Sunday, August 3, 2008

AL East Preview

AL East Preview
Not again! For the 8th straight year the AL East had the same order of finish. Could times be changing though? The Orioles fell off last year by 11 games while the other teams all improved.

Baltimore Orioles:
Last year 117-45 (World Series Champ)
Selmer's 9th year

Can Baltimore keep it up? One of HD’s best dynasties won 117 games last year, which while less than the stunning Year 7 campaign, was still enough for a comfortable AL East win and selmer’s 5th majors crown. But how long can the O’s dominate without infusing talent into their minors? Last year they arguably failed to sign a single ML-projectable prospect, and trades netted no prospects except CF Donovan Rose. This year the O’s have 5 extra draft picks, but what can they bring home with just $6M allocated to prospects and $0 on HS and college scouting?

For year 9, the Orioles have a ML-high $113M salary budget and are again a big favorite to take their 9th straight AL East crown. The Orioles attack is led by 3-time All-Star LF Felix Irabu who hit over 50 HRs for the third straight year. Irabu’s $8.8M option was just picked up and at age 29, he’ll be looking for a big pay day next year. All-star Lon McCallum returns at 3B with a spiffy new 5-year contract, as do All-star/Gold Glove CF Lorenzo Sojo and 7-time all-star RF Lenny Wigginton, the latter for the final year of his contract. The Orioles had two key offensive defections, losing 5-time all-star SS Sammy Alexander to the Marlins' colossal contract and DH Russell Perry to Seattle. SS duties this year are passed to promising rookie Edgardo Segui. The O’s pitching staff includes 4 returning starters, Larry Blair, Felix Lee, and Corey Foulke. The 36-year old Foulke will be a free agent next year, the other three are signed long-term. 18-game winner Rob Flanagan defected to the Angels.

Chicago White Sox:

Last Year 99-63 (AL Wild Card #1)
gydk's 9th year

The Chicago White Sox are one of the major’s least appreciated dynasties—because they’ve never won a divison! gydk’s squad has finished 2nd for eight straight years and won 99 last year on its way to his 4th wild card. Like Baltimore, the ChiSox also spend heavily on salary and advance scouting, with less on prospects. This year, Chicago’s payroll budget popped up from its typical $90M to $96 (at the expense of coaching and international scouting), but actual payroll is just $85.4M, indicating gydk may have tried and failed for a high-dollar FA.

Offensively, all-star DH Pascual Rodriguez hit 39 HRs with a 1.041 OPS last year and returns, as does young SS Trenidad Barrios, whose range may be a bit weak for SS, but put up 138 RBI last year. 1B Al Service, noted for his mustache and 34 HRs, has left for Texas, which scored the Sox a class B free agent. 3B Dan Jackson was rewarded for his 33 HRs and .356 OPB with a new 5-year contract.

Chicago’s best player may be SP Hanley Walker, acquired in a trade from Seattle during year 6 and now is mid-way through a 5-year contract. Walker was surely worth it last year, going 22-8 with a 3.35 ERA and 265 IP. At just 26 years old, Walker already has had an accomplished career and may be a future Hall of Famer: he’s now made three All-Star teams and has 90 career wins. All-Stars Sun-Woo Chiba and Kevin Malloy also return as starting pitchers. Chiba, the #2 man, won 17 games last year with a fine 3.12 ERA. Young Greg Siddall will close. The White Sox traded Rickey Payton, who threw 100 innings last year to Kansas City in exchange for some nice prospects, restocking the minor league cupboards.

Boston Red Sox:
Last year 92-70 (AL Wild Card #2)
jceffali's 4th year

After moving to Boston, the Red Sox had their 8th straight 3rd place finish, but improved to win 92 games and grab their first ever playoff spot. Management has continued to keep salary low and rebuild a once-barren farm system up through increased investments in prospects and training. The core of this team’s hitters is moving along in service time though, so salary is expected to rise in the future.

Last year's playoff squad was led by AL MVP Ron Jacobs, a 24-year old 1B who already has 199 career HRs. Jacobs benefited hugely from the move to Boston, popping 69 HRs, with a 1.206 OPS, the fourth best in league history. Jacobs had his first arbitration this winter and the Red Sox will look to sign him long-term next season. Jacobs has a nice offensive core built around him, including 26-year old gold glove/All Star 3B Dion Meluskey and 25 year-old CF Damaso Soriano, a prototype leadoff hitter with high OBP and good speed. Both players have been rewarded with 5-year contracts. The Sox made a free agent upgrade at SS by signing former Marlin Jesus Pineda to a bargain contract, which will probably force last year’s Gold Glove SS, the light-hitting Amos Moore into a bench player.

As always (I’m working on it!) the Sox pitchers are weaker than the position players, in part because the training staff has had trouble keeping young SPs healthy. The aging Al Nicholson, fourth in all time league wins, was acquired via free agency last year and won 18 games, but his effectiveness is waning. Younger Louis Sutton and Robert McMurtry both return and rookie Grover Shermann replaces the mediocre Ned Magadan in the rotation. Closer Miguel Sosais a bright spot and has a new 4-year contract.

New York Yankees:
Last Year 76-86
jamsing7's 9th year

The Yanks finished 4th in each of their 9 years, although they won 76 games last year, beating their previous best by 8 games. Notably, the Yanks minor league squads continued to make slow positive strides, although given the once dreadful state of the Yanks farm (some 2-142 stinkers were put up), it wasn’t hard to improve. The Yanks continue to spend heavily on salary at $102M, and budget just $6M for prospects and do not scout internationally. The Yanks were uncharacteristically quiet on the free agent market this year, perhaps due to existing salary commitments.

On the field, the Yanks are again led by stud 25-year old SS Rodrigo Barcelo. Barcelo played every game for the Yanks last year, swiping 28 bags and popping 31 HRs. Barcelo’s defense has also improved enough to make him a solid defensive SS. The Yanks also boast 33-year old CF Marvin Kershner, who parked 41 HRs for the second straight year. Kirshner has aged though, and now has below average CF range. Another long-time Yanks veteran is 2B Paul Yang, who at age 33 has also lost a bit, but should still be worth his $6.8M contract this year and next.

The Yanks pitching staff is again led by the 35-year old all-star SP Chuck Shea, who had his $12.8M option picked up. Shea was 12-13 last year with a 3.86 ERA. Luis Moreno and Rod Blauser also lead the rotation and Robin Griffey returns as closer.

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