Colgate Around the Hill – Who will win the A.L. East in 2009?

By Jim Rosen

There’s a new sheriff in town. Although people could not believe it last summer, the Tampa Bay Rays are here to stay. With the addition of the youngsters from Florida, the A.L. East is the best division in baseball. With the exception of the Blue Jays, each team in the division improved their roster. The Baltimore Orioles signed shortstop Cesar Izturis, who should help to solidify their formidable infield. The Rays rid themselves of the injury-plagued Rocco Baldelli and added a solid bat in Pat Burrell. The real winners of the offseason, however, were the Yankees and Red Sox.

Unless you have been living in a vacuum these past couple months, you know that the Yankees were not pleased with missing the playoffs last season and responded in their usual fashion: spending money. They signed three of the league’s best free agents in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira for a whopping $425 million, while actually lowering their payroll. Although the Yankees improved, so did the Red Sox. The additions of John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Rocco Baldelli and Mark Kotsay will help the Sox tremendously.

Although the Red Sox improved, their team is filled with injury prone players and this will force them to miss the playoffs. This leaves the East open to the Yankees and the Rays. While the Yankees have a legitimate chance to win their coveted World Series this year, they’ll have to do it as a wild card team as the Rays will win the East, continuing their surprising run of greatness.

By Bill Stoklosa

Despite changes made by the Sox and Yankees, I see another division title for the Rays this year. Last year was no fluke; the Rays won thanks largely to their amazing pitching and almost their whole rotation is returning. Tampa was third in all of baseball with a 3.82 ERA last season; the Sox and Yankees were 9th and 15th respectively. Of course the additions of Penny in Boston and Sabathia in New York are huge steps toward bettering those staffs, but I’m not sure that Boston’s addition of Smoltz will pan out. He’s on the downside of his career and will be out until June with an injury. Similarly I think the Yankees are overestimating the impact that A.J. Burnett will have on the team. Plus, the loss of 20-game winner Mike Mussina is a big loss for their rotation.

The Rays bring back four of their five starters from last season in Scott Kazmir, Andy Sonnanstine, James Shields and Matt Garza. Each had 11 wins or more last year and an ERA under 4.45. None of the four were atop the AL statistical leader board last year, but all are solid and make for a rotation unrivaled in its depth. The only departure from last year’s rotation was Edwin Jackson and his replacement will likely be young phenom David Price. Another key to the Ray’s success will be their bullpen, led by Chad Bradford and Dan Wheeler, which posted 52 saves last season, second best in baseball.

Tampa also returns a solid lineup from last year. Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena will all return. The addition of Pat Burrell, one this off-season’s most unsung moves, will make the Rays lineup even better this year. Burrell hit 33 home runs and knocked in 86 runs last year, and he’ll be able to DH in the American League which should keep him healthy. Tampa also seems to possess better team chemistry that other teams in the division. Credit Manager Joe Maddon for his team’s chemistry and also for great game management. The Rays were great last year and with the youth of their team they should be getting even better this year.

By Chas Kurtz

The AL East is easily the deepest division in baseball this season. The Rays, Red Sox and Yankees all have legitimate World Series aspirations, while the perpetually overlooked Blue Jays should be a solid squad as usual. The Orioles won’t be good, but the young outfield threesome of Pie, Jones, and Markakis should be entertaining.

Differentiating between Tampa, Boston and New York is not easy. The Yankees obviously made the biggest offseason splash with the Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira signings, but was it enough to vault them ahead of the Rays and Sox? With turmoil surrounding A-Rod, a less than stellar outfield, a complete lack of depth and a core group of players that’s only getting older, the Bronx Bombers have a lot of question marks. That said, they should win at least 90 games and compete for the division title.

Boston’s offseason was not as spectacular as New York’s, but the Sox should certainly be a contender once again. John Smoltz, Brad Penny, and Takashi Saito were all low-risk signings that could pay huge dividends. With Coco Crisp gone, Jacoby Ellsbury’s production at the top of the lineup will be crucial, but having the reigning league MVP batting behind him should certainly help him live up to his potential. Expect the Sox to be a threat again in October.

The AL East champion, however, will be the Tampa Bay Rays. Last year’s team was young and inexperienced, and still won the AL. This season’s team is young, experienced and even deeper. David Price will be around all seaso, Pat Burrell is an upgrade at DH, and the young rotation should terrify the entire league. 100 wins, a second AL East title and another serious World Series run for this mega-talented Rays.

By Paul Kasabian

A baseball team needs three things to have great success at the professional level: a deep starting rotation, a stout bullpen and great team chemistry. The only team in the A.L. East that can put checks next to those three is the Red Sox, so the early edge goes to Boston barring injuries.

A modern-day Four Horsemen will sit in the Sox bullpen in the personas of Jon Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson and Takashi Saito. Furthermore, the Red Sox will be able to throw as many as eight potential starters out on the mound starting in June when 210-game winner John Smoltz comes back from shoulder surgery. Lastly, the team chemistry has improved mightily ever since Manny Ramirez was shipped out of Boston.

Here’s how I see the rest of the division shaping up in predicted order.

Yankees: Solid rotation and bullpen, but New York is a group of 25 exorbitantly paid individuals and not a team a la the last Yankee Dynasty.

Rays: Do you trust Troy Percival in the top of the ninth? He’s been a great leader on a team of young, talented and supremely athletic ball players, but this 39-year-old is not getting any younger and will be the symbol of a failing bullpen this season.

Blue Jays: The Roy Halladay-led rotation took an enormous hit with the loss of A.J. Burnett, who has been a notorious A.L. East killer. However, their bullpen is pretty good and their chemistry improved with the return of manager Cito Gaston in the middle of the 2008 season.

Orioles: No chance in hell.