Saturday, January 10, 2009

Out in the AL East, the Arms Race Continues (Half-Literally)

A couple days ago, I pointed out how happy I was in my modest little world known as the National League West. My beloved San Francisco Giants have had an eventful and productive offseason. Brian Sabean and ownership have helped the team make great strides towards contention in the division.

Of course, to win the World Series, some squad of nine will have to defeat whichever monstrosity survives the American League East gauntlet.

A gauntlet that continues to add bamboo pit traps and those swinging pendulum axe things by the hour.

Everyone knows the New York Yankees have collected a bunch of shiny new toys to adorn the field in another house built by another George. Few people doubt that this current lull is just that—a calm in the storm as the Original Evil Empire plots its next move.

Everyone also knows that the Tampa Bay Rays will not be spending cash to keep up with the two 1500 pound gorillas in the division. However, the 2008 Rays beat back the Yankees and Boston Red Sox to take the AL East crown. Furthermore, Major League Baseball insiders expected Tampa Bay to be formidable when all that talent and potential materialized.

They just didn't expect it to happen so soon.

Regardless, another year of maturity (not to mention the trip to the World Series) should result in considerable improvement from the likes of Evan Longoria, BJ Upton, Carl Crawford, Dioner Navarro, James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, and David Price. Add Pat Burrell to the mix and that's a squad that can contend with New York's new squad even after the Bronx Bombers add another star or two.

The question was, "what will Boston do to keep pace?"

Until recently, the answer had been a big, fat bagel.

Then they added Brad Penny (although it wasn't officially announced). I think he's overrated—he seems to be mentally weak and lazy—but he's a very good fourth starter. At the time, that's where Penny would've slotted in.

Then they added John Smoltz. Another fantastic signing considering he bumps Penny back to the fifth spot in the rotation (again, in my opinion). I still think Johnny's got something left in the tank and he'll have a good, possibly great, year.

Then Boston signed Rocco Baldelli. Then Mark Kotsay. Most recently, the organization signed Takashi Saito.

With most of the big offensive guns gone from the open market, the Red Sox seem to be responding to all those bulging bats now in pinstripes by amassing a nuclear arsenal in the bullpen (including starters):
  • Josh Beckett
  • Jon Lester
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka
  • John Smoltz
  • Brad Penny
  • Clay Buchholz
  • Tim Wakefield
  • Justin Masterson
  • Manny Delcarmen
  • Hideki Okajima (assuming he survives the marathon)
  • Takashi Saito
  • Jonathan Papelbon
Good lord. Beantown might not want any of its starters to go past six innings. How else is it gonna get enough innings to spread between all those arms and keep them fresh?

Talk about a nice problem to have.

The Red Sox could even go with a six-man rotation to keep that new-car smell on Smoltz and Penny while giving their other young gun and crafty veteran some run. Both Buchholz (who has a no-hitter to his credit just like Lester) and Wakefield have proven to be effective options on the slab.

Whatever the ultimate decision is, that's a staff that will keep runs off the board on most nights. Boston won't need a ton of offense i.e. they won't need to match the Yankee or Ray offense over the course of 162 games. Only enough to turn back the other brutes when they go head-to-head.

That shouldn't be a problem with a staff that might very well be impervious to the crooked inning and with a lineup that includes Jason Bay, Jacoby Ellsbury, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, JD Drew, David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Kotsay, Baldelli, etc.

The landscape of the AL East has already become a different animal on paper. By the time the season starts, all three squads could underachieve and be something no one has ever seen before.

Baseball is the ultimate game of uncertainty, but one thing's for sure: we should all be glad we're not fans in Baltimore or Toronto.

The season's still several months away, but the Orioles' earth is already scorched and the Blue Jays' sky is already blackened.

Such is life in the post-apocalyptic American League East.

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