Everybody on the planet picks the Boston Red Sox to run away with the AL East. I don’t think it will be that easy. First of all, subtracting Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre while adding Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez is not a huge upgrade; it’s a wash at best. Sox fans already have Gonzalez in the Hall of Fame because of Fenway’s dimensions. We’ve heard this nonsense before (George Scott, Cecil Copper, Mo Vaughan). AG seems like a nice guy, but he’d better not be an NL fraud or the Boston media will eat him alive. And Josh Beckett needs to return to form or he’s the hors d’oeuvre. The Sox were good enough to win last year, but didn’t. The key won’t be the new guys; it will be health. If Ellsbury, Pedroia, and Youkllis avoid the DL, things should work out, though only if Ellsbury and Pedroia are more than flashes in the pan; they need to be .300 hitters, not .265 guys and I suspect that’s what they are. Will Boston squeeze another year from David Ortiz? Will either catcher break .230? Jon Lester is a Cy Young waiting to happen, but there are question marks. Will Bucholtz repeat his 2010 performance? Is too much being asked of Daniel Bard? Will Pabelbon or Matsuzaka show up? And I said it last year and will say it again: John Lackey is woefully overrated. The pressure is on. This team is either as good as the experts say, or it’s an expensive folly.
Lest we forget, the Tampa Rays are the reigning division champs. Personally I don’t think they’ve lost as much as has been claimed. Other than Soriano, the bullpen guys were spare parts and any day you can subtract Carlos Pena whilst adding Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon must be considered a plus. Matt Garza wasn’t going to last on this staff, so he won’t be missed that much either. Do you like a staff of Price, Davis, Hellickson, Shields, and Niemann? I sure do. The pen is a big concern though. Kyle Farnsworth shouldn’t throw anything more than batting practice and when he’s in the game, opponents get a lot of batting practice! The lineup isn’t fearsome, but it’s solid. Let us not forget the AL’s best third baseman: Evan Longoria. Shortstop might be a problem--word out of Florida is that Brignac is a bust.
What about the New York Yankees? Can you say no joy in Bronxville? I look for the Yankees to tumble hard. This will be the year that the Reaper finally lets us know that the future of Posada, Jeter, Mighty Mo Rivera, and A-Rod is the past. The Yankees might be glad if Sabathia opts out; his surgically repaired knee doesn’t look good so far this spring. There’s plenty of hope for the future--Hughes, Texeira and Cano are studs, catching prospects abound, and there are some dynamic arms just a year or two away--Betances, Banuelos, Nova, Brackman, Warren…. But not this year. If I’m GM Brian Cashman, I’ d look to move some pieces, especially Joba Chamberlain, Damaso Marte, Sergio Mitre, and Boone Logan. And if I can, I dump some bad contracts--A-Rod or A. J. Burnett anyone? I would not be surprised to see the Yankees slip as low as fourth this year.
I keep picking the Baltimore Orioles to rise and I think this year I’ll be right. Once again it all rides on young arms--Arrieta, Matusz, Guthrie, Bergesen… If Duchscherer is healed that would help, but the Yankees passed on him so that doesn’t bode well. And as much as people talk of the Red Sox and Yankees, a lineup of Roberts, Jones, Markakis, Lee, Hardy, Vlad Guerrero, Scott, Wieters, and Reynolds has a chance to be better 1-9 than either Boston or New York. It all boils down to whether the O’s can pitch well enough to compete.
Not this year, but watch the Toronto Blue Jays, who really are rebuilding. The Jays led the league in homers last year and might again: Bautista, Encarnacion, Lind, Hill…. If these guys ever raise their .OBP the Jays will wear out some pitching staffs. Speaking of which, they’re not ready yet but watch out for this young staff. Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil are already good, Kyle Drabek is an ace in the hole, Brandon Morrow is on the cusp, and you don’t know names such as Rzepczynski, Carlson, and McGowan yet, but you will. If these kids mature like I think they will, next year the Blue Jays will be my dark horse pick.
1. Rays (Pitching trumps hype)
2. Red Sox (Because no one ever wins on paper!)
3. Orioles (They’re either third of fifth)
4. Yankees (Brian Cashman gets cashiered after the mass retirement party)
5. Blue Jays (Have a Labatt’s and be patient, eh?)