The AL East is definitively the best division in baseball since they have the current champions, the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Orioles, and Blue Jays. The East has a legitimate threat of possessing three of the five playoff teams in the AL. Besides the Blue Jays, who still have a possibility of finishing over .500, the other four teams have a great chance of winning the division.
1) New York Yankees
The Yankees regained the title as the most expensive team in baseball after they spent nearly $500 million on free agents this offseason. The Yankees will be starting a completely new club from last season as only one player, Brett Gardner, will be starting Opening Day this and last season. The Yankees have a lot of talent, but they have many questions that may lead to their demise. Although the Yankees outfield should be the catalyst of team with Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano, and Jacoby Ellsbury, the infield has many questions because the players, Kelly Johnson, Derek Jeter, Brian Roberts, and Mark Teixeira, are all coming off injury and have questions about their age. If the Yankees stay healthy, they should be one of the best teams in baseball and will contend for a championship.
On offense, the Yankees have speed, power, and high batting averages. The middle of the order, McCann, Tex, Soriano, and Beltran, should record a good deal of RBIs since they will have many opportunities to drive in runs. Jacoby Ellsbury, Derek Jeter, and Brett Garnder have shown that they have the ability to get on base, steal bases, and score runs at a very high level. In terms of defense, the team should be one of the best in the league, especially in the outfield. Jacoby and Brett are two of the fastest outfielders in the league and should be able to easily cover every ball in the outfield. Although he is old, Beltran is an above average outfielder with a great arm and instincts. On the infield, the return of Tex will be great since he is a premier fielder and prevents errors with his ability to scoop throws. Although Jeter or Roberts do not have great range, they are steady players and will not make many errors in the field.
On the pitching staff, the Yanks have some questions as well. If Tanaka, Nova, and Pineda can continue their success from Spring Training, the team will have a great pitching staff with each player has a lot of talent. Although CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda have experienced poor spring trainings and did not have a good finish to last season, the Yankees need them to return to their old form. The Yankees have a few quality options, Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren, and David Phelps, if injuries hamper their starting five. Unlike past seasons, the Yanks are not expected to have a good bullpen. The Yanks must answer a few questions if they are going win games with their bullpen like they have in the past. The Yankees need to replace the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, an eighth inning pitcher to replace David Robertson, and a lefty specialist to replace Boone Logan. If the Yankees’ starters fail to get injured, they can use their extra starting pitchers or prospects to man the positions. Although the Yankees have many questions, they have a lot of talent and expectations that their fans hope they can meet this season.
Predicted Yankees Record: 95-67
2) Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are the defending champion and many believe that they have a great chance of winning the division and repeating as champions. The Red Sox are currently ranked second on this list because they lost a few good players to free agency that must be replaced. The biggest loss the Red Sox endured was Jacoby Ellsbury, who went to the hated New York Yankees for $153 million. Although Jacoby was occassionally injured, he was a great table setter for the Red Sox and was a lock for at least 90 runs a season. The Red Sox are hoping that Jackie Bradley Jr will be able to succeed at the major league level, although he was unable to hit in the majors at the start of last season. Bradley, although an above average defender, will not be able to replace Ellsbury’s defense because he does not have the speed. At shortstop, the Red Sox will have to replace the production from Stephen Drew. Drew was a solid option for the Red Sox because he was a good defensive player and could hit well for a shortstop. The Red Sox hope that top prospect Xander Bogearts will be able to turn his potential into production and replace the void left by Drew. Xander got his first taste of major league experience last season in the playoffs and regular season.
Besides those losses, the Red Sox kept the same team as last year. On offense, the Red Sox have a lot of good sluggers, Ortiz, Pedroia, and Napoli, and other quality hitters, which gives them a balanced offensive attack. The Red Sox have at least five or six players that can hit over .300 this season. Last season, they had three players hit over .300 and five that hit over .294. Like last season, they should rank as one of the best run scoring teams in the league.
In terms of pitching, the Red Sox have a deep rotation even though they do not possess a dominant ace. The combination of Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Felix Doubront, and Clay Buchholz should give the Red Sox an above average staff as long as they do not have to deal with injuries. If the Red Sox do face injuries, they may have serious issues because they do not have many long men/spot starters on their roster. The Red Sox have a very good farm system with good pitching prospects, but it is unknown if they want to hurry these prospects to the bigs. In the bullpen, the Red Sox have one of the best in the league. If Uehara can give the Red Sox similar numbers to last season, they will be in great shape because they have solid lefties and power arms out of the bullpen. The Red Sox should be a 90 win team and compete with the Yankees and other AL East teams for the division and the Pennant.
Predicted Red Sox Record: 94-68
3) Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have been steady winners over the last five seasons. Before their nice run, the Rays were one of the worst teams in baseball and never made the playoffs. Previously, they would always receive high picks in the draft, which enabled them to build a core and achieve success. Although the Rays have lost stars over the past few seasons, they have a deep farm system to replace their stars with stud prospects.
Although the Rays normally win with their pitching and defense, the Rays offense has improved drastically and should be a strength this season. The middle of the order will be led by Evan Longoria, Wil Myers, James Loney, and Matt Joyce. These power hitters should easily be able to drive in a lot of runs since Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings, and possibly star shortstop prospect, Lee, are all good table setters and have the ability to reach base. The Rays should continue playing great defense because Longoria, Myers, Escobar, Loney, and Desmond are excellent defenders and do not commit many errors.
Although the offense is improving, the pitching is the best part of the team. The staff is led by former AL Cy Young Award winner David Price. Along with Price, the Rays have Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Archer, and possibly Jake Odorizzi. Besides Hellickson, each starter had an ERA below 3.50. The Rays’ pitching staff should continue stopping opposing offenses and lead the Rays to the playoff as long as Price stays in the rotation. Since Price has achieved a lot of success, the Rays are looking to trade him since it is unlikely they will be able to re-sign him next offseason. Although the Rays would receive a King’s Ransom for Price, the players will not be able to immediately help the Rays, if they trade him at the trade deadline. Like many prior seasons, the Rays’ bullpen is different from last season and has many questions. The Rays have signed a few relievers that are coming off bad seasons and were able to sign them at a bargain. The Rays will rely heavily on Grant Balfour, Heath Bell, Joel Peralta, and lefty flamethrower Jake McGee. Each reliever has experienced success in the past and the Rays hope they can catch lightning in a bottle once again.
The Rays were able to win 92 games last season despite them starting slowly because of poor pitching. However, this season, the pitching should not let the Rays down at the start of the season and should enable them to win over 90 games again this season. The AL East should have a great fight at the top since each of the three aforementioned teams has the ability to win 95 games. The Rays do not have as much depth or offensive talent as the Red Sox and Yanks, so it is unlikely they will beat them during the regular season.
Predicted Rays Record: 92-70
4) Baltimore Orioles
Unlike previous seasons, the Orioles spent a lot of money this offseason to improve their team. Last season, the Orioles won 85 games, but still finished 6.5 games out of the wild card race. The Orioles possessed one of the best and most explosive lineups in the league a season ago. The Orioles are led by the middle of their order, which includes stars Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and JJ Hardy. Although the lineup was already deep, they signed power hitting outfielder, Nelson Cruz, to a one year deal. Also, the Orioles will be returning Manny Machado from a serious knee injury, which will bolster the squad. In terms of defense, the Orioles have a solid defense because Jones, Hardy, Wieters, and Machado are great fielders and man the most important defensive positions.
Although the Orioles’ offense and defense is very good, the pitching could pose problems for the Orioles as they attempt to make the playoffs. The Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez this offseason and are hoping that he returns to his Rockies’ second half form. The Orioles do not have an ace, but have multiple quality pitchers. The Orioles’ staff, Jimenez, Tillman, Norris, Gausman, and Chen, is deep and should be able to win games against the back of opposing teams’ staff. If the Orioles do experience injuries, they have multiple options that will allow them to continue winning. In the bullpen, the Orioles have multiple weapons that can throw hard and strike out opposing hitters late in games. Although the O’s dumped former closer Jim Johnson, they will be replacing him with Tommy Hunter. Hunter throws extremely hard and has been able to pitch well over the past few seasons as an eighth inning pitcher. Along with hard throwing from the right side, Brian Matusz is a lefty specialist that pitches in the mid to high nineties and has improved over the past few seasons.
Although the Orioles improved their team this offseason, the other teams in this division have improved as well, so it is unlikely they will noticeably improve their win total from last season.
Predicted Orioles Record: 85-77
5) Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays entered last season as one of the best teams on paper and many thought they would be one of the best teams in the league. However, the Jays did not meet expectations as they suffered many injuries and their players did not play to previous standards.
Like the other American League East teams, the Blue Jays have a threatening lineup. On the infield, the Blue Jays have Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, and Maicer Izturius. In the outfield, the Blue Jays will be led by Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, and Colby Rasmus. The Blue Jays have one of the best 3-4 hitting duos in the league because Bautista is one of the best power hitters and Encaracion has turned into one of the better hitters after a sluggish start to his career. At the top of the order, the Blue Jays will have Reyes and Cabrera at the one-two positions as they both have great speed and the ability to reach base at a very high percentage. If the duo can stay healthy, they will score a lot of runs and help the Blue Jays score runs because Bautista and Encarnacion should both be able to record at least 100 RBIs. Although the Jays have the potential for a great offense, their defense does not have the same ability.
In terms of pitching, the Blue Jays have many questions in their rotation, which negatively separates them from the rest of the teams. Although the Blue Jays gave up two very good prospects to the Mets, they did not receive great production from RA Dickey last season. Although Dickey should be able to achieve more success this season because he is now healthy, it is unknown if he can return to his Cy Young form. After Dickey, the Jays have Brandon Marrow, Mark Buehrle, JA Happ, and Esmil Rogers in the rotation. Mark Buehrle and Esmil Rogers are steady pitchers and should provide the Blue Jays with consistent quality outings. Although Marrow and Happ have great talent and have shown they can produce at the major league level, they are consistently injured and cannot pitch at their full potential. If the duo can remain healthy, the Blue Jays can compete in the East and win about 85 to 90 games.
Although the Jays may have the worst starting rotation in the division, it is likely they have the best bullpen. The back of the Jays bullpen is very solid with Sergio Santos as the closer and Steve Delbar and Brett Cecil as the set up men. Last year, Cecil and Delbar had great seasons and made the All-Star team. If the Jays can maintain a lead into the 7th inning, they will have a great chance of winning games and competing for the last Wild Card spot. Unless the Jays have a few surprises in the rotation, it is unlikely they will win more than 80 games in the difficult AL East.
Predicted Blue Jays Record: 78-84
Pics and stats from ESPN.com