In 2013 the Tampa Bay Rays are looking for their fourth straight season with 90+ wins. In order to make a solid playoff run this year, the Rays must overcome the offseason losses of James Shields and B.J. Upton.
Shields and fellow teammate Wade Davis were traded to the Kansas City Royals for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, and some other additional pieces. Shields, a double-digit winner and 200+ innings pitcher for six straight seasons, is a solid starting pitcher. However, because the Rays led MLB with a 3.19 ERA in 2012, making up for the absence of Shields may not be as intimidating as some may think. The Rays enter the schedule with Cy Young Award winner David Price in the No. 1 starter’s slot, lefty Matt Moore, followed by 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, then three-time double-digit winner Jeff Niemann, and finally 25-year-old prospect Alex Cobb.
Super-athletic center fielder B.J. Upton was lost to free agency this offseason. Upton signed a $75.25 million deal with the Atlanta Braves for five years after combining for 51 home runs, 159 runs batted in, and 67 stolen bases over the past two years. After playing mostly left outfield in 2012, Desmond Jennings will take Upton’s spot and convert to middle outfield. The Alabama-native hit .246 with 13 homers, 47 RBIs, and 31 steals in his first year as a legitimate full-time starter.
The Rays hope that the offseason additions of Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi, and Yunel Escobar will be enough to balance the loss of Shields and Upton. Because they already have a relatively strong pitching rotation, it is important that the Rays devote enough attention to improving their offense in order to make a strong playoff run. If Longoria can stay healthy throughout the season, it would tremendously boost the Rays’ offensive efforts.
In 2012, the American League East became a more competitive division and in 2013 it looks to be even more cutthroat. The Blue Jays have always been behind but made strong moves this offseason. With the signings of Melky Cabrera, Jose Reyes, and valuable utility-man Emilio Bonafacio, the Blue Jays are improving an already potent offense. The Yankees appear to always be on top and can of course contend in the upcoming season, but with the roster only getting older and injuries plaguing the team, I would not be surprised if the Yankees took a step back in 2013. The Baltimore Orioles did well in 2012 with 93 wins and a wild-card playoff berth. They were second in the majors in home runs (214) and five players had 20+ dingers. Last year the Red Sox did not fully recover from their historic collapse to finish the 2011 season. They made several free agency acquisitions this offseason, and hope to get their pitching back on track in order to seriously compete this year.
Assuming that the Tampa Bay pitching is as good, if not better than last season, and Longoria stays healthy, I believe Tampa Bay has the best shot at the division crown. Toronto’s offseason moves make them an automatic threat in 2013, and with the emergence of Baltimore this past season, they too cannot be counted out. Competition in the AL East will definitely be at its strongest in 2013.