American League East
The American League has been the most exciting division to watch, just because of the ongoing hatred between the Red Sox and the Yankees.
Both teams have the highest payrolls in the Majors—the Yankess have $100 million more then the Red Sox, but Boston is starting to catch up.
Both teams seem to have to outdo each other when it comes to signing free agents. The Yanks get Bobby Arbeu, the Sox then go out and get J.D. Drew. The Red Sox sign two Japanese pitchers, so the Yanks go out and get one of their own.
With these two teams playing the "anything you can do I can do better" game between them, the door has been opened for a new team to sneak in and maybe surprise the Sox and Yanks.
Boston Red Sox (94-68)
The defending World Champions haven't lost anything off of their Championship team. The only change really is that Curt Schilling will be out for a while. That means that the Sox and going to their two young studs Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz will be at the back end of a very strong rotation. Behind maybe the D-Backs, this may be the strongest staff in the Majors but it's still close. Josh Beckett is a front-runner for the CY Young and Daisuke somewhat lived up to the hype that came with him last year. Wakefield will be there to eat up innings and the two young guns will round out the rotation. There line-up is virtually unchanged from last year. Big Papi and Manny at 3 and 4 in the batting order is as scary a one two combination as any in the league. If Lowell and Pedroia can continue the hot steak they had in the playoffs this could be the most fear line-up in the Majors. The two things that need to happen in this lineup is that Coco needs to go and Jacoby needs to start, and J.D. Drew needs to earn his money and become a productive hitter behind Papi and Manny. The Box bullpen was the best in the league and it will be again if healthy. Papelbon is one of the best in the league at closer and Okajima was one of the best relievers in the game last year. Along with Mike Timlin, Kyle Snyder, Manny Delcarmen, and Julian Tavarez this should be the best pen in the league again. The only reason the Red Sox won't win 100 games is because they have the Yankees and Blue Jays to play in their division.
New York Yankees (91-71)
The A.L. Wildcard will again go through the American League East and again the Yankees won't be able to beat the Red Sox for the division. The Yankees also have the same line-up and mostly same pitching staff as last year. Their pitching staff will be anchored for Chien-Ming Wang coming off a great regular season, but a shaky postseason. Along with the Sox, the Yankees are bring up their two young guns to their rotation, Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes. The very big question mark will be around Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina. Will Pettitte be able to pitch around all of the Mitchell Report, Rodger Clemens, and HGH talk before, during, and after every game. And will the Moose be able to be affective again after last year showing signs of his age during the year. The Yankees bullpen will be strong again with of the best to ever close, Mariano Rivera, to pitch the 9th. The rest of the bullpen is somewhat of a question mark. What will the Yankees do with Joba Chamberlain? There have bee talks all through the off-season that he will be a starter, then he was back in the pen. Now he's going to start the season setting up for Rivera, then they are sending him down to Triple-A to become a starter again, then they will bring him back up when he's ready to fill him in the rotation. I don't understand that at all. Look I know how un-hitable he is but I believe you groom him into being the successor of Mariano, and you get him as the closer for 12+ years in New York. The line-up will again be one of the most feared in the League. A-Rod looks to have another monster season, but he is predicting for Jeter to win the MVP and Abreu to have a monster season as well. The only real change in the line-up is in the outfield. Johnny Damon moves to Left Field, Melky Cabrera will start in Center, and Matsui will be the DH. Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada should complete a very strong line-up. I don't think they have the pitching to match-up with the Red Sox but they will make the playoffs with new Skipper Joe Girardi.
Toronto Blue Jays (86-76)
Most people don't realize that the Blue Jays finished above .500 in what was the toughest division in the AL. They made some new additions to the line-up and they have a chance to compete with the two powers of the American League. Their strong point will be their starting rotation. Beind two potential aces in Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett is staff is right up their with the Sox and D-Backs for best in the league. Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, and Jesse Litsch will be the rest of the very strong rotation that will give the monster line-ups of Boston and New York trouble. Their bullpen has also been overlooked. With a healthy B.J. Ryan as the closer and Jeremy Accardo, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, and Brian Tallet this bullpen will win a lot of games for the Jays. Their line-up is also somewhat overlooked. Frank Thomas is getting older but still has some pop left in his bat. Their outfield with Alex Rios and Vernon Wells is one of the best in the league. New additions on the infield Scott Rolen and David Eckstein will provide a defense boost to this team also with Aaron Hill, Lyle Overbay, and Gregg Zaun catching. Toronto is only I think one more big bat in their line-up from maybe passing the Yankees for the Wildcard, but not yet.
Tampa Bay Rays (71-91)
This will be the second year, 2004, that the Rays will not finish last in the American League East. They have loads of young talent that is almost ready to make an impact in the East. If there is one thing this team over the other teams in the AL East, is that is had lots of speed. Carl Crawford will be an All-Star again in the outfield, and along side him in the outfield will be two other young stars in B.J. Upton and Rocco Baldelli. The infield is fairly young and inexperienced with Evan Longoria and Akinori Iwamura, and with new addition Jason Bartlett at short. Carlos Pena will look to improve on a career year and Dioner Navarro will be a strong backstop for the Rays. Their starting pitching is still one or two years away. Scott Kazmir and Jason Shields are a strong 1-2 at the top of the rotation. Matt Garza was a great pickup from the Twins and along with Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine this rotation will have it's bumps and bruises along the way. The bullpen is still a work in progress with old Angels closer, Troy Percival, doing the work late in games. Al Reyes, Dan Wheeler, Gary Glover, Scott Dohmann, and Jaul Salas will be the rest of the bullpen. The Rays are still young and have lots of prospects but are still two or threes away from competing with the big boys at the top of the division.
Baltimore Orioles (65-97)
The only good thing about the O's upcoming season is that the Texas Rangers are not in their division. This team is going through a rebuilding time. They have a good amount of young prospects in the minors and it might be time for them to look to move guys like Melvin Mora, Brian Roberts, and Kevin Millar. They have a lot of young arms that still need to develop. Fernando Cabrera has the ability to be an ace but need to find some control. Adam Loewen, Jeremy Guthrie, Garrett Olson, and Troy Patton will gain some experience this year and will start to develop into a formidable pitching staff. This O's staff has the potential if healthy and they all stay together, to be able to compete with the Yankees and Sox after about 2 years. This line-up has some stars with Nick Markakis and a potential All-Star in Adam Jones but it will take some time. The bullpen is a work in progress with no real closer in George Sherrill and a lot of young arms. This will be a rough year for Baltimore fans but there are some signs of things to come for the Orioles.
In Part 5 of this 7 part series I will breakdown the A.L. Central. The Tigers on paper look like the team to beat with there new addition of Miguel Cabrera and the D-Train, but the defending Central Champs, the Indians will have something to stay about that.