Joe Sheehan, one of the excellent writers at Baseball Prospectus, which I think is the best baseball think-tank going, previews the AL East.
The Red Sox have had some of the best core talent in baseball for the last four years, with Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez. This year, however, they have the best supporting cast they've had in a while. Combined with some cracks in the Yankee Wall, the added depth should be enough to slide them into first place for the first time since 1997.
...The Yankees ended last season cowering from a hail of line drives slashed by Angels hitters, smashes that found green grass and highlighted just how bad a defensive team the Yankees had become. They did nothing to address that in the off-season, and go into 2003 with the same core problem they had in 2002: an up-the-middle defense that allows far too many singles and doubles.
The situation may deteriorate in 2003, as the Yankees' pitching staff seems likely to strike out fewer batters and leave more chances for Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano to practice relay throws and cutoff plays
...Until the problem of inferior gloves at three key positions is dealt with, the Yankees will have a hard time issuing late October champagne showers. It has nothing to do with revenue sharing and luxury taxes, and everything to do with an inability to identify and solve a problem.
Steve Goldman writes an stimulating column called The Pinstriped Bible for the YES Network. His latest piece covers the 19 Commandments of Baseball, and I think it's the best Bible entry to date for YES. Goldman addresses the Yankees deficiencies in the field:
Commandments on Defense (The Rey Ordonez Rules)
9. A player's offensive and defensive contributions must be in balance.
The prophet Casey Stengel said: "I don't like them fellas who drive in two runs and let in three." What Stengel also should have said was, "I don't like them fellas who save two runs and strand three." Either way, you're down one run.
Fortunately, the distribution of chances on defense are such that a player has many more opportunities to contribute at the plate than he does in the field. Thus, a good bat/mediocre glove is always preferable to a good glove/mediocre bat.
10. The difference between the best and worst defender is not as large as you think.
There are only so many balls hit in the area of a given position each season. Although there is no way to say definitively how many balls Omar Vizquel can field that Derek Jeter can't (the number being dependent on the pitching staff, the number of lefty and righty batters faced, the weather, a butterfly coughing in Beijing and dozens of other variables), a reasonable generalization might be that Vizquel makes five to 10 amazing stops that Jeter watches go by. Those 10singles are more than offset by Jeter's offense.
"We have to improve our overall defense," Jeter said. "Everyone says that you win with pitching, but you can pitch all you want. What if you don't catch the ball?
"We were shaky at times last year," Jeter added. "There's no way to sugarcoat it. People pay a lot of attention to the number of errors and how a play is scored and I think it's tough to go on that, but do we need to play better defense? Yeah. That's a true statement. I think everyone would say it."
..."I think Jason is a lot better with his throwing, more consistent," Torre said. "Soriano we're talking to about getting as aggressive in the field as he is at the plate. Jeter is as healthy as I've seen him in the last few years, so I don't worry about him.
"Robin is limited, range-wise, but he can make the routine play, which is what we need him to do. He doesn't have to be spectacular."
A scout who has watched the Yankees most of the spring echoed Torre's words about the infield.
"The guy at short is good, the guy at second has his moments, the guy at first will catch what he can get to and the guy at third has lost a step, but still can catch the ball," the scout said.
"If they are worried about their defense in the infield, they shouldn't be. I'd take that with the offense that they provide. I don't think their infield is that weak. They still made the playoffs."