AL Eastern Division
1. Toronto Blue Jays
2. Baltimore Orioles
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. New York Yankees
5. Boston Red Sox
The AL East is the most competitive division in the MLB. A case could be made for four of the teams (sorry, Red Sox!) to win the division, and the race could come down to the final week or two. That being said, I think the Blue Jays will finally make the leap and win the AL East. They made some huge moves in the offseason, and benefitted from Miami’s huge fire sale where they acquired shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson in exchange for some prospects. They also signed outfielder Melky Cabrera, who should add a lot to their offense. They have arguably the most dangerous power hitter in baseball in Jose Bautista, and also traded for last year’s NL Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey. Expect somewhere around 95 wins from the Jays.
Baltimore surprised everyone last season by grabbing a playoff spot and giving the Yankees a tough series, but they shouldn’t surprise anyone this year, They have some very good pieces on offense to build around and their pitching staff, while not brilliant, is good enough to give teams trouble. Expect a good season from outfielders Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. The Orioles are going to be a very dangerous team this year, especially after getting some valuable playoff experience in 2012.
The Rays lost some of their key players from last season in the offseason, but they still have enough to compete for a title. Evan Longoria is still the heart and soul of the offense while he has some very good complementary players situated around him, such as Ben Zobrist and Desmond Jennings. Tampa Bay’s main strength is their rotation, however, as they have very good pitchers top to bottom. David Price leads the rotation and I expect him to be a Cy Young candidate this season. Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore are two young stars that should develop even further this season as the Rays fight for a Wild Card berth.
The Yankees are having some major difficulties with injuries already this season. We’ll see how long Derek Jeter is out with his ankle injury, but he shouldn’t miss too many games. First baseman Mark Teixeira however, could miss serious time with a torn tendon in his wrist. If he doesn’t come back until June or July, New York could be in serious trouble. Alex Rodriguez just had hip surgery in January, so he may miss the entire season. Unless they can find answers somewhere else, the Yankees will fall behind in a very competitive division.
Boston is quickly being left behind. They have an aging roster that needs to be rebuilt as soon as possible. All is not lost, though. They have a former MVP second baseman in Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury is always solid in the outfield. They added former Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino, who brings some speed to the lineup, but he is also aging. Their rotation also leaves much to be desired after Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, so look for them to try to upgrade at some point. The team signed Ryan Dempster in the offseason, but I think he will struggle to pitch in the tougher American League.
AL Central Division
1. Detroit Tigers
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Minnesota Twins
Detroit is the reigning AL Champion and not much should change this season. They still have arguably the best pitcher in the game, Justin Verlander, and they also have the AL MVP Miguel Cabrera. There are very few holes in their lineup, and they got even better with their offseason signing of Torii Hunter. With hardly any other competition in the Central this year, Detroit will run away with it as early as August.
Chicago will be hurt by the loss of long time catcher A.J. Pierzynski, but they still have enough solid talent to hold the seconds spot in the division. Chris Sale is a bona fide ace and I expect him to have a great season. Outside of Sale though, their rotation is severely lacking. Their lineup has talent, such as Alex Rios and Paul Konerko, but they just don’t have enough to overtake the Tigers this season.
Cleveland improved over the offseason with many smart additions. They acquired former Braves outfielder Michael Bourn, who will give them some speed at the top of their lineup. They also added Drew Stubbs and Nick Swisher to complement Carlos Santana. Their real concern this season, though, will be their pitching. Ubaldo Jiminez declined greatly last season after his stellar career with the Rockies. Justin Masterson was also not impressive but he will look to bounce back this year and make the Indians competitive.
The Royals are probably a year or two away from being legitimate contenders in the American League. They have a lot of young talent ready to reach their potential, so don’t be surprised if they supplant the White Sox and the Indians for 2nd place. They traded for James Shields and Wade Davis in the offseason, which improves their previously weak rotation. If some of their offensive pieces like Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer can play well, Kansas City could field their most dangerous team in years.
Rounding out the division, the Minnesota Twins are an organization in free-fall. Not too long ago, they were a perennial playoff contender, but now they will struggle to be even close to .500. They still have Joe Mauer catching for them but they have little else. Josh Willingham might be able to provide some offense, but they definitely need much more help. They traded outfielder Ben Revere to the Phillies over the offseason in exchange for Vance Worley. Worley immediately becomes the best starting pitcher on the roster, but that isn’t saying much. This team will struggle to stop teams from scoring all season.
AL Western Division
1. Los Angeles Angels
2. Oakland Athletics
3. Texas Rangers
4. Seattle Mariners
5. Houston Astros
The Angels have potentially the most overpowered team in the Major Leagues. Their offseason signing of Josh Hamilton adds to one of the most fearsome lineups in baseball, which already features Albert Pujols and last year’s MVP runner-up Mike Trout. They also added Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas to their rotation, which will definitely improve their season. I expect Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson to have productive years and lead the Angels to the division title.
Like the Orioles, the Oakland Athletics were one of the MLB’s biggest surprises last season by winning the division. They have a great rotation that should get better this season with experience. They also have enough offensive firepower to compete, led by second-year player Yeonis Cespedes. Although I wouldn’t bet on them repeating their division-winning performance from last year, this team will win a lot of games. If they can make a splash at the trade deadline and acquire another player to bolster their lineup, they could easily be crowned AL West champs again.
The Rangers were hit hard this offseason when they lost Josh Hamilton, Michael Young and Mike Napoli. Even with all that, however, they still have one of the most talented teams in baseball. Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre highlight one of the better offenses in the American League, so they won’t have too much problem scoring runs this season. They also have a competent rotation and I expect Yu Darvish to have another exceptional year. The division race will be close between all three teams, but in the end, I think the Rangers will fall just short.
The Mariners have one of the best pitchers in baseball, Felix Hernandez, but the talent level drops off from there. The rest of their rotation will struggle this season to keep runs off the board and unless some of their young offensive talent like Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak can produce, they won’t win too many games. This is a roster that is about 3 years away from being competitive if they continue to develop their prospects.
The Houston Astros are a new team to the division, after transferring from the National League. They won’t have any more success this season, however, and will continue to be in the bottom of the league. They really don’t have any starting pitching or relievers that are capable of being consistently good, and their offense will struggle mightily all season. They signed slugger Carlos Pena in the offseason, but he won’t be nearly enough to help Houston this year.