With this being the final week of Spring Training (crazy, right?), I figured it’d be justified to take a look at all 30 clubs and examine where they stand, what they need and where it looks like they’ll finish heading into the 2010 season. So, leading up to Opening Night between the Red Sox and Yankees, I’ll touch on one of the six divisions each day Monday-Saturday. Today, Day 2, we look at the American League East …
Yankees: They added Javier Vazquez to a starting rotation that was already one of the best; they still have the automatic Mariano Rivera in the back end of a bullpen that will only
benefit from one more year in the setup role for Joba Chamberlain (it seems inevitable that he’ll be the eighth-inning man); and despite not having Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui, that offense is still one of the scariest. But that’s also the place that nurses my only real concern. The loss of Damon makes me question that top of the order. Derek Jeter did a great job at the leadoff spot last year, but I don’t like somebody his age being counted on to play the physically demanding position of shortstop and lead off. At the two-spot, Nick Johnson reminds me of Bobby Abreu because of his ability to take pitches and get on base. But he can break down any day. Plus, the loss of Matsui has them without a true No. 5 hitter to complement Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and round out the middle of the order. (Are Curtis Granderson or Robinson Cano real forces there?) But let’s not complicate this: The Yankees have the pitching to shut down any lineup and the offense to light up any ace. Yeah, the defending champions are great again.
Red Sox: With the addition of ace John Lackey, their rotation is up there with the Yankees as the best in baseball. And they’re now at the top of the league defensively, too, with Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron in the mix. But the question among Boston fans is, Can they hit for power? My question is this: Do they even have to? They have power threats in Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez. But, yeah, they need David Ortiz to somewhat resemble the Big Papi of old. Maybe not the 54-homer guy, but definitely better than the .238-batting-average guy. Still, with a rotation that includes, Lackey, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, a bullpen that’s still among the best in the league, premium defensive players at every position and several high-on-base guys in the lineup — add Marco Scutaro, Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew to that mix — the Red Sox are a force once again.
Rays: It’s too bad the Rays don’t play in another division (I think they’re champs in the AL Central, AL West and National League West). I like this team — a lot. Kudos to the young Andrew Friedman for fielding a quality 25-man roster with that payroll. That starting rotation — with Matt Garza, James Shields, Jeff Niemann, David Price and Wade Davis — is legitimately five-deep. The lineup is nice with Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria and two very underrated guys — Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist. And Rafael Soriano is a significant upgrade over J.P. Howell in the ninth inning. They’ll need B.J. Upton to figure it out, and I think he will, making Tampa Bay solid in every aspect. Better than the Red Sox and Yankees? Unfortunately for fans of the underdog, probably not.
Blue Jays: Alex Anthopoulos has made some progress in his first year as general manager, but there’s a whole lot that needs fixing if this team is going to be considered any kind of threat in the toughest division in baseball. Priority No. 1: Get rid of that horrible contract that belongs to Vernon Wells. He’s owed $98.5 million over the next five years and coming off a .260 batting average and 15 homers in 2009. They’ll need a solid season from Wells if they want to find somebody who would take on that contract without forcing the Jays to eat up almost all of
it. Anthopoulos did manage to move the salary of Roy Halladay — though he’s still paying him $6 million this year — and got some nice prospects in return, like Kyle Drabek and, eventually, Brett Wallace. As for this year? Well, they have the same problems most rebuilding teams face. They don’t have an ace, there’s no legit closer in the back end of the bullpen — though there may be two or three nice options — and that lineup is less than formidable. (Jose Bautista as the leadoff hitter?) I don’t know that they’re the worst team in baseball, but considering the 25-man roster they sport and the division they play in, this may be the worst team record-wise when it’s all set and done.
Orioles: They’ll be better, that’s for sure. After losing 98 games last year to sport the worst record in the AL, they may even improve to the .500 mark. But they won’t really compete yet, so let’s start with the future. It’s getting there. Corner infielders Josh Bell and Brandon Snyder, plus current young studs in center fielder Adam Jones, catcher Matt Wieters and right fielder Nick Markakis means that offense is not far away from being very legit (don’t forget Brian Roberts is locked up through 2013, too). Pitching-wise, guys like Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and potential closer Jim Johnson (we’ll see) give the staff promise. In the mean time, GM Andy MacPhail did a nice job of getting some stopgap guys to make sure they don’t reside in the basement of the AL once again, with Kevin Millwood, Miguel Tejada and Mike Gonzalez. Yeah, things are getting better in Baltimore. Just be patient.
AL East champion: Yankees
AL Wild Card: Red Sox
— Alden Gonzalez