Being an East-Coaster, my primary baseball knowledge is region loyal. While I am not a fan of the AL, as I believe the designated hitter rule changes the game entirely, for the worse, I do believe that the race in the AL East will be one of the more exciting stories in baseball this season.
AL East (ranked from 5th to 1st):
5. Baltimore Orioles - Many of you may be saying to yourselves at this point "the Baltimore who?" To clarify, this is the team that traded off Miguel Tejada, mere days before he was implicated in the Mitchell report. That may have been the smartest move any team could have pulled the trigger on this offseason. While Tejada can still perform, a team in the basement of a division does not need the distractions that Tejada will assuredly bring with him to the Houston Astros. The Orioles also have traded one of the best pitchers in the league in Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners. I won't pretend to know how good a deal that was for them, apparantly they got some good propects for him, and if that turns out to be true, I say the Orioles gained more by selling Bedard at a high than retaining him and still losing 90+ games. The Orioles are in dire need of a complete overhaul, and these two trades have definitely begun that process.
4. Tampa Bay Rays - Surprisingly, this team does not seem as bad as they should. Unfortunately for them, they are competing in a division that is so top-heavy, no one can even really buy the talent needed to succeed these days. Luckily for the Rays, they have some great young talent in pitchers Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza, catcher Dioner Navarro, outfielder B.J. Upton, along with the experienced Cliff Floyd to mentor them. Looking over the Rays entire roster should excite their (small) fan-base, in knowing that a few years down the line, assuming they can retain these players, they may actually rise in the ranks of this division. The have already begun to leap-frog over teams (see: Baltimore Orioles), and it is only a matter of time until they are actual contenders.
3. New York Yankees - This may come as a huge surprise to many of you baseball fans, and believe me when I say that I do not mark this ranking in stone. I do admit as well that it would be stupid to discount the Yankees this season by saying they are not contenders, however I firmly believe they will have a very difficult fight to take this division. This may be the first time in 13 years that the Yankees may not clinch a playoff berth. The success of this team hinges on the arms of Mike Mussina, Ian Kennedy, and Phil Hughes. Joba Chamberlain should remain in the bullpen to set-up for Mariano Rivera if the Yankees would like to see themselves play deep into October. Jason Giambi is gearing up to have a great year, more-so for himself as this is a contract year. A-Rod will have his usual 45+ homeruns and 130+ R.B.I. making the Yankees an absolute contender. Again, this is by no means a be-all end-all prediction, however the Yankees will have to work extremely hard to get back in to the playoffs this year under new manager Joe Girardi.
2. Toronto Blue Jays - Who says that Canada can't compete? We all make a little fun of them neighbors to the north but the truth is, not since the days of Roger Clemens juicing in his special apartment on the western side of Niagara Falls has this team been able to compete whole-heartedly in this division. If A.J. Burnett can have an injury-free year along with B.J. Ryan, as supporting characters for Roy Halladay (who may just win this years AL Cy Young award), these birds can fly their way into winning the wild-card race, if not more. The addition of gold-glover Scott Rolen at third base adds a bit of depth to the infield while infusing the line-up with a second bat the Jays have sorely missed since the departure of Carlos Delgado. Not to say Rolen is on the same level as the former All-Star when Delgado was at the same point in his career, but a move away from St. Louis and Tony LaRussa should do Rolen well, and will hopefully allow him to rebound from a mediocre 2007. Certainly The Big Hurt, Frank Thomas should play a major role assuming he's fully healthy, while the table is set by the peskiest of lead-off men, David Eckstein.
1. Boston Red Sox - ...and now please welcome the starting line-up for your 2007 World Series Champions Boston Red Sox! For real, you would think that the rivalry in the AL East couldn't get any better and yet it most certainly has. Adding a third team to the mix in the Blue Jays will definitely make the competition for first place, and indubitably the wild-card position that much more interesting. Of course there is no comparrison in baseball, let alone sports as a whole, that can compete with the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox. The Sox yet again field a team that reads like a latter-day All-Star squad. Notable returnees include David "Big Papi" Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, and the perfect mix of young and old. While the Red Sox may have acted too quickly in signing Curt Schilling to a contract extension this offseason, fans should not worry about Josh Beckett and his ailing back. Beckett should start a minimum of 27 games, that includes calculations for blister problems which he's bound to have. Daisuke Matsuzaka should have a great season, being that he has a year under his belt in the Major Leagues, and will be comfortable his second go-round. In addition the signing of Sean Casey as well as Bartolo Colon can only help this team being that they were signed for virtually no money.
All in all, this years AL East Race is looking like it could go down to the wire, and should make for an exciting September!