|Point-Counterpoint: The Best Offense in the AL East||| Print |||Send|
Written by At Home Plate Staff (Contact & Archive) on January 16, 2009
Age, Improvement Could Propel Rays Offense
The Yankees have the star power, the Yankees have unlimited payroll, the Yankees have big names at three of the four infield positions and they have the New York media to promote them. None of that made a difference last year, but it wasn’t the offense of the Rays that was the telling difference it was the pitching.
But by baseball standards, the Yankees are an old and aging team. More than half of their starting lineup will be on the wrong side of 30 and are more likely to be experiencing declines rather than improvements in upcoming seasons. Those players include Derek Jeter at 34, A-Rod at 33, Johnny Damon at 35, Hideki Matsui at 34, Xavier Nady at 31, and Jorge Posada at 37. But it’s not just the declines, but the injuries which stopped them from being an offensive juggernaut last season and there is no reason to expect better in 2009.
And that might be part of why you can argue the Rays have the better lineup going into the upcoming season. The Rays are a young team, loaded with upside where players can expect improvement. But that’s only part of the equation, the young Rays have several other advantages – including the closeness and sense of team they developed last year.
That helps the Rays play ball as single unit, where no one has to be the everyday hero. There is no one to compare with A-Rod or Teixeira, who’ll bear intense media scrutiny and be crucified after each ground out or K they rack up in key situations. That doesn’t mean the Rays don’t have stars in the making – especially Evan Longoria who is thought by many to be the most talented youngster in the game today.
Then there is the outfield. While the Yankees infield with A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira and Cano is among the best in the game, their outfield is suspect offensively. The decline of Johnny Damon and the injury which sidelined Hideki Matsui, add up to less production from the outfield in NY than Tampa can expect from Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Pat Burrell.
But can you call the Rays better? Nope. Can’t do it. At least not yet, but the Rays are only a couple of steps behind and if the Yankees stumble or the Rays grow up a fair bit this season, it wouldn’t be too big a stretch to rank the Rays higher going into next year.
Top to Bottom, Yankees are Best
With the addition of Mark Teixeira and the likely rebounds of Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees will possess the strongest lineup in baseball. Let’s go down, position by position.
First Base - Mark Teixeira. The best first baseman in the AL, with apologies to Kevin Youkilis and Justin Morneau. Excellent combination of on-base and power.
Second Base - Robinson Cano. Had a terribly disappointing 2008, which saw his defense and offense fall to around replacement level. I’ve got every reason to think he’ll bounce back, to around 17 homers and a .310 batting average.
Third Base - Alex Rodriguez. What can be said? Get ready for .310/.390/.590. He’s still the best player in the AL, and it’s entirely possible that the Yanks have the best corner-infield combination in a really long time (at least as good as Rolen-Pujols for the Cards before).
Shortstop - Derek Jeter. He’s clearly in decline, offensively and, as always, defensively. If he can OPS around .820 (a stretch) it’d be terrific. But, with his injury problems in the last few years, it’s no guarantee he can bounce back.
Left Field - Xavier Nady/Johnny Damon. .800 OPS, pretty good, perhaps higher. Neither one is a real basher, but both get on base and provide solid defense.
Center Field - Melky Cabrera. If he can OPS .750 it’d be terrific, and I’d say a bounce back could happen. If he can at least play decent defense I’ll be alright with him, but I doubt he will.
Right Field - Nick Swisher. I can see a great year from him, perhaps even .900 OPS. He stunk in ’08.
Catcher - Jorge Posada. Big question mark, and odds are he won’t be as good as 2007 or perhaps even his career marks. The decline begins now, and the Yankees decision to re-sign him will end up being a horrible mistake.
Designated Hitter - Hideki Matsui. Oh boy. Who knows what will happen here? I can see him being about .860 or about .760 or about five DL trips.
Who has the better offense in the AL East, the Yankees or the Rays? Feel free to comment below.