It's Christmastime, I'm feeling the holiday spirit (or holiday spirits, as it were).
I wrote a piece last week talking to a scout who briefly broke down the Orioles and the AL East for me.
At the time, R.A. Dickey was still a New York Met, and the scout still predicted that the Toronto Blue Jays would leapfrog the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays and finish second in the AL East, just behind the New York Yankees.
Well, with the acquisition of the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, my guess is the scout would push the Jays over the Yankees for first place in the division.
It got me thinking (yep, more holiday spirits). How would I rank the five American League teams in position of finish for 2013? Certainly, rosters aren't set yet. There will be some changes before Opening Day, for sure. So, yeah, it's a premature exercise, but one that can get us through a cold day in December.
I'm usually not one that falls for the club that made the biggest splash in a given offseason. I wasn't on the Marlins or the Angels heading into 2012.
That said, the Blue Jays are so tough on paper right now. I'd prefer a more proven closer, but the rotation – which added Dickey, Josh Johnson and steady veteran Mark Buehrle – is exceptionally formidable. And the offense, assuming Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes are healthy, is deep and powerful.
So I'd put the Blue Jays as the favorites to win the division. And I'd place the New York Yankees second. Yes, they have only three key players under age 70 and the left-side of their infield is a MASH unit worth more than the gross national product of several thriving European countries. But they are the Yankees; they still have a bunch of great players.
The Orioles haven't made any additions to better a club that won an improbable 93 games last year. So most experts expect them to take a major step backward. I get it, but I don't think this team regresses that much. Perhaps that's because I was around them all last year, but the core is too strong, in my opinion, to freefall. Nick Markakis should be healthy and they'll get a full season of Manny Machado and maybe a partial season of Dylan Bundy.
So I don't think it is a stretch to believe the Orioles could end up with 85 or more wins and in third place in 2013.
If that's the case, then I'd have to choose between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays for last.
The Red Sox have improved themselves with the additions of Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Ryan Dempster, among others. The Rays have gone backward, for the short term, by trading away staff mainstay James Shields and reliever Wade Davis for prospects. They also lost team home run and RBI leader B.J. Upton to free agency.
The Rays had trouble scoring, even with Upton. But they still have several excellent young pitchers, including David Price and Jeremy Hellickson. And you know the adage about good pitching. So I'll give the Rays the edge, for now, for fourth place. But the idea of the Red Sox finishing last in two consecutive years doesn't seem particularly probable.