Monday, April 27, 2009

AL EAST PREVIEW PART 1: Pawtucket Patriots

Owner: Shucky: (2nd Season Alexander, 19th overall) .563 Winning Pct/9 Division titles (1 in Alexander)/2 Pennants (1 in Alexander)/1 WS title

Franchise History: .584 Pct/9 Division titles (8 straight)/3 Pennants/0 World Series titles

Last Season: 95-67, 1st place (18 games ahead), lost World Series in 5.
878 RS (6th AL), 692 RA (2nd AL), 99 "advanced wins"

Award Winners:
Al Carreras: Cy Young (1st)
All-Star (9th)
Mike Houston: All-Star (1st)
Orlando Perez: All-Star (1st)
Alfonso Borges: All-Star (1st)
Gold Glove (3rd)

Notable Departures:

Hamish Scoroposki
: The 37 year old closer did a passable job, but is coming off of a down year with a 1.40 WHIP and 8 blown saves. He was allowed to sign with Colorado as a Type B free agent.

Al Henry
: Surprisingly effective as a swing man with 66 innings of 1.25 WHIP ball , although he didnt pitch in the post season despite subpar stuff. He's still available as a free agent.

Tony James: Basically JAG out of the pen, not on the playoff roster, now a free agent.

Jose Pena: Effective setup man who was especially useful in the playoffs despite poor control throwing 9+ innings and allowing only 3 runs. Now in Durham

David Cruz
: Was subpar as a 1b/DH going .274/.328/.465 in 409 at bats. He was not offered arb and is a free agent.

Notable Additions:

Al Carreras: The reigning Cy Young winner (21-3, 3.51, 1.19 WHIP) gives Pawtucket a true ace and one of the top rotations in the game. For 5 years and $70MM he better be among the best pitchers in the league: 183 career wins and 3.16 career ERA says he will be

Tino Jackson: Journeyman reliever signed to shore up the pen, has always pitched slightly worse than his ratings.

Season Synopsis: With Carreras, Pawtucket has added a true top of the rotation starter to a very good pitching staff including all-star Mike Houston (14-5, 3.50, 1.16) coming off a career year and former Cy Young winner Rick James (15-10, 3.90, 1.21). Leading the league in run prevention is not out of the question. That said, while letting Scoropski depart was likely the right move, he was not replaced and the bullpen is shaky to start the year. Rafael Martin is coming off a great season and looks like the likely closer to start the year, and Kurt Mullaney is solid, but after that there are question marks. Given the strength of the rest of the team, this is likely an issue that wont be a problem until the postseason, look for Pawtucket to spend some of its $7MM remaining cap room under its league leading $109MM payroll budget to shore this up midseason.

The lineup is solid if not spectacular. This is a run prevention based team, and the defense is spectacular up the middle led by GG CF Alfonso Borges and SS Ozzie Yang, but these glove men are also respectable with the bat. Jorge Escobar was the Patriots most productive hitter going .298/.370/.548 in a part time catching role, but his glove and the departure of Cruz probably argues for more time at the DH spot. David Cortazar, Lou Gibson, and Bo Carpenter all hit 40 HR's and provide good power, but lack the on base skills of elite hitters.

Depth is a bit of an issue, C Jim Hoffman could step in from AAA should a C or DH go down, but his glove is a big question. A handful of pitchers, led by Chris Healy, can be part of a solution in the bullpen or fill in as a back end starter, but there are no players ready to step in from the farm and take a major role. Farm system resources may be a bit of a problem as Pawtucket looks to improve the team midseason given the lack of impact prospects.

Pawtucket will almost certainly be playing in October, and the addition of Carreras makes them very dangerous in a short series, even more so than last years AL champions. By the end of the season, with an extra arm out of the bullpen and possibly another OBP guy atop the lineup, this could be the favorite to represent the AL in the World Series. This is a team built to win now, and it will do so.

Prediction: 98-64, division champions

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