A year ago at this time, fans of Major League Baseball were ready to write off the Boston Red Sox as an aging team that was trying to find a new identy. They found it. In the uber competitive AL East, success by one team leads to a frenzy from the others.
It’s no secret that the New York Yankees and the Red Sox are the top two teams annually outbidding each other with the top free agents. There’s no question that the Red Sox, who won despite being projected at the bottom of the division, lit a fire under the Yankees to improve quickly. It’s not as easy for the Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays to lure top free agents, but it doesn’t stop them from trying. Let’s face it, they are almost forced in to doing something to hopefully improve their team so they can compete with the Yankees and Red Sox.
Let’s take a look back at the more significant off-season moves each team in the AL East made, to see how well they are faring thus far.
New York Yankees
— MLB (@MLB) April 23, 2014
Jacoby Ellsbury: This move hurts the fans of Boston. Hurts real bad. Ellsbury had been a staple with the Red Sox for years. He’s also been a staple on the disabled list, but he’s shown how lethal he can be if healthy. Ellsbury followed former Red Sox, left-handed, lead-off hitter Johnny Damon to the Bronx. I’m guessing a lot of casual baseball fans thought “good luck Yankees, you just paid a guy a lot of money to play half of a season.” Thus far, Ellsbury has been exactly what the Yankees hoped. For their sake, hopefully he continues to stay healthy. Through April 22 – .342 average, zero homers, eight RBI’s, 12 runs, .395 on-base percentage, eight steals
Brian McCann: This hard-hitting catcher was going to end up in the American League eventually. As a left handed hitter, Yankee Stadium is perfect for him. The Yankees probably overpaid for him. While he doesn’t hit for average, McCann can crush the ball. It’s a typical Yankees move: Overpay, get a little more power in the lineup. So far, McCann has been struggling, but has connected for three dingers. Through April 22 – .262 average, three homers, nine RBI’s, .294 on-base percentage
Carlos Beltran: This guy never seems to fade away as many thought he would. For the better part of his career, Beltran has improved as the season goes on. If he can stay healthy, which did hamper him a little bit over the years, he is a great switch hitter. Given the short porches in Yankees Stadium, it was a no brainer that Beltran would take the big payday from Brian Cashman. Thus far, Beltran has been steady and the Yankees will need him to keep it up if they plan to make a run in October. Through April 22 – .296 average, five homers, 13 RBI’s, .329 on-base percentage
Masahiro Tanaka: Easily the biggest gamble the Yankees made this offseason, but also the biggest opportunity for reward. Tanaka has been lights out in his first three major league starts. We’ve seen this before from Japanese baseball players, so the bigger question is if Tanaka can be lights out come September/October. It’s a little early to say if Tanaka is a difference maker this year, but it appears he will be. Through April 22 – four starts, three wins, zero losses, 2.15 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 35 strikeouts, 29.1 innings
Boston Red Sox
A.J. Pierzynski: Maybe not classified as a high-profile move, Pierzynski no doubt brings a much-needed left-handed bat to the Red Sox’s lineup. This is really the only “significant” move the Red Sox made. Fenway is a great park for Pierzynski to be playing in, and the guy rarely gets hurt. If you want someone to heat up a rivalry with cocky antics, A.J. is your guy. This should be fun as the season goes on. But A.J. is going to need to pick it up, he’s been off to a cold start. Through April 22 – .236 average, one homer, six RBI’s, .283 on-base percentage
Ubaldo Jimenez: A classic case of over spending to try and keep up. Ubaldo is nowhere near the pitcher he was in Colorado years ago, and he’s also nowhere near the amount the Orioles paid for him (four-years, $50 million). He’s really not worth the investment based on how he’s pitched so far this year. These kinds of offseason moves have hurt the Orioles for decades. Through April 22 – four starts, zero wins, three losses, 6.75 ERA, 1.88 WHIP
Nelson Cruz: An interesting signing by the Orioles after Cruz decided to test the market and that failed miserably doing so. It then became a bidding war for which team wanted to add a second-year to an offer for Cruz, and the Orioles decided to. It’s paid off so far as Cruz has hit well in 2014. If the Orioles are hoping to compete, they’re going to need a career year from Nelson Cruz. You know, something like Chris Davis of 2013. Through April 22 – .290 average, four homers, 16 RBI’s, .372 on-base percentage
Tampa Bay Rays
Grant Balfour: The Rays decided to bring back the intensity of Balfour once they realized keeping Fernando Rodney wasn’t worth it. In case you missed it, Balfour had a very odd falling out with Baltimore after he agreed to terms with them this offseason. Fortunately for the Rays, Balfour seems to be just fine. He’s pitched really well and they’ll need him in the very competitive AL East. Through April 22 – seven appearances, 2.35 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, six strikeouts, 7.2 innings
James Loney: They Rays decided to offer a nice sized extension to Loney after liking what they saw in 2013. Just as important to signing free agents, is to reward those who have earned it. Loney has never really lived up to the power hype that he once had (and most first basemen should have), but he’s reliable and doesn’t strike out a ton. Given the weak market at first base, Loney staying with the Rays made sense. He’s having a very “James Loney” type season so far too. Loney isn’t a difference maker, that’s the downside. Through April 22 – .302 average, one homer, 12 RBI’s, .384 on-base percentage
It’s not shocking that the Yankees appear to have had the most successful off-season. They should be competitive throughout the year, but having the best offseason andnot winning in October can lead to a very disappointed fan base. Just like every other season, four fan bases in the AL East end their season in disappointment. Who’s it going to be this year?
Photo: Kim Klement, USA Today