Mario Rivera, baseball's all-time saves leader, pulled his injured body together for one last run with the New York Yankees in 2013 before retiring. Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Yankees A Disaster Area

Just who will start on opening day for the New York Yankees? I don’t mean on the mound since the team announced it was going to be CC Sabathia. I mean at all of the fielding positions. While other Major League teams have qualified for revenue sharing payments the Yankees may be the first team to qualify for an EPA superfund site grant to clean up the mess.

First of all, given their years of dominance and the arrogance ascribed to the franchise I don’t sense too much sympathy amongst baseball  fans. There is a certain amount of delight in writing off the Yankees even as playoff contenders, never mind American League East Division champions. Still, it has been a bit stunning to watch the casualty count climb as if the pinstripe wearers were auditioning for an appearance in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, not on the baseball diamond.

On the good news side, as far as I can tell Mariano Rivera fooled me. I never thought he would come back from his season-ending knee injury last year.  What neither I nor any other baseball fan anticipated was the epidemic of health woes that have afflicted New York, almost as if broken bones and strained muscles can be contagious.

How fragile are the Yankees? Let us count the ways. Shortstop Derek Jeter, who dazzled us with his late-in-career play in 2012, worked diligently to come back from his damaged ankle suffered in the playoffs, only to rejolt it seriously enough to start the regular season on the disabled list. Outfielder Curtis Granderson is out with a broken arm. First baseman Mark Teixiera is out with an injured wrist. Alex Rodriguez is out with a hip problem and a variety of other problems such as a bruised ego and tarnished reputation. Pitcher Michael Pineda is on the 60-day disabled list and I am wondering what Andy Pettitte‘s situation is, at least long-term. He was sidelined for a while, but is he at full strength now?And now starter Phil Hughes is on the DL, too.

Maybe the Yankees will put the entire team on the DL and take a leave of absence for this season to give everyone a chance to get well.

Meanwhile, the rest of the AL East will play on. The Toronto Blue Jays had the best makeover in baseball during the off-season, beefing up a team that was potentially average-good with so much help that they loom as the favorites to win the division title and perhaps make a run at the World Series. While the thank-you notes to Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria will keep on coming for his largesse in handing over all types of presents, these guys now have to play.

After adding Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to the rotation from Miami and signing R.A. Dickey as a free agent, Toronto should have a very solid mound crew.  Jose Reyes was another big add from the Marlins at short and slugging right-fielder Jose Bautista should be back at full strength from injury. I don’t know what to say about the addition of Melky Cabrera from the Giants after he humiliated himself by getting caught cheating with drugs. Now a Blue Jays outfielder, this was a jarring signing. Cabrera deserved to twist in the wind a bit, not be awarded a new contract. How do you gauge his potential effectiveness? The guy cheated his way to an All-Star game MVP and a .346 batting average, the best performance of his career. Now all is forgiven just like that? Maybe he’s a .246 hitter again.

The surprise of the division last year was the Baltimore Orioles. They seemed like overachievers whom everyone (me included) kept waiting to see falter at the season. But they didn’t, winning 93 games and qualifying for the playoffs. The problem is, I’m still not sure about whether the Orioles turned in a one-and-done showing or if manager Buck Showalter has made them into annual playoff contenders.

Under the steady hand of manager Joe Maddon the Tampa Bay Rays keep hanging in there, even with the kind of payroll reductions that force them to surrender good talent each year. They should be in the mix, as they always have been lately.

Trying to demonstrate to the fans that the 2012 season was unacceptable to management, too, the last-place Boston Red Sox supervised a winter-long personnel shuffle. A large number of new faces populate the roster, but the team and the fans would feel a lot better if one of them was a slugger like Josh Hamilton, who went elsewhere.

The Sox starting rotation has promise with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Felix Doubrant, perhaps a healthy John Lackey, and newcomer Ryan Dempster, and new closer Joel Hanrahan could thrive. Acquisitions Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Johnny Gomes, and Stephen Drew may all start, but Boston needs big years from Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, and above all recovery from injured designated hitter David Ortiz.

This could be a wild division, but this is how I see it: 1) Toronto Blue Jays; 2) Tampa Bay Rays; 3) Boston Red Sox; 4) Baltimore Orioles; 5) New York Yankees.

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

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