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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 3, 2010

MLB: AL East Preview capsules

Associated Press

Capsules of American League East teams, listed in order of finish last year:

New York Yankees

2009: 103-59, first place, World Series champions.

Manager: Joe Girardi (third season).

He's Here: 1B-DH Nick Johnson, CF Curtis Granderson, OF Randy Winn, OF Marcus Thames, RH Javier Vazquez, LH Boone Logan.

He's Outta Here: LF Johnny Damon, DH Hideki Matsui, OF Melky Cabrera, OF-INF Eric Hinske, OF Xavier Nady, OF-INF Jerry Hairston Jr., RH Chien-Ming Wang, RH Brian Bruney, LH Phil Coke.

Projected Lineup: SS Derek Jeter (.334, 18 HRs, 66 RBIs, 30 SB, 107 runs, .406 on-base percentage), DH Nick Johnson (.291, 8, 62, 99 walks, .426 OBP with Marlins and Nationals), 1B Mark Teixeira (.292, 39, AL-best 122 RBIs, .383 OBP, .565 slugging percentage, 103 runs), 3B Alex Rodriguez (.286, 30, 100, 14 SB, .402 OBP, .532 slugging, in 124 games) 2B Robinson Cano (.320, 25, 85, 103 runs), C Jorge Posada (.285, 22, 81, 383 at-bats), CF Curtis Granderson (.249, 30, 71, 20 SB, 91 runs with Detroit), RF Nick Swisher (.249, 29, 82, .371 OBP, 97 walks), LF Brett Gardner (.270, 3, 23, 26 SB, .345 OBP in 248 at-bats).

Rotation: LH CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA, 230 IP, 197 Ks), RH A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04, 207 IP, 195 Ks, AL-worst 97 walks and 17 wild pitches), LH Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16, 194 2-3 IP), RH Javier Vazquez (15-10, 2.87, 238 Ks in 219 1-3 IP with Braves), RH Phil Hughes (8-3, 3.03, 96 Ks in 86 IP, 51 games, 7 starts).

Key Relievers: RH Mariano Rivera (3-3, 1.76 ERA, 44/46 saves), RH Joba Chamberlain (9-6, 4.75 in 32 games, 31 starts; made 10 relief appearances in postseason) RH Alfredo Aceves (10-1, 3.54, 43 appearances, one start), LH Damaso Marte (1-3, 9.45, 13 Ks in 13 1-3 IP, missed much of season with shoulder injury) LH Boone Logan (1-1, 5.19, 17 1-3 IP over 20 games with Braves), RH Dave Robertson (2-1, 1 save, 3.30, 63 Ks in 43 2-3 IP) RH Sergio Mitre (3-3, 6.79, 12 games, including nine starts).

Hot Spots: Fifth starter, center field, contracts. Hughes beat out Chamberlain for the final spot in the rotation but Chamberlain, free of "Joba Rules," will be lurking in the bullpen, where he might be better suited. Hughes made seven starts last season but was shifted to 'pen after Wang was hurt. In '08 he went 0-4 in eight starts before getting injured. Granderson played 160 games in center for the Tigers last season and he'll start there for New York, but there were some knocks on the routes he took to the ball. He is trying contact lenses for the first time. The Yankees love the speedy Gardner, too. Jeter, Rivera and Girardi are in final year of deals, but the front office says there will be no contract talks until after the season.

Stat Sheet: Yankees won the AL East by eight games with solid pitching, a potent lineup and a relatively healthy year. Rodriguez says he feels fully healed after having hip surgery, but new DH Johnson has been on the DL nine times in his career. The revamped outfield must produce. Lefty-hitting Granderson is a potent replacement for Damon, especially with the short right-field wall, but he'll have to improve his .327 on-base percentage and .183 average against lefties. Granderson and Swisher struck out a combined 267 times last year. Cano stepping into Matsui's fifth spot behind A-Rod could be key to lineup that scored a major league-best 915 runs last year.

Bottom Line: The Yankees won their first World Series title in nine years, but they didn't stand pat in the offseason. Repeating might hinge on how well the newcomers fit in. Johnson and Granderson are replacing the popular and productive Damon and Matsui. The durable Vazquez, brought back to take some of the pressure off Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte, has to quickly establish that he's no longer the pitcher who was rocked in Game 7 of the 2004 American League championship series. After general manager Brian Cashman said there would be no new contracts for Jeter, Rivera and Girardi until the offseason, camp went more smoothly than it has in years. Can A-Rod go a season without distractions?

Boston Red Sox

2009: 95-67, second place, wild card.

Manager: Terry Francona (7th season).

He's Here: RH John Lackey, 3B Adrian Beltre, SS Marco Scutaro, CF Mike Cameron, OF Jeremy Hermida, INF-OF Bill Hall, RH Boof Bonser.

He's Outta Here: LF Jason Bay, SS Alex Gonzalez, OF Rocco Baldelli, C George Kottaras, 1B Casey Kotchman.

Projected Lineup: LF Jacoby Ellsbury (.301, 8 HRs, 60 RBIs, 70 SB), 2B Dustin Pedroia (.296, 15, 72, 115 runs), C Victor Martinez (.303, 23, 108 overall; .336, 8, 41 in 56 games with Red Sox), 1B Kevin Youkilis (.305, 27, 94), DH David Ortiz (.238, 28, 99), RF J.D. Drew (.279, 24, 68), 3B Adrian Beltre (.265, 8, 44 with Seattle), CF Mike Cameron (.250, 24, 70 with Milwaukee), SS Marco Scutaro (.282, 12, 60, 100 runs with Toronto).

Rotation: RH Josh Beckett (17-6, 3.86 ERA, staff-high 212 1-3 IP, 4 complete games), LH Jon Lester (15-8, 3.41, team-high 225 Ks), RH John Lackey (11-8, 3.83 ERA with Los Angeles Angels), RH Clay Buchholz (7-4, 4.21), RH Tim Wakefield (11-5, 4.58).

Key Relievers: RH Jonathan Papelbon (1-1, 1.85 ERA, 38/41 saves), RH Daniel Bard (2-2, 3.65, 63 Ks in 49 1-3 IP), LH Hideki Okajima (6-0, 3.39, 68 games), RH Ramon S. Ramirez (7-4, 2.84, staff-high 70 games), RH Manny Delcarmen (5-2, 4.53).

Hot Spots: Designated hitter and third base. DH Ortiz is coming off the worst of his seven seasons with Boston, hitting .238 with 28 homers and 99 RBIs. And he reached those numbers with a solid second half of the season. On June 5, the slugger had one homer with 21 RBIs and a .188 batting average in 49 games. Francona dropped him from the third spot in the lineup and he started hitting again. From June 6 through the end of the season, Ortiz led the AL with 27 homers, tied for the league lead with 78 RBIs and hit .266. He got off to a slow start in spring training this year before showing some power. Beltre takes over the third base job from Mike Lowell, who can still hit but has been slowed in the field since undergoing right hip surgery in October 2008. He was nearly traded to Texas in the offseason and remains trade bait. Beltre hit just .265 with eight homers and 44 RBIs in 111 games for Seattle in 2009, when he had two stints on the disabled list. He's displayed some pop in his bat in recent years, but hasn't come close to matching his .334 batting average, 48 homers and 121 RBIs with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004. He's an outstanding fielder.

Stat Sheet: Red Sox pitchers were second in the AL with 1,230 strikeouts. Boston was third in the league with 212 homers, a number that very well could go down with the departure of LF Bay (who led the team with 36 homers). Having Martinez for a full season should help. The switch-hitter batted .336 in 56 games after he was acquired from Cleveland.

Bottom Line: As usual, the Red Sox should contend for the division title after winning 95 games last season, third-most in the league. GM Theo Epstein focused on run prevention over the winter, adding Angels ace Lackey and outstanding defenders Cameron, Beltre and Scutaro. Martinez provides much better offense at the catcher's spot than backup Jason Varitek. Varitek hit. 220 in 2008 and .209 in 2009, spending much of the second half of last season as a substitute. Bay's power will be missed, but Ellsbury, who moved over from center to make room for Cameron, is a significant upgrade defensively. The starting rotation is one of the best in baseball with the addition of Lackey, who looked great this spring. The Red Sox also have Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has been slowed by back and neck injuries but could be available before May. He appears to be in much better shape than last year and figured to start the season in the rotation before his setbacks. The top five relievers return, with Papelbon remaining the closer after blowing the final game of the Angels' sweep in the AL division series when he allowed three runs in the ninth inning of a 7-6 loss. Those were the first postseason runs he ever allowed, following 26 1-3 scoreless IP. The hard-throwing Bard looks to build on an outstanding rookie season.

Tampa Bay Rays

2009: 84-78, third place.

Manager: Joe Maddon (fifth season).

He's Here: RH Rafael Soriano, C Kelly Shoppach, 1B Dan Johnson, DH/1B Hank Blalock.

He's Outta Here: 2B Akinori Iwamura, OF Gabe Gross, LH Brian Shouse, RH Chad Bradford, C Gregg Zaun.

Projected Lineup: SS Jason Bartlett (.320, 14 HRs, 66 RBIs, 30 SB), LF Carl Crawford (.305, 15, 68, 60 SB), 3B Evan Longoria (.281, 33, 113), 1B Carlos Pena (.227, 39, 100), 2B Ben Zobrist (.297, 27, 91), DH Pat Burrell (.221, 14, 64), RF Matt Joyce (.273, 16, 66 at Triple-A Durham), CF B.J. Upton (.241, 11, 55), C Dioner Navarro (.218, 8, 32).

Rotation: RH James Shields (11-12, 4.14 ERA, 167 Ks, staff-high 219 2-3 IP), RH Matt Garza (8-12, 3.95, 189 Ks, 203 IP), LH David Price (10-7, 4.42, 128 1-3 IP), RH Jeff Niemann (13-6, 3.94), RH Wade Davis (2-2, 3.72 after September promotion from Durham).

Key Relievers: RH Rafael Soriano (1-6, 2.97 ERA, 27 saves, 102 Ks in 75 2-3 IP with Braves), LH J.P. Howell (7-5, 2.84, 79 Ks in 66 2-3 IP), RH Dan Wheeler (4-5, 3.28), RH Andy Sonnanstine (6-9, 6.77 in 22 games, 18 starts), RH Grant Balfour (5-4, 4.81 in 73 games), LH Randy Choate (1-0, 3.47), RH Lance Cormier (3-3, 3.26).

Hot Spots: Right field and second base. Zobrist seemingly came out of nowhere to become an All-Star last season. He started games at seven different positions in 2009, but entered spring training as the projected starting second baseman with Iwamura gone. But the Rays also like him in right field, which was handled by platoon last season. If Zobrist winds up at second, left-handed hitting Matt Joyce and right-handed hitting Gabe Kapler likely will share much of the playing time in right. Putting Zobrist in right would open a spot at second for former Angels prospect Sean Rodriguez, obtained last summer in the trade that sent Scott Kazmir to Los Angeles.

Stat Sheet: The Rays set club records last season for home runs (199) and stolen bases (194) but fell behind the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East because of an inability to close out games, in part because of an inconsistent bullpen and the lack of a true closer. They once again had one of the best home records in the majors, going 52-29 at Tropicana Field. But their 32-49 road mark was too much to overcome.

Bottom Line: With one of the youngest lineups and rotations in baseball, as well as a fertile minor league system, the Rays are built for long-term success. But the window of opportunity for a couple of the current stars could be closing fast. Crawford and Pena can become free agents after this season and could be moved by the trade deadline if the team gets off to a slow start and drops out of the pennant race. The payroll has climbed over $70 million and owner Stuart Sternberg reiterated at the start of spring training that the team is living above its means and reductions are inevitable. The top offseason priority was strengthening the bullpen. The addition of Soriano fills the need for a closer. The rotation is solid and getting better. Shields and Garza were instrumental in Tampa Bay's surprising run the World Series two years ago. Price, Niemann and Davis combined for 59 starts last season, the most by rookie pitchers for a defending AL champion since the 1967 Orioles. The discouraging thing is the Rays could be better than a year ago, even finish with a winning record for a third consecutive season, and it still could be difficult to keep pace with division rivals New York and Boston, which both made significant upgrades in the offseason.

Toronto Blue Jays

2009: 75-87, fourth place.

Manager: Cito Gaston (third season).

He's Here: C John Buck, SS Alex Gonzalez, RH Kevin Gregg, RH Brandon Morrow.

He's Outta Here: RH Roy Halladay, C Rod Barajas, C Michael Barrett, INF Joe Inglett, RH Brandon League, DH-1B Kevin Millar, SS Marco Scutaro.

Projected Lineup: RF Jose Bautista (.235, 13 HRs, 40 RBIs), 2B Aaron Hill (.286, 36, 108, AL comeback player of the year), DH Adam Lind (.305, 35, 114), CF Vernon Wells (.260, 15, 66, 17 SB), 1B Lyle Overbay (.265, 16, 64), 3B Edwin Encarnacion (.240, 8, 23 in 42 games with Toronto), C John Buck (.247, 8, 36 in 59 games with Kansas City), LF Travis Snider (.241, 9, 29, 77 games), SS Alex Gonzalez (.238, 8, 41 in 112 games with Cincinnati and Boston).

Rotation: RH Shaun Marcum (missed last season recovering from elbow surgery), LH Brian Tallet (7-9, 5.32, 37 games, 25 starts), LH Ricky Romero (13-9, 4.30 ERA, 29 starts), RH Brandon Morrow (2-4, 4.39 ERA, 6 saves with Seattle), LH Dana Eveland (2-4, 7.16 in 13 games, nine starts, with Oakland).

Key Relievers: RH Shawn Camp (2-6, 3.50 ERA, 59 games), LH Jesse Carlson (1-6, 4.66, 73 games), RH Casey Janssen (2-4, 5.85), RH Jeremy Accardo (0-0, 2.55, 26 games), RH Jason Frasor (7-3, 2.50, 11 saves, 61 games), LH Scott Downs (1-3, 3.09, 9 saves), RH Kevin Gregg (5-6, 4.72, 23 saves with Chicago Cubs).

Hot Spots: Starting rotation, closer, left field. Halladay won at least 16 games and pitched at least 220 innings in each of the last four seasons for Toronto, and he's in Philadelphia now after December's big four-team trade. Marcum will start on opening day but Romero could become Toronto's ace after a promising rookie year. Marc Rzepczynski (broken left middle finger) will begin the year on the disabled list but could push Eveland out of the rotation once he's healthy. Frasor won the closer competition during spring training, beating out Gregg and Downs.

Stat Sheet: Hill and Lind both are coming off a banner 2009 season. Hill set career bests for homers, RBIs, hits (195), runs (103) and slugging percentage (.499). His previous career high for homers was 17. Lind set career marks in almost every offensive category, including homers, RBIs, runs (93) and hits (179). Lind's previous best for homers was 11 and RBIs was 46, both in 2007.

Bottom Line: New general manager Alex Anthopoulos replaced the fired J.P. Ricciardi in October and quickly revamped the team's scouting and development departments. Gaston, 66, is back even though he was criticized by some of his players late last season. His four-year consulting contract with the team will begin when his managerial deal expires at the end of the upcoming season. Attempting to rebuild in the high-priced AL East is a difficult task, but there are some promising arms coming up in the Toronto system. It could be a rough couple of years while the Blue Jays wait for them to develop.

Baltimore Orioles

2009: 64-98, last place.

Manager: Dave Trembley (fourth season).

He's Here: 3B Miguel Tejada, INF Garrett Atkins, LH Michael Gonzalez, RH Kevin Millwood.

He's Outta Here: 3B Melvin Mora, RH Danys Baez, RH Brian Bass, RH Chris Ray, LH Chris Waters.

Projected Lineup: 2B Brian Roberts (.283, 16 HRs, 79 RBIs, 30 SB), CF Adam Jones (.277, 19, 70, .457 slugging percentage), RF Nick Markakis (.293, 18, 101), 3B Miguel Tejada (.313, 14, 86 with Houston), C Matt Wieters (.288, 9, 43), 1B Garrett Atkins (.226, 9, 48 with Colorado), DH Luke Scott (.258, 25, 77), LF Nolan Reimold (.279, 15, 45), SS Cesar Izturis (.256, 2, 30).

Rotation: RH Kevin Millwood (13-10, 3.67 ERA, 198 2-3 innings with Texas), RH Jeremy Guthrie 10-17, 5.04, 200 IP, staff-high 110 strikeouts), RH Brad Bergesen (7-5, 3.43), LH Brian Matusz (5-2, 4.63), RH David Hernandez (4-10, 5.42).

Key Relievers: LH Mike Gonzalez (5-4, 2.42 ERA, 10/17 saves with Atlanta), RH Jim Johnson (4-6, 4.11, 10 saves), RH Koji Uehara (2-4, 4.05 in 12 starts), LH Mark Hendrickson (6-5, 4.37).

Hot Spots: Starting rotation. Millwood adds much-needed experience, but the rest of the rotation consists of Guthrie, who lost 17 games last season, and three guys who never pitched in the major leagues before last year. What's more, Bergesen was sidelined from July 31 to the end of the season after being hit in the shin with a line drive. Matusz shows promise, but he's been in professional baseball for only two years. Hernandez is only 24 and, like last year, will be learning on the job. Hernandez was 1-8 with a 7.19 ERA over his last 12 starts in 2009.

Stat Sheet: The Orioles were a combined 9-37 against Boston, the Yankees and Angels, and 55-61 against everyone else. For Baltimore to improve, it must do better against AL East foes, most notably the Red Sox (2-16). The Orioles were 8-1 at home against the Blue Jays but 1-8 in Toronto.

Bottom Line: The Orioles appear to be a better team than last year, but probably not good enough to prevent their run of consecutive losing seasons from reaching 13. Tejada is an upgrade from Mora at third base and Atkins has the potential to at least match the numbers put up by last year's first baseman, Aubrey Huff, who was traded to Detroit in August. Millwood provides stability and leadership to a starting rotation that struggled in 2009, but the remainder of the staff might not have enough experience to deal with the talent-rich AL East. The bullpen is also a question mark. Can Gonzalez fill the void left by the trade of George Sherrill to the Dodgers in July? Can the oft-injured Uehara make the transition from starter to late-inning reliever? The Orioles expect to score runs, but they ranked 13th in stolen bases last season and don't have much power beyond Markakis, Jones and perhaps Tejada. The offense needs Atkins to rebound from a miserable 2009 season with Colorado, and for Wieters and Reimold to take the next step following impressive performances as rookies.