by Robert Ferringo - 03/28/2006
Move over Yankees and Red Sox, Toronto is taking over.
Those wacky Canadian bastards put together one solid off season. They were an up-and-comer last year, and added some offensive pop and a bona fide front-line starter north of the border. The Blue Jays looked poised to return to the glory day of the early 90's, right?
Not so much.
Toronto is vastly improved, and will threaten for the division title. But they are a sheep in wolf's clothing. Or something like that.
The Yankees and Red Sox are still the class of the AL and will once again stage Armageddon. Their holy war will engulf New England and the Tri-State Area, leading to riots and bonfires throughout the land. The Great War will eventually culminate with a final, epic, cage match between Yogi Berra and Peter Gammons.
OK, so it won't be that bad. But it will once again dominate the baseball landscape, leading to endless columns about how great/overblown the rivalry is. And we'll all be again awash in video highlight montages with references to Clemens, Ruth and Varitek. Oh well.
Here's one man's look at the American League East:
AMERICAN LEAGUE EASTNEW YORK YANKEES
2005 Record: 95-67 (first)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 2/1
Odds to win World Series: 7/2
Wins Over/Under: 98.5
Strengths: Obviously you know that the Yankees picked up Captain Caveman (a.k.a. Johnny Damon). That filled a huge need in both center field and in the leadoff spot. Now, their top four of Damon-Jeter-Rodriguez-Sheffield is the best in baseball. They also acquired Octavio Dotel and Kyle Farnsworth to set up Big Mo, giving them an overpowering bullpen.
Weaknesses: Unless Damon can pitch, New York still has a lot of problems with its starters. They're putting a lot of stock in Chien-Ming Wang, Shawn Chacon and Carl Pavano to come through. Also, Sheffield is in a contract year and has a tendency to morph into a clubhouse cancer in such a situation.
Outlook: The Yankees are the chalk because, well, they're the Yankees. There's always the possibility that they pick up another piece to help them make the push. But with the roster as it is, this team can't win it all.
BOSTON RED SOX
2005 Record: 95-67 (first)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 9/2
Odds to win World Series: 9/1
Wins Over/Under: 91.5
Strengths: The Red Sox still have one of the best top-to-bottom pitching staffs in the majors, adding bulldog Josh Beckett to pair with a reinvigorated Schilling and more relaxed Matt Clement. With Big Papi and Manny in the middle, and the resources to make a blockbuster move, the Red Sox are still very much in contention.
Weaknesses: Way too many new pieces to get a good feel for this team. Guys like Mike Lowell and J.T. Snow are on the downside of their careers, and players like Alex Cora and Tony Graffanino never really had an upside.
Outlook: The Theo Epstein Saga epitomized the Red Sox off season: scattered. The team will be haunted by the moves that they made, as well as those they didn't.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
2005 Record: 80-82 (third)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 10/1
Odds to win World Series: 17/1
Wins Over/Under: 87
Strengths: The Blue Jays added Troy Glaus and Lye Overbay this winter, providing a lot of pop to compliment Vernon Wells in the middle of the order. Rustic Roy Halladay is still a dominator and spearheads a staff that improved with the acquisition of A.J. Burnett.
Weaknesses: There are durability issues with all of their newbies - Glaus, Overbay and Burnett. Also, the bullpen isn't nearly comparable to that of the Red Sox and Yankees. They had the second-lowest total of saves last season (35) in the AL. B.J Ryan was brought in to improve that, but he's no Bruce Sutter.
Outlook: That wins total is too high. They are the most improved team in the AL, but I don't think that will automatically translate to competing for the pennant. They have spoiler written all over them, and maybe with another piece or two they will be ready to make a serious move in 2007.
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
2005 Record: 67-95 (fifth)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 150/1
Odds to win World Series: 300/1
Wins Over/Under: 66.5
Strengths: Their position players are young and talented, with guys like Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Julio Lugo and Jorge Cantu leading the way. New owner Stuart Sternberg is winning the public relations battle in Tampa. That's a big step for a team that frequently draws fewer patrons than Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum.
Weaknesses: They are inexperienced, and their pitching staff is full of "Who Dey?" hurlers. The payroll is still about $18 and a bag of Cracker Jacks, so don't expect many "big moves".
Outlook: Well, they're in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, so they have no prayer of going to the playoffs. Other than that, this team is actually improving. They're a fantasy geek's wet dream because they have a lot of cheap, versatile talent. If only that translated to wins on the field.
2005 Record: 74-88 (fourth)
Odds to win AL Pennant: 50/1
Odds to win World Series: 100/1
Wins Over/Under: 74.5
Strengths: Brian Roberts, Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora give the Orioles one of the best infields in the American League. This team is young and athletic, with a few fresh arms topping the rotation.
Weaknesses: They don't have a fifth starter, and the front four aren't that good to begin with. Baltimore still has a leaky bullpen, and their best outfielder may be Luis Matos. That's not a good thing.
Outlook: Rough 12 months for the O's. Between the Sosa and Palmeiro Debacles and Tejeda bashing upper management, it has been a disaster. I think it says a lot about how bad things are if Tejeda doesn't want to play for your team.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's baseball picks service.