Thursday, July 27, 2006

Snyder, Ponson and Janssen, Oh My!
By Ben Valentine

When talking about the American League East contenders, “offensive” is the operative word.

The division features three of the four top scoring teams in the league. The Red Sox are tied with the Cleveland Indians for the top spot at 5.59 runs per game with the Yankees and Blue Jays following respectively at third and fourth. They are one- two- three in on base percentage and both the Sox and Jays are near the top in the league in slugging. All in all, these are three teams who can score with anyone.

Then again, maybe it’s because with the unbalanced schedule, they get to face each other’s pitching a lot. Their pitching staffs are all surprisingly similar in runs allowed per game; the Yankees are at 4.71, the Sox at 4.80 and the Jays at 4.84. While that isn’t terrible, it pales in comparison to the Tigers, Twins and A’s with it being likely at least two of those teams make the postseason.

So it looks as though the three are very similar and in fact their expected win total to this point bares that out. The Sox and Yankees are tied at 57 expected wins, with the Blue Jays at 56. In actuality, the Yankees sit one and a half games back of the Red Sox, with the Jays five and a half behind.

Therefore one big move by any of these teams could break the logjam and separate one from the pack. But just because their overall results are similar does not mean they all need the same thing. Sure they all need pitching; but who needs a starter, while who could do nicely with a reliever? We’ll answer those questions today in the finale of Sportszilla’s look at the needs of the contenders.

Boston Red Sox, 61-39, 1st place AL East:
Curt Schilling has been one of the best pitchers in the American League this year, but with the rest of the Red Sox starters leave a lot to be desired. They’ve already claimed Royals trash once, Kyle Snyder, which is a bad sign for a team in the race. Jason Johnson was so poor after being taken from the Indians, he’s down at AAA. David Wells is trying to bounce back from injury, but cannot be relied upon anymore. Josh Beckett has been victimized by the long ball this year and both Matt Clement and Tim Wakefield are down for at least another month. The Sox next best starter maybe Jonathan Papelbon, but he’s not going to be leaving the closer role any time soon.

Basically, Schilling, Wakefield while healthy, Papelbon and Mike Timlin have been the Sox staff this year. Their offense has held up their end but things must change if Boston wants to beat back the Yankees and Blue Jays. Jon Lester and his miserable control isn’t going to cut it.

However, the Sox do have chips to trade. Lester is one young player who teams might want; minor league reliever Craig Hansen is another. If there is a quality starter to be had at the deadline Theo Epstein has the firepower to bring him in. But is there someone available? Would the Sox try to package the farm for Barry Zito? With the Dodgers collapsing, might Epstein check up on the availability of Brad Penny? Or might they continue with acquiring below average starters for cheap (say Brian Moehler from the Marlins)

Overall, Boston is in the best position to make a trade if one is out there, since they do not have just one prospect to deal like the Yankees. But is that position worth anything in this market? The answer will go a long way to determining whether or not the Sox get the chance to play October baseball.

As a side note, the Yankees picked up Aaron Guiel off the Royals’ waiver wire too. When did KC leftovers suddenly become the main course at the top of the food chain??

New York Yankees, 59-40, 1.5 back of Red Sox, 1st place Wild Card:
Remember that old commercial with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine beefing up because “chicks dig the long ball”? Well, apparently New York loves homers so much, that hitting slightly less than expected is a reason to deal the farm for Alfonso Soriano and/or Bobby Abreu. It also is a reason to ride Alex Rodriguez until his head literally explodes from the profanity streaming in from all directions.

Right now Jaret Wright, Sidney Ponson, Shawn Chacon, Aaron Small and Kris Wilson should all be buying A-Rod dinner every night to thank him for taking the spotlight off them. His above average offensive play is deflecting their atrocious pitching that wouldn’t cut it at AAA, let alone every fifth day in the bigs. But Yankee fans, those that have a brain, should take heart and realize that most people around the organization see the problem is pitching. That’s why Ponson is here in the first place. Mind you, that’s not exactly the reaction you want, but hey, it’s a start; they’ve recognized there is a problem.

The issue for the Yankees is that their minor league system is lacking in pretty much every way, shape and form. Phillip Hughes has talent, but the Yankees say they will not trade him. Melkey Cabrera could be a batting average guy, but with average speed and below average power, he doesn’t have all that much value. Eric Duncan has salvaged his season at AA, but he isn’t a top prospect anymore; not since he’s repeating the level after struggling last year. So what can the Yankees do?

They could go to the Indians and see what it would take to get Paul Byrd. He’s no ace, but would fill in their fourth starter spot nicely. Odalis Perez would have been a good gamble since the Yankees could have taken his salary, but he’s already been sent to the Royals.

Or, if they wanted to really get gutsy, they could take a huge chance. Though the Cubs are out of it, it’s unlikely they would trade 25 year old fire baller Carlos Zambrano. But what if the Yankees offered Hughes, Chien Ming Wang and Robinson Cano? Yankee fans might think that’s a lot to give up for anyone, but the big righty could easily be the Yankees’ ace for the next seven years. Hughes is a prospect who may or may not pan out, Wang is an average starter at best and Cano might be an above average second baseman offensively. It’s unlikely any amount to what Zambrano is now and should be for years to come. Besides, wouldn’t it be like the Boss to try to stick it to the Mets by acquiring the good Zambrano?

Not saying that would happen, but there just isn’t much on the market for the Yankees if they want to get someone for that rotation. If they’re willing to deal Hughes, then things do open up a bit.

Toronto Blue Jays, 56-45, 5.5 back of the Red Sox, 4 back of Yankees for wild card:
The Jays have the best one two punch in the division in Roy Halladay and AJ Burnett along with decent filler at the back end with Ted Lilly. In the American League East, that actually gives them the best starting rotation, even with the likes of Casey Janssen and his 5.18 ERA. But unlike the Yankees and Red Sox, they have the double whammy of having a miserable 4th and 5th starters combined with an even worse bullpen. Even with an explosive offense led by Vernon Wells and Troy Glaus, they cannot over come a cadre of relievers who have ERAs well above 4.00. Only Justin Speier and BJ Ryan have been competent for the Jays this year. That will have to change.

So the Jays could go out and get a starter, but that could be costly. If they shored up the pen, it should put them in an excellent position to challenge for the AL East. That won’t be cheap either, but they could get two or three relievers for the cost of a decent starter in this market. Toronto already got a young arm back in Jeremy Accardo for Shea Hillenbrand, but it’s hard to fathom the youngster stepping in and becoming a key contributor right away after posting a 4.91 ERA in 40.1 innings with the Giants this year despite quality peripherals. They’d be the perfect team to try to pry away Roberto Hernandez and Damaso Marte from the Pirates since both would go a long way to making the seventh inning less of an adventure. Ryan Dempster wouldn’t be terrible if the Cubbies wanted to deal him.

With two of the best pitchers in the division and one of the best in the league, Toronto has to be considered a threat. But they’ll be nothing more than an idle one unless the bullpen is addressed. There are always relievers out there so it’s up to GM JP Riccardi to get it done.

Again, this is a close race that can be turned with just one move. Which G.M. will have the balls to pull off the big splash which nets his team the division?
By four P.M. on Monday, we’ll know.

Stats via Hardball Times

Part 1: The NL Contenders

Part 2: The NL Long Shots

Part 3: The AL West

Part 4: The AL Central


Blogger David Arnott said...

1) The Cubs would be crazy to trade Big Z for that haul. If you want to talk about risks, maybe the Yanks should aim for Prior.

2) Don't you think it's kind of dramatic to say that the Blue Jays need more relievers, even though Ryan has been fantastic and Speier has been a reliable setup guy? With Accardo, they got their second setup man, one who had a 2.50FIP and 4/1 K/BB in 40 innings. That's it. Bullpen addressed. Down the stretch, ideally, they won't go more than three deep in the pen. But now that Hillenbrand's been traded, who can they move for a starting pitcher? Hinske? Catalanotto? Aaron Hill? They don't have much to offer, unless they want to give up Dustin McGowan, which would probably be foolish.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

It's funny because when I dicussed the trade with Zach, he was of the opposite take; that the Yankees shouldn't trade away that much for Zambrano. He believed the Cubs would jump at that. I guess it's a pretty decent trade, since you both have such differing opinions on it.

I know you like Accardo, but the Jays in the middle of a pennant race cannot sit back and wait for things to suddenly start balancing out with him. Maybe things do start to balance out, maybe they don't. Relievers can be dicey because they don't get as much work as starters. Thus, the pen is most definitely not addressed.

A starter on this market is going to go for riduclous prices. So the Jays will have a tough time getting one without parting with McGowen. With their offense, if they get a pen which can shut down teams from the 7th inning on, they'll be in great shape. And remember Speier can't pitch every day. They need at least one more arm, maybe two in that pen.

11:30 PM  

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