1. Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays made it to the World Series last year and I think anything less than that this year would be a disappointment. The Rays added slugger Pat Burrell to the lineup and have healthy players, Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton to play all season in the outfield. Playoff stud David Price will start the season in the minors but only because he threw 123 2/3rds innings last year. Price will eventually bump Jason Hammel out of the 5th starter role. The Rays bullpen had an ERA of 3.55 last year with strong guys in Troy Percival, an Wheeler, Grant Balfour and JP Howell, I expect more of the same this year and 96-98 wins.
2. Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox didn’t spend a lot of money this off season but I don’t think any team got more value out of their money this offseason. Former Rays outfield Rocco Baldelli and former Dodger pitchers Takashi Saito and Brad Penny were the most notable free agent signings. Jon Lester will contend for the Cy Young this season and I don’t see much decline from 1B Kevin Youkilis or 2B Dustin Pedroia’s monster seasons last year. The bullpen is locked down by the always entertaining Jonathan Papelbon who has been the Red Sox’s MVP the past couple season. I expect a great racae all season 94-96 wins.
3. New York Yankees – No team spent more this offseason than the Yankees did, shelling out nearly half a billion dollars for CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett. Alex Rodriguez was already having a bad offseason with his admitted steroid use but now he will miss at least the first month of the season, possibly more. Cody Ransom will be the key to the early season start for the notoriously slow starting New York Yankees and I don’t see how he can fill A-Rod’s shoes. Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada are all a year older and their defense is declining. The Yankees will still get a solid year from Mariano Rivera in the close role but they will miss the playoffs, I still expect 91-93 wins.
4. Baltimore Orioles – “Joe Mauer with power,” that is the phase most commonly used to describe rookie Matt Wieters who probably won’t land in the majors until around June 1st, to avoid him becoming a super two player and becoming eligible for free agency after 2+ major league seasons. The Orioles have a potent lineup but the downfall will be with the pitching staff. Jeremy Guthrie has struggled this spring, both in the spring training games and in the World Baseball Classic. Closer George Sherrill should be solid but how many opportunities will he get? The Orioles first five hitters could arguably contend with any first five hitters on any team. CF Adam Jones and RF Nick Markakis look prime for breakout seasons, if Melvin Mora can continue defying his age the Orioles could have one of the best offense in baseball, but I don’t think the pitching is good enough to keep them in most games, expect 82-84 wins.
5. Toronto Blue Jays – Toronto has built a club around pitching and defense the past few seasons allowing them to average 85 wins the past three season, that would be good to contend in most division but not in the AL East. Rookie Travis Snider showed promise last year and along with Alex Rios and Vernon Wells should combine to drive in 250 runs this season. The pitching staff is led by the always durable Roy Halladay, it seems as though he has one complete game a week, but the rest of the pitching staff is weak and closer B.J. Ryan has struggled with injuries in the preseason, expect 75-77 wins