Posted on: February 10, 2012 10:59 am
By Matt Snyder
Here we are for the fifth of six installments of spring positional battles. This one is the mighty AL East, the most polarizing and probably best division in the majors.
Previous spring position battles: AL West | NL West | AL Central | NL Central
New York Yankees
Designated Hitter: Andruw Jones vs. Russell Branyan vs. Free Agent vs. Revolving Door
I still feel like the Yankees will sign either Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez or Hideki Matsui -- any of whom likely nails down this job full-time. But it's undecided as of right now, and wide open. Will Andruw Jones or Russell Branyan hit well enough to justify being the full-time DH? Maybe, or maybe they platoon -- as Jones hits from the right side while Branyan is a lefty. Or maybe the Yankees use bench players like Eduardo Nunez, Bill Hall and Chris Dickerson in the field while using starters like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher at DH a few times a week in order to keep guys healthy and in tip-top shape.
Tampa Bay Rays
No. 4-5 starters: Jeff Niemann vs. Wade Davis vs. Matt Moore vs. Six-man rotation
Talk about a nice "problem" to have. The Rays obviously have David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson as the top three in the rotation. While there isn't a big problem with either Niemann or Davis, it's time to find a place in the rotation for Moore and I'm certain they will. The 22-year-old left-hander was awesome in his limited time in the majors last year, including a stellar outing against the Rangers in Texas for Game 1 of the ALDS. Moore's already received the type of team-friendly contract Evan Longoria got when he was a rookie -- as Moore is signed through 2016 with club options running all the way through 2019. So the question is, do the Rays demote either Niemann or Davis to the bullpen or trade one of them? Niemann would be the trade candidate, as Davis also has a team-friendly contract with club options that take him through 2017. And I doubt this happens, but the Rays could always go with a six-man rotation. Seeing how this plays out will a big spring storyline.
Boston Red Sox
Shortstop: Nick Punto vs. Mike Aviles vs. Jose Iglesias
After trading both Marco Scutaro and Jed Lowrie this offseason, the Red Sox are left with what appears to be Mike Aviles against Nick Punto at short. Punto had a good offensive campaign by his standards last season, when he hit .278 with a .388 on-base percentage. He only had six starts at shortstop, though, and his career numbers don't indicate he's worthy of an everyday gig at shortstop. Aviles also only started six games at short last season, and he only hit .255/.289/.409. He did hit well for the Red Sox, but it was a small 107 plate appearance sample. So the choice between Punto and Aviles is dubious defensively and neither is a good offensive option. Enter Iglesias, the dazzling defensive prospect. He's a dreadful hitter -- his line in Triple-A was .235/.285/.269 last season -- but it's not like Aviles or Punto are going to be confused with Troy Tulowitzki or anything. Maybe the Red Sox just plant Iglesias in the nine-hole and enjoy the exceptional defense?
Corner Outfield spots: Cody Ross vs. Ryan Sweeney vs. Carl Crawford and his health
Crawford is said to be questionable for the start of the season after undergoing minor wrist surgery a few weeks ago. If he's healthy, he starts in left easily while Sweeney and Ross battle it out for the right field job. If Crawford can't start the season, Ross and Sweeney are the corner outfielders, yet still fighting for the right field job for when Crawford returns. At some point, Ryan Kalish will return from offseason shoulder surgery and could eventually fight for playing time in right field as well.
Toronto Blue Jays
Outfield logjam: Colby Rasmus vs. Eric Thames vs. Rajai Davis vs. Travis Snider
We know who mans right field, but these four guys are competing for the other two spots. Thames in left field and Rasmus in center seem the most likely, but Davis will get a shot at either spot and Snider is in the mix for left.
No. 5 starter: Dustin McGowan vs. Kyle Drabek
This may bleed up into the No. 4 starter as well, but I'll give Brett Cecil the nod for now, since he is left-handed. The top three are Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Henderson Alvarez. So, for now, I'll guess the last spot comes down to McGowan and Drabek. McGowan was once a very promising young arm. He went 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 144 strikeouts in 169 2/3 innings back in 2007, when he was 25. He then made 19 starts before falling injured in 2008 and finally just resurfaced late last season -- two shoulder surgeries and one knee surgery later. Does he have anything left? He was good in 12 minor-league starts in 2011, but had a 6.43 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in the small sample of 21 innings pitched for the Blue Jays. Drabek was a top 30 prospect each of the past two years, according to Baseball America, but he fell flat last season for the Jays. He had a 6.06 ERA, 1.81 WHIP and more walks than strikeouts for the big-league club. Even worse, he was knocked around for Triple-A Las Vegas, to the tune of a 7.44 ERA and 2.03 WHIP in 75 innings. Walks, again, were an issue with Drabek issuing 41 compared to 45 strikeouts. Prospects Deck McGuire and Drew Hutchison could also figure in the mix eventually, but this feels like Drabek vs. McGowan heading into March.
The entire pitching staff: Johnny Wholestaff vs. Joe Allstaff
So let's see ... the following pitchers might have a chance at the starting rotation: Zach Britton (very safe bet), Jason Hammel (safe bet), Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Dana Eveland, Wei-Yin Chen, Tsuyoshi Wada, Alfredo Simon and Tommy Hunter. That's quite a mix of pitchers to sift through, but the job isn't overwith yet, because we have to look at the bullpen.
Three pitchers -- Jim Johnson, Matt Lindstrom and Kevin Gregg -- will compete for the closer job, with Troy Patton, Pedro Strop and Darren O'Day also being part of the bullpen mix. Of course, guys like Simon, Hunter and Bergesen will get a shot in the bullpen if they miss out on the rotation, too. There are more (Willie Eyre, Armando Galarraga, etc.), but I already named 17 pitchers vying for 12 spots.
We could probably move Simon and Hunter to the bullpen while eliminating Eveland from the starting mix, but that still leaves eight guys in competition. In the bullpen, Johnson seems the best bet to win the closer gig, with Lindstrom and Gregg setting up. Add Strop, Patton, Simon and Hunter and you have your seven. But, again, we've thrown out Eveland and there would still be three extra starters along with O'Day, Eyre et al on the outside looking in.
I'll say one thing: Orioles manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair won't be bored this spring. Maybe frustrated, but definitely not bored.
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Tags: AL East, Alex Rodriguez, Alfredo Simon, Andruw Jones, Blue Jays, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz, Carl Crawford, Chris Tillman, Cody Ross, Colby Rasmus, Dana Eveland, Darren O'Day, Derek Jeter, Dustin McGowan, Eric Thames, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Jeff Niemann, Jim Johnson, Johnny Damon, Jose Iglesias, Kevin Gregg, Kyle Drabek, Matt Lindstrom, Matt Moore, Matt Snyder, Mike Aviles, Nick Punto, Orioles, Pedro Strop, Rajai Davis, Rays, Red Sox, Russell Branyan, Ryan Sweeney, spring position battles, Tommy Hunter, Travis Snider, Troy Patton, Tsuyoshi Wada, Wade Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Yankees, Zach Britton
Posted on: November 8, 2011 4:49 pm
By C. Trent Rosecrans
Hiroki Kuroda ranked fourth on the CBSSports.com ranking of free agent starting pitchers -- and that was before CC Sabathia signed his extension. So needless to say, the former Dodgers right-hander is among the most sought-after free agents on the market.
While the Dodgers were thought to be a shoe-in to re-sign Kuroda, there have been reports that more teams, including the Yankees, could tempt him. Add another team to the mix -- the Hiroshima Carp. Kuroda, 36, pitched 11 years for the Carp before signing with the Dodgers as a free agent on Dec. 16, 2007.
According to Nikkan Sports in Japan (via NPB tracker), the Carp have made an official offer to Kuroda, 37.
"I'm happy that they would evaluate my contributions like that," Kuroda said, according to NPB Tracker. "Naturally, I'm happy. A feeling that they really want to win across. (Hiroshima's competitiveness this season) has come to a frustrating place, to a place where they are one step away. … I'm very happy I got an offer from the Carp."
Kuroda is 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in four seasons with the Dodgers, including a 13-16 record with a 3.07 ERA in 2011. He was 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA in Japan, winning the Central League with a 1.85 ERA in 2006.
The Los Angeles Times' Steve Dilbeck writes that he expects Kuroda's decision to come down the Dodgers and Carp -- and for the Dodgers, that decision needs to be made relatively soon.
Kuroda isn't the only Japanese player from the major leagues that is gaining attention in his home country. NPB Tracker also notes Kei Igawa is garnering interest from Rakuten and Orix.
Meanwhile, Seibu shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima and Yakult center fielder Norichika Aoki have asked to be posted. Nikkan Sports reports the Giants, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Orioles may be interested in Nakajima.
Meanwhile, Chunichi left-hander Wei-Yin Chen is unsure whether he wants to move to the United States, according to the Chunichi Shimbun (also via NPB Tracker). Chen, 26, would be a free agent and not subject to the posting system. A native of Taiwan, Chen went 8-10 with a 2.68 ERA for the Dragons this season. He led the Central League with a 1.54 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 2009.For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Tags: 2012 free agency, 2012 MLB Free Agency, 2012 MLB Free Agents, 2012 MLB Hot Stove, AL East, C. Trent Rosecrans, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Dodgers, free agency, free agent tracker, Giants, Hiroyuki Nakajim, Japan, MLB Free Agency, MLB Free Agents, MLB Hot Stove, NL West, Norichika Aoki, Orioles, Wei-Yin Chen, Yankees