The Red Sox pulled the ultimate upset last season when they pulled off a worst-to-first turnaround to capture their third World Series title in nine years. They come back in 2014 with a few changes, notably the departure of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and the prospect of injecting more youth in the starting lineup.
Now the Yankees have made a checkbook statement that they’re going to get back in the hunt by spending a whopping $471 million this offseason in an attempt to surpass their age-old rivals at the top of the American League East standings. They’ll enter 2014 with the hopes that signing big-name free agents pays off with a postseason spot.
Before the start of the 2013 season, the Blue Jays looked like a favorite to advance to the postseason after a series of high profile acquisitions, but Toronto fizzled out of the gate and never put a serious challenge together for a playoff spot. They come back largely in-tact and hope to stay healthy this time around.
Joe Maddon’s always-tough Tampa Bay Rays should be in the thick of the hunt in the AL East again mostly on the strength of another reinvented rotation of more young, powerful arms.
In 2013, the Orioles could not match their surprise performance that led them to 93 wins a year before. Their unproven starting pitching and low spending ways in the offseason may prove to be their undoing again in 2014.
So with pitchers and catchers due to officially report next weekend, let’s take a look at the state of the five teams in the AL East and let you predict the 1-through-5 order of finish at the end. Next
2013: 85-77, 3d place (tied), 12 games back
2014 projection: 74-88, 5th place
Manager: Buck Showalter, 5th season
Projected 2014 payroll: $69.9 million
Will these Birds ever soar to the top? The Orioles regressed in 2013 as they could not quite repeat the late-inning, one-run-win magic that saw them hit 90 wins in 2012. Their brilliant bullpen looked more ordinary last season and things don’t appear to be getting better for frustrated Orioles fans in 2014.
What hasn’t changed is the Orioles tight-fisted ways when it comes to the spending on players. No one will confuse Baltimore with the New York Yankees this offseason.
GM Dan Duquette shipped closer Jim Johnson off to Oakland to save money in advance of his last year of arbitration.
Others leaving the confines of Camden Yards include second baseman Brian Roberts via free agency, starters Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, infielder Danny Valencia and outfielders Nate McLouth and Michael Morse.
The underwhelming additions include signing Delmon Young to a minor league contract. The Birds also picked up light-hitting second baseman Jemile Weeks, outfielder David Lough, and reliever Ryan Webb, who could be in the mix for the closer’s job.
Old friend Alfredo Aceves was also received an invitation to the Baltimore’s big league club this spring, signing a minor league contract.
Projected lineup: Nick Markakis, RF; Manny Machado/Ryan Flaherty, 3B; Chris Davis, 1B; Adam Jones, CF; Matt Wieters C; J.J. Hardy, SS; Delmon Young/Nolan Reimold, DH; David Lough, LF; Jemile Weeks, 2B
Rotation: Chris Tillman; Wei-Yin Chen; Bud Norris; Miguel Gonzalez; Kevin Gausman
Bullpen: Tommy Hunter, CL; Darren O’Day; Brian Matusz
Off the bench: Alexi Casilla, Steve Pearce, Jonathan Schoop
Outlook: The Orioles rotation appears to be their weak link again in 2014. Chris Tilman is solid at the top of the rotation, but then the question marks begin. And losing Johnson and his 50 saves at the back of the bullpen will prove devestating. Unless they sign a free agent before the season starts, Tommy Hunter – who has four career saves – is expected to win the closer job.
To make matters worse, reliever Troy Patton will start the season serving a 25-game suspension he received for testing positive for a banned amphetamine.
On the offensive side, first-baseman Chris Davis led the majors with 53 home runs in 2013 and should have another monster year at the plate. Third baseman Manny Machado – who delivered 189 hits in 2013 but is recovering from left knee surgery – looks like the real deal when he’s on the field. And Adam Jones is another emerging superstar having belted 33 homers while knocking in 108 runs last season.
But in the end, the Orioles won’t be able to compete in the AL East until they bring in some top-tier pitching talent to fill the holes in the both the rotation and the bullpen. Next
Toronto Blue Jays
2013: 74-88, 5th place, 23 games back
2014 projection: 85-77, 4th place
Manager: John Gibbons, 7th season
Projected 2014 payroll: $132.6 million
Can the Jays pull off a worst-to-first? For all the headline-grabbing moves the Blue Jays made last offseason, the Blue Jays came undone faster than mayor Rob Ford at a keg party. They managed to win just one more game under John Gibbons in 2013 than they did in their 2012 campaign under John Farrell. The remodeled upscale Blue Jays stumbled out of the gate and a wave of injuries took their toll.
Last season, the Blue Jays were wheeling and dealing and bringing in brand names Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera, and R.A. Dickey and they went absolutely nowhere. Dickey was a bust in his first year putting up a 4.21 ERA in 224-plus innings
Their biggest move this offseason? Signing pitching great Roy Halladay to a one day contract so he could retire as a Blue Jay.
The Blue Jays are coming back with essentially the same starting group that disappointed in Toronto last season, albeit they’ll have some significant weapons starting the season healthy.
Those who left include pitcher Josh Johnson, who battled through arm injuries en route to a 2-8, 6.20 ERA season in Toronto, signed on with the Padres and catcher J.P. Arencibia joined the Rangers. Other losses include relievers Darren Oliver and Brad Lincoln, outfielder Rajai Davis, and infielder/outfielder Mark DeRosa.
Veteran catcher Dioner Navarro – who batted .300 with 13 home runs in limited duty with the Cubs last season – will take over for Arencibia behind the plate and provide a bit more pop. The Jays also signed second baseman Chris Getz from the Royals and picked up catcher Erik Kratz and third baseman Brent Morel.
The most interesting acquisition for the Blue Jays is 37-year-old-friend Tomo Ohka to the pitching staff. Ohka, who is attempting a comeback as a knuckleballer, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2009.
Projected lineup: Jose Reyes, SS; Melky Cabrera, LF; Jose Bautista, RF; Edwin Encarnacion, 1B; Adam Lind, DH; Brett Lawrie, 3B; Colby Rasmus, CF; Dioner Navarro, C; Ryan Goins/Maicer Izturis, 2B
Rotation: R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek/Drew Hutchison/Esmil Rogers
Bullpen: Casey Janssen, CL; Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar
Off the bench: Erik Kratz, Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra
Outlook: After coming off a year when their starters had their starters had the second-worst ERA in baseball (4.81), how the rotation bounces back will be the key determining factor for the Jays in 2014. Can knuckleballer R.A. Dickey perform like an ace in the AL East? Morrow, Buerhle, and Happ will also have to take big leaps forward for this rotation to stack up against the likes of Boston and Tampa Bay. If the Jays rotation comes undone again, they may move 21-year-old prospect Aaron Sanchez into the starter mix. If the Blue Jays can sign Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez it would certainly help the beleaguered rotation. And if Toronto can avoid being decimated by injuries for a third year in a row, they may be able to stay in the hunt beyond April this time around.
If Jose Reyes can stay healthy and live up to his billing, the star-filled lineup should be able to provide plenty of offensive punch. Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout season in 2013 – belting 36 homers and knocking in 104 runs – and he should continue to be a force. The Jays also have Jose Bautista, one of the most dangerous hitters in the game when healthy. And if Brett Lawrie can take a step forward for his injury-riddled 2013 season, he could become another dangerous weapon in a stacked Toronto offense. But all that offense might ut that might not be enough to advance them beyond the middle-of-the-pack in the always-tough AL East. Next
New York Yankees
2013: 85-77, 3d place (tie), 12 games behind
2014 projection: 87-75, 3rd place
Manager: Joe Girardi, 7th season
Projected 2014 payroll: $194.1 million
Hey, big spender! The Yankees – luxury tax be damned – went back to being the Yankees of the 2008-09 this offseason, opening the wallet and making a $471 million spending splash by signing high-priced free agents Jacoby Ellsbury ($153M), catcher Brian McCann ($85M), righthander Masahiro Tanaka ($155M), and outfielder Carlos Beltran ($45M).
They may have won the Hot Stove championship, but now they have to translate the dollars to wins on the field.
What hasn’t changed is a better question.
Unless there’s another round of tributes we don’t know about, the great Mariano Rivera may have left the building for good.
Jay-Z helped superstar second baseman Robinson Cano sign on with the Seattle Mariners. Starter Phil Hughes is gone along with veteran outfielder Vernon Wells. And not having Alex Rodriguez to kick around might might be fall under addition by subtraction as he serves his season-long suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy. New York picked up Kelly Johnson who is likely to take over full time at third base.
Curtis Granderson went across town to join the Mets. Also exiting the Bronx after the 2013 season were Lyle Overbay, Jayson Nix, Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Reynolds, and pitchers Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte – unless the ageless lefty returns again.
The big back-page-splash addition was the signing of Ellsbury, who is being counted upon to play a big role in the Yankees resurgence, but he’s no Cano at the plate in terms of production. Beltran should provide some power in the outfield and McCann’s steady presence should help solidify the Yanks up the middle.
The Yankees also signed two-time All-Star Brian Roberts to help fill the void at second base as well as infielder Scott Sizemore.
The Tanaka signing is the fifth largest contract in the history of major league baseball, but the Japanese hurler has never faced major league pitching and the Yankees are hoping he performs more Yu Darvis than Daisuke Matsuzaka over the length of his massive contract.
With Boone Logan off to Colorado, former Red Sox hurler Matt Thornton is slated to be the main lefty out of the Yankees bullpen.
Projected lineup: Jacoby Ellsbury, CF; Derek Jeter, SS; Carlos Beltran, RF; Mark Teixeira, 1B; Brian McCann, C; Alfonso Soriano, DH; Kelly Johnson, 3B; Brian Roberts, 2B; Brett Gardner, LF
Rotation: CC Sabathia; Masahiro Tanaka; Hiroki Kuroda; Ivan Nova; David Phelps Bullpen: David Robertson, CL; Shawn Kelley; Matt Thornton Off the bench: Ichiro Suzuki; Brendan Ryan; Eduardo Nunez; Francisco Cervelli
Outlook: The Yankees probably won’t be cashing in on a pennant in 2014, mainly because their starting pitching remains a big question mark. The Bombers rotation checked in with a hefty 4.08 ERA last season, a number they can’t afford to repeat if they want to stay in contention. CC Sabathia is starting to show his age and the wear and tear of 13 seasons and almost 2,800 innings, he gave up a career-high 112 runs in 2013 as the ace of the staff. Will Tanaka put up anything close to the ridiculous numbers he put up in the Japan Pacific League? Kuroda, Nova, and Phelps will have to rack up more than the 26 wins they accounted for last season. And needless to say, David Robertson has some pretty big shoes to fill with the absence of Mariano Rivera. Overall, the Yankees bullpen remains suspect for now.
On the offensive side, Captain Derek Jeter will turn 40 years old in June and the Yankee faithful hope he can return to form and remain at shortstop for the bulk of the season. And there are more questions than answers in the lineup. How will Jacoby Ellsbury perform under the bright lights of the big city and with the pressure of a $153 million contract? Can Mark Teixeira bounce back to be 30 home run threat, and provide Gold Glove level defense at first base? Will the rebuilt offense produce enough runs to compete? McCann should be a terrific fit at Yankee Stadium with his lefthanded power.
The Yankees missed the postseason for just the second time since 1994 last season and should be in a better position to compete in 2014. But forking over a boatload of cash be not enough to vault the Bombers back to the top of the AL East. Next
Tampa Bay Rays
2013: 92-71, 2d place, 5.5 games back, wild card berth
2014 projection: 93-69, 1st place (tie)
Manager: Joe Maddon, 9th season
Projected 2014 payroll: $72.5 million
The Rays rivalry with the Red Sox continues to escalate each year, and 2014 should be no exception. The Sox topped the Rays in four games during last year’s ALDS, and the Sons of Joe Maddon should be in the playoff battle again this season.
Tampa Bay made plenty of small moves this offseason, but the biggest move was signing ace lefty David Price for $14 million one-year deal to head up the venerable starting rotation.
The Rays hope to shore up their spotty bullpen with the addition of former A’s closer Grant Balfour who was with the Rays back from 2007-10. The 36-year-old Australia native is expected to succeed the departed Fernando Rodney to close out games and will be backed up by ageing flamethrower Heath Bell. Bell was 5-2 with a 4.11 ERA with 15 saves in 69 appearances for the Diamondbacks last season.
Andover native Ryan Hanigan, one of the best defensive catchers in the game, was added from the Reds to take over behind the plate with both Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton remaining in the mix for now.
Others not returning to the Trop as a member of the Rays in 2014 include infielder Kelly Johnson, outfielder Sam Fuld, Red Sox fan nemesis Luke Scott, DH Delmon Young, starter Roberto Hernandez, relievers Alex Torres, Jamey Wright, Wesley Wright, and Jeff Niemann.
Infielder Logan Forsythe and righthander Brad Boxberger are also new editions.
Projected lineup: David DeJesus, CF, Ben Zobrist, 2B; Wil Myers, RF; Evan Longoria, 3B; James Loney, 1B; Yunel Escobar, SS; Desmond Jennings, LF; Jose Lobaton/Ryan Hanigan, C, Sean Rodriguez, DH
Rotation: David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi/Jeremy Hellickson
Bullpen: Grant Balfour, CL, Joel Peralta, Heath Bell
Off the bench: Matt Joyce, Jose Molina, Logan Forsythe
Outlook: Rays starters were third in the AL with a 3.81 ERA in 2013, and they may be able to improve upon that this season if Price, Moore, and Cobb pitch to their potential and stay healthy while they get a full season out of Archer. The Rays, like the A’s out west, always seem to replenish the fountain of great young pitching. This season, it’s 23-year-old righthander Jake Odorizzi who could become an intriging part of the rotation.
The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, who was 12-10 with a 5.17 ERA last season, will miss the first six to eight weeks of the season after having arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow.
Evan Longoria leads the offensive attack and now he’ll have budding superstar Wil Myers to hit in front of him and help produce runs for a full season. The Rays could still use another righthanded power bat, particularly at DH.
First baseman and Red Sox castoff James Loney had a terrific 2013 at the place – batting .299/.348/.430 – and was re-signed to a three-year $21 million deal. David DeJesus, who joined the Rays late last season, will be in center for the full schedule this time around.
After all the offseason shuffling, the bullpen remains a question mark heading into 2014, but this Rays team looks better on paper than any Joe Maddon club in recent memory. They should make it to the postseason, but winning a playoff series is another story.
Boston Red Sox
2013: 97-65, 1st place, 5.5 games ahead
2014 projection: 93-69, 1st place (tie)
Manager: John Farrell, 2nd season
Projected 2014 payroll: $157.8 million
The Red Sox come into the 2014 season as the defending World Series champions and with that comes some high expectations and a bit of added pressure. A year ago, the pressure was off and expectations were generally low most everywhere but inside the Red Sox clubhouse and the Sons of John Farrell went out and became the 11th team in major league baseball history to go from worst-to-first in the division en route to taking down the Cardinals in the Series.
The last team to win back-to-back World Series titles were the New York Yankees who pulled off the three-peat back in 1998-99-00 and the Red Sox last did the repeat feat back in 1915-16 when Babe Ruth was the ace lefty on the mound. So if you think you’ll see another parade for the Olde Towne Team in 2014, it’s not going to be an easy feat.
The big move was longtime center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury taking his talents to the Bronx leaving a large question mark in center field for the Red Sox. It was initially thought that the job belonged to Jackie Bradley, Jr., the highly-touted rookie who struggled in his limited time with the big club in 2013. But then the Sox went out and made the low-risk, high-upside move of signing longtime Indian Grady Sizemore – who is best known for putting up some big power numbers for the Indians in the middle of the last decade – to compete for the center field job with Bradley. Sizemore will turn 32 on Aug. 2 – a month before Jacoby Ellsbury turns 31 – so age is not the issue for the three-time All-Star, but injuries are. Sizemore missed the last two seasons and since 2008 has battled back, legs, and groin issues while undergoing multiple surgeries. As the Globe’s Nick Cafardo has reported, the Red Sox loved Sizemore’s speed and explosion during workouts and expect him to compete for the starting job in center, but it remains to be seen how he responds to playing on a daily basis again.
Midseason acquisition Jake Peavy is here from the start in 2014 which means Ryan Dempster appears to be the odd man out in the Red Sox rotation pending a move. But stop me if you’ve heard this: You can never have too much pitching.
Behind the plate, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is out after signing with the Marlins, and veteran A.J. Pierzynski brings his trademark toughness to the starting catcher position.
At the moment, Stephen Drew may or may not be returning to Boston. If he’s going elsewhere the shortstop job will fall squarely in the hands of impressive rookie Xander Bogaerts as the Red Sox will integrate more youth in their starting lineup.
In the bullpen, the Red Sox signed righthander Edward Mujica to a two-year, $9.5 million deal. The 29-year-old reliever was having a solid season closing in St. Louis before getting hammered on the mound in September and getting derailed by a groin injury before losing his job down the stretch. Mujica, who walked only five batters in 64 2/3 innings last season, could step in for Koji Uehara if the fan favorite has any trouble coming off his near-historic season. Mujica converted 37 of his 41 save opportunities and posted a 2.78 ERA.
Burke Badenhop will also be part of the relief mix. The 30-year-old, 6-foot-5 Badenhop was 2-3 with a 3.47 ERA in 63 relief appearances last year for the Brewers.
Jonathan Herrera will also provide insurance in the infield.
Projected lineup: Shane Victorino, RF; Dustin Pedroia, 2B; David Ortiz, DH; Mike Napoli, 1B; A.J. Pierzynski, C; Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes, LF; Xander Bogaerts, SS; Will Middlebrooks, 3B; Jackie Bradley Jr./Grady Sizemore, CF
Rotation: Jon Lester; Clay Buchholz; John Lackey; Jake Peavey; Felix Doubront; Ryan Dempster
Bullpen: Koji Uehara, CL, Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica
Off the bench: Mike Carp, Jonathan Herrera, David Ross, Ryan Lavarnway
Outlook: The Red Sox were relatively quiet in the offseason, shying away from any big signings while plugging holes economically where needed. They enter 2014 with youth and question marks at third base and center field, and hope 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts can continue to get better playing a full season at short. What kind of production can the Sox get from JBJ and Bogaerts? The answer to that question may determine just how far the Red Sox can go.
Slugging DH David Ortiz, coming off a 30 home run 103 RBI season, will be expected to provide the power along with the returning Mike Napoli in the middle of the lineup.
The starting rotation remains the strong suit for Boston heading into 2014 with all the starters returning to the rotation. Jon Lester is set out to keep the pitching market going up, Clay Buchholz’s health issues are reportedly behind him, World Series clinching Game 6 winner John Lackey should show up to camp slim and healthy, and most interesting to watch will be Felix Doubront, who should be in shape from the get-go this spring.
Under the steady stewardship of John Farrell, they should have enough shared offense and depth to push their way into the postseason again in 2014, especially if Koji Uehara resembles anything like the lights-out closer who came out of the shadows and produced an historical run last season. Next
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