For the better part of the last decade, the American League East division has not only been the best division in baseball, but it has also been the easiest to predict. The Yankees have won the AL East 13 out of the last 17 years, which is an amazing accomplishment that is really underrated. That kind of consistency is remarkable and it is something we may never see again from the Yankees or another franchise.
The Orioles were the Yankees’ challenger in the late 90s, while it was the Red Sox who challenged the Yankees throughout the 2000s, until the Rays finally won the division in 2008. Up until that point, you could pretty much pencil in the Yankees and Red Sox for the top two spots every season. However, this season nobody will be doing that, and the AL East is as wide open as maybe it has ever been. You could make a case for any of the five teams winning the division.
The Rays, Blue Jays and Orioles have sensed the vulnerability of the Yankees and Red Sox and they have tried to take advantage. The Blue Jays had a monster offseason, as they acquired Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera Josh Johnson, RA Dickey and Mark Buehrle. The Orioles shocked the baseball world last year when they won 93 games and made the playoffs. They will be bringing the same team back for the most part. The Rays lost ace James Shields, but acquired one of the best prospects in MLB in Will Myers in return for Shields. Also, they signed James Loney and Yunel Escobar to play first base and shortstop.
Meanwhile, the Yankees and Red Sox found themselves in much different positions this offseason. The Yankees had to worry about fending off all this new competition from the other division teams and they had to do it on a restricted budget. The only new additions the Yankees made were Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner and Matt Diaz. They chose to retain veterans like Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Ichiro Suzuki in the hopes that they could repeat what they did for the Yankees last season. After dumping Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox had a lot of money to spend to try to work their way back to the top if the division. They signed Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Koji Uehara and traded for Joel Hanrahan.
While the AL East will be a very competitive division, it seems to lack a dominant team. Nobody in the AL East has as good a roster as the Detroit Tigers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim do right now. Every team in the division has question marks.
The Blue Jays have the most talent in the division, but the paper champions of past offseasons have disappointed, so they will need to prove it first. Being the favorite in the division is something they are not used to and playing with expectations is totally different than playing without them. Injuries are a huge question mark for the Blue Jays as both Reyes and Johnson have big injury histories. Jose Bautista is coming of a wrist injury that limited his effectiveness late last season. Cabrera will have to prove he can still be the same player without steroids. Also, Toronto did nothing to improve their bullpen, which was a huge issue last season.
The loss of Shields is huge for the Rays and they will have to rely on young pitchers stepping up. His consistency over 200 + innings every year will be sorely missed. Matt Moore and Alex Cobb will be counted on for big innings. Moore flashed potential at the end of the 2011 season and over the second half of last season, but he has yet to put it together over a full season. Also, obviously a big question with the Rays is their hitting, and that question remains this season. Evan Longoria staying healthy the full season is a must.
The Orioles had a great year last season, but there are signs that point towards them regressing to the mean this season. The Orioles went an incredible 16-2 in extra innings games and 29-9 in one run games. A lot of that is luck and it may go the other way for them in 2013. The Orioles run differential was a mere +5 last year, while the Yankees led MLB with a +129 run differential. The Orioles should have a solid offense, but their pitching could suffer. Jason Hammel had a career year last year that he is unlikely to repeat. Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman were effective for 105.1 and 86 innings respectively, but they will have to prove it over a full season.
The Red Sox will be a much improved team from their disaster of last season, but I don’t see them seriously competing for the AL East title. Their rotation is still a huge question mark, as Jon Lester is coming off a terrible year and I don’t think Dempster will be able to pitch well in the AL East. Clay Buchholz and John Lackey both have huge injury and consistency issues. On offense, Napoli, Drew, Gomes Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury all have injury histories. Their bullpen should be much improved with the additions of Hanrahan and Uehara.
Lastly, we are all familiar with the questions that the Yankees face. Age is at the top of the list like always. The Yankees will be counting on several veterans like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Ichiro Suzuki, Hiroki Kuroda and Kevin Youkilis. They will need them to remain healthy and productive. Also, the Yankees will have to adequately replace the production they lost in the offseason when they let Nick swisher, Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez walk in free agency.
As you can see, as talented as all these teams are they all have issues. A lot of them seem to be injury related, as the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox are all relying on players with injury histories. However, what is so exciting is that there is little separating these teams in talent, which should make for a wild pennant race.