AL East Weekly Roundup: Looking At the Spring Training Questions and Competitions
By Dereck Violante
Here at Rays Colored Glasses we will take a weekly look into all things going on with the Tampa Bay Rays and in the AL East from roster moves, to movement in the standings, and any major news affecting teams in the American League East. Here’s our first edition taking a look at all five teams’ key spring training competitions.
The Orioles no doubt had a major run last year catching lightning in a bottle and making it into the playoffs, primarily by winning all the close games (29-9 in one run games). GM Dan Duquette did Baltimore no justice this past off season but not signing any free agents of note, only retaining OF Nate McClouth. The major buzz around Orioles camp is who will make the starting rotation with essentially 8-10 pitchers are competing for 5 starting spots. Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.43 ERA) and second year pitcher Wei-Yin Chen (12-11, 4.02 ERA) are locks for the rotation. A good spring could determine the fate of Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, Tommy Hunter, and maybe eve top prospect Dylan Bundy, all of whom are vying for a starting job. Other news around Baltimore camp is the DH slot, with again multiple players, Wilson Betemit, Danny Valencia, Nolan Reimold, and Russ Canzler, all looking for regular at bats. Buck Showalter will have his hands full again in 2013 trying to keep the underdog Orioles competitive, and before that he’s going to have to expend quite a bit of effort simply figuring out what he has to work with in his rotation and at DH.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are coming off perhaps the worst year they have had since the current ownership, Fenway Sports Group, took over the reins. After last season’s roster turnover the Sox revamped their squad with multiple team friendly personalities in an effort to sure up the clubhouse leadership, most notably signing OF Jonny Gomes, C/1B Mike Napoli, and RHP Ryan Dempster, as well as new manager yet old friend John Farrell. Much like the Orioles ,the success of the Sox rests squarely on the rotation, needing bounce back years from Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey, who missed all of 2012 after Tommy John surgery, as well as continued progress from last year’s surprise Felix Doubront. Another major question to be figured out this spring is the catching situation as Boston currently carries a surplus of catchers on the roster with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, last year’s starter, newly acquired David Ross, and prospect Ryan Lavarnway. Plus you have Napoli, who’s expected to be the Red Sox’ first baseman, but despite his recent hip injury, he has always said that he has been most comfortable as a catcher. Where will he fit into the situation. Also with a role yet to be determined is recently-claimed Mike Carp, who the Red Sox got from the Seattle Mariners, and who is expected to see time at first base and in the outfield. Speaking of the Red Sox’ outfield, where will Daniel Nava fit in and more importantly, can Jacoby Ellsbury stay healthy? Even after a disastrous 2013 season, the Red Sox still have a talented team, but they have to figure out where they stand in their rotation, catching situation, and also at first base and in the outfield.
New York Yankees
The Yankees roster alone brings more questions than answers. Can the 38 year old Derek Jeter bounce back from an ankle injury that ended his season in last years playoffs? Can 43 year old Mariano Rivera come back from a torn ACL early last season and still be effective? Does Alex Rodriguez even see the diamond or will his hip surgery plus the steroid allegations keep him out all year? Can the Yankees’ offense keep them alive long enough in an ultra competitive AL East now that Curtis Granderson will miss 10 weeks with a broken forearm? Can 40 year old Andy Pettite stay healthy and be effective for an entire season? Who replaces the recently departed Russell Martin behind the plate? Who will emerge to catch games between Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and Austin Romine, all of whom are more suited in a back up role? The Yankees are going to be depending on Brett Gardner and Travis Hafner to stay healthy and have big seasons and are also expecting Ichiro Suzuki and Kevin Youkilis to deliver seasons up to their career norms. The Yankees’ starting rotation and bullpen still feature enviable depth, but the Yankees have a lot of work to do or their recent reign of supremacy in the AL East could come crashing down.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are coming off a 90-win season, but still missed the playoffs and enter 2013 with quite a bit of uncertainty on their roster following the departures of James Shields and B.J. Upton this offseason. The first big battle to watch in Rays camp will be for the 5th spot in the rotation with Roberto Hernandez, Chris Archer, Jeff Niemann, and possibly Jake Odorizzi are all vying for one opening. The Rays still have pitching depth, but will their young pitchers like Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, and Alex Cobb step up enough to compensate for the loss of James Shields? Another competition to watch this spring will be which catcher will be splitting time behind the plate with Jose Molina. The odds on favorites are Jose Lobaton, Chris Gimenez, and Robinson Chirinos, for the second catcher spot, which means a lot more for the Rays than with most teams given that the backup could make as many as 70 or 75 starts. Beyond that, the Rays are going to continue their seemingly never-ending search to find some offense by relying on Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, and James Loney to deliver big bounce back years after the Rays acquired them this offseason. Will those moves work out or will the Rays’ improbable run of success on low-cost moves finally come to an end? The Rays will be right up their for the division title if everything goes right, but will their rotation be up to their usual standard and will their offense finally come together?
Toronto Blue Jays
After another year of missing the playoffs Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos pulled off some magnificent deals and free agent signings this past off season to reload the team for a run. Acquiring multiple names such as Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Melky Cabrera, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Izturis, and of course reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Big names and big money doesn’t guarantee success as proven multiple times in the past by such teams like last year’s Red Sox, Dodgers, and Phillies, but Anthopoulos was willing to put all his eggs in one basket to make a run with the AL East as open as it’s ever been in years. But nevertheless, the Blue Jays have several key questions surrounding their team, and it starts with injury concerns. Can established stars Brandon Morrow and Jose Bautista and newcomers Reyes and Johnson all stay healthy? What will Melky Cabrera give Toronto after his 2012 All-Star run turned out to have been fueled by performance drugs and will Edwin Encarnacion‘s huge 2012 prove to be something he can repeat? The Blue Jays have the highest upside of any team in the division and might be the only team with a realistic chance of winning as many as 95 games. But the chances of that happening are extremely up in the air and the Blue Jays have plenty of issues to address before we can even begin to think about that.
Spring training is underway and an exciting time of year for baseball fans everywhere. This season is shaping up to be as exciting as ever, especially in the AL East, where five formidable teams are set to duke it out in what could be a division race for the ages.