American League East:
After their 3rd World Series title in the last decade, the BOSTON RED SOX do not return intact for their title defense. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia left via free agency (Miami), as did center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (Yankees) and reliever Matt Thornton (Yankees). Starter Ryan Dempster announced he would take this season off. I'd bet he's probably a step away from retirement. Edward Mujica comes over from St. Louis to fill a bullpen vacancy created by Thornton's departure, and you know that the Joel Hanrahan experiment was a non-starter as Hanrahan was lost early to injury. Franklin Morales was dealt to Colorado, in exchange for infielder Jonathan Herrera.
The question remains, of course. Can Boston repeat? They couldn't in '05 and '08, so would '14 be any different? The YANKEES seem to think they're ready to return to the postseason after missing the party last year. In are Carlos Beltran (St. Louis), Brian McCann (Atlanta), Brian Roberts (Baltimore), & Kelly Johnson (Tampa Bay), in particular. Out are Curtis Granderson (Mets), and, of course, Alex Rodriguez. Masahiro Tanaka creates a Japanese 1-2 punch with Hiroki Kuroda behind CC Sabathia, but where the Yankees could get in trouble is if David Robertson falters as the closer, inheriting the mantle of Mariano Rivera.
The BALTIMORE ORIOLES didn't seem to have a problem losing Roberts, figuring Ryan Flaherty is ready for a full-time role at second. Then again, Flaherty is surrounded by stars in the infield, with Manny Machado & Chris Davis at the corners, and J. J. Hardy at short. However, closer Jim Johnson took the money and ran to Oakland, which gave up Jemile Weeks in return. Tommy Hunter is the new closer. Like the Yankees, the 9th inning will be worth watching in Baltimore at the start.
Last year, the TORONTO BLUE JAYS made so much noise, and got little in return for their investments. Worse, they dealt away one of those off-season investments, utilityman Emilio Bonifacio, in mid-season, and Kansas City gave up on him as well. Hmmmm. Josh Johnson is in San Diego. Catcher J. P. Arencibia went to Texas. Outfielder Rajai Davis is in Detroit. Toronto welcomes Erik Kratz, whom the Phillies gave up on (bad idea), but Dioner Navarro (Cubs) is the likely starter at catcher. No, they're still not ready to be a playoff team.
The TAMPA BAY RAYS will feel the loss of Kelly Johnson moreso than letting Fernando Rodney go (Seattle), trust me. We're looking at a sudden, but not steep, decline. Reliever Heath Bell (Arizona) is already on the downside of his career, on his 4th team in as many years. Good thing he's not the closer. Another good thing was retaining first baseman James Loney, who gives Evan Longoria and friends some help on offense.
Projected order of finish:
4. Tampa Bay.
4 (tie). Toronto.