2014 MLB Preview: AL East

al_east_resized.fw

The American League East has long been considered the best division in baseball as they have regularly seen teams at the top of the league. The division contains some of the most legendary teams in the MLB and every year they seem to be on top of the league. That can make it extremely difficult for teams to make a run at the top of the division. With the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox constantly winning the division the other teams find it hard to break through and win. Last year would be no different as it seemed like it was the perfect opportunity for a lot of teams to break through into the top spot. Instead the Boston Red Sox would take the title and eventually would take the World Series. The season from the Red Sox would once again show that the AL East is the strongest division in the MLB. The season was not supposed to be like that though as the Red Sox were expected to have a terrible season while the New York Yankees were expected to do the exact same. Meanwhile the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles were expected to be the potential new rulers of the division. 2013 was supposed to be a year of transition for the AL East as the two powers for the last two decades were supposed to be falling while other teams were supposed to be rising. The turnaround would not happen though as another year would go by with the name at the top of the standings being fairly familiar. As the new season starts the questions arise again about whether the division will see a transition or whether the top teams will remain the top teams. The Red Sox are looking to repeat but will no longer play under the radar as everyone knows that they are a team to watch after winning the World Series. Meanwhile the Yankees are trying to recover from an uncommon bad year and will try to continue their time at the top of the division. The Toronto Blue Jays’ rebuild experiment is over and they are trying to move forward in the hopes that the pieces left can form a winner. The Orioles are also trying to recover from a disappointing year as they seemed on their way up the rankings with the division title in their sights but would fall short. Then there is the Tampa Bay Rays hoping that this year can be another year where they find themselves sin the postseason run at the end of the year. The AL East is interesting this year as it seems to be every year and only adding to that internet is the fact they the defending World Series Champions will once again reside in this division. The only question will be whether or not the rule of the Yankees and Red Sox can come to an end or if another team can take control.

 

Baltimore Orioles

baltimore_orioles.fw

The Baltimore Orioles seemed to be on the rise for the 2013 season after a year where they would surprise everyone. In 2012 the Orioles would climb into the postseason race and would have a great run to the ALDS. What many wondered was if the run that the Orioles had put on in 2012 would last to 2013. The there was a lot of expectations especially with the Yankees and the Red Sox expected to take a step backwards in the year. It seemed like the division would be wide open for the O’s to take control and make another run in the postseason. That would not work out though as the O’s would find themselves on the losing end of a resurgent year by the Red Sox and good year by the Rays the O’s would end up out of the playoffs. It was a disappointing year after all seemed well in Baltimore with the team ready to take the next step. In 2014 the offseason was spent trying to fill some holes that would come when a number of good players left in free agency. Overall though the Orioles seemed to believe that they were set for a good year and that 2013 was more of a speed bump along the way. The Orioles would make one big signing when they added Ubaldo Jimenez to their rotation. He will join Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez to form a good rotation. It is not an overpowering rotation though and that could be an issue against the batting power in the American League. The Orioles will have to depend on their offence to win games as they will hope that a number of players will step up to return to their 2012 form. Manny Machado will be looked to as a leader but he will start the season on the 15-Day Disabled List. That means the beginning of the season will have to see Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Nick Markakis, and J.J. Hardy to hold down the fort while Machado is gone. The Orioles’ bullpen would have one of the worst losses for the Orioles as they would trade closer Jim Johnson in the offseason leaving Tommy Hunter to likely assume the role. The O’s are sticking with much of the team that would put together a great year in 2012 and they are hoping that this group can recapture the magic. It will be tough and with more teams in the race this year in the East they may fall short of the post season. They will be in the fight for most of the season but the improvements were not enough to put them in the division hunt this year.

 

Biggest Loss:
Jim Johnson, RHP (Trade, Oak)
– Good closers are hard to find and most teams try to keep them as long as they can but the Orioles would decide to get rid of theirs trading Jim Johnson away in the offseason without replacing him leaving a hole in the bullpen

Biggest Addition:
Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP (Free Agency, Cle)
– The Cleveland Indians would sign Jimenez as a reclamation project and that would pay off last year while the Orioles now try to take advantage after signing him in the offseason in hopes he can be the dominant pitcher once again

Player to Watch:
Manny Machado, 3B
– He was the symbol of the resurgence of the Orioles and would lead the offence into the postseason but last year was fraught with Injury woes and he will start on the DL in 2014 as the O’s hope that he can return and stay healthy this year

 

Boston Red Sox

bos_redsox.fw

The Boston Red Sox entered the 2013 season as a team that was supposed to be falling to rock bottom. The 2012 season would see the once stable Red Sox fall to the bottom of the division with issues throughout the organization. The players stopped playing for their new manager and the team would fall from being a top team to a mess. So when 2013 started the Red Sox were expected to start picking up the pieces and continue to struggle while they tried to do exactly that. With a number of smaller additions to the team and another new manager the Red Sox were not expected to do much but they would surprise everyone. They would unfortunately gain some extra motivation at the start of the year when the Boston Marathon was bombed. After the tragic events at the Marathon the Red Sox began playing for much more than themselves as they would carry and entire city on their back for the entire season. That inspiration and a collection of players that nobody else wanted would translate to a World Series Championship in an unexpected finish to the season. Now the Red Sox are the defending champions meaning that everyone will be looking to them as a measure of their own team. As the defending champion the team would also see the usual exit of some key players. Every year the championship team sees a number of players leave because a number of teams look for that World Series experience in players. The Red Sox would lose Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Stephen Drew. All three were key contributors to the World Series Championship and will be missed. The Red Sox still have a good lineup that includes veterans and promising young stars as they look to be in the hunt again. World Series hero David Ortiz will return as the DH while Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and Willie Middlebrooks all return to the lineup. The Red Sox will also look to top prospect Xander Bogaerts to provide some speed in the lineup in his first full season. The rotation remains relatively the same with Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Felix Doubront all return to lead the rotation. The bullpen is in good hands as well with last year’s discovery Koji Uehara will once again return as the closer. The Red Sox are better off than most championship teams as they have stayed together despite a few departures. For the Red Sox that is a good thing as they will come back as a top team this year and they will once again fight for the top spot in the division with another long run into the postseason possible.

 

Biggest Loss:
Jacoby Ellsbury, OF (Free Agency, NYY)
– He was a longtime Red Sox player and now he will be going to the dark side and joining the rival New York Yankees removing a very good hitter from the Red Sox lineup with a batter who can hit for average and get on base

Biggest Addition:
A.J. Pierzynski, C (Free Agent, Tex)
– He is an aging catcher that spent a lot of time with the other Sox but he has remained a top hitter and an even better catcher as there is nothing he hasn’t seen which will help the pitchers with better insight

Player to Watch:
Xander Bogaerts, SS
– Among a team full of veteran players Bogaerts stands out as one of the most promising prospects that the Red Sox have seen in a long time but with that pressure he needs to perform and provide the speed to the lineup that made him a top prospect

 

New York Yankees

ny_yankees.fw

They are the mighty pinstripes of the American League East, a team that never seems to go away and is always at the top of the league. They are a team that seems to be in World Series contention and are the definition of spending to win. In recent years Hal and Hank Steinbrenner would take over and would begin a new era. They would attempt a new strategy as they would claim that they wanted to take their payroll below the MLB luxury tax. They would begin trying to follow this mandate as the big moves would not come from the Yankees in the last few years. In 2013 the strategy would prove not to work as the Yankees would finish in second last place just above .500 and would miss the postseason for the first time since 1994. After a bad season the Yankees would see a mass exodus from the team with a number of big names leaving. Andy Petite and Mariano Rivera would both retire from baseball while Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Curtis Granderson, Jayson Nix, Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, and Kevin Youkilis would all move on to new teams. It was an unusual scene for the Yankees and to replace the losses they would have to abandon their new strategy of spending less. The Yankees would bring in Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Jacoby Ellsbury into the lineup to join the select few that remained on the team. Mark Teixeira will be back and looking to stay healthy while Derek Jeter enters his last year in the MLB after announcing that he will retire at the end of the 2014 season. The pitching staff is where the Yankees would show that the spend less strategy had gone out the window. They would win the rights to the biggest name in free agency signing Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to a 7-year $155 million contract. He will hope to be the latest Japanese pitching sensation as he joins a good rotation that includes a slimmed down CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova. In the bullpen a lot of eyes will be on David Robertson who will become the closer and will replace the legendary Mariano Rivera. The Yankees are a team in transition and the players that left would be a big blow to the team and there will be more at the end of this season. They are in an unfamiliar place but would familiarly begin spending money to fix the problem. They still have a good core and if they can stay healthy they may be in the hunt once again but they are far from the dominant team they used to be.

 

Biggest Loss:
Mariano Rivera, RHP (Retirement)
– He was the best closer in the history of the MLB and replacing him would be one of the biggest challenges for the Yankees as there are few that can handle the closer role and even less that can match Rivera’s consistency and dominance in the 9th inning

Biggest Addition:
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP (Free Agent, Japan)
– He was the most sought after free agent this year and would dictate much of the free agent moves as after he was signed it seemed as though free agency would officially begin but now he must prove he was worth the hype and the massive contract he received from the Yankees

Player to Watch:
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP
– There are a number of teams that have gone outside of the USA to find stars and Japan has been one of the most popular places as Tanaka becomes the next hyped pitcher from the country and will be watched to see if he can match the likes of countryman Yu Darvish

 

Tampa Bay Rays

tb_rays.fw

The Tampa Bay Rays would silently get to the playoffs last year as they did not seem like they weren’t headed anywhere at the start of the season. They would see some key players leave in the offseason and looked as though they were on a downward slope. Then the season began and they would put together a good year except that nobody would notice. Every other team in the division would make headlines for their collapse or comeback but lost in the shuffle was the Rays and their march into the postseason. They would win the Wild Card game but fall short to the Red Sox in the ALDS ending a good season. The Rays would lose a long list of players in the offseason but when looking at the list there are not many that will have a major impact. The most important will likely be the losses suffered in the bullpen especially the loss of closer Fernando Rodney. The Rays would make a serious effort to replace these losses though spending most of their offseason finding replacements in the bullpen. Grant Balfour was brought in to replace Rodney in the closer role while Heath Bell and Brad Boxberger were signed as reinforcements. The gains were a great way to keep the Rays from having a massive weak spot. This bullpen will give the Rays rotation plenty of support when needed but the Rays are hoping that they will not need too much support. After losing some key pieces to the rotation in 2013 the Rays would show that they still have plenty of depth. David Price continues to lead the squad that includes Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson who will start the year on the DL. The offence is where the Rays do have a weakness though as they don’t have a whole lot of scoring power. The Rays get wins through their small ball ways but eventually it would be nice to be able to score in bunches when they need it, in fact that was what did them in during the 2013 postseason. Wil Myers represents the future of the offence in the Rays organization as he looks to continue to develop into one of the league’s best power hitters. Evan Longoria will also continue to provide some scoring ability but beyond those two names there is not a lot else on the offensive side of the ball. The Rays may silently march to the playoffs again this year but if teams can meet their potential they may be forced out of the postseason although they won’t go without a fight as they are still a team to watch in 2014.

 

Biggest Loss:
Fernando Rodney, RHP (Free Agent, Sea)
– He was another closer that left his team in the offseason and like every other closer that left his presence will be missed for the Rays who had a true rock in the ninth inning that consistently provided great saves

Biggest Addition:
Grant Balfour, RHP (Free Agency, Oak)
– To replace the hole left by a great closer the Rays would look to free agency and would find a number of good late inning pitchers with Balfour taking over the official closer role a year after earning 38 saves as he hopes to be as consistent as Rodney

Player to Watch:
Wil Myers, OF
– He is the future of the team and although he was not entirely home-grown he has represented what the Rays need as he is the power hitter that can complement Evan Longoria but he will need to continue to grow in his second MLB season

 

Toronto Blue Jays

tor_bluejays.fw

The Jays were easily the biggest story heading into the 2013 season as they would make a massive splash in free agency. Seemingly sick of the postseason drought the Jays opened the pocket books and began bringing in big names. They would orchestrate a massive trade with the Miami Marlins that would bring in Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and Jose Reyes, among others, to the Jays. Then they would land the 2012 Cy Young Award winner and knuckleballer RA Dickey in another trade with the New York Mets. The roster was changed in a big way and for that they would become the popular pick to win the division and in many cases to win the World Series. Then the season started and that spring team disappeared as the starting pitchers struggled to stay on the mound putting a lot of pressure on the bullpen and the offence. The Jays would end the season in last place in the AL East and would be the biggest disappointment of the season. This past offseason could not have been more different for the Jays as they would remain extremely quite a year after making the most moves out of any team in the league. They would seem to be in on a number of players but none of them would come through and they were left with much of the same team as 2013. That doesn’t mean there were no moves though as a lot of players would leave the team including recent acquisitions Mark DeRosa and Josh Jonhson along with the farm grown catcher in J.P. Arencibia. For the Jays only the loss of their catcher would seem pressing, especially as DeRosa was a utility bench player and Johnson underperformed last year, and they would go out to get Dioner Navarro from the Cubs. Navarro will add some experience behind the plate but not much on offence. Instead the Jays will look to the guys they already have including Brett Lawrie, Jose Reyes, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, and their two power hitters Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. In the rotation the lineup stays the same with RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle hoping that a good end of the year translates to a good 2014 while Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchison, and Dustin McGowan, who is on the comeback trail, will fill out the rest of the rotation. The Jays did not get better in the offseason but they did not get too much worse and with another year for these players to gel they could surprise some as they might be in the postseason hunt. Still the 2013 season is too much to overlook as another year outside of the postseason is a possibility for the Jays.

 

Biggest Loss:
Rajai Davis, OF (Free Agency, Det)
– He was not a big bat or a great defensive star but he provided something that not many can provide as when he got on base he would give pitchers fits and that aspect of his game will be missed even with Jose Reyes in the lineup

Biggest Addition:
Dioner Navarro, C (Free Agent, CHC)
– The only big hole that formed in the offseason was at catcher and after trading away their future catcher last offseason the Jays had to go out and find someone to fill the hole while that someone would be Navarro who hopes to bring his experience behind the plate to the Jays’ rotation

Player to Watch:
Jose Bautista, OF
– He was the building block that the Jays would build around in the last few years but he has struggled to stay on the field in recent years and has not been able to reach the same output he used to as Bautista hopes to move up towards 35+ HRs once again

 

Prediction:
1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 155 other followers

%d bloggers like this: