BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Red Sox are the defending World Series champions, but are they the best team in the AL East?

Former Red Sox first baseman and current MLB Network analyst Kevin Millar joined 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich on Thursday morning to discuss the state of the AL East, and thinks Boston will have some stiff competition for the division crown this season.

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When it comes to most improved team in the division, Millar says there’s no doubt it’s the New York Yankees.

“I don’t think it’s even a question. The Yankees have gotten better, no doubt in my mind,” said Millar. “[Brian] McCain is a great player behind the plate. [Masahiro] Tanaka is going to be a culture (shock); he’s not going to go 24-0 like he did in Japan, but he’ll be similar to a Yu Darvish (who is 29-18 with a 3.34 ERA in two seasons with the Texas Rangers). [Carlos] Beltran and [Jacoby] Ellsbury, those are big additions. They’re more athletic with [Brett] Gardner and Ellsbury.”

Millar is also impressed by the Baltimore Orioles lineup, which he thinks could be the best in the division.

“The Orioles, getting Nelson Cruz, makes that lineup, maybe, the best in the East. I don’t think they have enough pitching, but going [Chris] Davis, Adam Jones, [Manny] Machado and Cruz, that’s a powerful team,” said Millar. “[Nick] Markakis will be better and I think [Matt] Wieters can hit 25 home runs. It’s a powerful lineup, but it’s just a matter of if they have that starting pitching.”

“The Rays are always the Rays,” said Millar. “They don’t hit enough in my opinion but they find a way to do so.”

As for the Red Sox, Millar doesn’t think they are as good as the 2013 team — at least not right now.

“They have some question marks, but good question marks,” he said. “Can Xander [Bogaerts] hold shortstop – we don’t know. There’s Jackie Bradley Jr. in center, can [Grady] Sizemore stay healthy – we don’t know yet? And can [Will] Middlebrooks bounce back? We don’t know yet.”

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“They have those two, three or four spots and if you ask if they’re better, I would say no,” Millar said.

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One big question surrounding the Red Sox right now is the future of Jon Lester. The team has an option for 2014, but Lester has expressed his desire to work out a long-term deal. The lefty has said he would take a “hometown discount” to stay in Boston, but has also hinted that he’d like to be paid like an ace.

Millar says the solution is simple for the Red Sox: pay Lester!

“Jon Lester is a bonafide great starting pitcher at this level. You don’t realize how good you have it until you lose a guy like Lester,” he said. “He’s a big body, a good guy and has pitched in big games with World Series rings under his belt. So you pay whatever that’s worth. We pay a lot of guys a lot of money that do not have the resume of Jon Lester.”

“You have to be careful talking about guys like Lester and Big Papi,” added Millar. “Ortiz deserves to wear the uniform until he’s done playing baseball, period. He’s an ambassador to this city, a better person than a DH – which is very good.

“Jon Lester is very similar. He’s a big part of the Red Sox family, so you pay him what he’s worth,” said Millar. “I don’t know, everyone seems to be making $15-20 million a year.”

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“The numbers are ridiculous,” he added. “Is anyone worth $25 million a year? Is he better than Clayton Kershaw? No. Lester is a very good, solid big league pitcher — an ace pitcher with a great resume. But what’s $25 million to pitch 32 times a year? It’s crazy to me. But they’re paying it, so give it to him.”

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