Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2010 Baseball Preview: AL East

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-Digger's Daily-

Football season is over. As I sit here today waiting on a winter blizzard to hit New York... baseball season comes to mind. Spring training begins in a few days. New York Yankees will soon attempt defending their World Series crown. Can they do it?

MLB's off season was relatively quite. There were a few blockbuster style trades. However, many quality free agents remain. No doubt our economy has something to due with owners not ponying up major bucks for players holding out for more and more. Or, are they using it as an excuse to collectively drawn down excessive contracts? Take your pick. Either way, remaining players will probably settle for less than they ever imagined (if they're even offered contracts).

Time to break down winter winners and losers division by division. Leading off... American League East (in order of 2009 standings).

New York Yankees (103-59, World Series Champions)
Key additions: Curtis Granderson, Nick Johnson, Javier Vasquez, Randy Winn, Marcus Thames.
Key losses: Johnny Damon, Brian Bruney, Melky Cabrera, Phil Coke, Jerry Hairston Jr, Austin Jackson, Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady.
Simply put, if the Yankees starting rotation doesn't post a phenominal 2010 then it could be a long year in New York. Yankees lineup took a tremendous hit this off-season. Lost are clutch performers Damon and World Series MVP Matsui. A young Granderson is a welcomed addition & will be taught better plate discipline by veteran teammates. But, why bring back injury prone Nick Johnson as DH? It's a big unnecessary gamble. Johnson has a great eye at the dish. But, he's spent more time on the disabled list than playing field. Most concerning is the what seems to be the weakest Yankees bench in 20 years. Bench lacks big guns, defensive wizzards & clutch performers. NY has always been famous for depth and power. Where is it heading into '10? Yanks treading thin. One or two key early injuries can sink 2010 hopes.
Projected rotation: Sabathia, Burnett, Vasquez, Pettitte, Chamberlain.Bullpen: Questions return heading into camp. Depth was lost here too. Starting pitchers must go at least 7 innings consistently or games will be lost in middle innings.
Forecast: It's a 3 team race between NY, Boston & Tampa Bay. NY's hopes rest on starting rotation.

Boston Red Sox (95-67, Wild Card)
Key additions: Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron, John Lackey, Marco Scutaro, Bill Hall, Key losses: Jason Bay, Nick Green, Takashi Saito.
I like the pieces GM Theo Epstein put in place heading into camp. Heavy depth at all positions. Solid batting lineup. Solid defense. Many think lineup will hit for less power. I'm not one of the many. Sox lineup will spread extra base hitting potential 1 thru 9. Plus, it's a lineup of smart players all capable of blasting double digit dingers. Francona is one of baseball's best field general's and his arsenol has been restocked 3 deep at nearly every position. Dangerous team if pitching rotation can stay healthy.
Projected rotation: Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield.
Bullpen: Plenty of arms competing for jobs. Papelbon is as good as they come. Forecast: This is a very solid, perhaps great, team if pitchers stay off DL.

Tampa Bay Rays (84-78)
Key additions: Dan Johnson, Kelly Shoppach, Rafael Soriano.
Key losses: Akinori Iwamura.
2008 AL champs stumbled in April and May last year (23-27). Lost was clutch performances all around from pitchers to hitters. Solid young starting staff is in place for years to come. Bullpen remains iffy. Lineup can put up runs in bunches. BJ Upton had a miserable '09 both in the field and at the plate. Mental lapses piled up on one of baseball's best young talents. He's key if Rays are to be successful. A complete team effort needed by all players if Rays are to challenge in one of baseball's strongest divisions.
Projected rotation: James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Jeff Niemann, ???
Bullpen: Rafael Soriano is the new closer (27 of 31 saves in '09). Relievers ruined a promising '09 after Tampa's World Series run of '08. Many new faces competing for jobs this spring.
Forecast: All depends on pitching and regaining '08 timely hitting. Tough division but Rays will give New York and Boston a run for their money. I'll reserve opinions until TB's final roster is in place. As of now, another 3rd place finish is on the way.

Toronto Blue Jays (75-87)
Key additions: John Buck, Alex Gonzalez, Kyle Drabek, Kevin Gregg.
Key losses: Roy Halladay, Marco Scutaro, Kevin Millar, Brandon League.
One has to feel for Cito Gaston. Toronto's future is in limbo. Plenty of question marks surround this team beginning with health issues. Gaston's club might be competitive but nobody is counting on the Jays contending. Their lineup has potential to put up runs. Defense doesn't appear to be an issue right now. On the other hand, pitchers might get battered all year long. Kyle Drabek was their biggest acquisition. Everyone is high on this kids future. It might take a year or two? Or, will he be a rookie phenom? It'll be too hard keeping up with the Jones' this year and expect bigger contracts to be dealt early due to lackluster home gate receipts.
Projected rotation: It's anyone's guess.
Bullpen: Jason Frasor appears set to lead the relievers. Bullpen injuries have destroyed Toronto in recent campaigns. It's not looking much better right not either.Forecast: Sometimes it's easier to perform well when everyone expects the worst. 100 losses on the way.

Baltimore Orioles (64-98)
Key additions: Miguel Tejada, Kevin Millwood, Mike Gonzalez, Garrett Atkins.
Key losses: Danys Baez, Melvin Mora, Chris Ray.
Look out baseball world. Can it be the Baltimore Orioles future is looking brighter than it has in recent memory? Yes! They're not ready to contend just yet unless they pull a Rays or Rockies season out of a hat. But, they're getting closer. Defense will improve. Batting lineup looking solid. Tejada is back and projected to start at 3B even though I personally think he should start at SS with Wigginton holding down the fort at 3B. O's eyes will be on developing future catching star Matt Wieters who must master handling a young pitching staff. O's rotation leaves much to be desired. Team officials seem high on their young hurlers with a new look defense backing them up.
Starting rotation: Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, ???
Bullpen: Mike Gonzalez gets first crack at closing games. He struggled to save 10 of 17 last year but is only a few seasons removed for 24 of 24. He needs to get the job done or it's going to be another long year in Baltimore. It'll be a wide open field trying to secure pitching slots before spring training ends.
Forecast: The future is bright. O's will show brief flashes and shouldn't be taken for granted. Playing .500 baseball will be a major accomplishment for a franchise seeking their first winning season since 1997.

Plenty of headlines will come from AL East action. Obvious off season winners restocking quality players was Boston. Can their rotation go stride for stride with Yanks big guns? Can Tampa rekindle '08 magic? It's a three team race to the finish. As of this moment, my gut tells me Boston, New York, Tampa, Baltimore, Toronto. We'll see how I feel when rosters are finalized. Stay tuned.

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