With Spring Training well under way and the first games starting very soon, I figured it was a good time to take a look at my own predictions for the league, and the changes the respective teams have made.
Last Year’s Records
Tampa Bay – 96-66
New York – 95-67
Boston – 89-73
Toronto – 85-77
Baltimore – 66-96
Baltimore – This is a team that has brought in a lot of veterans to help with the development of some of their younger players. They have remade their offense, adding Guerrero, Lee, and Reynolds to provide more power. With a rebound season from Brian Roberts, there’s a lot to like about this team. That said, they are extremely reliant on their young pitching, and they will make the difference between competing for the division title and finishing last again. The one player who seems to be ticketed for a return to AAA is Josh Bell, as Mark Reynolds will be playing 3B for the team on most days. Bell’s performance in the Majors last season left a lot to be desired, and he probably could use some more time in the minors before being given the job again.
Boston – It’s hard to argue that the Red Sox have had anything but a very successful offseason. This is a team that won 89 games despite substantial DL stints by Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, and many others as well. All they did was go out, and replace Adrian Beltre with Adrian Gonzalez, and then add Carl Crawford to play left field instead of Mike Cameron. The offense Crawford provides will help to make up for the loss of Victor Martinez to the Tigers, but overall this is a team that is still improved from last year’s version.
New York – The Yankees come into the season with a lot of question marks, specifically in the starting rotation. They were unable to sign Cliff Lee as a free agent during the offseason, and were not able to acquire a starting pitcher either. They have C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, but beyond that are question marks. Can A.J. Burnett return to form? Can they find 40-6o starts out of the mix of Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, and others? Will the offense carry them enough that it won’t matter that much?
Tampa Bay – Losing the amount of players that they did would normally make me think that they would have no chance of competing in the AL East this year. But they have a lot of pieces available to them to fill in the gaps. They traded Matt Garza at least in part because they knew that they had Jeremy Hellickson available who was clearly ready to start for the team. The loss of Carl Crawford is probably the toughest, but they have top prospect Desmond Jennings ready to step in, and provide at least some of the production that Crawford did. They lost Soriano, Balfour, and many other relievers this offseason, and made trades to address these deficiencies at least in part. They need a lot of things to break their way to continue their excellence, but the team is probably better set up than most to address those needs.
Toronto – Clearly, the biggest move they made this offseason was to shed the contract of Vernon Wells for essentially nothing. The additional payroll flexibility was used to lock up Jose Bautista to a 5 year extension, and while it remains to be seen whether or not it was a good contract, it continues to be a great offseason for the Blue Jays. The team has an excess of starting pitching talent, and moved Shaun Marcum to acquire top prospect Brett Lawrie. Their own top prospect, Kyle Drabek, is likely to start the season in the rotation, and I think that overall this is a team that will compete for the division title.
The AL East is easily the most difficult division to win. Realistically, there are 4 teams that would stand at least a reasonable chance of winning any of the other 5 divisions in any given year. But unfortunately, there are at best 2 playoff spots available to the teams of the AL East, and I think that this year will be a great race. The scary part is this: I think there’s at least a reasonable chance of having all 5 teams in the league finish at least .500 or better. Here’s my predicted order of finish:
2. Tampa Bay
4. New York