Here’s my response to Rick’s five reasons why the Sox won’t repeat and my five reasons why they will.
First I’m going to address Rick’s five points.
Baltimore: Their recent activity has put them in a position where they should not be taken lightly. They’ve added a legit power arm in Ubaldo Jimenez and a power right-handed bat in Nelson Cruz. Suk-Min Yoon could prove to be a nice addition though we really don’t know how he’ll adjust to pitching in MLB. They have a blossoming young lineup that should produce runs. Their bullpen however is a huge question mark. They traded closer Jim Johnson after agreeing to terms with Grant Balfour. Unfortunately for them, that deal fell through and they now are without a closer. If the rotation (which lacks an established ace) and bullpen struggle, that will put more pressure on the lineup to put up an astronomical number of runs. It’s very rare that an offense-first team in any sport emerges as championship caliber. Right now I still take the Sox over the O’s.
Toronto: Hard to believe this time last year they were preseason favorites to take the AL East. They still have two power bats in the heart of the order as well as some intriguing prospects knocking on the door. The pitching is the source of the Jays’ problems. RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle are more suited for the third and fourth slots of the rotation. If they sign Ervin Santana, it will help that staff immensely. Stephen Drew would be a nice addition to that middle infield as well.
Right now, the Jays are coming off a very disappointing season and they’ve done very little to improve themselves over the winter. Maybe they think those big additions from the previous offseason just needed a whole season to adjust to the AL East. We’ll see…
New York: I’m saying this right now: The Red Sox were in far better shape going into 2011 than the Yankees are going into 2014.
They’ve decided to further mortgage the future by gambling big on three guys (Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran) who are over 30 and who have all likely delivered their best seasons. They also are paying big money to Masahiro Tanaka, who’s yet to throw a major league pitch. Last time I checked, they haven’t had much luck when it comes to signing pitchers from Japan (remember Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu?). Tanaka’s also the only starting pitcher the Yankees have added this offseason. They actually lost two starters from 2013 (Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes). There’s a good chance that Tanaka’s better than both. But despite what their execs are saying about him (they only need him to be a good third starter), they are counting on him to be the ace. Hiroki Kuroda is 39 and his awful August and September numbers could very well be the norm for him going forward. CC Sabathia is probably better than what he was in 2013, but his days as an ace could be behind him. He is in better shape, but that arm has a lot of mileage on it.
For all the talk about how disappointing the 2014 Yankees were, they were actually pretty lucky. The negative run differential the club produced actually should’ve produced a sub-.500 record. Their bullpen was essential to their lopsided win-loss record in one run games. That bullpen recently purged the greatest closer of all time (Mariano Rivera), a solid lefty specialist (Boone Logan), and a serviceable power righty (Joba Chamberlain). The only additions they’ve made are Matt Thornton and Andrew Bailey (who won’t be ready until late in the season).
For all the money they spent to upgrade that lineup, the upgrades are dampened by the loss of the guy they let get away. Robinson Cano only missed 14 games over the last seven seasons and does everything well. He plays great defense, has never struck out 100 times in a season, he now walks around 50 times a season, and puts up great power numbers at the second base position. They’re replacing him with Brian Roberts. Roberts is 36 and can’t stay healthy. But even when he is, he’s nowhere near the player he used to be.
Ellsbury should have an excellent season. But he’s not a huge upgrade over Curtis Granderson (and not an upgrade at all in the power department). He’s also not as good as Cano (Cano’s OPS in 2013 was over 100 points higher than Ellsbury’s).
McCann should have a good season and it won’t take much to be better than what they had last season at catcher. Beltran probably has one more excellent offensive season left in him. But he’s likely to give back some of the runs he provides if he plays the field as his speed and defense have been in decline for years.
Bottom line: NY lacks the youth and depth that is necessary to contend in today’s game. The odds of a 40 year old Derek Jeter staying healthy and productive a tall order. It’s not just Jeter either. They need EVERYBODY to remain healthy and produce well above average clips. It won’t happen. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they finish fourth in the division.
Tampa Bay: The Rays are my biggest concern going into 2014. The rotation is one of the best, if not the best, in the game. The bullpen purged the not so dependable Fernando Rodney and added the dependable Grant Balfour. They have two young power bats in Evan Longoria and Wil Myers. The Rays play great defense.
The Sox biggest advantage over the Rays is depth. Longoria and Myers are going to be relied on to do most of the heavy lifting. The Red Sox are more proportionate from top to bottom. While putting too much on Myers could possibly mean a sophomore slump, the Sox can have their young guys start the season at the bottom of the lineup.
Bottom line: I still give the Sox a slight edge even if Myers takes a big step forward and Longoria stays healthy. The Rays really need other guys in the lineup to step up. Maybe somebody will. We’ll see…
The Repeat Issue: The common themes to teams not repeating are vast and many times not singular. Many times the issues range on one, several, or all of things such as guttings, age, celebratory hangover, and/or improvements within the division, league, and all of MLB.
The Sox really haven’t been gutted. Will they miss Ellsbury? Sure, but probably not as much as the Yankees will miss Robinson Cano. Daniel Nava isn’t Jacoby Ellsbury in terms of speed. But he puts up a superior OBP. Jackie Bradley is considered an immediate upgrade in center. The Sox have done a good job in replacing him in the aggregate. If Xander Bogaerts becomes an instant star, the club won’t miss Stephen Drew.
The lineup isn’t particularly old. David Ortiz and AJ Pierzynski are the only regulars over 34. Dustin Pedroia, Nava, Mike Napoli, and Shane Vicorino are under 34. Bradley, Will Middlebrooks, and Bogaerts are all under 30 (Middlebrooks is the oldest of the three at age 25).
With three titles in ten years and a returning core of competent veterans, a hangover won’t be an issue.
The Sox are in very good shape to repeat.