UCB Project: American League East

Each month the United Cardinal Bloggers try to do a network-wide blogging project. For the month of March, our project is to preview the season. So this week will be preview week at Redbird Dugout. Since I’ve already done the NL Central in a whole series, I will skip that one this week. Today I will take a look at the American League East. Then each other division through Thursday and then review and predict the post-season on Friday. So new content every day this week!

In thinking about this division, I thought it’d be pretty easy. While the top-2 are basically expected to be the top-2, the other three teams in the AL East are capable of finishing in any order. So this can be an easily proven to be wrong. Many of the teams in the AL East are trying to play a lot of young players and that can just add to the uncertainty as young players are difficult to predict just how much they will help their team win.

5. Toronto Blue Jays (71-91)
I’ve got the Blue Jays for around 71 wins as they fall to the bottom of the American League East. While the team might be making progress towards a rebuilding efforts, they did absolutely nothing to make their team more competitive now. And actually probably made it less so. With the trade of Vernon Wells to shed salary and sending Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee, the team will definitely lose ground on the numbers they put up last season. Combine that with some young talent getting their chance and their team could be anywhere in the bottom half of this division.

They will once again have a new manager, and the biggest question is whether Jose Bautista can repeat his 54 HR performance of 2010.

4. Baltimore Orioles (76-86)
Baltimore made some moves in the offseason. They brought in several players via trade and spent some money in free agency. They brought in J.J. Hardy from the Twins and Mark Reynolds from the Diamondbacks. They also signed Derrek Lee, Vladimir Guerrero, and Kevin Gregg to help shore out the team. The team experienced a boost when Buck Showalter was named the manager, but usually teams experience a small boost when the manager is replaced and it probably won’t push much into this season.

However, with the new bats in the middle of the lineup, the team is much improved over it’s 66 win counterpart from 2010. Their rotation will be the major question of 2011 with the young arms they have. If their pitchers prove themselves and put up solid seasons I could see the Orioles challenging for second-place in the division. But it will take a lot of luck for that to happen, I think fourth place is a solid finish for them.

3. Tampa Bay Rays (82-80)
Tampa is probably one of the toughest teams in the league to predict because they are always cycling in young talent. Young talent is hard to predict because a star player can come out of nowhere and potential stars can always turn to duds on the big stage. That said, I have a special place in my heart for the Rays because I’ve seen most of their players play at Triple-A Durham regularly.

The Rays saw quite a bit of talent leave town this offseason. Most notably was their closer Rafael Soriano and Carl Crawford, each of which signed as free agents with division rivals. There are many good names on the list of departures. However, there are some really interesting names on the list of those who are coming to Tampa this season. Notably, Manny Ramirez, but also Johnny Damon and Kyle Farnsworth.

If Manny is Manny (the good Manny, not the headache Manny) and Damon can at least recapture some of what he’s been in the past, I think the odds are pretty good that the Rays could outplay this prediction.

2. New York Yankees (90-72)
New York is going to have many issues this season. Andy Pettitte announced his retirement and they missed on Cliff Lee. Their biggest issue in 2010 was their rotation and they were unable to do much of anything to improve it in the offseason, despite adding veterans Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.

However, they did heavily improve that bullpen with the addition of Rafael Soriano as the primary setup guy and ostensibly, Mariano Rivera‘s replacement-in-waiting. They also added Pedro Feliciano, who was probably one of the best lefty relievers on the market this offseason. The bullpen should not give up many leads, and when you have a big question mark in the pitching rotation

As always the Yankees offense will be jam packed. The Yankees are looking to make the move of Jorge Posada to the full-time DH role this season with the signing of Russell Martin to play catcher for them. It will look like a great deal if he returns to his previous form when he was considered one of the top catchers in baseball.

1. Boston Red Sox (94-68)
The Red Sox are probably the most improved team in the AL East, and maybe even the entire American League. They added Carl Crawford to play the outfield while trading for Adrian Gonzalez to fill the first baseman role. Those additions potentially give Boston the best 1-7 hitters in the majors. The Red Sox finished third and missed the playoffs last season, but that should change this year as their team should rebound from injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia.

The team also hopes Jarrod Saltalamacchia (yeah, I had to look that spelling up) is capable of being an everyday catcher for them and that he can live up to the promise he showed when he was still with the Braves. They will still have Jason Varitek, while he is not as good as he once was (he’s as good once as he ever was) or so the Red Sox will hope, if he needs to jump into the catcher’s role in a larger role than expected.

The team’s rotation is solid once again as there is no expected changes there. The improvement on the offensive side of the ball should be enough to push them up and over the top of the other teams in their division.