After a bit of a hiatus due to various work and baseball related things (Power Rankings and DEXTER), we're back to do the AL, and we'll start with the East.
Baltimore Orioles: The O's and the ChiSox competed with each other for "biggest surprise" of the first half honors until about mid-June, when Baltimore slipped and the White Sox surged. Accordingly, the O's sit two games behind the Red Sox and a half game up on the Yanks at the break.
Injuries have taken their toll on the Orioles. Melvin Mora and Erik Bedard, two players who are essential to the team's success, have been on the DL at some point. And the Orioles have a bit of a problem - they're just not a great team. They lack the talent and resources of the AL East's twin juggernauts, and are accordingly going to struggle a great deal down the stretch.
Brian Roberts and Miguel Tejada have been exceptional this year, but where else is the production coming from?
VORP by player:
Miguel Tejada: 52.8
Brian Roberts: 52.7
Melvin Mora: 24.0
Rafael Palmeiro: 13.8
Javy Lopez: 10.9 (DL)
The production from pretty much everywhere else hasn't been great. What about the pitchers?
Erik Bedard: 23.2 (DL)
Bruce Chen: 18.2
B.J. Ryan: 12.6
James Baldwin: 10.3
Daniel Cabrera: 8.0
Rodrigo Lopez: 3.3
It gets ugly after that.
The Orioles, even with some outstanding offensive play in the first half, could stand to add another bat, especially considering how abysmal Sosa has been. A corner outfield bat would go a long way.
The other obvious need is a starting pitcher. The match that came to mind is Florida; a package deal to acquire Encarnacion and Burnett would help the O's a great deal.
The problem is that the O's don't have the farm chips of a lot of other teams. There's no "stud prospect."
The Verdict: Based on where they are now, the Orioles have to be looking to add at the deadline. They have some clear weaknesses that need to be addressed, and they are so close to really threatening this year... if Bedard comes back strong, and Cabrera straightens it out a bit, and Chen keeps doing what he's doing...
I'd love to see the O's make a run for the division. I don't see this happening any time soon otherwise, and I hope they see it the same way. Things came together for them at the beginning of this season, namely from Brian Roberts' unbelievable start to the season. They're a good team, but they're not quite where they've played. They'll need a few pieces to really challenge the Sox and Yanks for the division, but it'll be interesting.
Boston Red Sox: After a bit of a slow start, the Sox have put it together and are two games up in first place.
The Sox are second in the league in run scoring, and their offense really isn't too much of a problem for them (although, for the long haul, they could stand to add a first baseman).
The Sox, though, do have one problem: their pitching has not been particularly strong this year. Fenway Park or no Fenway Park, the Sox miss Pedro Martinez or a similar ace. No one like that is available on the market, but to reference pitcher VORP again... Clement leads the team with a 23.7. #2? Mike Timlin. Timlin's a great middle reliever, but I think that it's more of an indictment of their shaky starting pitching than anything else.
Clement, Wakefield, Arroyo, Wells is not as imposing as, say, Santana-Radke-Silva-Lohse, and isn't a particularly elite group. They are another of the many AL East teams (there are 3, actually) who could stand to add another starting pitcher. Unlike the Orioles, the Sox absolutely have the chips to get one. Hanley Ramirez and Jon Papelbon, as untouchable as they may be, could easily be the centerpiece in a deal for a frontline starter. I strongly doubt that they'd move those players, but it's certainly an option.
The Verdict: While the pitching is the need, I'd look to first base as the place to upgrade, if anything, simply because that's the greater long-term need. The Sox have, dare I say, already won their championship. It's OK to start looking ahead a bit, even if it slightly decreases their chances at a repeat.
I mentioned Overbay in the roundtable we did, and while I don't expect that type of move, adding a first baseman on the right side of 30 would be a solid acquisition for this team.
Recently, Rob Neyer described the Red Sox as the "new Yankees," because of the fact that it will be extraordinarily difficult to rebuild at any one time. The Sox have some good prospects to build around, and if they gradually assimilate some of the young guys into the starting lineup (Pedroia, Ramirez, and Youkilis being the three that come to mind, and Brandon Moss isn't far behind), they could avoid what has happened to the Yankees this year: completely overhyping OK prospects as saviors of the franchise and having more holes than __.
The Sox can avoid it and I trust Theo Epstein a lot more than many other GMs - he runs his team statistically but does not ignore the scouts.
July will be interesting in Boston, that's for sure.
New York Yankees: I was looking at Randy Johnson's numbers again, and, contrary to what the media has said, they're not horrendous.
- The DH.
- He's 41.
Anyway, the Yanks need pitching. Yankee Stadium is largely neutral or favoring pitching, if anything, especially with the huge power alley in left center, and they've allowed a lot of runs:
- Tampa Bay - 544
- Kansas City - 482
- New York - 431
They've had some problems. Pavano's hurt. Jaret Wright's hurt (although his injury has allowed the Yanks to get some solid pitching, as Chien-Ming Wang has been substantially better than anything that Jaret Wright would have done). Johnson's struggles are overemphasized but well-documented. Mussina's no longer a young guy. Darrell May just started a game for the Yankees.
The reality of the situation is that the Yankees do have a core of players who aren't particularly old: Jeter, Pavano, and Matsui could anchor the Yankees of the next few years. The surrounding guys, though, rival the Giants in years.
If you'd like to look at it another way, here are the key hitters that the Yankees have under contract for next year:
C - Posada (2006)
1B/DH - Giambi (2008)
SS - Jeter (2010)
3B - A-Rod (2007 or 2010, depending)
RF - Sheffield (2006)
Bernie and Matsui are both free agents after the season. Bernie's gone, I assume, but Matsui is still an option (he would represent an intriguing free agent for a lot of teams, though).
Essentially, none of those guys can be moved. The Yankees probably can't find a comparable replacement for Posada. Sheffield has given himself a virtual no-trade clause with his statements. And the other 3 are locked up for a very long time.
They need pitching help, a lot, but to get it would force them to trade Hughes and Duncan, their two biggest prospects. Wang and Cano, as movable as they should be, are "untouchables" according to Yankee brass.
The Verdict: If the Yankees want to upgrade, left field could use help, and the starting pitching could either. This year, however, the Yankees really do fit into the puzzle better if they were to commit to not trading Hughes or Duncan, taking a chance with the $200 million club as is, and hoping for the playoffs. It's not an imperative to make the playoffs every season, even with the huge payroll. They might be best suited to take this year as a down year, watch some money get freed up, and then think about trading the prospects in the offseason.
I don't suspect that this will happen and could still see the Yankees making a push. They're only 2 and a half back and they're still very talented.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The Devil Rays never really flirted with .500 this year, unlike last year, when it was within reach for quite some time. Yet again, they find themselves in a rebuilding-type year.
The Devil Rays made one of the great "sell" moves in recent memory last year when they sent Victor Zambrano to the Mets for Scott Kazmir (Zambrano has appeared to have made slight improvements, when park factors and league factors are taken into account, but not much more than that), the young fireballing lefty. If Chuck Lamar thinks that he can pull off a similar deal this year (which is the asking price, supposedly, on a lot of players), he's probably wrong.
That said, the Rays, having been rebuilding and at the top of the draft board for so long, have put together a very nice future core. B.J. Upton and Delmon Young are looking like great building blocks for the future. Kazmir's holding his own in the bigs right now, when, in a more fair situation, he should be in AAA, honing his control.
The two chips are Danys Baez and Aubrey Huff.
There are many, many teams who could use a bat at first base / corner OF and a quality closer, so if both guys were put on the market, they would immediately be very valuable.
Huff has struggled this year, with his .256/.319/.383 line and a higher K-rate. His power has just disappeared, too, so you wonder how much this early season slump will affect his value. He's not incredibly overpaid; he's due $7.5 million in 2006, and, considering what Aubrey Huff can do in a normal year, that's not a bad price
Baez has an option for '06, but his contract is very reasonable, too, for a Proven Veteran RelieverTM, and he's the obvious trade chip, at this point.
The Verdict: It's another year of sales for the D'Rays. If Huff's value is lower than it should be (if they can't get a legitimate prospect or two for him), I would not trade him, simply because he's signed for another year and would probably still be a very valuable trade chip in 2007. Plus Aubrey Huff can be a middle-of-the-order bat that you build around, and he's still only 28.
Baez should be traded because the market seems to overpay for closer help and because there just aren't that many other options for teams desperate for relievers. I don't think that Scott Kazmir Part II will be happening here, but they could certainly get some value.
I hope that most D'Rays fans are sticking this out; they have an exciting future. Now, if only they'd spend some money on a supporting cast...
Toronto Blue Jays: They've been the weekly joke on the Power Rankings for much of the year. Let's take a look:
5/12: "Tough division for these guys. You've gotta feel sorry for Ricciardi, although he hasn't held up his end of the stathead bargain."
5/19: "Quietly descending away from contention. Blue Jays fact: Both Roy Halladay and Gustavo Chacin have allowed BABIPs of .270 exactly."
5/27: "Refusing to go away, even though conventional wisdom says that they shouldn't be around with three really tough teams in the mix already. (The AL East has 4 in the top 10!) Gregg Zaun is hitting .273.380/.465, and he's a career .250/.339/.375 hitter. Good luck to him."
6/2: "It's tough to get excited about the Blue Jays because they really don't have a chance in the AL East this year. There's only enough room for one surprise team to take the AL East by storm, and the Orioles have stolen that spotlight. Although I would be quite amused if somehow the Jays took the division... Vernon Wells had a much better May than his April, hitting .282/.333/.505. That's about where I would have projected him for a full season."
6/9: "HUGE drop from the Jays as the AL East all of a sudden loses its distinction of having 4 tough teams. I feel that the Blue Jays are like that guy at the beginning of Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
The Dead Collector: Bring out yer dead.
[Rest of AL puts a body on the cart]
Rest of AL: Here's one.
The Dead Collector: That'll be ninepence.
Blue Jays: I'm not dead.
The Dead Collector: What?
Rest of AL: Nothing. There's your ninepence.
Blue Jays: I'm not dead.
The Dead Collector: 'Ere, he says he's not dead.
Rest of AL: Yes he is.
Blue Jays: I'm not.
The Dead Collector: He isn't.
Rest of AL: Well, he will be soon, he's very ill.
Blue Jays: I'm getting better.
Rest of AL: No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment.
The Dead Collector: Well, I can't take him like that. It's against regulations.
Blue Jays: I don't want to go on the cart.
Rest of AL: Oh, don't be such a baby.
The Dead Collector: I can't take him.
Blue Jays: I feel fine.
Rest of AL: Oh, do me a favor.
The Dead Collector: I can't.
Rest of AL: Well, can you hang around for a couple of minutes? He won't be long.
The Dead Collector: I promised I'd be at the Robinsons'. They've lost nine today.
Rest of AL: Well, when's your next round?
The Dead Collector: Thursday.
Blue Jays: I think I'll go for a walk.
Rest of AL: You're not fooling anyone, you know. Isn't there anything you could do?
Blue Jays: I feel happy. I feel happy.
[The Dead Collector glances up and down the street furtively, then silences the Blue Jays with his a whack of his club]
Rest of AL: Ah, thank you very much.
The Dead Collector: Not at all. See you on Thursday.
Rest of AL: Right.
I think that it speaks for itself (it's edited from IMDB), but it's just that we've all been looking at our watches, waiting for the Blue Jays to fall out of this race, and it's gradually happening now."
6/24: "Holding their own here, and they're STILL at .500. It's hard to believe, but they're hanging around in a division in which they have no right to be competitive. They're incredibly mediocre; they haven't gotten a lot of production from anywhere specifically (Aaron Hill's .374/.442/.533 is an exception). I don't know what to think, other than to continue to disregard them as a threat. In reality, they might determine the winner of the AL East..."
7/7: "Still here? If any Blue Jays' fans really dislike me for being so down and pessimistic about the Jays, I'm sorry, but they're surprising me a lot this year. Fans should be proud; this team is holding its own and is 10-5 against the Yanks and Red Sox."
I've taken some shots at the Jays, but they've done a very, very nice job this year. To think that for three years, I've been picking the Blue Jays as a surprise team (that, along with the yearly A's-Astros World Series solidifies my lack of prowess in baseball handicapping).
While Ricciardi has flat out rejected the idea of trading Hillenbrand, the All-Star's value will probably never be higher. In 2004, he put up a .310/.348/.464 at the BOB, and this year is having his best season otherwise and has displayed better patience than in the past.
Eric Hinske, the perennial underachiever, might do well from a change of scenery. Orlando Hudson's name has been thrown around, too. Ted Lilly and his 5.42 ERA has been a rumor, as well, but the Blue Jays do not want to trade him.
The Verdict: They're 5 games back which is a major accomplishment, but with Halladay's injury and no glaring strengths or weaknesses, I don't see them being able to sustain this.
It's probably best to stay put and field offers for Lilly and Hillenbrand, and maybe even shop Hinske, but I don't see the Jays being able to stay in the race through September.
I could very easily be wrong on this one. I've been wrong about the Jays all year. They do pitch pretty well.