Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Monday, February 11, 2008

Pre-Pre-Season Predictions: AL East

This is the fifth in a series of posts providing an extremely early look at the 2008 MLB season. My previous posts covered the NL West, the NL East, the NL Central, and the AL West. While I recognize that there is still much to be done this off-season (free agent signings, trades, position battles during spring training), it is still interesting to see the shape of teams as they stand now.

This series will continue each Monday through February 18, which is also the day that the Twins will hold their first pitchers and catchers workout. I hope you enjoy reading the series, and when my predictions are woefully wrong 10 months from now, you can make fun of me mercilessly if you so desire. The actual numerical predictions for the AL East can be found at the bottom of this post, after a capsule summary of each of the teams.

American League East

Baltimore Orioles

Projected Rotation

1.) Jeremy Guthrie
2.) Adam Loewen
3.) Daniel Cabrera
4.) Troy Patton
5.) Garrett Olson

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Danys Baez
2.) Chris Ray
3.) Jamie Walker
4.) George Sherrill
5.) Chad Bradford

Position Players
C - Ramon Hernandez
1B - Kevin Millar
2B - Brian Roberts
3B - Melvin Mora
SS - Luis Hernandez
LF - Luke Scott
CF - Adam Jones
RF - Nick Markakis
DH - Aubrey Huff

Can you say fire sale? Don't get me wrong, the Orioles have picked up some very nice prospects in the numerous trades that they've made this off-season, but they also look a lot different now than they did when the off-season began. Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard are now gone, and Brian Roberts is likely to be gone as well by the time the season starts. In their place -- solid talent but few sure things. The rotation has two solid young prospects in Guthrie and Loewen, Cabrera, who has a ton of talent but never seems to put it together, and then some serious question marks. The bullpen has some high points -- Jamie Walker did exactly what he was brought in to do, pitching in 81 games and posting a 3.23 ERA, while the newly-acquired Sherrill and Chad Bradford are nice pieces to have. After that, though . . . I mean, wow. Chris Ray was once a solid closer, but last year he posted a 4.43 ERA in 42.2 innings and is no longer being listed by the team as a closer. Danys Baez IS being so listed -- but it's a mystery as to why, after he posted a 6.44 ERA in 50.1 innings. Not that the Orioles are going to really need a closer.

As for the lineup -- well -- for now, they still have Brian Roberts, and that's got to be worth something! Ok, so he's not the only legitimate player on this team -- Nick Markakis had a very nice 2007, Adam Jones is expected to be a special player at some point, and guys like Aubrey Huff and Melvin Mora can still do some things. But, honestly, in this division this team is going to be absolutely eaten alive. They won't score enough runs, and they'll give up a ton of them. For Orioles fans, the past plan may just be to sit back and watch Jones, Markakis, and Hernandez develop and dream of what may be in a few years -- at least, if the team doesn't trade away all of the young talent before then.

Boston Red Sox
Projected Rotation

1.) Josh Beckett
2.) Curt Schilling (?)
3.) Daisuke Matsuzaka
4.) Tim Wakefield
5.) Jon Lester

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Jonathan Papelbon
2.) Hideki Okajima
3.) Manny Delcarmen
4.) Javier Lopez
5.) Kyle Snyder

Position Players
C - Jason Varitek
1B - Kevin Youkilis
2B - Dustin Pedroia
3B - Mike Lowell
SS - Julio Lugo
LF - Manny Ramirez
CF - Jacoby Ellsbury
RF - J.D. Drew
DH - David Ortiz

The Red Sox are obviously a great team -- they looked fantastic in winning the World Series last year, and they are many people's favorite to repeat this year. I'm not going to go against the grain on that issue, because I think they're very good. However, I will point out a few flaws on this team, because by no means to I think that it's perfect. First off, Josh Beckett is turning into an absolutely great pitcher at the top of the rotation, a true ace. I've nothing negative to say about him. I'm not completely sold on the rest of the rotation, however. Curt Schilling is injured enough to possibly need surgery, and taking Schilling out of the rotation makes the Sox a worse team. Daisuke is not the ace-caliber pitcher he was sold as, or at least he hasn't shown that he is yet (maybe this year will be different, since he should be more comfortable). Tim Wakefield won 17 games last year (17!), but relies on a gimmick pitch, and he's now 41 years old -- even throwing a knuckleball, who knows how much he's got left? Jon Lester has a lot of talent but is still unproven at the big league level. Beyond Beckett, then, I think the rotation is potentially suspect -- although in all reality it will probably be just fine. As for the bullpen, I have absolutely no complaints whatsoever -- I wouldn't want to face them trailing by a couple of runs heading into the late stretch of a ballgame.

The position players are pretty solid as well -- although again, there are potential weaknesses. Mike Lowell was great last year (.324/21/120 -- really? out of Lowell?), but that was far, far above his career batting average, and you have to think he's going to come back to earth. I doubt anyone completely believes in J.D. Drew. Julio Lugo was simply not good. Jason Varitek will turn 36 in the second week of the season -- how many really good 36-year-old catchers are there in the history of the game? The core group of stars on this team -- guys like Ramirez, Ortiz, and Youkilis, should all deliver -- as should Lowell (although not as well as last year), Pedroia, and Ellsbury (assuming he's given the starting job over Coco Crisp, which he should be). Nonetheless, as with the starting pitching, the potential for problems exists. It's not likely, but for non-Sox fans out there, some hope exists.

New York Yankees
Projected Rotation

1.) Chien-Ming Wang
2.) Andy Pettitte
3.) Phil Hughes
4.) Mike Mussina
5.) Ian Kennedy

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Mariano Rivera
2.) Joba Chamberlain
3.) LaTroy Hawkins
4.) Kyle Farnsworth
5.) Brian Bruney

Position Players
C - Jorge Posada
1B - Jason Giambi
2B - Robinson Cano
3B - Alex Rodriguez
SS - Derek Jeter
LF - Johnny Damon
CF - Melky Cabrera
RF - Bobby Abreu
DH - Hideki Matsui

The starting rotation for the Yankees in 2008 will be an interesting mix of veterans and prospects. Chien-Ming Wang has become a very solid pitcher relatively quietly (for a Yankee), and is deservedly at the top of the rotation as the team's ace. But what kind of support will he get from veterans like Andy Pettite (who looked solid last year with a 4.05 ERA in 215.1 innings of work) and Mike Mussina (who looked washed up and put up a 5.15 ERA in 152 innings)? Can Phil Hughes deliver as most of New York expects him to? And will Joba Chamberlain end up in the rotation, or can a guy like Ian Kennedy hold onto the fifth spot, freeing Chamberlain up for set-up work? Certainly, the Yankees can use Chamberlain out in the 'pen. After the still-solid Mariano Rivera, things aren't exactly shored up out there. And even Rivera showed signs of aging, posting an ERA over 3.00 for the first time since his rookie season, and picking up fewer saves (30) than in any other full season in which he's been a closer (he had 2 fewer in 2002, but he pitched just over half the number of innings he normally does -- I don't remember this, but I presume he was injured). Rivera is now 38, and there's every reason to suspect that he's fully human (even if he didn't seem like it while he was in the middle of his dominant runs) -- so is there a chance that the end is coming for the man who may be the greatest closer ever?

As always, the rotation is dangerous -- but it no longer seems as scary as it did a couple of years ago. A-Rod is A-Rod, and Jeter is Jeter -- but Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, and Johnny Damon in particular are getting old (even if Posada did a good job of making people forget it last year), and Melky Cabrera is probably never going to be an offensive power. Still, even if this lineup regresses in 2008, it will put up a lot of runs and give a lot of pitchers fits. It's just not the juggernaut it once was, and next year will probably look a whole lot different as players like Giambi move on.

Tampa Bay Rays
Projected Rotation

1.) Scott Kazmir
2.) James Shields
3.) Matt Garza
4.) Edwin Jackson
5.) Andy Sonnanstine

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - Troy Percival
2.) Al Reyes
3.) Dan Wheeler
4.) Gary Glover
5.) Trever Miller

Position Players
C - Dioner Navarro
1B - Carlos Pena
2B - Akinori Iwamura
3B - Evan Longoria
SS - Jason Bartlett
LF - Carl Crawford
CF - B.J. Upton
RF - Rocco Baldelli
DH - Cliff Floyd

There's good news and bad news with the Rays rotation. The good news is that the top three are either very good or should be soon. Scott Kazmir is a strikeout machine who has ace stuff. James Shields also puts up a lot of K's, keeps his ERA low, and should win a lot of games. Matt Garza (as we Twins fans know) is perfectly capable of getting guys out -- but he's the least proven of the bunch. Still, he should make tremendous strides in 2008, especially if he learns how to use his curveball effectively. The bad news is that Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine are a bit further behind the curve in terms of development, and will probably struggle in the rotation. Still, this should be an interesting bunch of players to follow throughout the season. The bullpen, though, is brutal. Yes, that's Troy Percival's name you see listed as the Rays closer. Yikes. It certainly doesn't get any better beyond that. The Rays 'pen is simply not very good, and unless some young talent steps up this season, there's not a lot of hope for an immediate improvement.

The lineup continues to develop nicely, even with the trade of Delmon Young to the Twins. The usual suspects of Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli are back to lead the squad. Akinori Iwamura moves over from third to second to make room for highly touted prospect Evan Longoria. Carlos Pena will try to show that 2007 was no fluke. B.J. Upton could be interesting in center. Honestly, what's not to like here? Even Cliff Floyd, projected as the Rays' DH, hit .284 last season. If the pitching does anything this season, the Rays will be pesky and win a fair number of games. They aren't nearly good enough to seriously challenge the Yankees or Red Sox at this point, but they're on the way.

Toronto Blue Jays
Projected Rotation

1.) Roy Halladay
2.) A.J. Burnett
3.) Dustin McGowan
4.) Shaun Marcum
5.) Jesse Litsch

Top 5 Bullpen
Closer - B.J. Ryan
2.) Jeremy Accardo
3.) Jason Frasor
4.) Scott Downs
5.) Brian Tallet

Position Players
C - Gregg Zaun
1B - Lyle Overbay
2B - Aaron Hill
3B - Scott Rolen
SS - David Eckstein
LF - Reed Johnson
CF - Vernon Wells
RF - Alex Rios
DH - Frank Thomas

When I first looked at the list of the Blue Jays starters, my reaction wasn't positive beyond Halladay and Burnett -- but honestly, McGowan, Marcum, and Litsch all had very solid 2007 seasons, and together they form a solid if unspectacular bunch. Honestly, though, with Halladay at the top and with the talented Burnett at #2, all you can really ask for out of 3-5 is that they'll keep you in games, and there is no reason to think that these three guys can't do just that. The bullpen is also filled with solid contributors, from returning closer B.J. Ryan to setup man and backup closer Jeremy Accardo to lefty specialist Scott Downs (81 games, 58 innings in 2007). The pitching won't often let the Jays down.

The question, then, is whether the offense will put up runs -- and there doesn't seem to be any reason to think they won't. Scott Rolen replaces Troy Glaus at 3B, and that likely will lead to a reduction in team power, but a probably improvement defensively. Alex Rios and Frank Thomas will still knock some balls out of the yard. Perhaps the biggest question is whether Vernon Wells can recover from a relatively poor 2007 (.245 batting average in 584 AB's), and whether the team will get anything offensively out of Reed Johnson. Overall, this is a good offense with the potential to be very good -- but in this division it will have to be excellent, and I don't think it can be.

1.) Boston Red Sox (100-62)
2.) New York Yankees (92-70)
3.) Toronto Blue Jays (88-74)
4.) Tampa Bay Rays (80-82)
5.) Baltimore Orioles (65-97)

I'm more comfortable with the top of my predictions than the bottom -- but only because I think the Orioles could potentially lose 100 games or more due to the divisional competition that they'll face this year, and the potential struggles that their rotation will go through. The Yankees seem to me to be a clearly inferior team to the Red Sox, so I'm putting them solidly behind. I still think it's possible that the Yankees could win the division this year -- or they could go in the other direction and finish closer to .500, if age catches up with the veteran starters in the rotation and the lineup, and if the bullpen isn't reliable beyond Rivera and Chamberlain. I wish I could say that the Rays will surprise and make the post-season -- but frankly, the 14 game improvement that I'm predicting for this year would probably be shocking enough. As much as I'd like to see some variation in the teams coming out of the AL East into the playoffs, I just don't see it happening -- at least not this year.



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