Yankees – end the love affair with Miguel Cairo. Oh, and also, a first baseman

It has been a thinly veiled secret for many years that Yankees manager Joe Torre has a prediliction for keeping an aging, light-hitting Latin American utility infielder around upon whom he can lavish excessive praise and undue playing time.

torrecairo.jpgFor many many years, this role was filled by Luis Sojo, but now that Sojo has finally retired, it has clearly fallen to Miguel Cairo.

With Yankee first base options Doug Mientkiewicz and Jason Giambi out indefinitely with wrist and foot injuries, Torre played Miguel Cairo at first base a ridiculous five games in a row this past week.

The Yankees need to start playing Josh Phelps at first base full time, at least for now. Even more, they need to go out and acquire a first baseman who can mash – it shouldn’t be too hard. There is always a surfiet of Matt Stairs types floating around in Triple-A.

But most of all, they need to stage an intervention with Joe Torre and make him stop playing a guy with an on-base percentage of .282 and a slugging percentage of .250 at the premier hitting position on the diamond.

Blue Jays – find a way to appease the swamp hag that has put a hex on all their players

The Blue Jays need to bring in professional help to reverse the curse that has befallen all of their players. They need to stop walking under ladders and should start shooting black cats on sight if they try to cross their path. They need to do something – anything! – to get rid of bad luck that has put virtually their entire team on the DL this season.

hag.jpgOther than Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Aaron Hill, and A.J. Burnett, the Blue Jays’ entire starting lineup, rotation, and most of the bullpen has been on the DL already. As of this writing, Toronto has 6 different pitchers and 3 starting-lineup hitters on the DL.

Even a mistake-prone yakuza could count on his left hand the number of teams that could win ballgames while losing quality players like Troy Glaus, Lyle Overbay, Greg Zaun, Reed Johnson, Roy Halladay, Gustavo Chacin, and B.J. Ryan all at once. He might not have any fingers left on that hand, but he wouldn’t need them, because there is no such team.

The Jays need to figure out what that hag wants out of them. Fast.

Devil Rays – 2 or 3 replacement-level starting pitchers

Although they have flown under the radar because, well, they’re the Devil Rays after all, Tampa Bay’s lineup is actually loaded with dangerous young hitters who can mash with the best of ’em. In fact, Tampa Bay is 7th in the league in team OPS behind only the Tigers, Indians, Red Sox, Yankees, Mariners, and Angels. Read that list again – those are some pretty awesome hitting teams!

But where the D-Rays have truly been undone is in their starting rotation, or more specifically, in their odd willingness to stick with starting pitchers who obviously had no business starting major league games.

Amazingly, despite having a starting rotation ERA that ranked at the very bottom of all of baseball, the Rays stuck with the same five guys for two months without even one of them missing a start! Jamie Shields and Scott Kazmir have been good to great at the front end, but the abominable trio of Jae Seo, Casey Fossum, and Edwin Jackson were somehow allowed to start 31 games and toss 158 innings while posting a combined ERA of 7.75 between them.

At long last, just this past week, the D-Rays front office finally decided it had seen enough, shipping Fossum to the bullpen, cutting Seo, and bringing up their two best pitching prospects from Durham. It remains to be seen whether J.P. Howell and Andy Sonnanstine can do much better, and Jackson is still getting run out there every fifth day, but you have to think that anything at all would be better than what the Rays were going with the first two months of the season.

If the Rays had had even replacement-level starters instead of Seo, Fossum, and Jackson – guys who could go 5 or 6 with an ERA around 5.00 instead of around 8.00 – you’d have to believe that with their lineup, the D-Rays easily could have won 5 to 10 more games than they have.

Orioles – some kind of long term plan

The Orioles really need to develop some kind of organizational philosophy and start working toward some sort of long-term goal. Signing whatever scrap-heap “experienced veterans” there are to be had each offseason while ignoring scouting, statistical analyis, and player development is no kind of plan at all.

Guys like Miguel Tejada, Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Ramon Hernandez, Eric Bedard, and pitching coach Leo Mazzone represent a talented core around which a championship squad could theoretically be built if money was wisely invested in player development and useful role players.

But surrounding the few good players year after year with expensive, overrated big-name retreads like Jay Payton, Aubrey Huff, Kevin Millar, Kris Benson, Corey Patterson, Steve Trachsel, and Javy Lopez is no way to win anything.

Of course, owner Peter Angelos’s veto of a ridiculously good trade offer the Angels made last summer for Tejada illustrated, no sort of long term planning will be possible until somebody stands up to Angelos and tells him to let his baseball people do their jobs.

Just like the Yankees blossomed once Steinbrenner finally let his front office make decisions (although it did take a felony conviction and a 3-year ban from the game), the Orioles, with their payroll and fanbase, have a chance to be great again if Angelos backs off, but until such time, they are going to keep looking and playing just as awfully as those late 80s Yankees squads.

Boston – a more versatile fourth outfielder

What do you get for the girl who has everything? What could the team with the best record in baseball possibly need?

A fourth outfielder who can play centerfield and bring speed to the basepaths is what.

As long as the Red Sox are going to be one of these crazy AL teams that only carries 3 bench players (I’m not counting Doug Mirabelli, who is pretty useless for anything besides catching knuckleballs), they need to make sure those 3 players can fill all the needs they would have coming off the bench.

wilymo.jpgAlex Cora is a useful, slick-fielding middle infielder who can deliver the occasional pinch hit. Eric Hinske can play the corners and has some pop. So far so good.

Which brings us to Wily Mo Pena. Pena is a good player who deserves a starting job and could probably outhit half the everyday leftfielders in baseball if given a chance. But he is no kind of bench player. Strikeout-prone, defensively challenged, and slow of foot, he can’t really perform any of the roles that you would want out of a fourth outfielder, such as coming in as a defensive replacement, being counted on to have a good at bat as a pinch-hitter, or coming in as a pinch runner.

More than anything, the Red Sox need a bench player who can play centerfield, run the bases, and make contact as a pinch hitter. Not only because they need those things off the bench from time to time and don’t have them, but because their worst everyday player – the guy you would most want to spell in the lineup from time to time – is Coco Crisp.

One Response to “What They Need – AL East”

  1. Sarah Green says:

    Nick, I was rereading this post in preparation for doing our offseason “what they need” series, and lo and behold! Look what the Sox got to get them to trophytown!! Not just one but TWO outfielders, both of whom played key roles in the postseason (Kielty and Ellsbury)! Plus, Ellsbury is exactly the guy you describe above! That’s ca-razy. Though I feel obligated to point out that my influence is rife throughout this post, so while I genuflect in your general direction, I am keeping some of the credit for myself. :)

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