up. Stars may get preferential treatment. Other circumstances may be involved. All of that allowed… will 2010 continue to allow things to break properly for New York? Boston smoked New York early in the year… and New York came back from that. Will they continue hitting right field home runs? Can they rebound if things start slowly?

As far as anything meaningful… it’s playoff time that should worry them. I don’t trust New York’s bullpen or the depth of their starting rotation once we arrive at the games that truly matter.

On a lighter note… since for most teams I’m coming across an item or two worth mentioning… did you see that the Yankees still don’t know what to do with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes? They might put Joba in as the final starter in their five-man rotation… might put Phil in there. They might have Chamberlain and Hughes flip-flop starts. I don’t get it.

Boston Red Sox
What I expect in 2010: 93-69, World Series (winner)

What they did in 2009: 95-67, playoffs

Key personnel changes: Brought in John Lackey and Marco Scutaro… lost Jason Bay. Added Mike Cameron and will be toying with Adrian Beltre. Overall an interesting set of additions, with three regulars and a top-of-the-rotation starter added. Pretty significant overhaul.

My expectations: Ugh… I don’t know. I’ll get to this in a minute, when it comes to what could go wrong, but the way Boston is approaching 2010 bothers me. Alot. And I mean… really… alot.

First off… I get it. Their defense stunk last season. Injuries were a part of that. But honestly… it wasn’t good. So approaching this year with a focus on improving the defense is an appropriate way to go.

Secondly… I’m not too hideously concerned about the offense as it stands today. We’re talking about Pedroia, Martinez and Youkilis at the heart of things. Not bad. (Pitchers are going to hate innings facing that group.) The combination of Ortiz, Beltre and Drew should be over 60 home runs and 240 RBIs. Some clubs won’t get that from the strength of their order. So again, not bad. And around that we are placing Ellsbury, Cameron and Scutaro. Folks… not every team is combining dynamite in the middle of the order. That’s a good lineup.

And, I like a bench that… while it might not last… offers players like Lowell, Lowrie and Varitek.

What I don’t see is the organization committing to this plan. Sure, the short contracts work favorably for them. It seems like they are loaded for making trades and headed toward financial flexibility. But… ok… hold on…

They move Jacoby Ellsbury, but say that isn’t because of his defense… it’s because Mike Cameron is more comfortable in center. And then they sign Adrian Beltre to a contract that is so blatantly a one-year deal a 4-year old can see it.

If you look at them with an unbiased eye, sure, these moves work. On paper in fact, they don’t look half bad. Talk to yourself long enough and you can even make it sound great. For example… my words…

“If something happens we can still try to overwhelm San Diego mid-season, move Youkilis to third, and bench Beltre. He’s gone at the end of the year anyway.”

“Youkilis can play first or third. If something happens we don’t have to be limited by looking at a single position, we can look for a first baseman, a third baseman, or a designated hitter. We’ve got lots of flexibility.”

“We could put Ellsbury in a package and still have Cameron to cover center this year, maybe next, and then dip into the minors where we have lots of centerfield talent for the future.”

“Wakefield was an all-star last year.”

“Wally the Green Monster hasn’t been sued.”

See? It all sounds good. Get Adrian Gonzalez… move Youk to third… amazing.

But… umm… yeah, they haven’t done that yet. And the front office is saying that’s not the plan. The plan is defense and pitching. Right now the plan is Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre.

Folks, the New York Mets still haven’t recovered from the outfield they thought they assembled by pairing Cameron up with Beltran… and remember, they didn’t want to offend players while trying to keep multiple centerfielders happy. They claimed it was part of creating an amazing defensive outfield. (Did it work? Nope.) And then Beltre… well… Seattle is thrilled he’s gone, since he and Richie Sexson set them back years.

Anyway… more on this stuff in a second. Let’s think positive thoughts.

The Boston club is better balanced than last season. They will send a decent pitcher out to the mound every night, and the line-up is pretty balanced despite those complaining about the lack of threats.

Best rotation in baseball… potential for the best bullpen in baseball… one or two bats away from scary-good on offense.

Take a deep breath, accept everything as what it appears, and this club could knock off the Yankees in the regular season for the division title… and will knock off the Yankees in the playoffs with amazing pitching.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Here it is, very simply… I don’t trust a team basing its fortunes on Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre. And I especially don’t trust one that builds that way but doesn’t invest in it.

Granted, that statement isn’t accurate in many ways. For example, unlike Seattle and the signing of Beltre with hopes of him delivering ridiculous production, Boston isn’t bringing him in to lead their club… just take over third base for a season and take advantage of the high profile gig to audition for the team that signs him next year.

And pitching is what this team is focusing on for their 2010 success. This staff should get enough support to guide the Red Sox to the playoffs before turning it on and possibly shutting everyone down in October. (Oh yeah… and November too.)

My problem is that I have zero clue why the Sox saw the need to sign Beltre and Cameron. It leads me to believe there is something going on behind the scenes. Example? Sure… I have an example…

Third base could have easily enough been Mike Lowell. They had Jed Lowrie as a utility guy that could handle the position with Lowell. Both guys are returning from injuries… and both guys were already on Boston’s payroll. Remember that flexibility I mentioned with fancy colored supporting text a moment ago? If Lowell and Lowrie had troubles, the team still would have had plenty of options. (Heck, move Youkalis to third, Martinez to first and let Varitek catch. I just solved the problem without even making a trade.)

So it’s a head-scratcher for me that they felt the need to spend the dollars on this pair. Does this mean that both Lowell and Lowrie are too injured to play or even be reliable? (I don’t know.) Has something happened behind the scenes making it impossible for the club to allow Lowell to be a part of the organization for 2010? (I don’t know.) Is Lowrie someone we should look at along with Ellsbury as a trade candidate? (I don’t know.) For now, it means that they are spending money on Beltre that, in my opinion, didn’t need to be spent.

And if I have questions about the things I don’t know at third base… you can probably imagine the questions I have about everyone jumping on the bandwagon to support Josh Beckett early in spring training. Hey… Beckett is awesome… but when everyone is running to say nice things about him, you’d be an idiot not to wonder if he’s quietly expressed his displeasure to teammates and management about his lack of a new contract.

All of this leads me back to Cameron and Beltre… and the actual idea being that I don’t get how this team is assembled. It seems like a bunch of strange parts being fit together for 2010, but not set up to be part of even a 2 or 3 year run. And maybe that is because they have young talent on the way and plans for future off-season moves. (Ok… it’s a given… they do have young talent on the way and plans for future off-season moves. Still… I think it’s worth mentioning.)

(One more thing about Boston… something I was thinking about, but wasn’t sure how to say it or where to place it. Alternate expectations seems the spot.

Have you ever watched a magician? See… the most basic way of understanding a magic show is this… someone wants to stand off to the right, make you focus your attention there, while from the left an assistant walks a pink unicorn onto the stage, and then after stopping what is being done off to the right, suddenly you’re stunned and wondering where the darn pink unicorn came from.

It’s slight-of-hand… deception… distraction… and it’s more or less exactly what I feel as I look at how Boston is setting up for 2010. Sure… I meant what I said about not investing in the long term aspects of the team. It’s not entirely true (they gave plenty of money and years to Lackey, and the pitching does look tremendous), but it’s true enough to get my point across. Perhaps more accurately though…

My Dad and I occasionally watch games together. Over the past few years, I have watched him say “strike three and the bat never left his shoulder” as he walked away from the television. I should point out that he said it and the pitcher hadn’t even thrown the ball to J.D. Drew yet to have the strikeout called. My Dad was out of the room before the pitcher even had the sign. By the time the ball hit the catcher’s mitt and Drew turned to walk back to the dugout Dad was already having a conversation with someone in another room. But according to Boston’s management, I shouldn’t trust what I saw my Dad call ahead of time. Because they have advanced statistics and analysis and all sorts of funky stuff to tell me that my Dad is wrong and I’m wrong and everything I see, hear and read is wrong, and J.D. Drew is one of the most valuable outfielders in the history of baseball. (Or something like that.)

Drew is a pink unicorn. (Wait… maybe he’s the magician. No… no… let’s say he’s the unicorn. Boston management waving the stats are playing the role of the magician.)

For this season, defense is the unicorn. Because after years of preaching on-base percentage and smart signings of low-cost productive players with high reward possibilities, suddenly… as we turn the pages from 2009 to 2010… the magician has finished his distraction of telling us how the way to improve this club was on the field and not with the batting order, and there, center stage, is a season where pitching and defense has been assembled.

Yup… pitching and defense… that’s what’s important. Pay no attention to what you’ve seen before. This doesn’t have anything to do with Jason Bay leaving or Matt Holliday never coming or the lack of a trade for a rumored hitter or two. Pay no attention to Beltre and his defense living out of a suitcase for the year because he won’t be important in 2011.

And in some respects, I get it… they didn’t think they had a shot at Lackey and suddenly got that chance. They had to move fast. San Diego wouldn’t trade Gonzalez. What they built for 2010 isn’t what fascinates and confuses me.

In the end though, for reasons I can’t quite explain, something seems wrong in Boston even when every detail pretty much looks right. I love the signing of Lackey and the status of the pitching. I think the batting order is going to be ok, and the defense is going to be very good. Something just doesn’t add up. I just can’t shake the impression that I’m being distracted and someone is walking a unicorn on to the stage.)

Tampa Bay Rays
What I expect in 2010: 85-77

What they did in 2009: 84-78

Key personnel changes: None of their moves will be too noteworthy, especially in this division. But adding Kelly Shoppach is a nice touch. Rafael Soriano is going to be a great improvement for their bullpen. Considering what they did two years ago, I can’t say they’re much better than we’ve seen in 2008 and 2009, but they are going to be a winning club that could threaten Boston or New York if things go right for them.

My expectations: I like this club, but stand by what I basically said last year… this is a club deserving of a winning record, but 2008 was beyond where they should be. They can scrape and fight and be competitive on any evening against any opponent… but I don’t see how they can play about a quarter of their season against Boston and New York and get to that 95 win area.

B.J. Upton joins Jacoby Ellsbury as an example of be careful with youth and expectations. (For Ellsbury it was slightly different… an MVP-level World Series performance translated to huge expectations the next season. Instead, he’s been very good.) Upton looked poised to be a difference-maker. He still might be. But be careful thinking one year of a young player’s career will translate to the next season. Not all rookie of the year winners deliver every season… or even after that rookie year. Upton could make my predictions look silly if the Rays clear 90 wins. I expect him to play well… I don’t think I’ll look too silly on this one.

Here’s a funny expectation you won’t see any place else… watch this club very carefully in July for trade possibilities. And I mean big ones. See…

We have Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena here. Now the club says they want to bring both back… reality says they could afford one of them back… but, funny thing, I wonder if they’ll bring either back.

If the club falls 10 games behind New York and Boston (not likely, and remember, it would have to be both of them since I don’t expect high-win totals from the other divisions, so the wild card would be in play), then Crawford or Pena would bring back a nice haul in a trade. They did it before. Scott Kazmir anyone? And I think they could do it again.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Let’s play a bit here.

Adding Rafael Soriano to the bullpen solidifies an area that had been a huge hole for the Rays. Get them to the late innings… win the war against them… that was the attack plan, and it’s not as viable an approach in 2010.

And there is talent… pitching… defense… offense…

After looking at everything and realizing things aren’t bad in Tampa, just not outstanding… we arrive at considering the month of April… or more precisely, the first 40-games. Their first 13 games are in the AL East, with seven of them against New York and Boston. They make their first west coast trip in early May. Now they’ll still have a ton of games against New York and Boston left by the time mid to late May arrives. But with a few games against them… a west coast trip… and games against Oakland, Kansas City, Baltimore and Toronto all there early on, the fact is an even record isn’t going to cut it out of the gate. They’re set up to send a message to the big boys, get some travel out of the way while they’re still fresh, and feast on the weaker opponents.

If this club wants to make the playoffs… and we are talking about a team that ends April and begins May with a 9-game home stand against Toronto, Oakland and Kansas City… they need to be about 25-15 to start the year. I almost feel like they need to be winning the division as the first quarter of the year wraps up.

Huge early wins against Boston and New York. Taking advantage of the also-rans to turn in some winning streaks. That’s where everything can go right. And if they are running right with Boston and New York after 40-games, they could prove tough to shake.

Baltimore Orioles
What I expect in 2010: 70-92

What they did in 2009: 64-98

Key personnel changes: Last year, the Orioles showed they have some young talent in place, including the foundation of a strong outfield. Kevin Millwood is an interesting addition… in that I don’t see how it helps them win, and yet it probably makes them a bit better than they were in 2009 since they will likely get a bit of consistency from him that other options for their rotation wouldn’t offer. Seriously though… Millwood and Miguel Tejada are the big moves… so there isn’t much to dwell on. Mike Gonzalez is worth mentioning and might be the best thing they did.

My expectations: They’re better… they’re still not good.

And the moves they made aren’t likely to help them when they finally are good.

They’re not trading Millwood for a starting infielder.

This is always a fine line to walk… trying to improve the club but knowing this isn’t the year for winning. You want to improve the club, but you don’t want to waste money.

The trouble is decisions like $6 million for Miguel Tejada. Will he be worth $6 million? Maybe. Will he be worth $6 million for the Orioles? Not a chance.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): Ok… first we have some talent, and much of it is young. Markakis, Jones and Wieters are all solid players. (And wait until we get to Toronto when discussing what is going to be on the field. At least the Orioles will be entertaining.)

The Orioles are that funny bad team… just bad enough that you feel you should win every night against them, and yet have names so familiar that you’re scared they’ll beat you.

I just made fun of Tejada, but add him to Brian Roberts and the trio I noted. The offense has some pop.

Gonzalez should give them a reliable option in the ninth inning. Plus… unlike someone like Tejada or Millwood, I think several teams will be calling Baltimore in July to ask about Gonzalez in trade discussions. Not saying Baltimore will let him go… but it’s a nice chip to have.

Now… whispered tones here… I don’t expect great things from the Orioles in 2010. In fact… I don’t expect much in 2011 either. Baby steps people. But, young talent always improves in mysterious ways… some times it drags and stagnates and never blossoms… other times it explodes and delivers beyond the wildest of expectations. (Think San Francisco expected to face arbitration hearings with someone that had two Cy Young awards already? You get my point.) Baltimore is just young enough… and just out of the way of the big three in the division right now… that they could make a run at 80 wins this season. Will they? No. Even if they look like they are, they’ll fade in August. But if any team in baseball that should win below 75 games has a shot at cracking 80, this is it.

Toronto Blue Jays
What I expect in 2010: 64-98

What they did in 2009: 75-87

Key personnel changes: Traded away Roy Halladay. Lost Marco Scutaro. Signed fourteen shortstops. That about cover it? Realistically nothing they did will help them in 2010.

My expectations: Not much.

If you’re looking for opportunity as a young player, this might be the place. Why? Because in addition to not fielding much ahead of you, the team is also going to be playing noteworthy games virtually every night in this division.

The club has holes all over the place, and will struggle when playing Baltimore. New York, Boston, and Tampa should take about two-thirds of the games they play against them. (I am not kidding… the depth of those three clubs just makes some of the contests coming up scary to think about. And if they are going to go about 29-47 against the AL East, things don’t look great for them playing well enough against the rest of the American League to do much better.

Halladay is gone… Scutaro is gone… I just don’t see where the production is coming from. Yeah… the Blue Jays are about 10 games worse than they were in 2009.

Where it could all go wrong (or, I suppose, right): When we ask about the possibility of things going right, especially with a crappy team, the question honestly becomes whether or not they can get to the high side of 70-wins and approach an even record. We’re not talking playoffs... just some level of respectability.

I don’t see how that’s possible here. And I say that without really considering who may or may not be able to wear their uniform that didn’t offer much in 2009. (Meaning returning from injuries, etc.)

Watch… let’s play a game.

I want you to think about the rosters of New York, Boston and Tampa. With players like Pena, Teixeira and Youkilis at first base… Pedroia, Jeter, Longoria at other infield spots… Ellsbury, Crawford, Granderson in the outfield… Martinez catching… Papelbon and Rivera relieving. (Got the basics? I’m just tossing out names as I think of them. No research. I didn’t even mention Rodriguez or the starting rotations. I never went to the Orioles. Just some members from the top three American League teams for this paragraph of examples.)

Ok, got the rosters in place? Now… in your mind, build a team using American League East clubs (go ahead, toss Baltimore in there too) and name me a single Blue Jay that you would take at a position before taking someone from any of the other four clubs.

Starting to see the problems here?

(Even Baltimore at least has some players you would see entering the discussion like Wieters and Markakis. I don’t even think there’s much in the farm system here that you’d place against the farm systems of the other four.)

And the amazing thing is that the stereotypical stories are starting to emerge from camp. Vernon Wells is looking better than he has in years. He’s confident some of those physical ailments are behind him. (Yup… look out New York and Boston… here comes Toronto.)

Hey… it’s year one for Alex Anthopoulos. Give the guy room to breath and set up an organization.

But for 2010… not much going on.

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