2011 MLB Predictions: Each Team's Biggest Concern Heading into the Season
Is Derek Jeter too old?
Is he too slow? Is he a bad defender? Can he still hit? Can he still run?
These are all relevant questions, but in 2011, they are not the biggest concerns that the New York Yankees have heading into the regular season.
Let's take a look at the Yankees' biggest concern, as well as the concerns of all 30 major league teams.
New York Yankees: The Pitching Environment
The AL East is already the worst pitching division in baseball, with its assortment of hitters parks and high profile free agent hitters. The New York Yankees have compounded this by making the new Yankee Stadium a hitter's paradise.
In an ideal world, the Yankees would combat this by composing a young, speedy and talent up-the-middle defense and a staff of good ground-ball inducing pitchers.
The Yankees do not have this luxury.
Instead, the Yanks have a solid but aging defense and a pitching staff that is either inexperienced or prone to the long ball.
The Yanks are going to have to find a way to support these guys, and unfortunately, the only real method they have is by hitting lots of long balls themselves.
Boston Red Sox: Gluttony
The Boston Red Sox have assembled the most awesome roster in the sport this season, and the only things that can really hold them back, other than potential injuries, are the vices of fame and fortune.
The Sox need to hope that Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks, who once toiled in far away cities out of the limelight, and were not particularly well paid for the trouble, do not let the money and fame go to their heads.
Baltimore Orioles: Down Side
The Baltimore Orioles did a great job bringing in fresh blood for the 2011 season, and Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy, Derrek Lee and Vlad Guerrero give this team a new look.
But those players come with a downside. Namely, Reynolds can go a month without making contact, and Lee and Guerrero are so old that if their teams had a throw-back jersey night, we might be seeing jerseys they once played in.
To say nothing of the significant downside that the Orioles already featured in guys like Luke Scott, Brian Roberts and Adam Jones.
The O's need to hope these guys can all play to their upsides.
Tampa Bay Rays: Keeping Manny Interested
Steroid issues aside, Manny Ramirez is one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time and, even at his age, could be a positive force on a wayward Tampa Bay Rays team that has to gamble with low-wage investments at this point.
If things go well, Manny could play 145 games and hit 30 home runs with 100 RBIs and have a positive influence on the players around him.
Of course, Manny has spent about five minutes outside of the limelight during his career, having come up with a marvelous Cleveland team before moving to Boston and then to L.A., and even then, it was hard to keep his attention. If the Rays are in third place come July, it may be hard to track Manny down.
Toronto Blue Jays: Outage
What Jose Bautista did in Toronto last season was surprising as it was amazing, and sometimes when we see guys bust out for amazing single seasons performances, they can be one-time only affairs (we're lookin' at you, Norm Cash, Andre Dawson, Greg Vaughn, George Foster and Jim Gentile).
The Blue Jays have essentially gone all in on a repeat performance from Bautista and decided to focus on pitching in 2011. If Bautista returns to the guy he was before 2010, it could be a long year.
And frankly, 2010 was a pretty surprising power year for the Blue Jays as a whole, so Bautista is not the only outage the Jays have to fear.
Chicago White Sox: Complacency
That is my way of saying I do not think the White Sox have much to worry about.
The defense looks great, the offense has been bolstered with a guy who should flat-out rip in Chicago and the bullpen has talented young arms to be excited about.
The starting staff is not full of All Stars, but they've got a great support system.
Minnesota Twins: Justin Morneau
I do not know how the Twins played as well as they did with Justin Morneau missing the entire second half of the season, but I will bet it will not happen again. Morneau is too great a hitter to be able to miss for considerable chunks of time.
The question is not only whether he will be on the field for 150 games this year, but whether he will return to the level he was playing at when he went out last July.
Cleveland Indians: Can the Youngsters Develop?
The Cleveland Indians will not compete for a playoff spot in 2011, but they have plenty of talent which can form the nucleus of the next Cleveland contender.
The question for Cleveland this year is whether Mitch Talbot, Matt LaPorta, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley can develop around Shin-Soo Choo and form the basis for playoff contention in the next couple of years.
Kansas City Royals: Is the Farm Ready To Yield Fruit?
Much like the Cleveland Indians, the Kansas City Royals are more focused on the future than on the present, but the general consensus is that the Royals talent is still down on the farm. The Royals have had issues in recent years with slow-developing, or non-developing, talent, with guys like Alex Gordan, Kila Kai-aihue and Luke Hochevar.
If the Royals talent is finally major league ready, they could make a move in 2012.
Detroit Tigers: Will the Pitching Stabilize?
The Detroit Tigers have tons of raw pitching talent in Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer and veterans in Justin Verlander and Brad Penny. But all four of these guys have had trouble with consistency over the last few years. If these four guys can get their heads on straight, the Tigers may have the offense they need to win enough games to make a playoff push.
Oakland A's: Will Newly Acquired Hitters Hit?
The A's were an excellent pitching team in 2010 but had trouble scoring runs, so this offseason, they added several offensive pieces, including Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus.
None of these guys has been a star hitter in recent years, if ever, but they are all classic Billy Beane style players.
So once again, we find ourselves asking: Can Moneyball work?
Texas Rangers: Pitching
Pitching in Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is already a fragile proposition, and now the Rangers are moving forward without Cliff Lee. C.J. Wilson had one of the best pitching seasons in the history of Rangers Ballpark, so there is hope. The Rangers also have good support for their pitching in place now—both Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler are good defenders—so the Rangers may have rare consecutive years of solid pitching.
Seattle Mariners: Justin Smoak
The emergence of Mitch Moreland at first base for the Texas Rangers in last year's playoffs made parting with Justin Smoak seem almost academic and had to make the Mariners feel like they may have been had.
If Smoak is the real deal and capable of reaching his potential this season, he might power-charge the whole lineup. If he is not quite ready, or daunted by hitting in Safeco Field or not the player he's been made out to be, it could be a long season.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Scott Kazmir
Not so long ago, Scott Kazmir was one of the brightest young pitchers in all of baseball. After two really lousy seasons in a row, the Angels seem convinced that he might return to form.
If Kazmir somehow does return to even 80 percent of what he was with the Rays in 2007, the Angels rotation of Kazmir, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana will be amazing.
Philadelphia Phillies: Chase Utley
The Phillies' superstar second baseman is out for the foreseeable future, and maybe even for the whole season, and amazing pitching or no, one must wonder how far a team can go when they are missing such a fundamental part of the lineup.
New York Mets: Jason Bay
Last season, Jason Bay made lots of money to play only 95 games, and this season, he is making lots of money to start the season on the disabled list.
I think that the Mets would be well served if Jason Bay could make lots of money playing baseball.
Washington Nationals: Morale
With Stephen Strasburg on the shelf until 2012 and Bryce Harper at least a year away, the Washington Nationals have lots of reasons to be optimistic about the future.
The question is, can they find enough reasons to keep their minds and hearts in the game this season instead of looking forward to next season?
Florida Marlins: Getting Fans To Come to Games
The Florida Marlins quietly have one of the best young teams in baseball.
The question is whether anybody in Miami knows it. Because, you know, having home field advantage when you play at home depends, in some part, on having fans at the games, and the Marlins have had a lot of trouble with that in recent years.
Atlanta Braves: Is Dan Uggla Addition or Subtraction at Second Base?
There is no doubt that Dan Uggla is a tremendous talent at the plate. But the Atlanta Braves gave up an All Star utility man in Omar Infante to get Uggla, and if Uggla's poor defense is going to hurt the Braves pitchers, will his offense have been worth it?
Chicago Cubs: The Old Guys
The Chicago Cubs need Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Alfonso Soriano, Kerry Wood and Carlos Pena to play like it is 2003, and that may be asking too much of this squad, which has aged very quickly in recent years.
Houston Astros: Whose House Are We Watching the Playoffs At?
There's a lot of neat guys on this team.
I wish them all a nice year.
It is nice getting paid money to play baseball.
I cannot think of anything else to say.
Hunter Pence is awesome.
Cincinnati Reds: Can the Pitching Stay Healthy?
Edinson Volquez has been hurt for much of the last two seasons. Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto are currently injured. And Aroldis Chapman is a Tommy John surgery waiting to happen.
If this squad can make it through the season, they will win the NL Central going away.
Milwaukee Brewers: Defense
They've got the pitching.
They've got the hitting.
How far they can get on the merits of their hitting and pitching will depend in large part upon how many balls are hit directly to their fielders.
But I am beginning to repeat myself.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Contraction
I love Andrew McCutchen, and I think Evan Meek and Jose Tabata have potential, but I really think the Pittsburgh Pirates need to be concerned that at some point, people are going to start looking around and wondering if we still need them around.
St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols
Dear St. Louis Cardinals:
How cheap can you possibly be, you greedy dirtbags? Just give Albert Pujols what ever he wants so we can move on.
Dear Albert Pujols:
How much money could you possibly need, you greedy dirtbag? Just take whatever the Cardinals are offering so we can move on.
San Francisco Giants: Cody Ross and Pat Burrell
Obviously a point I've addressed already, but penciling a couple of doofuses who got hot in the playoffs into the full time lineup the following year is folly and will undermine both the offense and the pitching.
But I am beginning to repeat myself.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Justin Upton
Justin Upton is either a one-in-a-million talent who is ready to be the centerpiece of the Arizona Diamondbacks for years to come, or he is the next Richie Sexson.
It would be nice, for the Diamondbacks' sake, if he would go ahead and decide which he is so that they may plan accordingly.
Los Angeles Dodgers: James Loney
James Loney is the Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman, and while he has done some nice things, he hardly hits his weight as a first baseman.
Now 27 years old, Loney needs to reach his prime and hit like a star.
Colorado Rockies: Troy Tulowitski
Troy Tulowitski's combination of offense and defense makes him one of the few players in baseball who can affect all nine players on the field in a positive or negative way.
The Rockies have recently rewarded Tulow with a contract that is too profane to be repeated in print, but he may very well be worth it if he can stay on the field for 155 games.
San Diego Padres: Bud Black
Bud Black is a man amongst men and a player's manager: charming, charismatic and accomplished.
In 2010, Black defies all the experts by having the San Diego Padres contend until the final weekend of the season with a fractional payroll and very few stars.
Now, with Adrian Gonzalez gone and Mat Latos starting the season on the DL, Black will have to work his magic twice over this time.
If anyone can do it, he can.