Over the past five seasons, the AL East has finished in the same order: New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Could that be the case again this season?
My pick for order of finish is the order in which the teams are listed below.
New York Yankees
Who they lost: Roger Clemens, rhp (Signed with Astros), Nick Johnson, 1b (Traded to Expos), Andy Pettitte, lhp (Signed with Astros), Jeff Weaver, rhp (Traded to Dodgers), Chris Hammond, lhp (Traded to Oakland), David Wells, lhp (Signed by Padres), Jeff Nelson, rhp (Signed by Rangers), Alfonso Soriano, 2b (Traded to Rangers)
Who they gained: Tom Gordon, p (Signed from White Sox), Paul Quantrill, rhp (Signed from Dodgers), Javier Vasquez, rhp (Traded from Expos), Kevin Brown, rhp (Traded from Dodgers), Gary Sheffield, of (Signed from Braves), Kenny Lofton, of (Signed from Giants), Alex Rodriguez, 3b (Traded from Rangers)
What to expect: The New York Yankees will be led by a pitching staff featuring Mike Mussina, Javier Vazquez, and Kevin Brown. If those three pitchers match expectations, something difficult to do in New York, they should match up with any starting three in the Major Leagues. The bullpen has been drastically improved from last season and should be able to hold more leads. The offense should produce more runs than last season, but when they take the field, George Steinbrenner and Joe Torre will be holding their respective breaths. This team will not feature many Gold Glovers.
Strengths: The Yankees have what should be the best offense in the league, as well as the strongest bullpen in the league. They also have an owner who wants to win at all costs.
Weaknesses: The Yankees’ defense is definitely a weakness, with many players with range factors below the league average. The turmoil surrounding A-Rod and Jeter, as well as the Boss and his team when they do not win could also be a factor.
Boston Red Sox
Who they lost: Casey Fossum, p (Traded to Diamondbacks), Brandon Lyon, p (Traded to Diamondbacks), Jeff Suppan, rhp (Signed with Cardinals), Todd Walker, 2b (Signed with Cubs)
Who they gained: Curt Schilling, p (Traded from Diamondbacks), Keith Foulke, rhp (Signed from A's), Mark Bellhorn, if (Traded from Rockies), Pokey Reese, 2b (Signed from Pittsburgh), Ellis Burks, dh (Signed from Indians)
What to expect: Another second place finish is what to expect for the Red Sox. Their staff is greatly strengthened with the acquisitions of Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling, but many offensive players had career years, or right near it, last season. This team could win the Wild Card and compete deep into October.
Strengths: The Boston Red Sox have a great pitching staff and good offense. Their defense is better than the Yankees’ defense and very strong up the middle. Also many players are having contract years.
Weaknesses: Many players are having contract years, so there will be a lot of turmoil about who will be back next season. Also their owner, while willing to spend to win, cannot match George Steinbrenner. Of course the Curse of the Bambino could be a factor.
Toronto Blue Jays
Who they lost: Kelvim Escobar, rhp (Signed with Angels), Bobby Kielty, of (Traded to Oakland), Mike Bordick, ss (Retired), Cory Lidle, rhp (Signed with Reds), Cliff Politte, rhp (Signed with White Sox), Tom Wilson, C (Picked up by Padres)
Who they gained: Pat Hentgen, p (Signed from Baltimore), Ted Lilly, p (Traded from A's), Chi-Hung Chen, lhp (Signed from Taiwan), Kerry Ligtenberg, rhp (Signed from Baltimore), Miguel Batista, rhp (Signed from Diamondbacks), Justin Speier, rhp (Traded from Rockies), Terry Adams, rhp (Signed from Phillies)
What to expect: The Blue Jays have seriously revamped their starting rotation by adding Ted Lilly, Pat Hentgen, and Miguel Batista. Their bullpen has been reworked with the additions of Terry Adams, Justin Speier, and Kerry Ligtenberg. The offense will continue to produce as they did in the last five months of last season, instead of the first one. This team could win 90 games but it will not win the division or Wild Card.
Strengths: The Blue Jays have a large number of prospects that could make Major League impact this season. They also have plenty of payroll flexibility on their team.
Weaknesses: Their bullpen remains a huge question.
Who they lost: Pat Hentgen, rhp (Signed with Blue Jays), Kerry Ligtenberg, rhp (Signed with Blue Jays), Tony Batista, 3b (Signed with Expos), Jason Johnson, rhp (Signed with Tigers), Damian Moss, lhp (Signed with Devil Rays)
Who they gained: Miguel Tejada, ss (Signed from A's), Javy Lopez, c (Signed from Braves), Mike DeJean, rhp (Signed from Cardinals), Rafael Palmeiro, 1b-dh (Signed from Rangers), Sidney Ponson, rhp (Signed from Giants), Mark McLemore, if (Signed from Mariners)
What to expect: The Baltimore Orioles have a foursome with 100 RBIs from last season - they are Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Jay Gibbons. But even with this offensive mass addition, do not look for the Orioles to surpass the Blue Jays. Their pitching is too unknown to be taken seriously and their defense will be slightly questionable.
Strengths: Their offense could carry their team to be an offense-first, pitching-second team (see Texas Rangers of recent years). They have four 100 RBI guys, as well as Melvin Mora and Larry Bigbie.
Weaknesses: The pitching staff is young and inexperienced. They re-acquired SP Sidney Ponson, but he seems to be the only veteran on the staff.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Who they lost: Jason Tyner, of (Waivers), Joe Kennedy, lhp (Traded to Rockies), Marlon Anderson, 2b (Signed with Cardinals), Rey Ordonez, ss (Signed with Rangers)
Who they gained: Paul Abbott, p (Signed from Seattle), John Halama, p (Signed from Oakland), Tino Martinez, 1b (Traded from Cardinals), Jose Cruz Jr., of (Signed from San Francisco), Rey Sanchez, ss (Signed from Mets), Geoff Blum, if (Traded from Houston), Danys Baez, rhp (Signed from Indians), Todd Jones, rhp (Signed from Red Sox), Mike Williams, rhp (Signed from Phillies), Robert Fick, 1b (Signed from Braves), Fred McGriff, 1b (Signed from Los Angeles), Damian Moss, lhp (Signed from Orioles)
What to expect: The Devil Rays have greatly improved their team under the reign of Sweet Lou, who is molding the team into his own model. There has been a great roster turnover and for the better. The rotation and bullpen has a veteran presence, the bench is much stronger, and the starting lineup now features a few good players.
Strengths: Their main strength is Manager Lou Pinella. He is in the second year of his plan and it shows with a huge roster turnover from last season. Aubrey Huff is one of the best offensive outfielders in the American League, but not many people have heard of him. The veteran presence, mixed with a talented group of kids, is definitely a good sign for the future.
Weaknesses: This team has never won more than 80 games and they do not receive much fan support at their home stadium. The pitching staff is weak, especially after Jeremi Gonzalez.