Remember when this was MLB’s power division? Not any more–90-91 wins should win the AL East. It should be wide open for any team not named Yankees or Rays, either of whom will need luck to have a winning record.
Worst to first to worst to first in four years? It could happen–the Red Sox are odds-on favorites to win the AL East. The Sox added Hanley Ramirez, Sandoval, and Cuban phenom Castillo, who join proven talents such as Pedroia, Ortiz, Napoli, and a rehabbed Victorino. The Sox have rebuilt the pitching staff that, if not dazzling, is deep. The ace might be Porcello, though he’s just a one-year rental. If healthy, Uehara is a fine closer.
Why the Sox still might stink: Few teams over-hype talent like the Red Sox. It can go horribly wrong if these guys simply aren’t as good as management says there are. If that happens, the Sox are the new Yankees: a team saddled with bloated contracts that they can't unload. Sandoval was merely an okay player in San Francisco. What if he can’t transition from the NL to the AL? Miley was good in Arizona, but the record for NL pitchers coming over the AL isn't very good either. If the Red Sox really think Boegarts is their future shortstop, why did they throw stupid money at an unproven 19-year-old Cuban? There’s also a lot of redundancy. Hundred million dollar man Castillo replicates Betts, who is better. Ramirez can’t play short anymore and was shifted to left, where legitimate outfielders like Craig, Bradley, and Nava should be playing. Chemistry could be a major issue and the defense will have more holes than a bum’s trousers. Which Buccholz shows up: Jekyll or Hyde? By the way, reports hold that the Phillies backed off of trading Hamels to Boston because they're unimpressed by Barnes and Owens–two guys they originally demanded in a trade.
The Orioles won 97 games last year, but that will be hard to duplicate having lost Markakis and Cruz. Wieters is scheduled to catch, but his fragile knees spell DH. Chris Davis, slugger or ‘roid rage? Probably the latter. Machado can be awesome—but he too has been of fragile health. Gotta love Adam Jones, though—maybe the best centerfielder in baseball. Travis Snider is a nice player, but he won’t make anyone forget Cruz. Chen, Tillman, Norris, and Gausman are a nice pitching staff, though one that won’t inspire fear. (Jimenez is officially hopeless.) They’re the champs until someone dethrones them, but are they 7 or 8 games worse than last year? That might make the difference between Party Time and the Port-o-Potty.
The Blue Jays are the sexy choice to win the AL East but, frankly, it’s the same story every year: the Jays make a big splash in the off-season but the headlines are bigger than the payoff. Stealing Josh Donaldson from the A’s for slacker Brett Lawrie was a coup, though. He joins an already fearsome group of lumberjacks: Encarnación, Bautista, Reyes…. The outfield, which lost Rasmus and Melky Cabrera, won’t be as good. It’s a perpetual problem for the Jays: not enough pitching. Stroman has a bad knee and the only guys you can depend upon for 200 innings are a 40-year-old knuckleballer (Dickey) and a declining southpaw (Buerle). Catcher Russ Martin will be called upon to shape up this staff, but let's face it–if he was half as good as his press clippings he’d still be catching in New York. He’s only 40% as good, which is why he’s in Toronto via Pittsburgh.
On paper, the Yankees look awful. Tanaka is Tommy John surgery waiting to happen; Sabathia is back–fatter in body and in the pitches he lobs. Nova won’t be back until summer, and Warren is probably the # 5 guy after the green Evoaldi. Pineda may be the ace! The Yankees traded last year’s pitching sensation to get a guy with a great glove and weak bat to take Jeter’s place (Gregorious). They already had someone like that in Buddy Ryan, and everyone is wondering why he's still on the squad instead of kids like Pirela and Refsnyder, who actually know how to hit. Even worse, the Yanks resigned Drew, who of late couldn't hit a barn with a mini van. Tex is an RBI machine when healthy, which was three years ago. A-Rod’s back, Beltran is way over the hill, and Ellsbury is injured again (no shock there!)? Did I mention A-Rod?
Why the Yankees might surprise: They had a worse team last year and still won 83 games. Few managers use personnel as well as Girardi, so what happens if Joe coaxes another six or so wins out of this team? If they can get to it, the bullpen should be awesome. The ultimate would be if A-Rod played with a chip on his shoulder, Headley is the steal of the off-season, Sabathia morphs into a crafty lefty, and the Yankees break out into health. Damned if I’d bet the farm on it!
1. Red Sox: If not first, fourth–and it could go either way.
2. Orioles: Solid lineup, decent pitching, good defense. Maybe it's enough to repeat. Maybe.
3. Jays: By might alone because the pitching is shakier than an AA confessional.
4. Yankees: Old, shopworn, and married to a hire-vets-first mentality that hasn’t made sense in a decade. If the chips fall the right way, the Yankees could win 90 games. It's more likely they'll lose that many.
5. Rays: Move this team—please. Nice young pitchers, though Cobb is hurt. The problem is basic—"Rays offense" is an oxymoron. If Longoria gets hurt, only Loney can hit harder than a grade school sissy.