The Top Player at Every Position in the AL East: How Do the Orioles Stack Up?
The season is about to begin and rosters are beginning to take shape. Once again, the AL East is expected to be one of the strongest divisions, with some of the best hitters and pitchers in the majors.
The Yankees are expected to take the division again, but the Red Sox and Rays have made some moves to nip at their heels. The Blue Jays are improving, although they are likely destined for fourth place again. The Orioles will almost definitely stay in the cellar, even if they finally reach the elusive .500 mark.
The biggest additions to the division are Michael Pineda, Hiroki Kuroda, Andrew Bailey, Sergio Santos, the return of Carlos Pena, Francisco Cordero and Wei-Yin Chen. This pitching-heavy offseason for the division will likely be reflected in the rankings by position.
Here are the top players at each position in the AL East.
Catcher: Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
1. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
2. Russell Martin, New York Yankees
3. J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays
4. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox
5. Jose Molina, Tampa Bay Rays
There is no contest on this one. The Orioles' 25-year-old is the best catcher in the division offensively by a large margin and one of the best defensive catchers in the majors. He was selected to his first All-Star game and won his first Gold Glove in 2011 and will only improve from here on out.
1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
1. Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox
2. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
3. Carlos Pena, Tampa Bay Rays
4. Adam Lind, Toronto Blue Jays
5. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles
First base is a tough position to decide in the AL East because Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira are both unbelievably good, but I give the edge to Gonzalez.
Adrian had the best offensive season at first base for the division and was one of the best defenders. In his first season in Boston, Gonzalez was an All-Star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner. He hit his fewest home runs since 2006 with "just" 27, but was second in the majors in batting with a .338 average.
2B: Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
Nick Laham/Getty Images
1. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
2. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox
3. Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays
4. Kelly Johnson, Toronto Blue Jays
5. Robert Andino, Baltimore Orioles
Robinson Cano has established himself as not only the top second baseman in the division, but also the best second baseman in baseball. Cano led all second baseman in OPS and, although he missed out on the Gold Glove to Dustin Pedroia, was one of the best defensive second basemen. Cano started the All-Star game and won a Silver Slugger, but his greatest achievement was winning the Home Run Derby in 2011.
SS: J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles
Steve Ruark/Getty Images
1. J.J. Hardy, Baltimore Orioles
2. Yunel Escobar, Toronto Blue Jays
3. Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
4. Mike Aviles, Boston Red Sox
5. Sean Rodriguez, Tampa Bay Rays
This may grind some people's gears. There are not one, but two shortstops in the division that are better than the Yankees' captain.
J.J. Hardy's season went under-the-radar in 2011 because he had some injuries and played for the Orioles, but he quietly solidified the Orioles' middle infield. Hardy was one of the finalists for the Gold Glove, but lost to Erick Aybar despite leading the majors in UZR/150. Hardy also was one of the top sluggers in the majors, ranking 21st in home runs with 30, tying Troy Tulowitzki for the lead among shortstops.
3B: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
Charles Sonnenblick/Getty Images
1. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
2. Brett Lawrie, Toronto Blue Jays
3. Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox
4. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
5. Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles
The top third baseman in the division should come as no surprise because Evan Longoria is one of the top position players in all of baseball. Longoria had a rough year due to injuries, but bounced back in the second half to lead the Rays to the AL Wild Card. Longoria's walk-off shot in the last regular season game solidified his place in history as one of the greatest clutch hits of all time.
One surprise on the list is Brett Lawrie at No. 2. Despite a small sample size, Lawrie tore up the league and should do it again in 2012. His offense and defense should be better than Youkilis at third.
LF: Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
1. Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays
2. Brett Gardner, New York Yankees
3. Carl Crawford, Boston Red Sox
4. Nolan Reimold, Baltimore Orioles
5. Eric Thames, Toronto Blue Jays
If defense was the only thing I looked at, Brett Gardner would be the best left fielder in the division by far, but Desmond Jennings' offensive surge in 2011 launched him past Gardner. Jennings showed power uncommon of his previous seasons, which helped propel the Rays offense.
I'm giving Carl Crawford the benefit of the doubt here because he was the worst hitting left fielder in the division. His career holds Nolan Reimold in the fourth spot.
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox
2. Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees
3. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles
4. B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay Rays
5. Colby Rasmus, Toronto Blue Jays
Center field is almost a toss-up between Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson, but I'm going with Ellsbury here because he had a better OPS, more steals and a phenomenal defensive season that earned him a Gold Glove.
Ellsbury, like Jennings, had unusual power in 2011, hitting 32 home runs after only 20 in his first four seasons combined. This made him one of the most dynamic hitters in the game and a clear No. 2 for the AL MVP behind Justin Verlander.
RF: Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
1. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
2. Nick Swisher, New York Yankees
3. Matt Joyce, Tampa Bay Rays
4. Nick Markakis, Baltimore Orioles
5. Cody Ross, Boston Red Sox
Jose Bautista is the clear favorite for the best right fielder in the division because he is one of the best hitters in all of baseball. Bautista proved that his breakout year in 2010 was not a fluke by once again leading the majors in home runs with 43 and leading the majors in OPS with a sickening 1.056. Bautista may have even had a better season if not for the fact that pitchers refused to pitch to him after a while.
DH: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
Darren McCollester/Getty Images
1. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
2. Luke Scott, Tampa Bay Rays
3. Wilson Betemit, Baltimore Orioles
4. Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
5. Raul Ibanez, New York Yankees
I was surprised when I looked through the DHs in the AL East to see that the position is really weak after David Ortiz. Luke Scott is coming back from injury, so his rank is based on past performance and potential for 2012, but the bottom three don't give him much competition.
Big Papi is the clear favorite. Fans in Boston were critical of him when he had a down year in 2009, but he bounced back in 2010 and then improved in 2011. Ortiz had a wonderful .398 OBP for the year to go with outstanding power. Despite his age, he should be a force once more in 2012.
Starting Rotation: New York Yankees
Nick Laham/Getty Images
1. New York Yankees
2. Tampa Bay Rays
3. Boston Red Sox
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles
I had a tough time choosing between the Yankees and Rays for the division's best staff, but I had to go with the Yankees. In a year, I expect the tables to be turned.
The Yankees had a quiet offseason for a while until they made huge splashes by trading Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda and signing Hiroki Kuroda. Pineda is a sensational sophomore with an unreal heater, and Kuroda has gone unnoticed in Los Angeles while posting terrific numbers.
Sabathia is an unbelievable pitcher, so with him and the two new additions, the top three look unbelievable. Beyond that, the Yankees have Ivan Nova, a 16-game winner in his rookie year in 2011, and either Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia. That depth is spectacular.
CL: Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
1. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees
2. Andrew Bailey, Boston Red Sox
3. Jim Johnson, Baltimore Orioles
4. Kyle Farnsworth, Tampa Bay Rays
5. Sergio Santos, Toronto Blue Jays
Not much needs to be said about Mariano Rivera because he is the greatest closer of all time. He broke the career saves record in 2011 and will just pad his almost unattainable lead in 2012. This may be his last season, but he'll be a lock for the Hall of Fame on his first ballot.
Andrew Bailey adds intrigue to the mix as he joins the Red Sox from the Oakland Athletics. He has the potential to be even better than Jonathan Papelbon in 2012.
Greg Fiume/Getty Images
1(T). New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox - 3
3(T). Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays - 2
5. Toronto Blue Jays - 1
As expected, the Yankees are at the top with three players at the top of their positions. The Blue Jays are a little low at just one player, but they will be a solid team in 2012.
The Orioles surprise with two players leading their positions, but the team will likely struggle with questionable pitching.