The 2014 season was a bit of an oddity for the five teams in the American League East. For the first time in eight years, just one of the teams (Baltimore) managed to reach the postseason. The Yankees failed to make the postseason after a tremendous spending spree, the Red Sox continued their streak of either winning the World Series or finishing in last with the latter, the Rays posted their first losing season since 2007, and the Blue Jays, by being neither awful nor particularly good, had a typical Blue Jays season.
While this current offseason doesn't quite have a bow on it, the dust seems to have settled as each team gets ready to head to Spring Training. The division appears to be as wide-open as it has been in quite some time, with no clear top dog and no obvious bottom-feeder.
Most of you are probably familiar with the moves the Evil Empire have made since November, and there have been a wide range of opinions as to the quality of new roster. Despite not splurging on any of the major free agents, the Yankees got younger and better defensively--two major areas of concern the last few seasons. Cashman and Co. have finally figured out that no matter how much money can be thrown at prospective Pinstripers, the success of the team comes down to the overall health and success aging-but-still-well-paid superstars.
In a low-key offseason for the Bombers, their December trade with the Marlins was an underrated move that could pay huge dividends. By sending Martin Prado to Miami, the Yankees acquired Mark Teixeira insurance in the form of Garrett Jones and a solid bounce-back candidate in Nathan Eovaldi. Adding Andrew Miller and re-signing Chase Headley were also necessary moves to solidify potential holes. However, there are still serious questions how they will score. Many aging superstars will need to avoid injury, which seems unlikely, based on the last two years.
For defending division champ Baltimore, their offseason was spent in baseball purgatory on account of Dan Duquette's career aspirations. In the weirdest storyline the league witnessed this winter, Duquette's interest in becoming the Blue Jays' team president led to somewhat of a freeze on the transaction wire for the O's. While Duquette was trying to force his way north of the border, the Orioles lost Nelson Cruz to Seattle and Nick Markakis to Atlanta. The day the Blue Jays reportedly cut off talks of a potential trade involving Duquette, Baltimore swung a deal with Pittsburgh for outfielder Travis Snider, a former top prospect coming off his best season to date.
The Orioles seem to be banking on the trio of Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters to return to their 2013 levels of production, or as close as they can get, this upcoming season. Otherwise, fair or not, all fingers will be pointed squarely at Duquette.
Stealing an intra-divisional GM would have been a nice coup, but it was still a solid offseason for the Blue Jays. It began with a bang, as before the calendar even flipped to December, Toronto signed Russell Martin (albeit to a deal that it two years two long) and swapped Brett Lawrie for Josh Donaldson, a top-10 MVP finisher in the AL the past two seasons. Martin brings a playoff pedigree to a roster that could use it (Toronto now has the longest playoff drought in the sport) and Donaldson immediately becomes one of the best all-around players in the division.
The Blue Jays also swung a deal for Seattle's Michael Saunders, who could effectively replace Melky Cabrera after his departure to the White Sox. Toronto still figures to add a reliever to the back end of the bullpen (Rafael Soriano or Francisco Rodriguez figure to be in the mix) after Casey Janssen signed with the Nationals. If there is a year that the Jays can finally make the leap from bridesmaid to bride, 2015 could be that time.
Like the Blue Jays, the Red Sox had dramatically improved their team by the end of November. The Sox brought in the two best position players on the open market by inking Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez on the same day. It remains to be seen how Ramirez will adjust to the move to left field and the Monster, but the offense figures to transfer over from Chavez Ravine regardless. The team overpaid for Sandoval, but Boston's third basemen last year, uh, weren't the best (.211/.271/.308). Shortly thereafter, the Red Sox showed they were prepared for life after Jon Lester by trading for Wade Miley from Arizona, bringing back former prospect Justin Masterson, and flipping Yoenis Cespedes for Rick Porcello.
The two big criticisms of Boston's offseason are the failure to secure a true rotation ace (at least to this point) and a backlog of outfielders. Common baseball sense would suggest that those issues might resolve themselves simultaneously. There figures to be a trade for a big-time starter coming at some point, but it remains to be seen how many of the organization's blue-chip prospects Ben Cherington is willing to part with. Don't expect the Sawx to post another sub-.500 season, but another trip to the World Series shouldn't be booked just yet.
Finally, there are the Rays, whose biggest offseason departures don't wear uniforms. Joe Maddon opted out of his contract for greener pastures with the Cubs and GM Andrew Friedman decided to go run the Dodgers. In are Matthew Silverman and Kevin Cash to replace Friedman and Maddon, respectively. Tampa Bay was involved in one of the mostanalyzed trades of the offseason, when it shipped Wil Myers (and Ryan Hanigan) to San Diego as part of a three-team deal. In that trade, the Rays landed Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals. The 2014 Triple-A International League MVP figures to start in left.
Tampa continued to make heavily picked-apart deals when Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar were sent to Oakland for John Jaso and a prospect named Boog Powell. That came two months after shipping former Rookie of the Year hurler Jeremy Hellickson to Arizona....and sending Matt Joyce to the Angels. Okay, so a lot of pieces from a team that was in the playoffs two years ago and four times since 2008 are no longer in St. Petersburg. The Rays' run of unparalleled success (for them, of course) is most likely over. The starting rotation is still the team's strength (especially if they get a productive Matt Moore back mid-season) but there figure to be a lot of scoreless innings for their offense in 2015.
Who do you think had the best offseason in the AL East?