March 13, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (15) at bat in the first inning against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

2012 MLB Division Preview: AL East


Man, there sure are a lot of good teams with a lot of good players in the AL East. Maybe you’ve heard about this. The Yankees and Red Sox are the obvious names. They get a bit of press. They also pour money into their on field talent and are annual favorites to land just about any free agent available. Then there’s the Rays, a team who operates in a terrible stadium, struggles to sell tickets, and yet has somehow figured out a way to squeeze every conceivable speck of value from every available resource and angle. Now there are rumblings in Toronto as the Blue Jays are slowly building a contender, armed with perhaps the best hitter in baseball, a wizard for a general manager, and potential big money backing that will allow them to make a huge move or two when the opportunity presents itself. There are also the Orioles but never mind them. No, that’s a terrible thing to say. They do have a decent collection of young talent and a handful of young arms full of upside, but they’ve been flying down the mountain backwards for quite some time now, and it’s going to take a lot of patience and savvy to push back up to the top. We should all send positive energy their way, it’s the least we can do. But let’s not hold our breaths. With the new Wild Card team being added this season, it’s not inconceivable that the top four AL East teams could make the playoffs. It is perhaps unlikely, but the fact that it’s even worth mentioning speaks volumes. The AL East—Good Teams Play There.

New York Yankees

This is a funny picture / Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Best Case Scenario

They’re the best team in baseball and win the World Series. Out of all the teams in baseball, it’s the Yankees who are able to make that a completely obvious and almost boring  statement. Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson play up to MVP standards yet again. Mark Teixeira earns his annual salary and then a little bit extra. Aging superstars Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter bounce back and produce at a high level. Brett Gardner plays up to his sterling defensive reputation and finally stops being criminally underrated. The rotation is anchored by a Cy Young level performance from CC Sabathia, while Andy Pettitte doesn’t lose a step after a year off due to retirement. Hiroki Kuroda keeps the ball in the park and puts up solid numbers while Michael Pineda overcomes his Spring Training woes and continues with his development as Ace in the making. Mariano Rivera remains superhuman and unstoppable, mowing through the season at peak form as retirement speculation abounds.

Worst Case Scenario

Father time catches up to the older stars for good. Pineda and Pettitte struggle early and are unable to bounce back. The Jesus Montero trade starts to haunt Yankees fans a bit. Gardner’s defense regresses along with Granderson’s bat. Mariano Rivera shows signs of aging for the first time in ever as the Yankees scuffle trying to handle the decline of yet another former superstar. The Rays and Red Sox prove to be too much and push the Yankees into third place where they lose out on the Wild Card to the AL West runner up.

Storyline to Watch

Michael Pineda. The Yankees were willing to deal a huge impact bat in Jesus Montero this offseason with the understanding they were receiving a top of the rotation arm in return. With conditioning and velocity concerns turning to shoulder trouble early in the season, many Yankees fans will be anxiously following Pineda’s recovery and subsequent performances. He’s going to be around a while, and he has Ace-level upside, but there’s currently reason for some slight pause.

Call to the Pen’s 2012 New York Yankees Season Preview

Boston Red Sox

Breathing is important / Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Best Case Scenario

They play like they did for three-quarters of last regular season and dominate just about everyone. Major losing streaks are avoided and the relentless media gives it a rest with the clubhouse drama and gossip. Bobby Valentine doesn’t say too many ridiculous things. Carl Crawford starts playing like himself while David Ortiz continues to mash. Kevin Youkilis stays healthy and gets on base like, all the time. Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and Adrian Gonzales battle all season for MVP honors (again). Jon Lester makes a run at the Cy Young. The rotation and bullpen are able to stay healthy all season and keep the Sox in every contest as their offense pours in runs. The Red Sox make the playoffs with little to no hand-wringing, poised for a deep run in the postseason.

Worst Case Scenario

Crawford can’t get it together and starts getting mentioned with the likes of Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano, and Barry Zito. The three MVP candidates regress. Ortiz loses bat speed and steeply declines. The Daniel Bard Starting Pitcher Experiment is a disaster, as his struggles continue even after returning to the bullpen. The injury prone rotation and late inning arms have trouble staying on the field, with the Red Sox somewhat thin farm system unable to pick up the slack. Bobby Valentine feuds with the front office in public all season and goes completely insane. The media drowns out any semblance of reason and logic as the Red Sox miss the playoffs in embarrassing fashion yet again.

Storyline to Watch

Carl Crawford. Coming off one of the more high-profile disappointing seasons in recent memory, a bounce back from Crawford would go a long way towards getting the Red Sox into the postseason. When he’s playing up to his talent level, Crawford is capable of being one of the best and most dynamic players in the game. A return to form would make the Red Sox offense even more unstoppable, and help shed the bust label currently stamped into Crawford’s big money contract.

Call to the Pen’s 2012 Boston Red Sox Season Preview

Tampa Bay Rays

Not that cool looking / Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Best Case Scenario

Evan Longoria has an MPV caliber season as Matt Moore wins Rookie of the Year and David Price contends for the Cy Young. James Shields continues his solid performance from last season while Carlos Pena and Luke Scott add some much needed depth to the lineup. Ben Zobrist puts together another stealthy All-Star season and highlights an excellent defensive team optimally assembled and aligned by manager Joe Maddon. A full season of Desmond Jennings helps the Rays take a step forward in all facets of the game. A deep rotation of capable young arms remains at the ready for injury insurance, midseason call-ups, or trade leverage for a bat at the deadline. The Rays run another under the radar, low payroll team into the postseason against ridiculous odds.

Worst Case Scenario

Pena and Scott don’t work out, leaving the lineup thin. Matt Moore fails to live up to the hype and James Shields regresses. Desmond Jennings’ break out year fails to materialize. Evan Longoria’s injury trouble returns and the Rays young arms do that typically annoying thing of not working out. The Rays just can’t score enough runs to compete with the juggernauts and fall short of the postseason.

Storyline to Watch

Matt Moore. He comes into his first full season with 9 of the most hyped-up innings ever under his belt. Many prospect mavens believe Moore has the velocity, stuff, and repertoire to step right in and become the Ace of the Rays staff. If Moore is able to deliver on his immense promise, the Rays could boast one of the best rotations in the league and present a formidable challenge for any team they meet in a short playoff series.

Call to the Pen’s 2012 Tampa Bay Rays Season Preview

Toronto Blue Jays

The new uniforms are awesome / Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Best Case Scenario

Jose Bautisa continues to mash home runs and proves to be the best hitter in baseball. Brett Lawrie lives up to the hype and delivers an All-Star season. Colby Rasmus, given a fresh start with a new team, breaks out and fulfills his massive potential. Sergio Santos highlights a cheap and effective bullpen all season long. Ricky Romero puts up stellar numbers and gets recognized as the Ace he is while Brandon Morrow finally puts his dominating stuff towards effective results. Everything breaks right for the Blue Jays and they’re able to battle all season long for one of the final AL playoff spots, eventually breaking away and heading to the postseason for the first time since 1993.

Worst Case Scenario

Bautista’s wild ride finally comes to an end and he comes back to Earth. Brandon Morrow continues to baffle and frustrate supporters with ineffectiveness. Lawrie can’t live up to the near impossible standard set for him in last season’s small sample. Colby Rasmus brings his baggage north of the border and can’t put it all together. The Jays spend another long season in the brutal AL East on the outside looking in.

Storyline to Watch

Brett Lawrie seems rather watch worthy these days. After coming over in the Shaun Marcum deal, Lawrie kind of set the league on fire, mashing at the plate and defending third base at a level many scouts didn’t think he was capable of. If he’s able to hit up to his potential while still flashing the leather, the Blue Jays will have a perennial All-Star on their hands and a legitimate talent to build around along with Bautista. Also, the new uniforms are awesome. Sorry, I didn’t know where else to put that.

Call to the Pen’s 2012 Toronto Blue Jays Season Preview

Baltimore Orioles

Good at baseball / Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE

Best Case Scenario

Oh boy. Avoiding injuries and getting some top prospects back on track would be an admirable start. Matt Weiters fulfills his MVP level potential, continuing to play exceptional defense behind the dish while putting it all together at the plate. Nick Markakis finally breaks out a bit from his established norm. Adam Jones does the same and starts making All-Star games with regularity. Brian Roberts manages to play a few months of games in a row without getting hurt. Former and current top pitching prospects like Zach Britton, Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz stop with the injuries and bad luck and take a step forward together, giving Orioles fans hopeful visions of a dominating pitching staff in the years to come. Monster of the Future Manny Machado continues to excel in the minors and remains one of the best prospects in all of baseball. Maybe Chris Davis has a light go off and cashing in on his former top prospect potential. It could happen, right?

Worst Case Scenario

Injuries and poor performance. A familiar sad song, unfortunately. The young pitching core stalls in development yet again while Roberts doesn’t see the field all season. Weiters settles in as an above-average regular but not a star. Same with Markakis. Same with Jones, who can’t quite put it together at the plate enough to fully break out. The Orioles lose a lot of games and show no signs of stopping.

Storyline to Watch

It has to bee the young pitching. After assembling a staff with the potential to shut down any ridiculous lineup the Yankees or Red Sox or Rays or Blue Jays could throw at them, arms like Britton, Tillman and Matusz have suffered through injuries, velocity loss, and ineffectiveness. This had led to many to question the process currently in place in regards to pitching development over in Baltimore. Getting one or two or three of these guys back on track and showing flashes of their former deserved hyped-up potential would go a long way towards instilling a bit of hope in the fanbase and could get some trust back in the front office and its long-term plans.

Call to the Pen’s 2012 Baltimore Orioles Season Preview

AL East Team Predictions

Most Improved: Toronto Blue Jays

Least Improved: Baltimore Orioles

Most Likely to Surprise: Toronto Blue Jays

Most Likely to Disappoint: Boston Red Sox

Division Winner: New York Yankees

AL East Player Predictions

Best Hitter: Jose Bautista

Best Pitcher: CC Sabathia

Top Rookie: Matt Moore

Comeback Player: Carl Crawford

Top Newcomer: Matt Moore

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Kyle writes baseball nonsense at The Trance of Waiting. You can follow him on Twitter @AgainstKyle.

Tags: AL East AL East Baltimore Boston Red Sox Featured New York Yankees Orioles Popular Tampa Bay Rays Toronto Blue Jays