Much has been made of the Toronto Blue Jays offseason changes, but the New York Yankees remain the team to beat in the AL East going into the 2013 season.
While Toronto acquired Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and a cast of others to change the entire look of the team, the Yankees remained fairly quiet and focused their attention on bringing back Ichiro Suzuki, Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Mariano Rivera. They complemented those re-signings by filling a void at third base by signing Kevin Youkilis.
The team that won more games than anyone else in 2012 now has all of its front-line pieces in place for the 2013 campaign.
Others in the division have either done nothing or next to nothing to move up in the standings.
Baltimore has been extremely quiet, only adding some bench strength and non-impact players.
Tampa Bay, as the Rays often do, made moves that will enhance their future, but may have a negative impact on the season which lies directly ahead.
Then there is Boston. Nothing makes a Yankees fan smile more than to watch their hated rivals clean house of past stars (Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, et al) to free up money that was spent on damaged goods such as Mike Napoli, who is still not signed due to amendments being made to his contract offer as a result of the discovery of a preexisting hip condition.
Boston also spent money on aging veteran pitchers coming from the National League to the AL East (Ryan Dempster), non-impact players (Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes) and a manager it had to trade for (John Farrell). It would appear that the chaos of the previous season will continue in "Beantown."
In spite of injuries (Michael Pineda, Andy Pettitte, C.C. Sabathia) and the surprising step back in performance from Ivan Nova—ERA jumped from 3.70 in 2011 to 5.02 in 2012, gave up 28 home runs—the Yankees starting rotation ranked fifth in the AL in ERA.
Given a full winter to prepare and coming into spring training completely healthy means that Andy Pettitte should provide an even larger boost to the squad in 2013.
Couple that with an intense competition for the fifth spot between David Phelps (3.34 ERA in 2012) and Nova, and the team should only improve upon last season in front-line pitching.
Even though the Yankees ranked fifth in the AL in batting average last season, the postseason exposed the greatest weakness in the "Bombers" order—hitting with runners in scoring position.
In that category, the team was 10th in the American League, hitting a paltry .256 (the Tigers led the league with a .286 average) with 290 strikeouts. New York's admitted dependency on the long ball contributed to that result.
Now that Russell Martin and Nick Swisher have been replaced by Francisco Cervelli and Ichiro Suzuki and left fielder Brett Gardner enters the season completely healthy, the batting order has less power and more speed.
Manager Joe Girardi should be able to place more emphasis on the manufacturing of runs and less on getting the big hit to produce success. This in turn could lead to a better RISP average.
Have the Blue Jays done enough to catch and pass the Yankees in the AL East?
While their pitching should be decidedly better (they ranked 11th in AL with a 4.64 ERA) and their hitting will improve both at the plate and on the basepaths—mainly due to the acquisition of Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio—they have banked much of their immediate success on players who succeeded in the National League (Dickey, Reyes, Bonifacio and Melky Cabrera). The American League is a completely different animal.
R.A. Dickey, in his only appearance against the Yankees last season, was hit hard in yielding five hits, three walks and five earned runs in just six innings.
Since 2008, Mark Buehrle has pitched 28 innings against the Yankees with results being a 6.11 ERA, 1.71 WHIP and seven home runs allowed. Josh Johnson has only pitched more than 200 innings once in an eight-year career.
There is no doubt that the Blue Jays have completely changed their look, and the up-and-coming Baltimore Orioles will certainly have a say in how the division finishes, but Toronto is banking on unknown commodities, and Baltimore is counting on continued improvement from its youngsters.
The Yankees seem to be the only team in the division relying upon established performers.
Will that be enough to win the division?
The doubters have certainly feasted upon New York's failure in the 2012 postseason while conveniently ignoring just how well the team did prior to October—in spite of having to overcome numerous setbacks.
By staying the course and not panicking, GM Brian Cashman has the Yankees poised to retain their AL East crown.