The All A.L. East Team: Dustin Pedroia or Robinson Cano?

Jonathan Ty LangCorrespondent IMarch 11, 2012

The All A.L. East Team: Dustin Pedroia or Robinson Cano?

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    The A.L. East is the by far the deepest division in baseball.

    The Red Sox, Yankees and Rays are three of the top teams in the game, and Toronto is an organization on the rise. Despite not having a winning season in over a decade, the Orioles have some talented players on their roster as well.

    With so many playoff-caliber squads in one division, there are obviously going to be a bunch of really talented ball players.

    Which players really are the best the A.L. East has to offer?

Catcher: Matt Wieters

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    After winning a Gold Glove and making the All-Star team in 2011, Matt Wieters is clearly the top catcher in the A.L. East.

    The former first-round pick shot through the minors and, in his third big league season, really began to make a name for himself.

    Wieters has started to show the power that earned him the nickname "Mauer with Power" when he hit 22 homers with an OPS of .778.

    He also has become one of the best defensive catchers in the game. Wieters threw out 37 percent of all base-stealers en route to his first Gold Glove.

    Not only is Wieters the best catcher in the A.L. East right now, he also has all the tools to get even better.

First Base: Adrian Gonzalez

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    First base is the first real toss up in this A.L. East breakdown.

    There really is no wrong answer when picking between Yankee Mark Teixeira and Red Sox Adrian Gonzalez.

    I decided to go with Gonzalez here though. When you compare him head-to-head with Teixeira, Gonzalez comes out on top.

    Gonzalez didn't hit as many home runs as Teixeira last season, but his OPS of .957 stomped Teixeira's .835.

    Gonzalez also won the Gold Glove last year, but Teixeira has won Gold Gloves in the past as well, so neither has a real advantage here.

    Both players are dominating hitters capable of carrying a ball club, but Gonzalez is the better option at the moment.

Second Base: Robinson Cano

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    Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia are the top two second baseman in all of baseball.

    Pedroia has won an MVP and Cano has come close to winning the past two seasons.

    Both guys are fantastic, but I am going to go with Cano.

    They both have won Gold Gloves and there are so many different ways to evaluate defense that it is almost impossible to determine which player is better in the field, so defense didn't point me toward Cano.

    Stealing bases is one of the most overrated aspects of baseball in my mind, but some people value it and if you appreciate base stealing, Pedroia is the better choice for you. Cano doesn't steal often and gets thrown out a lot when he does. Pedroia steals a lot more and is successful more often that not.

    Since I don't give the edge to either in the field and don't value stolen bases enough to give Pedroia a significant edge, it all comes down to how they perform at the plate.

    I give the edge to Cano here. Cano's career OPS is .843 and Pedroia's is .837. That isn't a big difference but over the past three seasons Cano has had an OPS of .889 and Pedroia has been at .846. The gap here gives Cano the clear edge over the Red Sox middle infielder.

    There are some lineups where Pedroia is more valuable because he is an on-base machine, but in this exercise I have to go with Cano who slugs his way past Pedroia.

Third Base: Evan Longoria

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    Third base gave me more trouble than I thought it would.

    Alex Rodriguez isn't the player he used to be and Brett Lawrie hasn't done enough to even enter the conversation as best third baseman in the A.L. East. Mark Reynolds has good power, but strikes out too much and is a liability in the field.

    Which only leaves two.

    Evan Longoria is one of the best young players in the game and has been instrumental in the Rays becoming a top team in baseball, but Kevin Youkilis is almost even with him when you compare numbers. 

    In fact, Youkilis has been better three of the past four seasons. Youkilis had an OPS of .958 in 2008, .961 in '09 and .975 in 2010. Longoria's OPS mark was at .874, .889 and .879 in those three years.

    If I had wrote this last year, Youkilis would of been the clear winner strictly based on his offensive production but Youkilis wasn't as good this past season. His OPS dropped to .833, his lowest since his first year as a regular.

    This could just be a fluke season, but it appears Youkilis may be on the decline. Longoria, on the other hand, is expected to get even better.

    Longoria stayed consistent and once again had an OPS north of .850. This combined with age—Longoria is only 26—and his skills with the leather make him the class of A.L. East third baseman.

Shortstop: J.J. Hardy

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    I thought Derek Jeter would be a clear favorite before I really broke down each shortstop in the division. I found that both Yunel Escobar and J.J. Hardy were more productive hitters last season.

    Jeter had a very unspectacular .743 OPS and only hit six home runs all season. Clearly, Jeter is destined for the Hall of Fame, but his best years are behind him and he would no longer make the A.L. East team (if there was such a thing).

    Once Jeter was eliminated, it came down to two 29-year-old stars in Escobar and Hardy.

    Offensively, Escobar is an on-base machine and has twice had an OPS above .810 in his young career. 

    Hardy was a force all season for the Orioles. He tied with Troy Tulowitski for the league lead in home runs among shortstops with 30 even though he missed many games due to injury. Hardy ended the season with an OPS at .801, which topped Escobar's .782.

    Defensive skill and power separate Hardy from Escobar. Hardy nearly took home the Gold Glove and only made six errors all season.

Outfield: Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Bautista

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    Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Bautista make up the outfield and no one else really challenges to knock any of them off this list.

    Adam Jones and Brett Gardner are very good, but are not on the same level as the three players listed above. Carl Crawford stunk it up last year and needs to rebound big time to make his way into the A.L. East elite. Nick Swisher and Nick Markakis are great OBP guys, but don't do enough from a power point of view to make the list.

    Granderson hit a career high 41 bombs last summer and his OPS was .916. He was key to the Yankees capturing the division championship.

    Ellsbury had the comeback year of the decade. After missing almost all of 2010, Ellsbury channeled his inner Brady Anderson and turned the baseball world on its head when he hit 32 home runs in 2011. He had 20 in his previous 349 games. He also stole 39 bases, won a Gold Glove and had an OPS of .928 in 2011.

    Bautista is the best hitter in baseball right now. He hit 43 homers last year after hitting 54 the year before, but was able to get on base at a .447 clip this past season. His league-leading OPS was a stupid 1.056 and if he played for New York or Boston, he would have won the MVP for sure.

Designated Hitter: Mark Teixeira

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    Mark Teixeira is the most productive hitter left after the position players are selected.

    He beats out players like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia for the DH slot.

    With a career OPS of .904 and eight consecutive seasons of 30 or more home runs, Teixeira is remarkably consistent.

Starting Rotation

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    1. C.C. Sabathia
    2. David Price
    3. Josh Beckett
    4. Ricky Romero
    5. Jeremy Hellickson

    There are several great pitchers that didn't make the rotation. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and James Shields all have great track records and could have been included.

    Lester is consistent, but he may be the third best pitcher on his team and Buchholz missed most of last season and who knows how he will respond this year. Shields had a dominating 2011, but his other years were nowhere near as spectacular and he has a career ERA just south of 4.00.

    The no-brainers on this list are Sabathia and Price. Sabathia is a Cy Young winner and is always good for 230+ innings every year. Price is only 26 years old and has been fantastic the past two seasons for the Rays.

    After the top two it gets tricky. Beckett rebounded from a tough 2010 to have a dominant 2011 summer. His ERA was 2.89 and without him, the Red Sox wouldn't have needed a collapse to miss the playoffs. He gets the nod over teammates Lester and Buchholz because of his performance last year.

    Romero is underrated in my mind. He quietly had one of the best seasons in the A.L. last year when he posted a 2.92 ERA. His ERA has improved each year he has been in the league and I see him getting even better as he enters his prime.

    Hellickson won the Rookie of the Year award last season after posting a 2.95 ERA in 29 starts. At 24 years old, he looks poised to team up with Price, Shields and rookie Matt Moore for years to come. 

Bullpen

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    Closer: Mariano Rivera

    Setup: Andrew Bailey

    Middle Relief: 

    • Jim Johnson
    • Daniel Bard
    • David Robertson
    • Casey Janssen

    Long: Alfredo Aceves

    I am not even going to justify Rivera being on this list. He is the greatest.

    Bailey has a career ERA just north of 2.00 and should seamlessly replace Jonathan Papelbon for Boston.

    Johnson has developed into a very good reliever for the Orioles, and Baltimore even flirted with converting him to a starter this off-season, but it looks like he will close this season.

    Bard is a good reliever with an overpowering fastball and a decent mix of pitches. He appears destined for the rotation this season, but until it is official he should be considered a top A.L. East reliever.

    Robertson had a fantastic 2011 summer. His ERA was just a smudge over 1.00 and he was key in getting the Yankees to the 9th where Rivera could do his thing.

    Janssen was really good for the Blue Jays this past season and posted and ERA of 2.26 in over 55 innings.

    Aceves is a fantastic reliever that is capable of starting, which is why he gets the nod as long man for the A.L. East team. He won 10 games despite working mostly out of the pen and posted an ERA of 2.61 in over 100 innings.

Bench

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    • Dustin Pedroia
    • Russell Martin
    • Adam Jones
    • Ben Zobrist

    Pedroia is a great player and would probably play a lot more games than he watched; he is just too good to ride the pine.

    Martin is on here solely to catch once a week.

    Jones gets the nod over Brett Gardner because his career OPS is higher and he has a higher ceiling. He will also work as a late-inning defensive replacement for Bautista.

    Zobrist gets the nod over Youkilis because of his ability to play everywhere. He can play the outfield, corners and middle infield. He is solid enough with the stick to be a super-utility guy for this squad.

Starting Lineups

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    Vs. Righty:

    1. Jacoby Ellsbury CF
    2. Curtis Granderson LF
    3. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
    4. Jose Bautista RF
    5. Mark Teixeira DH
    6. Robinson Cano 2B
    7. Evan Longoria 3B
    8. Matt Wieters C
    9. J.J. Hardy SS

    Vs. Lefty:

    1. Ellsbury CF
    2. Dustin Pedroia 2B*
    3. Gonzalez 1B
    4. Bautista RF
    5. Teixeira DH
    6. Cano SS
    7. Granderson LF
    8. Longoria 3B
    9. Wieters C

    *Hardy is narrowly more productive than Pedroia against right-handed pitchers so he starts at short against RHP. However, Pedroia is much more effective against left-handed pitchers, so he gets the nod at second with Cano moving over to short stop.  

    Team Total A.L. East Members:

    1. Yankees 7
    2. Red Sox 7
    3. Rays 4
    4. Orioles 4
    5. Blue Jays 3

    The player totals reflect what is expected out of each of the teams with the exception of the Orioles and Blue Jays being flipped. Even though the Orioles have four players on the roster, only one is a pitcher and he is a middle reliever, which is why they are years away from competing in the A.L. East.