Baseball!- AL East

Posted: 12/14/2013 by levcohen in Baseball

I’ll admit it. Over the course of the NFL season and the beginning of the NBA season, I’ve sort of ignored the MLB. I mean, I have payed attention to all of the big signings. Robinson Cano is a Mariner and thinks that the Yankees didn’t give him enough respect (the two parties were about 80 million dollars off. Even in baseball, where 240 million dollar contracts are handed out, that’s a LOT of money. Just think about it). Yankees fans should be happy that their team signed a lot of second tier (Cano was the first tier) free agents, from Carlos Beltran to Jacoby Ellsbury to Brian McCann. Instead of going over every single free agent signing, though, I’m going to whiz from team to team and detail what they have done and how I think they’ve done.

AL East:

Red Sox: The Red Sox are clearly a very good team (they did win the World Series last year), and they’ve shown that with their moves. Rather than feeling pressure and trying to make a bunch of big signings (like their rivals did), they went for smaller moves. They re-signed a playoff hero and great presence and player in Mike Napoli to a two year deal. Napoli had a productive season in his first year as a Red Sox player and stayed loyal even while he was offered a three year deal by another team. Instead of committing bigger money and longer commitment to resigning catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Salty got 3 years and 21 million from the Marlins), the Sox signed A.J. Pierzynski to a one year deal. Not only did the Sox sign a fine catcher, but they signed him for one year, which is the ideal when it comes to catchers. They have a lot of cap flexibility in the future now, and can clear a space for catcher prospect Blake Swihart whenever Swihart is ready. Smart move by the Red Sox.

The Sox mainly have the same team coming back next season (outside of Jacoby Ellsbury), but they still have some decisions to make. The major one has to do with shortstop Stephen Drew. Drew was a Red Sox last year but has not been resigned as of yet. The Red Sox have Xander Bogaerts, their top prospect, waiting in the wings, but I still think they should resign Drew. This is a team that is built to win now, and turning the left side of the infield over to Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks isn’t the safest idea. If the Sox resign Drew, they can have extra depth at SS and 3B (and teams always need that depth), and can do what they did throughout last season; rotate three players in the two spots (last year it was Drew, Middlebrooks, and Jose Iglesias). Now, Middlebrooks or Bogaerts may force the Red Sox hand by playing well enough to require an every day spot, and that would be great. But what if one of them flops and the Red Sox don’t resign Drew? Middlebrooks has been inconsistent at best to start his career (he was sent down to AAA for a long period of time last season), and without him the Red Sox are pretty thin at 3B. So yeah, I think they should resign Drew, even if he is expensive.

Their pitching staff should be about the same, although they might still make a run at a starting pitcher. Their biggest add to the bullpen, which was kind of shallow last year, was the addition of Edward Mujica. Remember, Mujica was incredible throughout most of last season as the Cardinals’ closer. But he fell off a cliff late in the year and dealt with injuries. Still, this is a great low risk, high reward addition, much like Koji Uehara was before he posted possibly the best season by any closer ever last year. Remember, Mujica isn’t 35. He’s 29.

Prognosis: Whatever the Red Sox do over the rest of the offseason, they will be the AL East favorite to go along with a lead World Series favorite. As of now, they have two rookies, Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, penciled into the starting lineup, but those two players are going to be really good, and I could see them as the leadoff and 2-hole hitters in the future. For now, Bradley just has to be 75% as good as Jacoby Ellsbury, who left via free agency. A little on Ellsbury now, although more will be coming later. I think the Red Sox made the right decision by not resigning their centerfielder. Maybe they remembered their mistake in signing Carl Crawford. They signed the speedy but injury prone Crawford at age 29 to a seven year, 142 million dollar deal, and that was a disaster; Crawford was off the team within two years. Ellsbury, speedy and injury prone and 30 years old, was signed to a seven year, 153 million dollar deal. Deja vu? Anyway, back to Bradley. He should be fine. And so should the team.

Yankees: 10 years ago, or even five years ago, the Yankees would have resigned Robinson Cano. They would have given him 10 years and 240 million dollars. That would have been a given. But they have been more conscious about giving out huge deals, and they refused to give more than 7 years to the star second baseman who was their cornerstone last year. Financially, it was a sound decision. 10 year deals rarely work out. But the fans aren’t happy, and I’m sure the Yankee players, who thought they were playing on a team that would shell out massive amounts of money, aren’t either. Then again, they don’t get to choose who is on their team, and that’s fine. So Cano is not a Yankee. But that opens up a huge hole. Without Robbie and likely without the disaster that is Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees have massive holes at second base and third base. I think most people would argue that Kelly Johnson, who was signed to a three million dollar deal, is not a starting caliber player at either position. He certainly can’t play both. The Yankees were in discussions with Omar Infante, but those talks fell apart. So they still have two huge question marks in the infield. And their other two starting infielders are set to be Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. Neither are sure things, and at least one is almost definitely going to get hurt or be ineffective.

The Yankees haven’t been standing pat at other positions. As mentioned before, they signed Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran to big contracts. Unfortunately, McCann is nearly 30 (and as a catcher, is probably past 30 for all intents and purposes), Ellsbury is 30, and Beltran is 36. So there are age concerns there, as well as injury concerns (all three have recent injuries). The outfield is set to be Brett Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran now. That’s probably no more than 35 combined homers, with Beltran contributing the vast majority of those home runs. McCann at catcher, Teixeira at first base, and Alfonso Soriano at DH will help with power, but for the most part this team is still power-depleted, which was one of their biggest problems last year.

Yankees fans have to be less than satisfied with their rotation. If everything breaks perfectly, CC Sabathia will regain ace form (rarely happens for a starter over 30 years old and coming off a down year. See: Halladay, Roy), Hiroki Kuroda will repeat last season’s success in his age 39 season, Ivan Nova will pitch to his 3.10 ERA and not his 1.29 WHIP (and also not to his 4.04 career ERA), David Phelps will have a better ERA than last year’s 4.98 in his first year as a full time starter, and Michael Pineda will pitch like an ace in his first action since 2011 (which was his only career action). If you haven’t noticed, I’m skeptical that this will be anything more than a league average rotation, and probably worse. The Yankees REALLY need Masahiro Tanaka or another ace pitcher, whether it is via free agency or trade.

Prognosis: Yankee fans are expecting a return to the playoffs and a AL East crown. While that isn’t totally unreasonable, I don’t think it’s going to happen. This is an old team with a lack of true power. Their rotation won’t be able to carry them. Their bullpen is in disarray without Mariano Rivera. Robinson Cano is gone. This isn’t going to be a powerhouse Yankees team. Could this be the 2014 version of the 2012 and 2013 Phillies?

Rays: The Rays resigned James Loney and exercised options on David DeJesus and Ben Zobrist, but all of that pales in comparison to David Price. Last year, Tampa traded James Shields. That continued their history of trading their assets when they were about to become too expensive for controllable young talent. That trade certainly worked out; Wil Myers, the top return in that trade, is already the cleanup hitter, and Jake Odorizzi is a top five prospect for the Rays. Many people around baseball and most fans expect Tampa to trade David Price, the 2012 Cy Young winner and 28 year old superstar, for a similarly stacked return. But it hasn’t happened yet. The Mariners seem like the most natural fit, as they seem to be going all in on contending this year given their signings of Corey Hart and Robinson Cano. But nothing has happened yet. Is it possible that the Rays just hold on to their ace this time around and possibly trade him when teams are more desperate in July? I think it is. Or maybe, just maybe, they could resign him and make him a cornerstone, like they did with Evan Longoria. It might be too late for that, and he’d likely cost too much for the small market Rays, but it would be great to see.

Prognosis: Whether they trade Price or not, the Rays are going to be good again next year. Their lineup is strong, with Longoria and Myers surrounded by a bunch of solid hitters. Their rotation has the arms to make up for a loss of Price (Matt Moore, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson), and with Price would be one of the best in baseball. I will project a second place finish without Price and a division win if they do retain Price for the whole season.

Orioles: The Orioles have done nothing to improve their team. They traded away their closer, Jim Johnson, to the A’s. Normally I would say that it’s smart to trade closers who will be making a lot of money, but the trade was with the Athletics. When will teams learn not to trade with Billy Beane? Besides that trade, they have done nothing, and they look to have a similar team to the one that went 85-77 last year.

Prognosis: The rotation is below average, and they really need an ace or a couple of above average starters. They’d better pray that Manny Machado comes back quickly from his devastating injury at the end of last year and that there is no regression from Chris Davis. Because if either of those two variables go against Baltimore, it’s going to be a long, long season.

Blue Jays: The Jays, much like the Orioles, have done almost nothing this offseason. They signed Dioner Navarro, a good backup catcher but below average starting catcher, to a way too expensive deal (two years, eight million). They decided not to resign Josh Johnson, who was terrible throughout his short Blue Jays career. More than anything, the Jays need a reliable #2 or #3 pitcher, like Matt Garza or Ervin Santana, both of whom are still free agents. They also need some bounce back seasons from a team with a lot of talented players.

Prognosis: Last season was a year to forget for Toronto. They had high expectations after their huge trades with the Marlins (in which they picked up the aforementioned Johnson as well as Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle) and the Mets (in which they picked up Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey), but many of their players underperformed. If they get a lot of nice bounce back seasons and sign a good pitcher (or trade for Price), then they can get back into contention. With Reyes, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion at the top of the lineup, anything is possible. But a playoff spot with the current record may be a bit too optimistic.

Here are my current projected AL East 2014 standings, although this is of course subject to change:

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

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