|Grading the AL East|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on January 14, 2009
Well, there is plenty of time for more deals to change the landscape across the Majors including potential trades and free agent signings, but with Spring Training just a little over five weeks away it’s time to offer some opinions on what teams did to prepare for the upcoming season.
New York Yankees: We’ll give them an A for effort but spending almost a quarter million dollars on CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira still may not be enough to make them the undisputed favorites to win the American League East. This team will still battle age and have a lot of key players (Matsui, Posada, Wang) coming off of major injuries and have question marks concerning Joba Chamberlain (can he last 200+ innings?), Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and the diminishing defensive ability of Johnny Damon.
The addition of players like the versatile Nick Swisher and catcher Kevin Cash (signed to a minor league deal) offer the Yankees some fallback positions, but both the Red Sox and Rays appear to be deeper teams.
Still the bottom line for the Yankees is that 2009 will be all about the pitching. If the pitching fails to dominate all that money could mean nothing.
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox didn’t have a lot to do this offseason, and the recent signing of Brad Penny would to this point be the biggest deal they’ve made. A healthy Penny will boost a rotation which lost two big name pitchers who failed to contribute in 2008 (Curt Schilling and Bartolo Colon).
They’ve also added a wild card in Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa and relief pitcher Ramon Ramirez from the Royals, but the key signing could really be the re-signing of largely unheralded catcher Josh Bard who could be the top catcher if the Red Sox can’t work out a deal with Jason Varitek (who may secretly be coveted by the New York Mets, who’d like to improved defensively at that spot and if the price is right).
Grade B- they did nothing splashy, but they really didn’t have to, adding a few wins by acquiring Penny will make the hill the Yankees have to climb a tiny bit steeper and add to the pressure in New York.
Tampa Bay Rays: Grade B. What did the American League Champions have to do in order to improve? Not much, but they added a couple extra arms to the bullpen including veteran Joe Nelson and rule V pick up Derek Rodriguez, and added a young outfielder (Matt Joyce) in trade for extra pitcher Edwin Jackson.
Joyce is very much a work in progress but he did manage 25 home runs (split just about evenly) between AAA Toledo and the Detroit Tigers. It was a good progression for the 23 year old who’s shown improvement at every level thus far in his career.
The real question is if he’ll be asked to take over at the right field spot where the Rays currently have a hole, fill in there at a platoon (with Gabe Gross and Justin Ruggiano) or if he’ll become the Rays fourth outfielder.
Even without a big signing there the Rays should find themselves considered a favorite due to depth of pitching and plenty of offense.
Toronto Blue Jays: Grade C-. By doing nothing the Blue Jays are accepting their fate as one of the also ran teams of the AL East. With the loss of Burnett to the Yankees and the loss of Shaun Marcum (who’ll miss all of 2009 due to Tommy John surgery) the Jays will rely on home grown talent and players they could sign to minor league deals.
There is nothing exciting here -- the Jays will remain the fourth best team in the AL east, but that was management’s decision, not to spend money to slug with the big guys.
Baltimore Orioles: Grade F. The Orioles made a defensive upgrade by bringing in shortstop Cesar Izturis, added some versatility with Ryan Freel (who’s coming off a hamstring injury), and brought in struggling pitcher Mark Hendrickson but really have done little to make this team better than it was in 2008.
In fact, glaring holes at catcher (they currently don’t have one on the roster, but Matt Wieters should fill that roll later this season), first base and throughout the pitching staff give this team a hopeless feel despite having players like Adam Jones and Nick Markakis on the roster.
The Orioles’ failing grade comes from failing to achieve any of their offseason goals and to be beat out in their attempts to acquire marquee players who could give the franchise a hint of credibility and a core to build around.
How would you grade the offseason in the AL East? Feel free to comment below.