I feel this is the best division in all of baseball as it features 3 of the best teams in baseball along with a team on the rise (that still went .500 last year and still finished in 4th place). With the new baseball playoff format, it wouldn’t be surprising to see three teams in the playoffs when October rolls around.
New York Yankees: Last year was an up and down year for the Yankees that started on their wrong foot (highlighted by injuries) and then they recovered to win the division before being ousted in the ALDS by the Detroit Tigers. The entire Yankees season was mirrored by injuries as pitchers Phil Hughes (shoulder inflammation) and Joba Chamberlain (Tommy John surgery) were the first to go down with injuries and eventually All-Stars Derek Jeter (hamstring) and Alex Rodriguez (knee) missed time due to injuries. Once New York recovered, and were fully healthy in mid-July, the Yankees went on a long run which culminated with the Yankees winning another division title. Once the Yankees lost to the Tigers in the ALDS, the organization realized they need to bolster their starting rotation during the upcoming offseason. As the offseason was about to commence, the Yankees decided to re-due star pitcher CC Sabathia’s contract and gave him a new 7 year deal to anchor their rotation. With the Free-Agent pitching market so limited, the Yankees were quiet on the free agent market this offseason until the middle of January when New York decided to trade top catching prospect (Jesus Montero) for 2011 All-Star pitcher Michael Pineda along with signing pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. In 2012, the Yankees once again will feature one of the best lineups in baseball (Rodriguez, Jeter, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira Brett Gardner, Curtis and Curtis Granderson) to go along with a solid pitching staff (Sabathia, Kuroda, Pineda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, and the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera). With the Yankees healthier along with the additions made to their pitching staff, the 2012 Yankees will once again compete for a division title.
Tampa Bay Rays: What a great season for the Tampa Bay Rays as the Rays started the season off loosing 8 of the first 9 games and then in late September overcame a 9 1/2 game deficit to win the AL Wild Card (on Evan Longoria’s game winning Home Run, capping off one of the greatest days in baseball history). In the 2010 offseason, the Rays decided to make significant changes to their roster, and decided to go in another direction (Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena,Rafael Soriano, Matt Garza, along with other left the team). However, this offseason, the Rays were able to keep the core of their roster together and should once again find themselves as contenders once again in 2012. The Rays young hitting core includes Evan Longoria, Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist, and BJ Upton and at the same time they resigned former Rays first baseman Carlos Pena to bring more power to their team. The Rays also feature one of the best young rotations in baseball, anchored by “Big Game” James Shields, fellow all-star pitcher David Price, alongside Wade Davis, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann and rookie of the year winner Jeremy Hellickson. With the Rays having 6 solid starting pitchers currently in their rotation, along with former Cubs farm-hand Chris Archer, the Tampa should have a lot of depth in their rotation and leave them the possibility of trading one of their starters to help improve their offense. The Rays will once again be at the top of the AL East and compete for another division title.
Boston Red Sox: The 2010 Red Sox offseason was exciting and eventful acquiring two all-stars (traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford) and left Red Sox fans dreaming of another title in Boston. With all the hoopla surrounding the Red Sox, Boston got off to a rough start as they started the season by loosing 7 of their first 8 games and had questions surrounding this team. However, the Red Sox recovered and at the start of September held a 9 1/2 game lead in the wild card standings over the Tampa Bay Rays. For the month of September, the Red Sox went 7-20 and on the last day of the season were passed by the Rays as Tampa advanced to the postseason. After the season, rumors of beer and fried chicken being ate during the game started surrounding the team which led to many changes occurring in the offseason. The 2011 offseason started by having manager Terry Francona leaving the organization and a few weeks later general manager Theo Epstein also left the Red Sox and became the Cubs president. The Red Sox started rebuilding their front office by naming Assistant General Manager Ben Cherington General Manager of the Red Sox. Cherington and the Red Sox then concentrated on finding a manager and decided to name former Rangers and Mets manager Bobby Valentine as manager of their team. With all of the changes the Red Sox went through this offseason, they still feature one of the best lineups in baseball which consists of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Kevin Youkilis. The problem for the Red Sox is within the rotation as they feature a lot of question-marks which include: will Josh Beckett stay healthy, will Clay Buchholz come back fully recovered from his injury, and will someone step up and help solidify the last two spots in their rotation? If these questions are answered, and Jon Lester continues his assent as becoming a true ace, the Red Sox should be in for a nice season and will be stride for stride with the Yankees and Rays once September rolls around.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Jays continued to show their a team on the rise and in the near future will be a team that competes for a division title. When the 2011 offseason rolled around, Toronto realized they needed to upgrade their pitching depth so they acquired former White Sox closer Sergio Santos to help solidify the back-end of their bullpen and tried to sign pitcher Yu Darvish to a offer-sheet but were outbid by the Texas Rangers. As for the 2012 Blue Jays, they feature a dangerous lineup which is led by MVP Candidate Jose Bautista along with Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, J.P. Arenciba, and Brett Lawrie. The Jays also feature a young pitching staff highlighted by pitchers Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez, and Kyle Drabek but at the same time don’t have a true number one starter. If the Jays were able to trade a few of their young prospects (Travis d’Arnaud, Anthony Gose, Jake Marisnick, Noah Syndergaard, or other prospects in the Jays system), they would become a legitimate threat to the Yankees, Rays, and Red Sox and make this a four team race once the playoffs role around.
Baltimore Orioles:Baltimore once again finished in last place in the AL East and still have a lot of holes to fill on their roster. At the end of the 2011 season, the Orioles did a great job playing the spoiler roleby defeating the Red Sox 5 out of last 7 times as the Red Sox were falling apart. The core of the O’s includes hitters Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, Brian Roberts and Matt Wieters along with pitchers Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Tommy Hunter. In addition to having a few young players currently on their roster, the O’s have a couple of solid prospects in their farm system which includes shortstop Manny Machado and pitcher Dylan Bundy along with a few other prospects. The Orioles core is average, but I feel the new regime in Baltimore (led by new GM Dan Duquette) will make a few changes to their roster and at the same time use the models that have been used by Toronto and Tampa Bay to to rebuild their farm system. Baltimore’s 2012 season will once again be tough one as they continue to remake their roster while playing in the toughest division in baseball. At the same time, I feel Baltimore should have a few attractive trade pieces at the trade deadline that might intrigue other teams (Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts (if he proves he’s healthy), Mark Reynolds, Kevin Gregg, Jason Hammel, and Matt Lindstrom) if they decide to be sellers at the trade deadline.
As always, please share your responses with us on Twitter @clarkstsports and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/clarkstreetsports. Remember to also check out our merchandise at http://www.clarkstreetsports.com