1. Tampa Bay Rays
Notable Additions: RP Roberto Hernandez (Fausto Carmona), 1B James Loney, RP Juan Carlos Oviedo (Leo Nunez), SS Yunel Escobar, OF Wil Myers, SP Mike Montgomery, SP Jake Odirizzi
Notable Losses: SP James Shields, SP Wade Davis, 1B Carlos Pena, 3B Jeff Keppinger, OF BJ Upton, RP JP Howell
The Rays are locked and loaded for another year to be the David who can stand up to the Goliaths of the Major League Baseball. Continuing to have one of the deeper starting rotations in baseball with David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Jeff Niemann as their starting five. The Rays shouldn’t have difficulty getting innings out of this bunch. David Price is just coming off of a Cy Young performance in 2012, and his contract will be up in 2013 which leaves a lot of uncertainty for the cash-strapped Rays. The Rays have discussed both trading Price and extending him, however the later would leave little room for a supporting cast around him and Longoria. That evidence leads me to think the Rays will move Price, but they will need to find a team that will be willing to swallow their step price (no pun intended) for a potential rental pitcher. Moving from the rotation to the bullpen the Rays are decent here as well marksman Fernando Rodney handling the closers role, Joel Peralta setting up, and Jake McGee and Kyle Farnsworth providing relief when extra innings need to be pitched.
As far as the Rays lineup goes, it seems to be balanced all the way around. Power threats remain despite the departure of BJ Upton with the likes of Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist, and Luke Scott. In addition to the guys that can drive the ball, the Rays also have a legitimate base stealer in Desmond Jennings, and guys who can just flat out get on base like James Loney and Yunel Escobar despite his down year with the Blue Jays in 2012. Overall, I feel like the Rays should have enough to win the division in 2013 and they will make a deep playoff run due to the youth and depth of their starting pitching staff.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
Notable Additions: SP Mark Buehrle, SP Josh Johnson, SS Jose Reyes, 2B/3B Emilio Bonifacio, 2B Maicer Izturis, OF Melky Cabrera, SP R.A. Dickey, INF Mark DeRosa, C Henry Blanco, C Josh Thole, Mick Nickeas
Notable Losses: C John Buck, C Travis D’Arnaud, C Jeff Mathis, 2B Kelly Johnson, SS Yunel Escobar, SP Adeiny Hechavarria, SS Mike Aviles, SP Henderson Alvarez, RP Jason Frasor, RP Brandon Lyon, SP Carlos Villanueva
Wow. Just wow is all I have to say regarding this team’s transformation from 2012 to 2013. GM Alex Anthonopolos (AA) went out and got the starting pitching the team lacked in 2012 and got it in a big way. He now has power pitcher Josh Johnson, innings eater and perfectionist Mark Buehrle, and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey in conjunction with the talent the Blue Jays already had in house in Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero. This starting rotation is absolutely phenomenal and I consider it to be one of the top five rotations in the league. The bullpen isn’t too shabby either as they have Casey Janssen closing, Sergio Santos returning in the set up role, and Darren Oliver, Brad Lincoln, and Steve Delabar among other big names to help out in the middle innings. The Jays pitching staff is far from impressive, they are out of this world.
The Jays are no slouch at the plate either with power hitters Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Colby Rasmus heading up the middle of the order. In addition, the Blue Jays will have a lot of stolen base potential with Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio on the same team. Not to mention they have a lot of guys who can just purely rake in Brett Lawrie and Melky Cabrera.* The Jays will be an exciting team to watch in 2013 and will give the Rays a bunch of problems at the top of the AL East, however the reason I do not pick them to win the division despite them being so much better on paper is because the game isn’t played on paper, and I feel like the Blue Jays will just have something that won’t allow them to put it together for a division title. However, I do see them with a playoff berth.
3. Baltimore Orioles
Notable Additions: 3B Danny Valencia, UTIL Russ Canzler, UTIL Alexi Casilla
Notable Losses: 1B Mark Reynolds, SP Joe Saunders
The Orioles really didn’t make a splash in this offseason, however, they are still very much the same team that won a wild card spot last year. The thing about the Orioles is that they are a young team with boppers such as Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and Matt Wieters expected to be around for years to come. As well as guys like JJ Hardy and Brian Roberts continuing to be productive as they age. The Orioles starting rotation however should prove problematic in their chances of pursuing back to back playoff appearances as they lack a truly dominant starting pitcher on their staff. Don’t get me wrong, Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen are solid, but when they square off against guys like Josh Johnson, David Price, and CC Sabathia they will need to be that much better in order to keep their Orioles in the game. I wish I could say their bullpen will provide the starters some relief in 2013, however I don’t think that is the case because with the exception of Jim Johnson, the Orioles bullpen is rather inconsistent and inexperienced, but the same could be said for the White Sox bullpen in 2012 and they did just fine.
4. New York Yankees
Notable Additions: 3B Kevin Youkilis, OF Ben Francisco, 1B Juan Rivera, 1B/DH Travis Hafner, 1B Dan Johnson
Notable Losses: C Russell Martin, 3B Eric Chavez, OF Andruw Jones, OF Nick Swisher, OF Raul Ibanez, SP Freddy Garcia, RP Rafael Soriano
Here they are Next Sox GM readers. The great Yankees of New York will finish 4th this year according to this baseball enthusiast and here is why:
They are old. I mean they may as well refer to Yankee stadium as a retirement home because with geezers like Youkilis, Rivera, Jeter, Hafner, and Ichiro Suzuki headlining the team they sure aren’t trying to get younger. The youth movement for them is not speeding up either as their bench also seems to be made up of older major leaguers or career minor leaguers. Brett Gardner is the one bright spot of the team along with Robinson Cano, but they won’t be enough to lift the Yankees above the younger and more talented Orioles, Rays, and Jays. Not to say that being old is bad, but I simply don’t foresee the older Yankees being able to produce all 162 games and/or stay healthy the whole time as well.
They do have a bright spot as far as pitching goes. CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda should continue to do well and Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes will continue to eat innings. Andy Pettitte is the wild card in the equation, he can be decent or he can fall apart. We shall see with him, however I expect the 2013 Yankees starting rotation to keep their team in games in 2013. In addition, I also expect their bullpen to be able to hold leads as the great Mariano Rivera is returning for one more season and the Yankees also still have David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan to shut the door.
5. Boston Red Sox
Notable Additions: C David Ross, OF Jonny Gomes, OF Shane Victorino, RP Koji Uehara, SP Ryan Dempster, SS Stephen Drew, C Mike Napoli, UTIL Mike Carp, RP Joel Hanrahan, MGR John Farrell
Notable Losses: 1B James Loney, 3B Danny Valencia, SS Mike Aviles, OF Cody Ross, SP Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP Vicente Padilla
The Red Sox are in shambles.What once was a great team, is now the laughing stock of the AL East. After their momentous collapse in 2011 to the embarrassment that was 2012, to the transition period that will be 2013, the Red Sox need to find their new identity. The thing that gets me most about this team is that they have good players, just not at the right time. They acquired Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, and Mike Napoli this offseason, all good players, but they are getting older and not better. Stephen Drew might have problems adjusting to the tougher AL East, and the Red Sox also must rely on Jacoby Ellsbury remaining healthy and Will Middlebrooks having a great sophomore campaign. The Red Sox dont have a bad rotation, however it is inconsistent, Lester and Buchholz will be expected to pitch to their potential all year long and I just don’t see that happening. John Lackey will be returning this season, but will he come back the same old John Lackey from his Angels years or the Red Sox years? Red Sox fans better hope for the former. The bullpen is solid as they have two closers in Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, the rest of the bullpen is solid with power arm Daniel Bard and hot-head Alfredo Aceves. Thing is the Red Sox simply won’t have the offense, youth, or pitching to keep up with the beasts of the East.
Catcher is the toughest position to play on the baseball field. The catcher controls the pitchers during the game, prevents runners from taking extra bases, blocks the plate from both balls trying to find their way to the backstop and runners attempting to score, and through all this he must still be a productive member of the lineup and hit. Finding a catcher who is just a right mix of all the above is very tough to do. There are maybe a hand full of catchers who I think fit this description closely: Buster Posey, Carlos Ruiz, Joe Mauer, and Yadier Molina, and they are all highly valued by their respective teams and will probably never see the free agent market due to their high value. But because finding that right man to play catcher is so difficult it is often challenging to transition from an established starting catcher to an inexperienced and unproven one. Unfortunately, this is the situation the South Siders find themselves in this offseason, they can bring the incumbent backstop AJ Pierzynski back but on a huge contract for 36 year-old-to-be or they can pass the gavel to Tyler Flowers who is ten years younger and has stated that he is ready for the starting job. Despite Flowers’ confidence in being able to take over the job, the White Sox have continued to explore other options such as shopping Flowers to the Mets and giving youngsters Josh Phegley and Hector Giminez looks behind the plate as well. Here I will breakdown the Hahn’s options for a starting backstop and tell you why or why he should not pursue the option. I have the likelihood of the move happening on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 being the most likely option.
Free Agents: Rod Barajas, Henry Blanco, Russell Martin, Mike Napoli, Miguel Olivo, Ronny Paulino, Humberto Quintero, Brian Schneider, Kelly Shoppach, Yorvit Torrealba, and Matt Treanor
Well this is quite an unimpressive list of major league catching talent. Guys who would sing on for less than AJ Pierzynski’s asking price are old and have never had much consistent success at the plate, so Paulino, Quintero, Treanor, Blanco, Schneider, Barajas, and Torrealba all are out. The rest: Olivo, Martin, Napoli, and Shoppach would all most likely be out of Hahn’s price range, as the Sox still need to address the third base spot and hopefully some bullpen weaknesses; so it seems as though free agency will not be the way to go for Rick Hahn.
Trades: JP Arencebia & Jarrod Saltalamacchia
The Blue Jays have let it be known that they have a top prospect just itching to get out of Triple-A and they will deal all of their catching in order to get him in the clubhouse, thus making JP Arencebia available. In addition, the Red Sox have brought in veteran backstop David Ross and have prospect Ryan Lavarnway sandwiching slugger Jarrod Saltalamacchia out of the picture in Boston. While neither Salty or Arencebia are a picture of consistency, they do something the White Sox like when looking at potential players, they hit home runs. Saltalamacchia had 25 home runs last year while driving in 59 runs, and Arencebia crushed 18 home runs while driving in 59; while neither of their RBI totals are impressive, they could definitely improve with better lineup placement and better players around them. Considering both Salty and Arencebia would be coming from the 5th and 4th place team in their division respectively, it is a given that they will have a better supporting cast. As the GM in this situation I would rather pursue Saltalamacchia than Arencebia because Saltalamacchia has a higher on-base pecentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage than Arencibia. The best thing is that both Arencebia and Saltalamacchia can probably both be had a for a mid-level prospect or two low-level prospects.
For most Sox fans this is the preferred route to take. We know AJ will provide a solid defensive presence, he is an average to above average hitting catcher, and he knows how to handle a pitching staff. On top of that all AJ is one of two remaining members of the core of our 2005 World Series team and is a popular figure with the fanbase. Unfortunately, the fans have to realize that AJ is going to be 36 years old this season, and he is not getting any younger. The only direction for a 35 year old catcher who just had a career to go is down, I can promise you that unless AJ signs for two years at $4 million or less a season, he will not live up to any contract the Sox will give him. History is not on his side. I don’t see any conceivable way — except for the hometown discount — that AJ stays on the South Side after this year. It’s a shame, but AJ has left on the franchise and when he returns someday all old and wrinkly he’ll still be embraced by the Chicago faithful for cementing a legacy, with the likes of Carlton Fisk and Ray Schalk, as one of the best backstops in franchise history.
Josh Phegley as of right now is a top ten prospect in the White Sox system. Although that isn’t saying much, it still means that he has a shot. With whispers of Hahn shopping Flowers around the league, specifically to the Mets, and the unlikelihood of AJ returning the Sox, Phegley has an outside shot to be the de facto winner of the starting catcher job. Now if you don’t know much about Phegley he has consistently possessed a .300 on-base percentage throughout his minor league career, he doesn’t strike out a lot, and he seems like a straight singles hitter by only having 20 doubles in 394 at-bats. This is not the best option as we have seen many a times a prospect fail because the Sox rushed him to the big leagues, examples being Danny Richar, Brian Anderson, and most recently Brent Morel.
Tyler Flowers has been the White Sox catcher of the future since we acquired him from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Javier Vasquez and reliever Boone Logan. However, Flowers has been unimpressive in the limited action he saw this past season. He hit for a .213 average with a .296 on-base percentage, while hammering seven home runs and driving in 13 RBI’s. But we can’t judge him in the limited action he has seen. As a backup catcher, it’s easy to pull him when he is struggling and not let him work through his struggles, this year, if given the starting job we will hopefully see Tyler do well, but when he struggles, it will be key to see how he fights through it. Resiliency is key. I wish we had the money to re-sign AJ, but his time is over and it is time for Tyler Flowers to take the reins and become the starter he thinks he is. This is the most likely option for Hahn as it is relatively no risk (as in making a trade, or gambling on signing an aging veteran) and we have an idea of what kind of player we are getting when we insert him into the lineup.
Ultimately, I believe Hahn should go with the cheap in house option because it will not cost us any prospects, it will be cheaper than re-signing AJ or going out and signing a free agent, and it will give Phegley a chance to develop in case Flowers doesn’t pan out. Thus, I predict that Tyler Flowers will win the starting catcher’s job for the Palehose, and that AJ Pierzynski will most likely sign elsewhere, most likely Tampa Bay or Texas. Here’s to AJ Pierzynski for all of his time on the South Side, and here’s to hoping that he has further success in the rest of his playing career except, against the Sox of course.