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The AL West shapes up as a showdown of pitching vs. offense, with the team that used to set the standard now entrenched as an also-ran and a rebuilding effort in the Great Northwest. In what should be essentially a two-team race, the nod goes to the A’s and their young guns.

Oakland surprised many by posting the best rotation ERA in the league last season. Despite trading Vin Mazzaro to Kansas City this offseason, the A’s still look to have easily the best rotation in their division, while adding Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to what was an already impressive bullpen may give the team the best top-to-bottom staff in the league. Given their ages, one can only expect the rotation, led by Brett Anderson and strike-out machine Gio Gonzalez to continue to improve. While the offense is still underwhelming, adding Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus to the under-rated Daric Barton and Kurt Suzuki should provide enough punch to lead the A’s to their first division title since 2006.

The defending league champions will miss the departed Vladimir Guerrero‘s bat, but that’s not the piece that looks to derail the Texas Rangers bid to repeat. Losing Cliff Lee and not replacing him with anyone has led them to scramble to find starters from their relief corps and a few reclamation projects, such as Brandon Webb. The Rangers will still hit – any team that includes Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler will score runs. Adding Mike Napoli should help, but the Adrian Beltre signing is one of those “buyer beware” type deals: Beltre’s bat has a history of coming alive only in contract years, although his glove work remains impeccable. Expect Texas to be involved in a lot of 10-8 type games.

The Angels once were considered the standard of excellence in the division, making the playoffs 6 times in an 8 year span from 2002 – 2009. Last year, the team finished below .500 and they’ll struggle to reach that mark again this year. Provided Scott Kazmir can recapture some lost magic and Joel Piniero can continue to wiggle out of jams, the rotation looks to be better than average. But the once-feared bullpen is no longer a sure thing, now led by the erratic Fernando Rodney as the closer. The line-up is ill-suited to playing manager Mike Scioscia‘s style, featuring aging players now playing out of position – with the curious addition of Vernon Wells joining former stars Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu, as well as rookie Peter Bourjos in the outfield rotation. The Angels will be further hampered by 1B Kendry Morales uncertain status; reports suggest he may not return until May from last season’s freakish broken leg.

Finally, there’s the Mariners. Last year’s pre-season Cinderella pick collapsed by April 30th and went downhill from there. At least, this season doesn’t bring those types of expectations to Seattle – which is a good thing. If Erik Bedard is healthy again, he could prove a nice one-two pairing with reigning Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. CF Franklin Gutierrez seemed to regress last year, but the talent is still there and he may have experienced the dreaded “sophomore slump.” Seattle fans will also be able to root for Ichiro Suzuki to make it 11 consecutive seasons with 200+ hits and 25+ steals, a feat never before accomplished in major league baseball.

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As good as the AL East is, the opposite may be true of the AL Central. I don’t project any of the five teams to win 90 games – and two could lose more than 100. This is a division that is loaded with teams filled with mediocre talent. In fact, the most interesting team to watch may be the Royals, if only because they may actually have days where they start 9 rookies.

The best of the worst is, once again, the Minnesota Twins. Projected to win the Central by three games, they’ll win based on sound fundamental play, two star players (Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer) and because they’ll be able to bottom feed on 36 games with two of the worst teams since the St. Louis Browns. The starting rotation is suspect, featuring the injury prone tandem of Francisco Liriano and Carl “Strained Buttocks” Pavano. The strongest element of last year’s division winning team, the bullpen, was wracked by free-agent defections – meaning this year’s pen relies on the much-traveled Matt Capps and a not-quite-healthy Joe Nathan. In fact, injury carry-overs from last year could get the Twins out of the gate slowly, as nobody is quite sure if Morneau is sufficiently recovered from last season’s concussion to play first full time yet. If they do start slowly, the crown my well fall to Chicago.

The White Sox made quite a splash this off-season, re-signing Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski and landing Adam Dunn as their new DH. Unfortunately, they would have been better off looking for a starting 3rd baseman and a couple of outfielders, because the current line-up may be one of baseball’s worst group of defenders we’ve seen in a while. Which is a shame, because the Pale Hose have the makings of an outstanding pitching staff – perhaps the best in baseball. If Jake Peavy returns to form after his pectoral tear, they’ll have 6 quality starters and a bullpen that features a bevy of quality (if not nationally known) arms. But the offense will once again be a classic three-outcome type, as typified by Dunn: walk, strike-out or homer. Don’t expect much in the way of sustained rallies or guys flying around the bases at US Cellular Field.

The Tigers look destined for a distant third place finish. The best thing going for this team is that they’re managed by future Hall-of-Famer Jim Leyland. But the star player, Miguel Cabrera, is turning into baseball’s version of Charlie Sheen. Actually, Detroit’s middle of the order could feature some good players, with the addition of Victor Martinez joining Magglio Ordonez. The rest of the supporting cast, though, is supect, featuring such luminaries as Brandon Inge. The back of the bullpen could be solid, if Joaquin Benoit can prove last year wasn’t a fluke, Joel Zumaya can stay healthy and Jose Valverde can stop his decline. But both the starting rotation and middle relief corps are a mess. Aside from Justin Verlander, the Tigers are relying on converted relievers, reclamation projects and prayers.

The youth movement is in full swing in Kansas City. After their farm system was ranked #1 by Baseball America, they might as well give the kids a shot – nothing else has worked for the past 20 years. Yes, they traded away Zack Greinke and made a couple of curious signings in old friend Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francouer. But KC’s real aim this year is to see if youngsters Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Kila Ka’aihue and Eric Hosmer are ready for prime time.

Bringing up the rear is the Cleveland Indians. Once again, the Tribe is looking more like “The Mistake by the Lake” instead of a major-league team. They do have a bona-fide star in Shin-Soo Choo and a star in the making in catcher Carlos Santana. But otherwise, Cleveland is hoping Grady Sizemore shows enough that he can become a viable trade chip. I’m pretty sure Cleveland fans have to be wondering what they’ve done to deserve the Cavaliers, Browns, and this abomination of a baseball team.

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Update: 2:20PM ET: TUESDAY, 11:19am: A source familiar with the talks tells ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick that “nothing is imminent.” The source says Boras and Holliday “are still looking for something that they’re not finding.”

Newsday’s Ken Davidoff doesn’t expect the Yankees to commit to another nine-figure salary and sign Matt Holliday, especially since they need pitching.

From MLB Trade Rumors:

The Cardinals have offered Matt Holliday a deal which would pay him $16MM per year for at least eight seasons, writes Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As St. Louis is anxious to reach a resolution, those familiar with the talks believe it possible that Holliday could reach a verdict before Christmas. 

This proposal dwarfs the average value of the 7-year, $100MM contract Albert Pujols inked in the winter of 2004.  Of course, the average value of Pujols’ next contract will likely overshadow the pitch made to Holliday.

Strauss writes that the Yankees may be the most dangerous variable to the Cardinals, despite their insistance that they are not pursuing Holliday.  With Jason Bay pointed towards signing with the Mets and the Red Sox inking Mike Cameron, two potential suitors are presumably off the chase.

Are they nuts? An 8yr/$16M per year contract offer? I wouldn’t have minded Holliday on the Yankees, but not for that price.  It just makes you wonder what they will offer Pujols when his contract is up. I honestly don’t understand how Holliday can possibly pass up this offer. I wonder how true this rumor really is. What do you guys think?

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Recently, even though it did not get as much coverage in the media like Jeter’s Sportsman of the Year, Joe Girardi was awarded March of Dimes Sportsman of the Year.

Before the luncheon the Yankees manager obliged and provided his thoughts on a number of offseason topics in relation to his team.

On the Yankees getting younger this winter: “You’re always trying to improve our team. We do have an older team, and that is a concern. We got younger last year and we’ll try to possibly get a little younger this year, but I’m not sure if we will or not.”

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IanKennedy

While Major League Baseball’s season might have ended, there is still baseball being played. Here is an update on how some of the Yankees farmhands in the Arizona Fall League are doing.

Pitchers

Grant Duff (RHP) has logged a 3.68 ERA in 7.1 innings over 8 appearances with 2 saves while striking out 3 and walking 5.

Michael Dunn (LHP) in 7.2 innings over 7 appearances has logged a 2.35 ERA while striking out 13 and walking 6.

Ian Kennedy (RHP) has started 5 games in which he has pitched 20.1 innings with an ERA of 3.98 with 19 strikeout’s and 4 walk’s

Zach Kroenke (LHP) hasn’t been as lucky as his colleagues this fall. He has an ERA of 5.68 over 9 games and 12.2 innings with 10 K’s and 4 walks.

(more…)

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Chris and Mike are at Yankee Stadium together. Who would have thought?  This is the first time they have reunited since they broke up 14 months ago. This is classic! It’s so nice to see them getting along. Haha

Mike and the Mad Dog

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A great video from the YES Network to get fans ready for the ’09 Postseason run. Enjoy

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9/11: We Remember

In remembrance of those we lost on 9/11, and to service men & women who protect our great country. Never Forget.

“Ladies and gentlemen… would you please rise… And now… please offer… a moment of silent prayer… for the service men and women… who are stationed around the globe… and especially remember… those who have lost their lives… defending our freedom…and our way of life.”

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Take a Bow Cap……Seriously

Now some of what I say here may not be of popular opinion of Yankee fans, however, given the spirit of the week with Jeter chasing the Iron Horses Yankee all-time hits record, I’m afraid I have a bit  of criticism to sprinkle Jeter’s way.

Whenever it is that the Yankee captain…err…the current Yankee captain, topples the oringinal Yankee captains record, would it kill him to at least, for once, show a little enthusiasm for what he has just accomplished, if not for himself, then please, for us fans.

Every time Jeter surpasses a Yankee mark, whether it was passing Rizzuto for most hits as a Yankee shortstop, or surpassing Gehrig’s record for most hits at the original Yankee Stadium last September, Jeter is always quick the rush the moment away during the customary standing ovation, sometimes coming across as damn near ungrateful. (more…)

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Yankees (88-50) vs. Rays (72-65)

Pitching Matchup:

RHP A.J. Burnett (10-8, 4.29) vs RHP Andy Sonnanstine (6-8, 6.62)

Lineup
Jeter SS
Swisher RF
Teixeira 1B
Rodriguez 3B
Cano 2B
Posada C
Hinske DH
Cabrera LF
Gardner CF (more…)

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Here are some photographs of the old Yankee Stadium taken by Tom Kaminski in Chopper 880. They are in the process of taking down the letters on the face of the stadium. The letters that spelled “YANKEE STADIUM” have been purchased by Reggie Jackson. I wonder what he will do with them. 

This is what Reggie said: “I might build a Stadium at home [Carmel], light it up and make it with 100-foot fences so that when I am 75 I can hit a home run at Yankee Stadium,” Jackson said.

I think this is as bad as it gets. The stadium won’t even have a name soon… (H/T to Sliding Into Home) (more…)

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