Last season proved that there are 3 things we can count on in life: death, taxes, and the Louisville Legends winning the AL East. The Legends finished belolw .500 and still won the division for the 10th straight time. Can they make it 11, or does New York or Boston (both teams finished a game back of Louisville) break the stranglehold? Scranton made some significant offseason moves after finishing with 66 wins- can they break into the mix?
Louisville (last season- 3rd in AL) still had enough firepower to take down a division title. They'll return the core of that lineup with SS Amp Palmer, 3B Orlando Franco, DH Ernest Montgomery, LF Albert Martin, and 1B Ismael Polanco. Speedy CF Trever Pierre is talented but doesn't get on base enough to be a dangerous leadoff hitter.
Boston (last season- 4th in AL) is helped out by playing in Fenway but does have some firepower. The biggest name is new free-agent signee 1B Ruben Hernandez, the league's career all-time RBI leader. The holdovers are 2B Tommy Jordan, SS Daniel Koch, and RF Harold Lewis-all good all-around hitters. If C Rick Anderson and CF Butch Swift could hit a little more this lineup could rival Louisville's.
Scranton (last season- 15th in AL) is not going to field the same lineup that finished last season next to last in the AL. They only had 3 players (RF Victor Mercado, C Odalis James, and 3B Jay Hegan) drive in at least 60 runs. Mercado and James will return, and they'll add a full season of star CF Turner Dolan (out for more than half of last season with an injury) and 2B Jeremy Glover (acquired from Fargo) and have added 3B Albie Torres and 1B Stan Starr from Atlanta to form a solid middle of the order. Slugging SS Cleatus Jaramillo is expected to hold down the starting job coming up from AAA this season.
New York (last season- last in AL) will likely once again lack punch. Last year's big free-agent pickup, 3B Denny Moss, had a solid season (nowhere near $23 million worth of production) and DH was a good run producer, but they need help from the likes of RF Marcus Goldman, CF Karim Vega, and 2B Albert Dale. On a side note, SS Mateo James hit .216 with a .266 OBP and a .313 SLG with 199 strikeouts; sadly, the only one of those numbers that is not a career high for the 5-year veteran is the 199 K's.
New York (last season- 2nd in AL) will be solid at the top with veteran arms Dwight Salmon and Vin Espinosa, but there are some doubts as to what happens after those two. Average veterans like Jackie Page and Marv Starr will likely get shots to fill out the rotation. The back of the bullpen is in the very capable hands of 2-time All Star Jason Franco.
Louisville (last season- 11th in AL) started to see some age creep in to the starting rotation last season. Hipolito Maradona was fine at the top, but after that there is some concern- Danny Little had a very good season but he's 37 and there are some questions as to how much he has left. Lance Stevens (35) saw his ERA jump by over a run and the Norm Edwards experiment (6-11, 6.60 ERA) can officially be deemed a failure- he won't return. They signed Trenton's all-time win leader, Damion Mays (nope, not Dunwoody, Salmon, or Sprague- it's Damion Mays), in the offseason- he's yet to live up to the hype that surrounded him coming up in Boston but he's still a big upgrade over Edwards. Buddy Titan was up and down as the closer.
Scranton (last season- 14th in AL) will return the same staff that struggled last season. Lariel Hernandez (14 wins from the bullpen) and Michael Giambi (10 wins) were the only double digit winners last season, but both pitched to ERAs over 5 and Giambi will not be back. Returning are Tito Mercedes, Luke Stein, and Gus Matsuzaka; none of them looks like an ace. Christy Castillo comes over from Boston, but he too had an ERA over 5. The Janitors did spend money in the bullpen, signing both Ted Reese (from Vancouver) and Kid Johnstone (from Philadelphia)- both can close.
Boston (last season- 15th in AL) is going to try to piece together a rotation with pretty much the same parts that had a team ERA of 5.01 last season. David James is still young and Boston fans are waiting for him to figure it out, but guys like James Morton, Craig Hughes, and B.C. Santiago probably aren't going to show much more than they already have. On the plus side, Lance Driskill had his second good season as the closer and looks to be a rising star at the closer position.
1. This division is a crapshoot. New York can't hit, Boston can't pitch, and I can't expect Scranton to be more than 14 games better than last season, so I guess I have to take Louisville by default here.
2. Easiest call here- this division won't get more than one team in the playoffs.
3. I think Scranton may have enough to get by Boston and New York for second.
4. Flip a coin for third and fourth- I think I like Boston's offense more than NY's pitching.
5. One of Boston's bats (Koch? Anderson?) might be liable to go since the most likely candidate, Denny Moss, has a contract that would make a trade unlikely.