Five bold predictions for 2009 (cont.)
4. Jake Peavy will not be traded
Even the stock market didn't fluctuate as wildly this winter as the trade market for the Padres' Cy Young-winning right-hander. First, he was definitely going to be traded (the Cubs and Braves were the most likely destinations). Then he wasn't. Then he was, but it would be a three-team deal. Then a four-team deal. Then all the trades were dead. Until they weren't, when they were revived again. Then they finally died for good when Padres GM Kevin Towers announced Peavy would begin the 2009 season with the only organization he's ever pitched for. Of course there were no guarantees trade talks won't spark again, leading to further speculation that a deal will get done at some point, perhaps around the midseason trade deadline, when Peavy himself fully expects to be traded, despite his full no-trade clause. Peavy is guaranteed $59 million through 2012 on the five-year extension he signed after winning the Cy in 2007, and the Padres are still hoping to slash their payroll. But the most likely reason he won't be dealt is this: The Padres can win now. Despite modest offseason improvements by the Diamondbacks, Giants and Dodgers, the NL West remains winnable with a victory total in the mid-80s. Last year San Diego won 63 games, but mediocre competition means a quick turnaround isn't completely out of the question. Factor in the wild card, the small number of teams who will be willing to take on a payroll like Peavy's (especially at the cost of the premium prospects it would take to land him) and the tender elbow that landed him on the disabled list last season, and it seems increasingly possible Peavy will finish this season exactly where he began it: in San Diego.
5. The AL East will be the best division race ever
No division has ever had three teams win 95 games, but that very real possibility exists in the AL East this season. The Rays (97 wins in 2008), Red Sox (95) and Yankees (89) each made significant upgrades to their rosters. The Rays added Pat Burrell to bring some right-handed punch to their lineup at designated hitter, and wunderkind David Price provides yet another young arm to an already impressive pitching staff. There is still plenty of room for improvement for young stars Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro. The Red Sox have gambled on aging or injured talent this winter, signing Brad Penny, John Smoltz and Rocco Baldelli, among others. But they still have a top-heavy rotation that features Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester, as well as the best offense in the league, led by AL MVP Dustin Pedroia.
All of this means that the Yankees figure to have the most difficulty surviving this gauntlet and reaching the postseason. Despite spending a half a billion dollars on three star players (pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira), the Yankees have significant questions to address, such as:
Are they too old? Johnny Damon had a solid 2008 (.303/.375/.461), but he is now 35. Derek Jeter still managed to hit .300 last season, but his numbers have been declining for two-straight years after a near-MVP campaign in 2006. He will turn 35 in June and his defense remains suspect at best. Jorge Posada is 37 and played just 51 games last year due to injuries.
How will the steroid controversy affect Alex Rodriguez? A-Rod is simply too good a player to not put up impressive numbers, but the circus that is likely to follow him this year, especially if any further controversy arises, may make it difficult for him to thrive. The Yankees need A-Rod to be A-Rod to help carry their aging offense.
Can they count on their youngsters? Robinson Cano regressed notably last season, from .306/.353/.488 in 2007 to .271/.305/.410 in 2008. A pair of underwhelming offensive players, Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera, will handle center field, while Xavier Nady is unlikely to duplicate the lost production of Bobby Abreu in right field.
Who can they rely upon in their bullpen? With Joba Chamberlain likely ticketed for the starting rotation, the Yankees are once again forced to hope they will be able to find a suitable bridge to closer Mariano Rivera. Midseason acquisition Damaso Marte was retained to be a lefty specialist, but he was far more effective against righties (.233 average on balls in play for righties vs. .392 for lefties). The Red Sox and Rays both boast better 'pens than the Yankees, and in a division with such a small margin for error, that alone could make the difference between playing in the postseason and spending October on the golf course.