The Real Storylines in the A.L. East for the 2014 Season

This season will involve storylines about Stephen Drew, Jesus Montero, and James Loney.   (Photos courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.)

This season will involve storylines about Stephen Drew, Jesus Montero, and James Loney. (Photos courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.)

With baseball season upon us, the internet is filled with many articles about the “storylines” for each team coming into the season.  These articles typically detail stories like position battles (such as the Ike DavisLucas DudaJosh Satin quagmire), or upcoming milestones, or potential breakouts, etc.

Well, here is my take on the storylines that I will be following closely as the 2014 seasons begins, starting with the American League East:

Boston Red Sox:  Baseball now has another phrase to add to The Dickson Baseball Dictionary:  “Stephen Drew,” n.  1. A player who is completely delusional about his market value; one who makes a bad move.  2.  A player who looks a gift horse in the mouth.  3.  A Scott Boras client.  Drew was the everyday shortstop on the World Champion Red Sox, although Drew was not really an offensive contributor in the postseason (batting .111 with 19 strikeouts in 57 plate appearances).  Drew was not and never will be a star player, but during his age-30 season, he was a perfectly serviceable shortstop.  Apparently hesitant to hand the everyday shortstop to prospect Xander Bogaerts and despite Drew’ injury history (he missed significant time in 2011 and 2012), the Red Sox made Drew the $14.1 million qualifying offer.  Instead of taking the offer (which would have made Drew the fourth highest salaried shortstop in 2014) and running, in his agent’s infinite wisdom, he rejected the offer.   Instead of being the fourth-highest paid shortstop in the game and starting for the defending World Series champion, Drew remains unsigned, working out by himself in Florida.  In other words, he really “Drewed” himself.

New York Yankees:  This season will bring the end of the debate regarding the oft-discussed Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero trade.  Since all Montero did this offseason was eat, the overweight, PED-using converted catcher was quickly banished to the minor leagues during spring training.  General manager Jack Zduriencik bluntly stated, “I have zero expectations for Jesus Montero. ”  Thus, the Yankees are on the precipice of “winning” this trade 1 to nothing.  Essentially, all that Pineda needs to do is make it through his start on April 5th.  He does not even have to pitch particularly well for the Yanks and Brian Cashman to be hailed as the victors.  Simply showing up may be enough to pass “Fat Jesus” and secure the win.

Baltimore Orioles:  Due to the injury to Manny Machado and the overall ineffectiveness of the other potential candidates, rookie Jonathan Schoop is poised to see the lion’s share of starts at second base to start the season.  Aside from being 6’2” tall, Schoop will also stand out among other major league regulars because of his amazing middle name:  Jonathan Rufino Jezus Schoop.  If not for the conventional first name, he may have been in the running for 2014 Name of the Year.  The Orioles visit the Brewers on May 26th, which will certainly allow Bob Uecker – who is one of the best in the business – to discuss Schoop’s unique middle name.

Tampa Bay Rays:  Coming off arguably his best season since 2007, the Rays re-signed first-baseman James Loney to a three-year, $21 million contract over the winter.  Loney is one of a dying breed – the power-lacking but otherwise adequate first baseman (“PLOAF”).  This season, it will be more than intriguing to see if Loney can finally reach a milestone that so many PLOAFs before him failed to reach:  the 16 homerun season.  Unlike players like Wally Joyner, Sean Casey, and J.T. Snow, who all displayed homerun power early in their careers (each topping 20 homeruns at least twice) , Loney has been a PLOAF his entire career.  Thus, his best comps are Mark Grace and Hal Morris.  Take a look at the average season stat-line for the first seven seasons for each of these three players:

Grace:  Average:  11 HR, 76 RBI, 7 SB .307/.380/.439/.819

Loney:  Average:  12 HR, 74 RBI, 4 SB .285/.340/.417/.757

Morris:  Average:  10 HR, 58 RBI, 6 SB .310/.367/.459/.826

Both Grace and Morris broke the 16-homerun barrier in their age-31 season, and Loney will be striving to have his breakthrough one year earlier.  No one wants to lumped in with the other PLOAFs who fell short, such as Ken Harvey (who topped out at 13), Casey Kotchman (at 14), Conor Jackson (15 twice), and Doug Mientkiewicz (15).  The unofficial battle-cry for all PLOAFs is “Even Steve Cox got to 16!”

Toronto Blue Jays:   While it wasn’t quite Doug Mirabelli receiving a police escort from the airport, it was noteworthy that Josh Thole “beat out” Eric Kratz to secure the role as the backup catcher on the Blue Jays.  The offensively challenged Thole made the team thanks to his experience catching knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Last year, based on spring training performance, Henry Blanco was named the backup catcher and Josh Thole was sent to the minors.  R.A. Dickey, who the Blue Jays need to be their ace, pitched to the tune of 4.66 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 5-7 over his first 13 starts (83.0 IP).   Blanco was eventually released and Thole brought back to the majors.  With Thole as his personal catcher, Dickey went 9-6 with a 3.94 ERA, 1.19 WHIP over final 21 starts (141.2 IP). Indeed, over his final 12 starts, Dickey had a 3.11 ERA, 1.13 WHIP.  Clearly, the Blue Jays learned from their mistake.  As Dickey explained, “There is no replacement for experience and that’s probably the angle the leadership was coming from in making the decision to stick with Thole and it’s important for us [read: me] to get off to a good start this year.”

The real question that remains is what happens if R.A. Dickey struggles in April even with Thole as his catcher?  Dickey has never been a particularly good pitcher early in the season (5.02 ERA in March/April for his career).  If he struggles with Thole this year, how much patience will the management have if Thole is batting .230?  Obviously Thole only made the team because of his experience catching Dickey and his place on the roster is clearly tied to Dickey’s success.  As the old saying goes, “Dickey can giveth and Dickey can taketh away.”