AL East wide open in '07

AL East wide open in '07

In surveying the state of the American League East, this is what jumps out at you:

The Boston Red Sox dug $210-million deep for Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo, and the New York Yankees' big move, besides retrieving Andy Pettitte, was Doug Mientkiewicz.

The conclusion also strikes you between the eyes: Brian Cashman is being conservative to protect his club's near future -- say, 2009, when New Yankee Stadium opens -- and, sensing that, Theo Epstein goes for the throat now.

Trying to cross a transitional bridge, Cashman's footing is very precarious. He doesn't work in a town that wants to hear anything about rebuilding. But he's pulling it off. He may be proudest of successfully arguing for the early 2005 promotion of Robinson Cano, now a strong link to that future. And in the last three years, the Yankees farm system has rocketed from 27th to fifth in Baseball America's rankings.

For the Bombers, there's still no time like the present, and they're loaded to prolong their run of nine straight divisional titles. The Red Sox are as loaded to stop them, with a superior rotation and Drew on hand to give foes more to worry about than Manny and Papi.

Again, Toronto is a formidable threat lurking in the shadow cast by the Big Two, possibly with a more balanced team than either of them.

The Orioles, who made more changes than any team in the division, and the Devil Rays, with a young and potent lineup that might have difficulty keeping up with its own pitching staff, would both be threats in one of the game's lighter divisions. But realignment won't happen any time soon for them.


New York Yankees
They win if ...

Carl Pavano as Opening Day starter and a rotation back-end of Kei Igawa and Jeff Karstens is just a bad dream, and soon everyone in the Bronx wakes up and all's well again -- with Roger Clemens found under the bed.

Possible pitfalls
Clearly, this is a team built to bash. But if no one grabs the reins -- the leadership of Bernie Williams and even of Gary Sheffield will be missed -- the whole definitely won't match the sum of the parts.

Boston Red Sox
They win if ...

Matsuzaka and Josh Beckett both pitch up to their billing, and Curt Schilling is OK with letting them into his spotlight. And if Coco Crisp rebounds from his lost season; both his speed and defense are essential.

Possible pitfalls
Jonathan Papelbon doesn't hold up. His sudden return to closing earned plaudits as the ultimate team-player move -- of course, others may see it as the ultimate panic move, and not a wise one at that, unless he changed body types from the one that last year wore down under the stress of relief pitching.

Toronto Blue Jays
They win if ...

Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett climb the mound 65 times between them, and pitch in character when there. That's really all it would take. They missed that mark by 12 last season, and the Jays still won 87 games.

Possible pitfalls
If lower-back soreness keeps closer B.J. Ryan out of a grueling opening schedule (10 of their first 16 games are against Boston and Detroit), the Blue Jays may fall into an inescapable hole; it's not easy playing catch-up in this division.

Baltimore Orioles
They win if ...

The division comes back to them. Springing off fantastic preseasons, Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen head a rotation capable of pointing the way to 85-90 wins. If it takes any more than that, the Birds will again be fighting for the wrong nest.

Possible pitfalls
Extended injuries to any frontliner -- left fielder Jay Payton is already down for the start with a left hamstring strain -- would shackle a team lacking depth.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
They win if ...

The baseball gods who last year pointed their fickle finger of fate at the Tigers look toward Tampa Bay and say, "Your turn." The Rays would have enough firepower to take it from there.

Possible pitfalls
The Grapefruit League stone silence -- two runs or fewer in 11 of their first 26 exhibitions -- wasn't a mirage. Take offense out of a team whose No. 2 starter is Jae Seo, and there'll be no props in The Trop.


Top pitcher
Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox: Not just a trendy pick. Dice-K has the repertoire, the eccentricity and the attitude to be as alien and untouchable as Hideo Nomo was in his debut season with the Dodgers. Unless betrayed by his own perfectionism -- occasional lumps are more common in the Major Leagues than in the Japan League -- Matsuzaka will flourish.

Bobby Abreu, Yankees: In the prime of his career (he turned 33 two weeks ago), Abreu alights in the perfect spot for all of his talents to shine, and to be fully appreciated. He's a superior all-around outfielder to Bernie Williams at his peak. He has driven in 100-plus four straight years, hit 20-plus homers seven of the last eight and is a career .302 hitter. He also steals bags and nails baserunners.


Matsuzaka, Red Sox: East again meets the Far East, and anticipation runs high.

Pettitte, Yankees: Brings the retro look to New York's rotation.

Frank Thomas, Blue Jays: Plugs the biggest hole Toronto had in its lineup, at DH.

Danys Baez, Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker and Scott Williamson, Orioles: Came from all corners of the baseball globe to fortify the 'pen in front of closer Chris Ray.

Drew, Red Sox: Gives Boston its most potent right fielder since Trot Nixon's heyday.

Kei Igawa, Yankees: Eclipsed by Matsuzaka Mania, but the Yanks think this finesse left-hander from Japan can be effective in the AL.

Lugo, Red Sox: About to become the 12th different player to start at short for Boston since the start of the 2004 season.

Akinori Iwamura, Devil Rays: His spring proved that hitters from Japan have a tougher adjustment than do pitchers, but his bat should catch up to his smooth glove.

Mientkiewicz, Yankees: May be a toothpick among the Bomber redwoods, but pitchers will appreciate his solid defense at first.

Tomo Ohka, Blue Jays: Nailed down the No. 4 spot in the rotation with a convincing preseason.

Steve Trachsel, Orioles: A quick-fix signing after Kris Benson showed up in camp with a torn rotator cuff.


Delmon Young, Devil Rays: Expected to be one of the league's next marquee players.

Karstens, Yankees: If he can get by a stiff elbow, would be a rare rookie in a Yankees season-opening rotation.

Hayden Penn, Orioles: He couldn't keep up in Spring Training with some hot veteran arms, but could arrive in Baltimore before summer does.

Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: Think David Eckstein, also originally a member of the Boston organization, which apparently learned its lesson.

Philip Hughes, Yankees: If the rotation is as brittle as many perceive, won't be long before he is paged.

Adam Lind, Blue Jays: Toronto will start the season without any first-year players, but the lefty-hitting outfielder will answer the first call for help.

Tom Singer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.