Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AL East Preview

So my boss tells me that I need to pick the AL East MVP, best pitcher and best hitter for the 2009 season. Funny thing is - it is a very tough, well okay impossible, thing to do. This division is so deep with talent throughout the 3 teams that have a realistic I said impossible. There is a big misconception out there that the AL East is all about the bats. I agree, the division has A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira, Big Papi, Dustin Pedroia, BJ Upton and plenty more. But this division has a ton of established starters and plenty of young guns to go around. Sabathia, the oft-injured AJ Burnett, Lester, Dice K, Beckett, Garza, Kazmir, Halladay, Shields and some young phenom named David Price...just kidding about the "some young guy" he slammed the door on the Red Sox to send the Rays to the Series in 2008. Like I said it is a pitching division. With that said - here are my picks boss man!!

Best Pitcher for 2009 in the AL East - How can you argue with CC. He was the best pitcher on the planet last year. Carried the Brewers on his back to the playoffs - but there is definitely plenty of room on his back. And now he has an offense that will insure he wins at least 20 and that is a rarity nowadays.

Best Hitter for 2009 in the AL East - A-Rod is hurt - so he's out. Jeter is aging - so he's out. The loss of A-Rod eliminates Teixeira, protection will be an issue for a couple months - so he's out. Big Papi is like 42 but runs like he is 92 and he can't stay healthy - he's out. Pedroia needs to prove that he can do it again (at least to me) - out. So I think that leaves Evan Longoria - the up and coming superstar third baseman in Tampa. Look for this guy to take over A-Rod AND David Wright as the premier 3rd baseman in the league...oh yeah, that's right - I said it - over both New Yorkers!!

MVP - This is tough - tons of depth...if we are saying Most VALUABLE - it would be Roy Halladay - but without AJ Burnett - you can write them down as finishing in 4th or 5th - so he is a non factor now. After the offensive explosion from BJ Upton in the 2008 playoffs last year - he is the key to give the Rays a chance to repeat as AL East Champs. He needs to prove that the playoffs were not a fluke and take it to the next level for an entire season. If Upton can do this and Longoria turns it up a notch - this team might be able to steal another division away from the 2 Free Spenders, the Sox and the Yanks, of Major League Baseball.

Now, on to the team-by-team preview of the AL East.

Division Preview
Three words give everyone in Major League Baseball hope that they can win it all in 2009. Those words are TAMPA BAY RAYS! The Rays had never won more than 70 games in a season since the franchise came in to the league in 1998. They went 66-96 in 2007 and then hit lightning in a bottle in 2008 by going 97-65 and going to the World Series. The question is can they do it again? It is a tough thing to ask of the Rays to repeat with such free spenders as the Yankees, as well as the best run baseball team in the league, the Boston Red Sox. So without further ado…my preview of each team below is in the order I think they will finish.

1. Boston Red Sox - How can you pick against this team? I say they are the best run franchise in baseball. I know they have a huge payroll, but they do not overpay for anyone. Everyone wants to play there. Brad Penny, Takaski Saito, John Smoltz & Rocco Baldelli all signed for very reasonable amounts and a couple took less to play in Fenway. You add that depth to an already loaded team – what you get is a 2009 AL East crown. The BoSox have Ellsbury, Pedroia (the AL MVP in 2008) & Big Papi. They have a full season of Jason Bay – so he will be more comfortable now. And Jonathan Papelbon closing the door at the end of games – this team is the most balanced team in the league.
2009 record 98-64

2. New York Yankees - The loss of A-Rod for at least the 1st month or two is a big loss. Cody Ransom is his backup. We all know this team and how it works – they are never afraid to make a move if they need to and cash is never an issue. I think this team will look to trade for Mark Teahan of the Royals. Teahan would be a great fit for this organization. Funny how $3.5 million is too much for Kansas City, but is pocket change for the Bronx Bombers. After A-Rod gets back – Teahan can play 1st, 2nd, 3rd or OF – and I’m sure Girardi will find a way to get him some at-bats. The Yankees overpaid for CC Sabathia, but they had to because he wanted to play on the West Coast – so it was a great move for the Yankees. Now the Burnett signing is a head scratcher. They paid way too much for a 32 year old .500 lifetime pitcher. Plus AJ’s best friend for any team he has ever played for is named Disabled List. The Mark Teixeira signing is a great move. A great glove and an even better bat. Still only 28, switch hits, but how many bombs will this guy hit from the left side with that short porch in right? This team does have some age concerns – Jeter, A-Rod, Damon, Pettitte & Posada all getting up there – so health will be an issue with this team. Plus CC the new ace of the staff threw about 942 innings in 2008 alone. If this team can stay healthy – and that is a big IF (just ask A-Rod), a wild card berth is a distinct possibility.
2009 record 94-68

3. Tampa Bay Rays - This is one of the teams I will be covering during the 2009 season. You have to love what manager Joe Maddon did with this team in 2008. The guy had no fear throwing youth into the mix, plus was not afraid to bench his stars for not hustling. On a number of occasions, he yanked BJ Upton out of the game for not hustling and that will help teach BJ how to play the game right all the time. While at the same time showing everyone on the squad that if you don’t play hard, I don’t care who you are, you will sit. The Rays young core is in tact and the future is bright. Upton, Carlos Pena & Carl Crawford lead the offensive attack, while James Shields and Scott Kazmir anchor an up and coming staff. But back to back division titles in a division like this is a little bit too much to ask.
2009 record 85-77

4. Baltimore Orioles - The O’s have some youth to get excited about and really have done a great job of drafting the last couple years. Catcher Matt Wieters might very well be the next Mike Piazza. Wieters is going to hit for average, as well as hit plenty of Bombs at Camden Yards for many years to come. The question is will the Baltimore front office let that era begin at the start of 2009 or wait until May or June to bring him up. Nick Markakis looks like he will be planted in rightfield for the next 10 years, Adam Jones is only 23 and playing CF, Brian Roberts plays 2B and steals bases and Melvin Mora is still serviceable. This team really needs to get a couple arms to build around in the very near future. This team is going to win a lot of their games with just outslugging the opposition.
2009 record 75-87

5. Toronto Blue Jays – There is just not much to get excited about with the Jays and the O’s. Roy Halladay is the ace of this team and would be the ace on just about any other team in baseball. Vernon Wells and Alex Rios are a great 1-2 punch, but who else are they going to have around them. I really like the looks of Adam Lind. Once Cito Gaston let him know he was going to be in the lineup everyday no matter the results, Lind hit 9 homers and batted .282 in 326 at bats, so this kid will factor into the Blue Jays lineup in 2009. But it is going to be a long season for the team north of the border.
2009 record 67-95
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