Originally written on Reading Between The Seams  |  Last updated 11/14/14
The American League East is the most closely examined division in baseball thanks to MLB pillars, New York and Boston. Despite the Yankees’ historic run, making the playoffs 17 of 18 years, other AL East teams have perked over their broad shoulders in recent years. We’ve seen Tampa Bay become an annual playoff contender and Baltimore sneak into the playoffs last year, something they hadn’t done since 1997. Of course, we also experienced the Red Sox breaking the curse and winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007. There has been only one AL East club that hasn’t so much as flirted with relevance in the last decade and that is the Toronto Blue Jays. They’ve done everything possible to dispel that in 2013, as they essentially purchased the better half of the Marlins’ Roster, adding Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, and Emilio Bonafacio. They also signed PED user Melky Cabrera and traded their top prospect, Travis d’Arnaud, for NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey. The New York Yankees will have a challenging task defending the crown in the deepest division in baseball. They’ve won twelve of the last fifteen division championships and will have a fair shot at another in 2013, but truly this will be the most wide-open and exciting division race in baseball. There is no easy out in the AL East. First Place: Toronto Blue Jays A team that hasn’t sniffed relevance since the early 90s has selected the prime time to strike. The 2012 Red Sox were the worst Boston had to offer since 1981, and the Yankees, being hampered by MLB’s “socialism,” haven’t been able to make the annual improvements to which fans are accustomed. As mentioned above, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Melky Cabrera, and R.A. Dickey will join the Canadian crew in 2013. Obviously, the haul can easily be criticized as a carbon copy of the Marlins’ failed pre-2012 makeover, but there are plenty of reason to believe otherwise. First, remember why the Marlins made their splash a year ago? It wasn’t to win, but to generate publicity as they moved into their new stadium. As such, we saw a loud mouth manager take the helm and Jose Reyes walk into an awkward situation where the team’s star player at the time, Hanley Ramirez, was not thrilled about making way for him at shortstop. Conversely, Toronto seemingly planned their moves around opportunities to win and moved the spoiled hot dog that is Yunel Escobar to make room for Reyes. The newcomers join a Toronto club that already had decent talent with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Brandon Morrow. In addition, neither Buehrle nor Johnson will be asked to be the team’s ace, since they also added the reigning Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey. When the three join Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, J.A. Happ, and Kyle Drabek they’ll comprise the AL East’s deepest and scariest rotation. It’s not only their rotation that gives them an advantage in the division. The top half of their lineup (Reyes-Cabrera-Bautista-Encarnacion-Lawrie) tops even the Bronx Bombers’ impressive lineup. Team chemistry may be the biggest mystery for the 2013 Jays, as their rotation and lineup are stacked and their bullpen is pass-able. While this is the Yankees’ division until proven otherwise, the Blue Jays’ time is now. Projected Lineup Jose Reyes (SS) Melky Cabrera (LF) Jose Bautista (RF) Edwin Encarnacion (1B) Brett Lawrie (3B) Colby Rasmus (CF) Adam Lind (DH) J.P. Arencibia (C) Emilio Bonifacio (2B) Projected Rotation R.A. Dickey Josh Johnson Brandon Morrow Mark Buehrle Rickey Romero Second Place: New York Yankees The media has pounded the Yankees for not making a big splash this offseason, but they weren’t as cheap as they’ve been made out to be. They brought back Yankee legends, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, with a one-year contracts of $10 million and $12 million, respectively. Hiroki Kuroda is enjoying his new one-year $15 million contract. Ichiro got a two-year $13 million dollar deal and when doctors determined that Alex Rodriguez’s hip would cause him to miss significant time, they brought in Kevin Youkilis for one year and $12 million. New York also submitted qualifying offers for Rafael Soriano–who opted out of his contract–and Nick Swisher. Both received frankly ridiculous contracts and GM Brian Cashman is thrilled to have the compensating draft picks. The Yankees now enter the season with a solid rotation, a quality bullpen, and an aging but still powerful lineup. Their rotation is headlined by CC Sabathia. Behind him Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova or David Phelps form a solid enough group. The bullpen was outstanding last season and replaces outgoing closer Rafael Soriano with the return of Mariano Rivera. If he is healthy, the bullpen should again be a strength. Travis Hafner was recently inked to a one-year deal. In classic Cashman style he will come in with an opportunity to take the role Ibanez filled so well last year and similarly rejuvenate his career. Catcher is the only hole in the lineup and the front office is probably kicking themselves for trading Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda who may return from injury at some point this season. The spot may be filled by high touted prospect, Austin Romine, if he proves he is ready in Spring Training. Otherwise, Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli will be battling for the role. Surely if the Blue Jays’ influx of talent doesn’t mesh, the Yankees will be ready to pounce. Should New York stay healthy they’re capable of again winning 90+ games, however betting on their health may not be a winning wager. New York may not take the division, but a Wild Card slot should be attainable. Projected Lineup Ichiro Suzuki (RF) Derek Jeter (SS) Robinson Cano (2B) Mark Teixeira (1B) Curtis Granderson (LF) Kevin Youkilis (3B) Travis Hafner (DH) Chris Stewart (C) Brett Gardner (CF) Projected Rotation CC Sabathia Hiroki Kuroda Andy Pettitte Phil Hughes Ivan Nova Third Place: Tampa Bay Rays Per the usual, the Rays are led by young, home-grown pitching and the brainy management of Joe Maddon. With his first Cy Young award last season, David Price is now among the elite pitchers in the AL. He’ll lead a young staff, backed by Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jeff Neimann and Alex Cobb. Their progression will be the most important factor in the Rays’ success. Longoria will try to stay healthy and lead the Rays’ offense this season after battling hamstring issues last season. Speedy youngster Desmond Jennings will be atop the order and the spoiled hot dog that is Yunel Escobar, just type that Joe Maddon can turn into a star, will hit second. Their lineup should be strong enough that a talented young rotation and Maddon-managed bullpen can lead this squad to some success. Expect them to be in the playoff hunt late. Projected Lineup Desmond Jennings (CF) Yunel Escobar (SS) Ben Zobrist (RF) Evan Longoria (3B) Matt Joyce (LF) Luke Scott (DH) Kelly Johnson (2B) James Loney (1B) Jose Molina (C) Projected Rotation David Price Jeremy Hellickson Matt Moore Jeff Neimann Alex Cobb Fourth Place: Boston Red Sox Last year, the Red Sox were twice the mess that the Lakers are right now. Their pitching was atrocious and the leadership was worse. With John Farrell entering the fray and a simple  regression to the mean, the pitching should improve. Jon Lester posted a 4.82 ERA with 14 losses. Prior to last season, he was on a streak of four consecutive sub-3.50 ERA seasons and had never lost double-digit games. He’ll move closer to the weak ace/great number two status he had previously held. To lend support, veteran Ryan Dempster was signed and will slot behind Lester. John Lackey also returns from injury to round out what should be an adequate rotation. In one of the quietest “big moves” of the offseason, Boston acquired all-star closer, Joel Hanrahan, from Pittsburgh. Coupled with players returning to health and some smaller acquisitions, the bullpen should also improve. While the pitching is only “fine,” the hitting should be a strength for the beloved footwear of Boston. Victorino and Napoli will add to a lineup that scored the second most runs in the division last season. Additionally, Ellsbury who only played less than half a season will be back to lead the lineup. Boston should be a tough out all year this season. While they likely won’t end atop the division, they should be very competitive. Projected Lineup Jacoby Ellsbury (CF) Shane Victorino (RF) Dustin Pedroia (2B) David Ortiz (DH) Mike Napoli (1B) Will Middlebrooks (3B) Stephen Drew (SS) Jonny Gomes (LF) Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C) Projected Rotation Jon Lester Ryan Dempster Clay Bucholtz Felix Doubront John Lackey Fifth Place: Baltimore Orioles In 2012, Chris Tillman posted a 2.93 ERA, Jim Johnson had 51 saves, and every break seemed to fall Baltimore’s way. That’s unlikely to  happen again in 2013. Although Jair Jurrjens was a brilliant low risk/high reward signing, the Orioles rotation–led by Jason Hammel–will struggle to keep the AL East bats in check. Last season, the Orioles allowed 705 runs. Only the Rangers made the postseason with more runs allowed. The lineup loses Mark Reynolds to Cleveland, however a full season of Manny Machado should more than cover the difference. Still, the bats in New York, Toronto, and even Boston will out-slug the birds in Baltimore. All of last season I was waiting for the Orioles to come crashing down to earth and was in shock as they nearly eliminated the Yankees, but I dare say they will end 2013 in the bottom portion of the AL East. It says a great deal about the amazing depth of the AL East that the Orioles could end in last place. Projected Lineup Nate McClouth (LF) J.J. Hardy (SS) Nick Markakis (RF) Adam Jones (CF) Matt Weiters (C) Chris Davis (1B) Manny Machado (3B) Wilson Betemit (DH) Brian Roberts (2B) Projected Rotation Jason Hammel Wei-Yin Chen Chris Tillman Miguel Gonzalez Jair Jurrjens Ryan Kantor is an author at Reading Between the Seams. He is a life-long Yankees fan and a proud Clemson alumnus, residing in North Carolina, where he works in marketing research. For more stories like this, you can visit his personal blog at RyanKantor.com and follow him on Twitter at @Ryan_Kantor. Credit to RotoChamp.com (assistance projecting rosters), SportsLogos.net (team logo images), bats.blogs.nytimes.com (slider image) The post 2013 Season Preview: American League East appeared first on Reading Between The Seams.
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