As we creep our way to the start of Spring Training for the 2011 MLB season, we begin to see teams take the forms of the finished products we will see on opening day.
There is of course still time for moves to be made as a handful of impact free agents remain. However for the most part these are the teams we will be seeing on Opening Day 2011.
This means that we can begin to imagine what some of the more important matchups throughout this upcoming season will look at. For now, we will compare the Yankees' lineup, defense, pitching and intangibles against the top competition in the American League.
First, lets just start by looking at the Yankees and establishing their own strengths and weaknesses.
Offense: The Yankees will once again boast a fearsome and potentially lethal lineup in 2011. Led by MVP candidate Robinson Cano, the 2010 Yankees finished first in the AL in runs scored.
In addition to Cano, the Yankees will field one of the most potent infields in all of baseball. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter will be back to take their places at the top of the order; both are hoping for a rebound seasons of sorts.
Rodriguez was inconsistent in 2010 and the hope is that his nagging injuries are finally healed and not a sign of him breaking down. The spotlight will also be on Jeter as he hopes to rebound after his worst professional season and a messy offseason negotiation.
Mark Teixeira will be back in the three hole and is hoping to avoid the poor early starts that have plagued him throughout his career.
The outfield of Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher remains in tact providing the lineup with some solid speed and pop.
The biggest changes will be at the designated hitter/catcher positions as Jorge Posada begins a transformation to more of a regular DH. This will put more of the catching duty on newcomer Russell Martin and prospect Jesus Montero, who will be fighting for starts in Spring Training.
The catching position will be a question mark but the rest of the lineup is still lethal as long as age does not fully catch up with some of the Yankees stars.
The Yankees have been able to turn defense from a weakness to a strength in recent years for a number of reasons.
The outfield "D" is solid as Granderson and Gardner cover as much ground as any outfielders, and Swisher has become very comfortable with right field at Yankee Stadium. The arms in the outfield are average at best and are the main weakness of the Yankees defensively.
The infield features three 2010 Gold Glove winners, although the merit's of Jeter's award are certainly debatable. Jeter and Rodriguez have both slowed down and do not cover quite as much ground as they used to on the left side, however they are still both completely serviceable.
Cano and Teixeira probably comprise the best defensive right side of the infield as Cano has become a master at turning the double play, while Teixeira simply helps make everyone around him look better.
Catching is again the key issue as Martin is coming back from a painful hip injury, Posada has regressed, and Montero is unproven. Francisco Cervelli may be the Yankees best defensive catcher but the team is certainly hoping one of the more proven bats can step up and be adequate defensively.
The Yankees starting rotation is in serious flux after the team whiffed on signing free agent Cliff Lee. Ace CC Sabathia returns as does 18 game winner Phil Hughes. The Yankees know what they will get from CC and hope that Hughes takes another step forward instead of plateauing in development.
After that the Yankees are relying on AJ Burnett to have a comeback year under new pitching coach Larry Rothschild and be a force not a burden in their rotation.
The team also desperately needs Andy Pettitte to return to give the Yankees any kind of formidable rotation. If not the Yankees will rely on youngsters such as Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre to fill out the rotation.
The bullpen could be a strength as all time great close Mariano Rivera returns for another season in the Bronx. The Yankees added Pedro Feliciano from the cross town Mets and he should be a welcome addition to current set up men Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson.
Both Joba and Robertson are somewhat unproven in the 8th inning role but the hope is that they can platoon to give the Yankees some good depth in that spot.
The Yankees should come into 2011 as a highly motivated group after a 2010 season that ended in disappointment.
In addition, the fact that the Yankees made few moves means that the team is relatively intact from the last two seasons and should continue the strong clubhouse chemistry.
Manager Joe Girardi took some heat for some of the ways he handled things last season and he will have to have a better year in 2011 to get his team to the playoffs in an improved league.
This veteran-laden team should be strong in 2011 and will be able to overcome adversity that it will no doubt be faced with.
Offense: Simply by getting first baseman Kendry Morales back from an injury that cost him most of 2010 the Angels lineup will be slightly improved. The lineup is speedy and they will battle you 1-9.
However, the Angels missed a serious chance to upgrade their lineup by failing to land Carl Crawford. Because of this the lineup remains uninspiring and certainly a step behind the Yankees.
Defense: This team features a bevy of talented infielders such as Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo and Maicer Izturis. The outfield defense is also strong with Torii Hunter now manning right field and youngster Peter Bourjos in center.
Defense is something manager Mike Scioscia constantly preaches and it certainly a strength of this team that matches and might exceed the Yankees on.
Pitching: Jered Weaver and Dan Haren give the Angels a good pair of young power arms atop the rotation. Ervin Santana, Joel Piniero and Scott Kazmir round out a very solid rotation that turns the ball over to a still fine bullpen featuring Scot Shield and Fernando Rodney.
The Angels closing situation is obviously not as strong as the Yankees and they lack a CC type ace, but the depth of the rotation could give the Angels an edge throughout a regular season race.
Intangibles: Scioscia is on of the finest managers in the MLB and his teams are always geared and ready to play, especially against the Yankees. The Yankees may hold some mental edge because of their victory in the 2009 ALCS, but knowing Scioscia he will have his team on trail for revenge in 2011.
Offense: Although the Rangers have yet to re-sign Vlad Guerrero, the Rangers will still boast one of the few lineups in all of MLB that can truly stack up with the Yankees. Anchored by Josh Hamilton, the Rangers' lineup will be one of the best in 2011.
The Rangers are also apparently on the verge of picking up third baseman Adrian Beltre who had a stellar 2011. If the can do that and convince Michael Young to stay on as a super utility man, this lineup could be legendary.
Defense: The Rangers also feature strong defense all across the board, and if Beltre is added it will give them probably the best defensive left side of the infield in baseball.
There's no glaring weakness for this Rangers' team defensively, unless Vlad Guerrero comes back to play right field in the World Series again.
Pitching: Here is where the Rangers' problems had been until the Cliff Lee trade. Not having Lee would have likely meant a first round defeat last season and this year not having him will hurt their chances of even returning to the playoffs.
Depending on if Neftali Feliz stays in the pen or goes to the rotation we will see where the Rangers biggest hole is, but either way they do not have the arms yet to repeat as AL champs.
Intangibles: This team has great chemistry and character, all stemming from Manager Ron Washington's style. They will face adversity this season and will bounce back in what should be a good race between them and the Angels.
Offense: The Twins' lineup is of course anchored around Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Morneau missed most of last season and his return will give the Twins a better shot at a postseason run.
The offense is balanced with speedsters such as Denard Span and additional power hitters such as Michael Cuddyer and Jim Thome. This lineup is certainly good enough to make them heavy AL Central favorites, but in the past it has faltered come playoff time.
Defense: The Twins pride themselves on defense and it should continue to be a major strength in 2011. It all starts with Mauer behind the plate who is simply one of the best in the game.
Their defense is likely superior to the Yankees and would likely be a factor if the Twins finally get past the Yankees in the playoffs.
Pitching: Francisco Liriano leads a staff that features a slew of solid, dependable starters. It will be key for the Twins to re-sign Carl Pavano, who had an outstanding season for them.
The bullpen is also a strength especially with the return of close Joe Nathan. Despite this the lack of a CC-type ace and veterans around one, the Twins pitching will probably fail in comparison to the Yankees.
Intangibles: Despite having one of the best managers in baseball in Ron Gardenhire, it is highly likely that the multiple postseason failures at the hands of the Yankees has crept into the minds of the players.
Another AL Central crown may be in this teams future but an extended postseason run may have to go through New York, something Twins fans are all too used to.
Offense: The additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to an already fearsome lineup give the Sox a lineup that can stack up and surpass the Yankees on every level. Add Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and JD Drew to the new additions and something scary is brewing.
It is hard to say a lineup can be clearly better than the Yankees stellar batting order, but this Red Sox lineup certainly has the potential to be one of the best in baseball.
Defense: The defense is another thing that should be drastically improved with the new additions as both have Gold Glove potential.
If Kevin Youkilis can make a smooth transition back to third base and the team can find something that fits at catcher, the defense should be a top flight one.
Pitching: The Red Sox feature a true ace in Jon Lester at the top to matchup with young ace Clay Buchholz. Bounce back years are possible from Josh Beckett and John Lackey who both struggled through much of 2010 but have the veteran makeup to recover from it.
The Red Sox have attempted to deepen a bullpen that was suspect in 2010 by adding Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, but the question at the end of the pen with Jonathan Papelbon remains. The Red Sox should certainly have a better rotation than the Yankees but will Papelbon's struggles hold them back?
Intangibles: Terry Francona is a championship-winning manager and he will get this team to gel quickly and they will be a force to be reckoned with. They must avoid the injury bug that plagued them a year ago as a few early injuries could see the team and its fans hit the panic button.
In the end, I expect this team to win the American League East and leave the Yankees with the wild card. Despite this I think if the Yankees can settle some pitching issues it will be these two teams fighting it out in the ALCS.