The big news out of the AL East from the winter meetings this past week came from the Boston Red Sox. The BoSox signed former Texas catcher Mike Napoli, former Philadelphia outfielder Shane Victorino, and former Oriole reliever Koji Uehara. The Baltimore Orioles have had their way in a sense with Boston since September of 2011. Boston came into 2012 with almost the same roster as the year prior, albeit with a different manager.
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Thus far, Tampa has lost B.J. Upton, who signed with Atlanta just prior to the meetings. If I were a Tampa fan I wouldn’t be overly concerned about that, although Upton is a major loss for any franchise. Joe Maddon seems to always find a way to either get into the playoffs or at the very least remain in contention until the very end. Therefore if history is any indication, Tampa should be somewhere near the top on the last day.
Obviously the major story lines of the off season have come out of Toronto. When a team adds the likes of Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio to their roster, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with. However keep in mind where those players came from…Miami did the same thing in a major shopping spree last season. We all know how that worked out. So buying talent en masse and adding it to whatever you already have doesn’t always have the desired affects. However on paper, Toronto looks to be the most improved team league-wide.
And then there’s New York. I think that in the 2012 playoffs more than ever before we saw how quickly this crop of players is aging. They’re on the verge of adding former rival Kevin Youkilis, and they re-signed Brett Gardener to a one-year deal. However Jeter started to have injury problems this year in the playoffs, and we found out last week that Alex Rodriguez will probably miss the first half of the season.
So how do the Orioles match up with their closest rivals? Honestly I think that Toronto will be a challenging team for the Orioles. Boston will be improved, but to this point they still haven’t improved their pitching. That was a huge problem for them down the stretch in 2011 and again in 2012. Tampa’s simply going to be Tampa in that they’re gritty and they’re going to compete…much like the Orioles. New York appears to be down at the moment, however that’s always a phone call away from changing when you have a Steinbrenner as your owner.
Winning in the division is extremely important for the Orioles, and while the Birds arguably have better starting pitching than those teams (aside maybe from Tampa), some of the bats on other rosters are a bit more potent. So in that sense perhaps it’s good that the O’s are retaining a guy like Nate McLouth, given his propensity for getting clutch hits when the team needed it most. That’s really what sports are about nowadays: coming through in the clutch. I submit that as time has gone on (all across sports) more and more parity has been introduced into the various leagues. Therefore it might not be the team with the most sheer power who wins, but the team that comes through most in the clutch. Raul Ibanez‘s heroics at the end of the regular season and in the postseason against the O’s proved that. Boston had that knack at one time, however I think that age and talent atrophy has done that in. The Orioles are a team that seems to rise to the occasion when its needed the most (if 2012 is any indication). So again, how do the Orioles stack up with the changes in the division thus far? The answer is that time will tell.