Tampa Bay _____ Rays – Hoary wisdom
The Tampa Bay Rays have been quietly improving under the radar over the past couple of years. 2007 saw a couple of things bounce their way—finally—mostly thanks to the breakout year had by Carlos Pena. The one thing they have always really lacked is starting pitching, which should be less of a problem next year. So what do they still need to put them over the top? First, a solid bullpen, at least to save poor Scott Kazmir’s sanity. And second, veteran leadership. Sure, it’s great to have a lot of young talent and get excited about what they could do. But you need to have at least one guy in the clubhouse who can do the Crash Davis thing when necessary. Isn’t Tony Clark still available?
Baltimore Orioles – Cloning technology
The Baltimore Orioles are already a step ahead of last year, since at least they seem to have approached this hot stove season with something approaching a strategy. The O’s now need to keep dumping salary wherever and whenever they can; to move Erik Bedard before his value deteriorates; and to acquire other teams’ prospects willy-nilly. And wherever Nick Markakis came from, they need more of that.
Toronto Blue Jays – Medical breakthroughs
Speaking of Bedard, boy could the Jays use him. Their pitching staff—and in fact, most of their roster—is the definition of mediocre. Last year, they looked pretty good on paper, before their roster imploded with injuries. But this year, I look at their team and don’t see a lot of upside (newly acquired Scott Rolen is no exception). Add a pitcher? Add a big bat? Sure. Add anything. Add something. At least let the current crop of big-salary-middle-of-the-road types play out their contracts while you get a farm system in order. But considering last year’s season, maybe the one thing Toronto should add if they want to make the playoffs is some really, really good team doctors.
New York Yankees – A scary starting pitcher, or, failing that, a healthy one
In October, the Yankees folded primarily because of limited starting pitching (well, that and A-Rod’s Octoberitis and Derek Jeter’s sudden propensity for hitting into double plays). Now January is half over and the New York Yankees still need solid starting pitching. Chien-Ming Wang anchored their rotation this year, winning 19 games and barely missing the 200 innings mark. Pettitte will return as No. 2, coming off a 15-win, 200+ innings season. However, Pettitte’s ERA last year cleared the 4.00 mark, which isn’t exactly lights-out. Of greater concern is Mike Mussina, who finished the year with an ERA over 5.00. The big gamble for New York is on their young arms: Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Hughes—who came up to great fanfare last year, only to go down with an injury almost immediately. All three younguns will be on strict innings limits. When October rolls around again, will they have enough left in the tank to make it to the postseason? And assuming they bash their way into the playoffs, do they have the dominant, ace-caliber pitching you need to reach the World Series? Right now, the answer is no.
Boston Red Sox – A craving for Coco
The World Series Champs already look pretty good for next year. They need to think about 2011. A few of their key players are oh-ell-dee old. The hardest to replace will be catcher and team captain Jason Varitek. Boston is still looking for takers for Coco Crisp, and I would love to see them deal him for a catching prospect. The Red Sox have no one inspiring coming up at the position, and will be lucky if Jason Varitek clears .250 over the next three years (assuming he accepts Boston’s 2-year, $20 mill offer of a contract extension). I’d hate to see them deal Coco, who is a Gold Glove caliber centerfielder with excellent speed and offensive upside, for just anyone. But Ellsbury is the Boston CF of the future, and Coco is not a fourth outfielder. If they can’t get a young catcher for him, well, bullpen help is always nice. But I worry that if Crisp languishes in Boston another half-season as a backup, he’ll just end up…soggy.