Monday, April 21, 2008

AL East Preview

The AL East may be the most consistent division in all of HD, with the exact same order of finish for the all 7 years. The bottom two teams both improved last year though, so could this be the year things change?

Baltimore Orioles

If the goal of Hardball Dynasty is to create a dynasty, then selmer's Baltimore Orioles are a roaring succees. The Orioles have won the AL East 7 straight years and took the World Series trophy home in years 1, 2, 3, and 7. Yet, some wags suggest the dynasty has lately neglected its young talent, as the Orioles have spent $0 on combined amateur scouting over the last 3 years while averaging about $10M in int'l scouts and about $10M on prospects. Selmer does believe in advanced scouting though, spending a full $20M in each year since year 4.

For the year 8 season, the Orioles have a $107M budget with the highest average salary in the AL, and are the big favorite in Vegas to take their 9th straight crown. The Orioles attack is led by All-Star LF Felix Irabu who powered 56 HRs and 159 ABs last year, while playing a slick LF. Irabu is in the prime of his career at age 28 and has an $8.8M team option for season 9. Other key Orioles on offense include All-Star SS Sammy Alexander who put up 56 dingers last year and plays a nice SS. Alexander will be an FA after this year and his $8M contract is currently on the trade block. The O’s pitching staff includes 3 returning all-stars and 20-game winners: Felix Lee, Larry Blair, and Sidney Griffin. All three are signed to long-term deals through at least year 10. The Orioles did lose one key cog to free agency, that of 36 year old Felipe Lee, who left via free agency after his option was declined. Lee, who won 40games over the past two years for Baltimore, is now with Seattle.

Chicago White Sox

Talk about a perennial bridesmaid! The Chicago White Sox have finished in 2nd place for seven straight years, with wild cards in years 3, 4, and 7. gydk has run the club in each year, and he put up a fine 96 wins last year. The White Sox have also spent lightly on prospects recently, although unlike Baltimore, gydk has chosen to put his limited dough into the draft rather than the IFA market. Chicago’s payroll is a modest $84.2M and just $6M are spent on prospects, with a whopping $16M for coaches.

Chicago’s best player may be 25-year old all-star SP Hanley Walker, acquired in a trade from Seattle during year 6 and signed to a 5-year contract of just under $10M/yr in year 7. Walker was surely worth it last year, going 22-8 with a 3.35 ERA and 265 IP. Another key part of the Chicago attack is 24-year old SS Trenidad Barrios, whose fielding is still just average for an SS, but put 100 RBIs on the board for the Sox last year. The White Sox also return one other all-star from last season, 31 year old 1B Al Service, noted throughout the league for his odd mustache. While quiet on the FA front, the White Sox did make one big trade, acquiring Orel West as part of a package that sent SS prospect Geraldo Oropesa, the #1 overall pick in season 4, packing for Seattle.

Boston Red Sox

Boston is the only team AL East team which has had multiple managers, but all 3 led the team to the same result: 3rd place. Current owner jceffali took the team in year 6 and after 2 years in Burlington, where the team had its first .500 finish last year, the team now returns to its original home in Boston. The team has lowered its salary budget under the current owner, down to $70M after spending over $100M in the first 6 years, with the spare money being widely spread between scouting, coaching, and training/medical.

Last year's resurgence--which fell just short of a wild card despite 92 wins--can be traced to one man: Ron Jacobs, a 23-year old 1B who already has 137 career HRs. After the last two years in a dreadful hitters park in Burlington, Jacobs is said to be anxious to move to Boston. Jacobs does have a core of good young players around him, including 25-year old 3B Dion Meluskey, who put up 33 HRs last year and was rewarded with a 5-year contract ($6.7M/yr) and 24-year-old Damaso Soriano, a leadoff hitting CF who sported a .359 OBP last year and swiped 60 bases. The Sox also added veteran free agent DH Zoltan Davis to a two-year contract. Davis, formerly of Witchita/Toronto is expected to be good for 25 HRs and a high OBP. The Red Sox pitching staff is much less impressive, and was wracked by major injuries last year to two of its three promising young rookies. The Red Sox system does have some promising pitching prospects—notably Irv Keisler—but as a stop gap management allowed the GM to bring on a couple veteran FAs. New faces include SP Al Nicholson with a 2-year (+team option year) contract and RP Carlos Manuel, who signed a 3-year (+ team option year) but then was forced to elbow surgery after just 3 spring training innings.

New York Yankees

The New York Yankees are led by jamsing7 for the eighth year. The Yanks finished 4th in each year, although they did rally to win 68 games last year, matching their best record. Notably, the Yanks minor league affiliates started to show a bit more promise in year 7, following a couple years of putting up 2-142 stinkers down on the farm. This should bode well for the Yanks future. The Yanks have also gradually increased emphasis on scouting over the extremes of the past, with $99M devoted to salaries this year compared to up to $125M in the past. Prospects are still budgeted at just $6M though, and the team has no international scouting department.

On the field, the Yanks are led by stud 24-year old SS Rodrigo Barcelo. Barcelo played every game for the Yanks last year, swiping 23 bags and popping 29 HRs, with a .368 OBP. Barcelo’s 25 errors were a concern, but scouts believe Barcelo’s glove has improved over the winter. Barcelo will be arb-eligible next year. The Yanks also boast 32-year old all-star CF Marvin Kershner, who parked 41 HRs last year. Kirshner has been outstanding, but many wonder how long he’ll be worth the $18.3M total he’s guaranteed for year 9 and 10, and NY sportswriters are already asking if his reduced range bodes a move to LF or 2B. 2B is of course the domain of another well-paid veteran in Paul Yang, a two-time all-star that the Yanks just granted a 3-year contract extension. The Yanks did get a FA bargain this year, grabbing 29-year old SS Shane Thomas at the very end of the negotiation period for $7M for this year only. The pick did cost a type A free agent to archrival Boston.

The Yanks pitching staff is led by the filthy rich 34-year old all-star SP Chuck Shea, who may be in the final year (option next year) of his 4-year contract. The contract, which pays $12.8M/yr + a $10M bonus, has driven the Yanks budget for years and has arguably been worth it, with Shea making at least 28 starts in each year and generally keeping his ERA below 4. The Yanks also went out last year and traded for Shea's cousin, RP Curt Shea .Another key part of the Yanks rotation is 27-year old Rod Blauser, traded to NY last year by Philly, and just signed to 5 years.

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