3 x 5 AL East Preview by Todd Vandenberg and Lee Vowell

American League East Questions

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Baltimore Orioles

Question: So many other teams made moves to get better this offseason. The Orioles were good last year, lost players in free agency and seemingly did nothing to replace them. What were the Orioles thinking?

Lee: I think Peter Angelos wanted to make his GM Dan Duquette look bad because Angelos is a mean old man who doesn’t like it when people try to steal his candy. He must really hate the Blue Jays. So the Orioles ended up losing Nelson Cruz (maybe wisely, because he is aging even if right now he still has power), Nick Markakis (maybe wisely, because he is not that good) and Andrew Miller (because Angelos wanted to hurt the team). The Orioles have to hope their solid core of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis stay healthy. And I am unsure what their plan going forward is, but they do have good pitching on the farm so maybe they are just being patient (?).

Todd: I have to think they assumed, rightly so, that the rest of the division was mediocre (Boston, Toronto) to awful (New York, Tampa Bay), and all they needed to repeat was stay healthy. The trio of Davis, Machado and Wieters missed a total of about 240 games last year; getting them back is the same as signing two nice free agents. They’ll be fine.

Question: Where will Buck Showalter stand among the rankings of all-time managers?

Lee: Buck will be respected, if remembered, but he won’t be ranked among the greats. But he is a great manager. Everywhere he has gone he has won, and usually the turnarounds happen fairly quickly. One thing that hurts him is that he does not seem to stay with one team for very long, which is odd. He has actually been with Baltimore longer than any of his other three stops. He came to Baltimore after his stint at ESPN, so I wonder if maybe he realized he just needed to stay in one place and manage. By the end of the season he should be ranked 31st in wins all time and his .520 winning percentage is misleading because he took over bad teams. He is a great manager, but not top ten.

Todd: Buck turns 59 this year, with 1259 wins and a .520 WL% (blame a lousy Rangers team for most of that). If he manages another 10 years, averaging just 85 wins a year, that puts him in ninth place all time, just past Walter Alston. Better records, maybe another couple years, he could certainly pass Sparky Anderson for sixth place. His WL% might still be under .530, but nobody dogs Connie Mack, right? Does he need to win a World Series to get the general acclaim? Not for me, but for some, yes. Because baseball isn’t a team sport, I suppose.

Question: Chris Davis will miss Opening Day to complete his 25 game suspension for last year’s failed drug test, allegedly for Adderall. Assuming a player needs a banned drug for a health issue, and even though the player may not have been granted a waiver previously, should suspensions be reduced or retracted?

Lee: What happened with Davis is written into the CBA, so for the suspension to be reduced it would have to be collective bargained. But as a human being, I would feel ok about that happening. Davis now, however, has been granted a waiver and can take Adderall without threat of suspension, and I think that is a good thing.

Todd: Sorry, Mr. Davis, but I think it’s the player’s responsibility to get that waiver beforehand. Serve your time. These aren’t kids in impoverished homes with no access to informed medical care. These guys have all the medical help they need. Adderall abuse is unfortunately all too common; it’s extremely unfortunate for those athletes who have an actual medical need for it, but them’s the breaks. With their million dollar contracts they can find suitable alternative therapies.

Boston Red Sox

Question: The Red Sox seem to be the American League version of the San Francisco Giants. They are good one year and not so good the next. Last year the Red Sox were bad again, what will they do to make this season a success?

Lee: Their hitting alone should carry them in this division, and the addition of Pablo Sandoval alone will help with that. Third base production for Boston last year was awful. Sandoval still won’t hit a ton of homers, but he is very productive hitter whose numbers will increase with the lineup around him. They should have one of the top five lineups in the majors and that will overcome a lot of pitching staff issues. That said, I think their starting staff, while not great, will be better than a lot of people expect. There’s no reason with the batting lineup they have they should not win the division.

Todd: Looks to me like they’re depending on a youth movement (Mookie Betts) plus a little help from Havana (Rusney Castillo). No, it won’t be enough.

Question: The Red Sox did not go get a number one starter (yet anyway), but they did sign two very good hitters. What were the Red Sox thinking?

Lee: They were thinking they could get by with hitting, and they will. But they are also thinking they did not want to overspend for a number one when they have an extremely deep farm system as far as pitching is concerned. That’s a long-term solution for an ever present long-term need. But don’t rule out that the Sox just might go get a top end starter closer to July 31st.

Todd: Rick Porcello, dude. He’s A-Number One, with a bullet. Seriously, I have as much clue as the Red Sox brass here. I like the new bats, but they have nowhere close to the pitching they need.

Question: He’s only played over 130 games once in the last six seasons, but will the move to left keep Hanley Ramirez healthy enough to get him a full season?

Lee: Probably not. At least, not seemingly. The rumor around Ramirez when he was a Dodger was that many times he just did not want to play. It will be interesting to see with the clubhouse leaders in Boston (Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz) whether he will be a bit more pressed to be on the field more. Ramirez does have a great bat, though, and when he does play he will produce. Plus, the Red Sox have options in the outfield, so if Ramirez even plays 120, he’ll produce enough to make a difference.

Todd: He wasn’t exactly Ozzie Smith in the field, so no loss there. Hopefully, yes, the move to a much easier defensive position will keep him healthy enough to log 150 games. In the past, the move away from the more demanding position has helped guys like Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Craig Biggio stay healthier, so why not Hanley? I say 140 games for Hanley.

New York Yankees

Question: The Yankees overpay for older players seemingly past their prime. Let’s joke around for a minute and assume everyone stays healthy. How good can the team be?

Lee: They can make a run at the playoffs. If everyone stays healthy (they won’t) and produces something close to their career averages (they won’t), then why not? They have proven talent. Old talent. But assuming everyone stays healthy and CC Sabathia wins 14-16 games, and Mark Teixeira hits 30 HRs, and Carlos Beltran plays great outfield, and yada yada yada, then they can compete. I am not sure what the Yankees plan is, though, besides overspending for International players so much that they can’t really do much with them in the next two cycles.

Todd: Man, you need to open for Eddie Izzard. Okay, *assuming* they stay healthy – Bwahahaha – sorry, couldn’t help it – the New Metamucil Row would finish second. But they won’t stay healthy; who does, these days?

Question: Back to reality, various Yankees will be injured on and off throughout the season. How long will it be before the Yankees can become the Yankees we all know and hate again?

Lee: I am thinking one day soon that Yankees ownership/management will wake up and realize, “Hey, we’re the Yankees!” and go on a spending spree that brings in younger, talented, proven players. Of course, this is the same group that let Robinson Cano walk without even pretending that they would come close to the Mariners offer. Are Hal and Hank Steinbrenner not really baseball fans and just use the team to make cash? The farm system currently ranks 20th out of 30 teams, according to Keith Law, and though those International players and some other prospects should be ok they are still far behind the Red Sox on the farm. While the Yankees did spend a lot of money because they made a lot of money, people seem to forget that the last great Yankees teams of the late 90s had quite a bit of homegrown talent. The Yankees at some point will be competitive again every year, but it may be after a few really down years in the next several.

Todd: Depending on which rankings you believe, the farm system is somewhere between seventh and the bottom half of MLB.  With their money, they only need a few decent prospects; they need to sign free agents with more tread left on the tire than my brother’s ’66 Comet.  Until they realize that, it will be a blissfully Yankee-free postseason. Mmmmmmmm – six years from now, they wake up.

Question: What should expect we expect from Alex Rodriguez on the field this season?

Lee: He will 40 July 27th and has been out of the game for a long time for injuries and suspension. He won’t be horrible, though. PEDs or no he still once had extreme talent and still must have some of that left. Now, how much the Yankees want to have to deal with him is a different issue. I can see him playing 120 games, hitting 20 HRs and driving in 70.

Todd: The consensus of various stat sites seems to be a sub-.240 average, a dozen dingers, 50 RBI, and an OPS of about .700. An excellent year for him would be .260, 20 HR, 70 RBI with an OPS of .760. And he won’t even sniff that. I go with the consensus. For this “production” at DH and 1B, he will earn $21 million. I also expect to see him with a little baggie of pills and syringes in the dugout at some point. That’s on the field, right? A-Rod is an All-Star jerk, scumbag, and idiot who didn’t hesitate one moment to rat out everyone he could to try to save himself. Other than that, he’s a good guy to have on your team. Enjoy him, Yankee fans!

Tampa Bay Rays

Question: Steven Souza and Kevin Kiermaier: which of the two will have the better year, and will both still be in Tampa all year?

Lee: Souza will have the better year because he will play more. Plus, he’s from Everett, so I want him to be the better one. Neither will be great, however. And both will still be in Tampa in 2016 because they have affordable contracts.

Todd: Souza put up big numbers at Triple AAA; even though Kiermaier tailed off seriously after the All-Star break, he still led the team in OPS at .765. However, it isn’t just about their performance, it’s about who would take their place? DeJesus? Please. These guys are here to stay.

Question: The Rays farm system is weak, and the team does not have much money to spend. Are the Rays doomed to mediocrity or worse for the next ten years?

Lee: The Rays are definitely in a rebuilding phase, but the problem is that baseball does not have a hard cap. Teams spend what they want to spend, really, and money is going to attract the better players. This is not rocket science. The Rays don’t have the money to spend on players. Their current ballpark sucks. (I have been there. I have seen it with my own five eyes. It’s awful.) It’s a bad location which is in a bad professional sports state. The Rays will not have money until they build a park somewhere else. Like Las Vegas. Rays fans, all two of them, should be happy they had those Maddon years because they will stink for a long, long time. Until they open their new park in Las Vegas. Go 51s! (By the way, the 51s current park is called Cashman Field. Is the Yankees plan to buy the Rays and move them to Las Vegas and create the first ever major league farm club? Those Yankees are brilliant bastards!)

Todd: Yes. I don’t see any point in belaboring the issue. If they spend some of their limited funds on upgrading their scouring infrastructure, then they’ll rebound more quickly. But wouldn’t they have done that already?

Question: The Rays seemingly lost most of the good parts they have in David Price, Wil Myers, Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon. Besides the players, how big of an impact will it be losing the front office personnel?

Lee: Bigger than it will be losing the players on the field. Rays babies are taught at a young age that they are going to quickly be given up for adoption as they are mostly well behaved, productive children. Their hair brings a good price on the open market. Wil Myers wasn’t even born a Ray, but he knew that Tampa was just a foster home until he went somewhere else (surprisingly, San Diego). But Maddon is a great manager. Friedman did what he could with payroll. Those are nearly impossible guys to lose.

Todd: Maddon, as we discussed in our NL Central preview, will probably be worth six to eight additional wins to the Cubbies. So subtract the same from these Rays. The good news is, fans will now be able to leave Tropicana by the fifth inning for the World of Beer (highly recommended), instead of waiting for the seventh.

Toronto Blue Jays

Question: If Edwin Encarnacion played in New York, how big of a star would he be?

Lee: He would be huge. He’s a power guy who doesn’t strike out. This guy should be much more talked about than he is. He’s better than Nelson Cruz. The problems are he 1) plays in Toronto and 2) plays on the same team as the charismatic Jose Bautista. These are his last 3-year averages: 37 HR/104 RBI/76 BB/79 K with a slash line of .273/.369/.543. During the current state of baseball, those are really nice numbers. And seriously, the guy averages 79 K a season?! That is crazy. Put him on a post-Jeter Yankees team and he might be the face of the franchise. And he could play first well enough to be on the Mets. How much better would they be if he were on the team with the pitching staff they should have? A lot.

Todd: 112 HR and 312 RBI the last three years combined, and his worst OPS was .901. Nah, this guy wouldn’t make a nickel in endorsements. Can you imagine this guy on the Yankees? He’d be a god –well, demigod at least.

Question: The Blue Jays seem like they should have been contending the last two years, but haven’t. The division is not strong this year. Will this be the year the Blue Jays break their 21 year drought of making the playoffs?

Lee: It should have been, but now they have lost Marcus Stroman to a torn ACL so I think they don’t have a shot. The Blue Jays just seem to have bad luck. Stroman was going to be top of the rotation, but now they have to rely more on R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. Those guys are not bad pitchers; they are just old. The Jays should still rake (if everyone stays healthy), and I love the addition of Josh Donaldson. But pitching will let them down in the end. Unless they can trade for Cole Hamels.

Todd: Ummmmmmmmmmmm – that’s not a drumroll, I’m just thinking. Speaking of drumrolls, if you haven’t seen “Whiplash”, do so at your first opportunity. Excellent flick, *especially* if you like jazz. And if you do like jazz, how have you *not* seen this flick?? Oh, yeah, baseball. So, I say, yes, they’ll make it. They’ll improve on last year, and more than enough to make it in. Even with the news that Stroman will miss the season, they’ll improve. Mainly because of the answer to the final question.

Question: How much will Russell Martins’ savvy behind the plate improve this staff?

Lee: See above. Martin will improve the staff and hit well enough, but not enough to make the team a contender. Savvy only gets you so far; talent takes a team all the way.

Todd: A lot. Overall, the record won’t jump that much because they still have big questions at LF and CF, but in a weak division, it won’t take much. The Jays signed him for his defense, primarily. He’s been among the best in framing pitches for eight straight years, and is second only to Molina Catching, Inc. (actually Yadier) in defensive WAR over the same eight years. His teams have been in the postseason six of the last seven years. All signs point to yes, he will improve this staff. Navarro hasn’t been bad behind the plate, but I can see Martin saving this team forty or fifty runs for the season, enough to improve the team by four or five games himself. And they don’t need much to get back into the postseason.

Predictions

Lee:

*Boston 88-74

*Baltimore 86-76

New York 79-83

Toronto 77-85

Tampa 72-90

Todd:

*Baltimore 89-73

*Toronto 86-76

Boston 84-78

New York 79-83

Tampa 75-87

*-denotes playoff team

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