Going in to the 2008 MLB season, the AL East had been dominated by the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. However, in 2008, a new force came to battle these 2 historic rivals. The Tampa Bay Rays, who had finished dead last for the past 11 years, won an astonishing 97 games and won the AL East. Ultimately however, the team ended up losing to the Phillies in the World Series. Despite their loss, the Rays proved to the bullying Yankee and Red Sox organizations that they are sick and tired of being pushed around, and they mean business. So who will win the AL East title in 09? Will it be perennial All Star organizations like Boston or New York? Maybe the Rays can make another run, or could the smaller market Blue Jays and Orioles turn the tide in their favor? Only time shall tell, but here is an in depth look at all 5 teams that make up what may be the best division in baseball.
The Baltimore Orioles finished 2008 with a 68-93 record, finishing in last place in the AL East. After failing out on signing Baltimore native Mark Teixeira, the Orioles still lack a real power threat in their lineup. Recently, the O’s traded catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Cincinnati Reds for right fielder Ryan Freel. Baltimore has high hopes for rookie catcher Matt Wieter,s making Hernandez expendable. The team however singed veteran backstop Gregg Zaun, just in case Wieters cannot perform. The O’s lost Daniel Cabrerea to free agency, but ended up signing Japaneese pitcher Koji Uehara. They also came to terms with shortstop Cesar Izturis, who is looking to revitalize his own career. Last week, the squad acquired promising prospect Felix Pie from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for lefty Garret Olson. Alongside, the O’s managed to sign Nick Markakis to a 6 year extension and still have Aubrey Huff, who is good for at least 30 homers a year. Huff will likely play at 1st base due to it appearing that the O’s do not want to resign 1B Kevin Millar. The Orioles projected 2009 starting lineup will be
SS- Cesar Izturis
C- Matt Wieters/ Gregg Zaun
The Baltimore Rotation is Projected to beL
Jeremy Guthrie, Radhemas Liz, Mark Hendrickson, Chris Waters, and Koji Uehara.
Prediction- 4th place. You have more upside this year. No shot at making the playoffs, but maybe in 10 years you can get there.
The Boston Red Sox finished 08 with a 95-67 record clinching the AL Wild Card. Boston thrashed the Angels in the ALDS, only to lose in 7 games to Tampa Bay in the ALCS. The Red Sox didn’t have to do much this off season, as they basically had all the parts in place. Team captain and catcher Jason Varitek is still a free agent, with contract negotiations seeming to be moving slowly. Boston signed San Diego catcher Josh Bard just in case they are not able to come to terms with Varitek. The Red Sox went hard after Mark Teixeira, only to see their arch rivals from New York sweep in and sign him at the 11th hour. After trading Manny Ramirez at the deadline in ’08, Boston lost a huge bat. However, Jason Bay was brought in and played like Babe Ruth. The team was hot and the Fenway faithful grew to say “Manny who?” and “Welcome to the Baystate!”, a pun on Bay’s name. With only minor re-tooling to do, Boston GM Theo Epstein went bargain hunting. He traded away fan favorite Coco Crisp to Kansas City for Ramon Ramirez in order to boost the Boston bullpen. He also signed free agent pitcher Brad Penny to a 1 year deal, hoping that Penny can return to his 16-win form from ’06 and ’07. A few weeks later, Epstein signed New England native Rocco Baldelli to be Boston’s 4th outfielder. Almost immediately after that deal, Epstein stunned the city of Atlanta by signing free agent John Smoltz, who had spent his last 20 seasons as a Brave. Epstein was not done however, as he singed Takashi Saito who could fit nicely into what is turning into one of the deepest bullpens in baseball. The Sox also resigned outfielder Mark Kotsay. Boston then locked up MVP Dustin Pedroia for the next 6 years, and then teammate Kevin Youkilis for 4 years. Boston has 1 more spot to fill, as the question remains as to whether the captain will be back.
The 2009 Projected Red Sox lineup:
CF- Jacoby Ellsbury
2B- Dustin Pedroia
DH- David Ortiz
C- Josh Bard
The Boston Rotation is projected to be:
Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Brad Penny, and Tim Wakefield.
PREDICTION- 1st place in AL East. Celebrate Boston fans, your depth will be your strength.
The New York Yankees finished the ’08 campaign with a 89-73 record and finishing 3rd in the division. Wait, the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs? Shocking, but true folks. After their 1st absence from the postseason in 13 years, GM Brian Cashman had some serious pressure from owners Hank and Hal Steinbrenner. The Yankees had planned to dump the salaries of free agents Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu. With the departure of Giambi, the Yanks needed a 1st basemen. Therefore, the Yankees were able to trade Wilson Betemit to the Chicago White Sox for Nick Swisher. Additionally, the Bronx Bombers resigned Damaso Marte to sure up their bullpen. Finally, on the last day of the Winter Meetings, the Yankees were able to get their prize. They signed pitcher CC Sabathia to a 7 year contract. A few days later, the Yankees signed pitcher AJ Burnett to a 5 year deal, and just like that the Yankees had the 2 best free agent pitchers on the market. On December 23, the Yankees dealt a crushing blow to arch rival Boston, and frankly to the entire baseball world. The teams had signed Mark Teixeira, who was reportedly heading to Boston to a 8 year/$180 million contract. Longtime Yankee Andy Pettite is still a free agent, and the sides are still very far apart. With a surplus of outfielders still on the roster, the Yankees are listening to offers for Nick Swisher and Xavier Nady. Most experts believe it will be Nady who will be dealt. The Yankees had spent over $400 million this offseason, but got quality baseball players for it. Do not be surprised anyone to see the pinstripes back in October.
The 2009 Projected Yankee lineup:
DH- Hideki Matsui
The New York Rotation is projected to be:
CC Sabathia, AJ, Burnett, Chien Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes.
PREDICTION- 2nd place in the division and a wild card birth. Your very good but Boston is deeper, however its back to October with you.
The Tampa Bay Rays finished ’08 with a fantastic 97-65 record, winning the AL East. The Rays showed everyone that it is not necessary to have a huge payroll to be good. Tampa had so many talented youngsters, as they just kept fighting and scrapping their way through the season. Evan Longoria emerged as a superstar and also won Rookie of the Year. He, along with CF BJ Upton carried the offense for most of the season. Essentially, Tampa’s team concept was that they had no stars. but they had players who would go out and give their all every night. In the offseason. the Rays lost out on resigning Rocco Baldelli. but did make a pretty big splash in the free agent market by signing Pat “The Bat” Burrell. The team may have the best young nucleus of pitchers ever ranging from Scott Kazmir to the emerging of David Price. Price who was called up towards the end of last season, proved in the postseason that he fears no one. In an attempt to fill in Rocco Baldelli’s shoes, the Rays picked up veteran Gabe Kapler. Tampa also traded away hard throwing Edwin Jackson to the Tigers for outfielder Matt Joyce. With stars like Carlos Peña and Carl Crawford still on the roster, look for the Rays to make some noise in ’09.
The 2009 Projected Rays lineup:
The Tampa Bay Rotation is projected to be:
Matt Garza, James Shields, Scott Kazmir, David Price, and Andy Sonnanstine.
PREDICTION-3rd place in the division. Tampa Bay fans you may very well end up with over 90 wins, but teams know what to expect now. Once again you shall be looking up at Boston and New York.
The Toronto Blue Jays finished 2008 with a decent 86-76 record, coming in 4th place. Toronto still has the best pitcher in the division, Roy Halladay. The Blue Jays are a tough team, as they battle you for 27 outs a game. However, they have done almost nothing this offseason besides signing pitcher Matt Clement to a minor league contract. The Jays made a run at Rafael Furcal, but Furcal decided to sign with the Dodgers. Toronto was rumored to have talked with Manny Ramirez, but GM JP Ricciardi shot it down and said the team was most likely done with offseason moves. Toronto’s offense is sub-par, as no one besides possibly Alex Rios is a legit power threat. Vernon Wells’ play has diminished greatly in the last few years, and he isn’t the player he once was. Toronto’s pitching besides Halladay is nothing to make you glance. The Jays lost A.J. Burnett to the Yankees, and promising star Shaun Marcum is out for the year following Tommy John surgery. Righty Dustin McGown is also out until May with a labrum problem. Things do not look good for the Jays. Closer B.J. Ryan is very inconsistent, and that does not fly too well for the team north of the border.
The 2009 Projected Blue Jay lineup:
SS- John McDonald/Marco Scutaro
The Toronto Rotation is projected to be:
Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch, David Purcey, Dustin McGown (out until May), and a pitcher to be named later.
PREDICTION-5th place. Sorry to all you Blue Jays faithful, you have no shot. Good luck Mr. Halladay, because you have no support.
While the AL East boasts 3 super powers and 2 sub par teams, it is exciting to watch. Whether it is Sox-Yankees or Jays-O’s, the games are eventful. These teams and their fans do not like each other, but that is what makes it the greatest division in baseball. If you take players from each team and put them together, you have an all-star team. Congratulations to the AL East, you make baseball fun for everyone. Good luck to all in 2009!
If anybody has any objections the predictions or comments, please feel free to leave a comment!