Monday, March 03, 2008

2008 Previews: AL East

Baltimore Orioles
2007: 69-93, 4th Place

After another disappionting finish in 2007, looking thier off-season moves, Baltimore made it apparent that 2008 all about the youngsters. They dealt away Miguel Tejada and Eric Bedard, and are rumored to be shopping Brian Roberts. The deals netted the O's two young OFs in Luke Scott and Adam Jones, matched with Nick Markakis give the Orioles reasons to look positive to the future. While the number one are was traded in Bedard, Baltimore still has potential in pitchers Adam Loewen, Jeremy Guthrie, and Hayden Penn. You could add Daniel Cabrera to that list if he finally shows control and stops walking everyone. The Orioles also have a few bullpen arms that could bring in more prospects around the trade deadline. But for now, this is a young team that will lose a lot. At least this there appears to be a silver lining to the season of losing in Baltimore

Pivotal Player: Nick Markakis. Had a good sophomore season last year, hitting 25 HRs and driving in over 100. Another good year and he'll be a block that the team is built around

Non-Roster Invitee of Note: Steve Traschel. Pitched for the O's last year before being traded to the Cubs. Has more career starts then rest of staff combined.

Boston Red Sox
2007: 96-66 1st Place; World Series Champions

To the dismay of everyone outside of New England, the Red Sox return almost in it's entirety the team that won the World Series. The team was simply the all-around best team in baseball last year. The were 4th in the MLB in runs scored, and 1st in runs allowed. Pretty hard not to win the World Series with a team like that. This year they will be the team to beat. Injuires wont affect this team, as guys like Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz, and Alex Cora are waiting on the bench to fill in. The only hope is for Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Daisuke Matsuzuka, and Josh Beckett to severely regress.

Pivotal Player: Manny Ramirez. David Ortiz gets most of the credit, but if he didn't have Manny following him he'd be walked as much as Barry Bonds. A good year out of Manny will help the Sox go far, and will help Manny with possible free agency pending.

Non-Roster Invitee of Note: Bartolo Colon. The 2005 Cy Young Award winner, could be battling the aforementioned Buchholz for the injured Curt Schilling's spot in the rotation

New York Yankees
2007: 94-68 2nd Place; Won Wild Card lost in ALDS 1-3

After bowing out in the ALDS for the 3rd straight year, you figured some changes were in order. Joe Torre had turned down a contract offer, A-Rod wanted out; Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada were exploring there options as well. Well, Torre was replaced with 2006 NL Manager of the Year Joe Girardi; A-Rod, Rivera, Pettitte, and Posada are still Yankees. The only two players gone from the 2007 team are bullpen arms Ron Villone and Scott Proctor. Alex Rodriguez is the best player in baseball, and leads the offense that scored the most runs in baseball last year. Posada, Johnny Damon, and young stars Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano should help A-Rod in keeping the offense high powered. As evidenced by the breakdown in trade talks for Johan Santana, it appears the Yankees are confident that holding on to their young talent will help them win now and in the future. Nowhere is this infusion of young talent needed more than in the pitching rotation. Two spots are vacated by the departed Roger Clemens, and the struggling Japanese import Kei Igawa. Add to the mix a declining Mike Mussina and a Andy Pettite whose off-season was distracting to say the least, and the only dependable picther on the staff is Chien-Ming Wang. That's where Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain come in. Chamberlain is expected to be a starter at some point, but could be better served coming out of the bullpen. Other than Rivera, the only experienced options in the bullpen are LaTroy Hawkins, Brian Bruney, and Kyle Farnsworth. If Joba can show that the 24 innings of fury last season were not a fluke, the bullpen will be able to preserve the leads given to them.

Pivotal Player: Phil Hughes. Will be the key pitcher for the stability of the Yankee rotation. The fact that the Yankees did not want to included him in the package to get Johan Santana is a fact that will not be lost on Yankee fans if they have to watch Johan pitch the Mets into the playoff and Hughes struggles this year

Non-Roster Invitee of Note: Morgan Ensberg. Once thought to be the next big 3B in Houston, is learning 1B, and competing with Jason Giambi and Shelly Duncan for the starting job.

Tampa Bay Rays
2007: 66-96 5th Place

The "Devil" is gone from the name, and perhaps not to coincidentally so are troubled prospects Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes. The real story of teh Rays is the wealth of young talent that this team possesses. The Delmon Young trade brought Matt Garza who joins Scott Kazmir and James Shields for a potent 1-2-3 punch in which all members are under 26 years old. Add to that the three almost ready for prime-time arms of David Price, Wade Davis, and Jacob McGee; you have a deep wealth of talented starters. The scary thing is the depth of talent is just as deep out in the field. The outfield has Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton, two speedy guys that can hit for power. The infield has the reborn Carlos Pena who hit 46 HRs last season, and Rookie of the Year candidate Evan Longoria at 3B. Last year's 3B Akinori Iwamura moved over to 2B to accommodate Longoria. Iwamura looks to bounce back from a injury hampered season, and produce as well as the plate as he did in the Japanese League. The only thing keeping Tampa from being a contender right now is a shaky bullpen. Al Reyes moves from closer to the set-up for Troy Percival, who appears to be back in top closer form after allowing only 8 runs in 40 innings of work for the Cardinals last season. Another reliever to keep an eye on is Dan Wheeler, who had the worst year of his career after taking over at closer for Brad Lidge in Houston, then being sent to Tampa for Ty Wigginton. Wheeler averages a sub 2.50 ERA in the prior two seasons. Other than those three, there isn't that much to write about.

Pivotal Player: Scott Kazmir. Started of spring with some arm problems. If the Rays are going to live up to any of this hype, they need their #1 pitcher healthy.

Non-Roster Invitee of Note: Eric Hinske. Went from star sub on the World Series Champion, to battling for a roster spot on the Rays

Toronto Blue Jays
2007: 83-79 3rd Place

Giving first crack to tickets for Tigers and Red Sox fans wasn't going sit well with Jays fans. Then again, neither were their offseason moves. First, bringing in David Eckstien. Everyone's favorite gritty, gutty, midget was signed in the offseason to start at SS. Great except that Jays already had a light-hitting, good-fielding shortstop on the roster with John McDonald. In fact they both drove in exactly 31 runs last season. Eckstien does have a better OBP, and hits for a better average, but MacDonald was a much better fielder last season. So why spend money on a 33 year old light hitting shortstop? The Jays swapped 3rd base problems with the Cardinals, acquiring Scott Rolen for Troy Glaus. Rolen had issues with Cards manager Tony LaRussa. What could possibly go wrong here in Toronto with John Gibbons? The one thing that isn't a problem is the pitching. Only the Red Sox allowed fewer runs last season. Add a healthy B.J. Ryan to the bullpen can only improve on last year. The question is can this team score enough runs? Most of the power on teh team last year were Frank Thomas, who turns 40 this year, and Matt Stairs, who turns 41. With the exception of Alex Rios, is there anybody on this team that can hit? The Jays need to find an answer to this question, or otherwise spend another summer looking up at other teams in the standings.

Pivotal Player: Vernon Wells. Signed a monster extension before last season, and was outhit by Aaron Hill. He needs to get back to the 30 HR-100 RBI guy that signed that extension to help the Jays

Non-Roster Invitee of Note: Shannon Stewart. Career .298 hitter could displace Reed Johnson in the outfield

Final Standings:
Like it's been for the past decade it's a two horse race between Boston and New York. The real story will be Tampa. Not only will they have their first 70+ win season, they will flirt with a win total in the 80s.

1) Boston Red Sox
2) New York Yankees
3) Tampa Bay Rays
4) Toronto Blue Jays
5) Baltimore Orioles


Ian C. said...

The Rays finishing ahead of the Jays? That pick takes moxie, my friend.

Well, maybe not. Especially with, as you pointed out, Tampa's pitching. The Rays have finally found some pitching talent to go along with all of the position player talent they've developed over the years.

And if Troy Percival is "for real" as closer, they could be a very interesting team.

rock & rye said...

I think my judgment might have been clouded by all the times I saw "hustle" and "gritty" in an Ecksteined Jays preview, and I penalized them for that.