Are the Rays the AL East Favorites If They Keep David Price?


As it stands right now, the Tampa Bay Rays’ payroll is set to reach record heights. James Loney, David DeJesus, and Ryan Hanigan were signed to three-year deals, and David Price is still in a Rays uniform, leaving the Rays primed to zoom past their previous payroll high of $72 million from 2010. Andrew Friedman described such a figure as “unsustainable”–but with the Rays receiving additional money from the new national TV deal, maybe it is something they could live with for one year. The real question is whether it is worth it. If the Rays keep David Price and keep their payroll higher than ever, are they the favorites to win the AL East in 2014? Let’s go team by team and run through how their team looks and their lingering concerns for next season.

The Rays have arguably their most talented roster ever, only improving their playoff squad from last season. Price leads a starting rotation primed to build on its solid 2013 performance. Price, Alex Cobb, and Matt Moore expect better health while Jeremy Hellickson is ready to rebound, and pairing those four with Chris Archer gives the Rays a terrifying rotation from top to bottom. The Rays’ bullpen was its weakness for much of last year, but adding Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo to the fold gives it a chance to return to its 2012 heights. Then there is the offense, headlined by a fully healthy Evan Longoria, Wil Myers playing in his first full year, Ben Zobrist, and Loney in his return. Questions include who will close and what they will do at designated hitter, but this is an extremely well-rounded Rays team with every reason to be confident for next season.

The Boston Red Sox, meanwhile, will defend their 2013 World Series title with a very similar team to last season. That said, it remains loaded. Their rotation may not have the talent of the Rays’, but Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz top a veteran staff that remains quite formidable. Koji Uehara can’t possibly be as unstoppable at closer (right?), but the additions of Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop in addition to Andrew Miller having a full slate of health means that the Red Sox will be awfully hard to beat in the late innings. Then there is the offense, which has lost Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltamacchia but that could do little to stop its explosive lineup. David Ortiz keeps going strong, and combining him with Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and Xander Bogaerts in his rookie year will give opposing pitchers nightmares. The Red Sox will wait to see what happens with Stephen Drew and if Jackie Bradley can be the answer in centerfield, but this Red Sox team will be right in the thick of things once again.

In sharp contrast to their eternal rivals, the New York Yankees are coming off a rough year, but they are working to change that. Their rotation remains up in the air–can CC Sabathia recover from his rough 2013?–but Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova give them two strong options and a signing of Masahiro Tanaka could help return it to its former glory. In the bullpen, Mariano Rivera leaves a void, but David Robertson will close games out for a young but promising relief core. Then there is the offense, which is entirely revamped with the additions of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran and looks to get back to being the force of nature we are used to from the Yankees. The Yankees, though, have significantly more questions than the Rays and Red Sox. They need to nail down the signing of Tanaka or another pitcher. We have yet to hear about Alex Rodriguez, and what will they do to replace him if he is suspended? Finally, can Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira stay healthy? The Yankees have made some moves. We can’t be nearly sure, though, that it will be enough.

No one can take away the Baltimore Orioles’ remarkable playoff run from 2012. But have the Orioles done anything to give them a chance to add to that success? The rotation looks unimpressive, with Chris Tillman being the best of a solid but unspectacular bunch. The loss of Jim Johnson is something the bullpen can survive, but it will have to be near-perfect to overcome the deficiencies of the starting staff. Then there is the offense, which features several formidable hitters in Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and J.J. Hardy but lacks depth at second base, the outfield, and designated hitter. The Orioles still have to sign another late-inning arm and likely another bat, and then they have to hope Manny Machado will be ready for the start of the season. A third straight season above .500 should be in order, but plenty of things need to fall into place before this team can vie for the postseason.

The Toronto Blue Jays were a disappointment for the ages in 2013, and a mostly uneventful offseason has not left a light at the end of the tunnel. R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, and Mark Buehrle at least give the rotation three names, but even resurgent seasons from the latter two would leave the Jays hoping for something more. Even signing a pitcher like Matt Garza or Ervin Santana may not enough for the Jays to have even an average rotation. Luckily the bullpen should be impeccable, with a healthy Sergio Santos joining Casey Janssen, Brett Cecil, and Co., but then the horrors continue. The offense has Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind coming off huge years, but it needs Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, and Brett Lawrie to stay healthy–is there any chance at all that all three of them play in 140 game? The Blue Jays have to do something about their rotation and get plenty of luck on the injury front for 2014 to be much better than last season.

With the Red Sox possibly taking a step back as Jacoby Ellsbury departs and the Yankees still not at full strength, 2014 will be the Rays’ opportunity. If Price is gone, the Rays could still compete for a Wild Card spot, but the chance to be among the favorites to win the World Series does not come along too often. We know the Rays will look at more than 2014 when evaluating whether to deal Price, but can the Rays really look at the rest of the division and choose to trade him away?