As the Divisional Correspondent for the AL-East, it will be my pleasure and privilege to bring comprehensive coverage and analysis of “The Toughest Division in Sports” to the faithful readers of Call to the Pen. The defending World Series champ and offseason’s biggest spenders both lie in wait to reignite their historic rivalry, and with none of their opponents figuring to be much of a pushover, the road through the East looks as contested as ever.
The All-AL East team was voted on by members of the CTTP staff, ranking the players at each position within the division.
Brian McCann signed a lucrative and much publicized deal with the New York Yankees this offseason after spending the first nine seasons of his career as an Atlanta Brave. He’ll receive 85 million dollars in exchange for donning pinstripes for the next five years, and it’s no wonder why. His .256/.336/.461 line was good 20% better than the league average when adjusted for his home park, and coupled with his above-average defense at the position where offense comes at the highest premium, it’s no wonder that McCann was not only the most desirable catcher on the free-agent market, but also the most desirable in the entire division according to our staff. He’s hit 20 or more home runs in 7 of the last 8 years and he gets a good amount of walks without striking out too much.
Chris Davis ran away with this category, obtaining all but one first place vote. (it was mine) Going into the All-Star break, Davis was on pace to put up a season for his Baltimore Orioles that would have been close to or exceeding Roger Maris‘ former record 61 homer season. His 37 home runs in the first half of the season tied Reggie Jackson‘s all-time record and, though he cooled off down the stretch, he finished the year with a monstrous 53 home runs. He was a no-brainer for the All-Star team and he finished third in the MVP voting. His 138 RBI and 53 homers both led all of baseball, and his breakout season doesn’t appear to reek of any kind of bad luck. The power has always been there with Davis, but something clicked in 2013 that allowed him to make a lot more quality contact with the ball. If he can keep it up into 2014, he could conceivably challenge Miguel Cabrera for the title of the game’s best first baseman.
Dustin Pedroia was the only position player to receive all of the first place votes at their position in the AL East. The gritty keystone man of the Boston Red Sox put up another stellar year in 2013. While playing premium defense at an offensively challenged position, his .301 batting average and .376 OBP were both 21st in all of baseball amongst qualified hitters. He played through injuries and helped lead his beloved Sox to another World Championship. He seems to be a force that any team would love to have both on the field and in the clubhouse, and though his power dropped off significantly in 2013, he made up for it entirely by raising his average and maintained a nearly identical relative level of production to his 2012. Ben Zobrist was the near-unanimous choice for second place, creating quite a wide gulf between the top two and the rest in the eyes of our staff.
According to the points system that we used to aggregate the results, Jose Reyes of the Toronto Blue Jays and J.J. Hardy of the Orioles tied for first in the voting, however, Reyes received 2 more first-place votes, so we are going to consider him the winner by a hair. Though a sprained ankle caused him to miss over 50 games, he still managed 2.2 WAR on the back of a .296 batting average and .353 OBP. He hit 10 home runs in his limited action, though he was forced to scale back his baserunning resulting in a disappointing 15 steals. The Jays are clearly hoping for a rebound in 2014 (from more than just Reyes) to full health for their star shortstop. Hardy, on the other hand, generated 3.4 WAR, missing only three games all year. His always great defense, excellent track record of durability and surprising pop (25 homers last year) make up for his usually-below-average OBP, this year clocking in at a dismal .306
The Tampa Bay Rays are the last team to have a player make the list, but he has a legitimate argument for being the best in the bunch. Evan Longoria had a phenomenal 2013, playing in 160 games and generating 6.8 WAR for the playoff-bound Rays. He hit 30 home runs and played his usual brand of spectacular defense, he maintained a strong OBP of .343 and essentially did everything you’d want from a third baseman. Add in the fact that he’s signed to one of the most team friendly contracts in baseball, and it’s no wonder that he ran away with this category as we saw it. Defensive wizard and rookie phenom Manny Machado took a couple first place votes in this category, but it appears his lack of a track record compared to Longoria prevented him from threatening to deseat the champ.
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