MLB Preview 2010: AL East

BOSTON RED SOX

The Red Sox are amid a major change in 2010. They bring a new philosophy to camp. Out with the old mashers and in with the five newly acquired gold gloves. They spent as much money as anyone this offseason ($120.5 million) in an attempt to solidify their defense. It makes sense considering their pitching staff. Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and John Lackey all have the ability to be an ace for just about any team. They accumulated 563 total strikeouts last season, averaged 197.5 innings pitched and won 43 games. Throw in the youngster Clay Buchholz’s filthy stuff and the veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield and you have the best pitching staff in the league. And that’s even without a rehabbing Daisuke Matsuzaka who will start the season on the DL. This staff goes six deep, which may be too much because one of these guys won’t even get a starting nod. The big question remains if either Matsuzaka or Wakefield would be willing to transition to the bullpen.

Lester is the rare left-handed fireballer. He consistently tops 97 mph on the radar gun and left-handed hitters cower in the batter’s box when they see him on the mound. (.235 BA against him the past three seasons) Beckett has enormous heat on his fastball too. He supplements it with a nasty 12-6 curve and even adds a quite formidable changeup to the mix too. Since Beckett’s first season in Boston when he had a career-high 5.01 ERA, he has reworked his stance on the mound from the first base side to the middle of the mound. That allowed him to rediscover the success he was accustomed to in previous years with the Marlins.

The newest $82.5 million addition to the rotation, Lackey, uses a great curveball as his strikeout pitch, but more importantly than that, he pitches with a plan and generally executes that plan well. Lackey’s plan usually involves hurling fastballs down and away the first time through the lineup so he can come back to his off speed pitches the second time to keep the hitters off balance. He knows he has a great defense behind him that will make plays, so he won’t go for too much, he’ll just try to get the batter out the easiest way possible. He’s really a smart pitcher, so when his plan doesn’t go perfectly, he’s still valuable because he’s able to make adjustments throughout games.

Buchholz has potential ace stuff, but he really needs to focus on cutting down the walks and increasing his longevity. Buchholz only averages just more than five innings per game in his career.
Matsuzaka’s gyro ball hasn’t been as effective as in Japan, but as long as Matsuzaka can eat up innings and hold the fourth starter role, he should be okay. He should really benefit from the signing of Lackey since all eyes will shift away from him for the first time and onto Lackey.

Marco Scutaro signed a two-year $12.5 million deal. The most he previously made in a season was $1.55 million, so he is making a little more than four times his previous high salary. It seems a bit much for a career utility guy who pretty much had to fight his way onto every team he’s made, but the Nation will welcome him immediately, if for no other reason, because he hit that mammoth walk-off home run off Mariano Rivera in 2007.

Mike Cameron will enjoy an even healthier contract of two years and $15.5 million. It’s no secret Cameron comes to Boston to shrink the outfield. He’s made his living off chasing down fly balls, but he’s actually had 20+ homers and 70+ RBI each of the past four years. He will likely bat late in the lineup, but his base stealing ability is also a key for the new Red Sox. The question is whether those 37-year-old legs will hold up, especially considering he only stole seven bases all of last year, which was his fewest in any season he played at least 30 games.

If it wasn’t clear by signing Scutaro and Cameron, the Red Sox revealed their new progression even further when they signed Adrian Beltre to $10 million. Really??? I know he’s a two-time gold glove winner, but he was nothing short of a disaster in Seattle with the bat and last season was his worst, with only eight home runs and 44 RBI, not to mention that he didn’t even win a gold glove last season. Theo, I know you have the cash to spend, but don’t just spend it because you have it, spend it because you need the player.

Prediction: 1st AL East – The Red Sox are on the three-year plan. World championships in 2004, 2007 and now 2010.

NEW YORK YANKEES

The Yanks lose Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera, but will reload with Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson. Johnson should be the ideal fit at the #2 spot in the lineup because he’s everything a #2 hitter should be. He’s fresh off a .426 OBP in 09 that was third best in the majors. He also works the count. He finished third best in pitches per plate appearance with 4.38. Meanwhile, Granderson’s numbers are pretty comparable to Matsui’s from last season, plus he will give them another base stealer and a great outfield glove.

One drawback for the pinstripes could be their limited depth. It seems as though Randy Winn will backup every outfielder, while Ramiro Pena will backup every infielder. Joe Giradi will pray for an injury-free season, but with an aging starting lineup averaging 31 years old, injuries may be inevitable at some point.

Paying Javier Vazquez $11.5 million was a little perplexing. Even though he’s coming off his best season, the first time in the Bronx clearly didn’t treat him well, not to mention he’s really adept to giving up the long ball, which is an even bigger hindrance when you have a ballpark where the ball flies freely. (237 HR in Yankee Stadium, which was the most in 2009 by 22 HR) Vazquez gave up a home run in four of his five spring training starts, and who was the only team not to hit a home run off him? The Nats of course. But all will be forgiven if he pitches well in the postseason. The problem is he’s proven to be a poor postseason pitcher throughout his career. He’s got a 10.34 ERA and has given up six home runs in 15.2 postseason innings.

Prediction: 2nd AL East – They take the wildcard, but won’t be hungry enough to repeat.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

The entire roster that won 84 games last season returns with a new legitimate closer Rafael Soriano to bolster their chances of winning. The Rays hope the signing of Soriano will have a direct correlation with less blown saves. They blew 22 last season. The Rays will also hope David Price reaches his potential, and for him to do so, he needs to work on his command.

Clearly power hitters like Evan Longoria (33 HR, 113 RBI) and Carlos Pena (39 HR, 100 RBI) enjoy having teammates like Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist in their lineup because they’re always occupying bases. Bartlett quietly put together a great season hitting .320 (tied for 12th in MLB), while Zobrist had a .405 OBP, good for 4th in the AL. The Rays will need better seasons out of B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro if they want to contend with the Red Sox and Yankees. Navarro hit 77 points worse in 09 than he did in 08, while Upton saw his average drop 32 points. He’s also seen his power numbers that got him paid in 07 plummet. He hit 24 home runs in 07, but has 20 total home runs over the past two seasons. Another disparaging thing about Upton is he really doesn’t have a great eye at the plate, which is a necessity for a leadoff hitter. Last season, Upton tied for the second most strikeouts in the AL out of the first position with 114, but he did that in 406 at bats, while the man he tied, Chone Figgins, did that in 615 at bats and Curtis Granderson (the leadoff strikeout champion) did it in 535 at bats!

Prediction: 3rd AL East – 84 wins was seen as underachieving, but even if they end up with about 88-90 wins this year, they still won’t make the playoffs. Boston and New York should each get 95+ and have much better pitching staffs than the Rays.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

The Orioles should be one of the most fun teams to watch this year. The team is very young and plays all out. With the addition of Kevin Millwood as the ace and Mike Gonzalez as the closer, the Orioles will pray they improve upon their league-worst 5.15 ERA in 2009. Of course it’s never easy when your team faces the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays 54 times a season. The Orioles went 15-39 against those division rivals in 2009, while they fared much better against the AL Central (17-20). The proposed realignment for the O’s can’t come soon enough.

On offense, two legitimate all-stars, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, lead the group. Markakis has averaged 20 home runs and 100 RBI over the past three seasons, while Jones will also pose a power threat – he hit 19 homers and 70 RBI in just 119 games last season. The additions of Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins also give the team extra pop, while 23-year-old stud catcher Matt Wieters will impose his will on the league in his first full season. The team should be great in the future assuming they can keep all of their pieces together and develop a few more pitchers, but in the present, they will hope to get as far away from the Red Sox and Yankees as possible. Maybe they could even go to the NL. They were 11-7 against NL teams last year…

Prediction: 4th AL East – They will be exciting to watch. They’re definitely a bandwagon to jump on because they will be a team to be reckoned with in the future.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

The Jays have the misfortune of being in the loaded AL East. Any finish above fourth would be a miracle considering the pitching staff. Shaun Marcum is the “veteran” of the staff with only 64 career starts, while the other four starters have all made less than 30 career starts.

The Jays will be praying for Vernon Wells to return to prominence. Otherwise, the Rogers Communications ownership group will be dealing with a large hole in their pockets. They’re paying him a whopping $12.5 million this year, a ridiculous $23 million the following year and $21 million more the next three years after that. This is a type of contract that could set back a franchise for years.

Prediction: 5th NL East – The Jays will be in definite rebuilding mode after giving up Roy Halladay. At least they still have Aaron Hill and Adam Lind to drive in runs and create a minimal amount of excitement about the 2010 season.

LINKS TO OTHER DIVISION PREVIEWS:

NL WEST
NL CENTRAL
NL EAST
AL WEST
AL CENTRAL

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2 Responses

  1. Like the blog, and your assessment of the division. It looks to be an exciting year especially with the Rays looking good, and the O’s starting to improve

    http://whitsport.wordpress.com/mlb-preview/

  2. Great assessment of the teams. The top three teams seem to have a power hold on this division with the Orioles not far behind. I cannot wait to see the youth that Baltimore brings to the field. This season seems to be very interesting in this division.

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