Tuesday, March 20, 2007

2007 Preview: AL East

If you were to believe some people, there are only two teams in this division, and that when they play it's the most important event in the history of western civilization...all 18 times. But in fact there actually are other teams. One of them even broke Boston's stranglehold on second place last year. What will this year hold? To the teams:

Baltimore Orioles
Baltimore fans have reached a Matt Millen moment with owner Peter Angelos. They even staged a walk-out protest last year against, coincidentally enough, Detroit. So while the Lions fans can hope for Millen to be fired, O's fans are stuck with Stupid Angelos until death. So what did Mr. Angelos do this offseason to upgrade his team? Well, he brought in Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford, Scott Williamson, and Danys Baez to solidify the bullpen. Add Chris Ray and his 33 saves into the mix and you've got yourself a pretty decent relief staff. As for the starters, Eric Bedard is a legit number one. Daniel Cabrera has no middle ground, he is either excellent or erratic. Yankee transplant Jared Wright has had only one year with a sub-4 ERA. Adam Loewen is very young, Steve Trachsel is very old, and Kris Benson is out for the year. In the field they boast one of the better catchers in the league with Ramon Hernandez, an above average middle infield with Miguel Tejada, and Brian Roberts, and an all-star in the making with Nick Markakis. But this team doesn't have enough firepower to compete with the big boys of the division, nor does it have consistent enough pitching to shut down opposing offenses, but it just might be enough to hold off the hordes with torches and pitchforks around the Angelos manor.

Boston Red Sox
A quote from Theo Epstein last August: "We are not the Yankees. We feel our best way to compete with them year in and year out is to keep one eye on now and one eye on the future and to build something that can sustain success...So we're not going to change our approach and try to all of a sudden build an uber-team" This was in response to the Red Sox standing idle at the trade deadline, because of the fiscal strains that acquiring a big name would put on the team. Well it looks like Theo was scrounging the sofa for loose change and getting the deposit back on his bottles, after spending $51 million for the opportunity to offer Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka a contract(which he signed at $52 million over 6 years). Also joining the Sox in the offseason was DL J.D. Drew, who signed a 5 year $70 million deal, and Julio Lugo for 5 years and $36 million. So that's $209 million to tie up 3 players over 16 years, if your keeping score at home. Still the new arrivals should be able to improve on the players they replaced (David Wells, Trot Nixon, Mark Loretta). But one of the biggest questions is who is going to be the closer this year? Johnathan Papelbon was lights-out until an injury sidelined him for the year. Papelbon joins Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Dice-K, and either Tim Wakefield or Jon Lester in the rotation. In his departure the Red Sox brought in starter Joel Pinero to be the closer. If he can't do the job (early stat lines are inconclusive), the Sox do have former closer Mike Timlin and young arms Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen (who I think will have the job by June). The only question with the offense is that will "Manny being Manny" be too much for Boston to deal with, and will he be somewhere else by season's end? If so looks for David Ortiz to lead the league in intentional walks and the scoring output will plummet. But more than likely the Sox will suck it up and deal with Manny's wacky antics to help them to the top of the division.

New York Yankees
After yet another early postseason exit, George Steinbrenner opened up his wallet and signed Barry Zito, Alfonso Soriano, and Daisuke Matu...huh, they did what? Yes, this offseason was one of small shrewd moves rather than bold, pricey ones from The Boss. The trades of Gary Sheffield, Jared Wright and Randy Johnson help restock the farm system. Then came the signings of Kei Igawa (5years @ $20M) and Andy Pettitte (1yr @ $7.5) to replace Wright and Johnson. Replacing Cory Lidle will be either Carl Pavano, prospect Phillip Hughes, or Roger Clemens sometime in June. There were no other moves to the lineup, nor did any have to be made, with the likes of Jeter, Cano, Matsui, Posada, Abreu, and Giambi. A-Rod might want out of New York, but if an off year for a player still gets you 35 HRs and 120 RBI, I'd take it.
The bullpen is as good as ever despite having Kyle Farnsworth as a member. Most of the country may not like it, but don't expect any regression from the Yankees this year.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Despite this possibly being the last year for the name "Devil Rays", the team from Tampa has a number of young players ready to break out and make them contenders. Just don't expect this year. Years of high draft picks have netted the Rays, blue chippers Delmon Young, B.J. Upton and Elijah Dukes. But those three have had their share of problems. If those three stooges can keep their heads out of their posteriors, and those posteriors out of jail, they'll join Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, and Jorge Cantu, and Japanese purchase Akinori Iwamura for a solid lineup. The one thing keeping Tampa Bay down is that, other than Scott Kazmir, there is not one good pitcher to be found on this staff. Still, the young lineup is sure to top the franchise record 71 wins sooner rather than later.

Toronto Blue Jays
The defending division runners up bring back most of the line up that got them there last year. Gone are manager John Gibbons' pain-in-ass Shea Hillenbrand, and puncher-of-face Ted Lilly. In are Frank Thomas and Tomo Ohka, who should be spared Gibbons' wrath until they choke under pressure, or pretend the don't speak English. Royce Clayton also joins the merry-go-round that is the Blue Jays middle infield, joining John McDonald, Aaron Hill, and former Tiger Jason Smith. Vernon Wells is back after signing an extension worth $126 million over seven years. Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett lead the rotation with the aforementioned Ohka, the hairless Gustavo Chacin, and the kinda crappy John Thomson joining them. The bullpen is headed up by B.J. Ryan, who was third in the AL in saves and had a 1.37 ERA. If this team were in the NL, or AL West it would be a contender, but it is stuck in a tough division and a tougher league, so they will probably be on the outside looking in.

Final Standings
1) New York (98-64)
2) Boston (91-71) *Wild Card*
3) Toronto (89-73)
4) Baltimore (79-83)
5) Tampa Bay (70-92)

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