With the Red Sox trading Josh Reddick and two other prospects to Oakland for closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney, the reassembly of AL East 2011 is almost complete. Jon Papelbon fled to the Phillies, so the Red Sox needed another strong arm for their late-game activities, particularly with Daniel Bard theoretically headed to the rotation. Sweeney is not a traditional corner outfield bat, but he’s a good fielder, but Sox right fielders hit just .233/.299/.353 last season, so they don’t have to get much from Sweeney to consider it an upgrade—though "upgrade" is a far cry from "championship-level contribution."
Still, all the Sox have to do is re-sign David Ortiz and they will have recreated the shape of their 2011 team, much as the Yankees are bringing back their 2011 team. Unless you’re pining hard for a Jorge Posada encore, there won’t be any reason to miss any of your division-title favorites. We’re not going to see improved contenders in 2012, just sequels. You can argue that a full season of Jesus Montero at designated hitter will be an improvement over what Posada and pals did last year, and you would be right, but we don’t know for certain if that is happening and probably won’t until 50 or so meaningless spring-training plate appearances have gone by.
Meanwhile, the Yankees have picked up ex-Sox reliever Hideki Okajima, 36, who spent the entirety of 2011 at Triple-A Pawtucket. He could be the fabled second lefty the Yankees have been looking for and perhaps the replacement for free agent Luis Ayala in the bullpen. Losing Ayala is not a bad thing—in writing comments for the forthcoming Baseball Prospectus 2012 recently, I realized that Ayala’s 2.09 ERA was not at all indicative of how well he actually pitched.
Okajima had three very effective seasons setting up for the Red Sox beginning in 2007. Since then, batters have been less reluctant to fall for his combination of deception and declining stuff—he never threw hard, at least, not in the US of A, but he’s now down to about 87 mph on average. Over the course of his Major League career, he’s held left handers to .218/.277/.323 rates, which is very nice, and right handers to .253/.323/.397, which is not so bad that you have to automatically pull him from the game if the opposing manager has sandwiched a righty between two lefty hitters. It just isn’t clear that he’s that guy anymore. Clearly the Red Sox did not think so.
Perhaps there are more changes coming, perhaps not. I’m not sure that 2011 was a season that you would want to revisit like some classic film you buy on DVD and watch again and again. Some combination of the economy and a lack of sure things at the right price in the offseason market have pushed these normally aggressive clubs into a conservative approach this winter. Improvement doesn’t necessarily require an outside acquisition in every case, but the internal options aren’t reassuring.
Does your willing suspension of disbelief allow for a second season in which a rotation of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, and Freddy Garcia are enough to survive to the postseason, let alone win a World Series? I’m not sure that mine does, nor am I certain that Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos will ride to the rescue in a timely fashion, as their control issues may not resolve so neatly as to allow for instant success in the majors.
Similarly, Adam Warren, David Phelps, D.J, Mitchell and the other "older" members of the Scranton gang aren’t automatic difference-makers but are four-five types at best. A four-five pitcher might be better than Burnett has been on most days, but perhaps not that much better. In any case, it would have been good for them to get a few looks in 2011, but depending on your point of view, the situation either didn’t present itself or the Yankees failed to exploit those occasions when it did. They remain untried, so how their less-than-ace stuff will play remains a complete mystery.
So, we are back for another episode of "Girardi’s Island."—"With Granderson… Nick Swisher,too…"—except we hope that unlike in that series, this installment of the story has a different ending than the last.