Luckily, they don’t trot out the old “defense wins championship” cliché as much in baseball circles – but there’s no denying there have been teams who improve their ‘D’ and then find increased success.
So, as we continue to poke and prod at the Orioles’ competition in the American League East, it’s worth a quick check of how these teams have been addressing their glovework in the offseason.
Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports.com wrote this week about the propensity of John Farrell (and his third base-infielders coach Brian Butterfield) to implement infield shifts on right-handed batters. Obviously Farrell and Butterfield are bringing that strategy with them from Toronto to Boston this season.
Shifting, of course, doesn’t make you a better defensive team if the players can’t pick it. Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon has been anointed the “King of Shifts” but his Rays committed more errors than any other team in the AL last year.
It’s no coincidence that the Rays overhauled their infield this season, adding James Loney at first, Kelly Johnson at second and Yunel Escobar at shortstop. They expect those three newcomers will “turn what was an uncharacteristic weakness in 2012 into a strength this season,” Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune writes.
“Getting back to a high standard of defense is really important,” Maddon said in that story. “It’s there. The defense is going to be there. We got pitchers who are going to put the ball on the ground and we’ll be in the right spots [defensively].”
The Yankees had a plan to improve their outfield defense this spring, experimenting with Curtis Granderson in left and Brett Gardner in center, then Granderson broke his arm, changing those plans a bit.
The Red Sox added some speed in the outfield this offseason with Shane Victorino, but in terms of personnel, offense is still clearly their focus. Look no further than at short, as Boston has been leaning toward shortstops who can hit almost exclusively since Orlando Cabrera’s defense helped them win a World Series title in 2004.
The Orioles, as alluded to earlier, leaned heavily on an improved defense in the second half of last season. They have Gold Glovers stationed at five positions, and Chris Davis has made it clear he wants to make it six.
What do you think?
On to this week's roundups...
New York Yankees
Granderson’s injury is the buzz in Yankees camp, and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner writes that the Bombers suddenly seem short of the long ball.
Joba Chamberlain has opened the proverbial can of worms by saying he feels he can be a starter again.
And right-handed starter Phil Hughes may not be ready by Opening Day.
Tampa Bay Rays
Wil Myers has made his spring debut, and the first impression was ‘very strong.’
Jose Molina is being lauded by the Rays for his ability to frame pitches behind the plate.
And the Rays still have high hopes for Tim Beckham, the No. 1 pick in 2008 who has yet to do much at even the Triple-A level.
Boston Red Sox
Third baseman Will Middlebrooks will see a specialist after leaving Wednesday night’s game against the Orioles with right wrist soreness.
Newcomer Mike Napoli smells opportunity in Boston (as well as something else at Fenway), ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes writes.
Also, Ryan Dempster impressed in his spring debut with the Sox.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Star columnist Richard Griffin writes about the Dominican flavor at the top of the Blue Jays batting order.
MLB.com’s Richard Justice writes that this once model franchise could come full circle.
Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun delves a little deeper into the personality of J.P. Arencibia. And it wouldn’t be fair to broach that topic and not also include the latest video of the Jays catcher doing his Tim Kurkjian impersonation.