AL East Preview: The Price Is Right

The AL East to me, is the most interesting division heading into 2014. Last year, the World Series champions (Boston) had what some might call, the luckiest season health wise in recent memory. In reality, if you picked any of the five teams to win this division – you wouldn’t be going out on a huge limb.

5th Place: Baltimore Orioles

Part of the problem with the Orioles prediction for me is, I have great faith in Buck Showalter. However, I have not been on the Orioles bandwagon for the last two years. I have always thought this team cannot compete in the AL without the addition of a true #1 starter.

They took a step back last year, but still managed to win 85 games.

I do not consider the addition of Ubaldo Jimenez to be the #1 starter they need. Can Johan Santana be that guy? I’d love to see it, but I just do not have faith in Santana coming back near the start of summer and being a #1. johan-santana

Last year, I predicted that Chris Davis would break out and (self pat on the back) I’d say I hit that one right on the head. Now? I can’t see Davis duplicating his 2013 campaign. If you look at his 2nd half, you have a red flag heading into 2014.

You’ll often see players drop in the 2nd half, but his power decline was drastic.

Manny Machado will start the year on the DL, but everybody who saw him play last year is hoping he gets healthy – quickly.

Overall, it’s still a good team, but I just don’t think they have the arms to hang in there.

4th Place: Toronto Blue Jays

Everybody jumped on the Blue Jay bandwagon after Jose Reyes joined them, but it seems those feelings have stalled.

Now, Reyes (as some predicted) is dealing with lower body injuries heading into the 2014 season. Reyes’ health will be instrumental in the progress of the 2014 season for Toronto.

jose reyesIn many ways, this team actually leads the league in “if.” If Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes are healthy for 140+ games, Toronto will be better than many are probably giving them credit for. I just don’t think they will stay healthy.

R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow and Mark Buehrle are three starters that a team like Baltimore would love to have. That is the biggest difference to me between the two teams. I think if both teams are healthy on offense, Toronto can be more explosive and their pitching to me is way better.

Still, they have so many questions on health and it all starts with Jose Reyes as we head into April. If Toronto can get healthy quickly, they will go past 4th place, but I don’t see it happening.

3rd Place: New York Yankees

One thing you can never do is underestimate the Yankees. But, I just don’t see it in 2014.

To me, they have one of the worst fielding infields in the sport right now. If Mark Teixeira can play every position – they’ll be okay. But, since he can’t, they will have problems.

It’s a nice thought to say you’re replacing Robinson Cano with Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury. But in reality, you’re replacing a durable producer with three guys with consistent health problems approaching (if not already in) the twilight of their careers.

I think part of why they got Beltran was because they believe his playoff numbers will carry them further than they have gone in the last few years – the problem is, I don’t think they will get to find out.

I don’t think you can really downplay the loss of Mariano Rivera. There’s a difference between having any other closer (let alone a guy who is new to the role), and having Rivera. Rivera gives you confidence that if you get a lead, you’ll keep it. David Robertson won’t give them that feeling. He’s good, but he isn’t Mariano.

Much of the pitching success will be based on C.C. Sabathia & Michael Pineda. I know many are looking at Masahiro Tanaka, but to me – he can be a solid starter and it won’t matter.

Sabathia needs to prove he is back, and I’m not sure that he will.

As for Pineda, this is the year where the team needs him to be the guy they thought they acquired. If he can be that guy, then the Yankees might be in better shape than I think.

To me, it’s an 83-86 win team, not a bad team – just a team begging for luck when it comes to health, and I can’t put my chips on that.

2nd Place: Boston Red Sox

Last year, the Red Sox got the most out of every player on their roster it seemed.

I knew I would not pick Boston to win the division the minute they signed A.J. Pierzynski. This is a team that thrived because of the locker room. Now they go and sign a catcher who honestly, I can’t see fitting in at all. Sizemore2

The loss of Jacoby Ellsbury could be a problem for the Red Sox, but who isn’t excited or curious about the idea that Grady Sizemore is on the Opening Day roster instead of Jackie Bradley Jr.?

Bradley likely will get his shot but it won’t be right away, and frankly, I am pretty pumped to see if Sizemore can find it again.

For me, I don’t think this rotation will be as healthy as they were in 2013. Sure, last year Clay Buchholz dealt with injuries, but guys like John Lackey who seemed lost prior to 2013 found their way back. I’m not sure I believe it will happen again.

Overall, the team is certainly a playoff contender, but I am not sure I believe they can catch lightning in a bottle twice.

1st Place: Tampa Bay Rays

This is a team that is hard to not root for, unless of course you live in the Tampa area (seriously buy some tickets!).

The Rays have the best manager in the entire sport, but they also have two of the best players in the sport in Evan Longoria and Wil Myers.

That’s right, 2014 will be the year Myers puts himself on the map as one of the best hitters in the AL.

The team is a model for depth. Unlike many of their division mates, they don’t have success based on the word “if.” They have even proven that they can succeed without Longoria, because they have so much talent coming through the pipeline.

David-PriceThe rotation is lead of course by David Price, who is possibly pitching to up his trade value, or secure Tampa’s first pitching long term deal.

Alex Cobb and Matt Moore are no slouches either. In fact, I’d take those three guys over any of the 1-3 in the AL East. Moore of course is recovering from a “near Aroldis” injury, but he’ll be fine.

Grant Balfour returns to Tampa Bay, but this time he has a resume as a closer in the regular season that cannot be denied.

Overall, with Joe Maddon at the helm and guys like Longoria, Myers, Ben Zobrist, and Desmond Jennings playing behind Price, Cobb and Moore – this will be a tough team to beat and I have them taking the division by about 5 games.

AL East MVP: Evan Longoria – He’s the best overall player in the division, and I think he is in the AL MVP conversation if not for guys like Trout and Miggy.

AL East CY: David Price – Similar to Longoria, except he doesn’t have competition standing in his way at taking the AL award. He’s just as good as anybody.

AL East Sleeper: Grady Sizemore – Why not? It’s a shot at being different, but he was one of my favorite players to watch and I am just hoping he can find his way in 2014. 

XtreemIcon’s Picks

See: Jessep. It sounds lazy, but it’s not intentional. The Red Sox got very lucky last season. They added four free agents to their every day lineup and all four not only played well, they had career years. That won’t happen again. Despite Will Middlebrooks poised for a breakout year, the team is not nearly as good as a defending champion should be.

If I were to make one unpopular pick, it would be that I can easily see Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion and Bautista being healthier than Ellsbury, Beltran and Derek Jeter. I’d be less than surprised to see the Yanks finish fourth. All winning the off season does these days is basically ensure the team loses the real season. It’s not like it was in 2009 when a 29-year-old Teixeira and a 28-year-old Sabathia were available. And when people discuss the loss of Rivera, no one seems to mention how they also downgraded in the 8th inning simply by having Robertson slide into that closer role. The Yankees are better on paper than the Jays, so I’ll go with them to finish third, but the health risks are very concerning.

I feel like every team in the division got worse except the Rays. I don’t think it’ll be quite as large a runaway as the NL West, but the Rays should have this division wrapped up early and handily. There’s no real competition for them.

AL East MVP: Evan Longoria – He’s been my pick for several years running because he’s that good. He just needs to stay healthy.

AL East CY: David Price – He’s my pick for the league Cy Young.

AL East Sleeper: We’ll go with Middlebrooks. Tons of talent. This is finally the year for him.



About Michael Branda 267 Articles
Michael Branda grew up a Mets fan watching the mid 1980's teams and his favorite Met of all-time is (and was) Wally Backman. When it comes to sabermetrics versus old school thinking, he's in the middle and believes adopting new ways to get answers is helpful, especially when the old way has not produced results.