With the Hall of Fame voting finally easing its way off the trending screens, the focus can return to teams preparing for the 2014 season. While the Orioles have been quite quiet this winter, the rest of the division, particularly the Yankees, has been doing some remodeling. The Yankees have revamped the roster by bringing in Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury along with role players like Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, and Matt Thornton. The defending World Series champions have been quiet despite losing Ellsbury, instead signing AJ Pierzynski and Edward Mujica to low cost deals. The Rays have had their typical offseason with the re-signing of James Loney to a team friendly deal, adding catcher Ryan Hanigan and reliever Heath Bell as the next closer rehab project.

{Discuss the AL East and ARod on the BSL Boards}.

Despite the action, the next few weeks will likely define the American League East. With Japanese starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka now free to come to the United States, the Yankees are expected to be a heavy player. One can never say the Red Sox are out of any bidding. Tanaka moving to New York would complete the Yankees’ offseason and lift them back up towards the upper echelon of the division. The bidding for Tanaka will be close and likely drawn out. But, if he lands in the AL East and lives up to the hype, the division would house three legitimate World Series candidates in Boston, Tampa Bay, and New York.

But, the Yankees have another season changing decision looming. With Alex Rodriguez appealing his suspension, the Yankees could find themselves with an extra $30 million or so. There is the thought that without Rodriguez, the Yankees will be a better team without the distraction and all the negative attention he brings. While that may be true, there is that evil truth that nobody seems to want to acknowledge. It may sound funny, but even a broken down, two injured hips, gimpy 38 year old is one of the most productive third basemen in the sport. If Rodriguez is banned, the Yankees won’t be able to make up his production. While they will have offense from other positions and Kelly Johnson can be productive in a role, Rodriguez is still their best third baseman for the 2014 season.

Even in limited time in 2013, Rodriguez posted a .244/.348/.423 line in 181 plate appearances. By Rodriguez’s standards, that line is awful. It marks the third consecutive season that his slugging percentage dipped. But, his .348 on base percentage would’ve ranked (had he qualified) fourth amongst Major League third basemen. His .423 slugging percentage would’ve been 10th best. His .179 ISO would’ve ranked 7th. Yes, Rodriguez’s statistics are a small sample size, but he has remained relatively consistent over the past three season while spending time on the disabled list at various points. Since turning 35, he has played in 265 games and has posted a .269/.356/.438 line.

Yes, he is vastly overpaid for the production he can now offer. Yes, he is a distraction. Yes, he is eminently unlikeable. But, yes, the Yankees would be a better team with him on the field. They may the pocketbook savings and the distraction gone for a while, but if a World Series trip is a goal, they are better with him.

Rays Look Set

Everyone expected the Rays to have dealt David Price by this point. The Rays have routinely done the opposite of what the crowd thought. Evidently, they will take their chances at a World Series title with Price heading a rotation that includes the budding Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Jeremy Hellickson. Keeping Price for the moment allows the Rays a couple of options. Obviously, it allows them to take a shot. They have the pitching depth, one of the best defenses in the league and a few offensive stars in Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Wil Myers. If things don’t work out, they can hold a team hostage at the trade deadline in exchange for their ace. Either way, the organization is the best run in the sport as they continually maximize talent for the amount of money spent.

One thing to keep in mind is that even if the Rays trade Price, they would still have the best rotation in the division from top to bottom. Matt Moore’s swing and miss rate was 6th best in the Majors. His contact rate was 5th best. Both mask his high walk rate. Even with the walk rate, Moore is evolving into a top of the rotation starter. Because of their tremendous depth, the Rays can contend with or without Price. With Price, however, they are a favorite.

Champs Sitting Back

The Red Sox are in an enviable spot. With major payroll coming off next season, they have the flexibility to go big on the market or wait. Right now, they are waiting and will return largely the same club. The few changes look to be Xander Bogaerts moving to shortstop, Jackie Bradley taking over for the departed Ellsbury, and AJ Pierzynski taking over catching duties. With the rotation returned intact, the Red Sox seem content. Perhaps they will re-sign Stephen Drew and move Bogaerts to the third base, a move that would strengthen their club.

While the rotation looks quite good on paper, there are few red flags. Each member has an injury history. One former pitching coach once told me that Jake Peavy is “an injury risk from pitch to pitch.” Clay Buchholz was excellent last season, but missed significant time. John Lackey is two years removed from Tommy John Surgery. With the organization thin on pitching talent, health will be a big concern in Boston.

Defensive Division

The AL East has the home run reputation, but it is Major League Baseball’s best defensive division. According to defensive runs saved, AL East teams ranked 10th through 14th (Yankees, Orioles, Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Rays) in all of Major League Baseball. According to UZR, four of the five teams rank in the 13 in the sport (Orioles-3rd, Rays-4th, Red Sox-10th, and Yankees-13th). Only the Blue Jays rank negatively according to UZR.

In a division that does project to be quite close, maintaining the level of defense will be vital.

Gary Armida
Gary Armida

Orioles Analyst

First and foremost, a Father. After that, I am a writer and teacher who not only started my own company and published an i-magazine as well as a newsletter, but have been published by USA Today, Operation Sports, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Digest, Gotham Baseball Magazine, and numerous other publications. As an educator, I have 20 years of classroom experience and am utilizing that experience in my current position as department coordinator. Wrote the book The Teacher And The Admin (https://theteacherandtheadmin.com/the-book/) and operate that website which is dedicated to making education better for kids.