A ton happened in the American League East this offseason, the Blue Jays traded for and signed everybody under the sun, the Yankees can’t stay healthy, the Red Sox have a new manager, the Rays said goodbye to James Shields and hello to Wil Myers, and well the Orioles, they didn’t do much. Who will win possibly the most unpredictable division in the Majors? Let’s take a look!
Projected Order of Finish: Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles
Why the Rays could win the A.L. East: Let’s start off with defending Cy Young winner David Price anchoring a young and talented starting rotation. James Shields may be gone, but there is still plenty of firepower with maturing Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, Alex Cobb, and Jeff Niemann. Not to mention Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi waiting in the wings. The bullpen is the best in the division with Fernando Rodney coming off the lowest ERA in the history of the league, plus excellent setup men in Joel Peralta and Jake McGee. We’re still waiting on the superstar break out season from Evan Longoria. If it happens in 2013, the Rays are in great shape. I’ve also now gone this entire paragraph without mentioning Joe Maddon, who is the best manager in the game today.
Why the Rays wouldn’t win the the A.L. East: The young rotation guys aren’t quite ready. Evan Longoria spends more than half the season on the disabled list like in 2012. Fernando Rodney reverts back to the Fernando Rodney before 2012 and doesn’t carry over the “magic plantain” powers from the World Baseball Classic. Desmond Jennings still isn’t ready to take the next step. Yunel Escobar gets himself in trouble. The Blue Jays really are that good.
Why the Blue Jays could win the A.L. East: The talent the Jays assembled is the best that they’ve had since their 1993 World Series championship team. The starting rotation is talented and experienced with Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey, the spectacular, but oft-injured Josh Johnson, the bulldog Mark Buerhle, and “awesome when his stuff is on” Brandon Morrow. It’s not just the rotation that’s revamped though. Jose Reyes now sits atop an explosive lineup with two-time home run champion Jose Bautista and WBC teammate Edwin Encarnacion, who hit 42 home runs last season. The Jays also added Melky Cabrera, who was leading the National League in batting average, before he was suspended for fifty games.
Why the Blue Jays wouldn’t win the A.L. East: It’s not very often the team built to succeed immediately actually succeeds. Just ask the Angels and the Marlins last year. The bullpen still has a ton of question marks. Is Casey Janssen ready to be a big-time closer on a winning team? Is Sergio Santos completely healthy? Can Darren Oliver keep it up at 42 years-old? The Blue Jays better hope the answer is yes to two of three of those. Edwin Encarnacion could have had a fluke season instead of a breakout one. Plus, can Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind keep their heads on straight and hit the way they were supposed to as highly touted prospects?
Why the Red Sox could win the A.L. East: First off, maybe they really just disliked Bobby Valentine so much that they went into tanking mode to ensure he was gone. John Farrell will provide an upgrade in the dugout and in the clubhouse. Jon Lester looks ready to return to form after a terrible 2012. The lineup is solid enough, especially when David Ortiz is healthy. Shane Victorino provides enough of a clubhouse presence and more importantly, enough of a bat, to keep Boston in contention. Jackie Bradley is everything Red Sox fans think he really is.
Why the Red Sox wouldn’t win the A.L. East: The heels of David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury get the Sox off on the “wrong foot”. Jonny Gomes is primarily involved defensively. The starters after Jon Lester (and even Jon Lester if he’s in 2012 form) aren’t top-notch. Ryan Dempster needs to be the first half of 2012, not the second half. Clay Buchholz has fallen apart after showing so much promise in 2010. John Lackey is John Lackey. The bullpen is revamped with closer-quality pitchers in Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, and Koji Uehara, but they all need to stay healthy.
Why the Yankees could win the A.L. East: They’re the Yankees and you can never count them out. They rally around Mariano Rivera, who’s retiring at the end of the season, to get him one more chance in the playoffs. The injuries that they’ve experienced in Spring Training aren’t as bad as originally thought for Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Phil Hughes, and Alex Rodriguez and they can provide enough, especially in the 2nd half. The pitching keeps it together (minus Hughes) with experience at the top (CC Sabathia, Huroki Kuroda, and Andy Pettitte) and youth at the bottom (Ivan Nova and David Phelps). The bullpen with a returning Rivera, David Robertson, and a fully-healthy Joba Chamberlain could be the best in the division. Robinson Cano plays completely out of his mind for a contract and is the clear-cut AL MVP.
Why the Yankees wouldn’t win the A.L. East: The injury bug is just too much. The names “Vernon Wells”, “Juan Rivera”, “Lyle Overbay” and “Travis Hafner” are predominantly involved in the lineup after the All-Star break. They stick to their payroll to stay under the luxury tax and it prevents them from going after what they need at the trade deadline.
Why the Orioles could win the A.L. East: Winning one-run games (MLB best 29-9 in 2012) was actually skill and not luck. The bullpen of Darren O’ Day, Pedro Strop, and Jim Johnson doesn’t wear down in a bullpen than threw the 4th most innings in MLB last season. Buck Showalter continues to work his magic in Charm City and wins A.L. Manager of the Year. Baltimore calls up Dylan Bundy and he immediately becomes a lights-out staff ace. Manny Machado excels in his first full year in the Majors, while Adam Jones continues his path to super-stardom evolving into a near 30-30 player.
Why the Orioles wouldn’t win the A.L. East: The statistics guys are right and the Orioles regress to the mean in one-run games. The starting pitching doesn’t hold up like it did last year. Seriously though, this is the worst rotation on paper in the division. With the lineups in the A.L. East it might be tough for them to keep afloat.
Evan Longoria and David Price-Rays
Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista-Blue Jays
Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia-Red Sox
David Price and Fernando Rodney-Rays
CC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera-Yankees
Jon Lester-Red Sox
R.A. Dickey and Brandon Morrow-Blue Jays
Rookie of the Year
Wil Myers and Chris Archer-Rays
Jackie Bradley and Jose Iglesias-Red Sox
Who do you think takes the crown in the A.L. East? Let us know in the comments!
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
MLB Network concluded their yearly series “Top 100 Players Right Now” on Tuesday night. The full list of 100 players can be found here. I’m shocked, but respect that they actually put Josh Willingham at #43. The thing about baseball is that there is never an agreement on anything. I couldn’t resist making my own “Top 20 Right Now”, starting with 20-16 today and another group of five over the next three days.
On the MLB Network list, not on my list: #15 Giancarlo Stanton, #16 Evan Longoria, and #20 Cole Hamels
Call me a homer, especially to have Kimbrel leap over NL East rivals Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Giancarlo Stanton, and David Wright into my top 20. However, when you look at players at their position that are purely dominant Kimbrel is at the head of the class. Kimbrel struck out over half the batters he faced in 2012, a first for any pitcher. He also has finished 23rd and 8th for NL MVP the last two seasons, which is better than anyone in the NL East I jumped him over. I’m going to give the best closer in the game, the respect he deserves. I would’ve done the same with Mariano Rivera a decade ago.
#19, Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (MLB Network’s #24)
Well this will end my homerism quickly, I jump Molina up a full five spots and into the top 20 after his best season in the majors. You can make a case that he’s the best catcher in the game right now. I won’t go that far, but Molina’s awesomeness at throwing out potential base stealers is unparalleled and gives the Cardinals a dynamic that other teams don’t have. Molina’s won five straight Gold Glove’s and has improved at the plate, not just behind it, hitting over .300 each of the past two seasons. Molina finished a career-best 4th in NL MVP voting in 2012.
#18, CC Sabathia, New York Yankees (MLB Network’s #18)
Our first agreement! Sabathia has almost become underrated as the ace and work horse of the Yankees staff. Even with an injury last year, Sabathia logged his 7th straight 200 innings pitched season. He’s also not just eating innings, Sabathia is giving quality innings, as he hasn’t had an ERA over 3.38 since 2006. He’s been so good for so long, that he’s being overlooked by new pitching flames like Stephen Strasburg.
#17 Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies (MLB Network’s #19)
I’m such a sucker for Cliff Lee because he doesn’t walk anybody. I think growing up watching Greg Maddux not walk anybody made me have an affinity for pitchers with great control. Lee is the epitome of that now, he’s led the league in BB/9 three times and K/BB ratio twice, including leading the league in both in 2012. Lee also hasn’t had an ERA over 3.18 since his breakout Cy Young season in 2008. He’s the shining example that pitcher wins aren’t the correct barometer of pitching quality.
McCutchen moves up a spot on my list as I have him ahead of Evan Longoria and Giancarlo Stanton, but not ahead of a future player. The other two might have more talent, but right now I think McCutchen brings the goods better than both of them. McCutchen broke out in 2012 and finished third in the MVP voting, while taking home a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger. The Pirates star has developed into a true 30 HR, 25 SB, .300 BA threat that is hard to find in the game. He’s the foundation for the Pirates to end their sub-.500 streak and I believe they will this season.
That’s the first part of my “Top 20 Right Now”. Who would be on your list? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter using the link below with #MapesRightNow! Tomorrow is 15-11, featuring a player who makes a big leap from the MLB Network list!
-Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes)
Each league in 2012 is going to have quite a smattering of MVP and Cy Young candidates, and a few front runners for Rookie of the Year. I’ll tell you my choices here and give you a chance to make your own pick! Check it out:
*Note – these picks are solely those of Jeremy Dorn and do not reflect the general consensus of my Three Up, Three Down co-hosts!*
NL MVP – Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kemp fell ten hits or one home run shy (Triple Crown or 40/40, respectively) of a sure-fire unanimous MVP selection in 2011. Which makes it even more baffling that he finished 2nd to Ryan Braun. He’s used the snub as motivation and has publicly claimed to be chasing an unprecendented 50/50 season this year. The Dodgers look to be much improved on offense, and all the extra protection is going to boost Kemp’s numbers even more this season. I’d expect another solid average and at least 45 home runs and 45 steals. That should definitely get it done for Kemp.
NL Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
In all honesty, biases aside, my Dodgers should have swept these two last season. The voters didn’t screw up the pitching version of the MVP award last year, giving it to the young southpaw who won the pitching Triple Crown. Anyone who beats Tim Lincecum four times head-to-head in one season deserves the hardware. Kershaw is a year older, smarter and better in 2012 and will have better run support than last year. He’s got plenty of competition from the usual suspects (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Lincecum to name a few), but I think it’s his award to lose. Hello, repeat!
NL Rookie of the Year – Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Let me preface this – I don’t like Harper. I’m in love with his potential, but his attitude bothers me. A lot. Besides, how can you root for a guy who admits to being a fan of the Lakers, Yankees, Cowboys and Duke? That’s the most insane, front-runner crap I’ve ever heard. Anyway, you can’t deny the kid’s talent and he’s got more hype than a fistfight between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant would hold. I think he’ll have a good, not great season whenever he comes up (it’s when, not if, people…get used to it). But the name alone will carry him to this award. I’m thinking .275/15/65 will do it.
AL MVP – Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Recent reports out of Tiger camp tell me that Miggy has learned how to catch grounders with his glove. Whoever told him using his face was more effective is a cruel prankster. But Cabrera isn’t in the big leagues for his defense anyway. He’s prone to hit 40 homers any given season, and this year will be no different. I’m expecting, if healthy, Cabrera to absolutely mash in the middle of that stacked Detroit lineup. If he doesn’t hit over .300 with 30+ homers and at least 120 RBI, I will honestly be shocked. Add in the fact that the Tigers might have the Central clinched by June and he’s a sure-fire MVP.
AL Cy Young – C.C. Sabathia, New York Yankees
A trendy pick every year, and for good reason. You have to like Sabathia’s consistent production in the Bronx. He seems to not be phased by the bright lights and drama surrounding the pinstripes, but it’s his play on the field that makes him the front runner for me. It won’t be easy; Justin Verlander will fiercely defend his crown, and you’re also looking at guys like Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Felix Hernandez as potential Cy Young winners. But with the always-dangerous offense backing him and a better, more complete team overall, I think Sabathia wins 21 or 22 with his normal low ERA and high strikeout total.
AL Rookie of the Year – Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners
The kid the Yankees traded to get some pitching depth is going to make quite a splash in the Pacific Northwest (don’t worry Yankee fans, I still think getting Michael Pineda was the better end of the deal). He’s going to hit 25 home runs and drive in around 90 runs, even in an offensively-challenged environment. Montero seems to be the front-runner right now regardless of who you ask, and it’s understandable given his quick, powerful bat. Don’t forget about a guy like Matt Moore in Tampa, who could sneak right in and steal it from the young catcher.
– Jeremy Dorn (@jamblinman)