Thursday, January 10, 2008

Grading the MLB Franchises: AL East

The following series will evaluate the outlook of each MLB franchise entering 2008. Every team has been given a grade based on team success, fiscal responsibility, organizational stability and future outlook. Big market teams and historically successful ballclubs are held to a higher standard.

NL East
NL Central
NL West
AL East
AL Central
AL West

Baltimore Orioles (D-)
SS Miguel Tejada was sent off two years too late. Baltimore's best position player, 2B Brian Roberts, has been shipped to Chicago. The Orioles ace, Erik Berdard, is on the trading block. Owner Peter Angelos and GM Mike Flanagan have assembled the worst team $90 million can buy. RF Nick Markakis has a swing tailor-made for Camden Yard's short porch but he's the lone threat in an unremarkable lineup. Besides Berdard and
RHP Daniel Cabrera none of the arms are exceptional. Dave Trembely replaced ousted manager Sam Perlozzo midseason and will have his work cut out for him in '08. Prep C Matt Wieters was the selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft. He's got a ton of potential but catchers need several years to develop. The Orioles will likely struggle in the tough AL East Division this year and for the next several. Makes Baltimore fans pine for the Cal Ripken days.

Boston Red Sox (A-)
The world champions have all the ingredients needed to for a dynastic run. First and foremost the team is loaded with talent. 2007 Rookie of the Year 2B Dustin Pedroia sets the table for sluggers LF Manny Ramirez and DH David Ortiz. Starters Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling can dominate a lineup on any given night. Even if they don't finish the job closer Jonathon Papelbon is there to slam the door on opponents. Secondly the Red Sox have a tremendous fan base, which allows GM Theo Epstein to gamble often on roster moves. Sometimes those transactions backfire, such as pricey mistakes OF J.D. Drew and SS Julio Lugo. But Epstein has had more successes than failures -- $150 million in financial leeway tends to go a long way. RHP Clay Buccholz, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, SS Jed Lowrie and 1B Lars Anderson highlight one of the elite minor league systems in the game.

New York Yankees (B)
Regardless of how hard the tyrannical Steinbrenner brood (first George, now Hank) might huff and puff about a lack of recent championships the pinstripes remain a remarkable franchise. Now focused on a grassroots approach New York possesses an impressive trio of young arms in Joba Chamberlain, Philip Hughes and Ian Kennedy. They supplement an outstanding core which includes 2007 AL MVP Alex Rodriguez as well as perennial All-Stars Derek Jeter, Jose Posado and Mariano Rivera. Starting pitching remains the biggest weakness. Roger Clemens recently retired and the Mitchell report squashed any chances of yet another comeback by the Rocket. Andy Pettitte recently signed a one-year deal to return to New York. However, the recent steroid allegations against Pettitte may force him into retirement -- or to be scrutinized all year. First-year Yankee manager Joe Girardi has some mighty big shoes to fill considering Joe Torre won four championships in eleven years and never missed the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Rays (C)
A name change signifies a new start. Beginning with the most loaded minor league system Tampa Bay is improving from the bottom up. Top overall pick LHP David Price, 3B Evan Longoria, OF Desmond Jennings, LHP Jacob McGee and SS Reid Brignac will be coming through the pipeline, some even as early as this summer. Joe Maddon, entering his third year as manager, needs to win more than the usual 60 games a season.
1B Carlos Pena will be the biggest contributor for the Rays' offense. Pena went from well-traveled regular to superstar slugger by mashing 46 homers in 2007. RHP Matt Garza, brought in at the expense of OF Delmon Young, joins Scott Kazmir and James Shields as headliners of a great rotation. Although the Rays have no realistic chance of making the playoffs they will be a youthful squad with tons of talent. Question is, will anyone come to the awful stadium to watch?

Toronto Blue Jays (C+)
The Blue Jays seem to be stuck in competitive limbo: never good (or rich) enough to compete with the Yanks and Soxs but always better than the O's and Rays. Barring any drastic developments this team seems set on another 85-win campaign with no postseason in sight. Toronto's offense starts with a pair of great outfielders, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios. No one in the infield stands out, although SS John McDonald flashes a tremendous glove and 3B Troy Glaus' power may return once he's healthy. RHP Roy Halladay is one of the true aces in the game. He's followed in the rotation by the good but often-injured A.J. Burnett. LHP B.J. Ryan sat out nearly the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. Without a reliable closer the birds are toast. Down in the minors OF Travis Snider continues to develop as an excellent left-handed slugger.

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