Success in Major League Baseball depends on managing risk. This week, we’ll take a look at the Red Sox division rivals and how they managed to, well… manage their risk.
Some teams like the Yankees are betting heavily on some risky investments. Other teams like the Blue Jays have some risk, while teams like the Rays don’t really have any. And like anything that involves risk, there are the persistently lucky – the team like the Orioles who defy logic time after time. Each team’s approach to risk could play a significant role in how the season plays out and how teams are able to adapt to the changing conditions as time goes by.
Let’s jump right in!
High risk, high reward: The New York Yankees
The risk: With six key players over the age of 37 and several younger players (Curtis Granderson & Mark Texeira) showing signs of a faster-than-expected decline, the Yankees seem to be a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off.
Combine their enhanced age with less depth and even worse – limited financial resources at their disposal to address those issues, the margin for error for the 2013 New York Yankees is nill. While they may be able to withstand a few hits to the rotation, losing even a few position players could be incomprehensibly costly in a division with the kind of parody that the AL East has this year. Considering age and the fact that three of those players (Rivera, Jeter and Rodriguez) will be coming off significant injuries, the likelihood of staying healthy is dicey at best.
I’ve always felt like when the Yankees finally dropped, the drop would be sudden and violent. With an aging roster, no margin for error and an ownership group keeping a close eye on the bottom line in order to avoid the luxury tax, the fuse may have already been lit.
The reward: While there’s been much adieu about the Yankees’ age, there sure hasn’t been very much in the way of decline. In fact, even if the team’s older players do decline a fair amount this year, there’s still a strong possibility they could win up to 90 games.
While the team did lose Nick Swisher, they’ll be getting Brett Gardner back – who offsets his loss entirely. With Suzuki added to the mix for peanuts, one could argue that the Yankees actually got better defensively – and perhaps even offensively as well.
Where the team is most likely to experience decline will be on the left side of the infield where Derek Jeter will again be at SS while Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rodriguez will likely split time at 3B. While this trio should be cringe worthy defensively, there shouldn’t be too significant of a decline on the offensive side of things. Even if Derek Jeter drops an entire fWAR and Youk and A-Rod only combine for 2 fWAR between each other – the team would theoretically lose nothing in the win column thanks to the upgrade in the outfield.
Within the margins, this team can decline a bit and still be successful. So long as Cano, Granderson and Texeira can maintain their performance and the catching trio of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Austin Romine can keep runs off the board, the offense should continue to be potent and the defense should see a slight improvement.
The rotation is aging, too – but none of the age there (namely Kuroda) has shown significant signs of decline. Even if the 40-year old Andy Pettite regresses to around a 4.00 FIP this year, he’d certainly make a decent back end of the rotation starter. If the other three pitchers can retain their production, there’s no reason to think that the Yankees rotation could be it’s usual solid, unspectacular self.
When looking at last year’s 95 win team and taking into the slight tweaks under the hood for this year’s team, suggesting that this team could win 90 games is almost certainly not out of the question. Ultimately, staying healthy will make or break them. If they can stay on the field, there’s no reason to think they can’t win the division again. If they don’t, this could be one of the worst Yankees teams to take the field in a long, long time.
Moderate risk: The Toronto Blue Jays
The risk – While the Blue Jays’ core heading into last season was obviously talented (and underperforming), they were also injury prone. The blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins that added Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes, however – may have added to that reputation.
Flat out- the name of the game for the Blue Jays in 2013 will be staying healthy. The talent is there, but can they stay on the field enough to be successful? While Brandon Morrow, Johnson and Ricky Romero are all very talented pitchers, there’ve been some concerns about their recent trips to the DL and the nature of their injuries. The positional side of the coin wasn’t much better, with Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, J.P. Arencibia and Adam Lind all spending time on the DL.
There are also some questions about well, questions. Is Edwin Encarnacion the guy we saw last year, or more like the 2011 version? How does Melky Cabrera perform post-PEDS? And what can we expect out of Colby Rasmus? Is he the guy who raked at the beginning of the season or the guy who fell off a ledge in the second half?
There are problems elsewhere on the roster as well – most notably some of the makeup issues that persisted throughout last season. While the Red Sox seemed to win the award for most dramatic ballclub in 2012, the Blue Jays weren’t all that far behind. Their youthful core was criticized for not caring and leadership issues presented themselves throughout the year, culminating in the infamous Yunel Escobar eye-paint debacle. Can new-old manager John Gibbons pull this crew back together? And how will the additions from the Marlins blend in? Miami’s clubhouse wasn’t exactly the Love Boat, either – so who knows what to expect?
The reward: This should be obvious. On paper, this is the most talented team in the division. If everyone stays on the field, they could be one of the – if not THE best team in the American League this year.
The addition of Reyes alone to this lineup makes it far more dynamic and dangerous. His presence on the base pads along with his ability to get from first to third efficiently should be a boon for sluggers like Bautista and Encarnacion. With the addition of Cabrera, the core of the Toronto lineup should be good enough to score plenty of runs even if everyone else is only so-so.
The big shot in the arm – at least on the positional side of things – will be that young studs like Lawrie, Arrencibia and Rasmus be relieved of some of the burden they were forced to carry last season. Less will be expected (err, demanded) and they’ll be able to focus in on what they need to work on in a lower risk environment.
Above all else, the addition of some much-needed durability to the rotation could be what keeps the Jays ahead of the pack by the end of the year. The 2012 Blue Jays were sentenced to death via rotation decimation – with all five starters spending significant time on the DL. This year, workhorses Mark Buehrle and National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey will slide into the rotation and bring their five-zillion innings worth of pitching along with them. While there has been some hay made about Buehrle’s peripherals and Dickey’s transition to this division, folks should be reminded that these guys don’t need to be outstanding for the Jays to contend. They just need to be ‘good,’ which both are capable of. So long as Johnson and Morrow can stay healthy at the front end of the rotation, this staff should be very, very good.
Making up nearly 20 wins will be hard, but if the Blue Jays can stay healthy, they’ve got a shot. Much of last year’s underperformance was tied up in the disabled list, so it’s safe to assume the pre-existing foundation of this team was far better than some had speculated. As with every team in this division, health will play a role. With the Blue Jays however, the cloud of injuries may ring a bit louder than the rest of the field. Why? Because this is the team with the most to loose. Being the favorite and landing with a thud always seems to make a lot of noise. Just ask the 2011 Red Sox.
The Safe Bet: The Tampa Bay Rays
The risk and reward- Betting on the Rays is like going to the casino, sitting yourself down at a roulette wheel and betting on red and black all night. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some, but don’t expect to walk away rich and certainly don’t expect to go home broke. In a division where two teams will battle health issues while the other two tackle under and over performance issues – if you’re the Tampa Bay Rays – being boring might be good enough to win the AL East.
While the pitching rotation probably took a momentary step back by losing James Shields via trade this offseason, this team’s pitching is still the best in the division. With a strong bullpen and young, not-so-injury prone pitchers throughout their rotation, there’s no reason to think the Rays don’t continue to do what they’ve done the last few years, and that’s pitch their way into being a contender.
Where they always seem to excel is on the defensive side of things and this year it’ll be interesting to see how they fall in comparison to last year. While James Loney and Yunel Escobar can flash some leather, Kelly Johnson is probably a pretty significant downgrade. However, what the Rays do have is significant positional flexibility making them a team who can provide a lot of different looks, shifts and lineups depending on need.
Offensively the Rays always tend to be a mixed bag. While Escobar and Johnson should help, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of progress the Rays see from Desmond Jennings and whether or not super-prospect Will Myers can contribute to the big club this year. Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist will likely have strong seasons again while Matt Joyce gives them dependability in the outfield.
The real trump card for the Rays though – is that despite some of their holes and weaknesses, they’re the team that’s best positioned to be able to fill those gaps should they find themselves in the mix come playoff time. Their farm system is still deep and they have enough high-upside fringe prospects lurking on the periphery that the team we see in September could be significantly better both on the field and on paper.
As usual, Tampa Bay values flexibility over all else – both out of basic necessity and out of deliberate intention. This roster is a direct reflection of that and while this might not be the most eye-popping team in the division, they’re definitely the most projectable and certainly the team with the best shot of improving themselves if they need to. As always, they’ll be dangerous.
Kiss your money good bye: The Baltimore Orioles
The risk: Where to start?
One run games makes sense. The 2012 Orioles won 93 games on the back of a 29-9 record in 1-run games. The MLB record was 19 games, so even if they manage to tie the old MLB record in consecutive seasons, just on luck alone – they’re due for about a 10 game regression. That would make them an 83-win team without doing anything to the roster. And make no bones about it – this wasn’t a team that did anything to improve itself this offseason.
The starting pitching will be an issue for sure, as the team trotted out 12 different starters last year. Wei-Yin Chen hurled 192.2 innings last year, but the next best pitchers only threw 133.2 (Tommy Hunter) and 118.0 IP (Jason Hammel), respectively. Between injuries, and over performance, it’s going to be hard for the Orioles to repeat last year’s miracle without much of a rotation.
And that’s not even getting into the incredible roster-juggling job from Dan Duquette. Last year the Orioles had sixty-two call-ups and options. They added 17 players to their 40-man roster who were not a part of the roster when the reason began. Only 10 players remained on the roster all year from beginning to end. Dana Eveland was DFA’d three times in six months. Bill Hall got outrighted twice in a week and a half. Some people might think this is a new market inefficiency and in some respects, they may be right. To me, it just doesn’t seem sustainable.
So given the rampant roster tinkering, lack of starting pitching and the staggering potential for regression based on luck alone, I’m seeing this year’s edition of the Orioles as almost a sure-fire lose-lose bet. A 10-game regression might be generous.
The reward: Is Duquette crazy like a fox? I mean sure, everyone loves the 40-man roster, but DFA’ing players means you can live without them and half the guys the Orioles sent down last year were players they might not have really needed. Maybe Duquette’s never-ending duct tape job has some life to it that I’m not seeing.
Maybe the nine-man rotation adds up to something. Maybe I’m under-estimating the raw power the Orioles have throughout their lineup. And could it be that the Orioles were just a young team that had underperformed for so long that we just forgot they were actually pretty talented? Maybe.
The bullpen’s a definite plus for sure and arguably the best in all of baseball. Being good in close games usually means you’ve got something going right for you on the pitching side of things and when it comes to the Orioles, their bullpen is as lock-down as they come.
Still, the wheeling and dealing and the overall chanciness of the roster as a whole seems like too risky of a bet to make. I like this team. I love the Baltimore market and I hope this team is for real. But there’s a lot that suggests otherwise. If were a gambling man, betting on a repeat wouldn’t be in my cards. Besides, if I was, I’d be spending my time here, at wageronsports.com.