Baltimore OriolesW-L: 68-93 (Last in AL East)
Payroll: $67,196,246 (10th in AL)
R/G: 4.86 (8th in AL)
ERA: 5.15 (13th in AL)
DER: .687 (7th in AL)
Team MVPs: Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Aubrey Huff
A Drag on the Payroll: Ramon Hernandez (257/308/406, $7.5 MM), Jay Payton (243/291/346, $5 MM), Danys Baez (Did Not Pitch, $4.5 MM), Jamie Walker (6.87 ERA, 38 IP, $4.5 MM)
What Went Right: The Erik Bedard trade worked out pretty well. Adam Jones is still looking quite raw as an athlete, but even still, you know the Mariners would like that one back. Both Aubrey Huff (304/360/552) and Melvin Mora (285/342/483) experienced strong bounceback seasons in their 30's. There hasn't been a complete turnaround, but there's enough happiness here to sustain some legitimate optimism.
What Went Wrong: The optimism ends with the pitching staff. Jeremy Guthrie is a decent starter, but he's not the guy you want fronting your starting rotation, especially if you have designs on the postseason. Hopes pinned on Daniel Cabrera, Radhames Liz, and Brian Burres came crashing down.
Notes: Good though Huff and Mora were in 2008, don't pin your hopes on them repeating it ... The O's stood pat and ended up keeping George Sherrill, and a lot of freakin' good that did them ... The O's seem to be done spending millions on middle relievers. For now ... Reserve a spot in the All-Star game for Nick Markakis (306/406/491), who is a legitimate star and could be even better if his power comes along (20 HR in '08).
Boston Red SoxW-L: 95-67 (2nd in AL East; AL Wild Card)
Payroll: $133,390,035 (3rd in AL)
R/G: 5.22 (2nd in AL)
ERA: 4.01 (4th in AL)
DER: .698 (4th in AL)
Team MVPs: Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka
A Drag on the Payroll: Jason Varitek (220/313/359, $9 MM), Julio Lugo (268/355/330, $9 MM)
What Went Right: Scads of things went right. The Sox' 5+ man rotation strategy worked, as injuries felled Curt Schilling and ineffectiveness plagued Clay Buchholz. The team still got a great year from Jon Lester, good years from Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, and decent work from Tim Wakefield, Paul Byrd, Bartolo Colon, and Justin Masterson. Their lack of general rotational quality was compensated by quantity.
J.D. Drew sure went right (280/408/519), even if injuries still plagued him (109 G, 368 ABs). The Sox had two MVPs on the right side of the infield, both of them -- Kevin Youkilis (312/390/569) and Dustin Pedroia (326/376/493) -- homegrown.
It may have been crazy, but the Sox got good production out of their left field duo of Manny Ramirez (299/398/529) and Jason Bay (293/370/527). David Ortiz had another good season, and even Coco Crisp bounced back (283/344/407).
What Went Wrong: As successful as they were, the Sox had to deal with a lot of problems. The right side of the infield was a problem; Julio Lugo still struggled (268/355/330) and Mike Lowell had injury issues (274/338/461). Worst of all, Jason Varitek fell off a cliff (220/313/359) casting a shadow over the Sox' plans behind the plate.
Notes: Center field is still a work in progress. Crisp is a solid option, but the real hope for the team is Jacoby Ellsbury, who has had a pretty tough season (280/336/394) ... The Sox won't always have the benefit of 6+ starting pitchers, but it's great while it lasts ... The Sox had trouble filling out the back of their bullpen, but you could say that about most teams. What was missed in the discussions of the team's bullpen troubles were how many things went right (Papelbon -- for the most part -- Okajima, Lopez, Delcarmen, Masterson) ... Given what happened in L.A., the Manny Ramirez Incident (MRI) will just be a footnote to the Red Sox' season. Which is probably as it should be.
New York YankeesW-L: 89-73 (3rd in AL East)
Payroll: $209,081,577 (1st in AL)
R/G: 4.87 (7th in AL)
ERA: 4.28 (8th in AL)
DER: .682 (12th in AL)
Team MVPs: Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera
A Drag on the Payroll: Derek Jeter (300/363/408, $20 MM), Carl Pavano (5.77 ERA, 34.1 IP, $11 MM), Kei Igawa (13.50 ERA, 4 IP, $4 MM)
What Went Right: A-Rod, Giambi, and Mike Mussina. Mariano Rivera.
What Went Wrong: The middle infield went through a gut-busting slump. Derek Jeter hit 300/363/408, but that was thanks mainly to a second-half surge. Robinson Cano did so poorly (271/305/410) that he now finds himself in the middle of a dozen trade rumors.
In the outfield, despite the good work of Damon and Bobby Abreu, the Yankees were short-handed. A trade for Pirates right fielder Xavier Nady helped, but the Yanks still had to deal with Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera.
The Joba Chamberlain experience worked well enough in terms of quality (2.60 ERA, 100.1 IP, 118 K), but not quantity. Injuries cut short Joba's time in the starting rotation, causing many to wonder again whether his body will hold up as a starter. That's where he has the most value, so that's where the Yankees will likely be keeping him for now, but he may end up as a reliever in the long run (albeit a damn good one).
The youth movement in the pitching staff went kaput. Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes were both incredibly disaoppointing. Chien-Ming Wang was good (4.07 ERA in 95 IP), but he spent too much time on the DL to be a dominant force. And the Yanks were just unable to fill the gaping holes left by these guys.
Notes: The theme of filling holes in the starting rotation will continue into the offseason ... The Yanks again failed to find a good first baseman (so they just put a DH -- Giambi -- at first). That should (and will) be at the top of their shopping list in the hot stove season ... A lot of questions surround Robinson Cano, and whether he's really going to be a star or not. Either way, it's doubtful that he'll be a star playing first base, but that's where some have suggested moving him. He's not a Gold Glover, it's true, but the simple fact is that the Yanks don't have a second baseman without him, but they've got plenty of first basemen ... Jorge Posada's injuries forced him out from behind the plate. That will be a big storyline going into 2009, because if Posada has to move to 1B/DH, not only will that further crowd up the position, it will leave the team desperate for a catcher .. The influence of Hank and Hal Streinbrenner (the Steinbrothers) hasn't been felt significantly on the field in New York. Whether that changes or not remains to be seen, and Yankee fans should hope that it does not. So long as they're just making noise in the newspapers, things will be fine.
Tampa Bay RaysW-L: 97-65 (1st in AL East)
Payroll: $43,745,597 (Last in the AL)
R/G: 4.78 (9th in AL)
ERA: 3.82 (2nd in AL)
DER: .708 (1st in AL)
Team MVPs: Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, James Shields
A Drag on the Payroll: Troy Percival (4.53 ERA in 45.2 IP, $4 MM)
What Went Right: Oh, just about everything. The lineup wasn't great, but there were no real holes in the order. Even Jason Bartlett, who didn't hit well at all, at least compensated with good defense. In fact, it's the defense which played a large role in turning the team around. They went from the worst defense team in the league in 2007 to the best in 2008.
It was supported by a strong pitching staff with good depth. Nobody was a true ace, but James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, and Edwin Jackson all pitched in some good work to keep their team in ballgames. They put on an even better show in the postseason, pitching their way past two strong offensive teams to get to the Series.
What Went Wrong: Some of the team's star hitters didn't perform up to expectations. Carl Crawford had injury problems on and off all season, playing in just 109 games and hitting a disappointing 273/319/400. B.J. Upton had a good year (273/383/401), but far below expectations, especially concerning power (just 9 HR in 145 games).
Notes: If the Rays fail to make the postseason in 2009, it won't be for a lack of good pitching ... After several disappointments, Evan Longoria became one preseason Rookie of the Year favorite who totally lived up to expectations, even in October (the World Series excepted) ... The Rays showed the best and cheapest way to assemble a bullpen: get some good arms together and the rest will take care of itself ... Manager Joe Maddon may be unorthodox, but his players seem to like him, and he's done a lot to push the franchise ahead.
Toronto Blue Jays
W-L: 86-76 (4th in AL East)
Payroll: $97,973,500 (7th in AL)
R/G: 4.41 (11th in AL)
ERA: 3.49 (1st in AL)
DER: .703 (2nd in AL)
Team MVPs: Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch
A Drag on the Payroll: N/A
What Went Right: The Jays continue to put together a winning pitching staff. With Halladay and Burnett leading the way, the Jays were able to keep together a young, cheap group to complement the stars, including closer B.J. Ryan (2.95 ERA, 58 K in 58 IP).
What Went Wrong: Once again, the team was all but powerless to assemble a potent lineup. Switching out Troy Glaus for Scott Rolen was a net negative, especially considering the difference in salaries. Only by deploying Adam Lind and Travis Snider more often was the team able to find an effective group of hitters to supplement the decent work provided by Vernon Wells (300/343/396) and Alexis Rios (291/336/461).
Notes: With most everyone topping their potential, we saw the Jays' offense at its best in 2008. The most effective change for 2009 would be to give more playing time to promising youngsters such as Lind and Snider. A free agent would be nice as well, particularly at first base/DH or left field ... It should be said that the Jays ran into their share of bad luck; their Pythagorean record was second-best in the league ... Roy Halladay may be destined to be his generation's Dave Stieb, doing great work in a foreign country without his due appreciation ... With all the hoopla over A.J. Burnett opting out of his contract, my only question is why the hell GMs agreed to these contract provisions in the first place.