This week we'll be looking at the juggernaut that is the AL East, the most competitive division in baseball. Can the Red Sox repeat? Will the Yankees continue to slide? Will the Rays 'surprise' everyone? Will the Orioles' young pitching come through? Will Blue Jays fans continue to regret being Blue Jays fans?
It's looking like a two team race with Boston and Tampa Bay. The Yankees made some nice additions this offseason signing Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka, and Carlos Beltran, but the losses of Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte might be too much to overcome.
While the Orioles will also be competitive, the lack of offseason improvements to their pitching staff will hurt unless star prospects like Dylan Bundy break out, although Nelson Cruz is a nice boost to their already potent lineup.
The Blue Jays bold attempt to win it all last season fizzled out terribly, and unless the guys they signed like R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes return to All Star form, it looks like the Jays have largely ran out of bullets in a loaded division.
Boston. While the most popular pick will be the ever-fashionable Rays (with good reason), Boston's combination of good veterans with solid, young, big-league ready prospects will be hard to beat.
The loss of Jacoby Ellsbury will hurt, but a full season of talented Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. will likely come close to making up that deficit in wins. The Red Sox also have a ton of good young pitching in their farm system who could contribute in 2014.
This is a team that won the World Series last year and also has one of the top farm systems in the game. Unless this is the year where David Ortiz finally breaks down then Boston continues to be an organization with no weaknesses.
The next favorite
Tampa Bay has a great team and could very well win it all next year. They continue to have some of the best young talent in the game and a seemingly never-ending supply of young pitching prospects that contribute to the big-league team. Wil Myers is looking like the second coming of Vladimir Guerrero and will contribute for a full season, and they even kept David Price around because no one wanted to pay them fair market value for a young, left-handed ace in his prime.
The only problem with the Rays' wealth of young talent is that young players are often volatile. Volatility could push them to 98 wins but it could just as easily swing the other way and stick them with 91 wins. Good enough for the wild card but probably not good enough to beat the Red Sox in the division. Health is also another issue that could creep up during the season. If all the cards fall into place the Rays could be World Series contenders. If not? They might get knocked out of the first round of playoff games.
The wild card
The Orioles have an awesome lineup. Will their pitching be good enough? This is the one team in the division that has the most possible outcomes. A few injuries to key players and some bad pitching could put them close to .500. If Chris Davis has another MVP season and Dylan Bundy comes up throwing gas? They could be playoff contenders, and even have an outside shot of winning the division with some luck. A lot depends on their prospects.
The last place team
Is there any way it isn't the Blue Jays? Their big gamble to try and win it all last season was admirable, but it went about as badly as possible. The bright side is if they decide to blow it all up Astros style then they have some very tradeable big league pieces. They're not necessarily a "bad" team, but an underachieving roster and mediocre play won't cut it in baseball's most competitive division. GM Alex Anthopoulos needs a new plan.
I actually am not really sure what they're doing
To the Yankees. There are only about 5 other second basemen in the league that are comparable to Robinson Cano. They are Matt Carpenter, Dustin Pedroia, Ben Zobrist, Jason Kipnis, and Chase Utley. You could argue that a couple of those guys aren't even comparable and just had good seasons. Certainly Chase Utley isn't getting any younger, although he continues to be a top performer.
Why let Cano walk? It's understood that the Yankees were trying to spend less and get under the luxury tax threshold, but when you're talking about your infield anchor, the best player in the game at a premium position, and a guy that thrives playing in your city, you should shell out the money. The Yankees opted to go over the luxury tax threshold anyway when they signed Masahiro Tanaka, and he's an unknown at the major league level.
The Yankees' infield next season will be old Mark Teixeira, old Brian Roberts, old Derek Jeter, and Kelly Johnson. With that infield, they basically have a puncher's chance at competing to get into the playoffs, and they would have to be carried there on the backs of Ellsbury and Tanaka.
Look, the Yankees are not shying away from big free agent contracts. They're not taking a year off to sell off some assets and rebuild. They're not even going under the luxury tax, they're just continuing to be the Yankees. But if they're going to just continue to be the Yankees then they need to BE the Yankees. Embrace what they are, be the evil empire. The Yankees just got outbid by the Mariners. Would George Steinbrenner have let that happen? This team needs to remind us all why we hated them in the first place.
Best offseason move
Brian McCann by the Yankees. Great fit for a team that gets a good player at a premium position. The deal might not look that great five years down the road (like every other Yankee contract) if McCann's body breaks down, but for now it's a solid fit.
Worst offseason move
Yankees letting Robinson Cano leave to Seattle. It made some sense given that the team was able to sign Ellsbury for much less, but it's easier to find wins in the outfield than at second base. Cano also has a much better track record of staying healthy than both Ellsbury and McCann, and especially Beltran. You get what you pay for.
It's tempting to go with Crush Davis, but it's very likely he regresses after a monster year. Evan Longoria had a great season last year and is more likely to sustain his performance. Longoria's .312 BABIP compared to Davis' BABIP of .336 looks favorable. Unlike Davis, Longoria also derives a lot of value from being a good defender and a premium position. If he stays healthy Longoria could have another monster year and help the Rays to the playoffs.
2) Tampa Bay
4) New York