After analyzing how the teams in the AL West shape up heading into the 2014 season in comparison to their 2013 results, it’s time to look at the rest of the American League. The AL East has been heralded as the toughest division in baseball in years past thanks to the presence of perennial contenders the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, as well as the emergence of the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles. The AL Central on the other hand has been dominated by the Detroit Tigers in recent memory. However, the Cleveland Indians emerged as a contender this past year, and the Kansas City Royals weren’t too far behind.
-All numbers are provided by FanGraphs.
It may be a bit of a surprise to see that the last two American League teams left standing in 2013, the Red Sox and Detroit Tigers, are projected to see the most decline in 2014 among AL teams. The defending World Series champs are looking at a potential decrease of 11.0 fWAR in the batting department alone. Much of that projection is due to the departure of some key free agents; Jacoby Ellsbury left town for the New York Yankees, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia flew south to Miami. Stephen Drew remains unsigned, but it appears that the Red Sox are content to go with in-house replacements unless the shortstop’s market becomes completely saturated.
Although the lineup will look different in Boston next season, their pitching staff will remain almost completely intact. Headed by staff ace Jon Lester, the rotation is plenty deep, but that won’t stop the Red Sox from getting involved in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes. The bullpen will also be a position of strength in 2014 as Edward Mujica joins the bulk of 2013’s pen. There’s a reason the Red Sox won it all last season, and they still project to be one of the top teams in the AL.
The Tigers have made some interesting changes to their ball club this winter, the most prominent being their trade of Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler. They also shipped out starter Doug Fister in an attempt to clear some salary and space for other players. Replacing Fister in the rotation with Drew Smyly and the expected regression of Detroit’s other top starters is responsible for a projected decline of 8.4 fWAR for their pitching as a whole; the largest decrease in the entire AL.
Elsewhere in the AL East, both the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays are projected to see improvement in 2014. Aside from signing Ellsbury, the Yanks also picked up Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran as free agents. McCann projects to add 3.2 fWAR to a catching position that struggled mightily last season, while Beltran, despite declining in the field, gives New York an elite outfield with Brett Gardner manning the other spot. Perhaps the biggest wild card for the Yankees right now is the ongoing legal battle with former star, and Seattle Mariner, Alex Rodriguez, who is fighting a 211-game suspension based on his Biogenesis involvement. The Yankees are expected to add a top free agent starter to their rotation as well before this offseason is complete.
The Blue Jays have had a quiet offseason to date, especially in comparison to what they were up to last year, as catcher Dioner Navarro marks their only significant addition. The Jays fell fell short of lofty expectations in 2013 thanks to the injury bug and can expect an improved overall performance if players like Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, and Brandon Morrow can maintain their health. The Jays’ pitching projects to be better 2014 with their strong bullpen remaining intact. Third baseman Brett Lawrie is projected to have a breakout year with 3.7 fWAR, and his skill set will play a large role in a potential playoff race. The Blue Jays are likely still in the market for another starter, but appear to be content to go with the depth they have to avoid paying market prices.
Times haven’t been good in Minnesota recently, but after adding a trio of free agent starters including Ricky Nolasco, the Twins project to be 9.6 fWAR better in 2014. Former batting champion Joe Mauer is officially making the move from catcher to first base in 2014 to help prevent any concussion-related injuries in the future. The 2009 MVP is projected for a 3.2 fWAR season, less than what he produced in 2013, but the rest of the lineup around him is projected to be much improved. Josh Willingham looks to rebound after a 2013 where he produced exactly 0.0 fWAR and projects to be worth 1.8 fWAR in 2014. It’ll probably be another rebuilding year in the Twin Cities, but there’s reason for excitement in the coming years.
The Indians are coming off of a winning season for the first time since 2007 and project to be slightly better in the coming year, most notably in their lineup. While many view the Tigers as favourites to repeat as Central division champs yet again, the Indians should provide a challenge as their young core continues to improve. All three of Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, and Carlos Santana are projected for 3.0+ fWAR seasons, as well as starters Justin Masterson and Danny Salazar. It’s been a quiet offseason so far in Cleveland as there doesn’t appear to be a lot of work needed for the club to improve. Under manager Terry Francona’s guidance, as well as some veteran leadership, the Indians should be in the thick of the Wild Card race in 2014.
While it’s no surprise to see the Red Sox and Tigers as the early American League favourites, there’s plenty of other teams that have improved themselves so far this winter. There doesn’t appear to be an obvious sleeper choice in the AL right now, but if I were to pick one, it’d be between the Blue Jays and Angels. Obviously their 2014 performances will be based on the health of star players and effectiveness of pitching rotations, but a little good luck and both clubs could be in contention come September.