Earlier this week I presented my National League projections for the 2014 season, and now it’s time to take a look at an American League which features plenty of new faces and should produce several championship-caliber teams.
Let’s start the look at the AL by delving into the East division:
Division Preview: The AL East is home to the 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, who delivered Boston its third baseball title in the last ten years under the leadership of new manager John Farrell. Despite winning it all last season, Boston is not guaranteed to repeat thanks to several significant departures, including centerfield Jacoby Ellsbury (Yankees), shortstop Stephen Drew, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Marlins), but still have the familiar faces of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia to lead the team to another playoff run.
The normally reserved Tampa Bay Rays did not make many moves in the offseason following the squad’s 92-70 season but were able to add two helpful pieces in relief pitcher Heath Bell as well as catcher Ryan Hanigan. Finding a replacement for closer Fernando Rodney, who bolted for Seattle, will be an important early task for Tampa, but considering how much young talent the team bolsters in third baseman Evan Longoria, right fielder Wil Myers, and starting pitcher Matt More to match with proven starter David Price, there’s a very good chance that Tampa Bay gives the rest of the division and league a run for their money.
The 2013 season was an unexpectedly down one for the New York Yankees, who limped through injuries to Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and yet another scandal involving Alex Rodriguez to post 85 victories, it’s worst season since 1995. New York used the offseason to reload via free agency, spending $465 million to add valuable pieces such as catcher Brian McCann, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, right fielder Carlos Beltran, and Japanese sensational starter Masahiro Tanaka. While general manager Brian Cashman can be applauded for his team’s aggressive moves, the fact that the Yanks’ roster has fifteen players that are at least 30 years old leaves a considerable amount of concern about the team’s potential wear and tear.
The Baltimore Orioles followed up a 2012 campaign that saw the team break its sixteen-year playoff drought with a respectable 85-77 season that had plenty of highlights but was simply not good enough to keep pace with the Red Sox and Rays. The team did see several key players exit following last year, including center fielder Nate McClouth and longtime second baseman Brian Roberts, but waited late in the winter to add two incredibly important pieces in right fielder Nelson Cruz and starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez. If this new duo can produce and young third baseman Manny Machado can return strong after having reconstructive knee surgery last fall, the O’s could very well sneak up and make some noise.
Last offseason it looked as if the Toronto Blue Jays were finally ready to contend in the division after adding pieces like Jose Reyes, R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Melky Cabrera, but the season that followed proved that the team still had a lot of work to do, as the Jays finished a whopping 23 games behind the Red Sox. The Blue Jays did not add many pieces in the offseason while waving goodbye to pitcher Josh Johnson and catcher J.P. Arencibia and missing out on free agent hurlers Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, leaving veteran manager John Gibbons in need of some magic in order for this Canadian club to contend.
Tampa Bay Rays 95-68
Boston Red Sox 94-65 (Wild Card)
New York Yankees 84-78
Baltimore Orioles 79-83
Toronto Blue Jays 72-90
Division Preview: Following another divisional title that preceded a playoff run that fell short of a championship, the Detroit Tigers made several changes in the offseason, watching manager Jim Leyland call it quits before bringing in former Tiger Brad Ausmus to run the show, trading first baseman Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler and starting pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals, and waving goodbye to shortstop Jhonny Peralta and second baseman Omar Infante. Despite having so much turnover from last season, most expect the Tigers to control the Central yet again, which seems safe considering this Motown club still has Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Miguel Cabrera on their payroll.
The greatest surprise of the 2013 season was easily the Cleveland Indians, who surged under the leadership of new manager Terry Francona to 92 victories and a berth in the inaugural Wild Card game, which they lost 4-0 to the Tampa Bay Rays. As entertaining as it was for fans of the Tribe to watch their team play last season, the situation may be a bit different in 2014 thanks to the departures of starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez, outfielder Drew Stubbs, left-hander Scott Kazmir, and relief pitcher Chris Perez. Now relying on a starting rotation headed up by Justin Masterson along with a hitting corp headlined by designated hitter Carlos Santanta and first baseman Nick Swisher, Tito’s gang with have an interesting feeling-out process to begin this season.
The Kansas City Royals have seemingly been on the edge of dueling with the big dogs for the last four years and threatened to win the division and the Wild Card for a better part of the fall, completing the season with their most wins (86) since 2003. The team had very few additions in the offseason and will have to compensate for the loss of Ervin Santana, who went 9-10 with a 3.24 ERA for the team in 2013 before signing a deal with the Atlanta Braves. Manager Ned Yost has several talented players to work with, including designated hitter Billy Butler and first baseman Eric Hosmer, but it will be a miracle upon miracles if the Royals end their playoff drought after twenty-nine years.
Once the perennial Central champs, the Minnesota Twins have fallen on hard times, the worst of which may have come last year when they traded away four-time All-Star Justin Morneau in what would prove to be the team’s third straight season of 96 losses or more, the team’s worst run since the team recorded 282 losses from 1998 to 2000. Still leaning on Joe Mauer, who will now be playing first base full-time, the Twins will need big-time performances from newly acquired starter Ricky Nolasco and from veteran left fielder Josh Willingham if the team will be worth mentioning past April and May.
Detroit Tigers 95-67
Kansas City Royals 86-76
Cleveland Indians 82-80
Chicago White Sox 73-89
Minnesota Twins 68-94
Division Preview: The AL West has seen its fair share of talented teams duke it out over the course of the last few years, and the case was no different in 2013, when the Oakland Athletics silenced the Texas Rangers and won the division for the second straight season.
Made famous by general manager Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” strategy of spending less on productive talent, the A’s made a plethora of moves during the winter months, which saw the departures of Bartolo Colon, Chris Young, Kurt Suzuki, Grant Balfour, Jemile Weeks, and Seth Smith, just to name a few. Although the team did part with these players, Oakland now has Scott Kasmir, Nick Punto, Josh Lindblom, Jim Johnson, and Craig Gentry to complement a squad featuring power hitter Yoenis Cespedes, veteran center fielder Coco Crisp, and second baseman Eric Sogard. If the Athletics can stabilize a young rotation headlined by Jarrod Parker and Sonny Gray, expect Oakland to make another strong run for a playoff spot.
The Texas Rangers missed winning the division by five games last season and eventually lost the Wild Card tie-breaker game against the Tampa Bay Rays, which set up for several changes in the offseason. Along with CEO Nolan Ryan exiting the franchise, the team also said goodbye to designated hitter Lance Berkman, right fielder Nelson Cruz, starting pitcher Matt Garza, catcher A.J. Pierzynski, and second baseman Ian Kinsler, who the team traded to the Tigers to acquire slugger Prince Fielder. The Rangers also landed center fielder Shin-Soo Choo with an enormous 7-year, $130 million contract, which should make for an intriguing addition to a lineup that already had the bats of third baseman Adrian Beltre and right fielder Alex Rios.
The biggest question concerning Texas at this point involves injuries, as the team is already dealing with problems concerning ace Yu Darvish (back), catcher Geovany Soto (knee), and second baseman Jurickon Profar (shoulder). If the Rangers can ease through the first few weeks of the season by relying on starters Matt Harrison and Derek Holland, this Texas team could make 2014 memorable.
One of the most disappointing clubs over the last few years has been the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who have had plenty of power in their lineup but have been undone by a less-than-stellar pitching rotation and a farm system that seems nearly non-existent. While center fielder Mike Trout looks like the next big star in Major League Baseball, the lineup that manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry DiPoto are working with has not been efficient to put the Angels back in the playoff race.
The production that left fielder Josh Hamilton brought to the team last year (.250 batting average with 21 HRs and 158 strikeouts) did not justify the $125 million deal the Angels gave him, and first baseman Albert Pujols is nearing the end of what should be a Hall of Fame career. The Angels still have pitcher Jered Weaver at the top of the rotation, but behind C.J. Wilson the pitching staff looks very shaky. Acquiring third baseman David Freese and designated hitter Raul Ibanez may help the situation a bit, but this team desperately needs more depth in order to have any shot at sniffing the playoffs.
The Seattle Mariners made quite a splash this offseason, reeling in second baseman Robinson Cano with a lucrative 10-year, $240 million contract that brings the former Yankee to a Mariners team that has failed to make the postseason since Lou Piniella led the club to 116 wins way back in 2001. Along with Cano, the team also added right fielder Corey Hart, designated hitter Logan Morrison, and manager Lloyd McClendon, who went 336-446 with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2001 to 2005.
The team has a considerable amount of talent to backup proven ace Felix Hernandez, and if fellow starters Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma can return fairly quickly from injuries that occurred during spring training, Seattle may actually have a season worth keeping a close eye on.
There’s not much arguing that the Houston Astros have the worst team in all of Major League Baseball and have at-best AAA level talent on their roster, made obvious by the team’s embarrassing 51-111 record a year ago. That being said, give credit to the Astros for adding a few key pieces in the offseason, which include center fielder Dexter Fowler, starting pitcher Scott Feldman, and closer Chad Qualls. This franchise may eventually benefit by stockpiling top picks, but it sure looks like the terms “Astros” and “winning baseball” will not be connected with a positive connotation until at least 2017.
Texas Rangers 92-70
Oakland Athletics 91-71 (Wild Card)
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 77-85
Seattle Mariners 76-68
Houston Astros 53-109
To recap, the five playoff teams out of the American League will be the Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox, and Oakland Athletics.
With the National League and American League predictions now set in stone, keep your eyes open for a Playoffs and Awards Projections article in the next few days.
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