While I am not a strict follower of the American League, I do still like to pretend I know what's going to happen, especially with all of the fantasy teams I have joined this year (six leagues so far). Therefore, I will continue with my division predictions and head to the AL, starting off with what should obviously be the toughest division in baseball, the AL East.
5. Baltimore Orioles - Oh, for the love of Cal Ripkin, will this team ever return to its glory days? Methinks it won't be in 2009. Cub castoffs Felix Pie and Rich Hill will not provide much of a difference for a team that has to contend with two of the biggest spenders in baseball. The newly-extended Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts are good cornerstones, so upper management must have convinced them that at some point they are going to try and actually win a few. But I can't see them avoiding another 90+ loss year.
4. Toronto Blue Jays - This team finished 2006 in second place, then fell to third in 2007 and finally planted themselves in the fourth place spot last year which is where I see them staying put again in 2009. Gone is staff co-ace A.J. Burnett, which will hurt. Roy Halladay will still dominate, and B.J. Ryan (if healthy) is a very effective closer. Alex Rios and Lyle Overbay are better than average and will do well, Vernon Wells is GROSSLY overpaid and not earning his keep, and the rest of this staff boasts players who don't exactly stand out as difference makers.
3. Tampa Bay Rays - Last season's Cinderella story will come back to Earth - at least a little bit. The team that produced 97 wins last season will have more competition from the two Superpowers of the division, and nobody will be taking the Rays lightly after what they pulled off last year. Pitching will continue to be a strong point, with starters James Shields and Scott Kazmir leading the rotation, although closer Troy Percival's health will continue to be a question mark. Offensively, Tampa Bay added Pat Burrell to be the primary DH, and his power numbers will be welcome. Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena are all back and should provide good core offense. But as good as the defending AL Champions look, I truly feel they will end up a game or two out of second place (as well as a Wild Card spot).
2. New York Yankees (WILD CARD) - I have never been a fan of the Yankees, and I never will be. But you have to give them credit for seizing the opportunity to fill every hole they had coming into this season. CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett give them one of the best rotations in the league, and Mark Teixeira will provide more offensive and defensive production than Jason Giambi. Derek Jeter is still solid, Hideki Matsui is back and ready to be the primary DH, and Johnny Damon and Xavier Nady will be better than average in the outfield. This would have been a tougher call, however the team's best (okay, the team's highest paid) player, Alex Rodriguez, is out for several weeks, and that will hurt, no matter what you think of the guy.
1. Boston Red Sox - Losing Manny Ramirez isn't what kept the Sox from winning the AL pennant last year. It probably helped get them further. From all the reports, Manny had become a cancer in the clubhouse, and his replacement, Jason Bay, can more than make up the offensive power the team lost with Manny. The Sox also boast one of the most formidable rotations in baseball with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Daisuke Matsuzaka leading the way. Bay, along with reining AL MVP Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz will lead a potent offense. They do have the overrated, overpaid J.D. (or is it D.L.) Drew, but that won't keep them from taking this extremely tough division in 2009.
Just my opinion.