2012 Previews: A.L. East

AMID all the curiosity and nostalgia about the sudden unretirement of Andy Pettitte, there rested one question that is absolutely fundamental to understanding the 2012 American League Eastern Division race.

Why?

I heard people ask Pettitte about how it happened, when it happened, why he wanted it to happen, how his arm was, how his legs were, how his head was. I heard questions about when Brian Cashman called him and how often and how much he was offered and how much he eventually signed for and why it took him so long and when he’ll be ready.

What I did not hear was a question about why – in the wake of trading the best hitting prospect they’ve produced since Robinson Cano for a starting pitcher, and in the wake of signing a free agent starting pitcher, and with a training camp full of young starting pitcher prospects – why did the Yankees feel they needed Pettitte?

Even at the point when Cashman traded Jesus Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda (and then incongruously compared Montero to Miguel Cabrera), the Yankees had a surfeit of starting pitchers. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes were all back (and Bartolo Colon could’ve been). Manuel Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Hector Noesi were awaiting opportunities. And then Pineda was added. And then Kuroda. And then Pettitte.

I understand no team divides its 162 starts evenly among five men and if you go through a year with only two rotational changes it’s been a blessing from above. But to add so much is to suggest not that you’re worried about injury or attrition, but about the quality of what you already have. I don’t think the Yankees trust Nova, I think they feel Hughes’ moment is passed, I presume they have no faith that the moment will arrive for Banuelos and Betances. And after his flaccid spring, I’m sure they’re wondering if the Pineda thing was a disaster too.

It was.

Jesus Montero probably can’t catch a lick and the Yankees didn’t have first base open for him to move to. But a player like him, with that kind of high ball opposite field power, is far more scarce than a Michael Pineda at his best, let alone a Michael Pineda who didn’t gain velocity in the off-season, only weight. The Yankees seem deliberately intent on ignoring the reality that they are aging dangerously on offense. I realize that part of the solution to that is to free up the DH spot that Montero would’ve filled, by a rotation of the wheezing Alex Rodriguez, the unpredictable Nick Swisher, the aging Derek Jeter, and the calcified Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez. But it would seem those guys, and the offense, would’ve benefited a lot more from taking days off and letting the kid get 600 plate appearances and 30 homers.

And while my theory of Cashman getting as much pitching protection as he can speaks well to his preparedness for the ever-growing chance of injury or unreliability among his hurlers, there is no similar cushion being built for the line-up. This is a dreadful bench, from Francisco Cervelli (no power), to Eduardo Nunez (no glove), to Jones (no future). And there’s nobody in the farm system to fill the deficiencies before Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams arise during the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign. There was a guy but they traded him for a starting pitcher so good that they had to talk a 39-year old out of retirement to replace him. Lord help the Yankees if Curtis Granderson hits like he did last September, or if Rodriguez (“he’s in great shape; oh yeah, he was in great shape last year before he broke”) or Teixeira or Russell Martin get hurt. Or Cano. No Cano and they might not be even a factor in the pennant race.

That’s why I’m picking TAMPA BAY in this division, and handily. This is still a popgun offense, although I giggle every time I read somebody rip them for bringing back Carlos Pena to replace folk hero Casey Kotchman. Casey Kotchman had 560 plate appearances last year in Tampa and drove in 48 runs. A first baseman almost has to try to achieve a statistic that pathetic. In any event, Andrew Friedman has upgraded the offense from anemic to serene, improving by small measure at first, at DH, and at short (where Jeff Keppinger is bound to supplant the .193/.223 boys, Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac). Desmond Jennings is clearly blossoming into a star, and if B.J. Upton can hit merely .275, he will finally become one as well.

And the Rays have the best pitching staff in baseball. Even if Matt Moore is hyped and James Shields returns to earth and David Price keeps underachieving, they can pull Wade Davis back from the bullpen, and bring up Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and half a dozen other guys from Durham. If the magic spell that made Kyle Farnsworth a top closer suddenly snaps, they have Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta and Jake McGee and J.P. Howell to give it a try. The Rays probably have not just the best staff, 1-through-14 in baseball; they may have the best staff, 1-through-28. Who knows: if everything doesn’t go wrong maybe they dangle some of those prospects at mid-season and get some hitting?

The problem in BOSTON last year was pitchers drinking before the games were over. The problem in Boston this year could be fans drinking before they begin. Outside of Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury there isn’t a player on that 25-man roster about whom there is not one huge question. How soon will Kevin Youkilis’ crazy grip finally irreparably damage his hand? Can Carl Crawford actually face a pennant race? Is Buchholz healthy? Or Lester? Or Beckett?

Most importantly, to paraphrase long-ago skipper Joe M. Morgan, “who is running this nine?” New manager Bobby Valentine, showing my earlier criticisms of him may have been extreme and unfair, wanted Jose Iglesias at shortstop and hard-hitting, rapidly-improving Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate (Lavarnway being the only Red Sox player who didn’t panic down the stretch last year). He was overruled – and he certainly wasn’t overruled by newbie GM Ben Cherington. Years ago Terry Francona, John Farrell, and Theo Epstein came to the realization that Daniel Bard didn’t have the emotional chops to be a starting pitcher, and was best served firing gas out of the pen. They’re all gone, Bard was shoved into the rotation, is flailing just as the former bosses knew he would, and now presumably staggers back to the bullpen as broken goods behind the physically sketchy Andrew Bailey (Mark Melancon might close for them yet).

It’s a mess. It’s a mess that could almost accidentally come together in triumph and bolt into the pennant race, but – and heaven help me I’m agreeing with Curt Schilling – it looks like it is going bad quicker than he and I expected it to.  Ah well, maybe they can hire Francona back at some point and he can sift through the ashes and rebuild The Olde Towne Team with an eye towards 2014.

The question in TORONTO is: could it be going good quicker than anybody expects it to? Seven spots in the Jays’ lineup don’t particularly startle you, until you reach the conclusion that the guys occupying them could all, realistically, hit 20 homers apiece this year. This does not include Jose Bautista, or the first full year of The Brett Lawrie, who might become Canada’s first true homegrown baseball hero since The Larry Walker. The Blue Jays might be good for 250 home runs – Adam Lind could easily jump from one of the “other seven” to All-Star status – and the only defensive liability of the bunch, catcher J.P. Arencibia, could soon be supplanted by uber-prospect Travis D’Arnaud.

The Jays will hit and field. Their bullpen – fresh-armed Sergio Santos, protected by the underappreciated Coco Cordero, joining the incumbent Casey Janssen – with Darren Oliver actually finding a team he hasn’t previously played for – is newly solid. The questions are all among the starters. Only Ricky Romero has a resume, but during Toronto’s remarkable spring in dreary Dunedin (I know, I know, spring training stats, but they are 22-4 as I write this), Henderson Alvarez, Brett Cecil, Brandon Morrow, and even Deck McGuire and Kyle Drabek have looked sharp. Dustin McGowan is, in a tradition as old as time itself, hurt again – but perhaps only for a few weeks. If there’s one thing John Farrell knows it’s how to translate pitching potential into success. Just slight success out of the rotation and the Jays could vault into contention.

As to BALTIMORE they seem to be planning to use Wilson Betemit and Nick Johnson as part-time Designated Hitters. End Communication.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST FORECAST:

Faint heart never won fair predicting contests. I’m convinced about the winner, and taking a flier on the runners-up. It’s possible one of the Wild Cards comes out of this division but I’m not convinced any more. The Yankees and the Red Sox are not locks, and they are so not locks that I will assume New York will finally suffer the kind of position-player calamity that accelerates its decrepitude. TAMPA BAY is your champion, TORONTO second, NEW YORK third (close), BOSTON fourth, and BALTIMORE should’ve been relegated already.

NEXT TIME…I don’t know, I haven’t written it yet.

41 Comments

Don’t know what to write next? How about if the Tigers can make it to the playoffs again this year?

What’s the big question about Dustin Pedroia?

Keith, I think a lot of your AL east analysis is right on but must disagree with your view on Daniel Bard of the Red Sox. I don’t go along with what Curt Schilling said about Bard or players not liking Bobby Valentine. I think Josh Beckett had it right when he asked if Schilling was pitching for the team because he hadn’t seen him around the club this year. Boston won’t be fourth in this division.

Wow, nice to see somebody besides me thinks that both the Yanks and Sox are in decline. Tampa, most definitely. Toronto finishing second may be going out on a limb a bit, but I don’t think it’s as much of a stretch as some people might think, especially if they can get some decent pitching from the starters (paging Mr. Oswalt?)

I regard Keith’s views on the Yankees the same way I regard Fox New’s views on reality, though obviously not as evil. I have Boston winning the division but the Yankees will win the wild card and advance.

Make that “Fox News’s” though “Fox New” might be more accurate– the truth is so old.

I’d love it if sometime you would write a blog post explaining your love-hate relationship with the Yankees. It’s clearly not a “dem bums” kind of thing. No, you seem to genuinely dislike the franchise (and disapprove of the decisions they make) that you spend so much time and money following, if not supporting.

In related news, this is the third year in a row that you’re predicting (on this blog) that the Yankees will not even make the playoffs.

Bravo, JDS.

I like Keith (and was dismayed over today’s events) but he’s always picking against the Yankees and he’s always wrong about said pick. And I am IN NO WAY a fan of the Yankees.
Seriously Keith, look into a part time gig with MLB Network.

You were fired by MSNBC and replaced with that racist pig Al Sharpton.
Now Current is replacing you with that whoremonger Eliot Spitzer?
I guess that ag school education didn’t get you much.

George, You were a lousy owner in Texas and worse as a court-appointed President…
Or, is this the George who still lives in his parents’ basement on a couch?
I guess that GED diploma didn’t get you anywhere either.
You take a shot at Keith on a blog about baseball?
Have some Top Ramen, a cold store-brand beer and peruse the porn in your J C Penney underwear…

THANK YOU!!! I am amazed at how the haters troll him everywhere. They need a life.

Good job calling out the simpleton!

Why the hate conclown? Do facts and the fact that the people you support are assholes have anything to do with it?

Al Gore is an A$$#@!+! Let’s all now focus on his global warming scam that has made him tens of millions of dollars. He should be in jail. And…

… we all know he let you go because you overshadowed him.

Keith,

Please consider doing a podcast and/or a YouTube channel covering both sports and politics. Nobody can f**k with you, if you’re the only boss.

Great idea! I will host it!

Keith,
Hang tough! Whatever your next on-air endeavour is, you will have a following (just don’t wind up on Fox Sports). Loved your inside story on Mr. Sugarman and how it was your first real job in the world.

Keith Olbermann,
Was the real reason I even watched MSNBC way back—then. I felt his “honesty” and “fact-finding stated” truths were refreshing. Then…MSNBC—dumped him…for being TOO Honest and truthful. NOW—Current has done the “SAME” thing! Tell the people the real truth—and the WHITE COLLAR CORPORATE AMERICA jerks—-pull them—OUT! Every time!
THEY—-can’t handle the “real” truth,and I’ve felt Al Gore to be a major “joke” in politics, with his lack of “back-bone” in ALL of his doings. A BONELESS WONDER, and GUTLESS…too!
I hope Keith— “burns” them back!!! Just like what they’ve done to him,once again!
GOOD-LUCK Keith!

Joseph, you have said absolutely everything I would want to say. Keith, though you are sorely missed, take your time, recuperate, and find the right place that will appreciate you and allow your talent to work unfettered.

I am truly torn, Keith. I have seen your health deteriorate over the last couple of years because of the pressure you have been under. It breaks my heart. I know how much baseball means to you and hope you take a much needed respite and enjoy yourself thoroughly doing whatever makes you happiest.

You are a true gentleman and scholar. You are our spokesperson and defender. In a much smaller capacity, I have been where you are having burned bridges and rivers. Sometimes I feel like a dirty bomb! But always for the right reasons; for being an advocate for others who cannot speak for themselves. You embody what Edward Murrow stood for and we would be diminished if you were any other way.

Thank you for not being silent. Those who care about you are comforted knowing you are handling this in the best way possible: taking a break and looking ahead to what is best for YOU. That being said, I look forward to being able to see and hear from you regularly on any topic you see fit to address.

And, while it is easier said than done, ignore the haters. They are envious and corrupt. Know there are ten thousand who appreciate and cherish what you offer for every one who doesn’t. I wish you could feel our love and arms around you in this difficult time. While we’ve never met, you are a true friend to us.

You will remain in my prayers for every blessing.

My feelings exactly! Sojourner28, I can feel the frustration that Keith perhaps felt, when doing live television, and having everything fall out from underneath you. Losing the lighting in a tv studio should not be one of those issues. A video server clip can crash once in awhile, and you learn to roll with the punches on those. But studio lighting? I too have worked in television, from the cameraman point of view, and you have to develop a melding of trust between yourself, and the person in front of the camera. Only then can you keep the show going. In my spare time, I have started writing a book from all of the things that occur from the Engineers or Camera operators point of view. Hopefully, our leader Keith will be able to criquite the finished product. Hang in there!!!

Some people just see him as difficult. Why don’t they see him as wanting to present the best product he can give? They’d pitch a fit if he didn’t! That’s supposedly why they hired him: his experience, his integrity, his expertise. Did they want to give us a local access feel for a national production? Well, that’s what happened. They expected KO to work like it was a Wayne’s World production. He balked, as well he should have. Through it all he was a GENTLEMAN. But, it took it’s toll on his health and now they want to use his illness absences as grounds for termination while it was their fault his health failed! I hear when he signed on, he got one helluva lawyer to make sure if the spit hit the fan he’d be protected. Oh, to be a fly on the wall during those discussions. :)

And, good luck with the book!

COSIGNED! I was banned from Huffington Post after 5 years! They are doing it because of salty language and the fact I, drumz, call them out.

You need to be fired.

If you have such a distaste for Keith, why do you follow him? What are you? 12?

Keith, you cannot be replaced.
You are a person of great intelligence and integrity. Both are qualities which are rare, especially in these times.
I hope you can find a public forum to continue your efforts.
You are a hero.

Hang in there buddy.. There is a forum for your message.. and I know you’ll find it.. Current definitely was NOT IT. Take some time for yourself.. and I look forward to your next adventure !
You’re the best !

Dear Keith, you are the star of Daily Kos’ Saturday comic strip today, Animal News:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/03/31/1079474/-Animal-Nuz-90

You rock! I would like to send you a signed print of this comic by artist Eric Lewis, so if you have a mailing address where you receive “fan mail,” please email me.
Sincere best wishes!

Keith! I own a hosting company and would love to host a political blog for you. I will do all the technical work for free too.

They love ya, KO! For sure!

Guess you came down off your high horse, huh, Keith?

You didn’t know I worked for Al Gore in 92 and 96, led my state volunteers, was a CD chair and was asked to run for congress by a sitting senior member of the House, worked rope lines, drove in motorcades during camaign and official visits, didja?

Are you sorry you were a rude dickhead to me last night on Twitter?

Keep your chin up, Keith, And for God’s sake keep your flucking head down! Haven’t you learned?

>^..^< — skeet, skeet, You One Percenter beeyotch.

/walks 2 or 3 circles
/finds comfy spot
/purrrrrr….purrrrrr….zzzzzzz…..purrrrr…..
/dreams of fat mowsies

Keith, Terrific analysis of the AL East. As A Jays fan, I’m pleased to see some respect for the 2012 Blue Jays squad. As someone living in Canada, I’m selfishly pleased to see you’re leaving Current TV ..we don’t get that channel in Canada, and we’ve missed you since you left MSNBC. I hope you land somewhere where we can once again enjoy your frank and thoughtful analysis of the political landscape. You’re a hero of mine.

Okay, I’m dipping my toe in the fantasy baseball waters, even though I still think that fantasy sports are like fantasy sex…harmless but nothing compared to the real thing. I’m only going with an auto pick league to start out with — any tips for how to handle the season?

Red Sox have a lot of injury problems and questions but they still have a great lineup and a solid bullpen, you can’t count them out despite whatever may have happened at the end of last year. The Yankees’ rotation is a bit overhyped but you can never count out a team that’s spending that much money on their payroll. The Rays need a lot to go right with their young guys and they need guys like B.J. Upton and James Shields to be at their best to win the division outright.- Manwall.com

What a douchebag this princess is. The world is better without you. Twitter doesn’t count – that’s for pussies.

Simply want to say your article is as astonishing. The clarity for your post is simply excellent and i could think you are an expert on this subject. Fine together with your permission let me to clutch your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the enjoyable work.

Pingback: MLB Opening Night: In memory of Marie Katherine Olbermann « Countdown with Keith Olbermann – Unofficial Fanblog

The reason the Yankees signed Pettite was to have 2 left handed pitchers, and realisticly, phil hughes and freddy garcia are not good enough anymore.

We are in agreement in our respect and affection for Keith. What I don’t understand is why the trollers and haters seek him out here. Seriously. Don’t they have their own sites where they can (and do) bash him? Oh, well.
Keith knows he has a large and tremendously loyal following; so do potential employers.

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