The MLB offseason is winding down, which means it’s time to evaluate which teams made the right moves and which ones got caught sleeping. Although there are still some big names out there that could help some teams whose rosters are lacking (Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez come to mind), let’s take a look at which AL East teams will improve upon their 2013 final positions.
2014 AL East Rankings & Projections
5. Toronto Blue Jays
After last year’s free agent haul, the only real roster change the Blue Jays made this year was at catcher, where J.P. Arencibia was replaced by Dioner Navarro, which is kind of a wash in my opinion. They also parted ways with Josh Johnson, and despite rumors of interest in Jeff Samardzija, the Jays have done very little.
The lineup will still pack a wallop, with boppers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion being set up by speedsters Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie, and with Melky Cabrera and Adam Lind contributing somewhere as well. This is no easy lineup to navigate, and their offense will be enough to win plenty of games.
The pitching, ehhhh… not so much. R.A. Dickey showed his true colors last year, proving that his Cy Young season was an aberration and not a pattern. He will still technically be the ace, and behind him there is nothing but inconsistency. Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, and J.A. Happ seem to be the favorites for the rotation, with Drew Hutchison, Esmil Rodgers and Todd Redmond waiting in the wings. As far as the bullpen is concerned, there is plenty of talent there, and if Casey Janssen can maintain his 2013 effectiveness they should be fine in the late innings.
Ultimately, I think the same formula will yield the same result—a disappointing finish towards the bottom of the AL East. There is simply too much talent at the top of the division, and the Blue Jays just can’t hang yet.
Projected finish: 77-85
4. Baltimore Orioles
Offseason? Winter Meetings? Nobody told the Orioles. One of the least active teams in baseball this winter, the Orioles did a whole lot of watching and waving, as they let Scott Feldman leave a rotation that already had depth problems. Jim Johnson also won’t be returning to the Baltimore bullpen, and the Grant Balfour deal was voided in the physical stage.
Their current rotation is undetermined, although chances are it’ll include Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, Bud Norris, Wei-Yin Chen and Kevin Gausman, who showed MLB poise in his brief stint in the majors last year.
The lineup that led the majors in homers last year will come back with a similar look and potency, provided Manny Machado is ready after knee surgery (he claims he will be). However, I don’t believe that they will see the same production out of Chris Davis, who tailed off significantly in the second half of 2013. He will still be a big bat in the middle of a great lineup, but I don’t see him breaking .300 or 40 homers.
Ultimately, the Orioles are going to compete, but I don’t think they can hang with the powerhouses in the AL East until some of their young talent develops further.
Projected finish: 84-78
3. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays have so far been relatively quiet, which is routine—they simply can’t outbid the powerhouses for big free agents. They did bring back James Loney, and added Heath Bell to give their bullpen a shot in the arm. Get it? Baseball, steroids… it’s funny.
Interestingly, the Rays have not yet traded David Price, and I don’t think they will. He is a perennial Cy Young candidate, and is still very young; he should be their ace for quite some time. After dealing James Shields last year there have been rumors that they would again trade one of their big guns for a “can’t miss” prospect, but so far they have been content to keep Price as their anchor.
Speaking of Shields—the Rays received young slugger Wil Myers, and boy, did that work out. Myers could be the best young player in baseball, and the Rays have control over him in the long term. He is one of a number of young players that the Rays have in their lineup, which should be dynamic and fun to watch.
Their starting rotation is also full of young studs, who are only going to get better with experience. After Price the Rays will trot out Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and most likely Chris Archer, all of whom have nasty stuff and big-league poise. This is one of the better rotations in the MLB, and they will be a big part of taking the Rays to the playoffs again, one way or another.
Projected Finish: 89-73
2. New York Yankees
The Yankees did what they usually do during the offseason by making headlines with big names. They failed to succumb to Robinson Cano’s outrageous demands, letting him take his talents to Seattle while they signed Kelly Johnson. They did not see Curtis Granderson as essential to their future and allowed the Mets to snatch him up.
However, their lineup will not be lacking. A healthy Jacoby Ellsbury is one of the most all-around valuable players in the game, although his injury history is always something to be concerned about. Carlos Beltran has not slowed down with age, and I think he will only improve with the short porch of Yankee Stadium and the benefit of a DH spot. Brian McCann is arguably the best offensive catcher in the game, and again, lefty hitter+short porch+DH spot is a formula for success. The Bombers should actually get back to bombing this year.
But ohhhhhh, that pitching staff. Prior to the Tanaka deal (which I foresaw here), they had C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova and… that’s it. The rest of the rotation is very much up in the air. Some of the candidates are David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuño, and hopefully Michael Piñeda, none of which has been proven on a long-term scale. The bullpen also has plenty of question marks, as it will not be anchored by Mariano Rivera for the first time in nearly 20 years.
However, the offseason is NOT over, and there are plenty of pitching options out there still. If they add another arm, the Yankees will have a shot to return to the playoffs.
Projected Finish: 90-72
1. Boston Red Sox
The Sox were relatively quiet in the offseason, most notably losing Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees. However, the Red Sox are not going to skip a beat. Jackie Bradley, Jr. is going to step in with an extremely similar skill set, and with some legitimate major league experience under his belt is poised to pick up where Ellsbury left off.
They also lost Jarrod “The Original Beard” Saltalamacchia, but swiftly replaced him with A.J. Pierzynski. Pierzynski is a seasoned veteran who will fit nicely in the Red Sox culture, and is still a very solid offensive catcher. The Red Sox may or may not have Stephen Drew come Spring Training, but again they are not concerned—Xander Bogaerts will step right in and provide similar if not superior talent. Locking down Mike Napoli for first base most certainly didn’t hurt their lineup, either.
Boston management also has one of the rarest problems in the MLB—too much starting pitching. With a rotation that could feature Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Bucholz, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront (I see Doubront as the spot-start, long relief guy here), Boston didn’t need to make any moves this winter. They added Edward Mujica to setup Koji Uehara, forming a powerful tandem in the late innings. The Red Sox look like the team to beat in the AL East, and I’m not sure if there’s anyone that can.
Projected finish: 95-67
Agree with me? Disagree? I wanna know. Post a comment or let me have it @Roto_Dubs.