My Fearless and Asinine AL East Predictions.
By: Bob Owens
Why? Well, reason number one has to be their manager, Joe Maddon. Recently Maddon stated that he intends to use his top four starters at least 200 innings each this season. Contrast that approach to other teams who dictate their starters throwing 75 pitches a game, or capping their proclaimed ace at 160 innings. Tampa’s number one guy is lefty David Price, the current Cy Young award winner who over the past three seasons has thrown 208.2, 224.1and 211 innings respectively. What I find even more remarkable about the Rays’ pitching depth is they traded their number two guy, James Shields in the deal with Kansas City which returned top prospect Wil Myers, meaning they probably had five starters already capable of pitching 200 plus innings.
Are teams paying attention to how the Rays do it? They should be.
Now let’s take a look at this formidable group of starters the Rays have assembled. They are of course led by the aforementioned Price, whose WHIP was 1.10 with a 2.56 ERA. He should again be a contender for the Cy Young. The other three workhorse candidates are Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, ( whose stuff may be as solid as Price’s) and Alex Cobb. Both Hellickson and Moore threw 177 innings last year, so it should be fun and informative to see how they progress when they are north of 190 innings pitched. Three starters will vie for the last spot in the rotation, Jeff Niemann, Roberto Hernandez and Chris Archer. My gut says Hernandez prevails, with Niemann either traded or in the bullpen. They could send Archer to the minors where he could still start and provide quality depth. Jake Odorizzi could also be a vital member of their staff this year.
The Rays pen will be headlined by Fernando Rodney, who saved 50 games in 51 shots, a remarkable percentage. His ERA was an unheard of .60. Other members include up-and-coming Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth.
The offense will be led by MVP candidate, third baseman Evan Longoria. A hamstring which required post-season surgery limited him to just 74 games, but early buzz from Rays’ camp so far indicates “Longo” looks solid. The rest of their infield consists of the newly acquired James Loney at first base and Yunel Escobar at short. Both players may be new to Tampa, yet they both have experience playing in the division, Escobar with the Blue Jays and Loney with the Red Sox. Second base will be manned by either Ryan Roberts or Kelly Johnson.
The Rays outfield has Desmond Jennings manning center; he slides over to his natural position from left field, replacing the departed B.J. Upton. Newcomer Wil Myers should generate the most buzz early on, the 2012 minor league player of the year could fill a huge hole in right field. There is some speculation that the Rays could wait until mid-May to call him up in order to delay his arbtration and free-agent years, yet I will argue that the Rays should start him right away. Teams should have learned last year with the Angels waiting a month to bring up Mike Trout and fallng one game short of the playoffs That should be a case study in being penny wise and pound foolish.Secondly, we all know that the Rays will not be the ones forking over the bg bucks when and if Myers hits it big. The other outfield spot will probably go to either Matt Joyce or Ben Zobrist with both getting ample playing time. Zobrist will also provide depth in the infield. Sam Fuld will probably be the fifth outfielder and pinch-runner.
Luke Scott should be the full-time DH. Last year he only played in 96 games and put up a .229/.285/.439 slash line, well behind his career yardsticks. If healthy, look for him to rebound. Their starting catcher should be Jose Molina, with Jose Lobaton providing back-up.
The Blue Jays lost their manager John Farrell to the Red Sox, (replacing him with John Gibbons,) but seemingly found talent every place else. Nothing like pressure for an incoming manager. They traded with the Mets for NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, and while I do not think he will come close to replicating his 2012 season, there is little doubt that they acquired a very serviceable pitcher. The Jays also pulled off a blockbuster trade with the Florida Marlins which landed them two more dependable starters in Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson. They will join Brandon Morrow in what could be the best staff in the East. Ricky Romero will most likely be their fifth starter with J.A. Happ also in the mix.
The bullpen will be headlined by Casey Janssen who is coming off shoulder surgery. He led the team with 22 saves last year. And behind him they have quantity with Sergio Santos, Brett Cecil and Darren Oliver providing a solid if unspectacular base. But the Jays will probably get at least 200 innings from Dickey and Buehrle thus limiting bullpen usage.
The Jays outfield has one of the pre-eminent sluggers in the game in right fielder Jose Bautista, who led the American League in homers in both 2010 and 2011, but was injured for 70 games last year. If healthy look for him to be around a .280/.375/.600 The Jays also have Colby Rasmus in center and in one of the more interesting/debateable/dubious moves of the off-season they signed free-agent Melky Cabrera to a two year contract. Not sure what to expect from him, so I expect the Jays to go with 5 outfielders. Rajai Davis is a lock to make the roster, and will be used frequently as a pinch-runner. Emilio Bonificio should make the roster as well.
The Jays should have a strong left side of the infield led by shortstop Jose Reyes who was in the blockbuster deal with the Marlins. Brett Lawrie could also emerge this season and could rank only behind the Rays Evan Longoria as the best third baseman in the division. Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind will spend time at first base and DH with Maicer Izturis manning second.
J.P Arencibia will handle the bulk of the catching duties, and he should be fine. he is just entering his prime, so look for him to improve on last year’s .233/.275/.435. The back-up catcher will most likely go to Henry Blanco, with Josh Thole a possibility. If the Jays stay healthy, Gibbons could be sipping champagne come late October.
The Yankees seem hellbent on lowering their payroll, on the plus side of this decision, they are a savvy, veteran team. On the negative side, they are a veteran team, dealing with injuries all over the diamond with no obvious replacements. Can players like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera defy the aging process for another year? Well, it will be very difficult for ARod as the Yankees placed him on the 60-day DL after hip surgery and signed Kevin Youkillis as a free agent, though I anticipate Youk playing some first base to spell Mark Teixiera periodically when ARod returns. Robinson Cano will again cover second, and he is clearly their best player. Jeter is again the SS, though I expect the Yanks to use Eduardo Nunez quite frequently this year to spell Jeter. I am reluctant to make predictions on this group as a whole simply because I have no idea how many games they will miss this year.
Likewise with their outfield. They recently lost Curtis Granderson for the first month of the season, possibly longer. And yet Brian Cashman and Joe Giradi seem intent on finding a replacement internally, even rejecting the overtures of Johnny Damon. Ichiro Suzuki, a late season pick-up from the Mariners returns and should get plenty of playing time in the early going. Brett Gardner returns and will probably play center field while Granderson is out. Matt Diaz should make the roster out of spring training, unless the Yankees make a move, which will always be a possibility. Their DH could be any of the regular starters who need a mini-breather, though Travis Hafner, a newcomer to the Yankees, should get the bulk of those responsibilities.
Francisco Cervelli should be their everyday catcher, with Chris Stewart and Austin Romine will battle for back-up spot.
The Yankees staff will be headed by C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda was actually the Yankees best starter last year. He started 33 games last year putting up a 3.32 ERA in 220 innings. For the Yanks to succeed, he will need to replicate those numbers. Andy Pettitte spurned retirement for another year and will be their #3 starter. Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova round out the starting five, with young David Phelps waiting in the wings.
The bullpen will once again have Mariano Rivera as their closer. And for the first time in well over a decade, the discussion is not about what a great prior season he had, but whether or not he can rebound from the gruesome knee injury he suffered last year. While I understand he is 42, I still would not bet against him. Should he falter, the Yanks do have a stable of arms behind him. David Robertson, David Aardsma and Joba Chamberlain could all see save oppurtunities this year. Boone Logan and Shawn Kelly should also provide quality depth. The most interesting aspect of this season for the Yankees could come in July if they are in the thick of things. Will ownership add to payroll come the deadline? Or will they stand pat?
Last year the Orioles shocked many pundits by making the post-season. Can manager Buck Showalter perform his magic once again? Let’s take a look.
Jason Hammel is supposed to be their opening day starter, and will be followed by Wei-Yin Chen and Chris Tillman. However I am extrememly bullish on uber prospect Dylan Bundy and I can see him making the starting five out of spring training. Remember, he was a September call-up so his service clock is ticking away as you read this. Miguel Gonzalez and Brian Matusz are also in the mix for the rotation. Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton provide enviable depth. Kevin Gausman is another good-looking prospect who could get a late-season call-up.
Jim Johnson will again be their closer and he is coming off a season he which he which he saved 51 games in 54 chances. Pedro Strop will most likely be their 8th inning guy with Darren O’Day and Troy Patton also candidates for high-leverage innings.
The offense will be led by Adam Jones, who had a breakout year in 2012 placing sixth in the MVP voting. His slash line of .287/.334/.505 will most likely be maintained and possibly improved upon as he is just eneering his prime. Nick Markakis, who is coming off a broken thumb, should be healthy and rested and back to man right field. Nolan Reimold will be their left fielder with Nate McLouth and Xavier Avery battling it out for the fourth spot.
Their infield got a huge boost when the Orioles promoted Manny Machado from the minors and he instantly had an impact drilling seven homers in 51 games and proving he could handle the AL East. The underrated J.J.Hardy is entrenched at short with Ryan Flaherty at second, with Chris Davis taking over full time at first base.
The Orioles probably have the best catching tandem in the dicision, led by Matt Wieters. Taylor Teagarden and Luis Exposito will compete for the backup spot, though they may carry three catchers and ond of tthem will be a DH at times. Wilson Betemit could also DH in addition to providing depth at first and third. But because of their emergence last year, they now have a bulls eye on their jersey.
After finishing in the cellar last season, the Red Sox should not have a bulls eye on them. GM Ben Cherington himself has said he expects the next great Red Sox team to be ready around 2014-2015. That is not to say they have not made changes. They sure did alter their roster even after the Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford trade late last summer. The most notable of these is their manager. John Farrell was actually traded by the Toronto Blue Jays to the Red Sox as it became clear he wanted to return to Boston where he was their pitching coach for a couple of years under Terry Francona. So he should be familiar with most of the staff.
Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are the top returing starters. Ryan Dempster was signed to a deal as a free-agent. Big things were expected from Felix Doubrant, but he showed up to camp overwieght. Perhaps receiving an earful from Pedro Martinez will motivate him to bigger and better things. John Lackey is penciled in as their fifth starter and has looked solid as he rebounds from Tommy John surgery. Should anyone struggle, either Franklin Moralas or Alfredo Aceves could step in.
The bullpen should be anchored by Joel Hanrahan, who was acquired in an off-season trade with the Pirates. Andrew Bailey and Koji Uehara will also be used in the later innings. Daniel Bard and Andrew Miller could also make the team with Miller being the only lefty option.
Their outfield will have Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Shane Victorino in right. Newcomer Jonnny Gomes should get bulk of the left field responsibilities with Daniel Nava and Mike Carp periodically spelling the regulars. Jackie Bradley Jr. a prospect could force his way into the line-up.
Dustin Pedroia once again leads the infield at second base. Will Middlebrooks, will probably man third base, although he recently re-injured his right wrist. If he is unable to start, Pedro Ciraco will likely get the nod. The battle for shortstop is between Stephen Drew or Jose Iglesias, with Iglesias being the superior defender. First base should got o Mike Napoli, though he could catch former Angels teammate John Lackey every now and again. David Ortiz will once again DH for the Red Sox, a task he has handled with aplomb for a decade. Lyle Overbay and Carp could also spell Napoli when his body needs a break.
Jarrod Saltamacchia and David Ross will handle the pitching staff though Ryan Lavarnway could make one of them available in a trade. Lavarnway himself could be trade bait. Which to some extent is what I expect again. For the Sox to once again make a mid-summer trade to augment their prospect base.