I know one of the big questions since I picked Tampa Bay to win the AL Wild Card has been, who's finishing first and third in the AL East?
Well that question gets answered today when I run down the New York Yankees. Not to steal the entire spotlight though, the Washington Nationals are also being previewed, don't forget about them.
ALE: 1, Tampa Bay*, 3, Baltimore, Toronto
ALC: Cleveland, Minnesota, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City
ALW: 1, Oakland, Texas, Seattle
NLE: Florida, 2, New York Mets, 4, 5
NLC: Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, 4, Houston, Pittsburgh
NLW: Arizona, Los Angeles, 3, Colorado, San Diego
* Wild Card
New York Yankees – AL East
Last Year: Finished Third in AL East
Notable Additions: IF Mark Teixeira, OF Nick Swisher, SP A.J. Burnett, SP CC Sabathia
Notable Subtractions: C Ivan Rodriguez, IF Jason Giambi, IF Wilson Betemit, OF Bobby Abreu, SP Carl Pavano, SP Jeff Marquez, SP Mike Mussina
Underrated addition: Nick Swisher
He’ll be missed: Bobby Abreu
Swisher’s gritty attitude should bring some attitude to the Yankee clubhouse. Abreu was a catalyst at the top of the lineup.
Biggest Key to Success: Don’t Disappoint
Let’s get this straight right off the bat.
This team was middle of the road in terms of pitching success last year. They were also a top-10 team, offensively.
That isn’t bad, you could do a whole lot worse. However, the Yankees need to do a whole lot better.
CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett should help that pitching get better. Having Damaso Marte an entire season should help the bullpen and not have the need for Joba Chamberlain to be moving around.
Oh, Joba Chamberlain needs to be healthy and good, same with Chien-Ming Wang. It just isn’t all on the new additions.
Offensively, the Yankees actually made a few changes. All they need to do now is not disappoint everyone.
It’s never about talent with New York, it probably never will be. They’ve got the players, we know that. It’s about performing and staying healthy.
Last year, they lost key people to injuries and even had the performances of some players be minimized by injuries.
Health is always important to a team being successful, but with the Yankees, it’s a lot more than that.
Joe Girardi needs to get his team to play up to the level of their talent and he has to find a way to manage all the egos. He has to get this team to play as a team and to have some fun.
I think he’s already off to a good start in terms of that, but it has to continue and he just has to do what made him successful with Florida.
Biggest Concern: Logjam Un-Jam
New York traded away Wilson Betemit in exchange for surfer dude-like Nick Swisher and his gnarly attitude.
Little did they know that they’d be acquiring Mark Teixeira and then Alex Rodriguez would go down to start the season.
So now they don’t really have anyone to play third and they’ve got too many people that are clogging up the designated hitter and corner outfield spots.
They need Melkey Cabrera in center, because Johnny Damon can no longer handle it and Cabrera is just flat out better. Xavier Nady will be the man in right, which leaves Hideki Matsui and maybe Jorge Posada in the DH spot.
If Posada holds up, he’ll play catcher, but if things start going wrong, he won’t be able to do it full-time.
All of this still makes Nick Swisher a bit of a utility player, which is fine, but they sure would like to have Betemit back right now in terms of his versatility.
Still, the Yankees will make due the best way possible. The one concern though is trying to split up the time between players like Matsui, Swisher, and possibly Posada. They still need to field a capable defense.
Biggest Change: Philosophy Switch
Not in terms of free agents and if they should sign them or not, don’t get my wrong here.
That whole idea of paying for whatever you can get is still there.
The Yankees did alter it though.
Instead of going out and getting every slugger available, the Yankees decided it was time to impact the other aspect of the game. They gave CC Sabathia a blank check and then followed that up by snatching rival A.J. Burnett away from Toronto.
They also re-signed two of their own in Andy Pettitte and relief pitcher Damaso Marte.
The money was flowing, but it was towards pitching, something the Yankees seem to be having issues with the past few years.
Gone though are Carl Pavano, Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, and Mike Mussina, who retired after finally winning 20 games.
This is not the same Yankee team built by the recent Yankee way. Well, it sort of is, but let’s just say they made a shift in focus.
Team MVP: Mark Teixeira, 1B
Welcome to New York, now get to work!
Alex Rodriguez goes down, you are new in town and this is starting to sound too much like a poem or a rap.
But seriously, now that Rodriguez is hurt and this team lost a lot of firepower, Mark Teixeira is the guy.
He’s got to be able to carry this team through some tough stretches. He’s been a consistent hitter in his career, for whatever team he’s been with, reaching the 30 home run, 100 RBI marks the past five years.
Now it’s time to do it on the biggest stage, under the brightest lights, in front of everyone in New York, wearing the pinstripes.
No pressure Mark, none what so ever.
On the Rise: No One
Really...I can’t pinpoint anyone. The team is full of players who are well-established or older.
Or players like Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, who don’t even have spots right now. If I had to pick, I’d pick one of them, but we need to see more and a roster spot.
Obviously with the Rays winning the wild card and second place in the AL East, we’ll find out if I think the Yankees make their return to the playoffs, or if it’s two in a row for the Bronx Bombers.
First, what I like about them.
There isn’t much I love, but there are things I like. As much talent as they have, I don’t think it’s anything too terribly special. It seems as if they can sign all the big names they want, it just doesn’t work like they think it will.
Mark Teixeira was a better signing than CC Sabathia, because he’s a hitter and there’s less of a chance he breaks down and well, Teixeira has been one of the best hitters in the game these past few years.
I really question the A.J. Burnett signing. If I had my pick from the pool, I think Burnett wouldn’t be my first choice. He’s just too injury prone to be handing a bunch of money too. This has the potential to work out like Carl Pavano Part II.
If Chien-Ming Wang is healthy, that will be a big plus for the Yankees. Remember he was their number one pitcher last year before getting hurt, and he can be a very solid number three.
I’ve mentioned very little about Alex Rodriguez, mainly because I don’t think it will be that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. There is potential that he misses a lot more than a month and a half, if so that will hurt.
But if he comes back and is marginal, that is way better than whatever it is they trot out in his place. They’ll be able to get by though.
Overall, they’ve got pitchers and hitters; they got one of the best closers and some decent guys setting him up. Their defense is something that worries me, with Jeter, Posada and Damon all getting older, Teixeira will big a huge upgrade of Giambi, but it is still lacking.
I still don’t like them compared to the other teams in this division. I think the Yankees are destined to finish third once again.
Prediction: Finish Third in the AL East
Washington Nationals – NL East
Last Year: Finished Fifth in NL East
Notable Additions: C Josh Bard, C Javier Valentin, IF Alex Cintron, IF Adam Dunn, OF Corey Patterson, OF Josh Willingham, SP Scott Olsen, SP Daniel Cabrera, SP Gustavo Chacin
Notable Subtractions: IF Emilio Bonifacio, IF Aaron Boone, SP Tim Redding
Underrated addition: Josh Willingham
He’ll be missed: Aaron Boone
Willingham could provide stability in the outfield for once. Boone was a veteran presence on a young team.
Biggest Key to Success: Fall into Place
Wouldn’t it be nice if the addition of Adam Dunn sort of lets everything else to just fall gently into place?
Lastings Milledge falls nicely into the leadoff spot, Elijah Dukes wins the right-field job and produces, Ryan Zimmerman doesn’t have to be the only run-producer, and everything just works.
That would be fantastic for Washington if that all happened. Dunn adds a dimension the Nationals lineup hasn’t really had at all since they’ve been in Washington. Alfonso Soriano was a different type of hitter, but he was a superstar.
Dunn has a legitimate bat that makes the ball go boom. He can make things so much easier for everyone else.
Shortstop Christian Guzman figures to be hitting second with Milledge leading off, which would make Adam Dunn the cleanup hitter behind Zimmerman. There is all sorts of potential there in that top of the lineup.
Only San Diego and San Francisco scored less runs than Washington last year, so it’s important for the Nationals to have a well oiled machine offensively. Dunn could solidify that lineup and make it happen.
But kids like Milledge, Dukes, and catcher Jesus Flores need to feed off what Dunn brings and elevate their games as well.
Biggest Concern: Is Help on the Way?
As bad as the numbers looked offensively for the Nationals, they were just as bad in terms of pitching.
National pitchers gave up the fifth most runs in the entire major leagues last year. With pitching staffs like Baltimore and Detroit ahead of them, that isn’t good company.
Unlike with the offense though, Washington never really added a big name in terms of the rotation. But they did add some names.
Scott Olsen comes over in the deal with the Marlins and he carried a respectable 4.20 ERA last year. He’ll need to slide in with John Lannan as the top of the rotation pitchers.
The wildcard is Daniel Cabrera, because he is truly a wildcard—emphasis on the wild.
Baltimore gave up on Cabrera in the offseason, deciding that his issues with not hitting him people and walking them at alarming rates was never going to be fixed as long as he was an Oriole.
So Washington made a play and he’s now going to try and right the ship. The problem is, he’s wild. That’s a hard thing to fix. There are nights where he is truly un-hittable because his stuff is just that nasty.
There are also nights where he is un-hittable because his stuff is just a little too nasty, but obvious enough to not swing.
Finally there is hope that young Jordan Zimmerman can help from the get-go. If not, he figures to make it to the big leagues soon enough and help impact a rotation that desperately needs impacting.
I’d also have to bring up the slight possibility that we see San Diego State phenom Stephen Strasburg pitching for Washington at some point this season.
While highly unlikely, some scouts seem to think that Strasburg is ready for the majors right now and that after the Nationals draft and sign him, they move him rapidly through their system and get him right to the major leagues as soon as possible.
I don’t see it happening, but at least help is on the way.
Biggest Change: Enough Already!
What is it with this team and outfielders?
Austin Kearns, Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, and Wily Mo Pena are all outfielders that were with the Nationals last year and in the offseason.
Yet, they added, Josh Willingham, Adam Dunn, and even Corey Patterson.
Dunn was figured to be moved to first base, but it looks as if the plan is to keep him in left for now. Perhaps if they trade Nick Johnson, a switch could be made, but for now, two of those outfield spots are filled.
That leaves Kearns, Dukes, and new-comer Willingham all for one spot. They can’t all share it and even if you keep two, one as the fourth outfielder, you still need to get rid of one somehow.
The point is, this team just loves grabbing any outfielder they can find. My question is, if they’ve got like six different guys, how come they can’t find at least two to produce on a consistent basis.
Team MVP: Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
Here’s what’s fun about Ryan Zimmerman.
He was runner up for the Rookie of the Year Award as a 21-year old.
Right now, he’s just 24 years old and he’s already had a 100 RBI season.
Last year was one to forget for Zimmerman though. He wasn’t bad, but he battled through some injuries that made it difficult. Yet he still managed to hit .283 and knock in 51 runs.
A reason for the struggles by the Nationals and their offense could be rooted in the fact that Zimmerman wasn’t healthy and productive.
Now with Adam Dunn around, things should be easier, but overall, this is Zimmerman’s team. He is the main guy in the middle of all the action. They don’t have a solid ace in their rotation, or a go-to closer. But they do have a budding young superstar who is one of the better players in the league.
That is Ryan Zimmerman, and he’ll need to perform like an MVP for Washington to be successful.
On the Rise: Jesus Flores, C
Acquired from the New York Mets via the Rule V draft, Flores has given the Nationals a future at the catching position.
Being very young when the Nationals got him and not even reaching Double-A, Flores was brought along in 2007. Last year when Flores became the starting catcher, things began to start clicking.
Flores will be 24 this season and is going to have the starting gig from the get-go. He should be acclimated to the major leagues by now and he’s only going to build himself from here.
His season was cut short and he only played in 90 games, but 2008 got off fast for Flores and he did end up knocking in 59 runs. This isn’t bad for a kid who’s skipped two levels of professional baseball.
If things played out for Flores, this could be his first year in the majors. So maybe his development is right on track, if not, advanced and this could be the year he breaks out and does some damage.
Washington is still rebuilding. With their issues concerning Jim Bowden seemingly over now that he is no longer a part of the organization, at least they can move on and actually try and rebuild.
Bowden seemed to be a little loopy in the way he acquired talent. Trading for Emilio Bonifacio during the trading deadline and then trading him away in a deal to Florida for Josh Willingham, another outfielder, and Scott Olsen just didn’t seem right.
Especially since the Nationals are threatening to start Anderson Hernandez at second right now or Ronnie Belliard.
Their pitching is a work in progress. Not even things clicking for Daniel Cabrera would be enough at this point; they just have to keep bringing people along.
The offense could be very fun to watch though if it all works out like they plan on it to. They might make some strides in that area and at least make themselves a little more competitive.
Either way, their division is a tough one and I don’t see them scrapping their way past anyone.
Prediction: Finish Last in the NL East
On deck for Monday, Mar. 30: Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants