March 21, 2005

Frinklin's Second Annual Baseball Preview: AL East

1. New York Yankees
The Good
This is the Yankees, so there is a lot that’s pretty freakin’ good. The lineup is solid in most places and spectacular in others, led by RF Gary Sheffield, LF Hideki Matsui, SS Derek Jeter and Catcher Jorge Posada. And despite being derided by various Red Sox as not a “true Yankee” and playing out of position at 3B, Alex Rodriguez is the best player in the AL and could be poised for a monster year. The rotation is completely retooled, with longtime Steinbrenner object of desire Randy Johnson as the ace, followed by holdover Mike Mussina and a couple of free agent gambles, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. The Best Closer Ever, Mariano Rivera, is still in the bullpen.

The Bad

For a team with nearly-unlimited resources, New York has some holes. Trading away Alfonso Soriano robbed them of a secondbaseman, and after suffering through Miguel Cairo last year, they replace him with veteran Tony Womack. While Womack is coming off a career year, he’s also 35, a year removed from being an NRI. The Yankees seem to have issues up the middle defensively. Posada is average, Womack is an adventure, and Bernie Williams has slowed considerably in center. Jeter is either the most overrated shortstop ever or the most underrated ever, depending on who you read. At first Jason Giambi is a question, backed up by Tino Martinez, who is just plain old now. After Johnson and Mussina, the rotation is a question. Wright is a classic Leo Mazzone reclamation case, and those don’t have a great track record after leaving Atlanta. Pavano had one quality season as a starter, and it just happened to be his walk year.

The Bottom Line
Who knows? As it stands this is a team with a thunderous lineup and a rotation led by one of the great pitchers of all time. It’s also a team with defensive holes and questionable starting pitching. The issue of last October has to be raised as well. Even though the Boston-NY rivalry has always been one-sided, to lose the way the Yankees did has to be difficult to deal with. Not only did they become the first team in baseball history to blow a 3-0 lead, they were obliterated in the 7th game. This team will be interesting to watch out of the gate.

2. Boston Red Sox

The Good
The best offense in baseball is a good place to start. The Sox have it all: classic leadoff man in Johnny Damon, thunder in the middle with David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, and a host of complimentary players like Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar. They also upgraded the SS position by picking up longtime Cardinal Edgar Renteria. The Sox have a genuine ace in Curt Schilling, whose bloody sock performance in the ALCS will be remembered in New England as long as there is a New England. Closer Keith Foulke has been dynamite since coming to Boston, and ranks only behind Rivera and LA’s Eric Gagne. Boston resigned Jason Varitek, widely regarded as the best clubhouse leader in baseball.

The Bad
There is some age here, especially on the pitching staff. Schilling is 38, #2 starter David Wells is 39, and the setup corps, like Mike Timlin and Alan Embree, is ageing. After losing Pedro Martinez to the Mets, the Sox replaced him with Matt Clement, who needs to take his sparkling peripheral numbers and translate them into wins. The defense is an iffy proposition. While Renteria and Mueller form a nice left side, the right side with Mark Bellhorn and Millar is decidedly average.

The Bottom Line

So, do the Red Sox become just another team? Will things be different in New England now that the Olde Towne Team has done what the Florida Marlins have accomplished twice? Of course not, they’re still 26 championships behind New York. This is still a very good team, and they have as much chance of winning another World Championship as anyone in baseball.

3. Baltimore Orioles
The Good
Baltimore will hit, at least for power. Sammy Sosa, who the O’s picked up for just about nothing, joins a team that already had Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmiero and Javy Lopez. It isn’t a total stretch to expect between 120-160 homeruns between these four. Melvin Mora is coming off a jaw-dropping .340-27-104 year, his first as the regular 3B. Brian Roberts set an AL record for doubles by a switch-hitter with 50, and took the regular 2B job from the since-traded Jerry Hairston. Had the Orioles been any good, Tejada would have received serious MVP notice. He’s living up to his end of the 6 year/$72 million contract he signed last year.

The Bad
Pitching is a mess. Sidney Ponson is the nominal leader of the staff, but he was overweight and under prepared last season and may well be again. Rodrigo Lopez ended up leading the team in wins and ERA despite starting the year in the bullpen. Lopez has since solidified his place, though he would be a 4th or 5th starter on a good team. Beyond that, Baltimore will rely on kids to fill the rotation, led by second-year men Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard. The bullpen is in slightly better shape, as lefty setup man BJ Ryan should take over the closer role from erratic Jorge Julio. This team also needs to figure out what it has among its young outfielders. Jay Gibbons can hit, but is coming off an injury-riddled year. Luis Matos is an excellent centerfielder, but has yet to prove he can handle major league pitching. Larry Bigbie does a little of everything.

The Bottom Line
This is an odd team. The Orioles are too old in some places, too young in others. This is a good fit for Sosa, as Tejada is the undisputed team leader, leaving Sosa to just be loved, something he stopped being in Chicago. This team will score runs. Stopping the other team isn’t going to be easy, unless Bedard and Cabrera grow up in a hurry.

4. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
The Good
The D-Rays are very athletic. They have more young guys who run fast and jump high than any team in the majors. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into baseball. The D-Rays do have a promising young outfield. LF Carl Crawford won the AL stolen base title, and should win many more, barring injury. CF Rocco Baldelli, once he recovers from off-season surgery, is slowly developing. Prospect Delmon Young should be ready soon to finish the trifecta. Speaking of prospects, uberprospect BJ Upton made his debut last season, and should stick for good sometime in 2005. He has an electric bat, but may not be disciplined enough to play short. He may not be disciplined enough to deal with Lou Piniella too. The current best Devil Ray is Aubrey Huff, who has grown into a genuine slugger. First is his.

The Bad

Were do we start? Alex S. Gonzales, the former Cub, Expo and Padre is currently slated to play third. With the retirement of Roberto Alomar, there is no second baseman beyond prospect Jorge Cantu. The pitching staff is led by Toronto castoff Mark Hendrickson and two kids; Dewon Brazleton and Scott Kazmir. Brazleton and Kazmir may someday form the nucleus of a fine staff, but both will have some serious growing pains. Beyond those two and Hendrickson, we have Rob Bell, Jorge Sosa, Doug Waechter and Seth McClung. The bullpen is a tad better. Danys Baez turned into an effective closer, and Lance Carter is a good set-up man. The biggest problems for the D-Rays are youth (Upton and Young are teenagers, Baldelli and Crawford aren’t much older) and the teams propensity to sign vets who just can’t hit. Gonzales, backup catcher Kevin Cash, former Red Brandon Larson… the list is just ugly.

The Bottom Line

Now that the Exponationals have a home, MLB needs to figure out what do to with this team. Actual attendance –as opposed to announced- dropped to the 2,000 – 3,000 mark. Last season’s 70 wins was the best in team history, and attendance is still dropping. There is some light at the end of the tunnel. No team has prospects to match Young, Upton, Baldelli and Crawford. Will there be a team when they’re ready?

5. Toronto Blue Jays

The Good
Vernon Wells and RHP Roy Halladay should be healthy after missing chunks of 2004. That alone makes the Jays a better team. With the departure of Carlos Delgado, this becomes Wells’ team. The centerfielder is a pretty nice building block too, a possible 30-30 man who plays Gold Glove-caliber defense. Halladay will do the same for the pitchers, providing he’s past the injury trouble. Beyond those two, the Jays are thin. The best bet is RF Alexis Rios. The young and skinny outfielder made his debut in 2004. He acquitted himself well, though with no power. Ted Lilly should provide a nice left-handed complement to Halladay. Beyond that there are holes throughout the lineup and rotation.

The Bad
Delgado leaving creates a huge hole in the lineup. It will be up to free agent 3B Corey Koskie to provide protection for Wells. Eric Hinske’s career has cratered, but he is still under contract and in the mix for the 1B and DH jobs. His main competition is Shea Hillenbrand, picked up from Arizona. Rookie Russ Adams is the leadoff hitter and starting shortstop. He’s considered a competent, if low-ceiling prospect. No team in baseball has less at catcher, with Greg Myers and Gregg Zaun battling for the starting job. After Halladay and Lilly, the starters are questionable. David Bush had a good rookie season: He’ll be the third starter. Behind him is Josh Towers or Gustavo Chacin. The bullpen is a mess. Miguel Batista moves to the closer role full time, with Jason Frasor, Justin Spier, and prospect Brandon League setting up.

The Bottom Line

For a disciple of Billy Bean, you would think that JP Ricciardi would be better at this. Signing low OBP guys like Hillenbrand and Koskie runs directly counter to the A’s philosophy, and the best young players in Toronto are toolsy players like Wells, Rios and 2B Orlando Hudson; the type of which Ricciardi shuns in favor solid-if-unspectacular college types like Adams and 2B prospect Aaron Hill. This team doesn’t’ quite seem to know where it’s going.

Posted by Frinklin at March 21, 2005 07:22 PM

Schilling is 38, not 36, which just makes him that little bit more questionable.

I agree that the Yankees are the favorite, but if Randy Johnson suddenly starts looking 41, they could finish 3rd.

Posted by: John at March 22, 2005 02:16 AM

John-Thanks for catching my screwup on Schilling's age. As for the Yanks... I would love to think that Randy would start showing his age and implode in some entertaining matter. I just don't think it will happen.

Posted by: frinklin at March 22, 2005 06:10 PM

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