One More for the Captain: AL East Preview

2014 will be Derek Jeter's 20th and final season with the Yankees.

2014 will be Derek Jeter’s 20th and final season with the Yankees.

By: Travis Thayer

The 2014 season will certainly revolve around the farewell tour for Derek Jeter.  “The Captain” is calling it quits, ending an unprecedented era in Yankees history.  Jeter isn’t just along for the ride, he wants to go out on top – but they will have to go through the defending champion Boston Red Sox.  The Boston Red Sox went from worst to first in 2013, after a more than disappointing 2012, the Red Sox were able to make an improvable run to the AL East crown – and an eventual World Series Championship.  Everyone in the baseball world will have their eyes on the Red Sox as they try to repeat as World Champions, a feat that hasn’t been duplicated since the Yankees won their third straight World Championship in 2000.  The Yankees could prove to be the biggest challenge for the Sox in the AL East after spending roughly $486 million dollars in free agency, including the poaching of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury from the rival Red Sox.  The AL East isn’t just about the Yankees and Red Sox though.  Tampa Bay and Baltimore have the youth and talent to compete, and that’s not to mention that both teams have great managers in Joe Maddon and Buck Showalter.  And we can’t necessarily forget about the Toronto Blue Jays.  The Jays have a talented roster that has yet to gel, and a pitching staff that may be a player or two away from putting it all together.  The AL East should be one of the more competitive divisions in all of baseball, and it will be very interesting to see who ends up on top.

1. New York Yankees (92-70)

Projected Rotation: 1. C.C. Sabathia, 2. Masahiro Tanaka, 3. Hideki Kuroda, 4. Ivan Nova, 5. Michael Pineda

Key Relievers: David Robertson, David Phelps, Dellin Betances, Andrew Bailey

Projected Lineup
1. LF Brett Gardner
2. SS Derek Jeter
3. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
4. RF Carlos Beltran
5. 1B Mark Teixeira
6. C Brian McCann
7. DH Alfonso Soriano
8. 3B Kelly Johnson
9. 2B Brendan Ryan

Top Prospects: C Gary Sanchez, OF Mason Williams, OF Zoilo Almonte

Fate might be the best thing going for the Yankees.  It seems almost impossible for Derek Jeter to go out anywhere but the top.  As silly as it may be to think the Yankees will win the division because of fate, it may become a reality come October.  The Yankees front office did everything in their power to make sure the Yankees are a championship contender.  New faces include Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and prized Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.  As for any team, health will be a primary concern, but the Yankees will be loaded with talent if the injury bug stays away.  Spending millions upon millions of dollars isn’t always a sure-fire bet to win it all, but this Yankee team has added motivation to send its Captain out the right way.  Derek Jeter is arguably the greatest Yankee of all-time, and that’s saying something.  The biggest key to the Yankees’ success will be health and a rejuvenated C.C. Sabathia.  Sabathia had a sub-par 2013 with a 14-13 record and a 4.78 ERA.  Expect Sabathia to improve on those numbers because of the added power on offense, and more depth on the pitching staff.  Sabathia no longer needs to be near perfect with the addition Tanaka and the re-signing of Hideki Kuroda.  There is much less pressure on Sabathia, and he should be able to pitch free and easy, while getting back to ace form. I expect the Yankees to contend all season, and they won’t be shy about adding a few bullpen pieces at the trade deadline to sure up their championship aspirations.  The Yanks are back, and you best bet they will do anything to send “The Captain” off into the sunset with his sixth World Series ring.

2. Boston Red Sox (90-68) 

Projected Rotation: 1. Jon Lester, 2. Clay Buchholz, 3. John Lackey, 4. Jake Peavy, 5. Felix Doubrant 

Key Relievers: Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica, Ryan Dempster, Craig Breslow. 

Projected Lineup
1. RF Shane Victorino
2. 2B Dustin Pedroia
3. DH David Ortiz
4. 1B Mike Napoli
5. LF Jonny Gomes
6. C A.J. Pierzynski
7. SS Xander Bogaerts
8. 3B Will Middlebrooks
9. CF Jackie Bradley Jr.

Top Prospects: LHP Henry Owens, 2B Mookie Betts, RHP Matt Barnes

Boston won 97 games on their way to winning the World Series last year, but as you may know – repeating is the toughest thing to do in sports.  If anyone can do it though, it is this Boston Red Sox team.  They have everything you need to succeed in the MLB.  They have a likable manager, a great batting order, pitching staff, and bullpen.  Even with all that, there are still some questions.  Can their young studs produce for the entire 162 game season?  Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. will be key to the Red Sox success.  The three combined to play 149 major league games last year, and Bogaerts and Middlebrooks were able to contribute some in the playoffs.  Veterans such as David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia have shown the ability to carry the team, but the youngsters growth will define what the 2014 Red Sox look like.

3. Tampa Bay Rays (87-75)

Projected Rotation: 1. David Price, 2. Alex Cobb, 3. Matt Moore, 4. Chris Archer, 5. Jake Odorizzi, HURT: Jeremy Hellickson

Key Relievers: Heath Bell, Joel Peralta, Juan Carlos Oviedo, Alex Torres, 

Projected Lineup
1. CF Desmond Jennings
2. 2B Ben Zobrist
3. 3B Evan Longoria
4. RF Wil Myers
5. 1B James Loney
6. DH Matt Joyce
7. SS Yunel Escobar
8. LF David DeJesus
9. C Ryan Hanigan

Top Prospects: SS Hak-Ju Lee, RHP Enny Romero, RHP Taylor Guerrieri

The question everyone wants to know is, where will David Price end up?  Price will earn $14 million this year, becoming the highest paid player for a single-season in Rays franchise history.  If history is to repeat itself, Price won’t make it the whole year in Tampa.  Price is one of the best pitchers in the game, and the Rays should get some enormous talent for him via trade.  The Rays tend to always trade their best players with the exception of third baseman Evan Longoria, and they always seem to come back stronger.  In recent years, the Rays have landed such talent as Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, and Hak-Ju Lee among others.  The Rays have the pitching and talent to win the AL East, but it’s not likely they will win the division without their ace pitcher.  I expect the Rays to be very competitive, while shopping Price.  If they can get a great deal for Price they will do it, and build for the next few years.  If they choose to keep him, then they could potentially win the division.  One thing is for sure, the Rays will be an exciting team to watch on and off the field in 2014.

4. Baltimore Orioles (85-77)

Projected Rotation: 1. Chris Tillman, 2. Ubaldo Jimenez, 3. Miguel Gonzalez, 4. Wei-Yin Chin, 5. Bud Norris

Key Relievers: Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz, Ryan Webb

Projected Lineup
1. RF Nick Markakis
2. 3B Manny Machado
3. CF Adam Jones
4. 1B Chris Davis
5. DH Nelson Cruz
6. C Matt Wieters
7. SS J.J. Hardy
8. LF Nolan Reimold
9. 2B Ryan Flaherty

Top Prospects: RHP Dylan Bundy, RHP Kevin Gausman, RHP Hunter Harvey

The Orioles just made two big splashes in free-agency, signing starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez and outfielder Nelson Cruz.  Both players cost the Orioles two draft picks, but they had to make the moves in order to compete in the very tough AL East.  Cruz will offer some much-needed protection for home run king Chris Davis.  The addition of Cruz gives the Orioles one of the best 3-4-5 combo’s in the MLB.  Center-fielder Adam Jones fills the three spot, and he has become a star over the past couple of years.  The All-Star hit .285 last year with 33 HR and 108 RBI.  The Orioles will surely score a lot of runs, and they could be scary good if they get quality pitching.  The aforementioned Jimenez should help the O’s starting rotation, but they might not have enough depth to truly compete for the division crown.  Top prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman will be given a chance to win a rotation spot this spring, and the talented duo could be just what the doctor ordered in Baltimore.

5. Toronto Blue Jays (75-87)

Projected Rotation: 1. R.A. Dickey, 2. Mark Buehrle, 3. Brandon Morrow, 4. Drew Hutchinson, 5. J.A. Happ

Key Relievers:  Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Dustin McGowan, Brett Cecil, Neil Wagner, Steve Delabar

Projected Lineup
1. SS Jose Reyes
2. LF Melky Cabrera
3. RF Jose Bautista
4. DH Edwin Encarnacion
5. 1B Adam Lind
6. 3B Brett Lawrie
7. CF Colby Rasmus
8. C Dioner Navarro
9. 2B Ryan Goins

Top Prospects: RHP Marcus Stroman, RHP Aaron Sanchez, SS Franklin Barreto

The Blue Jays made a huge trade before the 2013 season for Jose Reyes and Mark Buerhle. The two were supposed to put the Blue Jays over the top, but they instead did to the Blue Jays what the did to the Miami Marlins – they gave everyone false hope. The marriage between the Jays, Reyes, and Buerhle didn’t pan out in 2013, and it doesn’t appear that it will be any better in 2014. The Jays look pretty decent on paper, but they have yet to put anything together. Everyone keeps waiting for Jose Reyes to return to All-Star form (.296 avg, but only 93 games), and the hope is that he and Melky Cabrera can get on base in front of power hitters such as Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Their lineup isn’t nearly the problem, as the Jays were ninth in runs last year. Pitching has been the detriment to the team, finishing 25th in ERA, 20th in wins, and 22nd in opponent batting average. The Jays are a starting pitcher or two away from competing in the AL East because of their solid lineup, and great bullpen. The Jays might not compete this year, but they shouldn’t be far away from moving out of the seller.

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