With the new Mr. Peabody movie in theaters right now, it is time for me to turn the WABAC machine to forward setting and offer my prediction on how the American League East will shake out this year. Let’s take a look at each team first:
New York Yankees
Whenever the Yankees talk about fiscal responsibility or getting under the salary cap to avoid luxury tax for the first time in…forever, you start forming your opinion about whether this can happen on whether or not they make the playoffs. Once they did not make the playoffs last year, you can throw that idea out the window. This offseason, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury (remember him?), Carlos Beltran and Japanese superstar Masahiro Tanaka (he of the 24-0 record, but who was the competition?) all became Yankees with a total salary of somewhere around a billion dollars. Ok, it really wasn’t that much, but the Yankees spent a pile of cash.
One has to think they will improve upon their 85 wins from last year which came despite the absence of Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter for most of the season. Can CC Sabathia return to form? Does Hiroki Kuroda have another good year in him or will he fade down the stretch like last year? Considering it is Jeter’s last year, they will find a way to get second place (even if they lost the Biogenesis phone number), possibly a Wild Card depending how Oakland and Texas fight things out in the AL West..
Toronto Blue Jays
Considering the spectacular failure that Toronto was last year after a slew of offseason acquisitions, few are giving them much of a chance. Mark Buehrle (age), R.A. Dickey (reality and AL East), Jose Reyes (injury) and Melky Cabrera (no PEDs) could not get the job done. They haven’t done much in the offseason. They dumped OBP black hole catcher J.P. Arencibia (.227 OBP, 11 passed balls) for former Ray Dioner Navarro. Josh Johnson took his 4.81 ERA to San Diego.
The key for Toronto is staying healthy. In addition to Reyes missing most of the season, Jose Bautista missed 44 games as well. On paper, the Jays have a strong core that includes the above players as well as emerging star Edwin Encarnacion. They still have John Gibbons managing which is a mystery considering the team’s past struggles while he has been at the helm. Noted jerk (and former Sox 3B) Shea Hillenbrand once wrote “this is a sinking ship” prominently on a chalkboard Gibbons was using. It’s hard to believe, despite the talent and potential, that Toronto will do any better than fifth this year which will likely hasten Gibbons departure from his job.
Tampa Bay Rays
Every team would like to be the Rays in the sense of their economic method for developing talent into a playoff-contending team each year. The key seems to be their ability to nurture starting pitching. David Price is a Cy Young winner, though considering this is his last year before free agency, unless a lot more people start coming to the games, this will be his last year as a Ray. Alex Cobb is a star-in-the making, going 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA last year despite a horrific beaning on the mound. Matt Moore is also a fantastic talent, posting a 3.27 ERA last season, rewarding the team for their confidence in the $14 million they invested in him with the possibility of earning another $28 million in team options. Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and James Loney anchor a lineup that doesn’t need to do as much as other teams to put up wins for that kind of pitching.
The Rays’ recent success and the Yankees’ spending spree make this a tough call as who to favor in the division. My prediction is that the Yankees renewed commitment to signing big names, including the return of Jeter and Teixeira combined with the cloud of Price’s pending free agency is going to push the Rays down to third place in the division.
Boston Red Sox
There are certainly any number of reasons to pick Boston for the division. They have been there. They have winning players. They can score a lot of runs and have excellent pitching.
We would not be Red Sox fans if we did not see the red flags, though.. So much can come down to health and the Sox are no exception. Big Papi and Pedey need to stay healthy. Can Grady Sizemore give them a full season? As beleaguered broadcaster Jerry Remy said on NESN, there are a lot of smart people who work for the Red Sox. Recent stories have said that Sizemore will not play more than three games in a row, or four in six days. You can expect that, at least until he gets his legs under him for a couple months to see if he can withstand the grind of 162 games, they will follow that rule pretty strictly. Koji Uehara had rules last year for not working three straight days and look how well that worked out. Someone like Edward Mujica was brought in for insurance in case something happens to Koji or to give him a breather if he has had too much work..
A bunch of things went right for the Sox last year with their clutch hitting, team spirit and clutch pitching. This year they don’t need as many things to fall as perfectly. They still should be able to persevere and win this division, despite the Yankees’ new faces.
Along with the Yankees, this writer’s feeling is that the Orioles might not see another year like 2012 any time soon — 29-9 in one run games and a playoff appearance. Former Sox GM Dan Duquette brought in some help in February, signing Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz to shore up both sides of the ball. Both of those players come with their own baggage despite their past success. Jimenez had a terrible 2012 before righting the ship last year. Who knows who the real Ubaldo is? Cruz served a PED suspension at the end of last season. Was his sudden home run hitting prowess chemically created? Will he benefit from Camden Yards’ hitter-friendly dimensions?
In addition to these issues, there was some controversy about their pursuit of closer Grant Balfour. A deal was in place but their medical staff supposedly nixed it ostensibly on health concerns. Balfour and his agent reamed the team out for reversing course, pointing out the clean nature of his examinations according to everyone but the Orioles. For the moment, their closer seems to be Tommy Hunter, but he would be brand-new to the job. Was it a good idea to trade away Jim Johnson’s 51 saves? Will Manny Machado be able to come back from last year’s gruesome knee injury? Look for the Orioles to place fourth in the AL East.
American League MVP: Prince Fielder
I am going to go a little off the beaten path for this one. Look for a re-energized Prince Fielder to tear up the AL West. He will have more RBI chances since he doesn’t have Miguel Cabrera driving in 137 runs in front of him in the lineup. He is hitting in more of a hitter’s park. He will be the man.
American League Cy Young: David Price
The 2012 Cy Young winner is in a contract year with the Rays. He will enter free agency next year. Coming off a year in which he made only 27 starts, he will stay healthy for the distance and improve upon his 3.33 ERA from last year and make his next team very glad they have him.
American League Rookie of the Year: Masahiro Tanaka
There might be a segment of writers who don’t think that someone who comes from Japan is truly a rookie and might sway the vote over to Sox phenom Xander Bogaerts. Spring Training is not the best way to judge whether or not Tanaka is the real deal, but he possesses an array of pitches and a live fastball and is pitching for a team which will likely get him many wins with their many offensive weapons.
AL East Prediction
Ok, Sherman, let’s go forward to October and see how we did. See you next time, folks.