Is the American League East Caught in a Time Warp?
- Updated: February 21, 2011
With the recent signings by the New York Yankees of Bartolo Colon and Andruw Jones, the Tampa Bay Rays of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez and the Baltimore Orioles of Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero you have to wonder if these teams realize that it is 2011 and not 2005.
If it were 2005, the impact of these signings would without question make these three contenders the top teams in the division and favorites for the World Series.
In 2005, Bartolo Colon won 21 games for the Anaheim Angels and was named the American League Cy Young Award winner.
In the2005 American League MVP race, Vladimir Guerrero finished third, Manny Ramirez was fourth and Johnny Damon placed 13th.
On the National League side, Andruw Jones placed second while Derrek Lee was third.
Unfortunately as the Yankees, Rays and Orioles look toward 2011, most of these former superstars are years removed from performing at that high level.
That is especially the case for the two new Yankees Jones and Colon.
Since his Cy Young season, Colon has won a grand total of 14 major league games and did not pitch in the majors in 2010. With the retirement of Andy Pettitte and inconsistency of A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes, the Yankees are crossing their fingers that Colon and fellow non-roster invitees Freddy Garcia (third in 2001 Cy Young voting) and Mark Prior (third in 2003 Cy Young voting) can return to past form.
They are also hopeful that at the age of 33, five-time All-Star Andruw Jones still has some pop in his bat. Though expected to serve as the fourth outfielder for the Yankees, the team would certainly like to see him provide another offensive weapon. However, if recent years are any indication, how much pop he has left is questionable. In his final three years with the Atlanta Braves (2005-2007), Jones smashed 118 home runs and drove in 351 runs. In the three seasons since he left Atlanta, Jones has hit a grand total of 39 home runs and driven in 105 runs. He also has gone from being a 10-time Gold Glove fielder to being a part-time outfielder and part-time designated hitter.
But New York is not alone in looking to the past to help save their present.
While the Tampa Bay Rays cut significant salary during the off-season, they still have a solid nucleus that is capable of contending in 2011. For that reason, the addition of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez is hoped to help fill some of the void left by the loss of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena.
Though he is now 37 years old, Damon is still capable of serving as a table setter for the Rays. Last season he played in 145 games for the Tigers and hit .271 while scoring 81 runs. He is no longer a base stealing threat, but he should be a solid addition to the lineup.
It is difficult to predict what the Rays will get out of Ramirez, who will turn 39 on May 30th. Since serving a 50-game suspension for violating the MLB drug policy in 2009, Ramirez hasn’t been the same dominating player that he was for most of his career.
Splitting time between the Dodgers and White Sox in 2010, Ramirez played in only 90 games and hit .298 with nine home runs and 42 RBI.
If he is healthy and motivated in 2011, he could be a huge addition to the lineup. However, if he struggles, Ramirez could become a distraction and have a short tenure with the Rays.
Of the three teams that went back in time looking for help in 2011, the Baltimore Orioles seem to have the best chance of seeing big dividends.
The 36-year-old Guerrero had a tremendous season in 2010 helping lead the Texas Rangers to the World Series. Though he struggled during the playoffs, his regular season was still tremendous as he hit .300 with 29 home runs and 115 RBI.
If he can come close to a repeat performance in 2011 Guerrero will give the Orioles a much needed run producer in the middle of the lineup and take pressure off the young Baltimore hitters.
A similar statement can be made about the other big signing for the Orioles in first baseman Derrek Lee. The 35-year-old Lee had a solid season in 2010 with 19 home runs, 80 RBI and a .260 average. In 2009 he hit 35 home runs with 111 RBI and a .306 average for the Cubs.
If Lee is able to produce at a level somewhere in between those two seasons, he will be a huge improvement over what the Orioles had at first base a year ago.
Though the Orioles could have used a veteran starting pitcher, signing Guerrero and Lee will certainly help make them even more competitive in 2011 than they were over the final two months of the 2010 season when they went 34-23 under new manager Buck Showalter.
Because it is 2011, instead of 2005, the reality is that all three teams will likely spend the season chasing the only team in the division that spent the offseason signing players actually reaching the peak of their careers, the Boston Red Sox.