The AL East is arguably the most competitive division in the major leagues. In the last five years three different teams have won the division.
Last season came down to the last day. The New York Yankees clinched home field advantage throughout the postseason almost a week before the season ended but the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays were battling for the Wild Card.
The Rays defeated the Yankees in a 12 inning thriller after they were losing seven to zero in the seventh inning. At practically the same time, Jonathan Papelbon blew a save against the Orioles, capping their historic September collapse.
With names like Jonathan Papelbon and Jesus Montero leaving the division, players like Alex Rodriguez and Clay Buchholz coming back from injury, players like John Lackey going to miss the season due to injury and players like Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda entering the division, the AL East will look very different in 2012.
Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Mark Reynolds, JJ Hardy, Chris Davis, Nolan Reimold, Robert Andino
Jeremy Guthrie, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Wei-Yin Chen
Major Bullpen Arms:
Tsuyoshi Wada, Kevin Gregg, Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter, Alfredo Simon, Troy Patton, Pedroi Strop, Jim Johnson
Projected Record: 75-87
The Baltimore Orioles are a very talented team and in any other division they might be a .500 team.
If Adam Jones is not traded, they have a very good middle of the lineup with Jones, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, Mark Reynolds and JJ Hardy leading the way.
Their rotation is nothing special, and they arguably have the worst rotation in the AL. Jeremy Guthrie is a good middle of the rotation veteran pitcher but he is not an ace. Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen are nice additions from Japan but neither is a lock to be a quality starting pitcher.
Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz are all promising young pitchers but none of them lived up to expectations in 2011. Will they improve in 2012? Probably, but I doubt they will be anything more than average pitchers.
This team will be led by a very good offense but their rotation will keep them below .500 in 2012.
Yunel Escobar, Eric Thames, Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, JP Arencibia, Kelly Johnson
Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek
Major Bullpen Arms:
Jason Frasor, Chad Beck, Luis Perez, Darren Oliver, Casey Janssen, Joel Carreno, Sergio Santos
Projected Record: 85-77
If the Toronto Blue Jays sign Prince Fielder, this projection will go up.
As of right now the Jays have a very solid team. Ricky Romero posted a 2.92 ERA at only 27 years old, Brandon Morrow led the majors in K/9 and Kyle Drabek has a very high ceiling. The top of their rotation has serious potential but their offense is their real strength.
Jose Bautista is arguably the best hitter in all of baseball. Not only has he hit 97 home runs in the last two seasons but he also has driven in 227 runs, walked 232 times and hit .280 over that same time period. He has averaged a 1.026 OPS over the last two seasons, second to only Miguel Cabrera's 1.038 OPS during that span.
Brett Lawrie looks like a future superstar and players like Colby Rasmus, JP Arencibia and Travis D'Arnaud all have serious potential.
This would be a borderline playoff team in any other division but in the AL East they will have to settle for fourth in the division.
Desmond Jennings, BJ Upton, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce, Luke Scott, Sean Rodriguez, Russ Canzler, Jose Molina
David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Wade Davis
Major Bullpen Arms:
Alex Cobb, Jeff Niemann, Jake McGee, Josh Lueke, Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth
Projected Record: 92-70
The Tampa Bay Rays are the proud owner of one of the top four rotations in all of baseball. Only the Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and San Francisco Giants can even pretend to compete with them pitch for pitch. I will not discuss which is better, but just know that those are the top four rotations in the majors right now.
David Price is a legitimate ace atop their rotation. James Shields has had a very inconsistent career so far, but he put it all together in 2011 with an incredible season. Jeremy Hellickson won the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Award with a 2.95 ERA; however, sabermetrics will tell you he got very lucky. He had a mediocre 4.44 FIP, an awful 4.72 xFIP and an impossible-to-replicate .223 BABIP. Nonetheless, Hellickson was impressive in 2011.
Matt Moore looks like a future Cy Young Winner, he came into the majors and posted an incredible 1.86 ERA in 19.1 innings. He did not play mediocre teams: all but 1.1 of his innings came against the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, who finished as the three top offenses in all of baseball in 2011.
Behind their great rotation the Rays have a decent bullpen and a very underrated offense.
Evan Longoria is the best third baseman in the majors, BJ Upton has all of the talent in the world, Ben Zobrist is about as underrated as you can get and Desmond Jennings looks like Carl Crawford 2.0.
Longoria had a down year in terms of batting average but he once again showed his 30 home run, 100 RBI stroke. In his first four years in the league he has averaged 32 home runs and 115 RBI per 600 at-bats, not to mention a decent .274 batting average.
BJ Upton may be traded in 2011, but if not, he will be a key cog to their run to the postseason.
If Bud Selig institutes the two-team Wild Card in 2012 the Tampa Bay Rays will make the postseason. But if Selig waits until 2013, the Rays may miss the cut by just a few games. I would not be surprised if the Rays finish second, or even first, in the AL East, but as of right now they look to be the third-best team in this tough division.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Sweeney, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Marco Scutaro
Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Alfredo Aceves, Daniel Bard
Major Bullpen Arms:
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Andrew Miller, Aaron Cook, Felix Doubront, Franklin Morales, Matt Albers, Vincente Padilla, Bobby Jenks, Mark Melancon, Andrew Bailey
Projected Record: 97-65
If it was not for their historical September collapse the Boston Red Sox probably would have won 100 games in 2011.
The massive amount of turnover in the Red Sox front office and dugout will be tough to overcome. A new manager, new GM and completely new bullpen will be tough to overcome, but this team has serious talent.
To combat the loss of Jonathan Papelbon the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey, an elite closer who has the potential to be just as good as Papelbon. They will also lost John Lackey to Tommy John Surgery, but as he was awful in 2011 this is not much of a loss. Daisuke Matsuzaka should be back by the All-Star break and Clay Buchholz should be back from his back injury.
The three-headed monster of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz atop the Red Sox rotation is dangerous. All three of those pitchers can post ERAs in the low 3.00s, if not high 2.00s. Still, Josh Beckett has been inconsistent, Jon Lester had an off 2011 season and Buchholz spent half the season on the DL; they are not locks for great seasons but I expect at least two of them to have a very good year.
The Red Sox offense is as dangerous as any in the majors. You can say that Adrian Gonzalez is bound to regress after he led the majors in BABIP with an insanely high and impossible-to-replicate .380 BABIP. You can also say that Jacoby Ellsbury had never even hit 10 home runs or driven in 65 RBI before 2011, how can you expect him to replicate his 2011 season?
You could also say that Carl Crawford cannot possibly be as bad as he was in 2011. True, he's not getting younger, and because of that his defense and stolen base numbers will suffer but he will not have an OBP below .300 in 2012 like he did in 2011.
Carl Crawford might miss the beginning of the season after arthroscopic wrist surgery, but he should return to 2010 form in no time.
This Red Sox team is as dangerous as you can get. If they can build chemistry and rapport with the new guys (especially manager Bobby Valentine), focus on the season and put the September collapse behind them, the Red Sox should be in for another great season.
Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Andruw Jones, Brett Gardner
CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda, Freddy Garcia
Major Bullpen Arms:
Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, AJ Burnett, Boone Logan, Cory Wade, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Mariano Rivera
Projected Record: 107-55
The New York Yankees won 97 games in 2011 despite playing their Triple-A team after they clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
A full season with a healthy Alex Rodriguez and the addition of Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda will make the 2012 club even better.
Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira actually had down years in 2011, and they might have an even better season in 2012. Cano's batting average dropped from .319 to .302 and he hit one less home run. Teixeira was a victim of the third lowest BABIP in the majors with a .239 BABIP. Could they both get better? Definitely.
Alex Rodriguez only played 99 games in 2011 and if his experimental knee surgery worked—Kobe Bryant had the same procedure this offseason so I am optimistic—he might go back to the A-Rod that hit 30 home runs and 100 RBI for 13 straight season. If he can do that he can give Robinson Cano great protection and they will both improve.
The Yankees could grab a new DH. Johnny Damon, Carlos Pena, Vladimir Guerrero, Raul Ibanez, Hideki Matsui, Mark Trumbo and Billy Butler are all rumored possibilites, but as of right now Andruw Jones is the DH and Alex Rodriguez will see some time at DH as well. I would prefer to trade Phil Hughes for Billy Butler, but if that does not happen I would rather see DH position given primarily to Andruw Jones and occasionally used for a rotation of aging players like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira.
Losing Jesus Montero is a big blow but the offense was fine without him from April to August. Michael Pineda will help the Yankees' main need: their rotation. Not only is he a strikeout machine, but he also posted a 3.03 ERA before the 2011 All-Star break, albeit in Safeco field, before he tired out. He has serious talent and another season will build up his stamina. Hopefully Pineda will develop a changeup to make him an even better pitcher.
The Yankees also will replace Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett with Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda in their rotation. Even if you do not think highly of Pineda due to his unfavorable splits and do not believe in Kuroda because he is 37 years old, you have to agree that they are an upgrade.
CC Sabathia is a bona fide ace who will give the Yankees 230 innings and an ERA of 3.00 or below. Ivan Nova had an incredible rookie season and only got better as the season progressed. Nova went 8-0 and posted a 3.08 ERA after July 1; if he can keep that up in 2012, the Yankees have a legitimate No. 2 starter.
This team is among the favorites to win the World Series in 2012.