Home MLB 2011 MLB Preview: American League East

2011 MLB Preview: American League East

by Matt Smith

MlbHlSqThe Tampa Bay Rays beat the odds by winning the East in 2010.  After losing several key players over the offseason, can they hold off the Yankees and Red Sox again?

2010 final standings

1. Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)
2. New York Yankees (95-67) * AL Wild Card
3. Boston Red Sox (89-73)
4. Toronto Blue Jays (85-77)
5. Baltimore Orioles (66-96)

The 2010/11 offseason

As always seems to be the case, the AL East was a hive of offseason activity.

The Boston Red Sox were relatively dormant in the 09/10 offseason, but they showed that this was merely the lull before the 10/11 offseason storm by snapping up two of the best offensive players in the game.  The Red Sox completed the long-anticipated trade for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and then sent shockwaves through the league with a stealth signing of former Rays hero Carl Crawford. These additions more than made up for the loss of catcher Victor Martinez (Detroit) and third baseman Adrian Beltre (Texas) via free agency.

While Boston were booming, the New York Yankees were left frustrated. Their offseason goal seemed simple enough: sign starting pitcher Cliff Lee. Once he decided to go back to Philadelphia instead, they were left high and dry.  Losing Andy Pettitte to retirement further added to their rotation woes and they resorted to picking up some free agent veterans in Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Kevin Millwood to provide some depth in their organization.  Their offseason efforts were concentrated on re-signing veterans Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter (the latter in a somewhat strained process) and joining the Red Sox in the ‘Rays Removal’ market by signing Tampa Bay’s closer Rafael Soriano to be their set-up man. 

That ‘Rays Removal’ market was particularly galling for Tampa Bay, who must feel as though they are paying the price for upstaging their illustrious rivals in 2010.  Aside from Crawford and Soriano, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett were traded away, Carlos Pena joined the Cubs as a free agent, while their bullpen was torn apart with Soriano’s departure joined by the loss of Grant Balfour, Randy Choate and Joaquin Benoit. The Rays responded by reuniting former Red Sox teammates Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.

It wasn’t just the top three teams who made a splash.  Not to be outdone, the Orioles revamped their offence with the additions of Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy and Vlad Guerrero.  The Blue Jays were less active, continuing their rebuilding by trading Shaun Marcum to the Brewers and then pulling off what some consider to be the masterstroke of the offseason: somehow convincing the L.A. Angels to take Vernon Wells and his almighty contract off their hands.

Returning stars

The Rays’ roster has seen plenty of changes, but the emphasis on home grown players remains. Third baseman Evan Longoria and starting ace David Price lead the offence and pitching staff respectively, with the slicking fielding B. J. Upton and yet another exciting young pitcher coming through the Rays’ system in the form of Jeremy Hellickson.

While the Yankees didn’t make the improvements they wanted to over the offseason, no one should be in any doubt about the quality of their roster.  They will put up plenty of runs with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano leading the way alongside other strong hitters such as Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher.  The rotation isn’t fear-inducing, but CC Sabathia is one the of the best pitchers around, Phil Hughes impressed in 2010 and things can surely only get better for A.J. Burnett after a dismal campaign last year.  As for the bullpen, the fact that they could sign the Rays’ closer Rafael Soriano and use him as a set-up man behind arguably the greatest closer of all time in Mariano Rivera says it all.

The Red Sox were hit hard by injuries last year and have several key players back to full fitness, particularly second baseman Dustin Pedroia, centre fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis, who will move from first base to third to accommodate Adrian Gonzalez.  Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz were terrific last year and it’s expected that Josh Beckett and John Lackey will return to form after disappointing 2010 seasons.  Jonathan Papelbon, Daniel Bard and former White Sock Bobby Jenks form a formidable group at the sharp end of the bullpen.

The strength of the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox is what makes life so tough for the Blue Jays and Orioles at the moment, as both have some good players at their disposal.  The Blue Jays can field the home-run leader of 2010 in Jose Bautista and have some interesting pitchers in Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil, Jesse Litsch and the very promising rookie Kyle Drabek.  As well as their new recruits, the Orioles have some talented youngsters in right-fielder Nick Markakis, centre-fielder Adam Jones, catcher Matt Wieters and starting pitchers Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman.  Jeremy Guthrie is the dependable veteran who will lead the rotation.


John Farrell begins his Major League managerial career with the Blue Jays this year, after spending five years as the Red Sox’s pitching coach.  Terry Francona (Red Sox), Joe Girardi (Yankees) and Joe Maddon (Rays) have all managed their respective teams in a World Series in previous seasons, while Buck Showalter continues the job he started partway through 2010 as manager of the Orioles.


Should be: Red Sox, Yankees

Could be: Rays

Won’t be: Blue Jays, Orioles

The Red Sox and Yankees will be battling all the way, with the team finishing second being a very good bet to win the Wild Card.  There are some question marks against the Rays due to the high turnover of players, but they certainly could be in the running yet again.

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Gareth Pitman March 28, 2011 - 1:40 pm

This division is sure to be the powerhouse again this year. It’s arguable that 3 of the best 5 teams in all of baseball are in this division and that once again the AL Wild Card will come from it.

You have to feel sorry for the Blue Jays and the Orioles. They are making strides but have so much further to go than most other teams to get anywhere near the playoffs. The Blue Jays would surely contend in most other divisions this year. But saying that, the Rays have made the leap in recent years (am looking forward to The Extra 2%, Johan Keri’s book on the Rays), but may now be paying the price for their own success having been raided by the Yankees and the Red Sox for some of it’s best players.

My 2 player predictions for this division:
1) Bard will be closing for the Sox by the playoffs and Papelbon will be somewhere else.
2) Ivan Nova will win 15 games and will cement himself in the Yankees rotation.

Matt Smith March 28, 2011 - 5:59 pm

Hi Gareth. That’s very true, the Blue Jays have had a good team for several years and have had little reward for their efforts because of who they are up against in the East.

Bard certainly looks like the closer-to-be, although I think Papelbon will be with the team for the rest of this year. If he’s pitching well then it makes sense to keep him on board and take the draft pick(s) when he becomes a free agent. If he’s not pitching well then the Red Sox could find it difficult to move him.

As for Nova, he’s impressed in Spring Training. Can he be consistent at the Major League level? We’ll soon find out.

d March 29, 2011 - 2:06 am

This is the worst AL east in my lifetime. The Bluejays are much better than all you pundits think. Once again.

Canada and Rodney Dangerfield niether gets any respect.

RICHARD DUMUGHN March 29, 2011 - 12:04 pm

While I agree that the aquisition of Gonzales and Crawford makes the Sox a serious contendor there are issues around their rotation.
Beckett has a had a disapointing spring training and Paplebon has become erratic. I agree that Bard will be the closer before the end of the regular season. I think the problems for the Yankees and Rays
will be ones of age with players like Ramirez, Damon, Jeter and Posada.


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