Division-by-division: AL East …
Last year’s record: 85-77, 3rd place
Key additions: SP Masahiro Tanaka, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, OF Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, INF Kelly Johnson, INF Brian Roberts, RP Matt Thornton
Key subtractions: CL Mariano Rivera, 2B Robinson Cano, OF Curtis Granderson, 3B Alex Rodriguez, SP Andy Pettitte, SP Phil Hughes, RP Joba Chamberlain, RP Boone Logan
Biggest strength: Outfield. They’re deep enough there that they can eventually use Brett Gardner as a chip to help shore up another department. For now, Gardner is expected to start alongside Ellsbury and Beltran, with Alfonso Soriano (129 OPS plus with the Yankees last year) serving as the primary designated hitter and Ichiro Suzuki (eventual Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki) off the bench.
Biggest question: Age. Four of their projected starting nine are 35 and older (Derek Jeter, Alfonso Soriano, Brian Roberts, Beltran), CC Sabathia is seemingly on the decline and Hiroki Kuroda is 38.
Most important player: Tanaka. He was signed to a seven-year, $155 million contract on Wednesday, and if he becomes the ace suggested on his price tag, or even just a very formidable No. 2, the Yankees’ rotation can compete in baseball’s toughest division.
In 25 words or less: The Yankees re-established themselves as a financial juggernaut, but can they be dominant again? That’s up to Father Time.
Last year’s record: 97-65, 1st place (beat the Cardinals in WS)
Key additions: C A.J. Pierzynski, INF Jonathan Herrera, RP Edward Mujica, RP Burke Badenhop
Key subtractions: OF Jacoby Ellsbury, SS Stephen Drew, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, RP Matt Thornton
Biggest strength: Starting pitching. The Red Sox return all six starting pitchers from their World Series-winning team — Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront.
Biggest question: Their young players, specifically Jackie Bradley Jr., who will replace Ellsbury in center fielder, and Xander Bogaerts, who’s expected to replace Drew at shortstop after a stellar postseason.
Most important player: Clay Buchholz. The 29-year-old right-hander has shown flashes of brilliance, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy throughout a full season. Last year, he had a 1.74 ERA but made only 16 starts because of shoulder fatigue that diminished his fastball velocity in October.
In 25 words or less: Once again, the Red Sox have a nice blend of accomplished veterans and talented young players, and look like a force.
Last year’s record: 92-71, 2nd place (lost to Red Sox in ALDS)
Key additions: CL Grant Balfour, C Ryan Hanigan, RP Heath Bell, INF Jayson Nix, RP Pedro Figueroa
Key subtractions: CL Fernando Rodney, OF Luke Scott, INF Kelly Johnson, RP Randy Choate
Biggest strength: Starting pitching, like it is every year. The Rays never seem to run out of it, no matter how little money they have to play with. The quintet of David Price/Alex Cobb/Matt Moore/Jeremy Hellickson/Chris Archer is as good as anyone.
Biggest question: Protecting Evan Longoria. It’s an annual question with this money-strapped bunch, but could cease being a problem if Wil Myers builds on his Rookie of the Year season.
Most important player: Balfour. The Rays signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal on Thursday, a month after his two-year, $15 million agreement with the O’s was taken off the table over issues with his physical. If he can be the guy the A’s have had the last two years (2.56 ERA, 62 saves), he’ll be a bargain and stabilize an otherwise uncertain bullpen.
In 25 words or less: If they keep Price, they’ll find a way to contend. If they trade Price, they’ll find a way to content. They don’t stop.
Last year’s record: 74-88, 5th place
Key additions: C Dioner Navarro, 1B Dan Johnson, 2B Chris Getz, 3B Brent Morel, RP Tomo Ohka
Key subtractions: SP Josh Johnson, RP Darren Oliver, OF Rajai Davis, C J.P. Arencibia
Biggest strength: Offense. With Jose Reyes at the top, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion in the middle, and Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie sprinkled throughout, Toronto has the makings of a potent lineup — if everyone performs to their career norms.
Biggest question: Starting pitching. The Blue Jays ranked 29th in starting-pitcher ERA last year, ahead of only the Twins, with R.A. Dickey having a rough first half and the likes of Johnson, Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ and several others all struggling.
Most important player: The free-agent starter to be named later. The Blue Jays could target someone like Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. And if they get one of them, it’ll take a lot of the load off Dickey, Morrow and Mark Buehrle.
In 25 words or less: The same core that looked primed to win the division and grossly underachieved is back almost entirely. That’s both good and bad.
Last year’s record: 85-77, 3rd place
Key additions: 2B Jemile Weeks, OF David Lough, OF Delmon Young, RP Ryan Webb, RP Brad Brach, OF Tyler Colvin, OF Quintin Berry, OF Julio Borbon
Key subtractions: CL Jim Johnson, 2B Brian Roberts, OF Nate McLouth, OF Michael Morse, SP Scott Feldman, SP Jason Hammel, SP Tsuyoshi Wada, RP Francisco Rodriguez
Biggest strength: Star power. In third baseman Manny Machado, center fielder Adam Jones and first baseman Chris Davis, the O’s have three of the best players at their respective positions.
Biggest question: Their assortment of young starting pitchers. Few have actually clicked, and if the O’s are to compete again, someone will have to emerge from a group that includes Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson and T.J. McFarland.
Most important player: Bundy, the 21-year-old who was ranked by MLB.com as the eighth-best right-handed-pitching prospect. Bundy underwent Tommy John surgery in June and could give Baltimore a much-needed boost in the rotation if he returns to form around mid-season.
In 25 words or less: A talented core exists, but this team needs more additions to compete in this division.
Predicted order of finish …
- Red Sox
- Blue Jays
Previous entries: NL East