1. Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox have a dominant rotation, a soul crushing bullpen and a surplus of veteran pitchers to cycle between them depending on need. Their lineup has power, speed and depth. There’s been no evidence of an Ortiz decline, only injury. They also have the financial flexibility to carpetbag a bat at midseason. The Red Sox were the best run-differential team in the AL in 2008, they took more casualties than the Light Brigade and they still came within a few runs of going to the World Series. Better, deeper and with possibility of better luck, it’s hard to doubt them in 2009.
2. New York Yankees – The Yankees didn’t splash this winter. They did a fat man cannon ball off the high dive. However, they have risks, and, unlike the Red Sox, theirs are critical. Burnett is a huge gamble. Even healthy last season, his 105 ERA+ and 1.342 WHIP were pedestrian. He can have dominant stuff, but has never had it consistently. Joba’s velocity may be also concern worthy. The bullpen, as ever with Rivera, is good, but not as good as Boston. Their lineup has two bankable power threats, and who knows what to expect from A-Rod given the hip injury and the roids. They have a number of names, but even full strength, they aren’t as good as Boston.
3. Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays shocked by bucking traditional franchise failure to win the American League. But, they also caught the Yankees and Red Sox in an inopportune season. If Garza can be the pitcher he was late last season, they have a solid top three. Make that four after they swindle a year of service time from David Price. Their bullpen is veteran and solid. They have good young hitters. They will probably compete. The Rays will get support from the anti-Northeast contingent, but as with the 2006 Tigers, I want to see them do it again before recognizing last year as the status quo.
4. Toronto Blue Jays – The rotation will be average. It will be average because Halladay will be outstanding, Litsch will be ok and that will somewhat mitigate the massive sinkhole at spots three through five. The bullpen without a definite closer does not create confidence. Even at their best, Rios and Wells provide an inadequate facsimile of an order middle compared to the other teams in the division. They won’t run well. They won’t get on base very well, and they will rely on unproven rookies. It’s not looking good.
5. Baltimore Orioles – Jeremy Guthrie is solid, if he’s your third or fourth starter, not your ace. It slopes sharply to the negative from there. Their bullpen isn’t bad, but will be overused because of the rotation. If Huff lives up to last season’s standard, they will hit reasonably. PECOTA projects them to have the second most runs in the division, unfortunately it also projects them to allow nearly 140 more runs than any other team. The Angelos family remains in charge. So it goes.