East's talent pool on display in Big Apple
NEW YORK -- The Yankees are in first place, showing signs of disassociating themselves from the four teams behind them in the American League East. The Orioles are in second, still playing at a level that hadn't been anticipated. The Mets are doing likewise and are in second place in the National League East, just ahead of the Braves. And all four teams are here in the metropolis John Lindsay called Fun City, having fun and doing their best to eliminate the parity that exists in all divisions except those labeled West.
What the Interleague schedule has provided here this week is an appealing 72-hour, dual-site extravaganza -- baseball in regal Yankee Stadium and in the somewhat contrived but altogether attractive Citi Field. Those who are so inclined and adequately financed can see Jeter, Chipper, Adam Jones and David Wright without leaving the city limits. Indeed, The Apple provides a special kind of day-night doubleheader on Wednesday, something akin to the NBA doubleheaders at the old Garden: four teams, two games. Braves-Yankees in the daylight, O's-Mets at dusk.
The appeal isn't so much the team matchups -- it's too early for that, and besides, each engagement is worth only a half-game when the leagues mingle -- it's the talent on display. Consider the roster that could be created if these four teams merged, shared their talent. But who would play?
One set of suggestions follows.
This exercise ought to begin with pitching. But it's quite unofficial and perhaps a tad myopic. Only one vote counts. So it begins at shortstop. It's Jeter; of course it is. He's older than his three shortstop contemporaries, playing a younger man's position. No alternative can be seriously considered, though.
No others have a chance at second base, either. Robinson Cano is all but automatic. Even folks in Queens, Dixie and B'more can't argue that. Cano often is the best player in the city, no matter what teams are in town.
So the Yankees take the middle of the diamond. No surprise there. What is a tad startling is that the other three teams cover two critical positions with mostly offensive players and rank high in the standings, nonetheless. This isn't your grandfather's -- or Ray Oyler's -- game anymore.
The middle of the outfield could be Yankees territory, too. Put Curtis Granderson in center field, and he will only enhance the defense. Put Jones there, though, and the foul lines mysteriously move closer together. Jones is a pleasure to watch, the best center fielder since another guy named Jones, now in the home dugout in the Bronx, covered the turf at Turner Field.
- 142 wins
- 110 wins
If Adam Jones is assigned to center, Granderson must be the left fielder. Nothing wrong with that. He's a far better defender than most left fielders, and he provides offense consistent with the corner positions. Even the left-center-field gap in the old-old Yankee Stadium, Casey's Yankee Stadium, would appear more manageable were Jones and Granderson patrolling that expanse.
The Braves are represented in right field by Jason Heyward, still not the player the masses expected to see, but to a degree, he wins the assignment by default. Heyward showed off his right field arm on Tuesday night, cutting down Mark Teixeira at the plate in the fifth inning of the Braves' 4-3 victory. He had himself a game with that impressive assist, a triple, a run scored and an RBI. The other right fielders in this four-team pool don't come comparably equipped.
Teixeira is the first baseman, and again, default is a contributing factor. His defense is a more telling factor, though. Ike Davis plays the position nearly as well in Queens, but his bat awoke only two weeks ago. The Braves' Freddie Freeman doesn't have the power Teixeira has. So, yes, another Yankee.
Third base goes to the Mets -- David Wright, despite the presence of Chipper Jones and A-Rod. Wright is in the midst of a resurgent season. Chipper is winding down, A-Rod has yet to wind up this season. Wright's average could be 30 points lower, and the choice at third still would be the Mets' Jeter.
The deepest position in this four-team scrum is behind the plate. So why not choose Matt Wieters and Brian McCann and platoon them? Wieters switch-hits and McCann has abundant left-handed power. Nice catching tandem. McCann would probably get most of the at-bats. Wieters would face the more challenging left-handed starters.
And now the most critical ingredient, pitching. R.A. Dickey has been the most effective pitcher in the big leagues during the last six weeks. He's the No. 1, but Johan Santana and CC Sabathia warrant comparable ranking. Two left-handed starters and a knuckleballer. Nice mix.
A right-handed starter is necessary because the No. 5 starter might be Andy Pettitte. Brandon Beachy and his 2.00 ERA would have been included, but the Braves kid may have a date with a scalpel. All Ivan Nova does is win, but Jason Hammel's ERA is 1.50 runs lower than Nova's. So go with Hammel, and then choose from among Pettitte, Nova and Tim Hudson.
Even with Mariano Rivera unavailable, this hybrid team can close. Craig Kimbrel of the Braves one night, Jim Johnson of the O's the next. Or use one as the setup man and the other in the ninth. The O's Darren O'Day can set up as well, and Tim Byrdak can do for this team what he does for the Mets -- take on the left-handed-hitting threats.
And who would say no to a bench that includes Chipper, Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez and Martin Prado? Power, balance and two switch-hitters.
All right, go ahead and say it -- too many Yankees. But not so.
And this is fantasy, anyway. And this team might win a few here and there.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.