Between Johnny Damon's revelation that, murder is bad, (far worse than taking steroids) and Yankee GM, Brian Cashman's defiant backing of Alex Rodriguez, can you argue that no team is better fit to handle the circus that has become major league baseball? While all eyes of the baseball and sports world for that matter, is focused on a press conference that should have no bearing on the coming season, major league baseball still has some burning questions surrounding this very season:
FIVE BURNING QUESTIONS
5. How do the events of the last several weeks affect the '09 Yankees and Alex Rodriguez?
Let's face it, the question needs to be asked and we should just get it out of the way now. February 17, 2009 will not mark the final day we discuss Alex Rodriguez and his admitted steroid use. Once the book of SI's Selena Roberts is released post-opening day, they'll be more to come on Alex. Every time Alex meets a new city, that city and its newspapers will have questions about the issue. If Alex dips into a semi-long slump, the A-Rod "haters" will be bring it up. This is what we all have to look forward to over the next 9 years of his career. However, like I said in the opening, this isn't the Kansas City Royals, the New York Yankees are better equipped to handle this circus than any other team in professional sports, the anti-Cowboys if you will. 2009 will most certainly be a circus for the Bronx Bombers. Between moving into their new city funded digs, having signed every available free-agent, (all of which have never dealt with media like they will in New York), and now Alex Rodriguez becoming the distraction to end all distractions, the Yanks have some issues on their plate. They'll deal. The Yankees will have to perform at the level they are being paid, which means Alex hits 40 to 50 home runs, C.C. Sabathia wins 17 to 20 games, Jorge Posada manages to limit his time on the DL, and Mark Teixeira becomes the center of the Yankees lineup. All things which are very possible. An added bonus, to the media, fans, and his fellow teammates, Derek Jeter is the most respected and admired player in that clubhouse, he does what captains do. With the hundred plus things that go on in the Yankees organization, this team knows how to focus, I'd be stunned if you could point to A-Rod as a reason for their lack of success in the coming season.
4. So the Phils and the Rays met in the World Series, have they done enough to get back?
Both clubs return their studs, Evan Longoria and Cole Hamels will return and with a newly found swagger. That is what you can count on. Let's start with the runner up Rays. They've added 9-year veteran, and newly anointed Philly World Series champ, Pat Burrell. Believe it or not, Burrell might be coming off one of his best power years, hitting 33 homers and driving in 86 runs, unfortunately his .250 average was his lowest since his 4th year in the league. When it comes to their arms, you don't get much better than adding flame throwing rookie, David Price, who will make an instant impact in 2009, much like he did in the 2008 postseason. The highly anticipated Price struck out twelve batters in just 14 innings in 2008. Between Price, 14-game winner James Shields, and a well rested Scott Kazmir (sitting out the World Baseball Classic) the defending AL Champs can match staffs with nearly any team in the league. As for the defending champion Fighting Phillies, they haven't changed much. With the departure of the previously mentioned Burrell, the Phillies have gone out and replaced him with 11-year veteran, Raul Ibanez. A lifetime .286 hitter finished 2008 hitting .293 and driving in 110 runs, a significant upgrade from the production of Pat Burrell. The Phillies will of course look to duplicate the numbers their bullpen put up this past year. In 2008, set up man Ryan Madson recorded 67 strikeouts in 76 appearances. The bigger story would be that of closer Brad Lidge, who managed to close out all 41 games he was asked to while sitting down close to 95 batters by way of the K. A rematch would be remarkable, but the Phillies playing in the National League East gives them a more likely arrival of October baseball. While the Rays would have to battle through both Boston and New York, who have upgraded their rosters through free-agency.
3. How will this economy put its clamps on the 2009 baseball season?
Baseball has the unfortunate role of being the first major professional sport to kick off its season in full blown panic. The Yankees may have gone out and spent like kings, but it doesn't mean they won't feel the pinch. The Bronx Bombers are entering a brand new billion dollar facility, which has caused more controversy than the players that are entering it. Their cross town rival Mets are also attempting to dive into their new digs, digs which have cost the city more than ever anticipated. How do you expect the fans of Kansas City, Seattle, Detroit, and many other cities to justify the spending of their extra cash on tickets to see their team get beat up? Not to mention the giant elephant in the room, no team is willing to commit serious money to free-agent embattled slugger, Manny Ramirez. Manny is not the ideal clubhouse guy, secondly, he forced Boston's hand by refusing to play until they released him from the contract he signed, now you think someone is going to have him sign a more long term deal which may or may not be okay with Ramirez in three years? He's worth $20 million, if you get the Ramirez the Dodgers got for the final months and the playoffs of last season. However, he isn't worth $20 million a season in this economic climate, especially if it may force your hand on future moves. Attendance will be down this season, and even in places like Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia, less merchandise will be sold, less revenue from beer and food sales. If you thought the empty seats in hoops was noticeable, you haven't seen anything yet.
2. Who will be the 2009 version of the Tampa Bay Rays?
I'm not going out on a limb when I say this: The Rays were and are in a league of their own, but there are some teams which will surprise you. I'm staying in the same division as the Sox, Yanks, and Rays. In 2009, the Baltimore Orioles will surprise you, and I'm not crazy. Last season the Orioles had five players who hit 20+ home runs, four of which will return in 2009. Veterans Aubrey Huff and Melvin Mora, who man the corners of the Oriole infield, hit 55 homers combined last season. Outfielders Luke Scott and the pride of Glen Cove, New York, Nick Markakis smashed a combined 46 home runs and drove in 150+ runs. The Baltimore young center fielder, Adam Jones, (not Pacman)is poised for a breakout year. Arriving in Baltimore as the key piece in last years trade of Eric Bedard to Seattle, Jones had somewhat of a disappointing year in 2008. He strikeouts crept over 100, his batting average slipped below .270 late in the season, and lastly, the power numbers that he put up in the minors drastically dropped, in 132 games Jones managed only 9 homers. However, all stories from O's camp have Jones arriving with the confidence of a young, speedy, power hitting outfielder. Jones has spent the entire off season in Arizona at the famed Athletes' Performance Institute, the same place last years American League MVP, Dustin Pedroia trains at. As always when it comes to Baltimore, they lack pitching, and when I say lack, that is an understatement. Of their four starters to start over 20 games in 2008, none had a winning record. 5th year starter, Jeremy Guthrie, finished the season 10-12 with a 3.63 era and he'll be returning. Newcomer, Rich Hill, will attempt to duplicate his success of two years ago, where for the Cubs he won 11 starts and struck out nearly 200 batters. The sole bright spot among Orioles arms lies with the closer, All-Star George Sherrill. In 2008, Sherrill's first season with the O's he converted 31 of 37 save opportunities and sat down 58 batters by strikeout in 53 innings. The Orioles are led by their star right fielder, Nick Markakis. Markakis just inked a deal this off season which keeps him in Charm City for 6 more seasons at only a little over 11 million a season. While his power numbers tailed off in 2008, his average hovered at .300 for third consecutive year. If he can return to producing the 100+ RBI he did in 2007, and get what they expect from Adam Jones, it'll be hard to find a younger more talented outfield than the one in Baltimore. However you slice it, the Orioles will struggle, but getting out of the basement of the American League East and winning 80+ games would be a major success for the franchise.
1. The 2009 Mets, will this nucleus ever pull it together and finish a season?
For two straight seasons the Mets have experienced late season collapses that has made them the laughing stock of the National League, and baseball for that matter. It's gotten to the point where the bulk of the responsibility should be placed on the players. Players like all-world shortstop Jose Reyes, who hit just .243 in September of 2008 and an even worse .205 in September of 2007. Relievers like Duaner Sanchez, whose dismal 4.26 era in the month of September doesn't exactly improve a push toward the postseason. The end of the season has been nothing but average, or worse: 12-13 September of 2008 and 14-14 September of 2007. you don't make the playoffs playing like that in the home stretch. Between Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, and Ryan Church, this team has more than enough fire power in their lineup. Pencil in 18-25 wins for Johan Santana, and prey that the newly acquired Franky Rodriguez, doesn't have his arm fall off ten games into the regular season. The Mets owners are losing money hand over fist, their new stadium has cost way to much money, it is past the time this core group of Beltran, Reyes, and Wright win something more than 80 regular season games. You heard it first: The New York Mets will win the National League East in 2009.
The regular season preview will be out come the final weekend in March. Until then, keep your roid use to a minimum, and as always . . BAM! Remember if you ain't cheating, you ain't trying.! www.LynchyRightNow.com