The American League East is widely regarded as the toughest division in baseball and this year, that may hold true more than ever.
The division boasts the last three AL representatives in the World Series, including two of the last three winners. It consists of teams that added the likes of Curtis Granderson, John Lackey, Adrian Beltre, and two former Braves in Javier Vazquez and Rafael Soriano.
The top of the division has grown stronger as well with Toronto's subtraction of Roy Halladay. Many believe Toronto and Baltimore don't stand much of a chance in the grand scheme of things.
In that regard, New York, Boston, and Tampa Bay are the lead dogs. And perhaps they are three of the lead dogs in the entire American League.
The problem with that is that only two of them can make the playoffs, so one of them is going to be left out in the cold.
*Denotes Free Agent has an Option Year
Baltimore Orioles – AL East
Last Year: Finished Fifth in AL East
Additions: P Kevin Millwood, 3B Garrett Atkins, SS Andy Gonzalez, SS Miguel Tejada, P Will Ohman, P Mike Gonzalez
Subtractions: 3B Melvin Mora, P Sean Henn, P Danys Baez, P Radhames Liz, P Chris Ray, P Brian Bass, P Rich Hill
2010 Free Agents: SS Miguel Tejada, P Kevin Millwood, *3B Garrett Atkins
Three Strikes: P Kevin Millwood, P Brad Bergesen, OF Nolan Reimold
Kevin Millwood is bit of a lucky charm when it comes to bolstering rotations. When he arrived in Cleveland, their team ERA jumped up from 4.81 in 2004 to 3.61 in 2005.
Texas was at 4.96 that year and when Millwood had his beat year with Texas in 2009 their ERA was at 4.38. He’s a veteran presence that specializes in teaching young kids the ropes and one of those kids he could have an impact on is Brad Bergesen.
Everyone talked about Matt Wieters and his highly anticipated debut, but Nolan Reimold hit 15 home runs as a rookie last year. Don’t forget about the young outfielder and the next step he may take.
Their rotation is vastly different from last year, especially at this time last year. For once their rotation isn’t in a state of flux as they added veteran Kevin Millwood to be their ace. They also brought back star Miguel Tejada, only he’ll be making a transition to the hot-corner.
Baltimore also replaced the trade deadline loss of George Sherrill with closer Mike Gonzalez, who will hopefully stabilize the back end of their bullpen. Longtime Oriole Melvin Mora has also moved on. And for the first time in a while, Baltimore has some stability with players like Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Brian Roberts, and Matt Wieters all being long term answers at their positions.
Last year, I predicted that the Baltimore Orioles would place fourth in the ultra-tough AL East, ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays. An early season run from Toronto kept that prediction from happening, but perhaps I was a year premature on that thought.
I honestly feel good about what Baltimore will be putting on the diamond to start this season. We know they’ll score offense, especially if Wieters grows and starts to produce like many scouts project him to. But the key is their pitching, and it will be until this team launches itself back into contention.
Kevin Millwood will have to provide stability for them atop the rotation and if Jeremy Guthrie is right, they will surely pick up more wins than the 64 they did in 2009. It may be rough at times, but you have to figure Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, or Brad Bergesen will become a viable option in the rotation.
With that, I think Baltimore has enough to surpass Toronto in the AL East. It’s just a matter of staying healthy and productive at the top of the rotation and at the back end of the bullpen.
Boston Red Sox
Last Year: Finished Second in AL East, Won AL Wild Card
Additions: OF Jeremy Hermida, OF Darnell McDonald, 2B Tug Hulett, SS Marco Scutaro, P Fabio Castro, P Boof Bonser, OF Mike Cameron, P John Lackey, P Jorge Sosa, 3B Adrian Beltre, 3B Bill Hall, P Joe Nelson, P Alan Embree
Subtractions: OF Chris Carter, P Billy Wagner, SS Nick Green, OF Jason Bay, OF Rocco Baldelli, SS Alex Gonzalez, SS Chris Woodward, P Paul Byrd, C George Kottaras, OF Brian Anderson, 1B Casey Kotchman, P Takashi Saito, OF Joey Gathright, P Javier Lopez
2010 Free Agents: C Victor Martinez, C Jason Varitek, 3B Mike Lowell, P Josh Beckett, *3B Adrian Beltre, *3B Bill Hall, *DH David Ortiz
Three Strikes: 3B Mike Lowell, 3B Adrian Beltre, P Daniel Bard
Mike Lowell is taking the failed trade to Texas in stride. He’s the type of guy that could thrive off that type of “failed move.” Remember when he was a “salary dump” in the Josh Beckett deal? He’d need a trade or an injury to garner significant playing time though.
Don’t underestimate the effect leaving Safeco Field will have on Adrian Beltre’s power numbers. I think he’s in for a standard year, not quite the 58 home runs he hit in his last year with Los Angeles, but nowhere near as bad as the nine he hit in his last year in Seattle.
I’d keep an eye on Daniel Bard rising up the ranks of that pen and eventually being the go-to-guy to bridge the gap from starter to Jonathan Papelbon. I wouldn’t buy into Papelbon trade ideas as Boston always likes bullpen depth, even if Bard looks like a closer candidate.
Boston strengthened their team through free agency as they always seem to do. Their biggest change comes in the infield with the additions of Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro to man the left side of the infield.
Their biggest signing however was John Lackey, who gives the Red Sox three, yes three, starting pitchers who’ve won the deciding game of a World Series. They also let Jason Bay walk and replaced him with a defensively strong Mike Cameron in center field.
This team is deep in every aspect of the game especially with the rotation. Which is never a bad thing considering Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield were both injured last year for an extended period of time. Not to mention Josh Beckett and John Lackey haven’t exactly been the healthiest pitchers in their careers either.
I also like Boston’s deep bench with Mike Lowell, Jed Lowrie, Bill Hall, and Jeremy Hermida. Considering David Ortiz isn’t guaranteed to get through a season without struggling or getting hurt, the deeper the better.
Their bullpen is deep and on top of that, they’re all very young. Add in that they’ve got six legitimate starters, and you can put the odd man out into the bullpen to make it even stronger.
This is a Boston team that can win it all; I think we all know that. Their biggest key is staying healthy. Lowell being a backup will help in that instance as I think his absence put them in a bad spot last year.
Not only that, but they’ll get a full year of Victor Martinez, who is a far superior upgrade in terms of offensive output than Jason Varitek. It’s hard not to like the Red Sox as a playoff team, the question just becomes if they are AL East Division Champions or a wild card.
New York Yankees
Last Year: Finished First in AL East, Won World Series
Additions: OF Curtis Granderson, C Mike Rivera, 1B Nick Johnson, P Javier Vazquez, P Boone Logan, OF Randy Winn, OF Marcus Thames, OF Jamie Hoffmann, P Dustin Moseley, P Royce Ring, P Chan Ho Park
Subtractions: OF Xavier Nady, C Jose Molina, DH Hideki Matsui, OF Eric Hinske, OF Johnny Damon, 1B Shelley Duncan, 3B Jerry Hairston Jr., P Chien-Ming Wang, P Brian Bruney, OF Austin Jackson, P Phil Coke, P Ian Kennedy, OF Melky Cabrera
2010 Free Agents: SS Derek Jeter, P Andy Pettitte, P Javier Vazquez, P Mariano Rivera
Three Strikes: P Joba Chamberlain, P A.J. Burnett, C Jorge Posada
With their rotation depth and the kid gloves they’ve handled Joba Chamberlain with, I’d just put him in the bullpen. He’s so much more effective there anyway. He can be a dominant late inning reliever more consistently than he can be a starter.
A.J. Burnett and Jorge Posada are said to have patched up whatever differences there were last year. I for one don’t buy that it was that big of a deal, but the New York media will of course play that stuff up.
I do have to wonder how long Posada can hold up offensively though. Talk about that subsided after a good 2009, but just when you start to forget is when that stuff re-emerges. He could be due for a drop off in production when you least expect it.
Winning the World Series didn’t mean the Yankees were going to be complacent this past offseason, but it was a different kind of active as you’ve come to expect from the Yankees.
New York had aging free agents like Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon that they had to make a decision on bringing back or not. Their solution was to not only save money on the outfield, but also get younger with the acquisition of Curtis Granderson.
Perhaps their biggest move however was bringing in Javier Vazquez in an attempt to deepen their rotation even more. If Vazquez can establish his first stint in New York was a fluke and the pressure doesn’t get to him, trading Melky Cabrera for a pitcher who could be one of the best third or fourth pitchers in the game will look brilliant.
Not that I think they needed Johnny Damon or anything, but I have to wonder what their outfield will look like if Nick Swisher and Randy Winn don’t produce. Their infield’s production can make up for it, but the outfield position isn’t very deep at this point.
Brett Gardner is essentially their backup plan in the outfield and if he doesn’t step up, he won’t cut it for the Yankees.
Their pitching could be better than last season if Phil Hughes steps into the rotation as the fifth starter and Javier Vazquez proves to be a worthy addition. If Hughes goes into the rotation, that would make three of their five leading relievers in appearances no longer in the bullpen.
That means Joba Chamberlain would have to step up big time and Alfredo Aceves and David Robertson have to be viable once again. This could be potentially their one Achilles' heel that would prevent the Yankees from repeating.
Tampa Bay Rays
Last Year: Finished Third in AL East
Additions: C Kelly Shoppach, P Rafael Soriano, P Jeff Bennett, 1B Ryan Shealy, 2B Joe Dillon, RP Joaquin Benoit, 1B Hank Blalock
Subtractions: 2B Akinori Iwamura, P Troy Percival, P Russ Springer, P Chad Bradford, P Jason Isringhausen, C Greg Zaun, P Brian Shouse, P Mitch Talbot, OF Gabe Gross, C Shawn Riggans, P Joe Nelson
2010 Free Agents: 1B Carlos Pena, OF Carl Crawford, OF Pat Burrell, P Rafael Soriano, P Grant Balfour, *P Dan Wheeler
Three Strikes: 1B Carlos Pena, 2B Ben Zobrist, OF Fernando Perez
Everyone is talking about Carl Crawford, but Carlos Pena is upcoming free agent to bolt most likely to bolt this offseason. Crawford has more of a chance to stay out of the two.
How can you not love Ben Zobrist’s versatility?
Joe Maddon has to love the fact he can say: “If someone at this position doesn’t impress us, we can just stick Zobrist there!” I have to wonder if he set the bar too high offensively last year though.
Speedy Fernando Perez missed just about all of 2009 with an injury, but if personal favorite Matt Joyce doesn’t cut it, he could get a shot. If that happens, they’d have the fastest outfield in the majors, hands down.
The most glaring change seems to be in the bullpen, where Tampa Bay replaced a lot of older names like Troy Percival, Chad Bradford, and Russ Springer with younger guys like Rafael Soriano and Joaquin Benoit. Soriano will give them a suitable closing option, but the biggest key is remaining healthy, which is essentially the position they were in last year with Percival.
The difference with that is, Percival was on his last legs and it wasn't a matter of if he would break down, but when. Soriano is more of an if than a when.
Other than that, the Rays didn’t make many changes, other than bringing in Kelly Shoppach to bring more pop to the catching position. The platoon with Dioner Navarro will prove to be interesting.
Well so far, Rafael Soriano has remained healthy, but one of the main guys getting him the ball hasn’t. Reliable set-up guy J.P. Howell is already on the sidelines with an injury that could keep him out for about a month.
If Wade Davis beats out Andy Sonnanstine for the final rotation spot, they could receive some aid in the form of the left-hander from Ohio. But the acquisition of Joaquin Benoit could be a great counter to Howell’s injury.
Offensively, this team is going to run and when they don’t do that they’ll probably hit some home runs behind budding superstar Evan Longoria. But it will take a lot more to compete with the "Beasts of the East" and their lineups in Boston and New York.
The problem, as I mentioned earlier, could be that peak that’s been reached. Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett both had career years and it would be unreasonable to expect them to repeat that.
They can contend in the AL East, without a doubt. But they’ll need more than just repeat performances from Zobrist and Bartlett. Their readjusted rotation without Scott Kazmir, will have to be the backbone of this team. That means David Price, Matt Garza, and James Shields leading the way.
Toronto Blue Jays
Last Year: Finished Fourth in AL East
Additions: P Sean Henn, 2B Jarrett Hoffpauir, SS Alex Gonzalez, OF Joey Gathright, P Lance Broadway, C John Buck, P Brett Wallace, P Kyle Drabek, P Brandon Morrow, P Zach Jackson, OF Jeremy Reed, P Merkin Valdez, P Shawn Hill, P Kevin Gregg, P Dana Eveland, C Jose Molina
Subtractions: C Michael Barrett, 1B Kevin Millar, SS Marco Scutaro, C Rod Barajas, 2B Joe Inglett, P Roy Halladay, P Brandon League, P Brian Burres, P Brian Wolfe
2010 Free Agents: 1B Lyle Overbay
Three Strikes: OF Adam Lind, OF Travis Snider, P Shaun Marcum
Adam Lind had a career year in 2009, so is anyone expecting him to repeat or build off that? If he matches it, then great, but it’s likely he doesn’t. However that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Expectations are not always a good thing.
Travis Snider on the other hand probably has none after his nine home runs and .241 average. Remember he’s still very young and it could click for him at any time.
Shaun Marcum hasn’t pitched since the middle of September 2008. I’m sure he’s plenty anxious to get back on the diamond and resume his promising career. Don’t forget about him when you are looking for someone to replace Halladay as the team’s “top pitcher.”
The biggest change was the firing of General Manager J.P. Ricciardi and the naming of his replacement, Alex Anthopoulos. Whether it was Anthopoulos' decision to pull the trigger or not, the Blue Jays finally traded Roy Halladay.
Presumably Toronto got what they wanted in Kyle Drabek and eventually Athletics prospect Brett Wallace, who was acquired when they flipped outfielder Michael Taylor from the Phillies.
Toronto made some veteran acquisitions, including shortstop Alex Gonzalez, catcher John Buck, and reliever Kevin Gregg, which gives me the impression they still have a mind to contend.
But you have to wonder what makes them think that is a realistic option given their competition in the division.
This team was dealt a bit of a blessing in disguise when the White Sox took Alex Rios' contract off their hands last season. Rios could still turn it around, but the Blue Jays are currently in a state of transition where not paying money for that type of production really benefits them.
Their rotation is going to look very weird without Roy Halladay, but young Ricky Romero leads a group that has no shortage of options. If Marcum can come back healthy and eventually be joined by Dustin McGowan, all the better. The rest could be filled in by the likes of other youngsters, Brett Cecil and Mark Rzepcynski, at the start of the season or at a later point.
Adam Lind and Aaron Hill are nice starting points for their nucleus offensively, but they are just that, a starting point. The team will need to keep finding options at different spots at this point.
Don’t expect contention and don’t expect that hot start they got off to in 2009. However, don’t expect total pushovers, especially if they "find out" what some of their talent can bring to the table.
"2010 MLB Division Previews" is a part of a month long series of articles that are previewing the 2010 MLB season. For the other parts of "2010 MLB Division Previews, " other features, and a schedule, click here . Winners and projections will be available after all divisions have been previewed.