1. New York Yankees: 100-62
An offseason shopping spree of epic proportions make the Yankees the favorite in the loaded AL East. If everyone stays healthy, 100 wins may be an underestimate. But injury and age could catch up to the Yankees and cause them to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year. If healthy, there isn’t a better starting rotation in baseball than CC Sabathia, Chien-Ming Wang, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain.
2. Boston Red Sox: 95-67
Boston made a whole lot of low-risk/high-reward type deals this offseason (Smoltz, Saito, Penny & Baldelli) and could end up catching lightning in a bottle. They were PR’d into re-signing catcher Jason Varitek and if he gets consistent playing time, he should work in detriment to the team. Their starting rotation is solid and only a few men do their job better than Jonathan Papelbon does his. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis will anchor the lineup, although I project their production to slip somewhat.
3. Tampa Bay Rays: 93-69
They’d win any other division in baseball by 5 games, but in the AL East, all theyll manage is third place. Their success last year was due to the health of their starting pitching, solid defense and effective relief work. Given the nature of starting pitchers and the fluidity of relievers, one certainly can’t bet on everything falling right for the Rays two years in a row. Their young nucleus of Longoria, Upton and Crawford should continue to develop and follow up their pennant-winning season with another successful campaign.
4. Baltimore Orioles: 78-84
Nothing special this year, Baltimore is raising some good prospects. I love their outfielders and catching prospect Matt Wieters has superstar written all over him. They’re still light on pitching, especially in the bullpen although getting Chris Ray (33 saves in 2006) should help stabilize the bridge to George Sherrill.
5. Toronto Blue Jays: 74-88
With Marcum and McGowan sidelined with injuries and AJ Burnett pitching for a division rival, an apparent strength from 2008 is now a glaring weakness. Roy Halladay is still an elite starter, but after that it’s a crapshoot. Litsch and Purcey are probably the most likely to eat up the innings vacated by Marcum, McGowan and Burnett, but problems abound when Matt Clement is a viable option.
1. Minnesota Twins: 88-74
Every year I slot them in the lower half of this division and every time they make me look stupid by contending. So this year, they’re second in my AL Central. Their young pitching should carry them all season and keep them in contention well into September. However, Mauer and Morneau need to be healthy and productive to make a playoff run.
2. Cleveland Indians: 84-78
The Indians dumped me last year, so I’m going against them again in a weak division. They added a closer to shore up bullpen problems and should get some bounce-back years offensively from a couple of key guys.
3. Kansas City Royals: 79-83
Whoa, right? I haven’t liked a whole lot of their offseason moves (Mike Jacobs, really?) but they’re grooming a nice young crop of players and their pitching is maturing. Meche and Grienke are a nice 1-2 and Soria is a door-slammer in the ninth. They should be a fun team to watch.
4. Detroit Tigers: 76-86
Still don’t trust their pitching, rotation or bullpen. The offense should be there, but this team is going to lose a whole bunch of 9-8 games. Verlander’s looked better this spring, but his peripherals still aren’t where they should be.
5. Chicago White Sox: 73-89
I have an unexplainable dislike of the White Sox and it makes me a little happy when I can pick them to finish in the basement. They’ll be heavily relying on John Danks and Gavin Floyd to build on their successful years from last year. This is an aging team that needs a shot of athleticism.
1. Oakland Athletics: 85-77
They made some smart moves this winter, bringing in Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera to boost an offense that ranked near the bottom in most categories in 2008.
2. Anaheim Angels: 81-81
Last year my surprise was the Rays doing well. This year, I give to you, free of charge, the collapse of the Angels. Without Mark Teixeira and with Vlad a year older (2, actually), the offense just isn’t up to par and the pitching is questionable with the uncertain status of Ervin Santana, John Lackey and Brian Fuentes.
3. Texas Rangers: 77-85
With that offense and that park, they’ll hit their way to a couple of victories, but the pitching is still lacking. They should be in big for Ben Sheets when he’s recovered from his surgery, given his file checks out.
4. Seattle Mariners: 71-91
They started cleaning house last year, shedding some bad contracts and bad characters, but it’ll take more than a year to right this ship. (Get it? Mariners .. ship .. I amuse myself). Felix Hernandez deserves more help than he’s going to get, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to get any in the next few years.
1. Philadelphia Phillies 91-71
I want to pick them to finish second, but I can only see the Mets potentially overtaking them, and after getting burned by them the past two years, I won’t this time. The Philly offense will roll and so long as Cole Hamels doesn’t miss significant time, they’ll be fine.
2. New York Mets: 87-75
K-Rod and Putz certainly help, but not as much as most people seem to think. The starting pitching is still iffy behind Johan Santana, but the offense should help the Mets hang around both the division and wild card races.
3. Atlanta Braves: 86-76
They significantly upgraded their rotation, adding reliable inning-eaters Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez and Japanese star Kenshin Kawakami. Adding those three to holdover Jair Jurrjens should make up for losing Tim Hudson to Tommy John surgery for most of the year. Signing Chipper Jones to a 3-year extension as he enters his age 37 season is risky given his durability issues, but a nexessity nonetheless.
4. Washington Nationals: 76-86
They won’t be the worst team in baseball this year, but they’ll certainly still be pretty bad. Adam Dunn adds some much needed offense, and the eventual drafting of SDSU stud Stephen Strasburg will add the much-needed big arm. They’ll toil away all season, pitching decently and hitting every now and then.
5. Florida Marlins: 72-90
They cleaned house again, but could still end up surprising a lot of people, although outside Hanley Ramirez, they don’t really have a truly great offensive weapon. I foresee them being a streaky team, maybe starting hot, but ultimately fading away into obscurity.
1. Chicago Cubs: 92-70
They’ll be fine beating up their weak National League competition all season, but ultimately lose in October. Again. What’s one more penny when you’ve already got a dollar? The Mark DeRosa and Kevin Gregg deals made no sense and the Milton Bradley contract has it’s risk as well.
2. St. Louis Cardinals: 88-74
Especially if Chris Carpenter returns to his pre-injury form, the Cardinals could be a force in the National League. The Cardinals must hope that Ryan Ludwick can repeat his 2008 year and that they receive offense from someone not named Pujols. The closer situation needs to be settled, rookie Jason Motte could step in and provide some closure there.
3. Milwaukee Brewers: 82-80
The loss of Sabathia and Sheets certainly will hurt the Brewers in the standings. Without their pair of aces, the Brewers will struggle to prevent opposing teams from scoring early and often.
4. Cincinnati Reds: 82-80
Aaron Harang can’t possibly be as bad as he was last year, and Edinson Volquez probably won’t be as good. Johnny Cueto could mature and if a couple things develop, the Reds could hang around the wild card race. More likely, they’ll hang around .500 again
5. Houston Astros: 66-96
They can’t score runs, and outside of Roy Oswalt, they can’t prevent them either. That can’t bode well for a team that has basically traded its farm system away from players past their prime. I wonder if they’ll be interested in Roger Clemens again.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates: 63-99
I don’t like predicting teams to lose 100+ games because that’s a terrible team. But I thought long and hard about the 2009 Pirates. For a team that’s constantly rebuilding, they sure don’t have much of a foundation.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: 91-71
With the return of Manny Ramirez, LA will make a return to the postseason. The pitching is there and the hitting is good enough to eek out a division title.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks: 87-75
Keeping Randy Johnson probably would have made them the favorites here, but they’ll turn his innings over to younger, cheaper options. If their young hitters (Young, Drew, Upton, Jackson) continue to develop, they could absolutely make a run at the division with their pitching.
3. San Francisco Giants: 77-85
This is a team getting close, but they’re still not there yet. The pitching, led by Lincecum is good, but the offense could use upgrades at several positions.
4. Colorado Rockies: 71-91
Same ol’ story. No pitching coupled with some pretty good hitting. Their Cinderella run to the World Series two years ago is ancient history and they’re back to being an irrelevant schedule filler out west.
5. San Diego Padres: 64-98
They need to just dump Peavy and the rest of their vets and start over. Focus on power pitchers suited for that big park, and young, athletic position players that can manufacture runs and prevent them with the leather.
Yankees over Athletics in 4
The Athletics slip into the playoffs from a weak conference and run into the Yankees and their stars. This year, with a much improved playoff rotation, the Yankees are too much for a young and promising Oakland club.
Red Sox over Twins in 4
Boston’s lineup is too patient and disciplined and is capable of taking the Twins young pitchers out of their zone. That, coupled with the Twins middling offense sends the Sox to the ALCS.
Yankees over Red Sox in 7
This year’s ALCS will feature some tough, grind-it-out games featuring good pitching and some wicked hitting. But ultimately, New York’s offseason additions prove to be the difference makers as CC Sabathia goes eight strong and Mark Teixeira delivers a big blow late to send the Yankees to the pennant.
Dodgers over Cubs in 5
Manny Ramirez spins the same tale he did last year, while LA’s arms quiet the Cub bats as Chicago is shown the door once again.
Phillies over Cardinals in 5
Behind the health of Cole Hamels and Chase Utley, the Phillies move on to a NLCS rematch.
Phillies over Dodgers in 6
Philadelphia wins its second consecutive pennant behind their slugging bats and good-enough pitching. Ryan Howard takes the MVP honors this time around.
Yankees over the Phillies in 7
New York brings too much pitching to the World Series and the Phillies ultimately spend the ninth inning of Game 7 watching Mariano Rivera mow through Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard.
AL MVP: Grady Sizemore, Indians
Sizemore is a unique player in the fact that he hits for power and average, can steal bases and plays elite defense at a premium position. Those types of players should be in the middle of the MVP discussion every year. The Indians should be better than they were last year, which will help Sizemore’s visibility on a national level.
He’s a guy that could potentially line up with 50 doubles, 10 triples, 30 homers, 30 steals, a .300 average and 100 RBIs, all while playing a gold-glove caliber centerfield. Those are MVP numbers.
NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Obviously, Albert Pujols is the pick every year for this award. Hanley Ramirez is the only other player that matches the qualities that I listed above for Sizemore. Power, average, speed, defense and premium position.
With the Marlins moving him to the third slot in the lineup, he should see more RBI opportunities which will help his “MVP numbers” dramatically. His stolen bases may fall off, but his overall body of work should improve. He just has to out-shine Pujols.
AL Cy Young: CC Sabathia, Yankees
Sabathia ended up a Cy Young candidate without a league last year when he was dealt midseason to the National League. Staying in one league for the entire year will return the Cy Young hardware to the hefty lefty. A better offense and a better closer will allow Sabathia to avoid the deadly no-decision.
I kind of wanted to pick Toronto’s Roy Halladay, but he may end up being dealt midseason, much like Sabathia was last year. And if he isn’t, the Blue Jays probably aren’t good enough to get him the win total that baseball writers think Cy Young winners need.
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, Mets
With Cole Hamels hurting, Tim Lincecum coming off a huge jump in innings, Johan Santana should sail to this award. He had a Cy Young caliber season last year, that went largely unnoticed as the Mets collapsed for a second consecutive year.
A sleeper is certainly possible, as we saw with Cliff Lee in the AL last year, but I don’t feel completely comfortable picking someone with Ricky Nolasco, Edinson Volquez or Yovani Gallardo’s track record.
AL Rookie of the Year: Matt Wieters, Orioles
I love the makeup and tools of this kid. He’s a Joe Mauer with power. He’ll start of in the minors, but I expect him to push the Orioles hand, much like Evan Longoria did with the Rays last year.
He’s a major league hitter right now, and Baltimore will be able to get by as his defense continues to develop.
NL Rookie of the Year: Tommy Hanson, Braves
Hanson, like Wieters, will open the season in the minors, but when your parent club includes a 43-year old Tom Glavine, you’ll get your chance sooner rather than later, whether it’s because of injury or ineffectiveness. He’ll be able to mow through NL lineups without any pressure and cruise to the ROY award.
AL Manager of the Year: Ron Gardenhire, Twins
The manager awards are always the most difficult to predict because it really depends heavily on how players perform. But Gardenhire has finished in the top 3 for this awards in five of the past seven years. He’s got solid young pitching and enough potential offense to win the weakened AL Central and maybe make a run into the playoffs.
NL Manager of the Year: Tony LaRussa, Cardinals
Lou Piniella won last year, but watched his team collapse in the playoffs, although anyone who has followed baseball for the past oh, 100 years or show, should have expected that. Tony LaRussa is in a similar position to Gardy in the AL – he’s got some pitching, and if the bullpen works itself out, the Cardinals could be dangerous to make a run a la 2006.
LONG RELIEVER: Four pitchers seemed to be in the running for the long man, five, depending on how the Yankees view Phil Coke. The two returners from last season, Al Aceves and Dan Giese and the veteran minor-league deals, Jason Johnson and Brett Tomko.
Al Aceves impressed with some solid late-season starts in 2008, but has been sporadic in his performance this spring. A Mexican League veteran, has an underwhelming fastball that he compliments with good command and above-average offspeed stuff.
Dan Giese, like Aceves also performed well last year and has struggled to find a groove this spring. A strike-thrower, Giese doesn’t present great stuff but can be effective when he’s controlling all his pitches. He is susceptible to the big fly but is probably the favorite for the long man.
Jason Johnson got a late start in spring training and is probably the longest shot to make the team, but he finally got into a game and tossed a scoreless frame. He mixes a slider and a changeup in with his fastball, but doesn’t have the stuff to consistently challenge hitters. Like Giese, he allows too many homers.
Brett Tomko has been the most impressive of the long reliever competition and may end up overtaking Aceves or Giese before April 6. He induces ground balls and has four pitches that can be useful, however, once he loses his command, he’s done.
MIDDLE RELIEVERS: There’s a whole gaggle of guys that could work here, and the Yankees seem to be taking the approach if you throw enough stuff against the wall, some of it’s bound to stick.
Jon Albaladejo was acquired from the Nationals in 2007 and opened 2008 with the Yankees before going down with an injury. He’s pitched well this spring and has probably almost locked a spot for himself on the Major League roster. He keeps the ball down and commands his fastball well. He didn’t stick as a starter because he lacked good secondary pitches, but should be a capable middle relief guy.
Phil Coke has also probably pitched his way into the big league bullpen and has the ability to go multiple innings or to simply be a LOOGY. His power stuff is especially effective against lefties, although he is capable of shutting down righties too.
Edwar Ramirez also is coming back from an elbow issue, and can either be flat out dominant or extremely hittable, based on his changeup. He allows too many homers and is susceptible to the big inning. Doesn’t do a great job at limiting damage.
David Robertson came on strong last year, rocketing through the Yankees’ system with gaudy strikeout numbers. He’s almost strictly a one-inning guy and has high walk numbers to go along with his strikeout ones. Like Ramirez, can find innings getting away from him.
Jose Veras has shown an ability to handle late-inning situations and may find himself in some 8th innings down the road. He can be used frequently and has some durability. Like many other Yankee bullpen arms, issues too many walks to be projected as an elite reliever.
SETUP RELIEVERS: Damaso Marte and Brian Bruney have established themselves as the two men the Yankees will go to to bridge the middle relief to Mariano Rivera. One left and one right, Girardi will be able to mix his options based on matchups.
Damaso Matre came back from the WBC with pectoral soreness, and will be checked out medically in the next few days. But if he’s healthy, he’s a lefty shuts down lefties with his fastball-slider combo, although righties have hit him a little. If the pec thing turns out to be minor, he’ll be a main cog in New York’s fluid bullpen.
Brian Bruney is another flamethrower that has really cleaned up his act and behavior in the past few years. He struggles with his command at times, but if he gets ahead in the count, he has the ability to blow hitters away with his electric fastball. He also mixes in a slider with mixed results. He’s had some injury issues.
CLOSER: For at least the next two seasons, there’s no question for the Yankees in the ninth inning. It’s Mariano Rivera, just as it has been since 1997. Rivera is recovering from an offseason shoulder scope, but sets his own spring schedule and is on track to be ready for the season opener.
Mariano Rivera has been the best closer in the history of baseball because of the impeccable control of his cut fastball. Opposing batters go to the plate against Rivera knowing what pitch is coming, where it’s coming, what it’s going to do and how fast it’s going to do it and still can’t hit it. He had his best season last year at age 38, posting career bests in WHIP (0.665) and ERA+ (317). He walked only 6 batters the entire year and had a ridiculous 12.83:1 strikeout to walk ratio.
If I had to take a shot at the Opening Day (less than 23 days) bullpen, I’d go with Mariano Rivera, Brian Bruney, Damaso Marte, Jose Veras, Phil Coke, Jon Albaladejo, Dan Giese. I don’t see the Yankees carrying 13 pitchers, even to open the season because until Jorge Posada proves he can catch four or five times a week, the Yankees may need to carry three catchers, plus the fifth outfielder. After those seven guys, there are plenty of arms behind them should anyone falter or get injured.
Edwar Ramirez, Steven Jackson, Anthony Claggett, David Robertson, J.B. Cox, Brett Tomko, Mark Melancon all will probably open in Triple-AAA, with Aceves in the Scranton rotation. Kei Igawa (who hasn’t allowed a run this spring) will also return to Triple-A to fill a rotation spot. Who knows? Maybe he even contributes something to the big league squad this year, in any sort of capacity.
Back in October, when the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since before the strike, I offered my solution on How To Fix The Yankees. I took a look at who was leaving, who was staying, what everyone was being paid, and how I would fill out the roster without increasing the payroll. Here’s the roster and payroll I suggested:
C – Jorge Posada – $13.1MM
C – Jose Molina – $2MM
1B – Mark Teixeira – $22.5MM
2B – Robinson Cano – $6MM
SS – Derek Jeter – $20MM
3B – Alex Rodriguez – $32MM
IF – Wilson Betemit – $1.165MM+
[Nick Swisher – $5.3MM]
IF – Cody Ransom – $400K
LF – Johnny Damon – $13MM
CF – Brett Gardner – $400K
RF – Xavier Nady – $6.5MM+
OF – Melky Cabrera – $1.4MM
DH – Hideki Matsui – $13MM
SP – CC Sabathia – $14MM
SP – Chien-Ming Wang – $5MM
SP – Mike Mussina- $12MM
[AJ Burnett – $16.5MM]
SP – Andy Pettitte – $5MM
SP – Joba Chamberlain – $400K
RP – Mariano Rivera – $15MM
RP – Damaso Marte – $4MM
RP – Brian Bruney – $1.25MM
RP – Jose Veras – $400K
RP – Edwar Ramirez – $400K
RP – Phil Coke – $400K
[Al Aceves – $400K]
RP – Mark Melancon – $400K
[Jonathan Albaladejo – $400K]
I said I’d rather see two pitchers and Teixeira than three new pitchers and that’s exactly what Cashman went out and did. There are some things that I know now that I didn’t know then.
1. Phil Coke will be working as a starter in Spring Training. As well he should. Pitchers are far more valuable in the rotation and should be given every opportunity to be developed as such until they prove they can’t handle it. So he’s out of my bullpen, replaced with a longman, Al Aceves. Dan Giese is another option if the Yankees choose to get Aceves regular starts at AAA.
2. Mike Mussina was dead set on retiring. So he’s out of the rotation, replaced with AJ Burnett, who will make more this season than Sabathia. Burnett has devastating stuff in regards to his pitch repertoire, but delicate stuff in regards to his elbow and shoulder. Andy Pettitte also signed for much lower than anticipated or originally offered. Incentives could escalate his salary to $12MM.
3. I’m getting the feeling that Mark Melancon will begin the year in the minors barring an incredible spring. So he’s out of my bullpen for now to, replaced with Jonathan Albaladejo for now. Albaladejo had a solid showing in winter ball and fared decently with the Yankees briefly in 2008 before getting injured.
4. The Yankees traded for Nick Swisher. He becomes part of what I’d use as a rotation of him, Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady and Hideki Matsui through left field, right field and DH. There’s been talk of trading Xavier Nady or spinning Swisher off somewhere before he even plays for the Yankees. But I’d hold on to both of them unless someone (Braves?) is desperate enough to pony up a top prospect for either of them. Matsui’s been through two knee surgeries in the past year and Swisher’s the only one of the four signed beyond 2009.
My base roster payroll comes out to $198.35MM, if every incentive is hit by every player with incentives, it comes out to just a shade over $208 million, exactly in line with last year’s payroll. The Yankees have only a few questions heading into the 2009 season.
I. Will Jorge Posada be healthy enough to catch 120+ games?
The Yankees really need Posada to return to his career averages and stay healthy because the alternatives are brutal. Jose Molina will hold his own behind the dish, but is outmatched by Major League pitching. Ditto Kevin Cash. New York has some stud catching prospects, but they’re all still several years away from being seriously considered Posada’s replacement. So Hip-Hip needs to remain effective for a couple more seasons.
II. How does the centerfield situation play out?
Right now, it looks like it’s between the constantly regressing Melky Cabrera and the good-field, no-hit, all-hustle Brett Gardner. The addition of Mark Teixeira to the lineup affords the Yankees the luxury of running one of these guys out there everyday and hitting them ninth to see what they’ve got. Personally, I’d stick Brett Gardner out there and let him play. During limited playing time late last season, Gardner showed terrific defensive value and if he can get on base with any regularity, steal some bases and go first to third, he should help the Yankees lineup by giving them some much-needed speed.
III. How does Alex Rodriguez handle all the new allegations?
Regardless of the Players Union’s definition of “confidential and anonymous” is, A-Rod will remain the center of attention of jealous, ex-jock journalists. His talent is undeniable, but his ability to deal with negative reports is questionable at best. He’s the best hitter the Yankees have and will need his bat to be raking in order to rebound from a down offensive output.