This year, instead of simply making predictions re: the upcoming MLB season, I thought I’d do something a little different. I thought I’d work up a little review of each division and the offseason additions and changes each team has made. I thought I’d start with the epicenter of the MLB universe, the glamour division of the AL East and the defending champion New York Yankees.
New York Yankees
Key additions: CF Curtis Granderson; SP Javier Vazquez; DH Nick Johnson
Key losses: DH Hideki Matsui; LF Johnny Damon; CF Melky Cabrera
Let’s face it: this isn’t a club that needed very many upgrades after winning the World Series last season. The Yankees are still a good team and should be the prohibitive favorites to win it all again in 2010. But this is far from a complete team. I understand Cashman wanted to stick to his guns, refusing to pay Scott Boras’ asking price for Johnny Damon. But I think this team will miss the veteran bats of Matsui and Damon this year. Expecting more than a couple hundred at bats out of Nick Johnson is foolish, despite his OBP other-worldliness. And who hits behind ARod? Curtis Granderson, a lifelong leadoff man? Nick Swisher? Posada? And other than Rivera, the pen doesn’t do much to scare me. But this team’s greatest strength is its starting pitching. I heard Tom Verducci on The Herd today saying that last year, for the first time in their vaunted history, the Yanks had four starters that made at least 31 starts each. With Sabathia, Vazquez, Burnett, and Pettitte, the Yankees will be just fine for the first six innings. If Cashman and Girardi would ever realize that Joba is best suited for the back end of the bullpen, this pitching staff would be almost unbeatable. As it is, they’re still really good and the class of the AL’s Boardwalk division.
Boston Red Sox
Key additions: SP John Lackey; CF Mike Cameron; SS Marco Scutaro; 3B Adrian Beltre
Key losses: LF Jason Bay; SS Alex Gonzalez; RP Billy Wagner
Theo Epstein — Boston’s wonder boy GM — has altered the look of this club over the past few years. The emphasis now seems to be pitching and defense; thus the John Lackey mega deal and the Cameron & Beltre signings. Just as the Yankees will miss the veteran bats of Matsui and Damon, I think Boston will miss Jason Bay’s steady bat in the heart of the order. One thing they won’t miss, though, is his league-worst defense. Former (and future) CF Jacoby Ellsbury should cover twice as much ground as Bay did in left. Boston may be even more pitching-rich than New York. Lester, Beckett, Lackey, Matsuzaka, Buchholz, and Wakefield give the BoSox both quality and quantity that few other teams can match. And the power ‘pen of Papelbon, Bard, Okajima, and Delcarmen might be the best in baseball. It should be quite a race between these two heavyweights once again. Thankfully I have the full month before I have to handicap this race.
Key additions: 3B / 1B Garrett Atkins; 3B Miguel Tejada; SP Kevin Millwood; RP Mike Gonzalez
Key losses: 3B Melvin Mora; RP Danys Baez; RP Chris Ray
Man, it’s been a bleak decade for baseball in Baltimore. The Orioles haven’t been to the postseason since my junior year of college (that’s 1997, for those of you scoring at home). Back then, Cal Ripken was still streaking, Rafael Palmeiro was clean, and the numbers 60 and 755 were still hallowed marks. Today, the O’s are currently the AL version of the Pittsburgh Pirates — usually mathematically eliminated by Memorial Day. It shows you how bad they are that their “major” offseason additions include a .226 hitting first baseman and a proverbial “innings eater” who has topped 200 innings exactly once since 2003. On the bright side, Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz should be with the big club all season, so I guess that’s something. Honestly, though, this team is awful.
Toronto Blue Jays
Key additions: SS Alex Gonzalez; C John Buck; P Brandon Morrow
Key losses: SP Roy Halladay; SS Marco Scutaro
This is another team that’s going nowhere. Before trading away Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, at least the Jays had a chance to win every fifth day. Now with Halladay gone, things look even more bleak. I’d take present day Jimmy Key and Dave Stieb over this collection of stiffs. Shawn Marcum? Ricky Romero? Mark Rzepcynski? These bums are the reason ARod got to 100 RBI last year despite missing the first six weeks of the season. I’d tee off, too, if I got an inordinate number of hacks against these guys. Despite impressive performances last season by youngsters Adam Lind and Aaron Hill, the offense is still pretty pedestrian. It says something when your cleanup hitter has a .400 slugging percentage…and he’s owed nearly $100 million over the next five seasons. Like I said, going nowhere…an apt description of both Vernon Wells and this team.
Tampa Bay Rays
Key additions: RP Rafael Soriano; C Kelly Shopach
Key losses: 2B Akinori Iwamura
Not a very busy offseason in Tampa, but I still like this club. I thought Johnny Damon would’ve been a good fit in RF and in the #2 hole, but that would’ve likely blocked the path of uber-prospect Desmond Jennings, who projects as Carl Crawford 2.0. The Rays still have that stable of good young starters — although I think they gave up on Scott Kazmir a little too quickly. Soriano will nail down the back end of the bullpen if healthy (which is a HUGE “if”). As for the offense, a steady core of Longoria, Crawford, Upton, and Pena will make the machine run. All in all, I expect Tampa to finish above .500 again, but I don’t think they’ll have enough to catch either New York or Boston for the division crown.