Baseball preview: American League East

03/30/2014 1:20 PM

03/30/2014 1:21 PM

Boston Red Sox

Last year: 97-65 (first, AL East)

New faces: A.J. Pierzynski (Rangers), OF Grady Sizemore (Indians), RHP Edward Mujica (Cardinals), INF Jonathan Herrera (Rockies)

Former faces: OF Jacoby Ellsbury (Yankees), C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Marlins), SS Stephen Drew (unsigned)

Better, worse or same? Same.

Why: The defending World Series champions made quite a turnaround last season, going from worst to first. They are looking to become the first team to win back-to-back championships in more than a decade. Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are gone, but Jackie Bradley appears to be ready for a regular outfield spot, and veteran A.J. Pierzynski has been a steady presence behind the plate for the past 13 years. To replace Drew at shortstop, Boston will look to Xander Bogaerts. This is a team built to win now and has as good a shot as any to win it again.

Tampa Bay Rays

Last year: 92-71 (second, AL East)

New faces: RHP Grant Balfour (Athletics), RHP Heath Bell (Diamondbacks), INF/OF Logan Forsythe (Padres), C Ryan Hanigan (Reds)

Former faces: LHP Alex Torres (Padres), INF/OF Kelly Johnson (Yankees), RHP Fernando Rodney (Mariners)

Better, worse or same? Better.

Why: Most of the pieces from last year’s playoff team are back. The pitching staff remains strong with David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer in the rotation and newly signed Grant Balfour at the back of the bullpen. Offensively, the Rays will continue to rely on Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist in the middle of it as well as reigning rookie of the year Wil Myers. How the Rays manage to contend every season on their budget remains one of the great stories every year.

New York Yankees

Last year: 85-77 (tied third, AL East)

New faces: OF Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox), C Brian McCann (Braves), OF Carlos Beltran (Cardinals), RHP Masahiro Tanaka (Japan), LHP Matt Thornton (Red Sox), 2B Brian Roberts (Orioles), 3B Kelly Johnson (Rays)

Former faces: 2B Robinson Cano (Mariners), RHP Joba Chamberlain (Tigers), OF Curtis Granderson (Mets), RHP Phil Hughes (Twins), LHP Andy Pettitte (retired), RHP Mariano Rivera (retired), OF Vernon Wells (unsigned), DH Travis Hafner (unsigned)

Better, worse or same? Better.

Why: They spent more than a half-billion dollars this off-season to improve, adding outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann and Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who received $155 million and has never pitched in the big leagues. Yes, the Yankees are back to being the Yankees. But this is a new-look team with Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte retiring and Derek Jeter announcing this will be his last season. The Yankees have put resources into winning now, but part of their success hinges on bounce-back seasons by CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Jeter.

Baltimore Orioles

Last year: 85-77 (tied third, AL East)

New faces: OF Nelson Cruz (Rangers), OF David Lough (Royals), 2B Jemile Weeks (A’s), RHP Ryan Webb (Marlins)

Former faces: RHP Jim Johnson (A’s), 1B Mike Morse (Giants), OF Nate McLouth (Nationals), RHP Scott Feldman (Astros), RHP Jason Hammel (Cubs), RHP Francisco Rodriguez (Brewers), 2B Brian Roberts (Yankees)

Better, worse or same? Same.

Why: Much of the pieces remain from last season, and they bolstered their offense rather cheaply once Nelson Cruz’s market didn’t develop as expected. Cruz will be a nice threat in the lineup along with Chris Davis, fresh off a monster 53-homer season. But the pitching staff is the greatest concern. They traded closer Jim Johnson to the A’s and then backed out of a deal for Grant Balfour. That leaves Tommy Hunter as the front-runner to close games. The rotation, meanwhile, lacks a clear-cut ace.

Toronto Blue Jays

Last year: 74-88 (fifth, AL East)

New faces: C Dioner Navarro (Cubs), INF Brent Morel (White Sox)

Former faces: C J.P. Arencibia (Rangers), RHP Josh Johnson (Padres)

Better, worse or same? Same.

Why: They have made only marginal changes this off-season and are simply counting on rebound years by several players added last off-season. Starters R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle disappointed in their first years, and shortstop Jose Reyes played in only 93 games. Toronto went into last season as a popular pick to reach the World Series, but that fell apart quickly. The talent is still there, but don’t expect anyone to be fooled into picking them again as World Series contenders yet.

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