The buzz around Baltimore about the Orioles has already started and pitchers and catchers don’t even report to Sarasota until next week. While the Orioles have greatly improved their lineup, they compete in baseball’s toughest to division and to overtake the Red Sox and Yankees may be out of reach this season, but what about third place?
Judging by the Tampa Bay Ray’s and Toronto Blue Jay’s offseason, I think third place is very likely for the Orioles, should they stay healthy this season. Both franchises seem to be geared towards winning in the future, not necessarily in 2011. Here’s how I see it.
The Rays aren’t the same Rays from their 2008 A.L. Pennant run. Though this offseason positioned them to win in the future, Tampa Bay’s chances this season are limited. Tampa lost Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, Raphael Soriano, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, Chad Qualls, Joaquin Benoit, Lance Cormier, Grant Balfour, and Randy Choate.
In return, Tampa Bay brings in 37 and 38 year olds Manny Ramirez, and Johnny Damon, Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth, Adam Russell and Cesar Ramos. However, Tampa Bay has 10 of the first 60 draft picks this season. These losses via free agency and the trade of Matt Garza, prove that the Rays are content in stepping aside in 2011 to build up a future in years to come.
With a new manager in John Farrell, the Jays are also full of new faces. Their General Manager, Alex Anthopoulos, has been praised by baseball experts for freeing up money for the Jays to use in the future. The Vernon Wells deal freed up $86 million from their books and brought in Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera in the process.
In addition to losing Wells, the Jays also lost Lyle Overbay, Shawn Marcum, Kevin Gregg, John Buck, Scott Downs and Fred Lewis.
As I mentioned, the Jays did add Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera, they also added Octavio Dotel, Rajai Davis, J.P. Arencibia, Jon Rauch and Kyle Drabek.
The Jays have unloaded and freed themselves up financially to make a big splash in the years to come. I think losing Shawn Marcum is big for this rotation and while they were able to acquire more major league ready talent, I still think they have taken a step back.
The Orioles have shown that under Buck Showalter they can win in the East. They finished the last third of the season with the best record in the division. Their lineup is right up there, maybe not with the New York and Bostons, but certainly with the competition around the rest of baseball. The Birds will go as far as their young pitching staff will take them. That could be far if they grow together, or they could be in for a long season of wearing down that newly built up bullpen. But their competition in the East has certainly set them up for a chance at third place if they put the pieces together.