The Yankees haven’t been making much news lately, so why not look at the rest of the American League East? We’ll start at the bottom of last year’s standings.
2009: Fifth place, 64-98
Key additions: 3B Garrett Atkins, RHP Kevin Millwood, LHP Mike Gonzalez
Key losses: RHP Chris Ray, 3B Melvin Mora, RHP Danys Baez (1B Aubrey Huff and LHP George Sherrill were traded late last season)
• Atkins might be an upgrade over the aging Mora at third, Gonzalez might be an upgrade over Sherrill/Ray at the back of the bullpen and Millwood is certainly an upgrade — in terms of experience — over anyone in the Baltimore rotation.
Youth on the way: The Orioles first-round pick in 2008 was a starting pitcher named Brian Matusz who jumped to the big leagues from Double-A last season. Another starter, Jake Arrieta, pitched well in Triple-A last season, 24-year-old Brad Bergesen had a 3.43 ERA as a big league rookie and Chris Tilman got to Baltimore after 18 terrific starts with Triple-A Norfolk. Reliever Kam Mickolio and 1B Brandon Snyder are also knocking on the door.
Experience on the slide: Truthfully, there aren’t many declining players on the roster, at least not in significant roles. Millwood’s not young, but he’s coming off a strong season with Texas.
Possible upgrades: The Orioles have been linked to some third basemen who would bump Atkins to first. Joe Crede and Miguel Tejeda are two of the names that have been mentioned.
• The theme with the Orioles is youth, youth, youth. Even their “old guys” are in their early 30s, guys like Luke Scott (who brings good, fairly cheap power) and Brian Roberts (who brings speed to the lead-off spot). It’s actually not a terrible lineup, as long as guys like Jones and Nolan Reimold don’t suffer a setback. Adding a corner infielder would be a nice upgrade.
Better than the Yankees: There’s a lot to like about the Orioles young outfield, especially Adam Jones in center and Nick Markakis in right. Matt Wieters was solid as a rookie and could become one of the better catchers in the game.
Worse than the Yankees: Aside from Markakis and possibly Jones, it’s hard to imagine any of the Orioles outperforming the Yankees at any individual position. The pitching staff is young and seems talented, but the Orioles rotation is probably too inexperienced to cause any real worries at this point.
Yankees connections: C Chad Moeller is back in the mix to compete for a bench job, so is former Yankees minor leaguer Michel Hernandez.
• No surprise here. There’s some young talent that’s worth outside envy, but the Orioles seem to be a long way from competing with the Yankees for the AL East.
Prediction: Fourth place. I’ll take the Orioles over the Blue Jays in 2010, but this team doesn’t seem ready to compete unless the young starters really make some strides and adjust quickly at the big league level.