1. Boston Red Sox
There are high hopes in Boston, and all the pieces are there for a third World Series championship in eight years. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka form a solid rotation. The lineup has speed with Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury and power with David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis.
The most glaring issue on the loaded Red Sox could be closer Jonathan Papelbon, who is under pressure after an off-year. Bobby Jenks and Daniel Bard could take over at closer if Papelbon falters.
2. New York Yankees
Spurned by Cliff Lee, the Yankees strengthened their bullpen and weakened a division rival by signing free agent Rafael Soriano to a $35 million, three-year contract to set up for fellow All-Star closer Mariano Rivera. Soriano had an A.L.-best 45 saves for Tampa Bay last season.
Beyond CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, there are major questions in the rotation for Joe Girardi and new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. A.J. Burnett had a strong spring training but is coming off a dismal 2010 season. Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia will begin the year in the last two slots, but that could change quickly if either right-hander gets off to a poor start.
3. Tampa Bay Rays
It was a long, cold winter for the defending division champs, whose payroll constraints played a role in the departure of Carl Crawford, first baseman Carlos Pena, starting pitcher Matt Garza and seven of the team’s top eight relievers. Tampa Bay’s payroll is projected to be about $41 million, down from $73 million last season.
All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria and speedy center fielder B.J. Upton are back to go along with a deep rotation headed by ace David Price. Manager Joe Maddon also is hoping to get an offensive boost from aging stars Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, who each signed one-year deals.
4. Baltimore Orioles
Looking for a surprise team in the American League? Buck Showalter took over the Orioles last August and led them to a 34-23 finish. Then Baltimore did a decent offseason impersonation of its big-budget division rivals, signing first baseman Derrek Lee and designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, and trading for third baseman Mark Reynolds and shortstop J.J. Hardy.
The biggest problem for the Orioles is they play in the star-studded East, and they’re going to need their young starting rotation – headed by Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz – to step up.
5. Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are hoping new manager John Farrell can help Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek turn into the foundation of a strong rotation that will help them keep up in their formidable division. Farrell spent the previous four seasons as Boston’s pitching coach.
The lineup, which had a major league-leading 257 homers, took a hit with the trade of pricey outfielder Vernon Wells to the Angels but still has home run king Jose Bautista, Aaron Hill and Adam Lind.