Only twice since 1997 has a team other than the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox won the American League East Division -- and both times that team was Tampa Bay. Is this the season that Toronto and Baltimore can threaten to finally unseat the Big 3?
The Red Sox went from last place in the division and 69 wins in 2012 to 97 last season to beat out second-place Tampa Bay by 5.5 games in the AL East on the way to the World Series title. Boston added some quality free agents last offseason but didn't hand out that payroll-crippling deal like the Sox did to Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, both now Dodgers. Replacing unpopular Bobby Valentine with ultra-popular John Farrell last year as manager didn't hurt, either.
The Sox have been rather quiet this offseason. They appear not too interested to bring back Stephen Drew, although he's still available and it's not a lock he won't be back. Jacoby Ellsbury got his $153 million and pulled a Johnny Damon by leaving Boston for the hated Yankees. The Sox did re-sign first baseman Mike Napoli and added veteran free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Otherwise the team is counting heavily on youngsters like Daniel Nava, Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Jackie Bradley. The rotation comes back intact and Boston will now have Jake Peavy for a full season. Closer Koji Uehara, who had a season for the ages, also is back. The Sox are +500 on BetOnline's baseball odds to win the pennant.
Boston has a fine starting five, but the AL East's best ERA last season belonged to Tampa Bay, and the Rays look like they have the best pitching staff again as long as they don't trade David Price. Considering they haven't by now, most believe the Rays will keep Price through this season if they are contending by the July trade deadline (as they should be). If not, he's a goner. Tampa Bay re-signed first-baseman James Loney, somewhat surprising considering how little the Rays usually spend. Loney was a huge surprise in 2013. The Rays always have a good bullpen under Joe Maddon and got closer Grant Balfour at discounted rates. As usual, the question on this team will be whether it can hit and Evan Longoria can stay healthy. Tampa is +1000 to win the AL pennant on baseball odds.
New York "won" the offseason by spending nearly $500 million on outfielders Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and winning the bidding for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. That's all fine and good and they all are good players. Third base (no A-Rod) and second base (no Cano) look terrible. You aren't supposed to be using a 40-year-old like Derek Jeter as your everyday shortstop. First baseman Mark Teixeira might never be the same off his wrist issue. The rotation is iffy after the Top 3, and is CC Sabathia even an ace these days? Who gets the automatic three outs in the ninth inning now that Mariano Rivera is gone? The only reason the Yanks have such short +600 pennant odds at sportsbooks is because of the uniforms they wear, not the players on the team.
After a breakthrough and somewhat lucky 2012 season when the Orioles were unbeatable in one-run games and reached the ALDS as a wild card, they took a step back last season to 85 wins. Is owner Peter Angelos totally cheap or what? The team has done nothing this offseason unless you count trading 50-save closer Jim Johnson for A's second baseman Jamile Weeks, who hasn't proven he can play in the majors. The Orioles lineup looks pretty good but It's unreasonable to expect Chris Davis to match his 2013 stats. There's also the question of when Manny Machado gets back to 100 percent off his scary season-ending injury. The rotation is full of No. 5 starters at best with either Miguel Gonzalez or Wei-Yin Chen the presumed ace. The O's are +1200 to win the pennant on baseball odds.
Seems laughable now but the Blue Jays were the 2013 AL East preseason favorites for sports bettors after their big trades with the Marlins and Mets landed the likes of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey. However, Reyes got hurt early and Buehrle, Dickey and Johnson were awful to start and Toronto never recovered from a 10-17 April. Toronto has the longest AL East title drought at 21 years, which is also the last time it reached the playoffs. The Jays haven't done much yet this offseason but are still likely to add a starting pitcher, probably either Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. The Blue Jays are largely counting on bounce-back seasons from all their guys and good health for Reyes, Jose Bautista, etc. Toronto is +1800 on baseball odds to win the AL pennant.
MLB Free Picks Projected Finish: Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto, New York, Baltimore.