At the start of every year, sports writers, experts and fans come in with preconceived notions about the outcome of the upcoming season.
Important as free agent pickups and call-ups may be, I find it inconsequential unless that seriously changes the core of the team. It's easy for a fan or a writer to jump on the Yankees bandwagon on the merits of some flashy free agent signings, but I believe that's not important enough.
The totality is still more important. So keeping that in mind, let's go on to my 2009 MLB Preview.
American League East
I think the Red Sox will ultimately win the division. They're too good at every phase of the game.
Most people would say that losing Manny affected them more than they want to admit. Jason Bay is a solid replacement for Manny. The production is almost identical and he's a better base runner, defensive outfielder and, most importantly, not a bad teammate.
Starting Rotation: Beckett, Penny, Lester, Dice-k and Wakefield. That's a starting rotation to envy.
With two potential Cy Young Award candidates, a very good young starter in Lester and Mr. Consistency, Tim Wakefield, in the five spot, there is only one word to describe such a rotation—formidable.
Bullpen: With Papelbon closing games, Okajima in the eighth inning and, what I remember was solid middle relief last year with guys like Del Carmen, the Sox 'pen at the very least will not be a liability in 2009.
Defense: The defense is very solid down the middle, with Varitek, Pedroia, Lowrie and Ellsbury. At the corners, both Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis are Gold Glove-caliber fielders. Drew and Bay are solid, steady guys who will not create problems at their positions. Defensively, I would rate them as one of the best in the league.
American League Central
The Detroit Tigers were a massive disappointment in 2008 after being hyped the whole winter as having the greatest offense to play the game since the 1927 Yankees.
Well, that same lineup is coming back. But, more importantly, their rotation is one year older and healthy. Granderson, Polanco, Guillen, Cabrera, Granderson, Ordonez are all very good hitters.
The Tigers will not have any trouble scoring runs.
Rotation: Justin Verlander is either the ace that never was or the ace that someday will be. That's the question.
I believe he's due for a comeback this season after an atrocious 2008 season.
Gallaraga will be consistent and once Bonderman comes back, he'll be a solid third starter. Edwin Jackson has been pitching. The Tiger's strength is not in their rotation but it'll be adequate enough to keep them in games with the offense scoring as many runs as they should.
Bullpen: Fernando Rodney is very solid, Zumaya was lights out in 2006 and Brandon Lyon was solid as a starter, so he'll be good in relief. Once again, not a liability to the team.
Defense: Up the middle are Laird, Everett, Polanco and Granderson. They are solid—not great nor horrible. Gerald Laird isn't the best defensive catcher ever but he's serviceable. Middle infield is above average and Granderson is a great defender.
At the corners, Cabrera is an unspirited and lackadaisical defender. It was a matter of time until he played first base.
Brandon Inge is an amazing defensive player especially at the hot corner. He'll excel at that position. Ordonez and Guillen wil be solid, even though Guillen has never played the outfield. Left field is not a particularly hard position to play especially with Granderson in center.
American League West
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the team with best record in the majors last year, will keep it up despite the slow start to the season. I give my condolences to the Angels organization and the Adenhart family for their loss.
Nick was a promising young pitcher taken from us too soon.
Lineup: The stalwart is gone. For the first time in a long time, Garrett Anderson willl not be roaming the outfield for the Angels but his production has been replaced by Bobby Abreu, a sure thing for a 100 RBI every season.
Guerrero, Hunter and Napoli are the heart of the lineup Figgins and Kendrick set up the table and Morale, Aybar and Rivera are at the bottom. Overall, there is a good balance of power and speed and power and contact—a do-all line-up very adept at playing Scioscia's style of ball.
Rotation: Lackey, Weaver, Escobar, Santana and Saunders. That is how good the Angels' rotation could be when healthy yet Santana, Lackey and Escobar are all out. For the mean time, Dustin Moseley and Darren Oliver and other assorted figures will have to fill in for the missing starters. But once healthy, this rotation can be among the best in all of the Major Leagues.
Bullpen: No team lost more of their bullpen in this offseason than the Angels. Francisco Rodriguez left for the Mets via free agency. Though he has been replaced by Brian Fuentes, the former closer of the Colorado Rockies. The eighth inning will be handled by Justin Speier. This bullpen isn't a classic, good Angels' bullpen but they'll get the job done in the eighth and ninth even though the sixth and seventh will be an issue, especially as their top three starters are injured.
Defense: Up the middle, Napoli, Aybar, Kendrick and Hunter. Howie and Torii are very good at their position. Aybar and Napoli are average fielders but not by any means detriments to the team. At the corners, Morales and Figgins, Chone is a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman and Morales has proven to be very good in his limited time with the club at first base.
Guerrero has arguably the best throwing arm in the history of the league and is a very adept right fielder. Abreu is a solid fielder, though he is scared of making plays against the wall.
American League Wild Card
The New York Yankees spent a gazillion dollars during the winter in signing free agents and another bazillion dollars on a new stadium but all it'll give them is a spot as the wild card team.
Lineup: Alex Rodriguez is injured. He'll comeback from a hip surgery in the first couple weeks of May. Texeira will do what he does: 35 homers and 110 RBI. Jeter will get on base and so will Robinson Cano. Posada will have a bounce back year after a fairly bad 2008.
Johnny Damon is a solid hitter. He'll hit .280 and be a factor. Matsui will almost assuredly drive in 100 runs, nothing new and alarming.
The Yankees will score runs but won't be Murderer's Row or the 1961 Bombers, but proficient and sufficient at the bat and the base paths.
Rotation: Sabathia, Wang, Pettite, Chamberlain and Burnett. That is a great rotation no matter what one says. One Cy Young winner, a great sinker ball pitcher, a downright nasty veteran, one up and coming mega-star and another supremely consistent performer. The rotation will not be a problem and by Memorial Day, they'll go into a groove with Sabathia, Burnett and Wang having quality start after quality start.
Bullpen: Mariano Rivera has been the Sandman. He comes in and puts you to sleep, though he is in the back end of his career. His stuff is still nasty and he has a routine and disposition that makes him a great closer.
Marte is a great eighth inning guy and Bruney and Veras will be able to hold down the sixth and seventh inning all season. I'm not supremely confident in this, but their bullpen will not lose them many more games than the average one, so it will not be a huge issue.
Defense: Up the middle are Posada, Jeter, Cano and Gardner. Posada used to be a much better defensive catcher but he is still very good, especially at throwing runners out. Cano and Jeter is a great double play combination and Gardner will be solid. At the corners, A-Rod and Teixera are both Gold Glove caliber fielders. Nady, Swisher and Damon in any combination will be solid in the outfield.