Here is part two of six of my division previews. This one examines by far the deepest division in baseball, with three teams as serious World Series contenders: the American League East.
1. New York Yankees (103-59)
2. Boston Red Sox (95-67)
3. Tampa Bay Rays (84-78)
4. Toronto Blue Jays (75-87)
5. Baltimore Orioles (64-98)
D: [Below Average]
1. New York Yankees
Key Losses: Brian Bruney, Melky Cabrera, Phil Coke, Johnny Damon, Jerry Hairston, Eric Hinske, Ian Kennedy, Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady
Key Gains: Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson, Boone Logan, Javier Vazquez
Offensive Outlook: A
The 2009 Yankees were top-two in all of baseball in runs scored, RBI, batting average, and on-base percentage. Don't expect things to change, especially in their ballpark. Alex Rodriguez managed to crank out 100 RBI despite missing a month of baseball in 2009. Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, who lived up to his huge contract in his first year, combine to make one of the deadliest duos in a batting lineup. Derek Jeter (.334 avg/66 RBI in 2009) has shown no signs of slowing down, and should be at 3,000 hits in two seasons. Robinson Cano (.320 avg/85 RBI in 2009) also bounced back to have a tremendous year. The Yankees reacquired Nick Johnson (.426 OBP in 2009) who won't hit for power, but will get on base. Curtis Granderson (30 home runs in 2009) should also see his home run numbers go even higher. Even aging Jorge Posada (.285 avg/81 RBI in 2009) has still been productive. The Yankees also have underrated speed demon Brett Gardner (26 stolen bases) and newly acquired veteran Randy Winn to man the outfield. Nick Swisher (82 RBI in 2009) had a good year, too. A bench that include Ramiro Pena (.287 avg in 2009) and Francisco Cervelli (.298 avg in 2009) is a decent one.
Defensive Outlook: B+
The Yankees have an above average defense. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are Gold Glove winners while Girardi has the option of basically playing three centerfielders in the outfield. Robinson Cano has massively improved his defense, while Jorge Posada lets lots (80 in 2009) of stolen bases.
Starting Pitching Outlook: B+
CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA in 2009) was phenomenal and played for his huge contract, even getting fourth place in the Cy Young vote. A.J. Burnett, on the other hand, was a different story. He wasn't bad (13-9, 4.04 ERA in 2009), he just wasn't as good as he got paid to be. He had a high WHIP (1.40) and gave up too many home runs. The Yankees are going to retry Javier Vazquez (15-10, 2.87 ERA in 2009) who I'm skeptical about because he pitched in the NL and has never really performed well in the AL. Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16 ERA in 2009) was also brought back as a reliable third or fourth starter. The fifth starter spot is up for grabs and could go to Joba Chamberlain, who had a 4.78 ERA and only averaged about 5 innings a game as a starter. It also could go to Alfredo Aceves or Phil Hughes, who both also don't have good resumes as starters, but are great relief pitchers.
Relief Pitching Outlook: B+
The Yankees still have the best closer ever in Mariano Rivera (44 saves, 1.76 ERA in 2009) and he's still the best. David Robertson (3.30 ERA in 2009) is a reliable late-inning man, while the Yankees are still waiting for the good (and healthy) Damaso Marte (9.45 ERA in 2009) to show up. If Phil Hughes doesn't get into the rotation, his 1.40 ERA in 2009 proves he's a top reliever in baseball. Chad Gaudin has also made a nice transition to the bullpen. There's also Sergio Mitre and Boone Logan, who are iffy. The real question is whether or not Mark Melancon (3.86 ERA in 2009) can develop into a reliable bullpen arm.
2010 Outlook: A
The Yankees are undoubtedly the best team in baseball. They're coming off another World Championship and didn't lose that much in the offseason. They're arguably better than last year.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
Key Losses: Gabe Gross, Akinori Iwamura, Brian Shouse
Key Gains: Rafael Soriano, Kelly Shoppach
Offensive Outlook: A
The 2009 Rays were top-seven in baseball in runs scored, home runs, RBI, and OPS. Evan Longoria (33 HR/113 RBI in 2009) is the best third baseman in the American League and pairs up with Carlos Pena (100 RBI in 2009) to form another AL East scary duo. Pena is coming back off a finger injury that ended his 2009 campaign. Ben Zobrist, who was surprisingly and scarily good in 2009 (27 home runs/.948 OPS in 2009), will be the everyday second baseman. Jason Bartlett (.320 avg/66 RBI in 2009) is also coming off of a tremendous year. Luckily for the Rays, Carl Crawford (.305 avg/60 stolen bases in 2009) is returning and is still one of the premier base-stealers in baseball. B.J. Upton (.313 OBP in 2009) had a very disappointing 2009 season, but he says that he's healthy now. Gabe Kapler (.239 avg in 2009) is also nothing special and might platoon with Matt Joyce as will Dioner Navarro (.218 avg in 2009) with Kelly Shoppach (.214 avg in 2009) at catcher. Pat Burrell (.221 avg in 2009) has also been trash for the Rays. The bench in Joe Dillon, Reid Brignac, and Willy Aybar is pretty decent and we might see the call-up of Desmond Jennings.
Defensive Outlook: B+
Evan Longoria's already got a Gold Glove in just his second season and the rest of the infield is about as good as it can get in terms of defense. BJ Upton and Carl Crawford in the outfield are also annually snubbed for Gold Glove, although neither catcher is particularly good at throwing people out.
Starting Pitching Outlook: B
The Rays have one of the more underrated rotations in baseball. It is anchored by James Shields (11-12, 4.14 ERA in 2009), who will be dangerous if he refinds his 2008 form. Matt Garza (8-12, 3.95 ERA in 2009) always has no-hitters going late into games, and is unhittable when he keeps his composure in check. Jeff Niemann (13-6, 3.94 ERA in 2009) was an unhearalded rookie that ate a lot of innings. David Price (10-7, 4.42 ERA in 2009) didn't have a spectacular rookie season like many pundits predicted, but he's only 24 and the Red Sox know all too well how much of a threat he is. And the fifth starter will likely be my 2010 preseason pick for Rookie of the Year, Wade Davis. This 24-year old has got nasty stuff and will throw lots of strikeouts. If one of the latter two starters struggles, the Rays could go with Andy Sonnanstine (6-9, 6.77 ERA in 2009) who struggled last year.
Relief Pitching Outlook: B+
Problem solved. The Rays bullpen was the reason they didn't make the playoffs last year. They just couldn't sustain leads. Instead of relying on Troy Percival and Jason Isringhausen, the Rays got Rafael Soriano, who struck out 102 batters in 75.2 innings in 2009. J.P. Howell (2.84 ERA in 2009) is a great setup man and Dan Wheeler (3.28 ERA in 2009), Randy Choate (3.47 ERA in 2009) and Lance Cormier (3.26 ERA in 2009) have both proven to be reliable. Grant Balfour (4.81 ERA/5 blown saves in 2009) will need to regain form if the Rays are to be successful.
2010 Outlook: A-
The Rays fixed their biggest problem and that was their bullpen. They've got tons of prospects that they could call up, a potent offense, and a pretty decent and young pitching staff.
3. Boston Red Sox
Key Losses: Jason Bay, Alex Gonzalez, Nick Green, Casey Kotchman, Takashi Saito
Key Gains: Adrian Beltre, Boof Bonser, Mike Cameron, Bill Hall, Jeremy Hermida, John Lackey, Marco Scutaro
Offesnive Outlook: C
The loss of Jason Bay hurts. The Red Sox have three great bats, which is unfortunately not enough to compete in the AL East. Victor Martinez (.303 avg/108 RBI in 2009), Kevin Youkilis (27 home runs/94 RBI in 2009), and Dustin Pedroia (.296 avg/72 RBI in 2009) are going to have to carry the offensive load for Boston. If those three can stay healthy and produce, then the Red Sox are in good shape. Speed demon Jacoby Ellsbury (.301 avg/70 stolen bases in 2009) also plays his role well. Marco Scutaro is coming off a career year where he bested his averages in everything. Adrian Beltre (.304 OBP in 2009) has failed to ever come close again to his magical 2004 season. 37-year old Mike Cameron is a huge downgrade from Jason Bay and J.D. Drew (.279 avg/68 RBI in 2009), while not playing terrible, isn't playing worth the contract he signed. David Ortiz is declining and 2009 was by far his worst year in Boston (.794 OPS in 2009). The Red Sox are still trying to get rid of Mike Lowell and their bench is pretty weak in Bill Hall (.201 avg in 2009), Jason Varitek (.209 avg in 2009), Jed Lowrie (.147 avg in 2009), while Jeremy Hermida (47 RBI in 2009) might have been a good pickup.
Defensive Outlook: A+
With their defensive upgrades, the Red Sox might be the best defensive team in baseball. Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Beltre, and Mike Cameron all are former Gold Glove winners. Getting Jacoby Ellsbury out of center field will also help the Red Sox a lot because of his weak arm.
Starting Pitching Outlook: A
The Red Sox rotation is loaded and clearly the deepest in baseball. Josh Beckett (17-6, 3.86 ERA in 2009) is coming off another All-Star year and averaged 6.2 innings a game. Jon Lester (15-8, 3.41 ERA in 2009) is the best Red Sox pitcher and he struck out 225 batters in 203.1 innings. The Red Sox also added 'bulldog' John Lackey (11-8, 3.83 ERA in 2009), who is reliable but will need to stay healthy. Things aren't going too well for Daisuke Matsuzaka (4-6, 5.76 ERA in 2009), who was hiding an injury in 2009, but reports are out the he's had a good offseason. There's also 25-yeard old Clay Buchholz (7-4, 4.21 ERA in 2009) who is sitll developing and needs to be more consistent. Tim Wakefield (11-5, 4.58 ERA in 2009) is also an option, although he wasn't stellar in 2009 and got lots of run support. The Boston Herald reports many assume Wakefield will be the odd man out, which will be a good thing, because he's clearly at the bottom of this talented pack.
Relief Pitching Outlook: A-
Outside of the playoffs in 2009, Jonathan Papelbon (38 saves, 1.85 ERA in 2009) was one of the best closers in baseball. Ramon Ramirez (2.84 ERA in 2009) had an underappreciated season in 2009. Hideki Okajima (3.39 ERA in 2009) has continued to be reliable, while Manny Delcarmen (4.53 ERA in 2009) collapsed in the second half of the season last year. If Daniel Bard (3.65 ERA in 2009) and Michael Bowden (9.56 ERA in 2009) figure out how to control their stuff, then the Red Sox will be in excellent shape. Brian Shouse (4.50 ERA in 2009), Boof Bonser (5.93 ERA in 2009), and Joe Nelson (4.02 ERA in 2009) could compete for a bullpen position.
2010 Outlook: B+
I'm not saying the Red Sox aren't going to have a good year or not win over 85 games. I'm saying the Rays and Yankees are just better because a lack of consistent run production will be a problem for the Red Sox in 2010. Defensive upgrades can only do so much.
4. Baltimore Orioles
Key Losses: Danys Baez, Melvin Mora, Chris Ray
Key Gains: Garrett Atkins, Mike Gonzalez, Kevin Millwood, Miguel Tejada
Offensive Outlook: B
Offense clearly wasn't the problem for the Orioles in 2009. They've arguably got the best offensive outfield in baseball. Nick Markakis (.293 avg/101 RBI in 2009) continues to be the most underrated player in baseball. Adam Jones (70 RBI in 2009) had a breakout season even though it was cut short. And Nolan Reimold (.279 avg/15 home runs) had a good rookie season. Brian Roberts (.283 avg/79 RBI/30 stolen bases) is still very productive. Luke Scott showed us last year that he's great contributor (25 home runs/77 RBI in 2009) before his season got cut short. Matt Wieters (.288 avg/9 home runs in 2009) has the weight of Baltimore on his back like Andy Murray does Britain. The Orioles brought in Garrett Atkins (.226 avg in 2009) to start at first base after a terrible 2009 season. They also brought back Miguel Tejada (.313 avg/86 RBI in 2009) to play third base, and he's still good. Cesar Izturis (.294 OBP in 2009) is mainly at shortstop for defensive purposes. The Orioles have a decent bench in Ty Wigginton, Felix Pie, and Michael Aubrey.
Defensive Outlook: B
Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Nolan Reimold are studs in the outfield. Brian Roberts can stay play a great second and Miguel Tejada will be shifting over from shortop to third base. Matt Wieters will be tested some this year.
Starting Pitching Outlook: C-
It can't be any worse than last year, where the Orioles' starters had the worst ERA (5.37) in all of baseball. They also threw less innings than any other rotation. The Orioles brought in Kevin Millwood (13-10, 3.67 ERA in 2009) after a career year in Texas where he pitched exceptionally well at the hitters' Ballpark in Arlington. Brad Bergesen (7-5, 3.43 ERA in 2009) was the Rookie of the Year before getting hit by a baseball last year. Jeremy Guthrie (10-17, 5.04 ERA in 2009) had a terrible season, leading the league in losses and home runs given up. The other spots could go to Chris Tillman and Brian Matsuz, who have a total of 20 big league games experience between them, but they are the Orioles' future. Jason Berken (6-12, 6.54 ERA in 2009) and David Hernandez (4-10, 5.42 ERA in 2009) could start the 2010 season in the bullpen.
Relief Pitching Outlook: C+
The bullpen will be interesting. There's a surplus of pitchers. The bullpen was the third worst in all of baseball last year. However, they did acquire Mike Gonzalez (2.42 ERA in 2009). He's quite good, but his seven blown saves aren't appealing. Jim Johnson (4.11 ERA in 2009) will be the setupman, but he also blew six saves last year. Former starter Koji Uehara (4.05 ERA in 2009) will transition to the bullpen. Cla Meredith (3.99 ERA in 2009), Dennis Sarfate (5.09 ERA in 2009) and Matt Albers (5.51 ERA in 2009) all could play important roles. Kam Mickolio (2.63 ERA in 2009) is also another bright arm in the O's future.
2010 Outlook: C-
It must be the worst feeling to have to play in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. The Orioles won't make a run this year, but they've got tons of young bats and arms and should be hopeful for the future.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
Key Losses: Roy Halladay, Rod Barajas, Brandon League, Kevin Millar, Marco Scutaro
Key Gains: Lance Broadway, John Buck, Alex Gonzalez, Brandon Morrow
Offensive Outlook: C-
Two stars emerged for the Blue Jays in 2009. Second baseman Aaron Hill (36 home runs/108 RBI) had an absolute monster season as did designated hitter Adam Lind (35 home runs/114 RBI). They both cranked out homers and drove in runs while maintaining high batting averages. The rest of the offense isn't pretty. John Buck (.247 avg/36 RBI in 2009) is the new catcher. At first base is inconsistent Lyle Overbay (.265 avg/64 RBI in 2009) and rumors are that the Jays have stopped pursuing Carlos Delgado. At third base is Edwin Encarnacion (.225 avg/13 home runs in 2009) who hasn't lived up to his potential or been healthy. The Jays also brought in Alex Gonzalez (.279 OBP in 2009) to play shortstop, a clear offensive downgrade. Vernon Wells (.260 avg/.711 OPS in 2009) has a miserable season last year and is justifying his contract label as one of the worst in history. 22-year old Travis Snider (9 home runs in 2009) has potential while Randy Ruiz (.313 avg/10 home runs in 2009) had a surprisingly decent year. Jose Bautista (.235 avg in 2009) also has to bring his batting average up. The bench of Jarrett Hoffpauir, John McDonald, and Raul Chavez is a pretty weak one.
Defensive Outlook: A
The Blue Jays were the best defensive team in the American League last year. Alex Gonzalez is a defensive upgrade from Marco Scutaro while Aaron Hill is a great defensive second baseman. Edwin Encarnacion, however, is a bit sketchy defensively.
Starting Pitching Outlook: D+
The Jays traded a Toronto hero in Roy Halladay. Ricky Romero (13-9, 4.30 ERA in 2009) will try to fill his void. Romero had an up-and-down 2009 year after starting the season on-fire. Bradon Morrow lacked an identity in Seattle, but he's got great stuff. As a starter in 2009, he had a 3.68 ERA. Shaun Marcum will make his return to pitching after missing the 2009 season due to Tommy surgery. Remember that he had an excellent (3.39 ERA in 2008) season the last time he pitched. Dustin McGowan also hasn't pitched since the 2008 season, but is throwing off the mound without pain. Brett Cecil (7-4, 5.30 ERA in 2009) suffered a lack of consistency and giving up too many hits in his rookie season, as did Scott Richmond (8-11, 5.52 ERA in 2009). Marc Rzepczynski (3.67 ERA in 2009) looked like he had some good stuff. Jesse Litsch is supposed to rejoin the team halfway through the season and we could see some Kyle Drabek this year.
Relief Pitching Outlook: C
The Jays have depth in their bullpen, that's for sure. Jason Frasor (11 saves, 2.50 ERA in 2009) is a reliable closer. Scott Downs (3.09 ERA in 2009) has proven himself to be reliable. Jeremy Accardo (2.55 ERA in 2009) had a good year, but will need to lower his WHIP. Shawn Camp (3.50 ERA in 2009) was also reliable by sustaining leads. Brian Tallet will transition to the bullpen after a subpar 2009 while Casey Janssen (5.85 ERA in 2009) and Jesse Carlson (4.66 ERA in 2009) gave up too many runs. The Jays also acquired Merkin Valdez (5.66 ERA in 2009) who has good stuff, but lacks control.
2010 Outlook: D
The Jays lost their best player. Their starting rotation is full of inexperienced players and Aaron Hill and Adam Lind can only do so much. Hey, maybe Vernon Wells will decide to show up this year.
2010 PRESEASON ALL-AL EAST TEAM (and ranking the rest)
CATCHER: Victor Martinez (Boston)
2. Jorge Posada (Nyy)
3. Matt Wieters (Bal)
4. John Buck (Tor)
5. Kelly Shoppach (Tam)
FIRST BASE: Mark Teixeira (New York)
2. Kevin Youkilis (Bos)
3. Carlos Pena (Tam)
4. Lyle Overbay (Tor)
5. Garrett Atkins (Bal)
SECOND BASE: Aaron Hill (Toronto)
2. Ben Zobrist (Tam)
3. Robinson Cano (Nyy)
4. Dustin Pedroia (Bos)
5. Brian Roberts (Bal)
SHORTSTOP: Derek Jeter (New York)
2. Jason Bartlett (Tam)
3. Marco Scutaro (Bos)
4. Alex Gonzalez (Tor)
5. Cesar Izturis (Bal)
THIRD BASE: Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay)
2. Alex Rodriguez (Nyy)
3. Miguel Tejada (Bal)
4. Adrian Beltre (Bos)
5. Edwin Encarnacion (Tor)
LEFT FIELD: Carl Crawford (Tampa Bay)
2. Jacoby Ellsbury (Bos)
3. Nolan Reimold (Bal)
4. Brett Gardner (Nyy)
5. Travis Snider (Tor)
CENTER FIELD: Adam Jones (Baltimore)
2. Curtis Granderson (Nyy)
3. B.J. Upton (Tam)
4. Vernon Wells (Tor)
5. Mike Cameron (Bos)
RIGHT FIELD: Nick Markakis (Baltimore)
2. J.D. Drew (Bos)
3. Nick Swisher (Nyy)
4. Jose Bautisa (Tor)
5. Gabe Kapler (Tam)
DESIGNATED HITTER: Adam Lind (Toronto)
2. Luke Scott (Bal)
3. David Ortiz (Bos)
4. Nick Johnson (Nyy)
5. Pat Burrell (Tam)
STARTING PITCHER: CC Sabathia (New York)
STARTING PITCHER: Jon Lester (Boston)
STARTING PITCHER: Josh Beckett (Boston)
STARTING PITCHER: Javier Vazquez (New York)
STARTING PITCHER: Kevin Millwood (Baltimore)
6. John Lackey (Bos)
7. Matt Garza (Tam)
8. Brad Bergesen (Bal)
9. A.J. Burnett (Nyy)
10. James Shields (Tam)
11. Andy Pettitte (Nyy)
12. Jeff Niemann (Tam)
13. Clay Buchholz (Bos)
14. Ricky Romero (Tor)
15. Brandon Morrow (Tor)
SETUP: Phil Hughes (New York)
2. J.P. Howell (Tam)
3. Scott Downs (Tor)
4. Hideki Okajima (Bos)
5. Jim Johnson (Bal)
CLOSER: Mariano Rivera (New York)
2. Jonathan Papelbon (Bos)
3. Mike Gonzalez (Bal)
4. Rafael Soriano (Tam)
5. Jason Frasor (Tor)