FanIQ AL East Preview

Baseball's Toughest Division is Wide, Wide Open [FanIQ AL East Preview]

3/19/13 in MLB   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Blog Photo - FanIQ AL East PreviewFormally the playground of the Yankees and the Red Sox, the AL East has become a five team free-from-all. The change started in 2008 with the Rays' march towards contention, continued last year with the Orioles’ near miracle run, and appears to have taken another step forward with the Blue Jays’ aggressive moves. Helping out this changing of the guard was Boston’s collapse the last two seasons, as well as the Yankees getting old, injured, and shockingly, cheap. The result is an AL East where the preseason favorites do not reside in New York or Boston for the first time in ages. Toronto and Tampa looked primed for contention, no one is sure what the Yankees or Red Sox will be, and everyone is even less sure exactly how the Orioles will back up last season. Here in FanIQ’s official AL East preview, we’ll try and sort it out.
 
Once again note that teams are listed in predicted order of finish, and that all projected Opening Day lineups are from MLBDepthCharts.com. Bold indicates new acquisition. Italics indicate rookie.
 
Tampa Bay Rays
 
Projected Lineup
 
CF Desmond Jennings
SS Yunel Escobar
RF Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
LF Matt Joyce
DH Luke Scott
2B Kelly Johnson
1B James Loney
C Jose Molina
 
Projected Rotation
 
LHP David Price
RHP Jeremy Hellickson
LHP Matt Moore
RHP Alex Cobb
RHP Jeff Niemann
 
Closer: RHP Fernando Rodney
 
Key Losses: SP James Shields, P Wade Davis, CF BJ Upton, 1B Carlos Pena, INF Jeff Keppinger, RP Burke Badenhop
 
Every year despite possibly the fewest monetary resources in baseball, the Rays are in contention, winning 90 games last year and finishing a close third in the division. Once again, they’ve used small moves, and one big move, to keep them in the mix. The big move though was a short term subtraction, the trade of James Shields to the Royals. What softens the blow for Tampa is the rest of the rotation. David Price is the reigning Cy Young winner and one of the top pitchers in the game. Hellickson, meanwhile, backed up his rookie season with a 3.10 ERA even though he could stand to miss a few bats. The guy though that can really make Rays fans forget Shields is Matt Moore. His first full season was solid but not spectacular, with a perfectly average 100 ERA+. He still needs to cut down on the walks, but still only 23, he remains on the star track. The rotation is rounded out by Cobb, who at 24 also has room for improvement, and Niemann, who is probably overqualified to be a fifth starter. After that, the Rays have even more depth, from Chris Archer to Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, both picked up in the Shields trade. Tampa gave up the least runs of any team in baseball last season, and with their embarrassment of riches, they can easily do so again.
 
If there was any one specific thing that kept Tampa out of the playoffs, it was the injuries to Evan Longoria that limited him to just 74 games. When he played, he was excellent, but he didn’t play enough and the rest of the lineup couldn’t compensate. A healthy Longoria would go a long way to boosting this lineup, as would a step forward by Desmond Jennings. The Rays remade their middle infield, hoping that 2012 was Yunel Escobar’s nadir at the plate and in not being a homophobe and that Kelly Johnson can stem his decline. The biggest problems though remain at first base and DH. Luke Scott had a 101 OPS+ last year, which doesn’t work at DH, while James Loney has gone from a guy who can’t hit for power to a guy who can’t hit at all. Wil Myers will help once Tampa is done manipulating his service time and call him up, but the offense was the weakness last year, and it wasn’t exactly solved in the winter.
 
Maybe it’s just because I love how the Rays run their team, flying in the face of the canard that you must have money to contend, but I’m going with them to take back the division crown. That rotation, a healthy Longoria, and a little Zorilla cure a lot of ills.
 
Projected Record: 91-71
 
Down on the Farm: Yes, their farm system is still loaded, thanks to the Royals in many ways. Myers is a top 10 prospect in the game, and will up once the Rays secure an extra year of club control. Archer and Odorizzi are also up there and will probably see some time in Tampa in 2013. RHP Taylor Guerrieri is their top prospect in the lower minors. Still just 20, he has ace potential.
 
Toronto Blue JaysBlog Photo - FanIQ AL East Preview
 
Projected Lineup
 
SS Jose Reyes
LF Melky Cabrera
RF Jose Bautista
1B Edwin Encarnacion
CF Colby Rasmus
3B Brett Lawrie
DH Adam Lind
C J.P. Arencibia
2B Emilio Bonifacio
 
Projected Rotation
 
RHP R.A. Dickey
RHP Brandon Morrow
LHP Mark Buehrle
RHP Josh Johnson
LHP Ricky Romero
 
Closer: RHP Casey Janssen
 
Key Losses: SS Yunel Escobar, C Travis d’Arnaud, SP Henderson Alvarez, 2B Kelly Johnson, RP Jason Frasor, RP Brandon Lyon, IF Omar Vizquel
 
Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos saw weakness in his division’s traditional powers and struck this offseason, taking advantage of the messes in Miami and Queens to acquire top talent. Starting with the lineup, the key acquisition was Jose Reyes from the Marlins. His .287/.347/.433 line last year felt disappointing, but was right in line with his career marks and is very good for a shortstop these days. If he stays healthy, he’ll be fine. Reyes is joined at the top of the lineup by Melky Cabrera. The combination of his PED suspension and a fluky BABIP the last two years means he’s due for a drop-off, the question is how much. There are question marks with the other major players as well. Bautista is a stud of course, but lost a good chunk of time with a wrist injury, which can sap power as guys come back from it. Brett Lawrie didn’t perform quite to expectations as a rookie, but still has a lot of talent and is a good bet to improve. The same can’t be said for Lind and Rasmus, who are quickly finding their past potential fading. Overall though this is a decent lineup at worst, and if Joey Bats is fully healthy, it will be more than that.
 
A rotation that struggled mightily has been completely remade due to the trades. The biggest name is R.A. Dickey, the reigning NL Cy Young winner. For Dickey, it’s not age that’s the concern, it’s consistency, an issue for any knuckleballer. The expectation is another year like last year, but something more akin to 2011 (3.28 ERA) is also very possible (and still very good). Buehrle and Johnson join the team from Miami. Buehrle has been good for over a decade now, and is almost guaranteed to give you 200+ innings again, but he doesn’t miss a lot of bats and can be homer prone, which could be an issue in the AL East. Johnson was a stud when healthy, but all his injuries might have taken a toll last year as his ERA jumped up to 3.81. Don’t get me wrong, these three are definitely a big upgrade, but there are concerns. Of the two incumbent pitchers, Brandon Morrow finally broke out last year with an ERA under 3, but missed time due to an oblique injury. If he’s healthy all year, he’s a sleeper Cy Young pick. Romero, on the other hand, was bad last year and is still not right this spring. That spot could end up JA Happ’s before long.
 
On paper, the Blue Jays won the offseason and fans have hope for their first playoff berth since the 1993 World Champions. That is very much in play, even though I’m a little wary it’s too much change too soon. However, if the new players are as good as advertised, Bautista makes it through the year, and Lawrie leaps forward, the sky could be the limit.
 
Projected Record: 89-73
 
Down on the Farm: Not surprisingly, the offseason trades thinned out most of the Jays’ farm system. The one guy they wouldn’t trade was SP Aaron Sanchez, and with good reason. Sanchez had a 2.49 ERA in a full year in the Midwest League in 2012. He still needs to cut down on walks, but at 20 years old with great stuff, there’s ace potential here. If you’re looking for someone to come up this year and make an impact, RP Marcus Stroman, one of their first round picks in 2012, is your guy.

It's weird not to see New York and Boston at the top of the division, isn't it? Find out why on the next page.
 
Notify me by email about comments that follow mine. Preview

3/20/13   |   huskerdoug2009   |   2796 respect

I do believe this is the year someone other than the Yanks/Red Sox have the chance to win this division.  My money is on the Orioles do to agreement with Steve on Rays losing Upton/Shields plus Longoria's inability lately to play full season.  Also R.A. Dickey I believe will not have the same season in Toronto as he did with Mets, although Blue Jays offense and fairly good starting pitching puts them in decent #2 spot. 

3/19/13   |   OneStepBeyond   |   36 respect

Good job on the detailed preview. This whole division is up for grabs, so many unanswered questions. I think you're being very generous on Tampa Bay. They lost a couple of big pieces in Shields and Upton, I can't see them being a 90 win team.