For the better part of the last two decades the American League East has been dominated by the big fish, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Recently the Tampa Bay Rays have been able to break into that triumvirate to steal a couple of playoff births and division titles. Last season brought more parity and more disturbance to the big budget empires with the Baltimore Orioles surprise run to 94 wins and a Wild Card spot, leaving only the Toronto Blue Jays out in the cold.
But this offseason, the established order in the AL East may finally be fully overthrown. The Yankees are old, injured, and cutting payroll back to a modest $189 million. The Red Sox are coming off their worst season since 1981 and they aren’t signing any of the big name players either, instead opting for character guys on short-term deals. Toronto (yes, Toronto) is ramping up payroll and making franchise-altering trades to add a staff full of pitchers, one that includes 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Tampa Bay is doing their usual thing, trading for young, unproven talent while rebuilding on the cheap. And Baltimore, well, they’ve stood pat thus far.
The sharks are circling. From the looks of it, everybody has a shot in the AL East. No other division in baseball can say that. So why don’t we take an early peak at the division race, position by position, to see where things stand?
The Red Sox have been among the most active teams in baseball at the 2012 Winter Meetings, filling roster spots all over the diamond with medium to high-priced editions. After dumping the contracts of Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford on the Dodgers this past August, Boston general manager Ben Cherington came to Nashville with money to burn. He wasted little time this offseason handing out rather generous contracts to back-up catcher David Ross and outfielder Jonny Gomes before the Thanksgiving turkey was even on the table and now it appears to be more of the same with the signings of catcher/1st baseman/DH Mike Napoli and outfielder Shane Victorino. Boston now has a glutton of decent but not great catching options, an overload of outfield/DH type, and a serious lack of pitching at the big league level. And the worst part of all for Red Sox fans? None of these moves will help Boston make the playoffs. Hell, this roster probably isn’t any better than the one Cherington tore apart at the 2012 trade deadline.
A year ago Jonny Gomes was making a cool million bucks to form a rather effective left field/DH platoon in Oakland where he hit .262/.377/.491 with 18 homers and 47 RBI while playing in just 99 games. At this point you might be asking yourself, “Hey, why did Jonny Gomes only play in 99 games? That on-base percentage is sky-high and would have ranked 8th in baseball if Gomes got more at bats. And his power is pretty decent too.” Boston general manager Ben Cherington may have been asking himself that very same question when he picked up the phone yesterday, dialed up Gomes’ agent and offered a 2 year/$10 million dollar deal.