The American League East might be the most difficult division in baseball — maybe even in all of sports. The defending World Series winners make their home in the AL East, along with the league’s biggest spenders and a remarkably successful small-market front club.
But no team is perfect, so with spring training approaching, here’s a look at the biggest weaknesses facing each AL East team in 2014:
Weak spot: The Orioles have a strong lineup that ranked fifth in MLB in runs scored last year, but it includes a few question marks. Henry Urrutia and Nolan Reimold are among the leading candidates to start as designated hitter. David Lough, the promising but unproven 28-year-old, will start in left, and Jemile Weeks projects as the starter at second base after back-to-back difficult seasons in Oakland.
Potential solution: Kendrys Morales or Nelson Cruz would provide the Orioles with a welcome offensive boost at DH or in left field, though both are tied to draft pick compensation and would therefore cost Baltimore the 17th overall pick this June.
Boston Red Sox
Weak spot: The defending World Series champs have a potent lineup, an effective bullpen and a deep rotation. If there’s one question about the 2014 Red Sox it’s whether top prospects Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. can contribute enough to justify their places on a pennant contender.
Potential solution: There’s reason to believe Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. will be just fine, and the Red Sox have bench pieces such as Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes and Jonathan Herrera should the prospects falter. But bringing Stephen Drew back wouldn’t hurt.
New York Yankees
Weak spot: No team could easily withstand the loss of Robinson Cano, the Yankees included. They replaced their longtime second baseman with Brian Roberts, the oft-injured switch-hitter who spent the first 13 seasons of his career with Baltimore. Now 36, Roberts has missed more than half of the season four consecutive times. Relying on him and soon-to-be-40-year-old Derek Jeter for steady production up the middle creates significant risk for the Yankees.
Potential solution: With Kelly Johnson, Eduardo Nunez and Brendan Ryan on the roster, the Yankees have some depth in case Roberts or Jeter misses time.
Tampa Bay Rays
Weak spot: While Jake Odorizzi showed promise in seven outings with Tampa Bay last year, he has limited experience at the MLB level. Yet the Rays will likely have to rely on the right-hander in their fifth rotation spot at least until Jeremy Hellickson recovers. Odorizzi did post a 3.33 ERA with 124 strikeouts in 124.1 innings at triple-A last year, so lots of teams wouldn’t mind having him as their ‘weak spot.’
Potential solution: Prospects Alex Colome and Enny Romero would be able to contribute in a pinch.
Toronto Blue Jays
Weak spot: The Blue Jays have not added to their rotation at all even after the group combined to post a 4.81 ERA in 2013. When spring training officially begins, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond, Sean Nolin, Marcus Stroman and Dustin McGowan will be among the candidates for the fifth starter’s job. But until the Blue Jays address their rotation, it will loom as a weakness relative to the projected rotations of American League contenders.
Potential solution: Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are still out there. Either pitcher would make the Blue Jays a better team on paper, and the free agents’ asking prices have reportedly dropped.