1. Boston (99-63)
Comment: On paper, they have the best team. Beyond their fantastic everyday players, they also have much more depth than any other team. An injury in the infield? Bring in Jed Lowrie. In the outfield? Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald are ready to go. Starting pitching? After the top five, they have Wakefield and Aceves, plus Andrew Miller, who they seem to be committed to actually "developing" rather than throwing him out there and making him figure it out. Only an extreme rash of injuries seems likely to keep them out of the playoffs.
Player to watch for: Adrian Gonzalez. Other than Miguel Cabrera, he's probably the best hitter in the American League, and he's doing it without Cabrera's baggage. He's my MVP pick.
2. Tampa Bay (89-73)
This team hasn't fallen off as much as you think from their 96 win season. Losing Crawford hurts, yes. But Carlos Pena had a terrible year for them, and Matt Garza was inconsistent. Hellickson is likely to outperform what Garza did last year (minus the no-hitter), so call that a wash. One thing to watch - their starting pitchers have been extremely durable, rarely getting injured. If they can keep up that incredible durability, they're a playoff contender.
Player to watch for: David Price. The former #1 overall pick made the leap last year. He also pitched over 200 innings for the first time. If he stays healthy this year, he's a perennial Cy Young candidate for the next ten to twelve years.
3. New York (88-74)
Most publications seem to have them penned in for 90-93 wins, but I'm not sure they have the depth to pull that off. I can't, in good conscience, pick a team with a starting rotation of Sabathia/Hughes/Burnett/Nova/Garcia, with Bartolo Colon(!) as the backup plan, to get enough outs to win consistently in such a tough division. They're a playoff contender, but teams this old don't stand pat and succeed.
Player to watch for: Alex Rodriguez. A lot was made of the struggles of Jeter and the painful slow start for Teixeira, but A-Rod's gradual decline
That's a guy under contract for SEVEN more seasons. He hasn't played in 140 games since 2007. I can't imagine he'll ever be the 1996-2007 player he was ever again, but if he can get back to 08-09 levels, the Yankees will be happy. With his defense failing, and Montero a catcher in name only, we'll see if the Yankees do the smart thing and try to convert Montero to 3B.
4. Baltimore (79-83)
They've revamped the offense, and their young pitching is solid. I'm not the first person to say this, but they'd be a sleeper pick in a different division. Mark Reynolds, going to a bigger park in the more difficult league, could be in for a rough season. It would take some serious injuries on the teams ahead of them, plus a major step forward from Matusz and the other young guns, to label these guys a contender just yet.
Player to watch for: Matt Wieters. I'm just not comfortably labelling a 24 year old catcher a "bust." Catchers have the hardest development curve, which is why so few of them are even in the majors at 24. Mike Piazza, and then Joe Mauer, completely threw out of whack the expectations we have for catchers. If Wieters can run a .270/.330/.415 line he'll be the best catcher in the division, and he could blow that slugging percentage away.
5. Toronto (71-91)
One step back to take two steps forward. Vernon Wells had a very good year last year, but that contract was an albatross, and it was really only his third very good year in his last eight. The Jays have gotten younger, and much more financially flexible this offseason. They're now in a position to figure out who among Lind, Arencibia, Snider, Morrow and others are part of the long term picture. Under the Ricciardi era, this seemed to be a team that was built with the goal of winning 82-86 games in mind in order to challenge for second place in case another team was hit with injuries. They were filled with overpaid players who were serviceable but who weren't going to be the key components of a team that would take the next step. Rios, Wells, Overbay and B.J. Ryan were very good complementary parts (until Ryan got hurt), but they weren't the core of a championship team. Current management seems to understand that, and they've scrapped that model. It's impossible to say whether they'll be successful, but they're going about this the right way.
Player to watch for: Jose Batista. He went into his age 29 season with 59 career home runs. He hit 54 last year. And it wasn't like it came in one power spurt either, as he slugged over .500 in four of the six months, and over .740 in three of them. If anyone can tell me for sure whether or not it was a total fluke, he's a smarter man than I. I'd be surprised by 54 homers again, but not by 35-40. Important note - his defense was not as good in right field as you would expect from a converted infielder, so if his bat falls back to pre-2010 levels, he's not much of a player at all