#1 Toronto Blue Jays (92-70)
Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is a disgrace and a thief. The Blue Jays couldn’t be more pleased by that fact, as it is for this reason that their roster now sports Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Josh Johnson, and Mark Beuhrle. Alex Anthopoulos wasn’t finished though, also landing R.A. Dickey and Melky Cabrera. Adding all that to a core which includes tremendous power in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion as well as up and coming Brett Lawrie makes them a legitimate championship contender. As you can see by now, the Blue Jays, exist as names with hype. The only real knock against them is they haven’t played as a team before. I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt until they prove they can’t do it. While a lot of people point to team chemistry as important to winning, I’d make the point that winning creates team chemistry. The Blue Jays are going to hit as well as run and field. Pitching is a question, but if R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson prove they can be productive in the American League, this team could be something special.
#2 Tampa Bay Rays (88-74)
The Rays are still the Rays. They still boast elite pitching and defense and less than stellar offense. They traded away their #2 starter in James Shields for uber-prospect Wil Myers, who should add some punch to their lineup when he is called up. The remarkable thing is that their rotation is still the best in the division. Joe Maddon is hands down the best Manager in baseball and the Rays are always on the cutting edge, which makes up for their financial deficiencies. Evan Longoria only played 74 games last year, and is poised for an MVP season if he can stay healthy.
#3 Boston Red Sox (84-78)
Ben Cherington brought in a good mix of players to begin to repair the debacle of 2012. The Red Sox, however, had too far to go to become Championship contenders again. There is definitely a good mix of talent and the roster going into the year is very balanced. If Ellsbury or Pedroia can put up an MVP type season, the upside is higher than this 84 win total, which they are both capable of. The bullpen may be the best in all of baseball with the additions of Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara as well as a (possibly) healthy Andrew Bailey will make them tough to score on in the later innings. John Farrell will be a breath of fresh air compared to the Bobby Valentine debacle last season. The Red Sox rotation is decent and also deeper than most people would expect. Losing John Lackey or Felix Doubront at some time in the season when Allen Webster or Rubby De La Rosa (pieces from the LA Dodgers haul) are ready to step in would probably be an upgrade, as both have some of the best “stuff” in the organization and are simmering in the minors.
#4 New York Yankees (81-81)
I would have placed the Yankees above the Red Sox prior to Spring Training. Being decimated by injuries across the diamond, I can’t see them being “in it” apart from finding their way as honorable mention on the Wild Card Standings. Who knows if Alex Rodriguez will ever play again, but replacing him with another old, injury prone player in Kevin Youkilis seems shaky. Mark Teixeira may be ready in a few months, then again he might not be. Even then, wrists are bad news, especially for power. I have much less reservations for Curtis Granderson, but even he will need at least a month before he can make his way back. Their rotation and bullpen is still solid. Having one of the most underrated players in baseball, Brett Gardner back after missing most of the season last year will be a huge help, but I think the question marks are too plentiful with this bunch. If things break right, I could see them close to 90 wins, but the downside could be scary.
#5 Baltimore Orioles (78-84)
A year after challenging the New York Yankees for the top of the division until the final game of the season, the Baltimore Orioles return with pretty much the same roster. The only problem is that last years roster wasn’t particularly good. In a previous post, I looked at the Pythagorean win total for the 2012 Orioles, and it didn’t bode well for the repeatability of their unexpected run. By the end of the season, they had scored 712 runs and gave up 705 and were expected to finish around .500. Add to that, they made virtually no additions while other opponents in the Division got better. Their pitching is a huge liability and they can’t afford many injuries there, though they inevitably happen. This team is much closer to last place than first place. They are the only team that I would be surprised to see win the division.