We're ever closer to the glory of Opening Day, and moving on in our division previews because of it. We kicked things off with a look at the NL West, then followed that up with the NL East. We'll stick in the east this time around, but shift things to the American League for a preview of the ever-competitive AL East.
Rather than bore you with the minutiae of each club's off-season -- an exercise that would take more time than there is before the season actually begins -- we'll hit you with the basic need-to-knows to bring you up to speed on the state of baseball in 2013. We'll also get an assist from our expert team bloggers to see just what the best- and worst-case scenarios are for each of baseball's 30 clubs. As you might guess, some are less optimistic than others.
2012 record: 95-67, good for first in the AL East, but since they didn't win the World Series you can guess how certain parts of the fan base feel about the season.
2012 Opening Day payroll: $209 million
2013 projected payroll: $209 million. Say what you will about the Yankees supposedly cheaping out to let their free agents walk in favor of Plan $189M, but the 2013 number, at least, is still an imposing one.
True Yankee Count: A quick look suggests a handful on the roster, with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Robinson Cano aboard, and Brett Gardner returning to action as a potential True Yankee anchor in center. With Rivera retiring after this year, they'll need David Robertson to step up and earn his pinstripes, or else they might be short on their legitimate Yankee quota soon.
Key additions: Lots of short-term Yanks here, with former nemesis Kevin Youkilis inking for a year, Ichiro Suzuki re-signing after a mid-season trade, and Travis Hafner coming on the DH. None of these deals are hugely significant on their own, but, when their powers combine, they'll form the most recent iteration of the Veteran Voltron that has complemented -- or been powered by -- the above True Yankee core for years now.
Steven Goldman of Pinstriped Bible:
Yankees' best-case: "An aging roster that has been devastated by injuries to putative stars Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and Mark Teixeira can ride a veteran starting rotation and deep bullpen long enough to get healthy and overtake an improving division. Implicit in this formulation are comeback seasons for Gardner, Youkilis, and Hafner, continued sips from the Fountain of Youth for Jeter and Ichiro, another MVP-level season from second baseman Cano, and better-than-expected production from the Brand X catching tandem of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart and the cadre of substitutes at first base and left field."
Yankees' worst-case: "The injuries prove more than the Yanks can withstand in the early going, and the team gets buried under a slow start. Some heretofore unforeseen shortcoming on the part of the pitching staff -- say Phil Hughes' back injury keeps him shelved for an extended period, Rivera's encore doesn't go well, or Pettitte runs out of gas at 41 -- undermines the team's one uncompromised area of strength, and the offense can't do enough to make up for the reduced inability to prevent runs. This, combined with a hot start by another team in the division, could end the Yankees' race before it even starts."
2012 record: 90-72, marking the third time in as many years an AL East team has won at least 90 games but missed the playoffs anyway.
2012 Opening Day payroll: After a one-year dip following the loss of free agents like Carl Crawford, the Rays shot back up to $64 million
Can we nickname starting pitcher Chris Archer "Duchess," please?:
Make it happen, Internet.
Key additions: Most of the new faces on the Rays are in the form of prospects acquired in the Shields' deal: Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery. Excepting Myers, they might not even be part of the 2013 club, though, they should help fill-in the next time a Rays' player is sent packing for kids. They did trade for Yunel Escobar as well, who, while a clubhouse issue in the past (and possibly in the present -- that's to be seen), can play a quality shortstop*, something the Rays have needed for years now.
*When he feels like it, I mean
Steve Slowinski of DRays Bay:
Rays' best-case: "Everything clicks for the Rays. Evan Longoria stays uninjured and puts up an MVP-caliber season; Kelly Johnson and Luke Scott combine to give the Rays a productive DH slot; and the Rays' core of young talent (notably: Desmond Jennings, Matt Moore, and Myers) all take huge steps forward. The Rays win 90-plus games, make the playoffs, and gun for the World Series."
Rays' worst-case: "Longoria gets injured and misses almost the entire season, raising uneasy comparisons to Eric Chavez. Moore fails to take a step forward in his development; Myers flops miserably once promoted to the majors; and Jennings looks more like Sam Fuld than an old-school Crawford. The Rays flop towards the bottom of a competitive AL East, and future prospects look glum."
2012 record: 60-66 before the Nick Punto trade, 9-27 after. There was, uh, room to upgrade this winter.
2012 Opening Day payroll: $175 million
2013 projected payroll: $154 million -- the trade wasn't about saving money, it was about reallocating it.
Boston Herald "Best Team Ever" covers: Zero! Maybe now expectations can be a more enjoyable realistic. At least until someone riles up the torch and pitchfork crowd, anyway.
Key additions: Shane Victorino takes over in right field, and acts as non-Marlon-Byrd-shaped insurance in center should Jacoby Ellsbury go down again. Mike Napoli steps in at first in a park built for his swing, Ryan Dempster will attempt to give Boston the mid-rotation presence whose absence has helped sink their last two campaigns, while Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Koji Uehara, and Joel Hanrahan seek to shore up their respective positions. If Stephen Drew's concussion doesn't have long-term effects, he's there to bolster shortstop production as well.
Ben Buchanan of Over the Monster:
Red Sox' best-case: "Everyone is healthy. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Dempster provide a formidable front-three, Felix Doubront takes steps forward, and John Lackey is serviceable bringing up the rear end of the rotation. David Ortiz, Will Middlebrooks, and Napoli knock in Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia so many times that it overshadows the decent contributions from the likes of Drew, Gomes, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Victorino, leaving the Red Sox surprise winners of the East."
Red Sox' worst-case: "A new form of plague emerges in the clubhouse, laying waste to the roster. Middlebrooks realizes his real calling is in advertising, every pitcher decides it's time to pay homage to Lackey's disastrous 2011 season, and the farm system secedes to join a more successful franchise. By the end of the year, Red Sox fans are pretending that their families had always stayed true to the Braves after their Boston departure."
2012 record: 93-69, 91 of which were one-run victories secured in extra inning contests.
2012 Opening Day payroll: $84 million
2013 projected payroll: $87 million
Days until Dylan Bundy saves the rotation: This depends entirely on how many days it takes for the Orioles to realize Miguel Gonzalez isn't the answer. That, or they cycle through all of their failed former pitching prospects (again) and come up empty-handed (again).
Key additions: The Orioles kind of sat this off-season out, after seeing every other major power, and even some of the mid-tier clubs, add and spend with abandon. They aren't without internal upgrades -- a full season of Manny Machado, and the possibility of Dylan Bundy's emergence -- but the plan seems to be assessing what they already have over bringing in shiny (and expensive) new toys.
Stacey Long of Camden Chat:
Orioles' best-case: "The team improvement over the second half of 2012 was real, when their winning was legit and not the smoke-and-mirrors stuff of the first part of the season. If the starting pitching is decent and the Orioles get continued improvement from Machado, solid seasons from Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters, and if the 2012 Chris Davis is the real Chris Davis, things could go right for them and they'll be in contention in the AL East for most of the year even, if they don't end up in the playoffs."
Orioles' worst-case: "All of the naysayers are right. If starting pitchers Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen have sophomore slumps, Jason Hammel re-injures his knee, and none of the current rotation contenders step up and produce as decent fourth and fifth starters, the Orioles are cooked. If they go 9-29 in one-run games and 2-16 in extra innings instead of the other way around, they'll pretty much be screwed and back to where we all expected to see them in 2012: last place."
2012 record: 73-89; like the Red Sox, they weren't actually this bad all year, but injuries eventually threw them totally of course.
2012 Opening Day payroll: $83 million
2013 projected payroll: $114 million
Video homages to Final Fantasy including former manager John Farrell:
Just the one. But, in the words of one-half of Tenacious D, one is all you need.
Key additions: Like, 90 percent of any good players the Marlins had, including but not limited to Jose Reyes. And also R.A. Dickey. The rotation has been in shambles for years, but might finally produce in a way that lets them contend in the East now that Alex Anthopoulos has put his stamp on it.
Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter:
Blue Jays' best-case: "The five starting pitchers each start 32-33 games, each winning 18-25 of those. Dickey will teach each of the others the knuckleball, and how to drive reporters crazy by using multi-syllabic words in press conferences. Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista combine for 100-plus home runs, 250 RBI, and are voted co-MVPs. Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio combine for 100-plus stolen bases. Brett Lawrie doesn't try to kill an umpire, and no one writes anything on their equipment that insults any portion of society. We have a parade up Yonge Street at the end of October. And they put real grass in Rogers Centre by July."
Blue Jays' worst-case: "I wake up and Victoria Principal would be in my shower, and I find out the off-season has all been a dream and my Jays are going into the season with the same, mostly injured players that literally limped to a 22-37 record over the last two months of the season. And we still have the same manager who seemed to think that outs on the base paths didn't count against the team, and that bullpen management meant throwing a die (often, sadly, an eight-sided one) to figure which reliever to bring into the game at any given moment."