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General : : Crack The Bat
Yankees Dynasty
Patrick Ebert        
Published: Friday, November 13, 2009

Congratulations are in order to the New York Yankees for securing their 27th World Series championship. As I touched on last week, you may argue with the way they did it, out-spending everyone to acquire some of the best players in the game via free agency, but you can’t argue with their success.

As I also alluded to last week, this may be the beginning of yet another dynasty for the Yankees. Their roster is filled with some of the biggest names in baseball, with many of them signed for the next three to seven years. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett aren’t going anywhere for a while, and I would expect them to keep both Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, neither of whom appear to be slowing down, around for the foreseeable future as well.

And just because they won the World Series, don’t expect them to head into the 2010 season content with their current roster. I fully expect them to be strong players for free agent Matt Holliday, especially since both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui are also free agents and may be allowed to leave. They also are going to be among the favorites, if not the favorite to sign Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman.

Plus, two of their prized young pitchers, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, could still be tried again as starters, giving them enviable pitching depth.

There’s yet another juggernaut building momentum in New York, and they will be eyeing their 28th championship at this time next year.

Now we have officially entered the offseason and the always exciting Hot Stove season, where rumors run more rampant than any other sport as baseball journalists try to out-do one another by coming up with the next big scoop. Free agency begins in just over a week (November 20th), the GM meetings already took place earlier this week in Chicago, and the Winter Meetings take place a month from now in Indianapolis, December 7-10.

MLB Review

I didn’t pick the Yankees to make the playoffs this past spring as part of my preseason predictions. I admit that I might have been a little too cute leaving them out, but I did think both the Red Sox and the Rays would have been a lot better than what they were. I also am not a huge fan of teams going out and trying to buy their way to success, but again, it definitely works for the Yankees.

I also didn’t pick the Phillies to make the playoffs, as I guessed that the uncertain status of Cole Hamels would hurt their chances this past year. They did make the best acquisition mid-season of any team in Cliff Lee, who shouldered the load for the pitching staff during the stretch run and into the playoffs. Hamels’ drop-off in production definitely hurt the Phils during the Fall Classic, as it seemed as though they had to rely on Pedro Martinez, who performed admirably despite not having anywhere near the same stuff he did three to five years ago, more than they wanted to.

American League

My preseason predictions had the Red Sox taking the East and the Rays taking the Wild Card with the Yankees finishing third. I’m not sure how or why I didn’t buy into the Yankees acquisitions of Sabathia, Teixeira and Burnett, and yet I did buy into the Mets’ acquisitions of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz in the NL East.

The Red Sox have the financial resources, and their own talent resources from within, to continue to be successful. However, I was surprised that the Rays dropped off as much as they did, as they have talent up and down their roster, and had another player, Ben Zobrist, take a significant step forward this past year. They have a wealth of young pitching, currently on their roster and another wave in the upper levels of the minors, that will keep them in contention even if the Yankees will be viewed as the heavy favorites.

The Blue Jays have come close the past few years, but appear to be taking a different direction with new front office personnel. The Orioles continue to rebuild, with some encouraging signs for better things to come.

In the central, I did correctly pick the Twins to take the division, although I didn’t expect the Tigers to enjoy as successful of a season as they did, and I thought the Indians would perform a lot better. The Twins’ Joe Mauer took another big step forward at the plate, not only leading the league in batting (for the third time in career), but also leading the circuit in slugging. The Twins overall had a more formidable lineup to contend with, as Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Dernard Span all enjoyed fine seasons at the plate.

Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello anchored the Tigers staff, and Miguel Cabrera had an MVP worthy season at the plate. I’m still a little concerned that the Tigers’ roster may be getting a little on the old side, but these three talented players are very young and form the core of the team moving forward.

The White Sox took a step back this year, and as mentioned the Indians proved they are further away from contending than I thought they were. The Royals, like the Orioles, have some nice pieces in place, but may want to focus on spending their money on their rebuilding efforts rather than investing in free agents such as Gil Meche and Jose Guillen.

The West is always hard to project, in both leagues, although the Angels did keep rolling. However, they do have some free agents that they will be put to task to re-sign, but they have been one of the better teams in recent years developing their own talent from within. Plus, it’s not like they are hampered financially, as Arte Moreno has shown that he is more than willing to make the necessary monetary commitments to his team.

I had targeted the Rangers as a team that could surprise a few people, and they kept themselves in the playoff discussion up until the last few weeks of the season. They appear to be on the cusp of becoming a perennial contender.

On the other hand, few expected the Mariners to play as well as they did, especially in the first year under new management. They had quite a few players step up and perform better than expected, and with all due respect to their success this past year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take a step back in 2010 before they get to where they want to be as an eventual perennial contender in the West.

I thought the A’s would perform much better than they did, and when it was clear they weren’t contenders they wisely dealt Matt Holliday for a nice prospect package highlighted by Brett Wallace, who could be the team’s best overall hitter as early as next summer. Pitching continues to be the A’s best attribute, with plenty of young arms that should keep them in the mix over the next several years, highlighted by a pair of 21-year old starters, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, and 25-year old closer Andrew Bailey.

AL MVP: Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins

Mauer led all of baseball in batting (.365) and on-base percentage (.444), and with a previous season high of 13 home runs, he added more power to his game this year, with 28 bombs and a .587 slugging percentage. This was the third time he led the AL in batting, something unheard of for a catcher further cementing his reputation as one of the game’s all-time greats at the position. The way he keeps hitting, and improving, it will be difficult not to pick him as the preseason favorite next spring.

I picked Kevin Youkilis to take home this honor to open the year, who finished second to Mauer in the American League in OPS, and would have tallied better counting stats had he played in more than 136 games.

AL Cy Young: Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals

I may have missed on some team picks in the preseason, but I absolutely nailed this one, especially since most thought Greinke came out of nowhere to perform the way he did in 2009. If you looked at his numbers prior to the 2009 season and watched the way he pitched, you knew he was due for a big year. Pitching for the Royals prevented him from winning more than 16 games, which is still a more than respectable total, and he led the circuit, and all of baseball, in ERA with a 2.16 mark. He also finished second in the American League, and third overall, in strikeouts with 242.

AL Rookie of the Year: Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers

This award came down to Porcello and the White Sox’ Gordon Beckham. When in doubt, I go with the player that had a greater impact for a team that was a lot closer to making the playoffs. Porcello went 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA, giving the Tigers another horse after ace Justin Verlander. Those two are going to give the Tigers more than a fighting chance to continue to lead the AL Central division in the years to come.

It was hard not to pick Matt Wieters in the preseason, who struggled initially, spent some more time in the minors, and rebounded well upon being called back up. His late season surge, along with the emergence of fellow rookie Nolan Reimold (another contender for this award), give Orioles fans reason for hope moving forward.

National League

I need to work on my prognostications next year, as I incorrectly identified all three division leaders and the Wild Card in the National League back before the season started.

As noted above, I thought the Mets did what they needed to do to address their bullpen by adding Rodriguez and Putz, but it turns out the Mets have a lot more problems than just their bullpen. The Marlins were a good team with a wealth of young talent that stayed in the Wild Card hunt, as were the Braves, and both teams should remain competitive in 2010.

This continues to be one of the more competitive divisions in baseball, much like the AL East, as it’s easy to envision the Phillies, Marlins, Braves and Mets all fighting for the top spot next year. Of that group, the Mets probably have the most to fix, and the Marlins have the constant battle with limited finances that makes their job that much more difficult.

That said, I’m not going to make the same mistake twice, as it will be hard for me not to pick the Phillies from this division next year.

The Nationals, as expected, were the worst team in baseball.

In the NL Central, Tony LaRussa made sure his Cardinals were competitive once again this past year, with his team enjoying break-out performances from Joel Pineiro and Adam Wainwright, and Chris Carpenter returned from injury seemingly without a hitch. Pitching coach Dave Duncan deserves a lot of credit for always making the most of his staff. They also made some solid midseason acquisitions, adding Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa to give Albert Pujols some much needed help in the lineup, although they were ushered out of the playoffs rather quickly after many felt they were the team to beat.

Both the Cubs and Brewers didn’t perform nearly as well this past year as they did the year before, but both teams have enough pieces still in place to make things interesting next year. The Reds and Astros seem to see their success go up and down from year-to-year, while the Pirates will be given yet another opportunity to build their young talent base with the second overall pick in next June’s draft (meaning they were the second-worst team in all of baseball).

Again, the West divisions seem to be the most fluid. The Dodgers took another step forward this past year, and appear to have a nice talent base in place that should allow them to compete for the division crown for years to come. The Diamondbacks took a significant step backward, although they still have some nice talent to work with, including one of the best, although relatively overlooked, pitchers in the game in Dan Haren.

Pitching helped the Giants over-achieve, and they need to make sure they add some significant bats to their lineup to complement young slugger Pablo Sandoval if they expect to achieve the same kind of success next year.

The Rockies got back on track after a disappointing 2008 season, and I really like the young talent they have added to their team. Dexter Fowler is a rookie of the year candidate in the National League, Carlos Gonzalez really stepped forward in the postseason, and Ian Stewart’s emergence as a legitimate slugger may allow them to deal Garrett Atkins for more financial flexibility. Todd Helton is as steady as ever, and Troy Tulowitzki is one of the game’s best players that no one talks about.

The Padres need more time to develop the talent base they’re working on, and don’t be surprised to see Adrian Gonzalez traded in the next calendar year for players and prospects that are more likely to coincide with that projected talent wave.

Moving forward and looking to next year, this division is the most likely to have the biggest surprises, of teams either moving up or down in the standings.

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals

This was a no-brainer to open the season, is a no-brainer now, and will continue to be my preseason pick moving forward. Pujols quite simply is the most feared and complete slugger in the game, and this would mark his second consecutive MVP award and third overall. Pujols finished first in the National League in on-base percentage (.443) and third in batting (.327), while leading all of baseball in home runs (47), slugging percentage (.658) and OPS (1.101). It’s amazing just how consistent his career has been, and he doesn’t turn 30 until next August.

NL Cy Young: Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

This was a tough call between Lincecum, Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. All three had similar stats, among the league leaders in the pitching triple crown categories. Since Wainwright and Carpenter were teammates, making it that much more difficult to choose between the two, I’m going with Lincecum, who led the league in strikeouts with 261 and finished second in ERA to Carpenter at 2.48. Like Greinke, Lincecum likely would have posted more wins that 15 had the Giants been more proficient at scoring runs.

My preseason pick, Johan Santana, still had a good year before being shut down in August after having arthroscopic elbow surgery, going 13-9 with a 3.13 ERA. He is expected to be fully healthy when the 2010 season begins.

NL Rookie of the Year: J.A. Happ, Philadelphia Phillies

This was another tough call, as the NL was loaded with legitimate ROY candidates. Dexter Fowler sparked the top of the order for the Wild Card winning Colorado Rockies. Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones both posted impressive numbers in their first, full years for the Pirates. Casey McGehee and Chris Coughlan posted solid numbers for the Brewers and Marlins respectively.

I went with Happ, similar to my pick of Porcello in the American League, given Happ’s importance to the Phillies on their journey to the World Series. The Phillies were wise not to include him in any rumored midseason trades given their interest in Blue Jays’ ace Roy Halladay, as he solidified a spot in the pitching staff while going 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA over 35 games (23 starts).

Cameron Maybin was my preseason pick, but he has yet to live up to his considerable promise.

The thoughts and opinions listed here do not necessarily reflect those of Perfect Game USA. Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and Brewerfan.net, and can be contacted via email at pebert@brewerfan.net.