Giving Thanks: The American League East


I don’t have a ton of Thanksgiving traditions, but there are a few: I tend to start drinking right around the time the Macy’s Parade ends. I force myself to watch part of the Detroit Lions game because it almost, but not quite, reminds that there was a time in my life when I cared about what happened to the Detroit Lions. I turn the Lions game off ten minutes later and tell someone in my family what I really think about them. And since 2007 I think about what baseball teams have to be thankful for this holiday season and package it all up in a few posts so that the shut-ins and loners in Greater HardballTalkistan have something to read on a day when every other blog goes dark.

So, without further ado, the first of six installments you’ll read today about those things for which teams have to give thanks:

Tampa Bay Rays: The spring, which was very, very good to them, particularly on the road, allowing the Rays to jump out to a decent lead in the AL East. When the weather got hotter and the bats began to wilt, that cushion was nice to have.

New York Yankees: The little guys. At least relatively speaking. If I told you before the season that Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, Burnett and Posada were all going to have off years you wouldn’t have guessed that the Yankees would be playing in October. But they did thanks to Robinson Cano — probably too big to be a little guy, but compared to the other infielders, he is — Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher and Phil Hughes. Big contributions from so many guys who were thought of as bit players saved this team in 2010.

Boston Red Sox: Kevin Youkilis. Right now we don’t know if Adrian Beltre will come back. We don’t know if they can land Jayson Werth. But with Youkilis around we do know that they’ll still have an All-Star bat in the lineup and, more importantly, the flexibility to pursue both third base and first base options out on the market to fill the holes. Am I too optimistic about Youkilis’ prospects at third base? Maybe, but I really do think he can handle it alright if Beltre bolts and the Sox find themselves a first baseman.

Toronto Blue Jays: Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and whatever motivation was gained by everyone and their brother picking the Jays to finish in the cellar. The young rotation took a big step forward, Jose Bautista was insane, and even Vernon Wells stepped into the juvenation machine to help Toronto play some damn fine baseball all year. The sort of which, if it had occurred in other divisions, would have had them snagging more headlines than they ultimately did.

Baltimore Orioles: Buck Showalter. I’m still not convinced that Showalter isn’t really just a sophisticated version of Annie Savoy’s garters, convincing the Orioles that their downright respectable second half was all his doing as opposed to chance, metaphysics and regression to the mean. But it probably doesn’t matter either, because the Orioles seem to believe in it. Their fans seem to believe in it. And if the O’s can avoid another awful start in 2011, maybe it doesn’t matter if it was Buck or the fates that put them on the right track late last year.

Michael Cuddyer not shining in left field early in NLDS Game 1

Michael Cuddyer
AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek

Mets outfielder Michael Cuddyer has already made a pair of mistakes in left field and he’s only four innings into the first game of the best-of-five NLDS against the Dodgers.

Leading off the second inning, Justin Turner sent a well-struck liner to Cuddyer which was quite catchable, but the ball clanked off of the veteran’s glove. Turner was credited with a double. Mets starter Jacob deGrom was able to work around the misplay, striking out Andre Ethier, A.J. Ellis, and Clayton Kershaw to close out the frame.

With two outs in the third inning, Corey Seager sent a fly ball down the left field line. Cuddyer took an inefficient route and the ball bounced about a foot inside the foul line, then into the stands, giving Seager a ground-rule double. To add insult to injury, Cuddyer ended up tumbling over the fence. deGrom, again, worked around Cuddyer’s mistake, striking out Adrian Gonzalez to end the inning.

Because he bats right-handed, Cuddyer got the start in left field over the left-handed-hitting rookie Michael Conforto against Kershaw, a southpaw. Conforto mustered only a .481 OPS against lefties this season compared to Cuddyer’s .698. Despite the batting disparity, one wonders how short a leash manager Terry Collins has on Cuddyer given his defense.

Mets take lead during NLDS Game 1 with Daniel Murphy’s solo homer

Daniel Murphy
AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek
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Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy broke a scoreless tie in the fourth inning, belting a solo home run to right field at Dodger Stadium off of starter Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw threw a 2-0, 94 MPH fastball and Murphy didn’t miss it.

Both teams’ starters are pitching quite well overall. Kershaw has allowed the one run on three hits and a walk with six strikeouts. Jacob deGrom started off the game with six consecutive strikeouts and has struck out seven total while blanking the Dodgers on three hits and a walk in three innings.

Kershaw doesn’t have the most impressive post-season track record, owning a career 5.12 ERA across eight starts and three relief appearances spanning 51 innings. Aside from the homer, the lefty appears to be putting that notion aside.

Qualifying offer for free agents set at $15.8 million

Jason Heyward
AP Photo
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Eric Fisher of the Sports Business Journal reports that the value of a qualifying offer for free agents this off-season has been set at $15.8 million. That represents an increase of a half-million dollars over last year’s value.

This is of particular interest with regards to the big-name free agents, including Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Yovani Gallardo, Jordan Zimmermann, and Jeff Samardzija.

Teams that make a qualifying offer to a player that ends up being rejected receive a compensation draft pick in the upcoming draft. The team that signs the player who rejected a qualifying offer gives up their earliest non-protected draft pick.

Free agents who had been traded mid-season aren’t eligible to receive a qualifying offer. This includes Yoenis Cespedes, David Price, Johnny Cueto, and Ben Zobrist, among others.

A player has yet to accept a qualifying offer since the QO system was implemented.