Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore Orioles’

2013 World Series Game 6: St. Louis Cardinals v. Boston Red Sox

I have said it for the last decade at least, and maintain it to this day: there is no division in professional sports that is better than the American League East. When a 74 win team finishes in last place in a division, it means that the internal gauntlet is about as severe as it can get. In its current incarnation, it has dominated the postseason landscape of the junior circuit since the Wild Card era came into play, and for the 18 years since the four-team (and now five) team playoff alignment began, it has produced 15 Wild Card candidates. And in that same span, 11 AL East clubs have gone to the Fall Classic, and eight have gone on to win it, including last year’s Boston Red Sox

2013 Finish

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Tampa Bay Rays

3. New York Yankees

4. Baltimore Orioles

5. Toronto Blue Jays

So all things considered, it should be no surprise that picking through the East is akin to picking a favorite in the League as a whole. And the competition never dies down between the five clubs either, as this winter the one-up game was in full effect to catch up to the Champs. The Orioles slow played their hand before making a couple of late winter pickups as they look to breakthrough the glass ceiling that has hovered above them in the division, while the Blue Jays have been mostly quiet, choosing instead to call last year a spade and carry the same potent, yet oft-injured ammo into this spring.

The Rays and Red Sox took similar routes, resigning their own and putting faith in youngsters to replace the few lost parts they sustained. And the Yankees…well the Yankees spent nearly half a billion dollars to make sure that fourth place is not an option again. Regardless of how each team’s route plays out, one thing is for certain, one of the five clubs will inevitably be a big player in the much larger picture eight months from now—as long as they can survive themselves first.

All-Division Lineup

1. Jose Reyes—Shortstop, Blue Jays

2. Dustin Pedroia—Second Base, Red Sox

3. Evan Longoria—Third Base, Rays

4. David Ortiz—Designated Hitter, Red Sox

5. Chris Davis—First Base, Orioles

6. Jose Bautista—Right Field, Blue Jays

7. Adam Jones—Center Field, Orioles

8. Brian McCann—Catcher, Yankees

9. Brett Gardner—Left Field, Yankees

 

Starting Pitcher: David Price—Rays

Starting Pitcher: Jon Lester—Red Sox

Starting Pitcher: CC Sabathia—Yankees

Starting Pitcher: Clay Buchholz—Red Sox

Right Handed Reliever: Joel Peralta—Rays

Lefty Handed Reliever: Jake McGee—Rays

Closer: Koji Uehara—Red Sox

Derek_Jeter_ST

Jeter finds himself amid a fresh collection of well compensated talent for his final go around, but even at the end, the team will need him on hand if it is to maximize its potential.

Lineup

1. Yankees

2. Red Sox

3. Rays

4. Orioles

5. Blue Jays

 

The Yankees spent top dollar to overhaul their lineup, which was basically Cano and pray for rain last year, and their mission was successful. They will bring out five new starters of a high enough quality that solid comebacks from Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira would merely be bonuses. The Sox return the majority of the core that produced some of the timeliest hitting any October has witnessed in years, while the Orioles have an impressive power core of Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Orioles

2. Red Sox

3. Yankees

4. Blue Jays

5. Rays

The addition of Cruz providing protection behind Davis…who is the ultimate protection for Adam Jones makes the middle of the Orioles’ lineup as bad of a grind as the AL will run out this year. In Boston, Dustin Pedroia (193 2013 hits) is the perfect on-base threat to put in front of the duo of David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, who combined for 53 homers a year ago. In Toronto, if Jose Bautista is healthy again, there’s a chance that he could combine with Edwin Encarnacion for 80 homers this summer.

Table Setters

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Rays

4. Blue Jays

5. Orioles

Shane Victorino (21 steals, .294 average) and Daniel Nava (.385 on-base%, 5th best in AL) could wreak havoc yet again to start things off for the Sox, while down in Tampa, the combo of David Dejesus and Ben Zobrist have a chance to set up the table nicely for Evan Longoria and Wil Myers to both chase 100 RBI.

Depth

1. Rays

2. Red Sox

3. Yankees

4. Blue Jays

5. Orioles

Strength is always in the numbers for the Rays, and Joe Maddon uses his full roster better than anybody else in the game. The Jays have four starting-caliber outfielders, and the duo of Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina is a very strong backstop duo. With Jonny Gomes, David Ross and Mike Carp in the mix, the Sox are not far behind however. The option to rotate Ichiro, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran in the Bronx is a necessary depth move for the aging, yet talented Yankee outfield as well.

After an injury hindered first half, Price went 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA and a .236 average against in the second half.

After an injury hindered first half, Price went 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA and a .236 average against in the second half.

Rotation

1. Rays

2. Red Sox

3. Yankees

4. Orioles

5. Blue Jays

Tampa keeps churning out more and more arms without ceasing it seems. David Price is the headline, but Matt Moore won 17 games in his second year and both Alex Cobb and Chris Archer have plenty of immediate promise. The Yankees are putting a lot of faith in a few commodities with much to prove in CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, while the Blue Jays have to hope R.A. Dickey can once again led an underdog staff as he did two years ago.

1-2 Punch

1. Red Sox

2. Yankees

3. Rays

4. Blue Jays

5. Orioles

This is a tight call to that narrowly goes in the Sox favor, due to the big game experience of Jon Lester and John Lackey. Hiroki Kuroda has silently been the most consistent arm in the Yankee arsenal the past two seasons, and Price (30-13 record the past two years) by himself makes the Rays a favorite in most head-to-head matchups he takes the ball in.

Bullpen

1. Rays

2. Red Sox

3. Blue Jays

4. Yankees

5. Orioles

There’s no true powerhouse pen in the division, but the return of Grant Balfour to a Tampa group that features plus arms in Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and former closers in Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo is hard to deny. It would be impossible for Koji Uehara to have a better year than he did last time around, but his presence assures that Boston must be beat early. The Blue Jays have an underrated late inning group, while how (and if) David Robertson can transition to the ninth is beyond simply crucial for the Yankees.

Machado_13

Machado led all AL defenders in dWAR last year, with a 4.3 games above replacement level wtih the glove. All while being 20 years old and playing out of position.

Defense

1. Orioles

2. Rays

3. Red Sox

4. Blue Jays

5. Yankees

Baltimore has FIVE current or immediately past holders of Gold Gloves in their everyday lineup, and their defensive abilities allow for their pitchers to not have to be as sharp as other rotations in the league. The Rays are no slouches either, with Longoria, Escobar, Loney and their entire outfield having plus range. In Boston, Pedroia and Victorino are the best gloves at their respective positions in the AL.

Manager

1. Joe Maddon—Rays

2. Buck Showalter—Orioles

3. Joe Girardi—Yankees

4. John Farrell—Red Sox

5. John Gibbons—Blue Jays

There’s nobody better at motivating and knowing his players than Maddon is, and it allows him to continuing pull more out of his rosters than their on-paper talent shows. Showalter’s veteran savvy is the best in the league, and Joe Girardi is regularly underappreciated due to the talent at his command.

Finances

1. Yankees

2. Red Sox

3. Blue Jays

4. Orioles

5. Rays

The Yankees can spend at will, and despite the rumors that they want to be luxury tax conscious, in the end, the wins will always take priority over the cost of chasing them. The Blue Jays look for the value deal, but have the dollars to add what they need to stay in the race if they get close to it.

Impact Additions

1. Jacoby Ellsbury (Yankees via Free Agency)

2. Carlos Beltran (Yankees via Free Agency)

3. Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees via Free Agency)

4. Brian McCann (Yankees via Free Agency)

5. Ubaldo Jimenez (Orioles via Free Agency)

Yankees, Yankees and more Yankees here, with each playing a major role in the team’s immediate success. Outside of NY, the Orioles played their free agent hand slow, but played it well in adding a new staff ace in Jimenez and All-Star caliber outfielder in Nelson Cruz. The Sox addition of Edward Mujica gives them another experienced presence that has succeeded in every role in the pen previously.

B_Lawrie

The whole package is there with Lawrie, but its going to take health and maturity meeting up to help him make the leap to fill out his sizable potential at age 24.

Leap Forward

1. Wil Myers—Rays

2. Alex Cobb—Rays

3. Brett Lawrie—Blue Jays

4. Chris Archer—Rays

5. Will Middlebrooks—Red Sox

Myer is an odd candidate to think will have a major jump forward considering he is coming off of a Rookie of the Year debut, but considering he did so in barely a half of a season, what he could do over a full year could be in the 30 home run/40 double rate. Lawrie has been on the verge for the past two years, but he is an elite defender and has all the tools at the plate to contribute anywhere from 2-5.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Xander Bogaerts—Red Sox

2. Kevin Gausman—Orioles

3. Johnathan Schoop—Orioles

4. Jake Odorizzi—Rays

5. Allen Webster—Red Sox

Bogaerts is that rare mix of both talent and acumen that makes a young player immediately acclimated to the Majors. He proved this by moving to third base and playing a big part of the Sox run through October. Gausman has a plus arm, but just needs to find a place to showcase it in the rotation. His organization make in Schoop should get a fair chance to get the second base job in Baltimore at some point this summer.

PREDICTIONS

1. Boston Red Sox

2. Tampa Bay Rays

3. New York Yankees

4. Baltimore Orioles

5. Toronto Blue Jays

It is never an easy road, and it surely will not be again. A year ago, the Red Sox pulled up from the cellar to the ultimate penthouse by using an overhauled roster, the motivation of a new manager, a recovering city as a rally point and a team that lived for, and thrived in, the moment. But this year, they are targeted by a group of teams that made very smart adjustments, in addition to the various chips on their shoulders.

The Rays are as talented as they have been in years, and whereas finding runs was a problem last season, it should be the least of their concerns this year. Coupled with a strong pitching staff, the only thing that could get in their way this year is if their young starting staff doesn’t hold up over a full year as well as it did in limited time in 2013. On their heels are the Yankees, who have more than enough firepower, and could have the best offense in all of baseball. However, their pitching staff being a success would be slightly an upset of sorts, as they enter the season needing all of their arms to either overachieve, overcome or live up to some lofty expectations—and in some cases, some of each element.

The Orioles and Jays seem to be a step behind each of these teams now, but also have rosters that could would make it no shock at all if they crack into the upper reaches of the division. The O’s need Manny Machado to be healthy and for their pitching staff as a whole to be a bit better than they profile. Meanwhile, the Jays just need to stay healthy and put up tons of runs, because they will need them if this is the pitching staff they tackle most of the year with.

Yet in the end, the balance of the Red Sox and the shared chemistry they have now makes them a very formidable club. They have the veterans in their primes along with the youngsters that have room to grow while playing major parts, yet not have the weight of carrying the club on their shoulders. I see the Sox winning the East again, albeit in a close race, with the Rays being in one of the Wild Card spots and the Yankees perhaps joining them.

Come back to the Cheap Seats over the next two weeks for each divisional breakdown and preview, and for more info from here in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

matt-carpenter-

Every season, there is a player that blows up on the scene out of seemingly nowhere. And while the focus hits the rookie class of the year, there is always a class of players that takes the step up from “good” contributor to game changer, seemingly out of nowhere.

Here at the end of the year, most of these names have become regulars on the highlight reels and Fantasy leaderboards, but before awards season pulls some permanently to the mention among the league’s elite, here my take on those that made the farthest leap forward in the year that was.

9. Edward Mujica: While he curbed down badly at the end of the season, the fact that he was able to save the Cardinals rapidly defaulting bullpen early in the season was impressive and a huge reason the club rebounded into the race early in the first half. He finished with 37 saves in his first year anchoring the ninth inning in his career and made his first All-Star team.

8. Chris Johnson: He went from a throw in portion of the deal that brought Justin Upton to Atlanta, to the most consistent part of the deal in Atlanta. Johnson hit a career-best .321, good for second in the NL this year and added some fire to the team that could have easily gotten detached from the race while running away and hiding in their dominant NL East Championship run.

7. Justin Masterson: The up and down Masterson reached a new peak for the Tribe in their heist of the AL Wild Card upper-hand. His mastery of his sinker/fastball saw him run up 14 wins and a career-best 195 strikeouts, and more importantly, become a legit number one arm for a team in need of one.

6.  Andrelton Simmons: A sneaky WAR impacter, the Braves young shortstop stepped into his own last year, and became a force in the field. He had the large range factor (4.92) and his defensive WAR was an absurd 5.4, which breaks out to 3.2 more games saved with his glove than any other shortstop in baseball. Add in his 17 home runs and 59 RBI, all things considered, he changed 12.1 games in the Braves favor.

5.  Josh Donaldson: The A’s third baseman is the perfect presence for the perennially underrated A’s. Donaldson flew beneath the radar all year, and didn’t even get an All-Star nod, but went on to hit .301, drove in 93 and doubled 37 times in route to becoming the leader in A’s run to defend their AL West title.

4.  Matt Harvey: His 7-2, 2.35 ERA and 147 strikeout first half earned him an All-Star start in his first full season as pro. And while a torn UCL in his elbow ended his second half early and will keep him out until 2015, this year was a revelation on what could be: a top shelf arm of the highest degree.

3. Matt Carpenter: The Cardinals biggest catalyst went from utility man trying his hand at a new position, to becoming an All-Star second baseman that would go on to lead the National League in hits (199), runs scored (126) and doubles (55). And to cap off his transition story, he also led the NL in double plays turned as well.

2. Paul Goldschmidt: The next step in the career of Goldschmidt found him tied atop the National League in home runs (36) and sole leader in RBI (125). However, the third year first baseman was far from just a power conduit, as he hit .302 and stole over 15 bases for the second consecutive year. Add in leading the NL in slugging percentage, on-base + slugging percentage and total bases, and he’s on par to remain an overall force for years.

1. Chris Davis: How can it not be him? Davis did not exactly come out of nowhere; he hit 33 home runs and drove in 85 RBI in 2012, and had two other previous seasons of topping 17 long balls. But he broke out in rare air this year, topping the Majors with 55 homers this summer, becoming the first player since Jose Bautista in 2010 to do so. He also led the MLB in RBI, with 138 and ran direct interference with what was a very solid effort at a repeat Triple Crown for Miguel Cabrera.

What’s even more is how he did it. He had 37 first half home runs, and was on pace to run past 60 for over half of the year, and before hand and wrist injuries slowed his pace in August, he was creating a true debate about if he had the chance to be the “real” (read as non-Bonds) home run king.

 

For more on the postseason as it unravels and all other sorts of great things, such as what I’m thinking about eating for breakfast right now, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Robinson-Cano

The status quo was shattered in the American League East a year ago. After years of the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays fighting for supremacy, the Baltimore Orioles burst out of the cellar and took the fight to them all. By the end of the summer, the Orioles had fought their way to the playoffs for the first time since 1997, while the rest of the division was uncharacteristically met with very uncertain winters ahead of them.

The Yankees won the division, but were faced with a bumpy offseason fueled by an ugly sweep out of the American League Championship Series, new steroid allegations around Alex Rodriguez and uncertain rehabs from both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. The Red Sox rebuild went into overdrive, with a new manager and a second restructuring the team in three years. The Rays were once again faced with cautious moves to rebuild from within, and the Blue Jays only had the most aggressive offseason in recent memory.

2012 FINISH (*Wild Card winner)

1. New York Yankees (95-67)

2. Baltimore Orioles (93-69)*

3. Tampa Bay Rays (90-72)

4. Boston Red Sox (73-89)

5. Toronto Blue Jays (69-93)

The scene that emerges from this all is what should be the most competitive division in baseball. It will be a division that features both Cy Young winners from last summer (David Price and R.A. Dickey), as well as some of the biggest prospects in the game, for each team. It will be a battle that sorts out if the cardiac Orioles can channel that same magic again from its maturing core of young stars, or if the all-in Blue Jays, at all costs winter will pay out. Meanwhile, can the Yankees push a bit more out of its roster that’s reached three of the last four ALCS?

All Division Team

Catcher: Matt Wieters, Orioles

First Base: Mark Teixeira, Yankees

Second Base: Robinson Cano, Yankees

Third Base: Evan Longoria, Rays

Shortstop: Jose Reyes, Blue Jays

Left Field: Brett Gardner, Yankees

Center Field: Adam Jones, Orioles

Right Field: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz, Red Sox

Price went 20-5 and struck out 205 in route to his first Cy Young last year.

Price went 20-5 and struck out 205 in route to his first Cy Young.

Starting Pitcher: David Price, Rays

Starting Pitcher: CC Sabathia, Yankees

Starting Pitcher: RA Dickey, Blue Jays

Starting Pitcher: Josh Johnson, Blue Jays

Righty Relief: David Robertson, Yankees

Lefty Relief: Darren Oliver, Blue Jays

Closer: Mariano Rivera, Yankees

Top 10

  1. Robinson Cano, Yankees
  2. David Price, Rays
  3. Evan Longoria, Rays
  4. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
  5. CC Sabathia, Yankees
  6. Jose Reyes, Blue Jays
  7. Adam Jones, Orioles
  8. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
  9. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
  10. Curtis Granderson, Yankees

Lineup

  1. Blue Jays
  2. Yankees
  3. Orioles
  4. Red Sox
  5. Rays

The margin is close, but the Jays will take the edge over the Yankees due to both the questionable health of the Yankees in the immediate and long-term. The maturation of Brett Lawrie and the return to health of Jose Bautista makes T-Dot a gauntlet to get through. The Orioles will be greatly improved if both Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis are healthy at once, and the Rays will be a threat as well if Wil Myers makes his expected debut impact at some point.

Jones hit a career-best 32 home runs and drove in 82 for the surging O's in 2012.

Jones hit a career-best 32 home runs and drove in 82 for the surging O’s.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Yankees (Cano/Teixeira/Granderson)
  2. Blue Jays (Bautista/Encarnacion/Rasmus)
  3. Orioles (Jones/Wieters/Davis)
  4. Rays (Zobrist/Longoria/Joyce)
  5. Red Sox (Ortiz/Napoli/Victorino)

There’s still no break going through the heart of the Yankee order. Cano, Granderson and Tex hit a total of 100 home runs and drove in 284 runs a year ago. Mike Napoli is a dead pull hitting terror that could own the Green Monster in Fenway. The support he provides alone makes the Sox far more dangerous. Chris Davis somehow hit a very quiet 33 home runs a year ago, and Adam Jones is just scratching his surface.

Table Setters

  1. Red Sox (Ellsbury/Pedroia)
  2. Blue Jays (Reyes/Cabrera)
  3. Yankees (Ichiro/Jeter)
  4. Rays (Jennings/Escobar)
  5. Orioles (McLouth/Hardy)

Health is always a reasonable concern, but the potential impact of Ellsbury and Pedroia atop the Boston order is devastating. Both could be good for 20 homers and at least 20 steals. However, in theory, both Melky Cabrera and Jose Reyes are former batting champs, and that’s a tremendous duo of base runners to put on in front of the big Toronto bats. Desmond Jennings has a chance to make an in-prime Carl Crawford like impact in Tampa this year.

Bench

  1. Orioles
  2. Rays
  3. Blue Jays
  4. Red Sox
  5. Yankees

The Orioles killed teams with the numbers game a year ago, and still have the AL’s deepest positional roster. Nate McLouth, Wilson Betemit, Danny Valencia and Reimold offer a ridiculous amount of versatility that Buck Showalter will use frequently. The Rays will have a rotational option of Kelly Johnson, Sean Rodriguez and Luke Scott available to fit into their very balanced approach as well.

Rotation

  1. Rays
  2. Blue Jays
  3. Yankees
  4. Orioles
  5. Red Sox

David Price is far from on his own without James Shields. By the summer’s end, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb will have much bigger names than they enter with. The Jays biggest focus was to add starting pitching and the additions of a brand new one through three to their rotation in Dickey, Johnson and Buerhle represents the most significant change to any staff in baseball. A healthy return of John Lackey could make the Red Sox very dangerous as well.

Dickey is the fourth reigning Cy Young winner to be traded after winning the honor (Cone, Martinez, Clemens).

Dickey is the fourth reigning Cy Young winner to be traded after winning the honor (Cone, Martinez, Clemens).

1-2 Punch

  1. Blue Jays (Dickey/Johnson)
  2. Rays (Price/Hellickson)
  3. Yankees (Sabathia/Kuroda)
  4. Red Sox (Lester/Dempster)
  5. Orioles (Hammel/Chen)

Hiroki Kuroda has been one of the most underrated hurlers in baseball over the last two years. He finished eighth in the AL in ERA last year, and finally gave the Yanks a viable #2 behind Sabathia. Speaking of ERA, in Price and Hellickson, the Rays anchor their rotation with two of the top six best in the category a year ago. Price’s 2.56 was tops in the league, while Hellickson came in sixth at 3.10.

Bullpen

  1. Orioles
  2. Red Sox
  3. Rays
  4. Yankees
  5. Blue Jays

The Orioles 29-9 record in one run games was anchored by a nearly impenetrable bullpen. Jim Johnson saved 51 of 54 games, and overall the secondary arms had five ERA’s under 3.00 and three winners of five or more games. The Red Sox have a potentially overwhelming pen, with both Joel Hanahran and Andrew Bailey being former All-Star closers. The Rays Fernando Rodney will look to follow up his breakthrough season, which with finished him 5th in the Cy Young vote.

Defense

  1. Orioles
  2. Rays
  3. Yankees
  4. Red Sox
  5. Blue Jays

JJ Hardy, Wieters, Jones and Markakis are all owners of Gold Gloves for the O’s, and Manny Machado is a third baseman playing with shortstop range. The Rays aren’t far behind, with Longoria, Loney, Escobar and Zobrist comprising a formidable unit behind their strong pitching staff.

Speed

  1. Blue Jays
  2. Orioles
  3. Red Sox
  4. Rays
  5. Yankees

With Rajai Davis, Reyes, Lawrie, Rasmus and Bonafacio all on the bases for the Jays, they won’t be afraid to push for the extra base. Both Reyes and Bonaficio could push for 40+ steals, hitting back-to-back in the lineup. The Yankees have become the ultimate station to station lineup in baseball, although the return of Brett Gardner (96 steals from 2010-11) will finally provide them with a legit stolen base threat again.

Manager

  1. Joe Maddon,
  2. Buck Showalter
  3. Joe Girardi
  4. John Farrell
  5. John Gibbons

While Showalter deservedly won the AL Manager of the Year for the 24 game improvement his Orioles took on a year ago, but Maddon is still tops. He’s kept the Rays in the mix of the division every year despite a nearly annual major loss to his limited budget roster. John Farrell was traded for from the Blue Jays to steady the rebuilding effort for the Red Sox.

Farrell returns to Boston, where he was pitching coach from 2007-10, to straighten out a house in ruins.

Farrell returns to Boston, where he was pitching coach from 2007-10, to straighten out a house in ruins.

Finances

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Orioles
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Rays

The Yankees are kings of baseball’s financial hill, but they are in both a push to cut payroll to avoid a pending luxury tax and to have the funds need to keep Cano in pinstripes after this season. Boston has been strategic in rebuilding their roster, while the Jays took on $146 million in salary with their trade with the Marlins.

Impact Additions

  1. RA Dickey (Blue Jays from Mets)
  2. Jose Reyes (Blue Jays from Marlins)
  3. Josh Johnson (Blue Jays from Marlins)
  4. Joel Hanahran (Red Sox from Pirates)
  5. Mike Napoli (Red Sox from Rangers)

Notice a trend? The core of the changes to the division as a whole really is due to the Jays aggressive restructuring of their roster. They sacrificed both prospects and payroll to reinvent themselves with two deals to land Dickey and the majority of the Marlins core a year ago. Boston also will open with five new everyday players and five new pitchers as well.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Matt Moore, Rays
  2. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
  3. Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox
  4. Manny Machado, Orioles
  5. Desmond Jennings, Rays

Once again, the Rays have another function youth movement on the verge of carrying them ahead. Moore and Hellickson are the future of the team’s greatest asset, it’s pitching. The Orioles brought up Machado the third overall pick in the 2010 draft just before his 20th birthday, and he responded by hitting .262 with seven homers in his first 51 games.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Dylan Bundy (Pitcher, Orioles—AAA)
  2. Wil Myers (Right field, Rays—AAA)
  3. Xander Bogearts (Shortstop, Red Sox—AA)
  4. Gary Sanchez (Catcher, Yankees—AA)
  5. Chris Archer (Pitcher, Rays—AAA)

Prospect list in the AL East looks like a who’s who of everybody’s Top 100 list. Bundy, Myers and Bogearts are Top 5 prospects in the game that could make impacts on the MLB level this year. Bundy began the season in Single-A, but reached the Majors by September of last year. Myers was the center of one of the biggest trades of the offseason, and profiles to be a major part of the Tampa effort by mid-summer.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Orioles
  2. Blue Jays
  3. Yankees
  4. Rays
  5. Red Sox

There’s a lot of reason to believe that last year was a fluke for the Orioles. If you look at their amazing results in close games, as well as the comet-like rise they took last season, it would seem that there would have to be some return to reality this year. But that’s the glass half empty approach, and there’s more to it than that. The O’s have a roster that hasn’t peaked, and has a chance to be even healthier this season. Adding experience to the resolve and talent they showed last year will make them a more formidable group this year.

Make no mistake, this doesn’t mean the Blue Jays efforts were a failure. They will be a much improved team on all fronts, and will make a push for October. However, they are still a club of peaks and valleys. For as strong as their rotation should be, the bullpen still is far from a certain proposition. And defensively, they could be very limited in support behind the staff. The “out hit em” approach is possible, but we’ve seen that not work many other places.

Overall, this was a division that had a whopping three teams win 90 games a year ago, and there’s good reason to believe it does that again. it’s going to be a very strong division, which should end up with a separation from first to last of as few as five games. Don’t count the Yankees out, as they have a lot of offensive to lean on, and they will get healthier as the year goes on. The Red Sox aren’t a prototypical last place team either, but somebody has to end up there. And as for the Rays: they’re a sleeper pick to flip this entire scenario around. If you can pitch, you always have a chance, and they can do that. The division will send two teams to the postseason as usual, and the fight for who it will be could take all summer to sort out.

For more on the previews and the men that are bringing them to reality, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Winter for Michael Bourn has been moving in slow motion, which is the ultimate irony for a man of his particular skill set. The four-time National League leader in stolen bases hasn’t seen his market advance very far at all, and with Spring Training looming in under two weeks, time is of the essence.

Michael Bourn

The reasons for why have been floated around, and have gained stream towards being seen as legitimate, and many have been due to the level of expectation financially and the time commitment for the deal as well. The fact that his primary skill is speed, and he’s already had his 30th birthday has been damaging. When combined with the fact that he has only managed to hit .300 once over the course of a full season, there is legitimate concern that there won’t be existing value once that goes.

These are concerns with some credence, but also the fact remains is that right now, he’s the best defensive center fielder in baseball. On that rationale alone, he makes any team substantially better. He has a plus arm, and the speed is still there right now. While he is cast as a leadoff hitter, he has the ability to fit into multiple positions in the lineup as well.

Many teams that would have been good fits chose cheaper, younger or differently skilled ways to go to solve their centerfield needs. The Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies and even his most recent home, the Atlanta Braves, all entered the winter with a need in the middle, but found other ways of filling the need. This left Bourn looking in more obscure places to find work.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still locations that make a lot of sense for him to end up. At this point, most likely it will be a short term deal, perhaps even just a one or two year pact, which will still easily cover his prime seasons. The real question is who can, and should make the move, to get the most benefit out of one of the most uniquely skilled player s in the game.

 

New York Mets: The Mets have been the hot rumor team recently, and they make a lot of sense really. They have had a definite need in the leadoff spot since the post-Jose Reyes days began and could use the defensive upgrade in a major way. It sounds odd, but they have a legit chance to push into the middle of the pack in the NL East.

The issue is, to sign him they have to part with their first round pick as compensation, which is a major point of contention. Number one, they don’t feel they should the pick should be up for grabs, and they have a legitimate point. In a vague point in the new CBA, top 10 worse records are protected, but if any team’s top pick doesn’t sign from the year previous, they regain a pick a year later. As part of the domino effect, it moves each team that was is behind them back a spot, and potentially out of the Top 10. That’s what’s happening to the Mets, who have the 10th, but now 11th pick in the draft due to the Pirates not signing Mark Appell. And if they lose this pick, it goes to their divisional rivals in Atlanta, something they don’t seem too keen to do.

Arizona Diamondbacks: There’s a gut in the outfield in Arizona currently, even after moving Justin Upton out of town. But Bourn is an intriguing option there. He fits in to the top of the lineup right away, and keeps their defensive prowess up to par, which is needed with Jason Kubel manning left field. Not likely to happen, with rookie Adam Eaton on the verge, but there’s a place for him.

Baltimore Orioles: Another contender that would be boosted by his presence. The O’s are team with everything, except a true threat on the bases. Bourn would be yet another weapon for one of baseball’s most diverse attacks, and they could easily afford him. A hindrance would seem to be the presence of franchise cornerstone Adam Jones in center, but there are options there. If he moved to left, and Bourn was able to be placed between him and Nick Markakis, it would be one of the league’s best outfields immediately, and one that would be nearly impossible to take an extra base on as well.

Texas Rangers: The most obvious choice, but some for some reason, there hasn’t been a lot of traction there. They are taken care of as far as draft compensation goes, because they’ll be receiving extra picks in for Josh Hamilton. They have the opening, with only prospect Leoydis Martin being a viable option, and he could use more time to go.

There would be a change in approach needed however, because Ian Kinsler is better for the leadoff spot, and Elvis Andrus is a prototype #2 hitter. He would move down the order to the ninth spot, but the idea of the three of them hitting back to back, and followed by Adrian Beltre is enthralling. They have the money to take a bit more risk on the downside of the contract as well, so there could be something here. Time will tell, but it better hurry up.

Sergio Romo

The CHEAP SEATS breakout of the best units in baseball continues today, with a look at the best bullpens in baseball. This isn’t just the best closer, with a few other guys, but the teams that can make a window of opportunity really small to a get a W. There are some really strong groups of late arms coming into the league, with potentially some of the best units not even finishing among the Top 10 coming in. With Rafael Soriano still looking for a home as well, there’s still a huge piece that could change the fortune of a few of these groups, as well as a few not mention among them yet.

But this is what it is, and the series continues with a spotlight on the pitchers that don’t stand it as often…until the pressure is on highest.

 

1. Atlanta Braves: The only bullpen that can truly turn leads into six inning wins, and it got deeper this offseason. Craig Kimbrel has been the best closer in the game for his first two season in the game, converting 89 of 100 save opportunities, while opposing hitters have a .151 average against him. Eric O’Flaherty has 1.95 ERA over the last two seasons and Jonny Venters has struck out 258 batters in 229 pro innings. Add on Jordan Walden, who saved 32 games as a rookie All-Star in 2011, and you’ve got a devastating group.

2. San Francisco Giants: You’d think they would take a step backwards losing Brian Wilson at the beginning of the year, but not a skip was missed up and down their pen. That’s a testament to the game’s most balanced pen, with Sergio Romo handing in his second consecutive sub-2.00 ERA year, with 18 total saves. Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affelt and George Kontos all handed in ERA’s below 3.00 as well.

3. Baltimore Orioles: The O’s weren’t the best late-inning team in the game just due to a knack for walk off hits. Their pen was the secret strength of the team, led by Jim Johnson, who saved 51 games while walking just 15 batters in over 60 innings. Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day, Luis Ayala and Troy Patton were the ultimate support group and 18 won total games.

4. Oakland A’s: Whether it was Ryan Cook (14 saves, 21 holds, .166 average against) or Grant Balfour (24 saves, 15 holds, .160 average against) closing games, the entire path through the late innings against the A’s was hell. With their entire pen returning, the American League’s best total pitching staff will be trouble again.

5. St. Louis Cardinals: Once again, the Cardinals’ staff stepped up big late in the season. Jason Motte tied for the NL lead in saves with 42, and Edward Mujica put up a 1.03 ERA after being acquired from the Marlins. Randy Choate (.158 average vs. left-handers) and Trevor Rosenthal (15 strikeouts in 8.5 playoff innings) could both be huge additions over the course of the full season in 2013.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers: Around their big name additions, the Dodgers have done a good job off filling in the details as well, starting with a solid bullpen. Brandon League will resume his role as a full-time closer, after saving 37 games in 2011. 2012’s closer Kenley Jansen, who struck out 13.7 batters per 9 innings, will open as setup man, and with Matt Guerrier, JP Howell and Ronald Belisario in the mix as well, there will be no shortage of situational arms available as well.

7. Boston Red Sox: There may be no team with more “what if” talent on their bullpen mix than the Bo Sox. Joel Hanahran (36 saves, 2.72 ERA in Pittsburgh) was their biggest acquisition of the winter, but if Daniel Bard, Andrew Bailey and Koji Uehara can also find their old forms (and health), this could be the group at the top of the list by next year.

Aroldis Chapman makes the Reds group a top 3 pen collection, but even without him, Cincy still has a ton of strong late inning arms.

Aroldis Chapman makes the Reds group a top 3 pen collection, but even without him, Cincy still has a ton of strong late inning arms.

8. Cincinnati Reds: Another group that has a pretty big “if” attached to it. With Aroldis Chapman, this is a top 3 unit, but since the plan is to move him to rotation currently, it slides some. Even without him available daily, it is still a strong unit led by Jonathan Broxton, Jose Arrendando and one of baseball’s best left-handed setup arms, Sean Marshall.

9. San Diego Padres: A great unit that makes a so-so club a lot better on its own. Despite losing Heath Bell and Mike Adams the last two years, the Padres still have 10 relievers that averaged better than a strikeout an inning. When he gets a chance, Huston Street was lights out, converting 96% of saves chances with a 1.85 ERA.

10. Tampa Bay Rays: Annual guarantee in baseball is the Rays will have a dynamic bullpen. It will be needed more than ever, with a rotation thinned out after trading it’s workhorse, James Shields, and setup man Wade Davis. However, Fernando Rodney (0.60 ERA and 48 saves in 74 innings), along with Jake McGee and Joel Peralta are a strong base for the next wave of certain to follow up and comers that will join the group to build off of.

 

Just Missed: Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks.

Oakland A's

Yesterday, I broke down the Top 10 infields in Major League Baseball headed into 2013. Today, we move back a little further to the outfield, where things are not as set as yesterday’s groups are. With a premier free agent still on the board (Michael Bourn) potentially impacting this group, as well as a few moves that could effect the who is playing where, there could be some ground that gets shook up.

But at any rate, here we go again:

1. Los Angeles Angels (Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos, Josh Hamilton): This is nearly unfair on a few levels. Trout and Bourjos cover so much range that it’s much of an exaggeration to think they could play the entire outfield by themselves. Tack on Hamilton, who’s good for a default 30 homers, Vernon Wells on the bench and the scary idea that Trout is still improving, and this is the best of the bunch.

2. Washington Nationals (Bryce Harper, Denard Span, Jayson Werth): Another highly versatile, do everything group. Span is the long sought after speedy, leadoff centerfield they’ve needed for so long. Werth is ridiculously versatile in both the field and in the lineup, and Harper is entering his 20 year old season already as one of the most well-rounded players in the game.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier): This is a group that COULD be the best of them all at the end of the year IF Crawford can make it back to form. Kemp is the perhaps the most dangerous player in the game, and Ethier is steady contributor as well. Defensively, Kemp is probably better suited for a corner now, but he makes up for it by being a 40-40 threat annually.

4. Oakland A’s (Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Chris Young): Yeah, four guys have to get listed here, because this is the deepest talent pool across the board after the addition of Young. What’s scarier is that Reddick (32 homers/Gold Glove) and Cespedes (23 homers) are just coming off of their first years as starters.

5. Atlanta Braves (Martin Prado, BJ Upton, Jason Heyward): This group is here for now, due to the fact they have acquired a left fielder to move Prado back to third. But even with just Upton and Heyward, it’s one of the best collections of young talent in the game. Heyward is back on track (60 homers, 23 years old) and Prado has hit over .300 three of his four full seasons.

6. Colorado Rockies (Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer): Quiet consistency. CarGo is a perennial MVP candidate, despite playing on some subpar clubs recently. He hit .300 and topped both 20 homers and stolen bases for the third straight summer. Fowler was rightfully one of the most sought after players of the winter after hitting .300 and topping 10 triples for the fourth straight year.

At the All-Star Break last year, both Holliday & Beltran were viable MVP candidates, and pushed STL to the brink of another World Series.

Holliday & Beltran were MVP candidates in their first year together, and pushed STL to the brink of another World Series.

7. St. Louis Cardinals (Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Carlos Beltran): Beltran was a revelation in his first year in St. Louis at the plate, while Jay became one of the better fielders in the league, while hitting .304. Holliday is one of the best hitters in either league, and transitioned well to being the biggest bat in the Cardinal order, hitting over .340 for three consecutive months in 2012.

8. Cincinnati Reds (Ryan Ludwick, Shin-Soo Choo, Jay Bruce): Cincy took this group to another level with the addition of Choo, and retaining Ludwick assured balance in their lineup. Bruce is the biggest power threat on the club, as well as perhaps the best fielding right fielder in the game. However, he may have to move to center to accommodate Choo.

9. Baltimore Orioles (Nate McLouth, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis): Jones and Markakis are the mainstays of the organization, with Markakis as the constant of the org and Jones currently the franchise player. AJ10 has improved in each of the last 5 seasons, while Markakis was limited by a broken arm. Along with McLouth’s resurgence, this is a group that could still grow more together a year later.

10 Toronto Blue Jays (Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, Jose Bautista): Biggest boom or bust group of all on this list, but the upside is undeniable. If Cabrera can break even from his pre and post PED form, Rasmus keeps up his mid-summer form (.291/8/25 in June) and most importantly, Joey Bats has his health in order, and gets his average back up (from .306 to .241 in ’12), while keeping his power (14 June homers), this is a very strong group.

Just Missed: Yankees, Diamondbacks, Brewers

 

For more in-depth talk on this list, the upcoming season and what I had for breakfast, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

One of the most aptly named awards in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance awards season always hits lead off. The manager of the year, better known as the Connie Mack Award in our neighborhood, sets the standard in a hurry. And while neither of my picks for the best skipper in either league have the credentials the 3,700+ game victor, 5-time World Champion Mack carries, but they did make an unforgettable impact on the scope of the 2012 season, setting their clubs up in good position to gain some ground on the legend in the title category.

My winners of this year’s award both rejuvenated two dormant franchises to unimaginable heights this year. Residing in the basement of two of the most exclusive divisions in the game, they called the shots that turned the world upside down all the summer. They are responsible for a large part of the unpredictable nature that reinvigorated the game this summer, and for that, they are The CHEAP SEATS pick for the honor of being the “Macks” of the Year

National League: Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals

The Nationals rise to power wasn’t a complete surprise; they had a great supply of developing talent and a few of the premier prospects in the last decade on the way as well. However, they not only came into their own this summer this year, they left behind a pack of more accomplished and raved about clubs in the NL East to do so. Six months later, they finished the year with the most wins in the National League with

The remarkable part of what Johnson accomplished was how he went about holding it together. For all of their success, the Nats rarely went at it as a whole. At different parts of the year, they lost Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman, about five different closers and most notably, the self-selected lost of Stephen Strasberg. That’s a lot to handle, but the flexibility of Johnson kept the team going.

However, Johnson’s indifference to the failings of making controversial calls was what truly set the team apart. He showed great heart in moves such as permanently handing the centerfield reigns to 19-year-old Bryce Harper early in the year. Later in the year, he boldly switched up his starting catcher midseason in with the trade for Kurt Suzuki, who took over receiving a pitching staff that already boasted the best ERA in the NL. His greatest challenge was the ever-present job of managing the innings and eventual shutdown of Strasberg, both on and off the field.

All of these were moves made that could curtail a team that was making the non-stop drive for new levels of success that the Nationals were, but they didn’t miss a step along the way. That’s a credit to the man calling the shots, and Johnson is the top reason why the Nationals won their first division title since 1981, and brought postseason baseball back to DC for the first time since 1928.

Runners Up: Dusty Baker, Reds & Fredi Gonzalez, Braves

American League—Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles

The Nationals were only half of the DMV-area baseball resurgence this summer, as over in Baltimore an Orioles franchise rose from the ashes to pull the most surprising run through the summer of any club. After not having a winning season since 1997, the O’s turned their entire world around, winning 93 games just a year after losing the same amount. And much of that is due to the mindset that the non-nonsense Showalter began installing in the club two years ago.

The team showed a brief glimpse of this potential under their then new skipper in 2010, winning 34 games in the month and a half under Showalter. Yet after taking a step back to their usual underwhelming stature in 2011, hope slid again…until they assisted in the biggest postseason KO in history, knocking the Red Sox out the playoffs on the season’s last day. Well, the momentum from that win carried across the winter and into the spring, and the Orioles not only were the toughest team in the

The Orioles were characterized by the unlikely. Despite winning over 90 games, no pitcher on the club won more than rookie Wei-Yin Chen’s 12 games or hit for an average higher than Adam Jones’ .287. They were comprised of cast offs, rookies and journeymen, not a single household name on their club. They only scored seven more runs than they allowed all year. But this mixture created the hungriest team in the game, a team with something to prove and a flare for the dramatic. They went 29-9 in one run contests and 25-14 in ones decided by two runs. Their most remarkable display came after regulation ball, winning a MLB-record 16 straight extra inning games. Is this all possible?

Well yes it is, and the glue in the middle of all of this is Johnson, who made what looks like luck from outside into pure skill. There’s something to be said for inspiring and creating the grit it takes for a team that has lined the cellar of a division for nearly a decade. And in the end rise back to the postseason by beating the Red Sox 13 times, the Rays 10 times and take two series in the last month against the Yankees to close it out. Showalter’s presence guided the club to places unimaginable in an often unbelievable way.

Runners Up: Bob Melvin, Athletics & Jim Leyland, Tigers

 

For more on the postseason and word more words on these award choices, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan