In 2013, the AL East is expected to be a juggernaut once again
Editor’s Note: This is the first column in a Baseball News Source division-by-division series that will address what teams might do this off-season. We start with the American League East.
When Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced the addition of a second wild card in each league for 2012, it was assumed that both wild card entrants in the American League would occupy the American League East.
Though the Baltimore Orioles were surprisingly good, finished one game behind the New York Yankees in the division standings and claimed one of the wild cards, the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays were hampered with a myriad of injuries to key players and were never a factor. Tampa Bay boasted the best pitching staff in baseball but did not score enough runs to make the postseason, leaving the Texas Rangers as the other wild card winner.
In 2013, the AL East is expected to be a juggernaut once again. The Red Sox and Blue Jays expect to be competitive, and Yankees, Rays and Orioles appear poised to contend. From top to bottom, the AL East will likely be the most competitive in baseball, one season later than expected.
New York Yankees
True, the Yankees finished with the best record in the American League at 95-67, yet they have two aging veterans whose numbers do not remotely match their gaudy salaries (Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira), another veteran who will eventually need a new position (Derek Jeter), decisions to make about Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, and a need to upgrade the rotation behind CC Sabathia.
The Yankees are the Yankees, so don’t believe their annual sales pitch of focusing more on player development. This is a team that will spend money in the off-season to upgrade their rotation and address the outfield situation if Swisher and Ichiro Suzuki are not brought back.
One of the feel-good stories of 2012, the Orioles earned an improbable playoff berth and finished one game behind the Yankees, but this off-season Baltimore must decide Mark Reynolds‘ $11 million club option or exercise a $500,000 buyout. Reynolds slugged 23 home runs after belting 37 in 2011.
Late season call-up Manny Machado, whose natural position is shortstop, thrived at third base and Reynolds played surprisingly good defense at first base. The Orioles could keep that alignment and use Chris Davis at DH.
Like most teams, Baltimore’s rotation of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yen Chen, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez pitched better than expected, and phenom Dylan Bundy could join the group in 2013, but the Orioles will likely pursue a frontline starter this off-season.
Tampa Bay Rays
How can a team that has the best starters ERA and overall pitching staff ERA in baseball – and two of the top American League Cy Young Award candidates (David Price and Fernando Rodney) – not secure a post-season berth? A lack of hitting is why.
This off-season, the Rays have a $10.5 million option on 30-year-old right-handed starting pitcher James Shields, who struck out 15 batters, tossed a complete game and allowed one run and two hits on Wednesday, and lost to the Baltimore Orioles.
Some media pundits speculate that the Rays will pick up Shields’ option and then trade him for a haul of young players, including a potent bat or two. Others believe the team will keep Price and Shields atop the rotation and deal another starter – like Jeremy Hellickson or Jeff Niemann – for some offense.
Tampa Bay not only needs to upgrade its lineup, but it will likely also need to replace B.J. Upton, who can become a free agent and will probably command more years and annual salary than the Rays are willing to offer.
Toronto Blue Jays
“This is the year that Toronto will emerge as a contender in the AL East.” How many years has that statement been uttered by baseball pundits during spring training? The last two years, at least.
In fairness to the Blue Jays, they endured a myriad of injuries to key pitchers (including Kyle Drabek, Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan and Drew Hutchison. The lineup lost slugger Jose Bautista in the second half.
Toronto general manager Alex Anthopolous told the media that the team will increase payroll and media speculation indicates the Blue Jays will be in the market to acquire a frontline starting pitcher via trade.
Boston Red Sox
After experiencing a monumental collapse in September 2011 that sent them from one of the best records in baseball to not making the postseason, the Boston Red Sox struggled to a 69-93 record and a last place finish in the AL East in 2012.
The team was decimated by injuries to core players and was stricken with tension and drama in the dugout and in the clubhouse. Manager Bobby Valentine was fired on Thursday, one day after completing his first season with the Red Sox.
This off-season, Boston must first pursue a manager (Toronto skipper John Farrell is a favorite) and then try to bring back outfielder Cody Ross and DH David Ortiz. Though Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and 24-year-old left-hander Felix Doubront have upside, they are best suited in complementary rotation roles, so the Red Sox desperately need to find a frontline starter via trade or free agency.
Boston could pursue White Sox righty Jake Peavy or Angels righty Dan Haren if their respective options are declined. The Red Sox have a well-stocked farm system and plenty of chips to trade for a top starting pitcher, too.
Returning to contender status next year will not be a difficult proposition for the Red Sox since they have core players like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Ortiz (if he is retained); promising young players like third baseman Will Middlebrooks, catcher Ryan Lavarnway and shortstop Jose Iglesias; several top prospects that are close to Major League ready (Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley and Bryce Brentz among others) and only $38 million in payroll commitments for 2013.
Cherington’s baseball acumen will undoubtedly put to an immediate test.