Mar 11, 2014; Melbourne, FL, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher CC Sabathia (52) walks to the dugout in spring training action against the Washington Nationals at Space Coast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

American League East Comparison: Toronto Blue Jays

Mar 16, 2014; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19) singles during the fifth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This is going to be a quick series on comparing the New York Yankees to each of their rivals in the American League East. The division is as tough as ever, with each team having the ability to make a claim to be the best. The Yankees are obviously better than their 85-win campaign last year, but it remains to be seen how much better they are. The Toronto Blue Jays were supposed to be one of the best teams in baseball after a huge off-season last year, but fell flat and finished last in the division with just 74 victories. During the offseason they failed to land Ervin Santana, when it looked like he could have been had. They could be better if they are healthy, but it remains to be seen just how much better they are.

STARTING LINEUP-

Catcher:

TOR- Dioner Navarro: .263/.326/.434/.760, 15 HR, 47 RBI

NYY- Brian McCann: .259/.338/.449/.787, 24 HR, 77 RBI, 61 R

Advantage: Yankees, McCann is arguably the Bombers’ most important upgrade of the offseason, as Yankee catchers finished at the bottom of baseball in offensive production. His game-calling as well as his grit should give the Yanks’ some balls. Former Yankee farmhand Navarro had a career year with the Cubs last year, hitting 13 homers and putting up a 135 OPS+ in just 240 at-bats. He’s probably a better option than J.P. Arencibia, but will he repeat 2013 or have a year closer to his career (82 OPS+ in 10 seasons)?

First base:

TOR- Adam Lind: .265/.329/.462/.791, 22 HR, 71 RBI, 57 R

NYY- Mark Teixeira: .245/.337/.461/.798, 26 HR, 86 RBI, 70 R

Advantage: Blue Jays, Lind had a nice bounce back year after slumping for three straight seasons. He’ll be good for a standard 20+ homers batting behind Bautista and Encarnacion. Teixeira is coming off that wrist surgery after playing just 15 games last season, so it’s hard to say how much he can bounce back, especially since his numbers have declined every season since 2009.

Second base

TOR- Ryan Goins: .242/.281/.344/.625, 5 HR, 32 RBI

NYY- Brian Roberts: .247/.310/.364/.674, 5 HR, 28 RBI

Advantage: Yankees, but the position is a total black hole for both teams. Going from Robinson Cano to Brian Roberts, who has played just 192 games since 2009, is a significant downgrade. They won’t be able to rely on him being a full-time player. Goins has an excellent glove but has been a zero as an offensive player in his professional career.

Third Base:

TOR- Brett Lawrie: .272/.330/.440/.770, 16 HR, 63 RBI, 12 SB, 65 R

NYY- Kelly Johnson: .232/.311/.395/.706, 14 HR, 46 RBI, 8 SB

Advantage: Blue Jays. Lawrie has a lot of talent, but he has been accosted by injuries in his major league career. Still only 24, he looks to break out this season into a stud, he just needs to stay healthy. Kelly Johnson has only played 16 games in his career at third base, and he might as well move back to second once Brian Roberts gets hurt. He could be good for an average glove and bat, but his value will come from his power in Yankee Stadium.

Shortstop:

TOR- Jose Reyes: .295/.351/.439/.780, 11 HR, 50 RBI, 24 SB, 76 R

NYY- Derek Jeter: .275/.334/.369/.713, 6 HR, 36 RBI, 6 SB, 53 R

Mar 13, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (2) talks with special instructor Reggie Jackson prior to the game against the Baltimore Orioles at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Advantage: Blue Jays, both are a huge injury risk, but Reyes is more of a given than a 40-year-old Jeter. Even in just 93 games, Reyes managed to hit 10 homers and hit .296, but one has to wonder how many games he can play on that rough Toronto turf. One also has to wonder how many games Jeter can play at shortstop in his final season.

Left field:

TOR- Melky Cabrera: .287/.333/.423/.756, 10 HR, 57 RBI, 8 SB, 67 R

NYY- Brett Gardner: .263/.340/.388/.728, 8 HR, 55 RBI, 29 SB, 82 R

Advantage: Yankees, as Gardner has been the more valuable player since the Yankees decided to keep him and trade Melky after the 2009 season. Count on him to again be undervalued and underrated thanks to his speed, plate discipline, and brilliance with the glove. Melky’s four years since leaving New York have been a mixed bag. While he’s been an All-Star caliber player in 2011 and 2012 (thanks to you-know-what), he was one of the worst players in baseball in 2010 and last season. It remains to be seen what he will do this year, so Gardner is a better bet.

Center field:

TOR- Colby Rasmus: .251/.319/.460/.779, 21 HR, 65 RBI, 65 R

NYY- Jacoby Ellsbury: .285/.340/.433/.773, 14 HR, 60 RBI, 38 SB, 89 R

Advantage: Yankees. Rasmus is a classic “I got speed but Imma just try to hit homers and not get on base if that’s okay with you.” He’s basically a poor man’s Shane Victorino, which is not really a good thing. When healthy, Ellsbury is one of the top overall players in baseball. He may never have a year like 2011 (when he was the MVP runner-up to Justin Verlander), but he could use the short porch in Yankee Stadium to his advantage to have more consistent power numbers to go with his ridiculous speed and stellar defense. Only question is if he can avoid injury, as he’s had some really bad luck with his health for a few years.

Right field:

TOR- Jose Bautista: .265/.377/.528/.905, 32 HR, 79 RBI, 84 R

NYY- Carlos Beltran: .276/.339/.474/.813, 23 HR, 80 RBI, 72 R

Advantage: Blue Jays, but only because Bautista is a total beast. Both are a bit suspect with the glove and are injury concerns, but both can absolutely rake. Bautista is just younger and better at this point than Beltran. Only question is can they both can stay healthy this year?

Designated Hitter:

TOR- Edwin Encarnacion: .276/.366/.520/.886, 33 HR, 96 RBI, 85 R

NYY- Alfonso Soriano: .247/.297/.462/.759, 26 HR, 82 RBI, 10 SB, 64 R

Advantage: Blue Jays, Encarnacion has been Bautista Part II the last two seasons, as he put up a 149 OPS+ and hit 78 homers in 1072 at-bats over that time. Definitely one of the best hitters in the game over that time. Soriano is as streaky as ever, but should have absolutely no problem putting up the right-handed power numbers to all fields that he’s been known for now that he’s back home for a full season.

Bench:

TOR- Maicier Izturis/Josh Thole/Moises Sierra/Anthony Gose/Kevin Pillar

NYY- Francisco Cervelli/Eduardo Nunez/Brendan Ryan/Dean Anna/Ichiro Suzuki

Advantage: Blue Jays, but not by much. None of these guys can really hit at all, but the Yankees will have to rely on their reserves much more than the Blue Jays. That will be a problem due to the age of their team and the infield problems they currently have.

STARTING ROTATION

Ace:

TOR- R.A. Dickey: 196 IP, 4.13 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.70 K/BB

NYY- CC Sabathia: 196 IP, 3.90 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 3.11 K/BB

Advantage: Yankees, both are candidates for bounce back campaigns, but it’s tough to say who is more likely to have a better season given their struggles in 2013. Sabathia has lost a lot of velocity but is working on reinventing himself after losing weight and developing  other pitches to get people out. The more unconventional Dickey is 39, so you have to wonder if he even has much left as an above average pitcher. Knuckleballers last forever, but very few of them can be above average.

Number Two

TOR- Mark Buehrle: 198 IP, 4.32 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 2.68 K/BB

NYY- Hiroki Kuroda: 184 IP, 3.77 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 3.14 K/BB

Advantage: Yankees. Both aging veterans, but the AL East has been more kind to Kuroda than it has been to Buehrle. Only question with Kuroda is if he can manage to throw as many innings as the Yankees have pushed him to throw? Buehrle has thrown over 200 innings in each of his 13 full seasons.

Number Three

TOR- Brandon Morrow: 154 IP, 4.21 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 2.57 K/BB

NYY- Masahiro Tanaka: 196 IP, 3.63 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 4.23 K/BB

Advantage: Yankees. Morrow has shown potential (career 9.4 K/9 rate in 702.1 innings, including 17 strikeouts in a 2010 one-hitter vs. Tampa Bay), but he’s been plagued by injuries the last two seasons. It’s questionable how Tanaka will transition to the states, but he definitely has a very high ceiling, probably the highest of any pitcher to come out of Japan. He’s looked as advertised so far this spring, so he should at least be an above average starter in his first year in New York.

Number Four:

TOR- J.A. Happ: 144 IP, 4.63 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 1.91 K/BB

NYY- Ivan Nova: 184 IP, 3.96 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 2.42 K/BB

Advantage: Yankees, Nova definitely has more upside, but he has been up and down in his major league career. Still, his ceiling is a lot higher than ever after a nice bounce back season in 2013. Happ has been a mess since leaving the Phillies in a 2010 deadline deal for Roy Oswalt after he was the runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year in 2009, and he has not been the same since then.

Back-end

TOR- Esmil Rogers/Kyle Drabek/Marcus Stroman

NYY- Michael Pineda/David Phelps/Adam Warren

Advantage: Yankees, especially if Pineda is healthy, and he has looked very good so far this spring. If not, Phelps is probably a better option than the likes of either Drabek or Rogers.

BULLPEN:

Closer:

TOR- Casey Janssen: 62 IP, 3.05 ERA, 34 SV 1.10 WHIP, 3.75 K/BB

NYY- David Robertson: 62 IP, 2.76 ERA, 30 SV, 1.13 WHIP, 3.62 K/BB

Advantage: Yankees

Set-up:

TOR- Steve Delabar: 58 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 2.35 K/BB

NYY- Shawn Kelley: 62 IP, 3.77 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 2.84 K/BB

Advantage: Blue Jays

LOOGY:

TOR- Brett Cecil: 46 IP, 3.72 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 2.65 K/BB

NYY- Matt Thornton: 58 IP, 3.57 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 2.63 K/BB

Advantage: Blue Jays

Others:

TOR- Aaron Loup/Sergio Santos/Dustin McGowan

NYY- Cesar Cabral/Preston Claiborne/Dellin Betances

Advantage: Blue Jays

VERDICT: The Yankees are clearly the better and more improved team compared to the Blue Jays. While Toronto has a well-balanced lineup and good back-end of the bullpen, their rotation isn’t very good, even if Buehrle and Dickey bounce back. New York is better at nearly every position in the starting lineup and their rotation has a much higher upside than the Blue Jays.

 

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