Poll: Orioles or Rangers?

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

In about 12 hours, the Yankees will finally know who they will be playing in the ALDS. The Orioles and Rangers will square off in the first ever AL Wildcard Play-In game later tonight, the winner of whom will welcome the Bombers to their stadium for Game One on Sunday while the loser goes home for the season. It’s a harsh new playoff system, and frankly it’s not all that fair that the Yankees will have to open the series on the road despite finishing with the best record in the league. Thankfully that will change next year.

Anyway, the Orioles remained in the AL East hunt right until Game 162, though the Rangers were considered the best team in baseball for a large part of the season. They are the two-time defending AL champs, of course. There are reasons to want to play and avoid both teams, but the road to the World Series is never easy. The Yankees will have to play a quality opponent in the ALDS regardless, and each offers unique strengths and weaknesses.

Baltimore Orioles (head-to-head record: 9-9, -2 run differential)
Buck Showalter’s Orioles gave the Yankees a fight all season, including winning six of nine at Yankee Stadium. They hit the second most homers (214) and stole the fewest bases (58) in baseball this season, and their bullpen was one of the game’s most effective units (3.00 ERA and 3.68 FIP). Baltimore’s starters are relatively nondescript, but they do feature two southpaws in Wei-Yin Chen and Joe Saunders. The Yankees struggled against lefties this season (110 wRC+), at least relative to what they’ve done the last few years. Saunders is starting the play-in game tonight and Jason Hammel (3.43 ERA and 3.29 FIP) will return to the rotation to start Game One of the ALDS if they beat Texas. Showalter is also as good as it gets in terms of his in-game moves as well, consistently putting his players in the best possible position to succeed.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Texas Rangers (head-to-head record: 4-3, +3 run differential)
The Rangers are a lot like the Orioles and Yankees in that they hit a ton of homers (200), but they also led the AL with a .273 AVG and stole a healthy 91 bases. Their offense is very right-handed, with Josh Hamilton and David Murphy representing their two best lefty threats. The bullpen (3.42 ERA and 3.67 FIP) is strong but lacking setup man extraordinaire Mike Adams, who is out with a shoulder problem. That’s an enormous blow, it would be like taking David Robertson away from the Yankees. Matt Harrison and Derek Holland given them a pair of left-handed starters (Harrison is lined up to start a potential Game One of the ALDS), though they will burn Yu Darvish in the play-in game tonight. He was arguably the best pitcher in the game the last month of the season (2.21 ERA and 1.89 FIP). Ron Washington is generally considered a weak strategic manager, which is worth mentioning.

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Texas carries a bit more of an aura given their success the last two years, but the Orioles have proven doubters wrong all season and have shown they will not go away quietly. Anyone can beat anyone in a best-of-five series in this league, but that doesn’t mean favorable matchups don’t exist. I just have no idea who I would rather see the Yankees play in the ALDS.

Who do you want the Yankees to play in the ALDS?
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Mailbag: Haren, Dickerson, Rangers, Trout

Six questions and five answers today, so we’ve got a good mailbag this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box to send us questions throughout the week.

(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)

Vinny and many others ask: If the Angels are serious about not picking up Dan Haren’s option, should the Yankees be all over that?

Earlier this week there was a report indicating that the Angels plan to decline Haren’s (and Ervin Santana’s) club option for next season and instead pursue a monster extension with Zach Greinke. Haren, 32, is nearing the end of his worst full season as a big leaguer, pitching to a 4.32 ERA (4.30 FIP) in 29 starts and 170.2 innings. He’ll fail to make 33 starts or crack 210 innings for the first time since 2004, when he was with the Cardinals. Blame the lower back stiffness that led to his first career DL stint.

Based on Twitter these last few days, fans of every single team want their club to pursue Haren if the Angels do indeed decline his $15.5M option. Haren is from Southern California and has made it no secret that he prefers playing on the West Coast, so right away the Yankees are at a disadvantage. It’s also worth noting that his strikeout rate is in the middle of a three-year decline, and his fastball velocity has been heading in the wrong direction for years now. That second link is particularly scary. The back issue scares me as well, especially if the Halos do cut him loose. It’s the whole “what do they know that we don’t?” thing. Haren has been a great pitcher for a long time, and that alone makes him worth looking into. There are a number of red flags however, so any team interested in signing him will have to really do their homework.

Travis asks: Is it safe to assume that if we only carry three starters on the post season roster, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova will have a role on the team out of the bullpen? I’m also assuming the three starters go to CC, Hirok!, and Dandy Andy.

The new playoff system and schedule really discourages the use of three-man rotations, since everyone would have to pitch on three days’ rest after Games One, Two, and Three to get away with it. CC Sabathia can do that (assuming the Yankees actually get into the postseason), but I’m not sure Hiroki Kuroda or Andy Pettitte could. I expect the Yankees to use four starters throughout the postseason, and right now the number four guy is clearly Hughes. Nova pitched himself out of the job these last two months or so.

Now does that mean Nova would automatically go to the bullpen? I don’t think that’s a given. Assuming the Yankees only carry eleven pitchers into the postseason (they could get away with ten, but I doubt it happens), four will be the starters and four other spots are accounted for: Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan. That leaves three spots, one of which I assume will go to Clay Rapada. The candidates for the final two spots would be Nova, David Phelps, Cody Eppley, and I guess Derek Lowe (veteran presents!). Phelps seems like a given in this situation, then you’ve got your pick of the other three. I guess that decisions comes down to who throws the best the rest of the way, but frankly I would rather see the Yankees carry an extra position player in that situation, especially if Mark Teixeira‘s calf remains an issue.

Steve asks: Are the Yankees more likely to go with a iffy Brett Gardner or Chris Dickerson on the playoff roster? Can they fit both?

Ben asks: Don’t you think Chris Dickerson needs to figure into the Yankees big league plans in 2013? At least as a 4th outfielder? This guy is a great fielder and base runner and had a useful bat. Much rather have him over another Andruw Jones-type. What say you?

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Might as well lump these two together. If the Yankees do make the playoffs and use an 11-man pitching staff, they’ll have room for an extra bench player. That spot tends to go to a speedy pinch-runner type (think Freddy Guzman in 2009), a job for which both Gardner and Dickerson are qualified. Gardner is the better player, but he also is physically unable to hit right now. I have a hard time thinking the Yankees will carry someone on the postseason roster that can’t even swing the bat in case of an emergency. Maybe that changes and Brett is cleared to take his hacks at some point in the next six days, but that doesn’t seem likely based on everything we heard for the last four months.

As for next year, Dickerson’s situation depends largely on what happens with Nick Swisher. If they let him walk, then the outfield need will be greater and they should hold onto him. If they bring Swisher back, having a left-handed outfielder on the bench doesn’t make a ton of sense. I’m probably the biggest Chris Dickerson fan you’ll find, but he is just a platoon player at the plate. More of a high-end fourth outfielder than an everyday corner guy on a contender. As much as I would like him to see him stick with the club going forward, Dickerson isn’t a great fit for the roster right now.

Shaun asks: Hey Mike, do you know who would have home field if the Yankees and Rangers tied for the best record? Thanks.

The Yankees are currently two games back of Texas for the best record in the AL, and New York would get the nod as the top team in the circuit if they tie because they won the season series 4-3. They won’t play a tiebreaker game or anything like that, that only happens when the division title or a playoff spot in general is on the line. So yeah, the only thing the Yankees would have to do to secure home field advantage in both the ALDS and ALCS would be to finish with the same record as the Rangers, nothing more.

(Jeff Gross/Getty)

Steven asks: Mike, not sure if you’re aware, but Mike Trout is good at baseball. I was wondering, hypothetically speaking of course, if the Angels were to make him available, what sort of haul would he bring? Do you see his value getting any higher than it is right now? And, finally, what sort of package would the Yankees have to piece together to get these hypothetical talks started?

I don’t think any player in baseball has as much trade value as Trout. You’re talking about a just-turned-21 kid who has already shown he can play at a superstar level. He hits homers, steals bases, hits for average, gets on-base, and plays great defense at a premium position. Plus he remains under the team control for five more seasons, the next two at the league minimum. It’s impossible to top that, and I don’t think he could possibly increase his trade stock unless he agrees to like, a ten-year contract worth $25M or something ridiculous.

There’s no way for the Yankees to acquire Trout even if he was available. What do you start the package with, four years of CC Sabathia and one year of Robinson Cano while offering to pick up the bulk of the money? I wouldn’t take that for Trout. Offer me Mason Williams, Gary Sanchez, Tyler Austin, and a guaranteed to be healthy Michael Pineda and I still would say no if I were the Angels. If the Giants come calling and put both Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner on the table, then yeah that catches my attention. The Yankees don’t have anything to get a trade done, I just don’t see how it would be possible. I don’t think Trout can replicate this season (or even improve on it) year after year, but he’s going to be great for a long-time. At his age and with that much cost-control remaining, he’s the single most valuable asset in the game.

8/13-8/16 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

And the Rangers win the Wor … oh. Right. (Rick Yeatts/Getty)

The Yankees and Rangers have quite a bit of recent history, most notably the 2010 ALCS. If you stretch the definition of recent — hey, the Rangers franchise has been around for 40 years now — you can go back to the the three ALDS matchups in the late-1990s. Texas took two of three from New York back in April, but now they’re in the Bronx.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rangers have won two in a row, four of five, and eight of eleven. At 67-46 with a +82 run differential, they’re in a dead heat with the Yankees for the title of Best Team In The American League. Texas has a comfy seven game lead in the AL West.


(Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

With an average of 5.1 runs per game, the Rangers are the highest scoring team in baseball. They’re a touch behind the Yankees with a team 107 wRC+, but they will not have Mike Napoli (105 wRC+) for the next two weeks because he was just placed on the DL. He hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire this year anyway.

The offense is led by Josh Hamilton (142 wRC+), who remains one of the most dangerous hitters in the game despite a prolonged slump. He’s going deep at some point this series, just accept it now and await the inevitable. Adrian Beltre (117 wRC+) and Nelson Cruz (111 wRC+) give them two more power bats while Ian Kinsler (110 wRC+) does a little bit of everything. Elvis Andrus (108 wRC+) is the speed guy, then you have some excellent platoon bats in David Murphy (122 wRC+ vs. RHP), Mitch Moreland (131 wRC+ vs. RHP), and the speedy Craig Gentry (149 wRC+ vs. LHP).

Franchise icon Michael Young (68 wRC+) is having the worst season of his career and appears to be at the point where Derek Jeter was last June — just not hitting anything with authority and looking pretty close to done. The Cap’n rebounded, but so far Young has not. The catching duo — Geovany Soto (67 wRC+) and Luis Martinez (one whole plate appearance) — is hardly a threat with Napoli on the shelf. The Rangers are carrying 13 pitches, so the only other guy on their bench is the recently-recalled super-prospect Mike Olt (79 wRC+ in limited time). Texas went through a pretty brutal RISPFAIL funk last month, but this team can score runs with the best of ‘em.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP David Phelps vs. RHP Ryan Dempster
The Yankees looked into acquiring Dempster prior to the trade deadline, but the Rangers ended up swinging a deal for him with moments to spare. The 35-year-old right-hander has had one awful (eight runs in 4.2 IP) and one good (three runs in 6.2 IP) start with Texas, and overall he’s pitched to a 2.65 ERA (3.62 FIP). Obviously most of that came in the NL with the Cubs. Dempster currently owns his lowest strikeout rate since 2001 (7.41 K/9 and 20.3 K%) as well as his lowest walk rate ever (2.42 K/9 and 6.6 BB%). His 42.0% ground ball rate is a touch below his career average. An extreme slider pitcher, Dempster has thrown the mid-80s pitch more than 40% of the time this year. He’ll also feature two and four-seamers in the upper-80s as well as a low-80s split-finger. The Yankees faced Dempster in interleague play last season and he held them to three runs in 5.1 innings.

(Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Matt Harrison
A first-time All-Star this year, the 26-year-old Harrison was part of the Mark Teixeira trade and has pitched to a 3.31 ERA (3.84 FIP) this season. He’s a low-walk (2.58 BB/9 and 6.9 BB%), high-ground ball (51.2%) guy who won’t miss many bats (5.34 K/9 and 14.3 K%). Harrison relies heavily on a sinking low-90s two-seamer, but will also mix in a low-90s four-seamer and the occasional mid-80s cutter. His two offspeed offerings are a low-80s changeup and an upper-70s curve. Harrison has a huge split — righties have a .340 wOBA against him this season, lefties just .232 — so this is a good game to stack the lineup on that one side.

Wednesday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. RHP Scott Feldman
Feldman, 27, has had to step into the rotation due to injuries and has posted a 4.64 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 83.1 innings. He doesn’t strike hitters out (5.94 K/9 and 15.5 K%) or get ground balls (40.2%), but he won’t kill himself with walks (1.94 BB/9 and 5.1 BB%). Feldman is a sinker-cutter guy, and both pitches sit right around 90. He’ll also throw a mid-70s curveball and a mid-80s changeup. He’s been pretty good of late, allowing no more than two runs while throwing at least seven innings in three of his last four hitters.

Thursday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. LHP Derek Holland
It’s been an up and down season for the 25-year-old Holland, who spent some time on the DL with a shoulder issue and has otherwise pitched to a 4.92 ERA (4.91 FIP). His strikeout (7.41 K/9 and 19.9 K%), walk (2.89 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%), and ground ball (41.8%) numbers are solid, though he will give up plenty of long balls (1.72 HR/9). Holland does throw hard, sitting in the low-to-mid-90s with his sinker. He’ll back it up with a low-80s slider and a mid-70s curveball, though his mid-80s changeup is a seldom used fourth offering. The Yankees pounded Holland back in April (7 R in 6 IP), but the southpaw is just as capable of throwing a gem as he is a total stinker.

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Bullpen Status
Manager Ron Washington was able to give his core relievers a nice rest in yesterday’s semi-blowout win, so closer Joe Nathan (2.80 FIP) and setup men Mike Adams (2.76 FIP) and Alexi Ogando (3.04 FIP) come into the series fresh. Rookie left-hander Robbie Ross (3.69 FIP) has appeared in each of the last three games, so we’re unlikely to see him tonight. Fellow lefty Michael Kirkman (4.61 FIP) pitched yesterday and is more of a long man-type than a specialist. The rest of the bullpen includes right-handers Roy Oswalt (4.09 FIP), Mark Lowe (3.68 FIP), and Tanner Scheppers (5.21 FIP). Everyone in this bullpen throws hard and can miss bats, and frankly Oswalt is probably the weak link despite his reputation.

Joe Girardi had to use four relievers yesterday due to Phil Hughes‘ short start, and one of those four (Ryota Igarashi) is ticketed for a return to Triple-A today once the Derek Lowe signing in made official. The Yankees are in pretty good bullpen shape, but check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact reliever usage. For the latest and greatest on the two-time defending AL Champs, we recommend Baseball Time In Arlington and Lone Star Ball.

Ticket Info

By using this link, you can save up to 50% on tickets to the final three games of the Rangers series and 25% on tickets to the Red Sox series via ScoreBig. Just click the link, sign up, and find a seating section.

4/23-4/25 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

(REUTERS/Mike Stone)

The Yankees and Rangers have quite a bit of history with each other, dating back to the three late-1990s ALDS matchups and more recently the 2010 ALCS. You can even include the race to trade for and then sign Cliff Lee in there. The Yankees won seven of nine games against the two-time defending AL Champs last season, including two of three in Arlington.

What Have They Done Lately?

At 13-3, the Rangers have the best record the best record in baseball. No club is within 15 runs of their +52 run differential, confirming that Texas has been baseball’s best team through at least the first three weeks of the season. They just took two of three from the Tigers in Detroit, losing only to Justin Verlander. They’d won eight straight prior to that loss, including a two-game massacre of the Red Sox in Boston last week.


(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Given the injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, there’s really only one team in baseball that can hang with the Yankees offensively at the moment, and that’s the Rangers. Texas has scored 94 runs through 16 games while the Yankees have scored 90 in 15 games. No other AL team has scored more than 78 runs. At 134 and 128 wRC+, the Yankees and Rangers have the first and third best offenses in baseball, respectively.

Texas has power up and down the lineup, starting in the leadoff spot with Ian Kinsler (156 wRC+). Elvis Andrus (80 wRC+) gives the pitcher a bit of a breather in the two-hole, though he always seems to annoy with bunts and infield hits. Josh Hamilton (223 wRC+) has been the best hitter in baseball not named Matt Kemp this year, and then you’ve still got Mike Napoli (170 wRC+), Nelson Cruz (170 wRC+), and Mike Young (165 wRC+). Napoli recently had a five-game homer streak end thanks to Verlander. Platoon bat David Murphy (135 wRC+) has hit well in limited action, but Craig Gentry (57 wRC+) and Mitch Moreland (28 wRC+) have not.

The Yankees are catching a little bit of a break this series because Adrian Beltre suffered a hamstring injury over the weekend. He’s currently listed as day-to-day but will have an MRI at some point. Beltre hasn’t done much against the Yankees in recent years — just .234/.260/.340 in 28 plate appearances since the start of 2010 — but he’s a great player and having him on the sidelines is a plus for New York. Young or utility infielder/former Yankee Alberto Gonzalez will fill in at third for the time being. Texas is second to the Yankees in homers and third behind the Athletics and Yankees in steals. It’s a great offense and New York is really, really going to need its rotation to settle down.

Pitching Matchups

Monday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Derek Holland
When you throw a two-hit shutout in the World Series, people will take notice. In reality, Holland’s march to stardom began in the second half of last season as he pitched to a 2.77 ERA with a 3.1 K/BB ratio in his final 15 starts. He’s performed similarly in his first three starts of 2012, including seven innings of two-run ball against the Red Sox in Fenway Park last week. Holland is a fastball heavy southpaw, using his low-90s sinker roughly 70% of the time. His changeup, curveball, and slider make appearances when he’s ahead in the count, allowing him to miss plenty of bats (8.85 K/9 and 25.3 K%). Holland’s allowing some more fly balls (34% grounders) this year but he’s also limiting walks better than ever before (2.66 B/9 and 7.6 BB%). The Yankees hit the eclectic left-hander pretty hard three times last season, but that was before things clicked and he went on that huge second half run.

Coming for Yu. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Yu Darvish
Something tells me this game is going to be a pretty big deal in Japan. Lots of people are going to be late for work on Wednesday morning. Anyway, Darvish has been up and down in his first three MLB starts, allowing five runs to the Mariners in his first start (5.2 IP), two runs to the Twins in his second start (5.2 IP), and one run to the Tigers in his third start (6.1 IP). He’s had the same problem that plagues most Japanese pitchers when they first come over, and that’s nibbling too much and not challenging hitters. Darvish has walked at least four in all three starts and his 13 free passes currently leads the league. His K/BB ratio is nearly 1.0 thanks to his 14 strikeouts. His stuff is as expected, a 90-96 mph fastball with a knockout mid-80s slider and a slower mid-70s curveball. He’ll cut and sink his fastball as well. With all due respect to Detroit, the Yankees will be the best lineup Darvish has ever seen in his life.

Wednesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. TBA
They haven’t officially announced it yet, but the Rangers are likely to start Scott Feldman in this game after Saturday’s rain out threw a wrench into their rotation schedule. He figures to be on a relatively short leash after throwing no more than 20 pitches in either of his two appearances this season, though he did work as a starter and get stretched out in Spring Training. I can’t imagine he’s good for 100+ pitches, though. Anyway, Feldman has used five different pitcher as a starter in the past, including two fastballs (cutter and sinker), two breaking balls (curveball and slider), and a changeup. He’s more of a low walks/ground ball type, though his strikeout rate has ticked up with more bullpen work in recent years. The Yankees have hit him very hard in the past, but that doesn’t really matter now.

Other candidates to start Wednesday’s game are left-hander Robbie Ross and right-hander Alexi Ogando. The Rangers could always call up a minor leaguer as well, but that seems unlikely. Feldman is the clear favorite for the spot start. For what it’s worth (next to nothing), two of the three best starts of Hughes’ career — based on Game Score — have come in Texas.

(Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)

Bullpen Status
Yesterday’s rain out gave the Yankees’ bullpen an impromptu day off, so they’re pretty well rested. David Phelps needs at least one and probably two more days off after throwing 66 pitches on Saturday, but everyone else is good to go. Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Cory Wade have each had two straight days off.

The Rangers played a doubleheader on Saturday and extra innings yesterday, but their bullpen is actually in pretty good shape because Neftali Feliz threw an eight inning, complete game loss in the second game of the double dip. Koji Uehara threw 25 pitches in the first game on Saturday, and yesterday the end-game trio of Ogando, Mike Adams, and Joe Nathan each threw no more than 18 pitches. Ross threw 13 pitches as well. Mark Lowe hasn’t pitched since Tuesday, and I have to think Feldman is off limits for the first two games of the series so he can start the finale.

Overall, the Texas bullpen owns a 2.33 ERA and a 2.39 FIP, both top five marks in baseball and right there with the Yankees. Nathan has absorbed two of the team’s three losses and hasn’t been the old, automatic version of himself since coming back from Tommy John surgery last year. For the latest and greatest on the Rangers, I recommend checking out Baseball Time in Arlington and Lone Star Ball. Both are high-quality reads.

Yankees claim Cody Eppley off waivers

The Yankees have claimed right-handed reliever Cody Eppley off waivers from the Rangers, the team announced. He’s been assigned to Triple-A Empire State and effectively replaces the traded George Kontos on the relief depth chart. The Yankees had an open 40-man roster spot, so no other move was necessary.

The 26-year-old Eppley is a big tall guy (listed at a 6-foot-5) with a low arm slot, replying on an upper-80s fastball and a sweepy upper-70s slider. He has a history of crushing right-handed batters, holding them to a .217/.301/.279 batting line with a 26.7% strikeout rate in Triple-A last season. In his big league debut with Texas last season, he gave up eight runs in nine innings. Here’s some video.

2012 Season Preview: AL Contenders

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Red Sox and Rays will be the Yankees’ primary competition this season, but the American League also boasts three more powerhouse teams. With only five playoff spots available for these six teams and greater emphasis placed on winning the division, it’s going to be a pretty hectic summer around the so-called Junior Circuit.

Detroit Tigers

The team that knocked the Yankees out of the ALDS last year got better this offseason. The Prince Fielder contract — nine years and $214M — is completely ridiculous, but he and Miguel Cabrera now form the best three-four lineup combo since David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez circa 2004-2006. A full year of Doug Fister makes then better as well, though I seriously doubt he will pitch as well he did after the trade over a full season. The Tigers won the AL Central by 15 games last year and only improved while no other club in the division got appreciatively better. I think the gap between Detroit and the second best team in the division is greater than any of the other five divisions by far.

As good as the offense and rotation is, the Tigers will probably field the worst defensive team in baseball if they stick with Cabrera at third base. Austin Jackson in center field is more than fine and Ramon Santiago will be solid on the days he plays, but otherwise you have bad glovemen at first (Fielder), short (Jhonny Peralta), third (Miggy), and the corner outfield spots (Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch). I don’t think they’ll be 2005 Yankees bad, but there are going to be a lot of balls in play not converted into outs that extend the inning and overly tax that quality rotation. With a shaky bullpen beyond cardiac closer Jose Valverde and dynamite setup man Joaquin Benoit, losing outs from the starting staff could be bad news. I just don’t think it’ll be nearly enough to sink their season.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

(REUTERS/Darryl Webb)

No team grabbed headlines quite like the Angels this offseason, who hired a new GM (Jerry Dipoto), imported an MVP candidate (Albert Pujols), and stole an ace-caliber pitcher away from their division rival (C.J. Wilson). The top four of the rotation — Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Wilson, and Ervin Santana — is the best of the game and the clear strength of the team. The defensive unit is solid overall and only figures to get better once Mike Trout wrestles playing time from Vernon Wells. With a favorable home park, the Halos should be among the best run prevention units in all of baseball.

On the other hand, the lineup around Pujols is sneaky bad. Howie Kendrick is a very good hitter and the return of Kendrys Morales would be a significant addition, but Wells, Torii Hunter, and Bobby Abreu are teetering on the edge of disaster. They’ll score enough runs, but it’s not a powerhouse offense. Scott Downs and Jordan Walden make for a fine end-game tandem, but the rest of the bullpen is retread city, I’m talking Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins, and Hisanori Takahashi. Rich Thompson is quite underrated, however. Starting pitching depth is also an issue beyond top four, with prospect Garrett Richards and the former prospect Jerome Williams the best bets for the fifth spot. The Angels made some major improvements this offseason, but Pujols and Wilson mask some serious deficiencies.

(REUTERS/Darryl Webb)

Texas Rangers

Call me a homer if you want, but the two-time defending AL Champs are the only club that can give the Yankees a run for their money as the most complete team in baseball. They did take a gamble by replacing a known quantity in Wilson with an unknown but potentially great hurler in Yu Darvish, but they do have pitching depth to spare. Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman would be the third and fourth starters for most teams but are Texas’ sixth and seventh starters behind Darvish, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, and Neftali Feliz. That is certainly enviable.

The bullpen also offers depth and high-end performance. Joe Nathan isn’t the guy he once was in the ninth inning, but he’s still effective and is more than capable of replacing Feliz as closer. Setup men Mike Adams and Koji Uehara will be around for a full season, and Ogando gives them another power arm. Michael Kirkman will likely replace the reliable Darren Oliver as the lefty specialist and is probably the weak link out in the bullpen. Feldman, Mark Lowe, and screwballer Yoshinori Tateyama fill out the rest of the relief corps.

Offensively, this team can do pretty much everything. They get power from Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler, Adrian Beltre, and Mike Napoli. Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and Craig Gentry provide the speed. Michael Young does a little bit of everything in the classiest of ways. Hamilton, Kinsler, and Gentry are strong defenders while Beltre and Andrus are flat-out elite. If you want to highlight the negative, it’s durability. Hamilton and Cruz never make it through a season without a DL stint and up until last year, the same could be said of Kinsler. Feliz hasn’t started in more than two seasons and Darvish will have to adjust to a five-day schedule and the Texas heat. The Yankees and Rangers are the two best teams in baseball as far as I’m concerned, and you’re free to quibble about who’s first and who’s second.

Learning From The Rangers

Nap-o-li. Mon-ter-o. (Doug Pensinger/AP)

A couple hours from now, the Texas Rangers will make the first attempt in franchise history to win the World Series. They’re one win away from title, one year after beating the Yankees in the ALCS to send the team to their first ever Fall Classic. With young players all over the roster and a smart, progressive front office, the Rangers are quickly emerging as one of baseball’s powerhouses. The Yankees have been one of those powerhouses for more than a decade now, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take a look at the Texas squad and learn a few things. Here are four ways the Yankees can mimic the Rangers, each with the possibility of having a big impact.

Don’t Take The Catching Depth For Granted

Yesterday we heard that the Pirates are prioritizing a catcher this offseason, leading to speculation about the Yankees being a possible trade match. With Russell Martin entrenched behind the plate for at least another year and Frankie Cervelli, Jesus Montero, and Austin Romine all that Triple-A or above, the Yankees have the luxury of depth at a position where most teams have none.

Three seasons ago, the Rangers were the team with that catching depth. They had Gerald Laird at the big league level, plus Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Max Ramirez all on the cusp of the show. Laird was traded that offseason for no one in particular (Guillermo Moscoso and a Single-A pitcher that still hasn’t made it out of Single-A) as Texas dealt from what they felt was a position of strength, but less than two years later, that depth was gone. Ramirez couldn’t catch, Salty couldn’t stay healthy, and Teagarden couldn’t hit. They ended up trading for Bengie Molina at least year’s deadline before signing Yorvit Torrealba to a two-year deal this past winter.

Catchers, probably more than any other position, can experience growing pains early in their career. It’s not just hitting and standing in the right spot or throwing to the right base, it’s learning a pitching staff and dealing with nagging injuries. Matt Wieters has all the talent in the world and he’s struggled with it. Catching depth has a way of disappearing quickly, so the Yankees shouldn’t take what they have in Martin, Montero, Cervelli, and Romine for granted. That’s not to say they can’t or shouldn’t trade any of them, but they can’t just trade one of them for the sake of making a trade. A deal would have to bring real improvement to the MLB roster, not prospects.

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