AL East Preview: Red Sox’ Depth Too Much For Yankees’ Offseason Spending

Boston Red SoxBoston Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes ruffled some feathers in New York last week when he questioned whether the Yankees’ offseason spending spree would be enough for the Bronx Bombers to compete in the American League East in 2014.

“It’s kind of interesting, though — $500 million and still, some questions,” Gomes said at Thursday’s Baseball Writers’ Association of America awards dinner. “You’ve got [Brian] McCann who hasn’t been in the American League before. The pitcher [Masahiro Tanaka] who hasn’t pitched a game over here. They’ve got some guys playing different positions.

“But it’s about winning the summer. It’s not about winning the winter. That’s what we’re going to try to do again.”

Gomes has a point. While the Yankees have dished out nearly a half a billion dollars this winter, a postseason berth — let alone a World Series title — hardly is a guarantee. The Red Sox, despite a relatively quiet offseason, still have solid depth, particularly in their starting rotation, and the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles still will make life difficult for opposing teams in 2014.

Simply put, it should be another dogfight in the AL East, with the eventual division champion likely needing north of 95 wins to earn the crown. The Yankees, who missed the postseason with an 85-77 record last season, likely will improve upon their 2013 mark because of their free-agent reinforcements, but questions surrounding their pitching staff have them looking like the third-best team in the division.

Let’s briefly look at each AL East team’s offseason thus far, and how the squads stack up with spring training approaching.

Boston Red Sox

Notable moves
-Signed reliever Edward Mujica to two-year, $9.5 million contract
-Signed catcher A.J. Pierzynski to one-year, $8.25 million contract
-Signed outfielder Grady Sizemore to one-year, $750,000 contract (with incentives pushing it as high as $6 million)
-Acquired utilityman Jonathan Herrera from Colorado Rockies for reliever Franklin Morales and minor league pitcher Chris Martin
-Acquired reliever Burke Badenhop from Milwaukee Brewers for minor league pitcher Luis Ortega
-Exercised Jon Lester’s $13 million option
-Re-signed Mike Napoli to two-year, $32 million contract

Notable losses: Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Franklin Morales, Andrew Bailey, Joel Hanrahan, Quintin Berry

Outlook
History shows that repeating as World Series champions is a tall task, but Boston is in a perfect position to battle atop the AL East for the foreseeable future.

The Red Sox’ organizational depth is impressive, and it’s ultimately what separates them from the rest of the division going into 2014. Not only do the Red Sox have six viable major league starters currently in the mix — Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront — but there are several other up-and-coming hurlers who could slide into the rotation if/when injury or ineffectiveness strikes.

The Red Sox also are coming off a season in which they boasted one of Major League Baseball’s best offenses, and the unit’s potency can be attributed to its approach — driving up pitch counts, generating baserunners and staying aggressive on the base paths. Losing Jacoby Ellsbury certainly stings, but the Red Sox are in a position to weather the storm with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore.

The Red Sox’ offseason bullpen additions also should serve them well, especially Edward Mujica, who was fantastic for the St. Louis Cardinals last season before hitting a rough patch later in the year.

Points of optimism
-Starting pitching
-Organizational depth
-Strong offensive approach

Points of skepticism
-Infield depth
-Heavily reliant on young players at key positions (center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Will Middlebrooks)
-Post-Jacoby Ellsbury leadoff situation

Prediction: 95-67, first place

Tampa Bay Rays

Notable moves
-Signed reliever Grant Balfour to two-year, $12 million contract
-Acquired catcher Ryan Hanigan and reliever Heath Bell in three-team trade with Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks
-Acquired infielder Logan Forsythe from the San Diego Padres for pitcher Alex Torres and minor league pitcher Jesse Hahn
-Exercised utilityman Ben Zobrist’s $7 million option
-Exercised shortstop Yunel Escobar’s $5 million option
-Re-signed first baseman James Loney to three-year, $21 million contract
-Re-signed catcher Jose Molina to two-year, $4.5 million contract
-Re-signed outfielder David DeJesus to two-year, $10.5 million contract

Notable losses: Fernando Rodney, Roberto Hernandez, Jesse Crain, Kelly Johnson, Luke Scott, Jamey Wright, Delmon Young

Outlook
The biggest decision that the Tampa Bay Rays made this offseason — at least as of this writing — was not trading David Price. It’s possible that the Rays will revisit moving their ace at some point, but Tampa Bay obviously is a stronger team with Price anchoring the rotation.

The Rays’ deep pitching staff — which includes the likes of Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi in addition to Price — should keep Tampa up near the top of the AL East in 2014. The question, of course, will be which version of the offense shows up, and Wil Myers’ development in Year 2 will be crucial.

Let’s also keep in mind that the Rays have one of the game’s best tacticians in skipper Joe Maddon.

Points of optimism
-Starting pitching depth
-Wil Myers’ potential breakout
-Joe Maddon’s guidance

Points of skepticism
-Offensive output
-Grant Balfour’s transition to AL East
-David Price saga

Prediction: 93-69, second place

New York Yankees

Notable moves
-Signed outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to seven-year, $153 million contract
-Signed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to seven-year, $155 million contract
-Signed catcher Brian McCann to five-year, $85 million contract
-Signed outfielder Carlos Beltran to three-year, $45 million contract
-Signed second baseman Brian Roberts to one-year, $2 million contract
-Signed utilityman Kelly Johnson to one-year, $3 million contract
-Re-signed pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to one-year, $16 million contract
-Re-signed reliever Matt Thornton to two-year, $7 million contract
-Re-signed shortstop Brendan Ryan to two-year, $5 million contract

Notable losses: Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mariano Rivera (retired), Andy Pettitte (retired), Alex Rodriguez (suspended), Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Lyle Overbay, Mark Reynolds

Outlook
The Yankees shelled out nearly $500 million this winter, which makes them a sexy pick going into the season. It’s easy to forget, however, that the Yankees also lost some important pieces this winter.

The Yankees lost their best all-around player in Robinson Cano, the best closer of all time in Mariano Rivera and a few other notable players who had the potential to make an impact, like Curtis Granderson, Andy Pettitte and, yes, even Alex Rodriguez.

Questions surround the Yankees’ rotation, which is anchored by an unproven commodity in Masahiro Tanaka and a weight/velocity-fluctuating veteran in CC Sabathia. There’s also no telling what to expect from banged-up stars Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira.

If all goes according to plan for the Yankees, they’ll return to the top of the AL East in 2014. The offseason spending spree seems to be clouding the bigger picture, though, which is that the Red Sox and Rays are better-positioned for sustained success.

Points of optimism
-Offensive upgrades
-Masahiro Tanaka’s ceiling
-Joe Girardi’s return

Points of skepticism
-Questions in starting rotation
-Life after Mariano Rivera
-Status of banged-up stars

Prediction: 90-72, third place

Baltimore Orioles

Notable moves
-Signed pitcher Alfredo Aceves to minor league contract
-Signed outfielder Delmon Young to minor league contract
-Traded closer Jim Johnson to Oakland Athletics for second baseman Jemile Weeks and a player to be named later

Notable losses: Jim Johnson, Scott Feldman, Michael Morse, Nate McLouth, Brian Roberts

Outlook
The Baltimore Orioles really haven’t done anything to improve their roster this offseason, so it’s hard to envision them climbing the ladder in 2014. This isn’t to say that the Orioles won’t be competitive. It’s just that the AL East is too deep to stand by idly.

The O’s have some intriguing young players in Manny Machado, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. We’ll have to see how Machado and Bundy respond to their respective injuries, though, especially since you could make the case that Machado already is the club’s most important player. Bundy, who underwent Tommy John surgery last year, likely won’t be ready until June at the earliest.

There’s also a question of who will be Baltimore’s closer in 2014. Jim Johnson’s high save totals overshadowed his ineffectiveness at times last season, but the Boston Red Sox showed in 2013 just how important it is to figure out your ninth-inning situation.

Points of optimism
-Power-hitting lineup
-Very strong defense
-Potential emergence of Kevin Gausman and/or Dylan Bundy

Points of skepticism
-Starting rotation
-Post-Jim Johnson closer battle
-Unwillingness to spend

Prediction: 82-80, fourth place

Toronto Blue Jays

Notable moves
-Signed catcher Dioner Navarro to two-year, $8 million contract
-Exercised first baseman/designated hitter Adam Lind’s $7 million option
-Exercised reliever Casey Janssen’s $4 million option

Notable losses: Rajai Davis, Josh Johnson, Darren Oliver (retired)

Outlook
What a difference a year makes. The Toronto Blue Jays have sat on their hands this winter — just one year after a bold offseason put them smack-dab in the middle of the AL East discussion.

The Blue Jays underperformed in 2013, so it’s possible that the club’s group of talented players could put it all together in 2014, especially if everyone stays healthy. The question is whether the Jays — relying on veterans R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow and Mark Buehrle at the top of the rotation — will pitch well enough to supplement their powerful offense.

Points of optimism
-Potent offense
-Talent potential on roster
-Late-inning arms (Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar)

Points of skepticism
-Shaky starting rotation
-Can they actually stay healthy?
-Manager John Gibbons keeping it on the tracks

Prediction: 77-85, fifth place

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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