Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 1/13/12

Three quarters of the way through yet another grueling, daunting, rumor filled offseason, Major League Baseball is set for a philosophical battle the likes of which have rarely been seen.  Spring Training is still more than a month away and already the stage is set for perhaps the biggest showdown in baseball history.  No, I’m not talking about the over-hyped World Baseball Classic or another ESPN-aired Yankees/Red Sox game.  I’m talking about the age-old argument of young versus old, pitching versus hitting, money versus prospects.  I’m talking about a showdown between two philosophical approaches that dominate the Major League Baseball landscape.  I’m talking about East versus West and everything in between.

It appears that Beasts of the East will be playing their same role in the coming season.  Along the Eastern Seaboard, the three biggest franchises are in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.  They’ll be vying for a playoff spots using the proven method of buying and slugging their way to October.  Of course teams shouldn’t be pigeon-holed like this because it takes all of offense, defense and pitching to be successful, but out East they employ specific tactic: hit the hell out of the ball and spend money.  Though the Red Sox, Yankees and (to a degree) Phillies have had a relatively quiet offseason, their payrolls still rank 1, 2 and 3 in the game.

Though most of the attention out in Philadelphia is centered on their pitching staff, it’s their bats that appear to do much of the damage on a nightly basis.  With a payroll expected to top $170 million, the average age of a Philadelphia position player is 31 years old. The Red Sox payroll will top $160 million and perhaps reach $180 million depending on the moves they make before Spring.  The average age of the Red Sox position players?  31 years old.  The New York Yankees payroll will once again top league at well over $200 million and the average age of their position players is 30 years old.

Out West, it seems things are mostly the opposite.  The Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants are all hoping to boast premier pitching staffs and make their way to October at an efficient price.  The Texas offense’s average age is about the same as their Eastern counterparts at age 31, however their rotation’s average age (assuming they sign Yu Darvish) is 26 and their payroll will hover around the $100 million mark.  The Angels went on a spending spree this offseason, acquiring Chris Iannetta, Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson and their payroll will still pale in comparison to the big three in East at $150 million.  The average age of their position players? 28 years old.  The San Francisco Giants eight position players have an average age of 26 years old and their team payroll is expected to sit around $115 million.  The Arizona Diamondbacks will have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball despite being a playoff team (expected $65 million) and an average position player age of 27 years old. 

As you can see, the average age of a position player in the West (28 years old) is approximately three years younger than those of the big three in the East (31 years old).  The average payroll will sit between $50 and $80 million dollars cheaper out West.  But the contrast doesn’t stop there.  In Philadelphia, they boast such sluggers as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence.  In Boston you’ll see David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and Carl Crawford.  In New York they have A-Rod, Jeter, Swisher and Cano.  That’s a ton of offense, in fact, the top two offenses in the AL came from Boston and New York.  In Philadelphia, they had a down year, ranking 7th in the league in runs scored. However, this was the first time since 2003 that the Phillies DIDN’T have a Top three offense. 

 The outlying team here of course is the Texas Rangers, who everyone knows can hit the ball.  The rest of the West wasn’t nearly as impressive at producing runs.  The Angels ranked 10th in the AL, while the D-Backs were 4th in the NL and the Giants were dead last.  To the East’s credit, hitting the ball practically ensures a regular season success, so there’s a reason behind their home friendly fields powerful offenses.  Four of the top five offenses in baseball made the playoffs in 2011.  The other (Boston Red Sox) was only one strike away.  By comparison, of those five top offenses in baseball, NOT ONE had a Top 10 Pitching Staff (according to team ERA). 

If you were a General Manager, wouldn’t this make an awfully compelling case to simply stack your offense and let the pitching staff figure it out later?  After all, if you have a top 5 offense, there’s an 80% chance (would be 100% if the Red Sox had thrown one more strike) you’ll be in the playoffs. 

In comparing the pitching staffs between the teams on separate sides of the continent, there’s a stark contrast in talent.  Like the Texas Rangers offense, the Philadelphia Phillies pitching staff is the sole outlier.  In New York, the rotation after CC Sabathia reads ?, ?, ?, ?.  In Boston, John Lackey and Dice-K look like they’ll miss much of the season and the Red Sox will be left depending on Josh Beckett’s arm remaining attached to his body and Alfredo Aceves to man the 4th starter spot in the rotation.  In the West, the Angels will roll out their quadruple ace set in Weaver, Haren, CJ Wilson and Santana.  In Arizona they’ll have Kennedy, Hudson, Cahill and a minor league system that features top prospects Tyler Skaggs, Trevor Bauer, Archie Bradley and Pat Corbin.  In San Francisco, their well known rotation remains intact with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and the surprisingly effective Ryan Vogelsong.   

The minor league systems of each of the big teams also run in stark contrast with one another.In Philadelphia, the cupboard is BARE. They have somewhat talented arms progressing through the system, but none of them project into being anything special and none of them will arrive within the next two years.  The same goes for Boston.  Outside of 3B prospect Will Middlebrooks, their system has VERY little in terms of potential Major League talent.  Their best pitcher in Anthony Ranaudo, a college pitcher that was slapped around in A ball.  The Yankees have three names in particular that are intriguing in Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances.  Unfortunately Montero isn't a major league catcher, he's a DH, so his star shines significantly less bright. Banuelos has control problems and is still a couple years away from contributing, but Betances has one the better fastball /slider combos in the minors.  Unfortunately there are still fears he may end up in the bullpen.  

Out West it's a different story.  As stated before, the Diamondbacks have one of the premier minor league systems in baseball.  The Texas Rangers have top of the line Latin American talent in Jurickson Profar, Martin Perez and Leonys Martin.  The San Francisco Giants have two prospects that are knocking of the Major League door in Gary Brown and Joe Panik and also will be looking to find a spot for Brandon Belt who continued to punish all forms of minor league pitching in 2011.  The Angels have five expected Top 100 prospects in Mike Trout, Garrett Richards, Jean Segura, C.J. Cron and John Hellweg.

So who’s going to win the East Coast – West Coast showdown in 2012?  Hard to say.  In 2010, half of the Top 10 pitching staffs in baseball made the playoffs.  In 2011 four of the five top offenses made the playoffs.  In 2012, it’s possible that neither the East nor the West will win.  It’s the teams in the South that are among the most promising right now (Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves and the surprisingly spend-happy Miami Marlins).  That indeed would throw a wrench into the philosophical debate between two contrasting styles in favor of a more balanced approach.  Let’s also not forget that the 2011 World Series champion was neither in the East, West or South.  It resided right in the heart of America, St. Louis, Missouri.

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