The AL East is shaping up to easily be the most competitive division in the American League. With the Yankees aging and the Red Sox looking weak for the foreseeable future the power in the American League looks to be moving out west. I think it is very likely that the top two records in the AL are coming out of the west, especially seeing how the Rangers and Angels will get to beat up on the Astros for a year.
With the former powers stepping back the rest of the AL East by default takes a step forward. The Orioles proved that last year with their improbable run. Going into 2013 the world is different and the AL East will be a slugfest, mostly because of massive changes north of the border.
But first, The Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays finally showed they are willing to spend money and commit long-term to the face of their franchise, third baseman Evan Longoria. And it is a great thing for that franchise. The Rays have spent the better part of their existence as a minor league outfit for the rest of the major league. The cash-strapped Rays simply have not been able to lock up their star players they develop, Longoria changes that. But with one locked up another is lost as the Rays’ center fielder BJ Upton left for greener pastures in Atlanta.
One can argue the worth of Upton, a player who never really took the next step in his career with Tampa, but the Rays simply can’t afford to lose offense. With Longoria out the Rays’ offense took a nosedive last season and it showed in their inability to make it to the playoffs at the end of last season. Through May, June, and July the Rays (as a team) failed to bat over .680 OPS (.676, .642, .662) and in two of those months they barely got on base at a higher than .300 clip. The Rays have the arms, there is no doubt about that. Hell, anyone who has followed baseball over the last five years knows that the Rays simply do nothing else other than produce amazing pitching talent. It is that pitching talent that will carry the Rays and serve as the foundation for their franchise’s continued success.
To augment that pitching the Rays will most certainly be looking to improve their offense. To do that the Rays will most likely have to deal from their core of young pitching. Still, a down Rays team barely missed the playoffs and won 90 games last season. Unless they make big moves this winter, and they go badly – which is rare for the Rays, there is no reason to expect them to be significantly different next year.
Now if only someone would go see them.
The Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are the biggest question mark right now. Yes they were part of the biggest, most disgusting, deal so far this winter. The twisted sadist that runs the Marlins, “He who Shall Not be Named,” held another garage sale and sent Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to Toronto. At first blush this massive deal, which gives the Jays one of the top four payrolls in the game, should make them automatic favorites, but not so fast.
The Jays still have issues. One) Their young homegrown pitching took a big step backward, was decimated by injuries and remains to be a question mark. Buehrle and Johnson are supposed to fix that and while the vet Buehrle should be a fine addition Johnson has been mired by injuries and pitched in a much weaker league in two massive ballparks. How will Johnson play in the AL East? That is a big question for the Jays. Ricky Romero had an inexplicably horrid season and while Jays fans everywhere hope he returns to his breakout 2011 year, 2012 has to leave you with concerns.
Two) Jose Bautista’s wrist. Bautista had a minor procedure on his wrist and while everyone expects him to bounce right back, but Bautista’s surgically repaired wrist has to be a bit of a concern. Bautista is still in the prime of his career at 32 years-old and should still be a force. But, as Toronto is a team that is so built around the homerun any struggles from the All-Star right-fielder will throw a wrench in a team that seems to be pushing all their chips to the center of the table this year.
As of right now, no one can deny that the Jays’ massive move this winter have catapulted him into the race of the AL East, on paper at least. Let us not forget the recent history of teams that have made gigantic splashes in trades and free agency. The Red Sox, Marlins, Dodgers and Tigers have all been the darlings of player movements in the last few years, and they have amounted to little. Sure the Tigers did make it to the World Series, but they had the seventh-best record in the AL, struggled to win in the weakest division in the league and were rewarded by playing a beat-up and weak New York Yankees team.
As the Winter Meetings commence the Orioles will be in the spotlight both in the “legitimate” media and here in this corner of the internet. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion to the Oncoming Storm: can the Orioles repeat the magic?