MLB 2014 Division by Division Preview (AL East)
From top to bottom the American League East projects to be the best division in baseball this season.
With three legitimate playoff contenders at the top, and the Orioles adding starting pitching this offseason, these are teams that don’t give you a night off against a 4th or 5th starter. That leaves Toronto, who needs to add or show that their starters are capable of keeping them in games.
The division again looks to put at least two teams in the playoffs come October.
Look for our MLB season predictions in the upcoming days. Play Ball!
2013 final standings:
1. Boston (97-65)
2. Tampa (92-71)
3. New York (85-77)
4. Baltimore (85-77)
5. Toronto (74-88)
Boston Red Sox:
Projected Starting rotation:
1. Jon Lester
2. Clay Buchholz
3. John Lackey
4. Jake Peavy
5. Felix Doubront/Chris Capuano/Brandon Workman
The rotation is still strong even with Ryan Dempster taking the year off. In a just in case move the team signed veteran lefty Chris Capuano and invited him to spring training. Jon Lester headlines this group as he led the team in wins, strikeouts, quality starts and innings pitched. Buchholz started the year on fire then ended up on the DL for the rest of the season. John Lackey led the team in WHIP and is heading into the final year of his contract. Trade deadline addition Jake Peavy was a nice depth move, he is a competitor on the mound and as long as his fastball has life in the 93mph range he will make starts. Felix Doubront would be many other teams’ 3rd starter, but on this team he will battle for the 5th starter spot with Brandon Workman and Capuano. Workman projects best of the three in the bullpen as the spot starter/long reliever role. The rest of the bullpen is led by closer Koji Uehara and set up man Junichi Tazawa. Edward Mujica was obtained from St. Louis and Craig Breslow is the lefty specialist. Andrew Miller will need to have a stellar spring to earn a roster spot.
The lineup loses Jacoby Ellsbury at the top and hopes that Jackie Bradley Jr. can make up for his lost production. Bradley had a shot last season, but couldn’t hit consistently enough to stay with the big club. Due to injury last year, Shane Victorino gave up switch hitting and was actually better for it down the stretch and through the playoffs. Dustin Pedroia had a statistically regressed year as his power numbers were down to only 9 home runs, but again figures to hit in the middle of the order, where David Ortiz will follow to give protection. It’s tough not to like Ortiz, especially after his speech following the Boston Marathon bombing, but for those who bury Manny Ramirez, Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez for PED use, let’s not forget that Big Papi was also busted and suspended at one point too. His overall numbers are creeping up on Edgar Martinez for the best DH ever, and should he pass Martinez and make a case for himself for the Hall of Fame; do the voters break their old guard code and vote him in? Hopefully he forces the issue with two or three more years of high production value to make baseball face the PED and not continue dance around it. Mike Napoli covers Ortiz in the lineup and did very well in the first half of the year and ultimately ended up with 92 RBI. Daniel Nava and Johnny Gomes figure to platoon left field again with the former more an average hitter and the latter more power focused. New catcher A.J. Pierzynski will look to hit .275 and get some left over RBI opportunities. Will Middlebrooks has power and is still only 25, but needs to work on his on base percentage to round out his game. Xander Bogaerts takes over for Stephen Drew at SS and will play solid defense and any offense will be gravy. Last year utility man Mike Carp embraced this role and performed well both on the field and as part of the locker room. Boston was tops in the league in several offensive categories and looks to be near the top again.
Manager John Farrell enters his second season with the Sox coming off a magical run through the World Series. Farrell has holes to fill but has the pegs to do it. The team is thinking that another run through October is theirs for the taking, and they should contend for much of the season barring injury to key players. The farm system just moved SS Bogearts and Bradley to the big club but still boasts an impressive array of pitching talent. Henry Owens has the upside to supplant an injured starter permanently in the rotation.
New York Yankees
Projected starting rotation:
1. CC Sabathia
2. Masahiro Tanaka
3. Ivan Nova
4. Hiroki Kuroda
5. Michael Pineda/David Phelps/Adam Warren
The prize of the offseason was Tanaka, who adds a much needed blend of youth and experience to the rotation. Sabathia lost what looks like 100 pounds over the offseason citing health reasons. After a down year in many statistical categories including wins, ERA, and fastball velocity, Sabathia may be entering the career phase of pitcher and not thrower. Hiroki Kuroda returns on another 1 year deal coming off an unbalanced year. He started the year as a Cy Young candidate, but the second half was a totally different story. The Yankees may need to monitor his innings early to ensure he gets the most out of his innings. Ivan Nova and his lively fastball enter his age 27 season looking to put it all together and have a true breakout season after a solid year in which he had seven wins, 11 quality starts and a 2.59 ERA in his final 15 games. The wildcard is Pineda, two years removed from major shoulder surgery. He needs to step up and earn the last spot in the rotation. He came back at the tail end of last year to start 6 games for AAA Columbus posting an ERA of 3.85 and WHIP of 1.02. A small sample size, but the Yankees are hoping he builds on this momentum. Phelps made 12 starts last season after beginning the year in the bullpen. He ended the year on the DL due to forearm issues, but has the opportunity to win the 5th spot in spring training. If Pineda beats him out, Phelps returns to the long man role out of the bullpen, which would further strengthen the staff. David Robertson takes over for the retired Mariano Rivera at the back end of the pen. It’s the middle of the bullpen that has roles open for the taking. Shawn Kelly had a solid end of the year and has the inside track on 8th inning duty. The team is hoping lefty Matt Thornton has something left in his arm. Preston Claiborne, Andrew Bailey, Cesar Cabral and Warren all are fighting to carve out their niche.
The lineup starts with new addition CF Jacoby Ellsbury, who moves Brett Gardner to LF, and puts Alfonso Soriano at full time DH. That improved defense, along with new RF Carlos Beltran, should improve the team outfield position. Gardner will probably start the year in the 9 hole as Derek Jeter completes his swan song season hitting 2nd. I think Jeter is the key to this lineup, if he hits well enough to justify staying in the 2 hole the lineup is dangerous, if he struggles and refuses to drop to the bottom of the order they will struggle to put together big innings. 1B Mark Teixeira still isn’t ready to go from last year’s torn sheath tendon in his wrist, but should hit clean up when he returns; followed in the order by new catcher Brian McCann who should enjoy hitting in Yankee stadium. Alfonso Soriano is a notorious slow starter, but heats up with the weather does, and provides ample pop at this point in the lineup. With Alex Rodriguez out of the picture for this season Kelly Johnson and Eduardo Nunez will split time at 3B, with the loser of their competition to also back up veteran Brian Roberts at 2B, until he gets hurt-again. Brendan Ryan is the defensive whiz who will step in should Jeter or Roberts struggle or be injured.
Manager Joe Girardi has long had a reputation for managing out of a binder. He loosened the strings on that last year and got the most out of a backup laden lineup. If he reverts back to the binder and puts the stop sign up on the base path for Ellsbury and Gardner, the lineup could struggle to score runs again. The coaching staff returns intact, which GM Brian Cashman hopes equal cohesiveness. The farm system is improving from the bottom up. There are some AA prospects to monitor but they are likely two plus years away from any meaningful contributions.
Tampa Bay Rays
Projected starting rotation:
1. David Price
2. Alex Cobb
3. Matt Moore
4. Chris Archer
5. Jake Odorizzi/Jeremy Hellickson
The rotation looks to start the year as one of the best in the majors as top arm David Price was not traded in the offseason as expected. The Tampa brass knows that given their budget constraints that Price is gone at some point; now likely next offseason as he heads into the final year of team owned arbitration before unrestricted free agency. Alex Cobb came on strong at the end of the year and made a post season start in the series loss to the Red Sox after suffering a concussion during the season. Matt Moore started the year on fire but landed on the DL and wasn’t the same when he came off. He has been inconsistent with his location and needs to address this issue to take the next step in his development. Chris Archer came up last year and showed why he was rated as a top prospect. The hard throwing youngster registered a 3.22 ERA and 1.13 WHIP last year and prorated those to a full season; he could be a breakout player this year. Jeremy Hellickson had elbow surgery and is out until June, opening the door for Jake Odorizzi to earn a regular rotation spot that he couldn’t last year when Moore and Cobb where hurt. The bullpen looks to close the door with 36 year old Grant Balfour and his cantankerous demeanor on the mound. Jake McGee is the lefty out of the pen and was very dependable for Joe Maddon late in the year. 37 year old Joel Peralta has led the majors in holds the last two seasons and the team hopes he still has something left in the tank.
The lineup returns most of the same names as Desmond Jennings looks to improve his on base percentage in order to steal more bases and set up the rest of the order. Ben Zobrist is a solid all-around ball player who this year will be asked to be more of an on base player more so than an RBI guy. Evan Longoria is a solid bet to post a .275 average, 30 home runs and 95 RBI line, and what he doesn’t produce 2nd year pro Wil Myers will pick up. Matt Joyce is a left handed power bat but will share time if he struggles against left handed pitching like he did last year. James Loney enjoyed a nice season for the Rays at the plate after several down years with the Dodgers, and was rewarded with a contract extension. New catcher Ryan Hanigan will handle the pitching staff well but probably won’t hit; the same can be said about his back up, 38 year old Jose Molina.
Manager Joe Maddon enters his 9th season with the Rays with maybe his best roster top to bottom. He is known as a player’s manager and gets the most out of his teams every season. He will look to take the Rays to the post season in back to back years for the 2nd time in franchise history (2010-11). The team never spends big money on free agents but brought back 1B James Loney on a 3 year deal as they didn’t like the alternatives on the scrap heap. They also signed journey man lefty Erik Bedard who may be able to offer some stop gap help should another injury hit the rotation. Overall this team enters the season as having the highest payroll in franchise history, an indicator that management feels they are “all in” to win this year.
Projected Starting Rotation:
1. Ubaldo Jimenez
2. Chris Tillman
3. Wei-Yin Chen
4. Miguel Gonzalez
5. Bud Norris/Zach Britton/Kevin Gausman
Late winter signee Jimenez comes into the mix and figures to be the second starter to begin the year, but I’m betting he ends up the teams’ top arm by the end of the season. Baltimore has not been able to capitalize on the talented young arms in their system as many have been felled by injury or inconsistency i.e. Dylan Bundy, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz. Chen and Gonzalez need to be used specifically as starters and let to grow into those roles as the Orioles have been quick to shuffle pitchers between the rotation and bullpen. Gausman came up last year but didn’t impress in his few starts. There was talk that Norris could transition to the closer’s role until the team anointed Tommy Hunter to the position. Darren O’Day and the loser(s) of the 5th starter spot will round out the bullpen to start the season. Last year’s closer Jim Johnson was moved out for a backup infielder (Jemile Weeks) in a salary saving move.
The lineup got stronger with the late winter addition of Nelson Cruz. The lineup doesn’t have a protypical leadoff hitter, but Nick Markakis fills in decently as he has a solid on base percentage. The injury to 3B Manny Machado’s knee disrupts the lineup as he was on pace for 60 doubles last season. Adam Jones averages 30 home runs and 100 RBI over the past three years, followed up by last year’s breakout bomber Chris Davis. Some regression from his 53/138 totals last year should be expected, but back to back 30/100 guys in your lineup is nothing to turn your nose up at. Cruz should add pop and protection to the 5th spot of the order as Matt Wieters struggled for portions of last year. JJ Hardy routinely hits 15-20 home runs from the SS position and word has it the team has approached him about a contract extension already this spring.
Manager Buck Showalter enters his 5th season as O’s bench boss. The team has steadily improved its play in those years and as a no nonsense type of personality Showalter has molded this team into one that should be able to battle for a playoff spot into and through the summer. Camden Yards has been a hitter’s park since it opened and even if Chris Davis regresses his raw power will send a few extra fly balls over the fence. The farm system moved Gausman to the rotation last year and looks to graduate 2B Jonathan Schoop to the big league roster this spring.
Toronto Blue Jays
Projected Starting Rotation:
1. R.A Dickey
2. Mark Buehrle
3. Brandon Morrow
4. J.A Happ/Kyle Drabek
5. Esmil Rogers/Todd Redmond/Marcus Stroman
This unit is the weakest in the division, and with another Morrow injury all of baseball save for Houston. Dickey didn’t statistically enjoy the northern lights of Rodgers Center last season after a great year for the Mets in the National League. He won 14 games but saw his ERA jump to 4.21 and WHIP move to 1.24. Some inflation could be chalked up to a move to the American League as he was able to throw 224 innings and 3 complete games (although for a knuckleballer arm fatigue should be almost nil). Mark Buehrle is himself a wily veteran who is consistent in putting up 200 innings yearly, but his peripheral numbers-WHIP and ERA suggest that hitters will have some very good days against him this season. Brandon Morrow seems like he is always hurt, that can be said of the mix of Happ, Drabek and Redmond. Rogers had been a reliever to begin the year, but the team stretched him out in the 2nd half and he will be given every opportunity to earn a rotation spot this spring. Counting on this crop 3 out of every 5 days will be enough to give a manager gray hair- or tear it out completely. The bullpen sports an all-star in Steve Delebar as well as closer Casey Janssen. Sergio Santos as well as Brett Cecil have experience and can contribute on a regular basis.
The lineup boasts a healthy supply of power , if they can stay healthy. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind all hit at least 20 home runs last year, and 3B Brett Lawrie has the ability to hit the long ball but hasn’t stayed healthy in his young career. The wildcard to this lineup is Melky Cabrera, who isn’t a power bat but is more of an on base threat/table setter, and could settle nicely into the 2nd spot of the order behind Jose Reyes. Reyes is another player who seems like he spends at least two stints on the DL per season every year. He is a speed threat and can make things happen on the base paths as long as he keeps his legs underneath him (stay healthy). The team non tendered last year’s offensive catcher J.P Arencibia, he of the 21 home runs and .194 batting average, and replaced him with Dioner Navarro who isn’t much better than backup Josh Thole, which isn’t saying much.
Manager John Gibbons enters his 2nd year of his 2nd stint as Blue Jays manager looking to outscore his opponents on a nightly basis. He will need improved health from several guys this season to move the team back towards finishing .500. The farm system should promote 2B Ryan Goins to the big roster as long as he can unseat Maicer Izturis. The trade for R.A Dickey severely cut into the organization’s prospect pool and doesn’t look to have much ready for big league action this year.