AL East Position Matchup: Right Field

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.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCF

Back to the rankings:

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.

Cody Ross Cody Ross #13 of the San Francisco Giants hits a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning against Colby Lewis #48 of the Texas Rangers in Game Three of the 2010 MLB World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 30, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.

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.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCF

O Captain! My Captain!: Varitek Set to Retire Thursday

On July 31st, 1997, the Boston Red Sox received Derek Lowe and first round pick Jason Varitek from the Seattle Mariners for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. After being traded as a minor league prospect, there was no way Varitek could have imagined playing his entire 15 year major league career with one team. Similar to Tim Wakefield, it was assumed by many that V-Tek would walk away after the season ended last year. News has now broken out that Jason is set to announce his retirement Thursday at Fort Myers.

Throughout his long baseball career, Jason was always a winner. He is one of only two players in the history of baseball to play in the World Championship of the Little League Championship, College World Series National Championship, and the World Series in the MLB (Ed Vosberg is the other for those keeping track). His high school also won the State championship for Florida in 1990 and was ranked as the number one team in the nation by USA Today.

I hope your starting to get the “pitcher” (pun intended, horrible, but a pun nonetheless) because it was felt by many Sox fans that V-Tek knew some of the pitchers better than they did themselves. He was never the best hitting catcher, but not the worst either. Despite this, Jason was the perfect battery mate for every Sox pitcher (with the exception of Timmy and his knuckleball) and perfect teammate. He was crucial to both championship teams in 2004 and 2007 and Captain of the Red Sox from 2006 on. He caught a Major League record four no-hitters, which is a true testament of how well he could call a game behind the plate. I hope Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway were able to learn a lot from Jason Varitek in their short time with him. His endless preparation and knowledge of the game was a huge benefit to the Sox pitchers throughout the last 14 years.

My favorite Varitek memory (along with many other Red Sox fans) came on July 24, 2004. In one of those summer games vs the Yanks at Fenway on Fox, A-Rod got pegged by Bronson Arroyo. Naturally, A-Rod started to bitch back at Arroyo, yelling “F*ck you, F*ck you.” There was no way Tek was having any of that and shoved his glove square into A-Rod’s face and starting a bench clearing brawl. The Sox went on to comeback from a 9-4 deficit and beat the Yanks 11-10 in the 9th by scoring three on the “invincible” Mariano Rivera. The game immediately went down as an all time great. That moment seemed to be the turning point of their championship season. The Sox posted the best record in the bigs from that point on and developed a much-needed swagger against the Yanks and Rivera that proved crucial when they were down 3-0 in the ALCS.

It’s going to be tough in the Sox clubhouse this year with all the crap that unfolded during their September collapse. Not having guys like Wakefield and Varitek won’t help, but as I have said before hopefully guys like Salty and Adrian will step up like they said. As I noted in my catcher positional rankings, I hope that the Red Sox can reward Varitek similar to how the Pats treated Kevin Faulk. The only difference would be since Varitek will be officially retired, his role will be a coaching job within the organization, not the player/mentor role Faulk had this past year. Either way, Timmy and V-Tek will be missed greatly, both in the clubhouse and on the TV screen. They are true heroes of Red Sox Nation and they deserved to be honored for their accomplishments.

Which brings me to this poll question, feel free to put in some comments.