The countdown to Opening Day is getting smaller. The Opening Series is well over, and there are only two days to Opening Day. Every day, from now to the beginning of the season, I will be previewing at least one division, leading up to my postseason picks on Opening Night. After doing all three NL divisions (E C W), we will continue with the American League, starting with the East division today.
1. New York Yankees -- 2013 Record: 85-77; Projected Record: 93-69
The New York Yankees have a lot to play for this upcoming season. First, Derek Jeter will not be returning to the club next year, as he has announced his retirement from the game of baseball earlier this spring. Second, the Yankees went all out this off season with free agents, perhaps proving to the American League that they are a force to be reckoned with. And third, they just want to win. Last season, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008, something that is considered unacceptable. They want to be back, and fast.
This off season, the Yankees went all out. They signed Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Masahiro Tanaka. Their 2014 team will look much different from the one in 2013. By signing Ellsbury, Beltran, and McCann, the Yankees will add to an offense where two hitters, Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner posted an OPS+ above 100. Yes, Cano is gone, but all three of their offensive signees did post an OPS+ above 100. The Yankees also added Masahiro Tanaka, a 27 year old Japanese pitcher whom posted a perfect record in the NPB. He has a 2.14 ERA this Spring Training.
The outlook on the Yankees season looks pretty good, with their new additions likely helping them out and getting them back to the postseason. In a division that is historically tough, the Yankees pushed themselves to the top with a great off season, and one last season from Derek Jeter. It seems like a storybook ending for "The Captain's" career.
2. Tampa Bay Rays -- 2013 Record: 92-71; Projected Record: 90-72
The Tampa Bay Rays always seem to be one of the most sneaky teams down the stretch into September. I always feel like I am the one that thinks that the Rays cannot do it another year. They always find a way to do it. So, this year, I am predicting them to finish second in the AL East and take a Wild Card spot. The Rays have a good balance between hitting and pitching, and boast one of the best saber-metric inclined front offices, something that has taken them to contention four of the six years since they changed their name to the Rays (they were originally the Devil Rays).
This off season, the Rays re-signed James Loney, signed Grant Balfour, and traded for Ryan Hanigan. None of these moves are considered blockbusters, but Loney played a huge role for the Rays last season, Balfour was a lights-out closer for Oakland, and Ryan Hanigan has been a very good backup catcher and will get the starting nod in Tampa Bay. The Rays front office knows what they're doing, and these moves will help fix some of the holes the Rays had coming into the season.
The Rays are a great fundamental team, which has been one of the biggest keys to success in the Major Leagues over the past five years. The Rays might be able to capture the American League East, but a tough division will likely say otherwise. A first or second Wild Card spot seems to fit the 2014 Rays description.
3. Boston Red Sox -- 2013 Record: 97-65; Projected Record: 89-75
The Red Sox fall off the table very quickly this season. Going from the World Series champions to a third place finisher just does not seem right, but they had some significant losses this off season, cupped with very few additions. The Red Sox were supposed to be bad last season, and it looks like they will start to settle to their "true position" this season. They will be relying more on younger, inexperienced talent, and will be missing Jacoby Ellsbury (Yankees), Stephen Drew (Free Agent), and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Marlins) from their lineup in 2014.
The Red Sox filled the Saltalamacchia void this off season by signing catcher A.J. Pierzynski. A lifetime .283 hitter, Pierzynski is a good hitter, but will be entering his age 37 season, something that may be a warning flag, especially for a full-time catcher. The voids of Stephen Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury will be filled by rookies Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., respectively. They both are fantastic prospects, but their first full season may not be where the Red Sox want them.
This season's outlook looks like it could go in many different directions for the Red Sox. Nothing really seems set in stone, so do not be surprised if the Red Sox win the division again. However, that would surprise me, following the loss of three really good hitters from their lineup. The Red Sox season looks disappointing, as they fall to third in their division.
4. Baltimore Orioles -- 2013 Record: 85-77; Projected Record: 88-74
The Orioles are going all in this season, signing both Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz late into the off season. Other than that, they still have a similar team to last season's. They have a great offense with Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, and now Nelson Cruz. But their rotation does not look as good. Behind Jimenez (who is not the best pitcher ALL the time), the Orioles have Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez. That's not good enough to contend in the AL East.
This off season, the Orioles' two big moves were Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz. They signed both within a short time of one another, after remaining relatively silent earlier in the winter. They have had a good off season, but they just are not good enough to be in contention with the rest of the East. They have the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox above them, and just do not look quite as good as the rest of the teams.
The Orioles could be a playoff team. They could win one of the two Wild Cards, which would not surprise me. However, they face some tough foes in not only the American League East, but the American League in general. In order to win a playoff spot, their pitching has to improve itself from what it is shaping up to be. It just does not look like it will, and I am not sure if it can.
5. Toronto Blue Jays -- 2013 Record: 74-88; Projected Record: 78-84
The Blue Jays are still trying to make the most of a 2012 trade with the Miami Marlins, when they acquired Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, and Josh Johnson all in one trade. They also acquired R.A. Dickey, coming off of a Cy Young. In theory, the Blue Jays had a fantastic off season. But after a dismal year, it looks like those moves just did not work out, and they have not done much to add to them. It looks like another bad year for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014.
This off season, the biggest move the Blue Jays made was the signing of catcher Dioner Navarro. I applaud them for doing that, as he is one of the most underrated catchers in all of the Major Leagues. He is good offensively (as of last season), can call a good game, and can be a force behind home plate. He was a fantastic move for the Jays, who have needed a catcher following a terrible season from J.P. Arencibia (59 OPS+ in 497 plate appearances).
In general, I would be very surprised if the Toronto Blue Jays make any noise in the bottom of the American League East division. As I've repeated numerous times, the division is a tough one, and a team without great depth nor a great pitching staff can't survive in a division as tough as the American League East. It looks like it will be a few years before the Blue Jays become dominant again.