We kicked off our comparison of the AL East contenders last week behind the plate, now we move down the line to first for a matchup us Sox fans can feel pretty good about.
Blue Jays: 2009 seems a long time ago for Adam Lind and the Blue Jays. While his team would crawl their way to an 80-82 record that year, Lind burst onto the scene with a line of .305/.370/.562 in 151 games. For all the world, the Jays seemed to have found the middle-of-the-order bat they needed.
Then came 2010, and Lind fell off a cliff. 2011 was little better despite a strong start to the year. While Jays fans are hoping that a healthier Lind will be able to reclaim some of his past glory, he's easily exploited by lefties, and we're past the point of giving him the benefit of the doubt against lefties just now. There's possibilities here, but he'll have to prove himself first.
Rays: It just feels right to be writing about Carlos Pena as a Tampa Bay Ray again. As much as I would have loved to see Tampa Bay push their luck with Mr. Kotchman, certain players just belong on certain teams, and Pena belongs with the Rays.
All curious sentimentality aside, there is some question whether the move will be beneficial to Pena. The last time he spent his home schedule in Tropicana, after all, he was busy falling apart, dropping nearly 50 points off his wOBA and coming in well under the standards expected of a first baseman.
As nice as it would be to explain away his resurgence with the friendly confines of Wrigley, however, the fact is that Pena was even better on the road last year, and in 2010 was closer to his old self when he was playing at home. There's little chance Pena will threaten for the top spot at this position, but he should be a solid contributor to a team that seems to thrive on that sort of thing.
Red Sox: It's easy to make the argument that Adrian Gonzalez is due for regression this year. It's just as easy to argue that the Sox can expect bigger and better things this year. Coming off of shoulder surgery that left him fatigued later in the year and perhaps sapped his power for rather longer, Gonzalez did not have the kind of transition you might expect moving from San Diego to Boston, hitting fewer homers than he had since his first full season with the Padres.
It could have been a disappointing year, were it not for Gonzalez getting a bit lucky and pulling off a .338 average on a .380 BABIP. Sure, the wall is probably partially to blame, but Gonzo did find himself with plenty of groundball singles.
Of course, the Sox wouldn't object if he had the exact same year in 2012--he was worth 6.6 wins by Fangraphs' valuations. But with that being said, there's the possibility for an even better season should he come back stronger and start turning some balls in play into homers.
Yankees: Two years ago it would be easy to see Mark Teixeira making a very real bid for first place in this category, with Sox fans still lamenting their failure to acquire the first baseman back in the 2008-2009 offseason. Now, however, Henry can consider himself lucky that he's not signing another set of bad checks--ones that will hopefully be hurting the Yankees over the rest of the decade.
This isn't to say Mark Teixeira is bad, but it can hardly be argued that he's lived up to his billing the past couple of years. After killing it to the tune of 5.2 WAR in 2009, Teix just hasn't been the same, producing strong but unspectacular wOBAs of .367 and .361.
Yankees fans do have some reason to hope, though. Much as Adrian's BABIP carried him through much of last year, Teixeira's has killed him in both 2010 and 2011. After two years of this, however, and with Teix hitting more fly balls than ever before, the Yankees' first baseman will have to prove himself again before he can be considered a contender for the top spot. For now, that spot can go to only one man: our own Adrian Gonzalez.