04 January 2010

AL East Best Under-26 Team: Introduction

With the Yankees and Red Sox running out front in the AL East for much of the aughts, the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays gave baseball a glimpse into the type of team that will ultimately need to be assembled in order to run with the deeper pockets in the division. Acquiring and developing young, inexpensive talent carries two primary benefits for the non-Yanks/Sox of the division:

1. Defends against the "big contract" injury/busts that can potentially tie-up payroll for a year or more. By adding as much talent as possible while keeping the payroll as low as possible, Tampa, Baltimore and Toronto will give themselves the flexibility to address an injury or bust via trade/free agency, rather than being forced to rush a prospect or, worse, do nothing.

2. Keeps payroll available for selectively aggressive moves in the free agent/trade markets/extension of homegrown talent. By assembling as talented a team as possible while leaving as much capital available as possible, the option hopefully exists to make a run at a more expensive free agent when the potential wins added by that free agent/expensive trade target, or locking-up one of the homegrown talents for a period of years, are relevant to making a playoff run (preferably for an extended period of time).

It remains to be seen how effective Baltimore, Tampa and Toronto will be in executing, but this is likely the best approach to competing with Boston and New York in the standings and, in selected situations, in the free agent and trade market.

So where do each of the AL East teams rank in current under-26 year old talent (a quick and dirty cut-off for gauging "young and cheap" talent)? After the jump we'll step through the criteria we've used for our position-by-position nine-part series. In this pivotal cross-section of talent acquisition and development, which AL East team is best situating themselves....

Subject: The goal of the series is two-fold:

1. To find the best young players at each position in the AL East talent structure, and

2. To get an idea of where the AL East teams stack-up, overall, with regards to young talent in the pipeline.

Parameters: In order to qualify, a player must satisfy the following requirements:

1. The player must be 26 or younger during the 2010 season (born October 1, 1983 to present), and

2. The player must currently be under the control of an AL East organization (the player can be at any level in the organization).

Discussion: The bulk of the pieces will be prepared by myself (Stotle) and by MJ. MJ comes to us by way of the New York Yankees fan base and has contributed as a writer for the popular Yankees site www.waswatching.com. As is the case with Crawdaddy and myself, he follows the AL East closely and should provide good balance to the pieces. The two of us, along with Craw, will be selecting the top players for each position. The author of the piece will be responsible for the ultimate ranking of the players. We hope you'll add your thoughts in the comment section of each piece, as well.

We'll keep a running count of the Top Under-26 Team at the conclusion of each piece, and Craw, MJ and I will put together a "wrap-up" piece briefly discussing our findings.

This is quite an exciting endeavor for the three of us. We hope that even if you disagree with our rankings, our series will trigger some discussion amongst the various fan bases. Part 1: Catchers, is being finalized by MJ now and will post on Wednesday. Craw will be putting-up something fun and interesting in the interim.

Happy New Year's; see you soon.

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