Over the winter, the Rays, defending American League East champions, saw their roster dismantled. The Yankees were rejected by Cliff Lee and struggled for pitching. The Red Sox reloaded with speed and defense. The Orioles have legitimate buzz and the Blue Jays keep getting better.
The Orioles open this evening in Tampa Bay, so let’s take a look at some of the questions surrounding the AL East:
The best way to watch the Birds this season: Enjoy the offense and hope the young pitchers progress. But, will Brian Roberts and Derrek Lee stay healthy? In an era of elite catchers such as Joe Mauer, Buster Posey and Carlos Santana, is Matt Wieters hindered by expectations to keep up? Mark Reynolds will hit at least 30 home runs, but will he cut down on his strikeouts and not be an all-or-nothing hitter? Will J.J. Hardy stay healthy? Can Jake Arrieta build on his success at the end of last season? Vladimir Guerrero is nearing the Hall of Fame, but were his postseason struggles a sign of things to come?
For the Red Sox anything less than a World Series appearance will be a failure this season. The addition of Carl Crawford and a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury gives the Red Sox dangerous speed at the top. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez moves Kevin Youkilis to third, and tightens the defense, but will Josh Beckett shake off a bad spring? Will John Lackey, in the best shape of his career, adjust to the AL East and pitch as he did in the second half of 2010? Will J.D. Drew stay healthy? Is David Ortiz’s bat speed for real? Can Jonathan Papelbon be consistent enough?
For the first time since 1996, the Yankees don’t have an elite, or at least an above-average, pitcher in every slot of their rotation. Ivan Nova is a talented and confident prospect, but will the Yankees live with his ups and downs? Will Phil Hughes’ fastball regain its zip? Can CC Sabathia’s knees hold up, and will the Yankees have to concede that A.J. Burnett will forever be inconsistent? Is this the year that the Yankees’ age is a problem? Mariano Rivera is 41, Jorge Posada 39 and Derek Jeter 36.
The Rays have probably the best rotation in the league, and a re-shaped bullpen with no closer. Will pitcher Jeremy Hellickson be one of the AL’s top rookies? Can Johnny Damon, closing in on 3,000 hits, come close to replacing Carl Crawford in left field? Will Manny be Manny, and lose interest if the team falls out of contention early? Will Reid Brignac’s defense be good enough to replace Jason Bartlett at shortstop? Will lefty Jake McGee eventually develop fast enough to be the closer?
The Blue Jays have a new manager, John Farrell, and continue to build a base of prospects. Jose Bautista, now in right field, is a complete hitter, but can the Jays expect another 54-home run season? It seems 30 is more likely. Is Ricky Romero a legit rotation ace? How long before Kyle Drabek becomes an elite force in the rotation? When does prospect Brett Lawrie take over at third base?