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by Mike Thomas
New Order in the AL East
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Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v New York Yankees

                                        Rivera enters his final season

The American League East should be an interesting division this year. The traditional powers of the division are fading. The Red Sox finished in last place and fired manager Bobby Valentine after one tumultous season. 2012 was far worse for Boston than the chicken and beer club the year before. The Yankees won the division last year, but are already plagued with injuries during spring training. Age may be catching up with them. The Orioles were a surprise team last year, and look to build on 2012's success. The Rays won 90 games last year, but just missed out on the playoffs.

The most interesting team in the division is the Blue Jays. They are coming off a 73-89 season, but made many big additions during the offseason. They made two seperate deals with the bottom feeders of the NL East, the Mets and Marlins. They acquired RA Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, and Emilio Bonifacio. They also signed Melky Cabrera, who is coming off a PED suspension. Toronto also has a new manager, which is an old face. John Gibbons is entering his second stint with Toronto. His first stint was stormy, and he had confrontations with Ted Lilly and Shea Hillenbrand. This is a way different club, though.

Toronto underachieved last season, due to weak pitching and an injury to Jose Bautista. They have added three top starters, and Brendan Morrow should be healthy this year. Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout year last season, hitting 42 home runs. While Reyes, Bautista, and Encarnacion are the key players on their offense, the Jays need young players like Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, and JP Arencibia to step up. Toronto could be really good this year, but it depends on how this team gels together.

The Rays traded James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals in the offseason, picking up 4 prospects, headed by OF Wil Nieves. They also picked up James Loney, Kelly Johnson, and Yunel Escobar, but loss BJ Upton to free agency. They have a versatile club, and Joe Maddon is good at mixing and matching, especially with Ben Zobrist, who can play almost anywhere. Despite trading away Shields and Davis, the Rays still have 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, and Alex Cobb in their rotation. Closer Fernando Rodney had a career year last season. Still, the Rays could use a big year from Evan Longoria. Longoria was limited to 74 games last year, and a return to health could take the Rays to the next level.

Last season, the Orioles were amazing in one run games, and in extra inning games. They went 16-2 in extra innings, and 29-9 in one run games. Not sure if they can carry that luck over to this year, but they do have a young improving ballclub. Baltimore brings back most of last year's club, and manager Buck Showalter has done a terrific job with this team. The Orioles are no longer the doormat of the AL East.

A team that could be in a decline is the Yankees. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are both coming off serious injuries. Alex Rodriguez had hip surgery and may not even play this season. CC Sabathia had bone spurs removed during the offseason. Phil Hughes has been dealing with a back issue. Russell Martin left as a free agent, leaving Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and prospect Austin Romine as the options for catcher. Curtis Granderson broke his forearm last weekend, and now Mark Teixeira is out 8-10 weeks with a strained wrist. Other players like Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ichiro Suzuki are getting old. Newcomers like Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner are also declining players.

The Yankees may not crash and burn this season, but it could be a trying season for Joe Girardi's club. Despite winning the division last year, they are no longer the favorites in the East or even to make the playoffs. Their arch rivals, the Red Sox, are also a team at crossroads. They added Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Joel Hanrahan, Stephen Drew, and Ryan Dempster during the offseason. None of these guys are huge additions, but they could help. Boston will need healthy and productive seasons from David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester if it wants to contend this year. Otherwise, they will be an average club this year.

I think it will be a dogfight this year in the East. This might be baseball's most exciting race this year. The Yankees and Red Sox no longer dominate this division like they used to. The Rays have been contending for the last 5 years, and the Orioles made their first postseason in 15 years last season. The Blue Jays should be pretty good this year. It will be interesting to see how this race plays out this season.



                            Blue Jays revamped rotation

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