Oct 7, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) hits a 3-run home run during the fifth inning of game three of the American League divisional series against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Projecting The AL East 2014 Line-Ups

As much as it pains me to type this, the AL East will open the season as home of the reigning World Champion Boston Red Sox. Their 2013 squad was not only an offensive menace to the AL East but to all of baseball, leading all 32 teams in runs scored, RBI, total bases, and OBP while finishing second in batting average. The rest of the East isn’t lacking in offense either, as all 5 line-ups have the ability to contend for the 2014 title. Here are my projected rankings for the AL East offenses:

5. Tampa Bay Rays
2013 AL East Rankings: .257 (3) 700 runs (4) 165 HRS (4) 670 RBI (3) .329 OBP (2)
New faces: C Ryan Hanigan; UTIL Wilson Betemit
Projected 2014 line-up
CF Desmond Jennings
2B Ben Zorbist
RF Will Myers
3B Evan Longoria
1B James Loney
DH Matt Joyce
LF David DeJesus
SS Yunel Escobar
C Ryan Hanigan

Year in and year out, the Rays stay in the playoff hunt because of their pitching. These rankings, however, aren’t based on the amount of wins or how they reached them. These rankings are based on strength of line-up, and the Rays just lack the punch the rest of the AL East possesses. They lack long-ball and situational hitters as well as speed on the base paths. Longoria’s 32 home runs, good for tenth in the MLB, paced the team. Who was second? Matt Joyce with a mere 18. Loney had a nice bounce back season (.299, 13 HRs, 75 RBI), yet much more is expected from the five hole hitter. The silver lining is last season’s Rookie of the Year, Will Myers, who was the centerpiece of the James Shields trade. The young sensation has serious power potential smashing 13 HRs in just about half of a season. A lot is also expected from Jennings, who led the team with 20 SBs. If he can finally reach his 20-20, run producing potential you can expect Jennings to slide into the heart of the order moving David DeJesus to the lead-off spot. With trade rumors swirling around catcher Jose Lobaton, you can expect newly signed Hanigan and Jose Molina to be a platoon behind the plate and at the bottom of the order.

4. Toronto Blue Jays
2013 AL East Rankings: .252 (4) 712 runs (3) 185 HRs (2) 669 RBI (4) .318 OBP (3)
New faces: Dioner Navarro
Projected 2014 line-up:
SS Jose Reyes
LF Melky Cabrera
1B Edwin Encarnacion
RF Jose Bautista
DH Adam Lind
CF Colby Rasmus
3B Brett Lawrie
C Dioner Navarro
2B Ryan Goins

The Blue Jays smash home runs with the best of them, having two of the premier power hitters in the game. Unfortunately, they are a team who always struggle with injuries. Joey Bats, Reyes, Lawrie, and former Yankee Melky Cabrera, 4 key cogs in their potentially high-octane offense, failed to play 120 games a piece. For Toronto to get to the next level, they need the consistency these guys can produce. Keep an eye on Macier Itzuris and Ryan Goins, who will duke it out to be the Opening Day second baseman. Goins has been an average minor league player, but Itzuris’ best days are most likely behind him, giving Goins the slight edge. New catcher Navarro bounced back nicely last year (.300, 13 HRs, 34 RBI) after a few years of obscurity; however, his power numbers don’t approach the departed JP Arencibia’s 21 HRs.

3. Baltimore Orioles
2013 AL East Rankings: .260 (2) 745 runs (2) 212 HRs (1) 719 RBI (2) .313 OBP (4)
New faces: Jemile Weeks, Xavier Paul, David Lough, Delmon Young
Projected 2014 line-up:
RF Nick Markakis
3B Manny Machado
CF Adam Jones
1B Chris Davis
C Matt Wieters
SS JJ Hardy
DH Delmon Young
LF Nolan Reimold/ David Lough
2B Jonathan Schoop

With a .313 OBP, these Orioles are a boom or bust team. They led all of baseball in home runs by 24, anchored by Chris Davis’s 53 HRs and his continuing growth as one of the league’s elite power hitters. Right smack in the middle, Jones, Davis, and Wieters make one of the more lethal 3-5 runs in the league (108 HRs and 325 RBI combined). The big question is how soon Machado, one of MLBs most promising young stars, can return to the field. Machado is about to be cleared for baseball activities after last year’s knee injury and ensuing surgery. The sooner he returns, the more powerful this offense becomes, as he made a chase for the single-season doubles record in only his second year.

There will be some important position battles to keep an eye on for the Os. At second base, Jemile Weeks was brought in from Oakland to compete with Ryan Flaherty and Schoop. Schoop has been waiting in the wings behind departed veteran Brian Roberts as the Os second basemen of the future, while Flaherty is more of a safety net more suited for the bench. Nolan Reimold and Delmon Young will battle it out to see who starts at DH. The loser should compete with Lough and Paul for playing time in left field. David Lough was impressive in minimal time with the Royals last season (.286, 5 HRs, and 5 SBs in 98 games) and provides some flexibility in the line-up as he has top of the order potential.

2. Boston Red Sox
2013 AL East Rankings: .277 (1) 853 runs (1) 178 HRs (3) 819 RBI (1) .349 OBP (1)
New faces: AJ Pierzynski, Grady Sizemore
Projected 2014 line-up:
RF Shane Victorino
SS Xavier Bogarts
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
1B Mike Napoli
C AJ Pierzynski
LF Daniel Nava
3B Will Middlebrooks
CF Jackie Bradley

Simply put, the 2013 Red Sox were a run producing factory. Even though they finished behind the Os and the Blue Jays in HRs, they still found a way to outscore everybody. The key was having guys who got on base. Jacoby Ellsbury, Victorino, Perdoia, Ortiz, Nava, and Napoli all had an OBP over .350. Essentially, from the lead-off spot to the 6 slot were on-base machines.

While the core is intact, this is a bit of a different team. The Sox did lose their lead-off man, as Ellsbury headed south to New York. They also got older at catcher, bringing in Pierzynski for Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Although still the best DH in the game, Father Time is gaining on Big Papi. With these changes, the Red Sox will be relying on their youth to come through in a big way. Bogarts and Bradley have 81 combined games of major league experience between them. Sizemore was brought in to compete with Bradley, however, it is the youngster’s job to lose. If Middlebrooks can stay healthy and play a full season, he has immense run producing potential. In 169 games over two seasons, he has 32 HRs and could easily climb up this line-up if he stays healthy.

1. New York Yankees
2013 AL East Rankings: .242 (5) 650 runs (5) 144 HRs (5) 614 RBI (5) .307 OBP (5)
New faces: Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Scott Sizemore, Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson
Projected 2014 line-up:
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
SS Derek Jeter
RF Carlos Beltran
1B Mark Teixeira
C Brian McCann
DH Alfonso Soriano
2B Brian Roberts
3B Kelly Johnson
LF Brett Gardner

I know, I know. Who picks a team that finished dead last in the AL East in every offensive category and then lost one of the elite offensive powers in all of baseball to do a complete 180? It does sound a bit extreme, but let’s face reality. Last season’s Yankee team was Cano, a bunch of cast offs, and once good players past their prime destined for the bench elsewhere. Brett Gardner is the only player in the ’14 line-up who played over 60 games in pinstripes last season, so we are looking at an entirely new team. Luckily, for Yankee fans, this team is much, much better. Putting the A-Rod drama and last year’s lost season behind them should be relatively easy.

Signing Ellsbury was huge as it takes a key piece from the defending champs and adds an element to the top of the line-up that the Yankees haven’t seen since the Knoblauch/ Jeter glory days. With a career .350 OBP, Ellsbury gets on base and causes havoc (52 SBs in ’13) and will score a ton of runs in this line-up. The two biggest concerns for the Yankees are age (the line-up has an average age of 34) and health, though the Yankees have so many interchangeable parts that they should be able to keep everyone in top form for most of the year. McCann is the everyday catcher who can also play first base to spell Teixeira. Kelly Johnson will replace A-Rod at third, but can play all over the infield to give others a day off as well. With super utility guys like Scott Sizemore and Eduardo Nunez on the bench, Roberts and Jeter should get the rest when they need it and the Yankees shouldn’t miss a beat. When Ichiro, even in his elder statesman form, is your fourth or fifth OF option, you are in pretty good shape. Is it a guarantee this team finishes number one? By no means. However, if everyone stays on the field, this Yankee team can make a deep run based on this line-up alone.

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