Major League Baseball - AL East Preview
In part two of our season preview, we take a look at the powerhouse of the American League - the East division, which has provided the AL’s representative in the World Series in each of the last three years, and is home to the current champions, the New York Yankees.
1. New York Yankees
The Yankees started off 2009 slowly. From the All Star Break onwards, Jeter and the boys never looked back, as they christened New Yankee Stadium with a World Series title, their first since 2000.
Jeter surprised many last year by putting together one of the best seasons of his career with the bat, and rolling back the years with the glove, when it was widely thought his days as a functioning shortstop were well gone. He’s back, as are most of the other pieces who contributed to title number 27.
Johnny Damon and Hiedki Matsui both opted for free agency. After much speculation that Damon would end up re-signing with the Yankees, they instead opted to trade for his replacement, in the shape of Curtis Granderson, who should add a needed touch of speed to the line-up.
Javier Vazquez is back for a second stint in the Bronx to strengthen the rotation behind Sabathia and Burnett. With a few other cosmetic changes, it’s difficult to see past the Bombers for a repeat of the division, and to go all the way.
2. Boston Red Sox
2009 ended in disappointment for the Sox as they crashed out of the playoffs at the first hurdle. Losing Jason Bay and his 36 home runs last year to free agency is certainly a big blow, but GM Theo Epstein has done a decent job of trying to restock the team as they go on the hunt for a third World Series title in seven seasons.
John Lackey (5yrs/$82m) was the marquee signing of the winter for the Red Sox. They will be hoping their Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka can bounce back after last year’s problems, to further bolster an already formidable rotation containing Lackey, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, along with stiff competition for the fifth spot.
Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre have come in to fill the left side of the infield, whilst Mike Cameron will take Bay’s place in centre field.
Boston look formidable, but perhaps just don’t quite have enough to top the Yankees. Red Sox Nation shouldn’t get too despondent though, because they certainly have enough to lock up the AL Wild Card again.
3. Tampa Bay Rays
The fate of the Rays in 2009 perfectly illustrates the strength at the top of the East. They finished 84-78 – a record which would have seen them challenging for the division if they were in the AL Central. In the East, that was only good enough for a third place finish, 19 games back on the Yankees.
It is hard to see them moving up from that third place this year. The Rays haven’t made any major off-season moves, and once again will be relying on their excellent crop of youngsters, led by Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford. Their major move was for closer Rafael Soriano, to try and firm up the back end of their bullpen.
This will have to be the year the Rays try and start to make a move for a championship, pushing on from the AL pennant in 2008. A number of young stars are heading towards free agency, and the club are going to find it difficult to hold on to many of them. For the Rays, the time is now. They have the talent, but whether it is enough remains to be seen.
4. Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles consistently poor performances in recent years have given them the opportunity to build a good core of young players, and 2010 could be when we see them begin to come together.
Catcher Matt Wieters is the figurehead, along with the likes of Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. Kevin Millwood has been brought in to anchor a young pitching rotation, spearheaded by Brian Matusz. They’re paying big bucks for Millwood, but it could end up being money well spent if he brings on the arms in that rotation.
The Orioles won’t be competing this year, but for a team that have been so bad for a while now, just getting out of the basement for a change will be seen as an achievement.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
The off-season move many Jays fans were perhaps most pleased about was the sacking of general manager JP Ricciardi, who, whilst doing little to build a viable contender, seemed to embarrass the franchise every time he opened his mouth to the press.
Roy Halladay is gone. That was inevitable. However the Jays got some decent prospects in return for their former ace. All the pieces won’t be ready this year though, and they are not helped by long-term injuries to players like young pitcher Jesse Litsch.
The bottom line is that this is a rebuilding year for the Jays, and the fans have been told as much by new GM Alex Anthopoulos. Whilst this will be a nice change from the annual bluster of Ricciardi, it will still be a painful grounding for Canada’s only representative in MLB.