The AL East will most likely feature the top three teams in all of Major League Baseball in 2009. The Yanks, Sox, and Rays will be battling it out for two playoff spots, with the loser watching the postseason from home.
All three teams are good very good—but who's the best?
Certainly, the winners will be a result of the whole exceeding the sum of their parts, but let's take a look at those parts and see who comes out ahead.
Dioner Navaro is good, but Jorge Posada is still better. Five years ago, Varitek would be in the discussion, but no more.
Youk had a breakout power season last year for the Sox, and Carlos Pena has found a consistent power stroke for the Rays. Judging by the Sox' interest in Tex this offseason, it's hard to deny that Tex is the cream of the 1B crop.
The reigning AL MVP is certainly the pick here. Cano has the ability to be just as good, but has yet to show he can perform at that level with any consistency. Akinori Iwamura is a nice player, but nowhere near as good as the other two.
Yeah, he's 35. Yes, he has shown some decline, but he is still Derek Jeter.
1. Jeter (Yanks)
2. Bartlett (Rays)
3. Lugo/Lowrie (Sox)
Even assuming A-Rod's health, this one is much closer than most would expect. Evan Longoria is a stud. The Rays signed Longoria long term before he even played in the major leagues, and it proved an excellent gamble. While it might be the last year that this is the case, A-Rod gets the nod over Longoria due to a long history of production. As for the Sox, their pursuit of Teixeira during this offseason was a sign that they are not confident that Mike Lowell can have another productive season at third base.
Both Jason Bay and Johnny Damon are excellent players. If offered Carl Crawford in a straight-up trade, however, both Yankee and Red Sox fans would pull the trigger in a heartbeat. A .300+ average, ~50 steals, and plenty of pop, Crawford is the best of the three.
Not turning 25 until August, BJ Upton is still getting better. Upton hit 24 home runs in 2007 and stole 44 bases in 2008. Look for 2009 to be the year he puts it together and becomes the No. 1 center fielder in all of baseball.
Surprisingly, right field is a relatively weak spot for all three teams. Xavier Nady will probably split time with Nick Swisher for the Yanks, JD Drew is already hurt (again), and Matt Joyce doesn't exactly instill fear in the opposition.
The most consistently productive of the group is Nady.
This is where the biggest debates will lie. Each rotation has both health and performance question marks. Likewise, each rotation has the ability to be dominant from top to bottom. For my purposes here, let's assume health for each group of five slated to start the season.
Chien Ming Wang
I give the edge here to the Yanks. CC is arguably the best pitcher in MLB not named Johan and is better and more consistent than both Beckett and Shields, and both Matsuzaka and Kazmir have had issues with walks and base-runners.
When comparing the bottom three starters of each rotation, Lester might be the best of the bunch, but has only done it one year and needs to prove he will not regress. The power arms of Chamberlain and Burnett give the Yankee rotation the ability to dominate from top to bottom.
If we are only comparing closers, no one supplants Mariano the great yet. If anyone is going to, however, it's Jonathan Papelbon. The addition of Takashi Saito will be a significant one for the Sox, I believe, and when coupled with Okajima and Delcarmen, he gives the Sox the best 'pen.
Assigning a 3/2/1 point basis to each position battle, the yanks score 24 and the Rays and Sox tie at 18. As I mentioned at the beginning, part of the beauty of baseball is that the whole exceeds the sum of the parts in winning teams. This is one place where the Yanks failed last season.
While it pretty much means nothing, the Yanks come out ahead when comparing the three teams position by position.
I'm sure many will disagree with a lot I wrote—what do you think? Where is my assessment wrong?