Spring is just around the corner, and with it, the beginning of Major League Baseball. The 2014 campaign delighted from beginning to end with walk-off celebrations to a winner-takes-all seventh game in the World Series. A crazy offseason that saw high-profile free agent signings, blockbuster trades and $300 million extensions has the new season already threatening to overtake 2014 in terms of excitement.
This edition of the MLB preview will cover two divisions: the American League East and the National League East.
Five years ago, no division in baseball could match the American League East in monster contracts, century-old traditions and bitter rivalries. In 2009, the New York Yankees won their 27th championship on the back of superstar and fan favorite Alex Rodriguez. Even though the Boston Red Sox won it all in 2013, the AL East may now be one of the weaker divisions in baseball.
Although the Baltimore Orioles won 96 games and the division title last year, they definitely became weaker this offseason. Sluggers Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis are gone. Baltimore will be relying on a bounce-back season from third baseman Manny Machado. Baltimore does return a solid starting rotation but will have to hope for a healthy 2015 season to regain the AL East crown.
The Boston Red Sox, on the other hand, have definitely improved this winter. The team acquired hitters Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to bolster its lineup and traded for Rick Porcello and Wade Miley without giving up any top prospects. The Sox still possess a stacked farm system, which could be dangled as trade bait (Cole Hamels of Johnny Cueto, anyone?).
In one of the biggest steals of the winter, the Toronto Blue Jays acquired third baseman Josh Donaldson from Oakland. Combined with sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the MLB Canadian representatives will light up the scoreboard. R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle lead a rotation that will have Toronto in the hunt for the playoffs.
The New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays are underdogs in AL East. For the Yankees to contend, they must rely on healthy seasons from CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka. Their lineup is aged and was also decimated by injuries last year. The Rays are on the opposite end of the spectrum, with young pitchers Chris Archer, Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly leading the rotation. Three-time all-star Evan Longoria will lead Tampa Bay in search of another underdog playoff berth.
The National League East is definitely going to bring excitement this year, led by the defending champs, the Washington Nationals. Washington added 2013 Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to an expensive rotation of Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg that gives Washington the best pitching rotation in the major league. Throw in a potent lineup, and the Nationals are one of the top contenders to win the World Series.
The Miami Marlins resigned right-fielder Giancarlo Stanton to a $300 million contract extension, shored up their rotation by adding Mat Latos and found speedster Dee Gordon to lead off. While they won’t get injured Jose Fernandez back until midseason, the Marlins are still looking strong headed into 2015.
The New York Mets are young but promising, heading into spring training. They possess a young rotation headlined by Jacob deGrom that could pose a threat to the rest of the division. The bullpen and lineup definitely lag behind the young rotation, but they still have David Wright to lead the lineup. They are still a year or two away from contention, but have a good core.
The Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies seem to be the weakest teams in the division and are heading in opposite directions. The Braves had a great offseason. They flipped several players for a bevy of prospects, boosting their farm system to one of the best in the major league. The Phillies, on the other hand, have yet to trade any of their veterans. Philadelphia is not expected to contend this year and should begin to rebuild soon.
The 2015 baseball campaign is looking extremely bright. Optimism abounds in all 30 major league cities, and only time can tell who will separate themselves from the rest.