By Phil Rogers, Chicago Tribune reporter
7:17 PM CST, February 13, 2013
Go ahead, pick an American League East champion.
Lots of people are in love with the Blue Jays, who won the offseason. They probably will be the consensus pick when teams leave Florida. But you wouldn't be nuts to pick the Yankees, Rays or Orioles. You'd need some imagination, but you probably even could pick the Red Sox.
Now pick the last-place team.
Just reverse the process. From here, it's hard to see the Blue Jays falling that far. But if the Red Sox bounce back as they are designed to do, then the Yankees, Rays and Orioles all could be in danger of finishing last, maybe even with 80 wins. Wouldn't that be something? This is a loaded division, and anything's possible.
Last year: 95-67, survived a five-game division series against the Orioles before being swept by the Tigers in the ALCS, with the lasting memory a postseason average of 2.4 runs per game.
Manager: Joe Girardi, who pushed the right buttons with Raul Ibanez in the Orioles series, seems firmly in control, but the Yankees are heading into dangerous waters.
Key reinforcements: 3B Kevin Youkilis, DH Travis Hafner, OF Matt Diaz, 1B Dan Johnson.
Gone, not forgotten: OF Nick Swisher, RHP Rafael Soriano, C Russell Martin, DH Raul Ibanez, RHP Freddy Garcia, OF Andruw Jones, 3B Eric Chavez.
Big fun: Watching Youkilis change sides in baseball's biggest rivalry.
Big worry: The health of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Michael Pineda is critical for a team that knows it won't have Alex Rodriguez until after the All-Star break, if then.
Last year: 93-69, with a 29-9 record in one-run games sending them to the playoffs for the first time since 1997. Beat the Rangers in a wild-card playoff, lost to the Yankees in the ALDS.
Manager: Buck Showalter turned in a Hall of Fame performance with his handling of a pitching staff that seemed to have closer Jim Johnson as its only wire-to-wire strength.
Key reinforcements: DH Russ Canzler, 2B Alexi Casilla, 1B-OF Travis Ishikawa, LHP Daniel Schlereth.
Gone, not forgotten: 3B-1B Mark Reynolds, LHP Joe Saunders, LHP Randy Wolf, DH Jim Thome, OF Endy Chavez.
Big fun: Dylan Bundy will try to make his case to stick in the rotation he soon will lead.
Big worry: Can Showalter find enough firepower in his lineup? A poor spring showing could cause him to pursue available hitters, including the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano.
Last year: 90-72, with Evan Longoria's surgery to repair a torn hamstring leaving them out of the playoffs despite a Cy Young season from David Price.
Manager: Joe Maddon remains the face of baseball's most cohesive management team, from the owner down through the baseball operations department.
Key reinforcements: OF Wil Myers, 1B James Loney, 2B Kelly Johnson, SS Yunel Escobar, RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo.
Gone, not forgotten: RHP James Shields, OF B.J. Upton, RHP Wade Davis, IF Jeff Keppinger, LHP J.P. Howell, RHP Burke Badenhop, SS Elliot Johnson.
Big fun: Myers, a consistent run producer in the minors, is expected to become a cornerstone bat alongside Longoria.
Big worry: Intangibles are easily overrated, but Shields' leadership was a huge plus for Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey. Price should be fine without him, but lesser pitchers will miss Shields' big-brother presence.
Last year: 73-89. Jose Bautista's season was severely affected by a wrist injury that required surgery after the season, and a young pitching staff collapsed.
Manager: John Gibbons, returning for a second stint after spending 2012 managing in the Texas League, will be tested by huge expectations after major additions over the offseason, including National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and three proven parts from Miami.
Key reinforcements: Dickey, SS Jose Reyes, LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP Josh Johnson, OF Melky Cabrera, IF Maicer Izturis, IF-OF Emilio Bonifacio, IF-OF Mark DeRosa, C Josh Thole, RHP Esmil Rogers.
Gone, not forgotten: RHP Carlos Villanueva, RHP Jason Frasor, IF Omar Vizquel, C Travis d'Arnaud, RHP Noah Syndergaard.
Big fun: Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are preparing for a huge season after the addition of on-base guys and speed to the lineup.
Big worry: The one unknown on the roster is closer, but Casey Janssen was 22-for-25 in save situations last year and Sergio Santos reports he has recovered from shoulder surgery.
Last year: 69-93 as Bobby Valentine was one-and-done as manager of a sinking ship, with injuries and clubhouse discord giving him little chance to match ownership's unrealistic expectations.
Manager: John Farrell's decision to leave Toronto with one season left on his contract might have played a subtle role in influencing the Blue Jays to go for it when player acquisition opportunities presented themselves. He's not returning to the same strong franchise for which he worked as Terry Francona's pitching coach.
Key reinforcements: OF Shane Victorino, 1B-C Mike Napoli, C David Ross, OF Jonny Gomes, RHP Joel Hanrahan, RHP Ryan Dempster, RHP Koji Uehara.
Gone, not forgotten: OF Cody Ross, RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, 1B James Loney, OF Ryan Sweeney.
Big fun: There is no better place to watch a spring training game than Jet Blue Field, with its stunningly accurate replication of Fenway Park.
Big worry: Were Francona and Valentine really the problem? Or is the organization on a downward cycle after a long run?
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