Logos courtesy Chris Creamer's SportsLogos.net
With the 2008 baseball season coming to a close (a thankful close, if you've watched the O's play this month), I thought it'd be fun to look back on the AL East, baseball's strongest division, and no longer simply a two-horse race.
It doesn't exactly represent what went down in the AL East this season, with Tampa Bay claiming the title (knock on wood) in their first-ever winning season and Boston never being seriously challenged for second place and the wild card. With New York crumbling under the average age of their roster (rivaling the age of the stadium they've closed), and Toronto being Toronto, somewhere in the middle, and a general nuisance at best. But an All-American League East team seemed like a decent idea. Hey, why not? The Sun Belt Conference names an all-conference team.
STARTING PITCHER: ROY HALLADAY, TORONTO
|2008 - Roy Halladay||19-11||33||32||8||2||0||0||237.0||214||86||74||18||38||201||2.81||1.06|
It would be impossible to argue anyone else in the division as a better starting pitcher in 2008 (or period, probably) than Roy Halladay. The closest comparison is Boston's Jon Lester -- not Beckett, not Kazmir, not Shields, not Wang, not Mussina. Jon Lester. Go figure.
Halladay is a Cy Young contender, at least relatively. Cliff Lee absolutely should win the award, and there's no question about that. But Halladay will get his share of Cy Young votes, and as good as he is year in and year out, he deserves it.
CATCHER: DIONER NAVARRO, TAMPA BAY
|2008 - Dioner Navarro||118||418||43||123||26||0||7||54||34||49||0||4||.294||.349||.407|
It's not so much that Navarro had some great season, but the cupboard is pretty bare for good catchers within the division. Ramon Hernandez needed a solid second half to even claw back into "below average" territory, and his defense is so atrocious that he'd have had to significantly out-hit Navarro anyway. Varitek stunk, Posada got hurt, the Jays had the underwhelming Gregg Zaun (nephew of Rick Dempsey, if you had never heard) and Rod Barajas splitting time. All in all, a putrid year for AL East catchers.
Navarro wins on being solid. He hit for a nice average, kept his OBP fairly strong, and managed to sneak his slugging over .400. He also made his first All-Star team. Way to go, dude! You win!
FIRST BASE: KEVIN YOUKILIS, BOSTON
|2008 - Kevin Youkilis||142||529||88||165||43||4||27||111||61||106||3||5||.312||.390||.561|
An outstanding year for Youkilis, who sacrificed some walks and came away with a power bump, a risky move that paid off. Throw in the fact that he should win the Gold Glove hands down, and he's a runaway choice.
With David Ortiz hurting, Manny Ramirez traded, Mike Lowell regressing, and J.D. Drew doing his usual DL dance, it was Youkilis' power bat that carried the Boston lineup. Youkilis set career highs in doubles, homers, hits, average, slugging percentage, and sacrificed no on-base percentage thanks to the spike in his contact numbers. In a year where things could have gone very wrong for Boston, Youkilis was one of the guys that put the team on his back and carried them into the postseason.
SECOND BASE: DUSTIN PEDROIA, BOSTON
|2008 - Dustin Pedroia||155||646||118||210||54||2||17||82||50||51||20||1||.325||.376||.494|
All apologies to those of you that hate Pedroia, and an honorable mention to the admirable Brian Roberts, but let's not kid ourselves. Pedroia's a better player, and he had the much better year.
Pedroia isn't just some annoying "lil' sparkplug" middle infielder that slaps the ball around and plays overrated defense and "does the little things." Dude contended for a batting title, hit over 50 doubles, and came close to 20 homers. He was also near-perfect on stolen base attempts.
He is a hell of a good baseball player, and a guy anyone would love to have on their team. C'mon. Admit it.
THIRD BASE: ALEX RODRIGUEZ, NEW YORK
|2008 - Alex Rodriguez||136||503||103||151||33||0||35||101||64||115||18||3||.300||.391||.575|
The Yankees screw around all year, never get white-hot to overcome their here-and-there crappiness, and the player that gets booed is Alex Rodriguez.
See, usually I'd go, "What is wrong with you people?"
But I was giving this a good, solid think the other day, and the thing I do ignore when this topic enters my mind is that A-Rod is, well, kind of a d-bag, y'know? Slapping purses on the way to first base, announcing his free agency while baseball's focus should be on the playoffs, then wasting everyone's time by just staying in New York anyway with a sweetheart deal designed to get him a monument and some Ted Williams-style "later in life, we realized..." type of admiration from Yankee fans in the future.
So maybe booing this dork just speaks well of the taste of Yankee fans. Not everyone is meant to be liked. And by the way, this position wasn't close either. Never is with this dude around.
SHORTSTOP: DEREK JETER, NEW YORK
|2008 - Derek Jeter||149||594||88||179||25||3||11||69||52||85||11||5||.301||.364||.409|
Congratulations, Derek! You're still the best shortstop in the division!
Like Navarro, this is more that no one else was worth a crap than it is some spectacular season from Jeter. It's been Jeter's worst season since 1997, when he was in his second full year. It's also the first time in his career that he's missing the playoffs, so I'm sure he'd categorize this as the worst, bar none.
His batting average dip isn't the real problem -- it's power and patience. Jeter's OBP and SLG slides (.388/.452 in 2007, and .417/.483 in 2006) are very real, and should be a huge concern for the Yankees. He also still stinks in the field. When the competition is the likes of David Eckstein, Julio Lugo, Jason Bartlett and the Unholy Union of Baltimore Shortstops, though, Jeter looks like Honus Wagner.
OUTFIELD: NICK MARKAKIS, BALTIMORE
|2008 - Nick Markakis||155||588||106||178||48||1||20||87||99||112||10||7||.303||.404||.490|
This is no jive, no bias, and no favoritism: Nick Markakis is the best outfielder in the American League East.
He does it all, frankly. Hits for average, has fine power, gets on base like a demon all of a sudden, cannon arm, great glove. He trumps them all, though a full season of Bay or Ramirez would have beaten him, and a full season of Drew may have, too. Still, we take what we can get here in Birdland. Nick Markakis! Best outfielder in the division! Suck it!
OUTFIELD: BOBBY ABREU, NEW YORK
|2008 - Bobby Abreu||153||600||95||179||39||4||20||99||69||106||20||11||.298||.372||.477|
OK, so Abreu has lost a couple steps and he's always been a lousy right fielder. He's still a valuable player. Like the next fella that'll make the team, the asterisk exists. With Manny or Bay in a full season or Drew not getting hurt, there's a good chance they don't make this team. They probably don't, in fact.
OUTFIELD: JOHNNY DAMON, NEW YORK
|2008 - Johnny Damon||139||546||93||167||27||5||16||69||62||81||29||8||.306||.377||.462|
Here we are. 2008, and Johnny Damon is making the All-AL East team. You know what? I can't take it. I can't stomach it. Terrible. The worst.
But he did have a nice season and did about all you could expect and probably then some.
DESIGNATED HITTER: AUBREY HUFF, BALTIMORE
|2008 - Aubrey Huff||152||592||96||181||48||2||32||108||53||87||4||0||.306||.362||.556|
Aubrey Huff, man. Who'da thunk it prior to this season? Aging, fading, plus, let's be serious, an Oriole. Aging, fading Orioles don't generally put up huge seasons when no one's expecting it.
This would have been a unanimous vote for David Ortiz in the preseason, but even without his injuries I'm not sure he beats Huff out. Aubrey was really good this year, and even won over the Baltimore fans he so righteously angered in the offseason.
CLOSER: MARIANO RIVERA, NEW YORK
|2008 - Mariano Rivera||6-5||63||0||0||0||38||1||69.1||41||11||11||4||6||76||1.43||.68|
Are you kidding me? This guy could probably close and close like an All-Star until he's 50 if feels like it. He shows no signs of wear and tear and no signs of slowing down. As good as Jonathan Papelbon was in 2008, he wasn't on Rivera's planet.
What does this guy eat?
RELIEF PITCHER: J.P. HOWELL, TAMPA BAY
|2008 - J.P. Howell||6-1||64||0||0||0||3||2||89.1||62||29||22||6||39||92||2.22||1.13|
I thought there needed to be a position for the guys who bridge the gap between the starters and the closers, and J.P. Howell has done that better than anyone in the divison, throwing neary 100 innings and dominating. The handful of times I got to see him this year, he reminded me of B.J. Ryan except smaller -- a lefty that can flat-out smoke the hitter and get it done daily.
I'm sure someone has some qualms, so let's hear 'em.