March 29, 2011
In just two days, the Major League Baseball season will begin with games that may or may not be played, depending on snow. If it seems like it was just a couple months ago that the World Series was finishing up in cold weather, it was. So who will be representing the American League in the Fall/Winter Classic in 2011?
The Orioles may finally be headed in the right direction. The O’s hired Buck Showalter to be the manager in the middle of last season and he immediately turned the team around. He led them to a 34-23 finish in 2010. Baltimore has added some quality veterans in the offseason which should provide some leadership for a young team. They should be better but it won’t be enough to win the toughest division in baseball.
The Red Sox won 89 games and missed the playoffs in 2010. They have a star-studded roster and will be in the playoff hunt all season. The additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez have the Red Sox as the favorite to win the division and the World Series.
The Yankees’ success in 2011 will depend on the health of their older stars like Jeter and A-Rod and the questions in the pitching staff. C.C. Sabathia and Mariano Riveria are as good as it gets, but questions surround the rest of the staff. Cliff Lee is back in Philadelphiaand Andy Pettitte is retired so the Yankees will have to rely on guys like Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova. And if that doesn’t work out, they can always afford to make a deal.
The defending A.L. East champs look quite a bit different in 2011. Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano and Matt Garza are out. Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez are in. If Manny being Manny happens at the plate and not off the field, the Rays will be right in the mix with Boston and New York.
One thing is for sure. The Blue Jays will be the best team in Canada. They led the majors in home runs in 2010 and won 85 games. They may have been good enough to contend in another division, but not the A.L. East. No team would benefit more from realignment than Toronto.
The White Sox aren’t the superstars of the Yankees or Red Sox but they are solid at every position. What they can get from Jake Peavy will go a long way towards determining how they finish in the Central. The addition of Adam Dunn at DH will be a boost to the lineup as well.
They were bad in 2010. The roster hasn’t changed much. They are going to be bad in 2011. The misery continues for Cleveland fans.
The Tigers won 81 games last year. The additions of Joaquin Benoit, Victor Martinez and Brad Pennyoutweigh the losses of Jeremy Bonderman and Johnny Damon. If Miguel Cabrera can leave his off the field problems off the field and be the monster in the middle of that lineup, Detroit could steal the division title.
If you are a Kansas City fan, help is on the way. Next year. The Royals have the best farm system in the majors and should start getting reinforcements in the near future. They will be much better in the next couple years, but will struggle in 2011.
Minnesota won the A.L. Central in 2010 without Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan. If both players can come back healthy, the Twins will likely defend that title.
The Angels were a disappointment in 2010. They were also a disappointment in the offseason. They failed to sign any of the big free agents they wanted. They have been passed in the West and haven’t done anything about it.
The A’s have a strong young pitching staff. They play in a winnable division. The question is can they score? Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui will help. Will it be enough?
Seattle lost 101 times in 2010. They will be better. They almost have to be better. They have some great players like Ichiro Suzuki and Felix Hernandez. They have some young prospects with potential. But they will still finish last in the West.
Texas won the A.L. West and went to the World Series in 2010. They can score. And they added Adrian Beltre at third. Cliff Lee is gone and Michael Young has asked for a trade. If the Rangers can keep Young happy and Brandon Webb can get healthy, they have the horses to defend their division title.
February 8, 2011
When Vladimir Guerrero signed with the Baltimore Orioles on Friday for one year and $8 million, the last big domino in baseball’s free agent game fell. With only a few weeks to go until spring training, it would appear the major players have made their big offseason moves and are ready to get the action going again. Here’s a look at the top five impact signings and how they might affect the races this summer.
5. Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon – Rays
Tampa Bay signed this pair of ex-Red Sox stars for a huge bargain price. Damon, 37, is chasing 3,000 hits and will earn $5.25 million in 2011 with $750,000 in performance incentives. Ramirez, 38, has 555 career home runs, but will play for only $2 million. Of course, both are in the twilights of their respective careers, well past the age of 35, but for numbers as gaudy as theirs, they likely could have commanded a few million more. Ramirez was playing for $20 million last year between Los Angeles and Chicago. He should bring an instant upgrade at designated hitter, especially since he’ll no longer have to worry about left field duties. Damon is still a serviceable outfielder and matched his career on-base percentage last year of .355. With better hitters around him in Tampa like Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton, he might see a few more pitches than he did in Detroit, which should help boost his numbers. Both should keep Tampa in the mix in the American League East after Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena signed elsewhere this offseason.
4. Rafael Soriano – Yankees
New York needed to plug the holes in its leaky bullpen and it did so in a big way. Not only did the Yanks keep Mariano Rivera in the fold with a two-year deal, they snagged the relief market’s biggest fish in Rafael Soriano for three-years and $35 million. Soriano was sensational last season with Tampa Bay, saving 45 games while posting a 1.73 ERA and 57 strikeouts against only 14 walks. For his career, the reliever owns a 2.73 ERA, .193 opponents’ batting average, 1.00 WHIP and 3.57:1 K/BB ration. He should allow the Yankees to keep runners off the bases in the late innings this season, something they couldn’t do when it counted last year. It should be noted, though, that Soriano had a tough postseason series against the Rays in 2010. In three innings against the Rangers in the ALDS, he gave up three runs, good for a 9.00 ERA, as well as a .308 opponents’ batting average. He’s going to have to do better than that this postseason to justify what is a massive contract for a relief pitcher.
3. Adrian Beltre – Rangers
After allowing Vladimir Guerrero to walk following the season, the Rangers needed to replace his production somewhere, so they went younger and better defensively by grabbing Beltre for six-years and $96 million. His production spiked in 2010 to a .321 batting average, 28 home runs, 102 RBIs and a .919 OPS, all his best marks since 2004 when he hit .334 with 48 homers, 121 RBIs and a 1.017 OPS in Los Angeles. He gives Texas an excellent defensive left side in tandem with shortstop Elvis Andrus, too. With the American League West likely entering another down year in 2011, Beltre might be the difference between the Rangers and the rest of the pack in the division. If he can even just approach the numbers he posted last season in Boston, he’ll be another potent bat in Texas’ fearsome lineup. This will give the young pitching staff some breathing room to develop and grow and allow the Rangers a chance to return to the World Series.
2. Carl Crawford – Red Sox
Boston’s signing of this five-tool star for seven-years and $142 million is big not only in what it brings to Fenway Park, but what it takes away from division rival Tampa Bay. Crawford was a catalyst for many of his nine seasons with the Rays. He stole 20 or more bases eight times and 50 or more five times including a 60-spot in 2009. He’s also improved his power numbers over the years, posting careers highs in home runs (19) and OPS (.851) in 2010. The Rays will miss that diversified, game-breaking production big time in 2011, even with the additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. The Red Sox, on the other hand, figure to benefit greatly from having this playmaker at the top of their lineup. Only one player, Ryan Kalish, broke double figures in stolen bases last season for Boston with 10 and only Marco Scutaro’s 92 runs approached Crawford’s total of 110 with Boston. Crawford’s presences figures to charge up what became a stagnant offense in Bean Town last season.
1. Cliff Lee – Phillies
Lee’s return to Philadelphia has gotten a lot of press and why shouldn’t it? The Phillies now have perhaps the best rotation this generation of baseball fans has ever seen with Lee, Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels in the fold. But what does Lee bring individually? One key is durability. Lee has pitched over 200 innings in five of the last six seasons. He’s also racked up an impressive 20 complete games for his career in an era when managers get queasy when a pitcher goes past the sixth inning. He also brings great control. Last year, between Seattle and Texas, Lee walked only 18 batters. That’s a staggeringly low number for as many innings as he pitched. The biggest key, though, is his postseason resume. In 76 playoff innings, Lee sports a 2.13 ERA and a 7-2 record. His ERA has been under 3.00 in five of his six career playoff series. Though he struggled in the World Series last season, he was a big part of both the Phillies’ and the Rangers’ runs there in 2009 and 2010. If Philadelphia can get him back to the postseason this year, look out, because he can do some real damage.