Dreaming Big II

The Sox will need some serious help from their division rivals to win the AL East.
Andrew Friedman (left) and Joe Maddon (right)

Andrew Friedman (left) and Joe Maddon (Flickr.com/JenniferHuber)

The Red Sox are going to need the ball to bounce the right way – a lot – if they want to win the American League East in 2013.

Last week, we highlighted three things the Sox will have to do well if they want to take the division. The list included bounce-back performances from a new shortstop, a bullpen that reaches its potential and a zealous use of platoons in the outfield.

It’s comforting for Boston fans to think that, yes, if our players take care of business and our manager is shrewd, we can host a playoff series at Fenway Park come October.

But the reality of the situation is that the Sox just aren’t that close to being the best team in the AL East. Once again, this is a team coming off a 69-win season in 2012. It’s also a team that just spent over $100 million on new players this winter; but there’s plenty of question marks about the kind of value those players can provide, too.

If the Red Sox are going to win the AL East – a division that featured three 90-win teams last year – they’re going to need more than peak performances from their own dugout.

The Sox are going to need to get a few breaks from their friendly rivals.

(Warning: These are by no means predictions or projections. I’m not insane. These are simply things that will probably have to happen if the Red Sox will have a chance at winning the division. Call it wishful, probably delusional thinking).

Damn Old Yankees

The Yankees are old. I don’t really know how else to say it. The players are downright ancient.

Relying on veterans hasn’t really hurt the Bombers in the past. This year could be different, though.

When Derek Jeter eventually comes back from injury, New York will have five guys 32 years or older in its starting lineup. The same can be said for rotation anchors CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, and the pitching staff only gets older once Andy Pettitte is added to the mix. And let’s not forget 43-year-old closer Mariano Rivera, who might never be the same after his injury last year.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Yankees posted gaudy offensive numbers and were once again among the league leaders in home runs. But with a group of aging stars well past the peak of their primes, it also isn’t farfetched to think that they’ll struggle to keep it up through a 162-game season; especially in the AL East.

Injuries have already sidelined Jeter for at least part of the season and Alex Rodriguez for likely the entire 2013 campaign. It’s unrealistic to predict bone breaks or muscle tears for any player, but perfectly reasonable to peg these old Yankees to be more likely to suffer from the bangs and bruises of a grueling season.

The Red Sox, and the rest of the division, are banking that Father Time finally catches up to New York and keeps the Yankees out of the playoffs for just the second time since 1995.

Tampa Time Bomb

Everything the Tampa Bay Rays have done this offseason is so very Tampa Bay Rays-like.

It started when the Rays let homegrown center fielder B.J. Upton walk to Atlanta via free agency. No surprise there; the Rays simply don’t have the money to compete with other teams in an open market, and they’re not ashamed of it.

Then, Tampa shipped ace right-hander James Shields and starter/reliever Wade Davis to Kansas City for super-prospect Wil Myers and a nice package of young players. Again, classic Rays move.

One of the final moves flew a bit under the radar, but it is the epitome of what GM Andrew Friedman has done during Tampa’s reign the past five years.

The Rays signed journeyman second baseman Kelly Johnson to a one-year deal last week. Johnson is 30 years old and coming off a pretty bad season, in which he hit .225/.313/.365. But he’s also just three years removed from a 5.8 fWAR campaign when he posted a .378 wOBA and played tremendous defense for the Blue Jays.

This is the kind of move that always tends to pay off for Tampa Bay. If history holds true, Johnson will finish in the top five for AL MVP, or something.

But this column is about what needs to happen if the Red Sox are going to win the division. In this world, then, none of Tampa Bay’s moves will work out.

Johnson will hit an empty .250 and play inferior defense. Controversial shortstop Yunel Escobar, also acquired this winter, will make another horribly offensive gesture and get suspended. James Loney will … well, he’ll continue to be James Loney.

Either way, the Rays are going to be in the mix for the division title. But each year, it’s those little moves that add up to the wins that allow Tampa to compete with the big boys in the American League.

If the Red Sox are going to leap frog the Rays, they’re going to need these moves to bust in 2013.

North-Of-The-Border Goes South

There may be a new sheriff in town this year in the AL East.

The Toronto Blue Jays started their offseason off strong, adding outfielder Melky Cabrera to an already-strong offense. But that move was petty compared to what was to come.

When the Blue Jays essentially bought the Miami Marlins, bringing over Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio in a blockbuster trade, they instantly became contenders to win the division. When Toronto added 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey in a trade with the Mets, it became a favorite to win the World Series.

With a power-packed offense, a new-look starting rotation and a deep bullpen full of high-strikeout power arms, the Blue Jays should be tough to beat this year. There don’t appear to be many weaknesses North of the border.

If Toronto is going to falter, though, it will be via its starting pitching. Dickey, Johnson, Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero should form one of the most formidable rotations in all of baseball in 2013. Then again, there is plenty of room for error from these five.

Dickey exhibited a lot of success last season due to a massive jump in strikeout rate. His K/9 was 8.86, by far the highest of his career — in his previous two seasons with the Mets, Dickey posted K/9 rates of 5.37 and 5.78, respectively. He was good, and durable, but he was not an ace. It’s certainly possible, maybe even likely that Dickey keeps up that high-strikeout pace now that he’s in the AL East. But if he doesn’t, the Jays won’t get what they paid for.

Johnson, not too long ago regarded as one of the best young pitchers in the National League, is coming off a decent 2012 campaign, but his career path has taken a dip since his superb run in 2009 and 2010. His fastball has dropped by more than 2 mph since 2010, and so has his strikeout rate (9.11 K/9 in 2010; 7.76 in 2012). Johnson did post 3.8 fWAR last year, but he’s clearly not the ace he once was.

Buehrle, entering his age-34 season, is just about a lock to post around 2 or 3 wins for the club. But again, he’s nothing special anymore; and a move to one of the league’s most explosive offensive divisions shouldn’t help a guy who doesn’t strike anyone out. Buehrle feasted in a putrid AL Central for years; 2013 could be a wake-up call for the lefty.

Morrow is also probably a lock for 2 or 3 wins, but Romero could be a problem at the back of the rotation. The southpaw posted just 0.5 fWAR in what was supposed to be a breakout season for the 28-year-old, thanks in large part to an astronomical 5.22 BB/9. If Romero can’t keep the walks down, expect an equally lackluster performance in 2013.

Again, this is all wishful thinking if you’re a Sox fan. But hey, it’s February. There are two whole months before reality sets in.

Might as well dream big.

Categories: Alex Rodriguez Andy Pettitte Boston Red Sox Brandon Morrow cc sabathia Derek Jeter James Loney James Shields Josh Johnson Mariano Rivera Mark Buehrle Melky Cabrera New York Yankees Tampa Bay Rays Toronto Blue Jays Wade Davis Wil Myers Yunel Escobar

As the resident non-Red Sox fan of this blog -- my allegiance lies 300 miles South in Philadelphia -- I aim to provide completely objective analysis without letting my heart or any of my other organs get in the way. "Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear." Think about it.

16 Responses to “Dreaming Big II” Subscribe

  1. Guest February 8, 2013 at 7:28 PM #

    Did I miss something or does the AL East also include the Orioles, who happen to have beaten the Rangers in last year's wild card game and given the Yankees a good challenge in the Division Series?

    • Tim February 8, 2013 at 10:57 PM #

      I agree that for comprehensiveness' sake the article should have included the O's… but Angelos shackled Duquette with no moves and the O's posted 93 wins when they're run differential gave them an expected record of 82-80. While they were a great story, there's not enough there to predict a repeat performance out of them.

      • Tim February 8, 2013 at 10:58 PM #

        Ugh *their

      • Guest February 9, 2013 at 10:50 AM #

        They're probably not a 93 win team again, but the difference between the first 4 months (above .500 with a huge negative run differential) and the last 2 months (above .650 and a +70 run differential) is pretty striking. If they play more like the former, they're not really a threat, but if they even remotely resemble the Orioles of the last 2 months of the season, they can't be written off. For things to go right for the Sox, the Orioles need to be the Orioles of April-July and not the Orioles of August and September.

      • Guest February 10, 2013 at 7:22 PM #

        still, baltimore is a member of the AL East, and it doesn't make any sense to not include them, no matter how much of a threat or not they are

    • Guest February 9, 2013 at 2:45 AM #

      Agreed… I don't think they have it in them again, but they did make the playoffs unlike Tampa and Toronto. If all this happens how could Baltimore not be in the mix? I also wouldn't be shocked if they won more games than the Sox.

    • Brian February 9, 2013 at 10:33 AM #

      I was at least expecting some comment about the Orioles record in 1-run games normalizing, or that some of their pitchers (like, the entire bullpen) aren't likely to repeat their performances from last year, but instead we get…nothing. Maybe Dan's idea of the ball bouncing the right way is that the Orioles magically vanish?

  2. sandy February 9, 2013 at 2:21 AM #

    Are the Jays that much better than the Red sox? They are even better than sox fans are willing to admit. Plus, they have a distinct advantage in that they got rid of that manager, Farrell. Sox dumped a lot of money in the big trade, and then turned around and spent most of it for inferior players with question marks. The Sox are counting on pitchers that were good THREE years ago. Cherrington will be the next one fired.

  3. tntoriole February 9, 2013 at 9:31 AM #

    Typical….this article will make nice addition to my collection from last February when every article by these so called experts had the Orioles last in the division.
    Here is what will happen to make the Orioles better than last year. Wieters has breakout year, Hardy returns to normal power and average numbers, a full year of Machado at third base, Brian Roberts returns to form, Nolan Reimold returns after injury, Nick Markakis returns after injury, Dylan Bundy burns up AAA and joins rotation by July…. Not to even include the Os in the discussion is just the height of disrespect, but not unusual for ESPN writers. Particularly since all the teams in the AL East have flaws, if not more.

    • Daniel Poarch February 10, 2013 at 4:57 PM #

      Brian Roberts returns to form? Good luck with that.

  4. Dan February 10, 2013 at 2:29 PM #

    I did not include the Orioles, mainly because I have no faith in their ability to contest for the division. That's not really a statement on their talent level compared to the Red Sox … I just don't think that, if the Red Sox somehow miraculously contend in the AL East, the Orioles will be there, too.

    If I had to actually project the AL East standings this year, it would probably be something like the following (but that's not what this article is about):

    1. Toronto
    2. Tampa Bay
    3. New York
    4. Baltimore
    5. Boston

  5. AMP February 10, 2013 at 7:34 PM #

    If I have to pick standings for this division it would be:
    1. Baltimore
    2. Toronto
    3.Yankees
    4.Rays
    5.Red Sox
    It really makes me mad when people don't give the Oriels the credit the deserve. This is a young team full of guys not even in their prime yet. And with more experience, this is the team to beat in 2013.

    • Ethan February 10, 2013 at 11:23 PM #

      The Orioles will be decent but nowhere near as good as last year. They made their living on one-run victories which is simply not a sustainable model for success. Their rotation is shoddy and their hitters have almost no plate discipline. If they want to compete, they have to learn to walk.

  6. tntoriole February 10, 2013 at 7:59 PM #

    What a surprise that you "have no faith" in the Orioles ability to contend. Analysis isn't supposed to usually be a matter of "faith", but now I understand. You just don't like black and orange as colors.

  7. Brett Cowett February 14, 2013 at 4:39 AM #

    Aside from the points that both Daniels made earlier, I believe this is a pretty good condensed list as to why you shouldn't bet for the Orioles to repeat 2012 – stats included!
    http://mlb.sbnation.com/2013/2/13/3984844/baltimo

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