The AL East saw a great deal of action this off season, with a handful a familiar faces changing uniforms within the division. Mostly to the dismay of Tampa Bay, who lost left fielder Carl Crawford to Boston and closer Rafael Soriano to New York. The East also welcomes Padres’ slugger Adrian Gonzalez, whose long anticipated arrival to the Red Sox was finally cemented in December.
With all these high profile transactions, it’s easy to lose focus of some of the key players who should be expected to bring more to their team in 2011 than they did in 2010; players who didn’t live up to their potential this past season. Josh Beckett is one such star on the rebound, and he, among several others, may very well prove to be just as important as any of the newer faces in the dugout. Let’s take a look up and down the AL East and focus on players who find themselves in similar situations…
2009- 17-6 (32 starts) /3.86 ERA
2010- 6-6 (21 starts)/ 5.78 ERA
Josh Beckett enters the 2011 season at 30 years of age. This is still a young ball player who should be in the prime of his career. That being said, question marks exist surrounding what to expect from Beckett going forward, as 2010 saw arguably his worst contribution in a Major League uniform, and certainly his worst with the Red Sox. Any time you have a player coming off of a season nagged by injury, it can be hard to really gauge how much of his “mojo” will come with him. Being that Beckett is young, I find it hard to believe he doesn’t have some good years left in him. As the 2009 numbers above indicate, he’s got a lot more talent than displayed in 2010. And, with the Sox bulking up their bullpen with Bobby Jenks, they essentially have three closers (Jenks, Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard). That bullpen should provide relief for Beckett, who might be aiming for six innings per outing, given the recent injuries. And, the offense should offer enough run support.
I don’t necessarily expect him to match his 2007 season (20-7, 3.27 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 194 K) but I think we can expect something more accurately resembling of his big league skill and swagger.
2011- 17-8/ 3.9 ERA
2009- .334 avg/ 18 HR/ .406 OBP
2010– .270 avg/ 10 HR/ .340 OBP
Shortstop Derek Jeter has been the leader of the New York Yankees for a decade and a half at this point. He’ll be turning 37 years of age, mid-season, and it’s difficult to expect him to ever match the sort of numbers that he put up in 2009. Really, with any athlete, is can be assumed that the last few years of their career will be bringing their career averages down, not up, as age becomes a factor. That being said, Jeter has plentry of room for improvement on his 2010 season, while still not approaching his career averages, and I believe he’ll see a resurgence in 2011. He’s a fighter; a deeply driven competitor.
While you can’t will yourself younger, Jeter will work tirelessly to prove to himself that he’s still got it, and is worth the recent contract. He’ll make adjustments to his game as he ages and put together a couple more seasons that are more characteristic of his Hall of Fame career.
2011- .302 avg/ 12 HR/ .385 OBP
2009- 38/41 save opportunities, 1.85 ERA
2010- 37/45 save opportunities, 3.90 ERA
Red Sox’ closer Jonathan Papelbon is another player in the organization who is looking to rebound from a lackluster performance in 2010. With career highs in blown saves (8) as well as ERA (3.90), the 30 year old right handed flame thrower definitely has higher expectations for 2011. His numbers in 2009 are more what you’d hope for from your closer – and that certainly wasn’t his best year, either, believe it or not. The Sox have also been grooming Daniel Bard, who has one of the dirtiest fastballs you’ll see in the league. Bard, along with recently acquired Bobby Jenks, offer Boston some flexibility in the role of closer. Papelbon, as fierce as he is, will not want to see that flexibility be tested.
Having recently reached a deal through arbitration, and having declared previously that he believes his stuff is worth as much as any closer in the game, Papelbon will be locked in with the intent to showcase every bit of that worth. Along with a new battery mate and new pitching coach, Pap may have all the tools and incentives needed to provide a fresh approach to his role in 2011.
2011- 39/43 save opportunities, 1.95 ERA
2007- .300 avg/ 24 HR/ 82 RBI
2010- .237 avg/ 18 HR/ 62 RBI
2002’s second overall pick in the draft had his breakout year in 2007, showing that he had considerable pop in his bat for someone weighing in well under 200lbs, and enough speed to nab 40-plus bases a season. BJ Upton has not seen as much success at the plate since that year, but 2010 did witness the return of some of that power. Tampa Bay’s centerfielder will need to reach his potential again if the franchise is to be competitive this upcoming season, as key players have exited their roster, yet remained within their division; Carl Crawford to Boston and Rafael Soriano to the Yankees.
Upton has an excellent skill set, and that’s exactly what Tampa saw in him when they drafted him so early. 2010 saw his average shrink, but homeruns and RBI were up thanks to an improved performance after the all star break. Look for Upton to build on that second-half success, and carry it into 2011, for a more consistent contribution.
2011- .284 avg/ 21 HR/ 74 RBI
2007- .332 avg/ 35 HR/ 117 RBI
2010- .270 avg/ 32 HR/ 102 RBI
Big Papi, as he’s known, has seemingly seen his best years gone by. Hard to argue with the likelihood of that being true, given that Ortiz is 35 years of age. Even still, this is a player who has for the most part played the DH role for his career, so his body hasn’t seen the wear and tear that many other 35 year olds have. Also, his best years, without question, were with Boston, batting third in the lineup with the protection of Manny Ramirez behind him, who was probably the best hitting right-handed slugger of his era. Papi’s 2007 numbers reflect the damage he was capable of under those conditions. 2008 brought injury, and things haven’t really been the same since. Even his 2010 numbers, which look pretty decent on paper, are a bit misleading: .363 avg, 10 HR and 27 RBI in the month of May inflate his statistics a bit. He also set a career high for strikeouts.
Ortiz should benefit from the addition of first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the lineup. If the Sox pair these two the way they did with Papi and Ramirez before, expect the aging Ortiz to come to life a little and put up his best numbers since 2007
2011- .291 avg/ 31 HR/ 109 RBI
2008- .283 avg/ 24 HR/ 74 RBI
2010- .268 avg/ 6 HR/ 38 RBI
Baltimore’s new shortstop JJ Hardy had his greatest success in 2007 and 2008 with the Milwaukee Brewers. His statistics during those two seasons mirrored each other pretty closely, and reflected his potential and growth at the major league level. The following two seasons have been far less impressive, and even saw Hardy spending time in Triple A.
The Orioles are taking a chance that Hardy can return to form, to the tune of nearly six million dollars. Maybe that will prove to be a vote of confidence for Hardy, and that, combined with the fresh start on a new team, will be just what the doctor ordered. Keep an eye on Hardy to make a significant impact for the O’s in 2011.
2011- .276 avg/ 17 HR/ 69 RBI
2009- .305 avg/ 35 HR/ 114 RBI
2010- .237 avg/ 23 HR/ 72 RBI
Adam Lind offered the Blue Jays some solid numbers in 2010, but hardly what was expected, coming off of his superstar year of 2009. In his first season as a full time starter, Lind posted outstanding numbers, earning a contract extension which will see his base salary rise from $400,000 this past season to five million in 2011. Talk about movin’ on up. Lind is a talented hitter and should be able to put up numbers more deserving of that salary, regardless of what struggles he faced in 2010. Perhaps the pressure of his new deal, signed in April of last year, got to him.
Toronto’s DH will rediscover his consistency at the plate and serve up a much better season in 2011. If other players can step up and help him out, Toronto may actually have a shot at the playoffs in the near future.
2011- .289 avg/ 31 HR/ 109 RBI
2008- 14-8 (33 starts)/ 3.56 ERA
2010- 13-15 (33 starts)/ 5.18 ERA
The Rays’ James Shields showed steady improvement from 2006 through 2008, culminating in his best season in the majors. Since then, Shields’ career has turned in the other direction, with an overall record of 24-27 and an ERA north of 4.6 over the past two seasons. At 29 years of age, he is most definitely at an age where he can still reverse the trend and offer several years of competitive pitching. With his signature changeup, a finesse pitcher like Shields needs to find his feel again.
With the exit of Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano, the Rays are going to need to make up some slack. A solid season from the starting rotation -- in particular Shields, who has shown himself to have much better stuff than 2010 would suggest -- would go a long way to keep the Rays in the playoff hunt. Suspect that this additional focus will show up on the field and in the boxscore.
2011- 16-11/ 3.82 ERA
2008- .326 avg/ 17 HR/ 83 RBI
2010- .288 avg/ 12 HR/ 41 RBI
Aside from the obvious off-season acquisitions that are making the Red Sox the “team to beat” in the AL East, Boston is also poised to benefit from the return and resurgence of several key players, as this list explores. Perhaps none moreso than second baseman Dustin Pedroia, whose MVP season in 2008 hardly appeared to be a fluke, but rather is quite indicative of the oversized talent and tenacity caught in his undersized, 5 foot 9 inch frame. Pedroia is entering his prime baseball years at age 27, and is coming off a season which started fairy well, indicated by the numbers above. Unfortunately for Sox fans, Pedroia fouled a pitch off of his foot, sending him to the disabled list for virtually the entire second half of the season with a broken foot.
Pedroia is one of the toughest young players in the league, and an all star caliber athlete at the plate and in the field. 2011 will see his return, in good health, and his stats will reflect his abilities. And, his mouth will probably offer up a few all star caliber quotes, as well.
2011- .308 avg/ 19 HR/ 80 RBI
2008- .332 avg/ 37 HR/ 121 RBI
2010- .298 avg/ 9 HR/ 42 RBI
Manny Ramirez agreed to a one year, $2 Million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays last week, and that may very well turn out to be a huge steal for the franchise. Ramirez is an interesting character, with endless quirks and an agenda that is more often than not difficult to interpret. For a good fifteen years, he was arguably the best right handed hitter in the American League, and really one of the more impressive batters that has played the game. For all his antics (most of which were rather harmless and, well… um… goofy?), he was a master at the plate and always took that part of the game very seriously. In the field, he was often viewed as a liability, though he managed to make his share of great catches, too.
It really just seemed to be up to him and how he was feeling that day. In his last days in Boston, during the 2008 season, he seemed to be forcing the Sox to deal him, with half-hearted offense (which, for Ramirez, was still good for a .299 average, with 20 homeruns and 68 RBI in 100 games) and bumbling defense in front of the Monster in left field. After the Sox dumped… I mean, traded him to the Dodgers, Manny seemed to be in better spirits – to the tune of 17 homers, 53 RBI and a staggering .396 average over the course of 53 games.
Manny hasn’t had that sort of success since then, but that’s typical Manny. It’s hard to get a read on what makes this guy tick, but if he’s willing to play DH for a mere $2 Million, after all the money he’s already made throughout his career as one of the highest paid players in the league, then I’m inclined to believe he genuinely interested in making a positive contribution to his club. And, if he’s still got the talent to get the bat on the ball for nearly a .300 average at the major league level, it’s hard to imagine he doesn’t have to talent to give that ball a ride, too.
2011- .306/ 31 HR/ 102 RBI