Red Sox, Yankees, Rays: Preview of the Division to Watch

Dan CallagyContributor IJanuary 17, 2009

The AL East was full of surprises last year, with the Rays' best one-year turnaround in MLB history, to the Yanks not making the playoffs since the year I was born (1995) and the Sox trading goof-ball Manny Ramirez.

The season was crazy, but the off-season has been even crazier.

The Yanks signed three big-name players: CC Sabathia (seven years, $161 million) AJ Burnett (five years, $55 million) Mark Teixeira (eight years, $180 million). That's nearly 400 million between three players for salary.

The Rays had a fairly quiet off-season but did sign Pat Burrell (two years, $16 million) and Matt Joyce (two years, $4 million).

The Red Sox signed one hitter but four pitchers. They signed Rocco Baldelli (one year, $500K), Takashi Saito (one year, $3 million), Brad Penny (one year, $15 million), John Smoltz (one year, $5.5 million), and Japanese star Junichi Tazawa (three years, $3 million). That's only $27 million between four players who could make some big impacts on the Sox down the stretch.

Now lets preview the AL East outcome, breaking it down team-by-team.

The Rays are defending AL East champs, AL Champs, and runners-up of the World Series. They accomplished all of this with an extremely young team.

With Evan Longoria (23 years old), Carl Crawford (24 years old), and BJ Upton (24 years old) leading the young offense, they also have Carlos Pena, who's 30, batting in the No. 4 spot to hold down the power.

Their offense is a consistent one, but can hit slumps if they don't achieve to their full potential.

The Rays pitching is held down by ace Scott Kazmir and star James Shields, who has his ups and downs, but mostly ups.

Their bullpen is pretty solid, but needs to fill some holes. They have Troy Percival as the closer, Dan Wheeler as a set-up man, and Grant Balfour as a middle reliever.

There were many occasions last year where one or two of them was hurt and the other was either tired or already used.

That's why they need one more reliever, someone like a Smoltz, even though the Sox have him, or they could even sign a young Japanese pitcher. They have just as much talent as in the U.S.; they just take a long time to adapt.

The Yankees went on a spending spree this off-season. I am predicting that only Teixera will have a good year. I think C.C will have a good year, maybe one like Josh Beckett last year, 12-10 with a 4.03 ERA.

With Sabathia in the NL last year, there were a lot of strikeout hitters. In the AL, there are a lot of contact hitters. Only four NL hitters were in the top 15 last year in batting average, and there was Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, who he will face probably five times this year.

As for Burnett, he is injury prone, and he will eventually get injured this year so he probably won't make a big contribution this year.

The Yanks' hitting will be the same as last year, just a little older and with Tex thrown into the middle.

Their one-two combination of Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter is a fairly old one. Damon will be turning 34 this year and Jeter 33 later on.

Their three-four combo is fairly young. A-Rod is 32 and Tex is 27.

Following those four are Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, Xavier Nady, Jorge Posada, and Melky Cabrera. I believe Nady will have a big year because he will be adapted to AL pitchers and feel at home in Yankee Stadium.

The Red Sox pitching is going to be fantastic this year. Their starting rotation will be flanked by Beckett, Lester, and Dice-K. Their bullpen will be led by closer Jon Papelbon and set-up man Justin Masterson.

With the addition of Takashi Saito, Brad Penny, John Smoltz, and Japanese star Junici Tazawa will all have contributions to the bullpen this year.

Brad Penny and Sox superstar pitcher Michael Bowden will compete for the fifth starting spot. Smoltz will later on join that race when he has fully recovered from his shoulder injury of last year.

The Sox hitting will be pretty good this year. With Ellsbury and Pedroia in the one-two spots, that will be pretty hard to get past. Pedroia, the reining A.L MVP, will be a big factor this year. I am predicting 20+ HRs and 95 RBI.

With Ortiz at three and Youk, who just got a four-year contact extension, at four, the pitchers can't pitch around Papi. Youk had just as good numbers last year as Tex, so he can easily compete with some of the best hitters in the game.

With J-Bay backing up Youk and rookie SS Jed Lowrie behind him, and JD Drew thrown into the mix somewhere between, their hitting is looking pretty good.

I look for big things to come with the Sox this year, along with the Rays and Yanks.

My A.L East outcome preditcion is:

1.Red Sox



The AL East will be the division to watch this season, as every year there is a new surprise.

Hey, this is just a writers note, if it seems i am favoring the Sox a bit its not rare, I am a die hard Sox fan, so feel free to say what you think about the teams in the division, and my article in general.    Thanks