It was recently discovered that Rob Gronkowski has underwent surgery a few days back for an infection in his arm that he hurt multiple times last season. The good news is that he isn’t expected to miss any extra time and should be reporting to camp with the rest of the Patriots. Hopefully this is true, since we probably would have had a shot at two Superbowls with him healthy. That’s speculating, but still. Gronk has been under the knife three times since getting hurt against the Colts midway through November.
This won’t stop Gronk from being Gronk though, as he was criticized for his craziness at a Las Vegas nightclub a few weeks back. Obviously, Gronk is still young and making the most of his youth, as he deserves to do. It’s gotta be tough for all of us Patriots fans to know that he has yet another injury, but at least it isn’t a major setback…hopefully!
Today, I will conclude my rankings of all the players in each teams’ starting batting lineups. This will be the easiest ranking for me to do in terms of evaluations, considering it will be solely based from an offensive production standpoint, rather than offense and defensive skills like the other positions. The Red Sox DH position was one of the question marks over the offseason. After David Ortiz’s contract was up at the end of the 2011 season, Big Papi made several remarks about how he’d like to join the Yankees to leave all the drama in Boston. During the offseason, he was constantly working with the Red Sox for a new contract and finally settled on a 1-year contract for $14.58 million to avoid arbitration. I’ll be the first to say the Sox paid too much for the greedy Ortiz here, who wanted $16.5 million, a significant bump up from the $12.5 he received in 2011. Despite paying too much, the Red Sox were basically forced into needing the 36 year old Ortiz in their lineup because they wouldn’t have been able to find anything close to a replacement in the free agent market this year.
Just as a quick update on Spring Training, Varitek is set to retire at 5:30 today and the Sox are getting prepared for their first “game” vs Northeastern at 2:35 in Fort Myers on Saturday. This game will be the first leg of a double header, with Boston College playing the night cap.
Anyways, here are the rankings:
(Once again, for previous positional rankings click here: C–1B–2B–3B–SS–LF–CF–RF)
1. David Ortiz, Red Sox
2. Raul Ibanez, Yankees
3. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
4. Luke Scott, Rays
5. Wilson Betemit, Orioles
Ortiz has surprised many fans in Red Sox Nation that were ready to kick him out of town in 2009. After struggling the two years after the Sox second championship in four years, Big Papi has revitalized his career. He has hit 61 Home Runs with 198 RBI’s in the last two years combined. The biggest turnaround was his .309 AVG last year. It looked like Papi had no idea how to hit against the shift, but last year was a great sign for him. Adrian Gonzalez was said to give Ortiz a lot of confidence in hitting the ball with power to the opposite field, instead of trying to pull it to the right field or finnessing it against the shift, as Ortiz had tried in years prior. I’m predicting another solid year from Papi, but a little bit of dropoff considering his age. I’m thinking a .285/27 HR/ 95 RBI line from Ortiz in possibly his last year in a Red Sox uniform.
Next up is the massive upgrade from the Yankees. Jorge Posada was a great catcher throughout his career for the Yankees, but they were hurting from the DH spot last year. When the Yankees dumped AJ Burnett’s salary a month ago, they were able to sign Raul Ibanez to be their Designated Hitter and backup outfielder. Although Ibanez at 39 years old is nearing the end of his career, he is a very big upgrade from Eduardo Nunez, the Yankees other apparent option for the DH spot. Assuming Ibanez can get his AVG back up to career norms (.270-.280) from last year’s .245 average, he should be able to provide consistent pop (20 HR, 84 RBI last year) in the back end of the Yankees lineup.
Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays is the third ranked DH. Last year, Encarnacion made big strides at the plate, showing much more consistency with a .272 BA (.244 in 2010, .225 in 2009). Edwin will most likely hit around his usual 20 HR, but his main issue since 2007 has been his ability to hit with runners on base. Every year since 2007, he AVG has dropped significantly with runners on base, hovering around the Mendoza line (.200) each year. This has been the main reason for his low RBI totals and he needs to improve this AVG to contribute more to the Blue Jay lineup.
Luke Scott is known by many Sox fans for being an outfielder/DH for the Orioles, but he upgraded this year and switched over to the Rays. Scott had his season cut short last year and underwent shoulder surgery to fix a torn labrum. If Scott can return successfully to his numbers of 2010 (.284/27/72), he could end up ahead of Encarnacion and Ibanez in these rankings, but I don’t see that happening. That year was a career year for Scott and I see him returning to a .250 BA with around 15 HR and 60-70 RBI’s.
Last in the rankings is Wilson Betemit of the Orioles. Wilson’s now joining his 7th Major League team and is mostly remembered by Red Sox Nation for his forgettable years with the Yanks. Not much needs to be said about Betemit, although he was fairly successful in limited AB’s in the past two years. At 30 years old, Betemit has never had a season with more than 412 AB’s. If he can provide numbers similar to his .297 AVG of 2010 and .285 AVG of 2011, he should be able to get a full time shot for the Orioles this year.
Stay tuned for pitching analysis throughout the next two weeks.
Excluding the Designated Hitter, we are now at the last matchup for position players. Just a quick update on spring training. Everything is going well so far, but Bobby Valentine and Varitek have been the hottest topics of conversation. I discussed my thoughts on Varitek in yesterday’s article: O Captain! My Captain! Varitek set to Retire Thursday. As far as Bobby V goes, it seems like there might be a year long bout between him and Terry. With Terry taking a role at ESPN, he is commenting and criticizing every single move by Bobby. Bobby isn’t cutting himself short in the media circle either though. He has been trying to ignite a fire into the Yankees-Sox rivalry ever since he took the job and I love it. I think the boneheads on our team need someone like Bobby to get them fired up and perform up to their abilities. It should be very interesting to see how the players react to his different coaching style this year.
1. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
2. Matt Joyce, Rays
3. Nick Swisher, Yankees
4. Nick Markakis, Orioles
5. Cody Ross/Ryan Sweeney, Red Sox
Jose Bautista is the real deal. He answered every question about whether he was a fluke in 2010 when he came back in 2011 with an even stronger campaign. Bautista has been in two consecutive All-Star games, received two consecutive Silver Slugger awards and he was 4th in the MVP vote 2010 and 3rd last year. With 97 HR’s in the last two years, Bautista’s power stroke will not be going anywhere, but I do see his .302 BA from last year dropping back down closer to his career norms. I’m expecting a .275/46/115 line for Bautista this year, which should keep him in the MVP race again this year.
Next up is 27 year old Matt Joyce for the Rays. Although Joyce cannot hit lefthanders at all (.217 BA last year, .196 Career), he responded very well to his first season in which he received regular playing time. The Rays also have the luxury of using Ben Zobrist to fill in for Joyce against lefty’s, so that he doesn’t hurt their lineup. Joyce brings good power to the plate for the Rays (19 HR’s in 462 AB’s), but also displayed solid baserunning skills last year (13 SB’s, 1 CS). He also maintained a good average and had a great OBP. His overall ability gave him the edge over the older Markakis and Swisher.
Nick Swisher got the slight edge over Orioles 28 year old Markakis. Swisher’s output this year is essentially already established. We can expect 25-30 HR’s out of Swisher, coupled with a low batting average (.254 career) and a much higher OBP (.374 last year, .360 career). I’m not expecting much of a difference in Swisher’s production considering he is only 31 and his role with the Yankees doesn’t look like it will be effected. Markakis has been a very durable player for the O’s since he joined their big league squad six seasons ago. Despite this, Markakis had surgery in January on a torn abdomen, which might hinder his ability at the beginning of the season. Markakis looked primed to be the savior of the Orioles franchise after a .300/23 HR/ 112 RBI line with 18 SB in his sophomore season, in which he was just 23 years old. That season turned out to have career bests in steals, home runs, and rbi’s. Markakis is still a solid player, just not the type of player Orioles fans around the country once wished.
Last up is the Red Sox rightfielders, Cody Ross against Lefties and the occasional righy, and Ryan Sweeney matching up against mostly Righthanded pitchers. I think Ross will be a great clubhouse guy and provide another guy with some postseason success. Ross is .261 career hitter and his career highs in HR’s and RBI’s were 24 and 90 respectively, with the Marlins in 2009. Ross has the capability to be a full time rightfielder for the Sox if he can rediscover the bat he had in 2009 with the Marlins and in the 2010 postseason with the Giants. Sweeney on the other hand has been atrocious vs lefty’s in his career(.233 career BA, .159 last year), making him at most a platoon player. Although he doesn’t provide much power, he will maintain a good average for the Sox and get on base at a solid rate (.342 career OBP). With Sweeney’s limited production, I see Ross getting the majority of the starts in Rightfield throughout 2012 for the Sox.
Apparently winning one Championship means it’s okay to slack off during the off-season and come into camp completely out of shape. That’s not true, but don’t tell Dirk Nowitzki that. I had a lot of respect for this guy until recently. He’s listed as being out the past three games with the sore knee and is expected to miss a fourth tonight. Many sources have said Dirk is simply just out of shape. For a guy that was praised so much last season for his hard work and determination he certainly isn’t living up to the hype this season.
The best thing he’s probably done all season was his play-by-play announcing from the sideline. Hmmm… the knee looked all right when he jumped out of his seat to celebrate his team’s alley-oop the other night. To top it all off; during an interview recently Dirk was quoted as saying “I haven’t seen one team in the West that I’m scared of. I really haven’t.” Really Dirk? The 15-3 Thunder doesn’t scare you? Your team is tied for sixth place in the NBA, and their star player is averaging a mere 17.5 points per game; good for 26th in the NBA. He’s also averaging 5.4 rebounds per game, which certainly isn’t going to cut it. I don’t think the Mav’s even have a chance this year to repeat. If they even want a chance though they are going to need a lot more than just Dirk’s play-by-play skills to do it.