As the 2013 season approached, many baseball fans thought that the AL East was the division most up for grabs, with any of the five teams showing the ability and promise to make a run at winning the division.
The New York Yankees won it last year, with the Baltimore Orioles finishing two games behind and winning the Wild Card game. Because of that, those two teams are automatic contenders.
On top of that, Tampa Bay always finds a way to contend, while Toronto and Boston added some big names.
The 2013 season has been a fun one to watch thus far, and as a fan of a team in said division, I'm looking forward to a fun summer in this division and an exciting finish in September.
That being said, are the five teams in the AL East set up for as much future hope and success as they're having currently? What is this division going to look like in a few years, in 2015?
Let's go down the division in the order the teams finished last season, leading off with the Yankees.
For the last few years, opinion on the Yankees has been pretty much split. Many baseball fans believe that the Yankees will keep pace with what they've been for the last two decades, which is a powerhouse offense with just enough pitching to get the job done, while other fans believe that the team is too old to keep going as is and is going to crumble.
Somehow, the Yankees keep on winning with what they have. Going into 2013, they had three of their four big home run hitters on the DL with Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez all starting the season injured. A-Rod's replacement, Kevin Youkilis, has since injured himself as well.
And on top of all that, their shortstop and captain Derek Jeter keeps having his return time from an ankle injury pushed back. The Yankees have a few no-names in their lineup, yet they're still scoring runs and are currently leading the AL East.
Come 2015, the Yankees should be able to keep on truckin' with CC Sabathia atop their rotation and Robinson Cano leading a new combination of young talent along with big-name signings, as per the Yankees' style.
Jeter, Mariano Rivera and A-Rod, to name a few, are going to have to retire soon, and guys like Granderson may have moved on and signed with another team by 2015. However, the Yankees always find a way, and even if they don't make the playoffs in 2015, they'll still give it a run for their money.
The Orioles, on the other hand, seem to be coming up on some strong future success. Much of the core of their team is young; guys like Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters lead the team as young talent while also being seasoned veterans.
Chris Davis is quickly becoming one of the most lethal power bats in baseball, and Manny Machado is right up there with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper in terms of a very young player being an irreplaceable cog in his team's machine.
The problem with the Orioles has always been getting consistently good starting pitching out of their rotation. But they have a pair of bright young studs in Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman that they hope can be the front pair of their rotation for years to come.
In fact, Gausman was just called up to make his major-league debut Thursday against the Blue Jays in Toronto, as surprising a call up as Machado was last August for the team.
With a strong core of position players and hopeful pitching prospects, the O's will remain a team to beat into the 2015 season and well beyond. They may not win the division every season, but like the Yankees, they'll find a way to be competitive and make a run more often than not.
The Rays, on the other hand, could be in for trouble in a few years. The team has been built around pitching and defense the last five years, but this year, the pitching is struggling.
Luckily for them, the offense is picking the team up, but one has to wonder how long that will last, as their lineup isn't exactly built to be the type of offense that a team relies heavily on.
Ace David Price is struggling this season and is currently on the DL, but one has to assume that last year's Cy Young winner will get his mojo back soon enough. He'll likely become too expensive for the Rays and will move on before the 2015 season, leaving the team to yet again rely on young pitching prospects to pave the way.
One young pitcher, Matt Moore, is off to a very impressive start this season and seems poised to be a trouble-maker for opposing lineups in the league for years to come.
However, for the Rays to maintain the standard of play they've set for themselves the last few seasons, they're going to have to have their young pitching pan out.
Guys like Moore and Jeremy Hellickson need to pitch like aces, and Evan Longoria needs to stay healthy and lead the offense the way he is currently doing. Prospect Wil Myers should be able to provide a good bat upon his arrival to the bigs as well.
The Rays are arguably the best team at developing young players, but when a team relies on that, it always leaves an unsure future for the team. That's why I can't exactly place where the Rays will be two years from now, but if they're able to keep up their fantastic young talent assessment and swing gutsy deals that always work out, they'll be just fine.
Toronto, on the other hand, seems to be confused with who they really are. They appeared to be intent on building from within, as they've had a deadly offense for the last few seasons. Then out of nowhere, they swung that huge deal with the Miami Marlins over the offseason as well as adding New York Mets' ace R.A. Dickey to the fold and locking him up for the next four years.
Those moves haven't worked out how they would have liked, though, as the team has really struggled so far this season. Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes, two of the biggest names in that deal with Miami, are both on the DL, and Mark Buehrle isn't pitching as well as he had in the past. Dickey is having his own struggles as well, leading to those deals looking more and more like busts.
It would be wise for Toronto to try to part with Buehrle and Dickey and try to get whatever they can for the two pitchers, but Reyes is the kind of player the team needs atop the order in front of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, so he's a keeper as long as he can stay healthy.
In this writer's opinion, Toronto is an unpredictable mess right now, with no one really knowing what their future plans are going to be if they finish the rest of the season how they've started it.
It's obvious that the team needs work, but in what way? Do they try to add more names to boost their team into superstardom, or do they start over with a rebuild? The smarter route would be a rebuild, and if they decide on that, they won't be winning in 2015.
And finally, Boston is in a similar state as Toronto where it's hard to tell where they'll be in a few years. The difference is that they're winning now, with offseason patchwork acquisitions paying off big time in the first couple months of the season.
The thing is, the players who Boston signed over the offseason aren't signed to super long-term deals, so some will be gone by 2015 while others will be at the back end of their deals.
Unless the team re-ups Mike Napoli, he'll be gone after this season. Shane Victorino will be at the back end of his deal, and while he's not a huge difference-maker, he's a nice asset for any team.
Outside of Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks, the Sox have no real shining stars on the team. David Ortiz is still a beloved figure, but he's only getting older, and who knows how much longer he'll be able to produce at the same level.
Jacoby Ellsbury is an incredible player, but he can hardly ever play due to injury. And Jon Lester is one of the better lefties in the league, but is he really a true ace?
Either the Sox are going to need to go after big-name guys to try to build for the future or they're going to have to try to build from within, which is always a smart but questionable route due to the unknown outcome of prospects.
The one key factor with that team is that they now have a fantastic manager in John Ferrell. To me, much of last season's failure should be blamed on former manager Bobby Valentine, and now that Ferrell is in the fold, the Sox seem like a much happier team both on the field and in the clubhouse. Good leadership can do wonders to a team.
I do think the Sox will end up going through a "growing" period where they'll let younger players take their bumps and shoot for the future, making 2015 a down year for the club. However, they'll be back with a vengeance a few years later.
All in all, I see the AL East in 2015 ending up with New York and Baltimore again battling it out for the division title, Tampa and Toronto fighting for one of the two Wild Card slots, and Boston sitting at the bottom of the division while their young players turn into future stars.
Regardless of whether I'm correct in my predictions or not, one thing is guaranteed: The AL East will continue to be the most interesting and entertaining division in Major League Baseball.
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