Boston Red Sox
Season 35: 95-67, won Division, won World Series
Outlook: Why mess with a winning combination? The Sox had some older free agents this year, and elected to bring back many of them to try to recreate the Season 35 magic.
What can you say about Peter Magnusson? The Season 31 #11 overall pick has 2 MVP's and a ROY in his first 2 seasons, and now a WS ring. He's the straw that stirs the Red Sox, but he's not alone.
Season 30 #5 overall Ronnie Burns is a near carbon copy of Magnusson. The 2 are interchangeable at 2B and CF, and both look to be perpetual 40-HR boppers for years to come.
1B Matt Lawrence (.284/30/95) and DH Curtis Smith (.271/38/112) are the secondary run producers behind the dynamic duo.
Boston's pitching was a surprising 9th in the AL last year with a 4.28 ERA (a bit better in the playoffs at 4.02). Their approach is more to trade punches rather than try to shut you down. At least until the late innings, when Damaso Martinez (3.56 ERA in 98 IP)and Dan Lambert (27 saves, 2.37 ERA) come in to protect leads.
They do help their pitching out wit solid defense - .985 team fielding percentage and 90/36 on good/bad plays.
Season 35: 60 102
Outlook: The Tribe looks to be entering a rebuild...or maybe more accurately a decided youth movement...as it jettisoned a number of aging free agents and traded for younger vets in the off-season.
Cleveland traded an older prospect for O.T. Grieve, got a pair of nice DH candidates in Rudy House and Kendry Fernandez. They also concentrated their FA signings on older, low-budget players (frequently the best values out there, by the way).
House becomes Cleveland's best hitter (assuming he gets promoted, of course)...maybe 1A with LF Phillip Rose (does it surprise you that he had a .290/36/120 line last year?).
The Indians' staff posted a 4.54 ERA last year, 14th in the leauge. Only Scot Bradford on the rotation bettered 4.00, and it will be pretty similar this year. Season 32 IFA John Chiba may help a bit, but the staff needs an across-the-board overhaul to be seriously competitive.
Rebuild or a youth movement alongside an attempt to squeak out a shot at a wild card? How about a 1-year massive housecleaning and come back strong next year? I'm a big fan of bold moves.
Season 35: 77-85
Outlook: The Birds have landed in that 77-win never-never land for 2 seasons...competitive but not threatening a wild card.
There's some good talent on the ML roster, and it's predominantly young talent. Season 30's #3 overall, 2B Keith Townsend, struggled last year but still hit for power with 28 HR and 108 RBI. Season 33's #3, Chip Caminiti, looks like another promising power-hitting infielder (but is woefully overmatched at SS, as his .930 fielding % last year attests). Flip Harris finally put it together in his 4th season and won 15 games with 3.20 ERA. And there are a few other youngsters capable of contributing to a playoff run.
But not this year. Too many Josmil Cordero's on the roster (his hot 3-appearance start notwithstanding...all too soon, his line will look like Season 35's).
Seems like Baltimore is closing in on something good - let's hope they grab it soon.
New York Yankees
Season 35: 72-90
Outlook: The Yanks have been rebuilding since the mikeymel era, patiently drafting and signing IFA's. A few of those choices have now made their way to the majors...let's take a look:
Vin Gumbs (Season 32 #1 overall) famously made the jump to the Bigs after just 100 minor-league innings. Last year, he made the All-Star team and entered the CY conversation with a 19-8, 2.52 ERA campaign.
Yovani Romo ($26MM Sea 34 IFA) has also been fast-tracked to the Majors (sense a pattern here?)...just 129 minor-league AB's. Set to be the SS for the next dozen years.
Brace Wooster (Season 33 #10 overall) got 68 MiL innings and then right to the Majors. Struggled in Season 34 and improved big-time last year.
And there are others like OF's Frank Bong and Geraldo De La Rosa, and C Frank James. Perhaps the best of all of them, Bryant Mulder, is at AA.
The youngsters sparked a 13-win improvement last year. They'll undoubtedly improve again - the only question is whether it will be enough to contend. 86 wins has gotten an AL Wild Card each of the last 2 seasons.
Division Outlook: Boston looks like the favorite again, with an onrushing Yankees team about to ignite an intense rivalry.