Well, we're just over nine days away from Spring Training, and Baseball Fever has struck again!
Ironically, a fever is probably the cure most Red Sox fans need after the Patriots...underperformed...on Sunday.
But what's a sports season without speculation?
Who gets better? Who gets worse?
Who really overpaid for their prized player? How many Brittany Spears references can we get out there with six divisions to review? Well, let's get to it!
Side note: In a complete steal of a marketing ploy from Sean MC, we're embarking on the longest MLB Preview ever. However, in use of his marketing ploy, I'll plug his "Longest NFL Mock Draft Ever." His most recent entry was the Kansas City Chiefs.
This week: The AL East
Boston Red Sox (96-66 in 2007, First in AL East, World Series Champions)
The Red Sox didn’t do much over the winter months. They were listed as “in the hunt” for the Twins’ former ace Johan Santana, however it seemed that the package required to land the ace was a little too rich in the “young talent” department for both the Red Sox front office, and its fans.
The Red Sox are probably better off without Santana though. The rotation boasts veterans such as Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Daisuke Matsuzaka (although he’s a veteran in age only), and Tim Wakefield, along with young studs Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester. Throw into that a bullpen that only lost Eric Gagne from the previous season (the only thing holding them back from 100 wins, as hard as that is for me to say), and the pitching staff is one of the strongest in the AL (and let’s face it-the acquisition of Santana may have created a distorted sense of loyalty, jealous, and hurt feelings in the Sox clubhouse-something the defending World Series champs need).
As far as position players, all of your favorites are back: Manny (who’ll revert back to a mid-2000’s Manny I believe), Big Papi, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Lowell, and Mr. Rookie-of-the-Year Dustin Pedroia. JD Drew will probably perform better than last year (although that grand slam may as well be the last one he hits in Boston because he’ll never top it), and Jacoby Ellsbury provides the team with a strong presence in centre field and the lead-off spot.
The only question with this team is at shortstop with Julio Lugo. If he can’t improve on his .237 average, the Red Sox may look elsewhere for a solution at short, or even fill the position from within using Argenis Diaz or Jed Lowrie.
2008 Record: 103-59, First in AL East
Toronto Blue Jays (83-79 in 2007, Third in AL East)
The Jays did the most to improve within their division, which is a rarity when you play in the same one as the Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
Despite an injury-riddled 2007 season, the Jays were able to produce four hitters with over 20 homers and three players with over 75 RBI. The Jays were also able to post another record above the .500 mark for the fifth time in the past seven seasons.
Although the injuries were originally seen as a hindrance, they proved to be a blessing in disguise as Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, Jeremy Accardo, and Adam Lind were all proved that able to prove they belong at the Major League level, and all made significant contributions to this team.
Due to the emergence (especially with regards to the pitching staff) of the younger players on the roster, JP Ricciardi was able to add David Eckstein to lead-off the batting order (and supplant John McDonald as the starting shortstop) and Scott Rolen. Both players have experience on championship teams, and Rolen brings a strong defensive presence to third. Not forgotten is the addition of Marco Scutaro who, along with J-Mac, will be able to provide the Jays with strong support from the bench.
The only question for this team is at the fifth starter spot. Although Jesse Litsch has a secure hold on that spot for the time being, Casey Janssen and Gustavo Chacin are both in consideration for that spot. The Jays have four strong starters (three with ace stuff for sure), which are all threats for anywhere from 10-18 wins. With perennial complete-gamer Roy Halladay as the incumbent ace, and a staff which led the league in complete games and came in third in team ERA for the MLB in 2007, the Jays should have a staff to watch come 2008.
With a healthy Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay, and an emerging Alex Rios, the Jays are proving to be a strong player in the AL East and Wild Card races this year.
2008 Record: 93-69, Second in AL East, First in Wild Card (You heard it here first!)
New York Yankees (94-68 in 2007, Second in AL East)
Maybe the Yankees would have been better off trading for Johan Santana even though the Jays eat him for dinner (1-3 against the Jays at Rogers Centre with a 5.76 ERA, and a career 2-4 record with a 4.84 ERA against the Blue Birds).
The Yankees usually go out of their way to make an impact in the offseason, but do signings like Morgan Ensberg and LaTroy Hawkins make a discernible impact?
Will Joe Girardi even make a difference?
Not this year. All the Yankees have done this offseason is get older. Mariano Rivera had his lowest save total (30) since 2002, and despite Jorge Posada’s career season last year, he’ll be a 37 year-old catcher come playoff time.
Despite holding onto young arms such as Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain, the pitching staff will probably fall victim to “Over-the-Hill Syndrome”. What I mean by this is that Andy Pettite and Mike Mussina will be joining Hawkins and Rivera in the Over-35 Pitcher club (other possibilities include Ron Villone, Scott Erickson, Ramiro Mendoza and Marc Valdes-if the find their way back to the Yanks).
They also have two pitchers that I couldn’t trust in big games in Chien-Ming Wang and Kyle Farnsworth as both “proved their worth” in the playoffs versus Cleveland last year.
The Yanks have gotten younger this year (which is impressive after they seemed to sell off all of their youth the past few years) especially in the bullpen, but unless they still have an ace up their sleeve, I don’t see the Yanks pitching staff making enough of an impact to get their team to the post-season.
Ok so enough of the Yankees pitching staff-let’s get to the position players. Jose Molina-one of the Flying Molina Brothers-is backing up Posada, which provides the Yankees with a fairly adequate backup catcher. The staples on the infield include Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, and while there are no indications that A-Rod is slowing down, Jeter will be 34 by the All-Star break, continuing the trend of the aging Yankees (and Yankees purists have to admit that Jeter could hit the wall at any moment-especially considering the way he plays).
Did I mention that they have no true first baseman on the roster aside from Jason Giambi (who’s switched to DH)? Doug Mientkiewicz shed his pinstripes in the off-season, leaving a giant hole beside Robinson Cano (possibly the biggest steal of a second baseman ever…(pending the finalization of his 4-year/ $30-million deals.). Although Morgan Ensberg played some first in his brief time in San Diego, he’ll have a lot of work ahead of him if the Yanks plan on using him at first.
The outfield may be the best part of this club. There are five quality fielders on this team in Melky Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Jason Lane. However, that combined with new manager Joe Girardi won’t be enough to make a difference.
Oh, and don’t expect Girardi to have the same effect in New York as he did in Florida. These are two VERY different situations.
2008 Record: 83-79, Third in AL East
Tampa Bay Rays (66-96 in 2007, Fifth in AL East)
A new name and a new team! And even a new place in the division! Hell, they even have a new attitude!
The Rays not only shed themselves of the “Devil” moniker in the offseason, but they were also able to shed the insufferable Elijah Dukes and Delmon Young-which is about as exciting as the prospects of a topless Brittany Spears in 2002.
The Rays are a young team, but have a solid roster that could cause trouble throughout the league. Put them in any other division, and the Rays could be contending in two or three years, but because they’re in the AL East, the Yankees will inevitably buy Carl Crawford from them for pennies on the dollar (and then spend the change they saved in the trade to sign him to a ludicrous deal).
Pitching-wise, the Rays only got stronger this year. The Rays have Scott Kazmir holding down the title of staff ace followed by their latest sensation-12 game winner James Shields, with Edwin Jackson and Matt Garza backing them up on a staff that led the AL in strikeouts last year. Add in Troy Percival to the bullpen, and Tampa seems ready to move out of their parents’ basement for the first time since 2004.
Jason Bartlett and Mike Difelice come in and are expected to add to an offense that came in 4th in the AL in slugging percentage (.433) and third in the AL in home runs (187). The Rays leader in home runs last year (Carlos Pena with 46) is locked up for another three years, and if Akinori Iwamura can stay healthy for an entire year, the Rays should have a very potent infield with
Cliff Floyd and John Rodriguez join the likes of CC, Rocco Baldelli, and BJ Upton-one of the best fielding trios, with three of the strongest arms amongst AL outfields (so long as the stay healthy *cough* Rocco).
Despite coming in second in the AL in errors committed last season, the Rays are looking at a great opportunity this season. With a weaker Yankees team, and a near-inept Orioles team, the Rays may be in line for their highest win total ever.
2008 Record: 75-87, Fourth in AL East
Baltimore Orioles (69-93 in 2007, Fourth in AL East):
What can be said about the Baltimore Orioles that hasn’t already been said?
Miguel Tejada and his 18 homers and 81 RBI are landing in Houston now. Brian Roberts may soon be swiping bags for the Chicago Cubs, and Erik Bedard will be keeping opposing batters hit-less in Seattle soon enough.
Throw in to the losses of Paul Bako, J.R. House, and Eli Whiteside (all catchers), the absence of Corey Patterson, and the departures of Kris Benson and Jaret Wright (both lost causes, however if they somehow make an impact somewhere else, Baltimore will be kicking themselves), and the Baltimore Orioles have holes all over their roster.
Replacing those players with names such as Guillermo Quiroz, Ben Davis, and Luke Scott certainly won’t improve this team, and in every conceivable way, they’re the weak link in what could prove to be a fairly strong AL East.
Last year the Orioles produced the following stats:
1. 13th in the AL in team ERA (5.17)
2. 13th in the AL in saves (30)
3. 2nd in total runs allowed (827)
4. 1st in walks allowed (696)
As much as I’d like to see a competitive team come out of Baltimore, I get the feeling it won’t happen for a few years. The infield (despite my strange man-love of Kevin Millar) is probably one of the worst in the league (assuming Brian Roberts is traded) and the outfield is probably a list of some of the better fourth outfielders in the league. Nick Markakis is the only player in this outfield that could garner any interest, and with the current scheme of things in Baltimore, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them trade one of their prime building blocks away.
As for the pitching staff, once Bedard leaves who becomes the ace? In all honesty, I run down this list and only recognize the names of Adam Loewen and Daniel Cabrera. These are the aces. Aside from that, Chris Ray may be the only bright spot in the bullpen this year-that is if he ever comes back from surgery.
Don’t expect those 2007 pitching stats to improve O’s fans.
Before I pass my final verdict though, I have to ask: How the hell do you trade two of your biggest stars, and not recognize you need at least one experienced starter in return? I mean yes they’re rebuilding, but at least the veterans know a thing or two about how to win, and they can pass on some tricks. Aren’t veteran pitchers great teachers also? I mean, pick up a David Wells-type for crying out loud just to bring in a little bit of stability. You know what else veterans give you? Insurance if your young kids get injured.
I’m not entirely sure if Baltimore even knows how to rebuild properly. This could be messy for a little longer than expected, kind of like Brittany's "meltdown".
2008 Record: 51-111, Fifth in AL East