Soft Pick II: Yankees to Top AL East

Jeter to Go Out with Glory?
The only thing that would surprise me about the American League East would be if the Blue Jays won it. I don’t think the Orioles can either, but I really don’t see a clear favorite among the Red Sox, Rays, and Yankees. Each has big uncertainties and the division is so competitive that 88 victories might be enough.

The Red Sox won the World Series last year, when the experts picked them to finish last. This year they’re picked to win. Uh oh. No matter who you root for, you have to love the scrappy Pedroia, the affable Ortiz, and the blue-collar ethos of Victorino. There are, however, looming questions. Bogaerts may be the shortstop of the future, but when does that begin? Which Middlebrooks shows up, the formerly promising guy, or the recent disappointing one? Can Bradley replace Ellsbury? Will Grady Sizemore ever again be healthy? Can Napoli stay hale? Gomes, Nava, Uehara–go-to guys, or career years in 2013? Is Pierzynski the kind of poison they jettisoned after 2012?  Lester and Buchholtz head a talented staff, though I’ve never been sold on Lackey and I wonder how much Peavy has left. Lots of arms at Pawtucket, but until they perform in Boston, they are as useful as an untested postulate.

The Rays are who they always are–great pitchers heading a makeshift lineup. Price, Cobb, Archer, Moore, and Hellickson (currently injured) make up the deepest staff in baseball. If healthy, Balfour gives them a for-real closer. Beyond this, the Rays need to pray that Myers is all he’s cracked up to be, that Longoria isn’t hurt again, and that Zobrist and Loney duplicate 2013, because the rest of these guys couldn’t get hits in heavy traffic. As usual, I think the Rays will be good, but about $30 million in payroll short of being great.

The Yankees? I honestly have no idea. They had nothing last year except Cano and still won 85 games. Are they 5 or 6 games better with McCann, Ellsbury, Beltrán, and Tanaka, but not Cano? The answer begins and ends with the DL–as in avoiding it. If Texeira, Jeter, Roberts, and Sabathia stay healthy and Pineda is back from surgery, the Yankees could shock experts and go to the World Series. Soriano still has pop in his bat, Gardner runs like a deer, Kelly Johnson is usefully versatile, Tanaka has to better than Hughes, and I’m not worried about Robertson replacing Mo Rivera. Watch the DL. If the Yankees don’t dominate it, they might steal the AL East. And you know Derek Jeter will leave nothing on the table in his swan song year.

Two years ago the Orioles were on the cusp. Management let the moment slip away and it doesn’t appear that adding powered-by-steroids Cruz or the enigmatic arm of Jimenéz is enough. The O’s do have a stacked outfield in Jones, Markakis, Reinhold, and Cruz. Machado es muy machista, and Wieters is good (though not as good as advertised). Will Hardy and Davis duplicate 2013? The Orioles can definitely hit, but can they pitch? Not so much. Chen, Tillman, Britton, Norris, and Jimenéz could star in a new reality show titled Surviving on Promise. Their best arm might be Miquel González. I see the O’s on the wrong end of too many 9-6 games.

Speaking of unfulfilled promise, I’ve officially given up on the Blue Jays. Okay, they can hit: Bautista, Encarnacion. Reyes (if healthy), Rasmus, Lind…. They also strike out more than a pimply 14-year-old attending a senior high dance. Signing post-‘roids Melky Cabrera was an expensive mistake and Lawrie looks like a bust. Alas, that’s true of their hurlers as well. Drabek was supposed to make Toronto forget about Halladay; he has, but only because Halladay retired! Morrow has morphed into To-Morrow, and Happ into Happless. I still like Buerhle, but as a 4-5 guy, not an ace. Dickey is 39, was mediocre last year, and trading him after his 2012 Cy Young now looks like one of the Mets’ shrewder moves.

1. Yankees: Despite the holes, this looks like a much better team–if healthy. If not… call ‘em the   Tankees and push ‘em to fourth.
2. Red Sox: I simply don’t believe winning a World Series is entirely a matter of luck.
3. Rays: I’ve said it about the Rays for several years: You can’t win it all on the cheap.
4. Orioles: Which is why the Orioles will again be also-rans. Still…
5. Jays: Spending a lot of money doesn’t count if you spend it poorly. And you just don’t win in the AL East with a Walmart pitching staff.


Soft Pick: Nationals in NL East

Picked with little conviction!

The National League East is ripe for the Nationals to pluck, though most Eastern sportswriters like this team more than I do. Harper looks to be a very good player, though he’s no Mike Trout. He may not even be Ryan Zimmerman. I do like Harper and Zimmerman, though, plus Desmond, Rendon, and Ramos. As for Werth, LaRoche, and Span–not so much. Who knows what Strasburg will bring, Cy Young or DL? But his star has been eclipsed by Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez, who are very good. Fister will help too.  Storen and Soriano shut it down in the 8th and 9th, though middle relief looks shaky.

The Braves won the East last year the way the Braves always win: pitching. But is Medlen an ace? And which Gavin Floyd did they acquire, Jekyll or Hyde? Minor, Tehrén, Beachy… all solid guys, though not the sort that make hitters quake. Closer Kimbrel does, though. The everyday lineup is proletarian. Can Chris “Don’t call me Chipper” Johnson duplicate 2013? Freeman and Uggla are fine and Justin Upton is steady. B.J. Upton should be dumped for a rosin bag, and Heyward just can’t seem to find consistency. Catching looks good defensively, but not there's much power. Speaking of defense–is Simmons the next coming of Ozzie Smith?

UPDATE: Since this was first posted Medlen has been scheduled for Tommy John surgery and is out for the season. The Braves signed E. Santana for insurance. There's a reason he was the last high profile free agent pitcher- he's maddeningly inconsistent and isn't all that good when he's "on." I'd say the Braves chances just dipped considerably.

The Phillies aged faster than a lab mouse, and I just don’t see things getting better soon. Howard, Utley, and Rollins are “A” contracts with “C+” returns. For the Phillies to be decent, Brown and Bryd have to duplicate 2013, which I find unlikely. Hamels has had a sore arm, which leaves the Phils with declining Cliff Lee, what-the-hell-happened to Kendrick, and two guys who I wouldn’t like to depend upon: Hernando (aka/ Fausto Carmona) and A. J. Burnett. Papelbon is the heart attack closer. Could be a long year.

The Mets are quietly assembling respectability. Nice lineup with Davis, Daniel Murphy, Young, and the wonderful David Wright. Curtis Granderson? Vastly, vastly overrated. Gee, Niese, Wheeler, and Colon are probably better than the Phillies’ staff. But the Mets aren’t ready to contend yet, and they should make Matt Harvey sit out until he’s 100% healthy. He could be the key to their future.

Breaking news: Niese has experienced shoulder tightness. I’d go slowly on his as well.

The Marlins are my least favorite team in baseball and I want to see them scaled and gutted until Jeff Loria sells the team and it gets moved to a legitimate MLB city. You’ve heard of Saltamacchia and Hechavarria (injured), but no one else except Stanton, whom they’ll probably trade. His .249 led the team in hitting last year, by the way. Pitchers? Marmol is the closer and that’s all you need to know. The roster is irrelevant, as Loria will sell anyone who shows promise.

1. Nationals: A soft pick and I’d not be surprised if they finish 2nd again.
2. Braves: This team is good. It doesn’t overwhelm but could win MLB’s weakest division.
3. Mets: A hunch on this one. Quiet improvement leads to exceeded expectations.
4. Phillies: And age + albatross contracts brings discontent to America’s grumpiest city.
5. Marlins: Screw ‘em.


Up-the-Skirt Lessons in Massachusetts

Now banned in the Bay State
Massachusetts recently found itself the butt of jokes when its Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it wasn’t illegal to take up-the-skirt photos of women riding on Boston subway trains. I wonder if it will get equal press for what happened next. In a swift 24 hours the Massachusetts legislature passed a law closing the loophole in the existing statute. Governor Deval Patrick signed it the moment it reached his desk. I wonder also how much airplay will be given to the public lessons learned from this incident.

The first lesson is about technology. Massachusetts already had a law prohibiting shutterbugs from snapping pictures of naked genitals without permission. If the Andover sleaze-ball who precipitated all this captured a naked vagina, he would have lost his lawsuit. Massachusetts had not updated this law for a simple reason:  most laws are reactive, not proactive. As Senate President Therese Murray noted, the older law was a pre-digital, pre-cellphone remnant. Who could imagine that anyone would be so crass as to aim a camera up a woman’s dress? In the days of conventional photography, who would have gotten away with such a thing? The moment someone got out a boxy film camera and aimed it up a skirt, there would have been a hue-and-cry the moment the shutter clicked. Knowing Boston, it wouldn’t have been out of the question for the “photographer” in question to be tossed onto the next platform after a few patrons bloodied him. Can you imagine this person taking his film to the local CVS for developing?

Cellphones and small point-and-shoot cameras have proved game-changers. Technology generally advances far faster than legislation and we can’t always trust individuals to use it in people-friendly ways. In fact, a reluctant second lesson we can draw is that civic ideals are in such steep decline they’ll become endangered species unless some outside force preserves them. What sort of individual thinks it’s okay to point a cellphone up a woman’s dress? Perhaps one who has been poisoned by the same worship of unbridled American individualism that reifies me over we. His was but a more crass version of those who think the entire world wants to hear their cellphone conversations, that texting during public performances is "cool," that taking phone calls during movies is more important than patrons seeing the film, or simply don’t give a damn that it’s dangerous to drive while using one. Think of all the rules now in place that seek to limit or eliminate those behaviors. Every one of them was reactive––an attempt to regulate behaviors we once thought “reasonable” people wouldn’t do.

A third lesson is a warning––we all must be aware that what we do in public is not the same as what we can do in private. I don't ascribe to the she-was-asking-for-it view of provocative dress, but it certainly would behoove everyone to exercise common sense caution. The new Massachusetts law is not a privacy law––you simply don’t have much of that in modern society. Once we’ve broken the civic ideal and can no longer trust individuals to be honorable, welcome to the Nanny State. Ride the subway and you’ll still be on camera. Strike a pose in a public place and you’re probably fair game. Doff your clothes in public and the law won’t protect you––disrobing in public is a tacit waiver of privacy rights. Shop in a public store and smile for the camera. A warrant is needed to use your cellphone conversations against you, but shout them for the whole world to hear and anyone can testify about what they overheard. And so it goes. Nanny is watching and listening because she knows there are too many bad boys and girls on the street. That's annoying, but sometimes it's a good thing. Remember how Boston caught the Marathon bombers?

The new Massachusetts law outlaws taking pictures of the genital regions of children and some clandestine photos of women, if they can be viewed as sexual harassment. A perfect law? Of course not––some jerk will find a loophole. Count on it. But here’s a silver lining over which Bay Staters can gloat: when an obvious flaw emerged, we fixed the statute in a single day. Take that, all of you who think government never does anything. Think long and hard before you trumpet libertarian anti-government slogans. In this case, radical individualism was the problem, not the solution––it took government action to ensure that the public is protected from individual rogues, voyeurs, and me-first sickos. Like I said, Nanny sometimes does know what’s good for us.

Protecting the public is what states have done in enacting strict antismoking laws and in requiring licensure for lawyers, teachers, electricians, and building contractors. It’s what they do when state police arrest speeders, bust bars serving minors, or shut down restaurants violating health codes. It’s why Massachusetts state employees are required to pay into retirement funds. Massachusetts was the first state in the union to sanction gay marriage on the grounds that individual moral beliefs were no justification to discriminate against an entire class of people. Indulge me. What if states took a Nanny view of gun violence? The conservative British Parliament did so when an individual gunned down school children in Dunblane, Scotland in 1996. No repeats to date! What a joyous day it would be if the Bay State determined that guns in public are far more dangerous than a sleaze-ball with a cellphone camera.