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Inside The Wheelhouse: 2010 AL East Preview

Derek Jeter New York YankeesIt’s that time of year again where we look at the upcoming 2010 Major League Baseball season. Throughout the next couple of days I will preview every division in Major League Baseball then ending my blog series previewing the 2010 MLB Season by looking at the teams I see entering the playoffs this year and who will be World Champions when it’s all said & done. In this edition of my blog I will preview the AL East division.

AL East:

1. New York Yankees

I know it’s the homer pick to go for the New York Yankees as the top team in the AL East division this year. But how can you not say they are a favorite to win the AL East this season? This is literally the same exact team that won the championship in 2009 (minus Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera and Phil Coke). The same team that I feel got better with their additions during the offseason.

[adinserter block=”1″]As I much as I love Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon it was time for the Yankees to get younger in their lineup. So the Yankees went out and traded top prospect Austin Jackson, reliever Phil Coke and other minor leaguers for All-Star outfielder Curtis Granderson. Granderson provides a better arm in the outfield then Damon’s, more power at the plate and is a youngster at 28 years old. It was a good deal incase Damon didn’t resign, which ended up being the case.

Then to fill the other holes the Yankees brought back 1B/DH Nick Johnson to replace the Matsui void in the lineup and to give them a player with a high on base percentage (was 2nd in the NL in 2009 behind Albert Pujols). But the biggest deal the Yankees made this offseason is finally filling the major void in their rotation by trading fan favorite Melky Cabrera away for pitcher Javier Vazquez. Vazquez fills the void the Yankees had in 2009 in the rotation that was absent for most of the year as they dabbled with 4th & 5th starters between Joba Chamberlain, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre. The Yankees rotation is very deep this season.

The biggest issues the Yankees will see this season will be how good new 5th starter Phil Hughes will end up being and how the age of the “core four” (Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera) will actually take into effect as the season goes on. Phil Hughes enters this season coming off of a year where he was mostly in the bullpen after June 1st and became the setup man in the 8th. Hughes was valued a couple years ago as the team’s #1 prospect and one of the top pitching prospects in all of Baseball. This could be the swan song for most likely two of the four players (Posada and Pettitte) especially even if they win another a Championship. Both are in or nearing their 40s right now and it will be interesting to see if their age affects their numbers this year.

2. Boston Red Sox

Flip a coin between the Yankees and Red Sox when it comes to who will win the AL East because that’s how good I think these two ball clubs will be in 2010. The Red Sox made the biggest splash in the free agent market this season by signing former Angels ace John Lackey to provide depth in their rotation at the #3 spot behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. The Red Sox rotation 1-5 (Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Dice-K & Buchholz) could be the best 1-5 starting rotation in all of Baseball.

The Red Sox also made other splashes in the free agent market this season by bringing Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro on to the team for the 2010 campaign. Beltre and Cameron provide great on base percentage and decent depth in the lineup while Marco Scutaro brings amazing defense at short & a pesky bat in an already good lineup. For a free agent market that was lacking greatly these three players would consider some of the elite available.

Red Sox brass went in a different route this year when it came to building a 2010 team. They wanted to put together great pitching and great defense on the field. They did that by the signings they did during the offseason. While they were able to successfully do that they created a potential different issue that Red Sox fans are definitely worrying about in 2010.

The Red Sox lineup will be under a microscope this season because the lineup does not have that one player that truly puts fear in the eyes of the opposing pitcher. For years the Red Sox had Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz in the core of their batting order to provide the power that was needed to make the score unreachable for the opposing team. They don’t have that anymore as Ortiz is getting older and the core of the lineup just doesn’t have that “pop” it once head. With that being said I would not be surprised if the Red Sox go out at the trade deadline and try to make another run at San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, especially if this team is not living up to expectations.

3. Tampa Bay Rays

Everybody is still hoping that this team can live up the team that we saw in 2008 and the expectations that people panned out for them for American League domination in 2009. I just don’t see that happening for the Tampa Bay Rays. This is a team similar to that of the Cleveland Indians (but not to their extent) that may be seeing the players that they thought would carry their franchise for a good portion of the next decade start to break down so early in their career.

[adinserter block=”2″]Players like BJ Upton, James Shields and Matt Garza did not live up to expectations in 2009. Had they we may be discussing a different situation in 2009 as that Tampa Bay team could be right back in the playoffs. 2010 is a make or break year for those players while getting support from players they didn’t expect to pick up the slack from 2009 (Zobrist and Jason Bartlett). Should all the Rays players improve from 2009 in 2010, then there will be different story for this young and talented franchise.

What the Rays don’t have but what the Yankees and Red Sox do have is an actual ace in their rotation. For years people considered Scott Kazmir as that ace for Tampa but he didn’t live up to expectations and was often injured for them. People may now consider James Shields to be that ace but when you look at 2009 you have to wonder if he is considered ace material. While the Rays have a great young rotation, there is no anchor in that rotation. There is no “go to guy.” There is no ace. That creates a major problem for the Rays.

This could be the last season for a couple years where the Rays are considered competitive in the AL East. Franchise player Carl Crawford is in a contract year and there is a great chance he could be heading out because the Rays just can’t afford his services and as the Rays have gotten better over the last three years they don’t have those automatic #1 draft picks to be sitting in waiting to be brought up to the big leagues. Then you have to wonder whether or not BJ Upton will pick his game up and be a playmaker like people thought he was poised to be. This seriously could be it for the Rays for a little while as the team I have down in 4th in the AL East is starting to develop into a great young team similar to the Rays of 2008.

4. Baltimore Orioles

This team has potential for being the 2010 American League version of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays and be the sleeper team that comes out of no where to surprise everyone. It’s either that or the Orioles are just a couple seasons away from being a top 3 team competing with the Yankees & Red Sox in the AL East. This team is filled with future stars that can finally bring competitive Baseball back to the city of Baltimore.

Anyone who listens to me over on “The Wheelhouse”(www.wheelhouseradio.com) knows I have been a huge fan of Matt Wieters this year in Fantasy when it comes to the Catcher position. I really feel like this kid could be the 2nd coming of Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer and am a great threat for the Orioles as well as my Fantasy Baseball team. The guy can hit for average, hit homeruns and drive in runs. He will be in the middle of a decent Orioles lineup and should see a ton of production in 2010.

This I also feel like will be the breakout year for outfielder Adam Jones. If you remember he was the main cornerstone for the Erik Bedard deal that sent him packing from Baltimore to Seattle some time ago. The kid was considered one of the top prospects in the game at the time has already been to one All-Star game (2009) and is looking like he will be there again for quite sometime. He reminds me a lot of what we were hoping to see from BJ Upton when he first debuted and can continue to be great player for years to come.

While I am excited to see what this Baltimore Orioles team can become with their youth you have to figure that their youth may also be a flaw as well. This Orioles team can be compared to other young teams in Major League Baseball (Reds, Giants and Royals) in what their team may one day achieve if all the prospects pan out to live up to the hype the scouts touted them for. But with that youth comes seasons where they need to learn and grow as a team.

That’s what I see happening for the Orioles in 2010. This team can win up to 80 games this year, while I will take the under on that, it literally could happen. While I don’t like them in 2010, I feel like a good 2010 campaign will make them an easier pick to be a top team in the AL Wild Card run in 2011. This is a team to keep your eye on.

5. Toronto Blue Jays

You trade away the best pitcher in all of Baseball and what do you expect? This is going to be a season filled with headaches for the Toronto Blue Jays as I consider them the worst team in the American League entering 2010. I’m sure this is not the way Cito Gaston thought his career as Blue Jays manager would end.

This is a team that is in a horrible rebuilding stage for its franchise right now. This team doesn’t look like they will be in the playoff hunt for most of this decade. There are really no star players on this team worth noting unless you’re a fan of Vernon Wells. While I did project Vernon Wells to have a bounce back year and capture the AL Comeback Player of the Year; I just don’t see him accomplishing a winning season with this Blue Jays ballclub.

The Blue Jays are lucky they have a good manager in Cito Gaston to at least give this team some guidance in his swan song of a career in 2010. He will do what he can with this team and try to make them at least competitive. If not competitive this team will learn how to become better ball players through their manager. Which Blue Jay fans hope leads them to success in about five years from now.

It’s going to be a long season in Toronto for Blue Jay fans. This team is not poised to do much of anything but hopefully break 60 wins in 2010. The Blue Jays can not even trade away former All-Star outfielder Vernon Wells in hopes of getting more prospects to their team due to his horrible contract in 2010 (he makes $20 million this season). If the Blue Jays decide to take on most of his contract in a deal with a team to get prospects then I can see that happening for this franchise. But for the time being this is the worst American League team ahead of the Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians. Good luck this year Toronto.

Jeff Peck is the producer for the “Wheelhouse Radio” program that airs every Sunday – Thursday @ 8pm ET/5pm PT at www.blogtalkradio.com/thewheelhouse and at www.errorfm.com @ 2am ET/11pm PT

Jeff also co-hosts “The Still Real to us show” with Eric Gargiulo which can be available at www.wheelhouseradio.com and can be downloaded in the “Real Guy Radio” section of the site. There you can also download many different shows including “The Wheelhouse”, “24 on 24” and “Lost: Smoke Monsters and You.”

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You can follow “The Champ Jeff Peck” on Twitter at www.twitter.com/therealjeffpeck you can also follow Wheelhouse Radio on twitter at www.twitter.com/thewheelhouse and you can e-mail them @ wheelhouseradio@gmail.com.

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