TSN.ca: 2014 American League East preview

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TSN.ca Staff
3/25/2014 11:21:35 AM
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Baseball season is just around the corner and TSN.ca has you covered for who's in, who's out and what to expect from all 30 teams. Check in every day this week for two new division previews, finishing up with Scott MacArthur's look at the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday. Here's what to expect out of the American League East in 2014.

Baltimore Orioles

GM: Dan Duquette

Manager: Buck Showalter

2013: 85-77, third in AL East. Did not qualify for playoffs.

That was Then: The O's came into 2013 feeling like world-beaters.

Having out-performed presumed playoff candidates like the Tampa Bay Rays and the disappointing Boston Red Sox in the American League East and taken the wild card playoff berth from the defending A.L.-Champion Texas Rangers, the Orioles were expected to challenge in an even tougher East.

However, despite career years out of first baseman Chris Davis and closer Jim Johnson, the Orioles were unable to repeat the feat.

The pieced-together rotation saw four starters hit 20-plus starts but only 16-7 Chris Tillman was able to carry a heavy load, logging 206.1 innings, meaning their (admittedly excellent) bullpen was once again leaned upon to the tune of 500-plus innings.

Davis had a star-making year, setting career-highs in home runs, runs batted-in, average, OPS and total bases while hitting the 160-game plateau for the first time in his career. He became the second Oriole in MLB history to surpass the 50-home run plateau, after Brady Anderson's "surprise" 1996 outing.

When the dust settled, the O's finished level with the depleted Yankees for third in the Division and were left figuring out ways to recapture their 2012 team spirit and compete once more.

This is Now: Apparently the best way to improve is to ship 50 saves over to a fellow Wild Card contender.

Johnson, who was arbitration-eligible this past winter could become a free agent at the end of 2014, may well have priced himself out of Baltimore, but the man did still put up over 100 saves over the past two seasons. So the closer's gig is now up for grabs with the likes of Darren O'Day, Ryan Webb and former starter Tommy Hunter looking to get the ball in the ninth.

Jemile Weeks - the return from Oakland for Johnson - will likely take over the lion's share of the work at second with Brian Roberts Bronx-bound. Meanwhile, the O's offensive core of Davis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis remains intact. If Manny Machado can be more of the guy he was between April through June (that is a .300-plus hitter on pace for 80-plus RBI) and not the guy that slumped through July and September with a sub-.200 average, the bats could carry this team.

The Orioles took advantage of the late-winter market for free agent bats once they'd already forfeited their first-rounder to bring in Nelson Cruz.

The bullpen workhorses - Hunter, O'Day, T.J. McFarland - are all returning and the rotation has been bolstered with the additions of Korean free agent Suk-Min Yoon and Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez late in the winter, but will they be able to keep pace if the Yankees and Rays return to push for the Red Sox' division crown?

Who's In?: IF David Adams (claimed from CLE), RP Brad Brach (trade with SD), OF Nelson Cruz (one-year contract), RP Edgmer Escalona (one-year contract), SP Ubaldo Jimenez (four-year contract), UT Steve Lombardozzi (trade with DET), OF Francisco Peguero (one-year contract), SP Johan Santana (minor league contract), RP Ryan Webb (two-year contract), 2B Jemile Weeks (trade with OAK), SP Suk-Min Yoon (international free agent).

Who's Out?: OF Chris Dickerson (signed with PIT), SP Scott Feldman (signed with HOU), RP Jim Johnson (trade with OAK), OF Nate McLouth (signed with WAS), OF Michael Morse (signed with SF), IF 2B Brian Roberts (signed with NYY), RP Francisco Rodriguez (signed with MIL), C Chris Snyder (signed with WAS), C Taylor Teagarden (signed with NYM).

Boston Red Sox

GM: Ben Cherington

Manager: John Farrell

2013: 97-65, first in AL East. World Series Champions.

That was Then: The Sox went into 2013 under a cloud of uncertainty as to whether additions like Mike Napoli or Shane Victorino would be enough to get them out of the Eastern cellar. There was also some concern as to whether John Farrell - recruited from the fourth-place Blue Jays - was the right man to lead the team from the bench.

However, on April 15, the Sox' 2012 struggles became a triviality in Boston. The City -shaken by the Boston Marathon bombings - rallied together under the "Boston Strong" mantra and the Sox returned the favour.

The Sox would go 15-4 to finish April and would never look back atop the East.

Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz (despite the latter missing a sizable chunk of the season with a neck strain) both had tremendous seasons and the veteran leadership of Napoli and Victorino added to the core group including David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia to power the Sox to their first division crown since their 2007 World Series triumph.

Staring down a possible 0-2 deficit in the ALCS, Ortiz' grand slam brought the Sox level with the Detroit Tigers and turned the playoff picture around for the team. The Red Sox would complete the "Boston Strong" narrative with a six-game World Series win over the St. Louis Cardinals to win their third title in 10 years.

This is Now: There's been some change to endure for the Sox over the winter, so the re-shaped Sox may once again need some time to gel.

The most notable absence will be lead-off man Jacoby Ellsbury, who jumped ship to the arch-rival Yankees. The Sox will undoubtedly miss his presence on the base-paths as he was the League leader in steals in 2013. The Sox may have found an unlikely replacement in the form of camp-invite Grady Sizemore, who has not played a Major League game since 2011.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia will give way to A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate, while 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts will take over from Stephen Drew at shortstop. Bogaerts will be one of two crucial young cogs for the Sox, as they may also need 23-year-old Jackie Bradley to pick up some of the slack in centre.

The Sox did well to insulate now-undisputed closer Koji Uehara with Cardinals closer Edward Mujica and should have a reliable rotation with a healthy Buchholz as well as a full year of Jake Peavey.

Was 2013 a product of shrewd management or one of emotional momentum? The Sox will likely be able to forget their days of cellar-dwelling, but whether they can keep ahead of the rest of the East remains to be seen.

Who's In?: P Blake Badenhop (trade with MIL), SP Chris Capuano (one-year contract), IF Jonathan Herrera (trade with COL), RP Edward Mujica (two-year contract), C A.J. Pierzynski (one-year contract), OF Grady Sizemore (free agent).

Who's Out?: SP Alfredo Aceves (signed with BAL), RP Andrew Bailey (non-tendered), SS Stephen Drew (qualifying offer declined),OF Jacoby Ellsbury (signed with NYY), IF John McDonald (signed with LAA), RP Franklin Morales (trade with COL), C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (signed with MIA), RP Matt Thornton (signed with NYY).

New York Yankees

GM: Brian Cashman

Manager: Joe Girardi

2013: 85-77, fourth in AL East. Did not qualify for playoffs.

That was Then: The Yankees were forced to scramble to fill some roster holes in 2013, looking to the likes of Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Travis Hafner to fill production vacancies left by Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and more.

A strong April got the Yanks off to a decent enough start, but the team was middling throughout most of the rest of the season.

Team captain Derek Jeter was in and out of the line-up all year long with injuries to his ankle, calf and quadriceps, making 2013 a continuation of how his 2012 season ended.

Mariano Rivera said goodbye to the Majors, picking up keepsakes in nearly every city in the latter half of the season, while Alex Rodriguez opted to fight the 211-game suspension he was handed for his part in the Biogenesis scandal and defiantly finished the season with the Yankees.

The Bronx Bombers made do with what they had in 2013, but it wasn't nearly up to their fans' lofty standards. They would finish the year tied for third with the Orioles while posting their lowest winning percentage since 1992.

This is Now: A year without Jeter, the A-Rod rodeo and the Mariano Rivera farewell tour are all things of the past.

Unfortunately for Yankees fans, the future does not include Robinson Cano at second base, the 31-year-old chasing top dollar and signing with the Seattle Mariners in the off-season.

Never afraid to spend, the Yankees have brought in a lot of options via free agency to compete for playing time. Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran replace Curtis Granderson and Wells. Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts will both vie for Cano's job at second while Brian McCann comes in behind the plate.

The Yanks also lured the off-season's biggest international free agent to the Bronx, plucking Masahiro Tanaka from Japan at a cost of $155 million over seven years.

Pressure will likely be huge to make the Jeter era end on a high note as the franchise bids farewell to one of its icons. However, the Yanks' deep pockets and "winning it for the captain" might not be enough if the team's age starts to show.

Who's In?: OF Carlos Beltran (three-year contract), OF Jacoby Ellsbury (seven-year contract), 2B Kelly Johnson (one-year contract), C Brian McCann (five-year contract), 2B Brian Roberts (one-year contract), SS Brendan Ryan (two-year contract), SP Masahiro Tanaka (seven-year contract), RP Matt Thornton.

Who's Out?: IF David Adams (signed with CLE), OF Brennan Boesch (signed with LAA), SS Reid Brignac (signed with PHI), 2B Robinson Cano (signed with SEA), RP Joba Chamberlain (signed with DET), IF Luis Alfonso Cruz (released), IF Alberto Gonzalez (signed with SD), OF Curtis Granderson (signed with NYM), SP Phil Hughes (signed with MIN), 3B Brent Lillibridge (signed with TEX), RP Boone Logan (signed with COL), IF Jayson Nix (signed with TB), 1B Lyle Overbay (signed with MIL), SP Andy Pettitte (retired), IF Mark Reynolds (signed with MIL), RP Mariano Rivera (retired), C Chris Stewart (signed with PIT), OF Vernon Wells (released), 3B Kevin Youkilis (signed in Japan).

Tampa Bay Rays

GM: Andrew Friedman

Manager: Joe Maddon

2013: 91-71, second in AL East. Lost to Boston in American League Division Series.

That was Then: Stop us if you've heard this before, but a shrewd piece of off-season business proved to be a catalyst for the Rays success last season.

Trading James Shields to the Kansas City Royals brought in one of the game's top prospects in Wil Myers and the 23-year-old turned on the jets almost the minute he made his full-time debut for the Rays in June. Less than a week into his MLB career, Myers had his first grand slam and the kid would hit .293, driving in 53 runs in 88 games en route to the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award.

The Rays responded in kind to Myers' arrival, losing just five games in July and finishing strong to force not one, but two win-and-you're-in playoff games after a three-way tie left the Rays, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers tied after Game 162. David Price went the full nine to top the Rangers in Game 163 and Tampa blanked the Indians to make the ALDS. There they would run into destiny in the form of the Boston Red Sox, but the Rays booked another solid season, proving themselves once again to be one of baseball's model franchises.

This is Now: The Rays will once again piece together their line-up and try to get maximum efficiency out of low-profile pick-ups.

James Loney and Yunel Escobar will stick around in the infield and be insulated by Logan Forsythe. Fernando Rodney's arrows will head towards someone else's rafters, replaced by former A's closer Grant Balfour and one-time stud Heath Bell, whom manager Joe Maddon believes will show marked improvement at the Trop.

Any team with Maddon at the helm has a fighting chance and the Rays still have tremendous balance both at the plate with Evan Longoria anchoring the line-up and on the mound with Matt Moore and Alex Cobb emerging as legitimate threats alongside Price.

Speaking of Price, the vultures will be circling soon enough as the 28-year-old's clock appears to be winding down in Tampa. Likely the next high profile casualty of Tampa's tight budget, Price is free agent-eligible after next season, putting his value at arguably its high-point by the middle or end of the 2014 campaign.

If the Rays don't get the kind of performance to which they've become accustomed, could a mid-season move be in the cards?

Who's In?: RP Grant Balfour (two-year contract), RP Heath Bell (trade with ARI), RP Brad Boxberger (trade with SD), IF Logan Forsythe (trade with SD), C Ryan Hanigan (trade with CIN).

Who's Out?: RP Jesse Crain (signed with HOU), 1B Shelley Duncan (signed with ARI), OF Sam Fuld (signed with OAK), SP Roberto Hernandez (signed with PHI), IF Kelly Johnson (signed with NYY), IF Ryan Roberts (signed with CHC), RP Fernando Rodney (signed with SEA), RP Alex Torres (trade with SD), RP Jamey Wright (signed with LAD), RP Wesley Wright (signed with CHC), OF Delmon Young (signed with BAL).

Toronto Blue Jays

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