2009 MLB Previews: AL East

Total Pro Sports – It is that time of year to get excited for the upcoming baseball teams. This year, not only having Spring Training starting, we also have the World Baseball Classic, which should be alot of fun. It would be nice though to see fewer guys pulling out of the tournament, but otherwise it should be fun to have international baseball take place in North America. For the people who are excited about Opening Day it will take place in about 5 weeks time, let’s now take a look at each team and how they fair in their divisions, here’s the A.L East.

The AL East is easily the most competitive division with the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees all looking as early World Series threats. It is difficult to rank these teams because it is tough to pick one of these three teams as the one that doesn’t make the playoffs.

1. Tampa Bay Rays

Offense: I like there line-up a lot. They are young, fast and gained valuable experience going all the way to the World Series last year. There offense is extremely capable of putting up big numbers, as well as serious speed on the base paths, with Carl Crawford and BJ Upton as strong base stealers. I like the the acquisition of Matt Joyce from the Tigers in exchange for a young outfielder with some pop. Trading Pitching is never a good idea but the Rays had their starting 5 and were able to trade their best starting pitcher. Pat Burrell should provide 25 home runs if he can stay healthy. Gabe Kapler was a nice grab for the bench, he could start in my opinion.  Evan Longoria should only get better from his MVP like first season, this guys a gem and I could see that he, along with good starting pitching, could win the World Series this year.

Defense: They have solid defense around the field. Dioner Navarro provides solid defense behind the plate and it seems he knows how to call a good game for the pitchers. Akinori Iwamura was a solid posting fee addition for the Rays. Unlike Kei Igawa who has been an absolute nightmare for the Yankees which has garnered more attention or Dice-K’s success in Boston, Iwamura has been extremely importing for Tampa in the field and at the plate. The outfield defense should altar a bit with the addition of Pat Burrell, but luckily they will have the option of having him as the designated hitter.

Pitching: Being able to trade Ediwn Jackson for Joyce shows how deep they are. Shields,  Kazmir, Sonnanstine, Price and Garza provides  a starting 5 that I’d say is the best in the Majors. David Price is the most intriguing, giving us a sample of what he can do while helping the Rays in the playoffs. There bullpen is also strong, but it would be beneficial to have Troy Percival for the year.  Jason Isringhusen is also trying to make this team, if he can reclaim some of past success, watch out.

2.  Boston Red Sox (Wild Card Winner)

I pick the Red Sox over the Yankees for the reason that Boston’s pitching is proven and I feel better. The Yankees have the bigger names, but they’ve always had that, for the last 8 years, and still haven’t won it all since 2000.

Offense: The Red Sox offense has not improved since last year. The Red Sox were unable to sign Mark Teixeira, and once he was gone, only a union with Manny Ramirez could have had the same affect, and that certainly was not going to happen. So the Red Sox were left with keeping the lineup they had and hope for less injuries and improvement over last year. David Ortiz is the anchor, but many are believing he could be getting past his prime, and this year, is the year where we find out if Big Papi still can put up the big numbers. Frankly, the Red Sox need it, as well as improvements from Mike Lowell, Jason Varitek and David Ortiz returning from Arm and Elbow trouble last year.

Defense: They return with much of the same lineup as last year. Jason Bay improved the outfield defense from Manny Ramirez. Jason Varitek is very good at calling games, and simply needs to improve his offense numbers.

Pitching: Still the best in the East in my opinion. Clay Bucholz, John Lester, Dice-K and Josh Beckett to me still provide the best starting 4 in the majors. Beckett needs to stay healthy this year, something he couldn’t do last year.  Tim Wakefield will anchor the the 5th spot. There always seems to be a spot in the rotation for Wakefield. The pen is solid, with Jonathan Papelbon and Hedeki Okijima anchoring the 8th and 9th inning.

3.  New York Yankees

They could easily be the team making the playoffs, I can think of many reasons why the Yankees will win. The only reason I have of them not making the playoffs is they have had superstar roster since 1998, bringing in the big names. Year by year they were getting rid of the winners, not the guys with the biggest numbers, but found a way to win. Guys like Paul O’Neill, Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez and David Cone. Replacing these players with stars who put up the biggest numbers has not led to a championships, and the Yankees have done it again this offseason.

Offense: They have added one of the most consistent bats in all of baseball. Mark Teixeira should fit in beautifully into New York. He could be the guy who takes over from Derek Jeter as the face of the Yankees heading into the new stadium. Having Teixeira bat third with A-Rod hitting cleanup is absolutely amazing, those guys will bash the ball this year, even if A-Rod doesn’t have his “boli juice” from the Dominican. I believe he’s a bit of a fraud, but there’s no question he puts up numbers and any manager would love to have his numbers in the lineup.

Pitching: The Yankees have a very formidable rotation. In the offseason the Yankees signed 2 of the top pitchers in the free agent market in CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett. Sabathia should be an ace for this rotation for at least the next few years, while with Burnett your only sure to get results when he’s in a contract year. All Burnett has to do is perform admirably as this rotation is strong enough. Chen Ming Wang tries to build on his early success. This rotation is so strong Andy Petitte is the 5th starter.
Defense: It has improved, as Mark Teixeira is a much better fielder than Jason Giambi. In the outfield Bobby Abreu is gone, his defense was shaky, especially when balls reached the warning track, his fear of the wall is well noted. Derek Jeter has aged a year and his range is not what it use to be. A-Rod continues to have some troubles at third base, while Jorge Posada offers a solid presence behind the plate.

Offense: Teixeira makes this lineup stronger with his bat. Not only did they get him to keep him away from Boston, but his average and home runs per year add nicely to the middle of the order. Having Teixeira and A-Rod batting together is a treat not many managers enjoy. Joe Girardi is hoping this Yankees are as good as advertised. If they do not make the playoffs this year, he could be shown the door.

4.  Toronto Blue Jays

Money was extremely scarce this winter north of the border. Not only did Toronto battle with the recession, but a weakening dollar made it impossible for Toronto to compete for free agents. AJ Burnett is gone, and nobody notable was brought in to replace him. This year will be about what the young guys can do, a chance at the playoffs is slim to none.

Pitching: The rotation took a hit by losing Burnett, but it’s the loss of Halladay that could move this into a full blown rebuilding mode. He is the only sure thing in this rotation and he could be a valuable trade commodity come July. Scheduled to pitch behind him are Jesse Litcsh and David Purcey. After that it is anyone’s guess. Casey Janssen is coming off year on the disabled list, and will be given a chance. Matt Clement and Mike Maroth were brought in on invitations to camp, and the team is hoping one of them cracks the rotation to provide a veteran presence. Others given a chance include 22 year old southpaw Brett Cecil, Canadian Scott Richmond, former first round pick Rickey Romero as well as other younf talent

Defense: The Jays defense is pretty much the same as last year. Expect “The Prime Minister of defence” John Macdonald to continue to make great defensive plays at short. One shaky prospect is the defence of Adam Lind. The only worry position for the Jays.

Offense: Largely unchanged, which means they are hoping for better seasons from Scott Rolen, Lyle Overbay and Alex Rios. An jnury free season for Vernon Wells is not off to a good start as he’s injured at spring training with a hamstring injury. A couple young guys are hoping to make a huge impact this year, those two being Adam Lind and Travis Snider. Manager Cito Gaston see’s Lind being able to hit 30 home runs a year while Snider was ranked 6th best prospect by Baseball America, both positive signs.

5.  Baltimore Orioles

It looked like when Andy Mcphail came in things were finally going to change. No longer were the Orioles going to sign grossly inflated free agent contracts, but instead build through young talent. Last summer with the trades of Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada for young prospects and the emergence of Nick Markakis, Luke Scott and Adam Jones, the future was bright in Baltimore. But this summer we saw a move that had the imprints of notorious meddling owner Peter Angelos all over it. The signing of Brian Roberts to a 4 year/ $ 40 million dollar extension. In this economy and with his admittance to performance enhancing drugs, Roberts probably would have gained maybe half that on the market. But Roberts is loved by Angelos, and hence why it doesn’t look like things have changed in Baltimore.

Offense: There offense isn’t bad. I like Roberts, just not at $40 million, and he’s a great lead off guy. Providing offense and speed with Roberts is Adam Jones who is hoping to improve on an up and down first season. Luke Scott, Aubrey Huff and Nick Markakis provide the long ball for this team, and shouldn’t be bad offensively for this club. Greg Zaun holds the catcher position until possibly June when Baseball America number one rated prospect Matt Wieters should be taken over. A 2007 first round pick, Wieters is known for his powerful arm and bat.

Defense: Largely the same returning as last year, Jones has a live glove in center, while Markakis provides above average defense in right. Gregg Zaun joins the Orioles behind the plate. He is good at controlling the rotation and calling a good game but his percentage of throwing out base stealers is one of the worst in the major leagues. Team’s will take advantage of that as they did when he played last year in Toronto.

Pitching: There starting rotation leaves much to be desired. Jeremy Guthrie leads the staff, but the most intriguing name in the rotation is Koji Uehara. A Japanese pitcher coming to the Major Leagues at 32. He has generated much interested from teams in the Major Leagues, choosing to pitch in the toughest division in baseball seems like a statement. In the Pen George Sherrill returns after a successful season closing last year. After coming over from Seattle in the Erik Bedard trade, Sherrill, picked up 31 saves for the Orioles.

Tags: 2009 AL East Preview, AL East, American League East, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, new york yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, toronto blue jays,