Every spring, it is always fun to make pointless and meaningless predictions on the outcome of the upcoming baseball season. Regardless of the total lack of importance in the grand scheme of things, it always fun to see how things turned. Bragging is order for those predictions that turn out correct and the mistakes are quickly ignored and forgotten. This is the fourth of a series of six divisional predictions. Click here for a look at the NL East, here for the NL Central, and here for the NL West. Let’s have some!
This is a strange division. The money spending powerhouses of this century have suddenly become thrifty (relatively speaking of course). Another team spent the off season wheeling and dealing. Another traded from its pitching depth to help its offense and is striving to build from within at a low cost, and the other team is coming off a special, unexpected run into the playoffs. Last season, no one saw the Orioles coming, and no one anticipated the Blue Jays would be the big player during the Hot Stove season. It is really hard to predict what will happen out east but let’s give it a try.
5) Baltimore Orioles: Sorry Orioles fans. While possible, it is highly unlikely Baltimore can repeat its 2012 successes. The starting rotation is just not yet a championship rotation. The Orioles still have several younger arms that haven’t reached their potential but the likes of Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, and Jair Jurrjens are not top tier pitchers. Guys like Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta, Brain Matusz, and Zach Britton may develop into very good pitchers but they are not there yet. One wonders when Dylan Bundy will join the rotation for good. The bullpen is anchored by Jim Johnson, who was very good in 2012 but doesn’t pitch like a prototypical closer. Will and the rest of the Oriole bullpen be able to repeat their 2012 performances? At the plate, Baltimore has some nice pieces but too many players with with poor health histories are being counted on. If Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, and Nolan Reimold can be injury free, then combined with Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and J.J. Hardy, the Orioles might be able to put some runs on the board. Throw in super prospect Manny Machado and there is a very solid core offensively. The lack of established starters and injury riddled hitters will be just too much to over come for one of last season’s feel good stories.
4) New York Yankees: Age is a terrible thing in athletics. When it catches up with you in sports, it can get ugly. The Yankees have been heading down this path for a while now. There is a lot of mileage on a number of the guys from the Bronx. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Hiroki Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki, Travis Hafner, Andy Pettitte, Juan Rivera, and Kevin Youkilis are all 34 or older, some on the wrong side of 40. Curtis Granderson, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira are 32 or older. And this doesn’t even include Alex Rodriguez! Newly acquired 34-year old outfielder Vernon Wells, with his fading skills should fit right in. The roster resembles a M*A*S*H unit more than a baseball team, as many key players will miss significant time before the season even starts and others have a history of health issues. The ghost of Ponce De Leon would have to visit this clubhouse and tell them where the mythical fountain of youth is located for this team to make it through the 2013 season challenging for a title. Aging talent can only take a team so far.
3) Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox are such a different looking team than they were a year ago. Dustin Pedrioa, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and David Ortiz are still in Bean Town but Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, and Will Middlebrooks are all new faces. Only time will tell if this line-up is better than the previous one, but it certainly didn’t seem to get much younger. The rotation is filled with mostly familiar faces in Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Felix Doubront, all hoping to improve their 2012 numbers. John Lackey would like to return to effectiveness after missing all of last season to injury. The Sox did add Ryan Dempster but he is getting on in years and there is no guarantee he will be repeat last year’s numbers at the age of 36. The bullpen is restructured with Joel Hanrahan in as closer, with oft-injured Andrew Bailey as a set-up option. Effective Koji Uehara adds solid pen depth. The Red Sox certainly have enough goods players to be a factor in the AL East but they do not appear to be an elite team any longer.
2) Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays season will be determined by how far their rotation depth can take them. Tampa has so many arms they were able to trade away James Shields and Wade Davis for prospect Wil Myers and others. David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, and Matt Moore are locks and if the latter two can take expected steps forward, they could rival anyone’s top three starters. The final two spots will be filled from a pool of arms that includes youngsters Alex Cobb and Chris Archer, plus Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona). In the pen in 2012, Fernando Rodney had one of the greatest seasons of all time by a reliever. He delivered a historic .60 ERA in 74.2 innings, with 48 saves. To expect a repeat of those numbers would be ludicrous, considering his career mediocrity. Pitchers like Kyle Farnsworth and Jake McGee have performed well in the past and the Rays will be relying on them to do so again. At the plate, Tampa has a star in Evan Longoria at third, and a strong supporting cast with players like the versatile Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings, Matthew Joyce, and Luke Scott. The Rays need underachievers like Kelly Johnson, James Loney, and Yunel Escobar to step up if Tampa Bay is going to make a run in the east.
1) Toronto Blue Jays: It’s time to see if all that Hot Stove wheeling and dealing pays off. The Jays have a strong rotation, if it can stay healthy. NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey heads up a revamped starting five that includes Josh Johnson, the steadfast Mark Buehrle, and hold over Brandon Morrow. One starter who needs to rediscover the form that made him successful prior to 2012 is lefty Ricky Romero. He was awful last season but has the talent to be one of the best 5th starters in the league. Casey Janssen returns as the closer but look for Sergio Santos to get some chances as well. Santos entered the 2012 season as the closer before getting hurt. On offense, the Jays have stalwarts Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and added Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera for support. It will interesting to see just how much of Cabrera’s production over the past 2 seasons who due to PEDs. If Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind, J.P. Arencibia, and Colby Rasmus can realize their vast potential, the Blue Jays will be extremely hard to beat. They have pitching and hitting depth and those factors give them a leg up on the rest of the division. Health history and underachieving could certainly derail this train but until that happens, Toronto is the new Beast of the East.
Summary: The Yankees and Red Sox are certainly in the midst of a period of change. Players that have spear headed past successes are either gone or on their way out. The opportunity is there for the Orioles, Rays, and Blue Jays to turn this division upside down. With the youth being developed in Baltimore and Tampa, these two teams have a chance to really put their stamp on this era of change, if not this season, certainly in the near future.