BOSTON (CBS) – With opening day fast approaching, it’s time to take a look at the Red Sox and their competition in the American League East this season.
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The Red Sox were relatively quiet this offseason, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing after you’ve won the World Series. The Sox lost Jacoby Ellsbury to the Yankees and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Marlins, but most of the roster that brought them a championship last summer remains intact.
Starting pitching looks to be a strength for Boston, and Jon Lester will be the opening day starter. Lester, who is coming off a phenomenal postseason, will be flanked by John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Felix Dubront and Clay Buchholz. Buchholz remains an anomaly, but if he can stay healthy he could be among the best pitchers in the AL.
In terms of new faces, the Red Sox signed veterans Grady Sizemore and A.J. Pierzynski to fill the holes in their lineup. After a spring training battle with blue-chip prospect Jackie Bradley Jr., Sizemore was recently named the starting center fielder. Pierzynski is expected to carry the load behind the plate.
Player to watch: Xander Bogaerts
The 21-year old shortstop was impressive in the playoffs, and is primed for a breakout season.
New York Yankees
The Yankees vowed to get under the luxury tax threshold this offseason… and then proceeded to spend almost $500 million. They inked Ellsbury to a $153 million deal, Brian McCann for $85 million, Carlos Beltran for $45 million, and they won the bidding sweepstakes for international man of mystery, Masahiro Tanaka, shelling out $155 million for a player that’s never thrown a pitch in the majors.
It’s safe to say another third-place finish isn’t what Yankees ownership is looking for.
However, the Yankees also suffered their share of offseason losses. Their best player, Robinson Cano, signed with the Mariners. Curtis Granderson went to the Mets, Alex Rodriguez is suspended for the year, and Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera checked into a retirement home together.
Five years ago, the Yankees would have won 110 games with this starting line-up. Ellsbury, Jeter, Beltran, Teixeira, McCann, Soriano, Gardner, Ichiro, and Roberts makes for an impressive collection of names. However, not a single one of those names is under the age of 30. There is a fine line to walk between having a veteran clubhouse and having an injury-prone one, and the Yanks will be walking that tightrope.
Player to watch: Masahiro Tanaka
Because what could possibly go wrong with giving a Japanese league pitcher millions of dollars before he’s thrown a pitch for you…?
Tampa Bay Rays
The run that the Rays have made in the last decade is remarkable given their payroll. The open the season 28th out of 30 teams in spending, and still figure to be a serious contender for the World Series crown in 2014. A tip of the cap to Joe Maddon seems mandatory.
The Rays will look very similar to the team that won 92 games in 2013, with the biggest difference coming in the bullpen. Closer Fernando Rodney signed with the Mariners this offseason, so Tampa Bay brought back Grant Balfour. Balfour was set to sign with the Orioles, but reportedly failed his physical. Whether or not the loss of Rodney will hurt the Rays on the field remains to be seen, but it’ll definitely improve them from a fashion perspective.
As usual, the Rays strength is their starting rotation. 2012 Cy Young winner David Price will be their ace, and his supporting cast is strong. Alex Cobb went 11-3 for Tampa Bay last season, and Matt Moore went 17-4. In terms of their starting lineup, the Rays traded for catcher and Andover High School graduate Ryan Hanigan.
Player to watch: Wil Myers
The reigning rookie of the year is an exciting young ballplayer, although he did have some trouble playing in Boston last postseason…
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Buck Showalter should be seething. The Orioles have become the posterboys for a team that overachieves because of good coaching in spite of a poor roster. In 2013, they went 85-77 despite having an ace-less pitching staff. So, what did the management do to make the team better this offseason?
The Orioles lost Brian Roberts, Nate McLouth, Scott Feldman, Michael Morse, and closer Jim Johnson, and they have absolutely nothing to show for it. In an offseason where the Yankees spent almost $500 million, Baltimore’s big signings were Alfredo Aceves and Delmon Young to minor league deals.
Strong coaching and defense can only make up for so much. Look for a regression out of the Orioles this season.
Player to watch: Chris Davis
Guys that can hit the longball in the post-steriod era are few and far between, but Davis knocked 53 round-trippers last season.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto may be the polar opposite of Baltimore. They’re a team that looks great on paper, but underachieves. They finished dead-last in the East last season despite being a team that you can find in the MLB’s 10 highest payrolls.
Competitive drive seems to be something the Jays lack. Last season only three players on their roster appeared in more than 120 games, and three pitchers threw more than 100 innings. You could call it terrible luck in terms of health, or you could call it complacent players who are just as happy to collect their checks from the disabled list. Manager John Gibbons has run the show six seasons through two stints with Toronto, and has yet to make the playoffs.
The Toronto starting rotation was a mess last season, and there’s really no reason to believe it’s going to be any better this year. Of the Blue Jay starters, zero had an ERA under 4.00. Zero. By comparison, the Rays had four pitchers that were sub-4, and they spent less than half as much money. There’s something to be said for coaching here.
The Jays added Dioner Navarro to catch, and didn’t lose much at all. They’re basically fielding the same team that they were last season.
Player to watch: R.A. Dickey
Because who doesn’t love a good knuckleball?
1. BOSTON (93-69)
2. TAMPA BAY (92-70)
3. NEW YORK (90-72)
4. BALTIMORE (80-82)
5. TORONTO (78-84)
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Christopher Mason in an intern at 98.5 The SportsHub.