When the Rays sent out Delmon Young to the Twins for Garza, they were sending a message that they were ready to compete this year in the AL East. Since then, the front office has done other things to fortify this team, but for now we will only concentrate on the starting pitching. By adding Garza, the Rays now have a very formidable 3-man front, but how do they stack up to the perennial powers of the AL East. I have given the expected 5-man rotation for each team, along with a couple extra players who could play a impact role.
More after the jump...
1. This team won the World Series last year, but is built to compete for many years to come. Last post-season, Josh Beckett pitched out of his mind, much like he did all season long. Beckett, Schilling, and Dice-K combine to make a very tough front in the rotation. The back end of the rotation is filled with knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield and Jon Lester. As if they didn't have enough good pitching, the only player who throw a no-hitter for the team last year hasn't even been mentioned yet. Clay Buchholz won the hearts of many Sox fans last season with his memorable performance. He was shut down at the end of the season, as they were afraid to overuse the youngsters arm. Expect Buchholz and Lester to battle it out in spring training for the final rotation spot. This is the best rotation in all of baseball right now, and is on another level in comparison with other AL East squad's.
2. There is not much separating the Yankees from the Jays and Rays. All 3 of these team's could all potentially have breakout season's next year. We rank the Yanks ahead of the rest, due to their dominance of the division for the past 10 years. The rotation will be anchored by a front 3 of Wang, Petitte, and Mussina. Expect Wang to be the same thing he has been the last 2 years: consistent. He will never be an amazing pitcher, but he will continue to pitch at a very high level. Petitte has announced his usage of HGH following the Mitchell Report, and will also be another year older. We do not know how this will effect him, but do not expect his numbers to improve. Mussina has slowly declined over the last couple of years, and there is no reason to foresee a change in this trend. The Yanks have some very nice young pitchers in Hughes and Kennedy. Both pitchers have raced through the farm system, and will most likely become MLB-regulars for years to come. If they can continue their dominance on the MLB-level, this rotation will become feared. Joba Chamberlain swept the country last year with his incredible run from the bullpen. He was voted as the "NEXT" athlete by "ESPN the Magazine", but he has yet to prove himself over a full season in the majors. Many think they Yankees will convert him back to a starter. If he is converted, the trio of Hughes, Kennedy, and Chamberlain will be troublesome for many years for the Rays.
3. Scott Kazmir finally regained full-strength about midway through the season, and it was very evident with his numbers. If he can continue to pitch as he did in the second half of last season, expect his name to be thrown around the Cy Young debate next season. James Shields really came out of nowhere for the Rays last season. Many expected him to perform well, but not many predicted him to become a staple frontline starter. His devastating change has been compared to be as effective as Johan Santana's. The Rays newest arm, Matt Garza, has been one of the most proven young pitcher's in the game. He maintained a ERA under-4 in the time he played last season, and will be an excellent option as a third starter. Together, the front 3 will offer a very strong 1,2,3 combo. Each pitcher is very unique, and will give opposing offenses a different challenge every evening. After the top 3, things become a little shakier for the Rays. Andy Sonnanstine is expected to slot in as the fourth starter, but he will have to learn to keep the ball out of the zone. He has excelled at all levels in the minors, but he will have to become more aggressive if he expects to succeed in the majors. Edwin Jackson has the ability to become a perennial all-star, but he has yet to put everything together. Last season he would show flashes a brilliance, but come out 5 days later and look no better than Casey Fossum. E-Jax will be a wild-card for the rotation. If he can put it together, that would instantly upgrade this team to a wild-card contender. Jeff Niemann will most likely be given the opportunity to win a job out of spring training, but he would have to look superb to unseat Sonny or E-Jax. Another alternative that might make the most sense, would be to turn Niemann to the bullpen. (cough, cough) Joba Chamberlain (cough, cough)
4. I hate putting the Jays all the way down in the fourth spot, but with the injury liability of Halladay and Burnett and the youngsters who haven't fully proven themselves on this level, there are too many question marks to rank them higher. This is a rotation that has the possibility of becoming terrific. Halladay has proven to be top-caliber pitcher, and as long as he can stay healthy, I wouldn't expect anything different. Burnett's health history has been well recorded, and will no doubt be a topic to watch this season. He did prove last year that he can still be effective while healthy, and can be a major asset to this team. McGowan pitched some brilliant gem's last season, including a near no-hitter last season. If he can put it together this season, they can build a solid front three. Marcum is another reliable arm in the Blue Jays rotation. He had a good year last year, and hopes he can improve even more this season. Litsch is the baby of the group finishing last year at the age of 22. It is well-noted that he is a former Rays batboy, but there is nothing child-like about his 2007 performance. Outside of this group of 5 starters the Jays don't really have too much else. Josh Banks pitched in AAA last season and put up decent numbers, but he isn't expected to be a heavy player on the MLB level. This all breaks down to show that if the Jays continue to suffer injuries, this rotation will continue to underperform.
5. Erik Bedard is pegged to be the leader of this rotation, but this could change by the time the season starts. Bedard has been constantly mentioned in trade rumors, as the Orioles are in a rebuilding phase. Bedard is a very similar pitcher to Kazmir, as they both lefties have amazing sliders and high strikeout totals. Daniel Cabrera can best be compared to Edwin Jackson of the Rays, but with even more inconsistency. He has all the tools, but can't ever seem to find the strike zone. Loewen is one of the youngsters that they are trying to build this team around, and has performed well in his small amount of time in the majors. Jeremy Guthrie had a great season last year, and will look to repeat that performance this year. Olson has put up very good numbers at the AAA level, but in limited exposure has looked very poor in the majors. He will hope to start with a clean slate this season, and recover his AAA form. Liz will most likely start the season in AAA, but may have the opportunity to make a quick jump and become a regular contributor to this ballclub. Although this team is the worst rotation in the AL East, they have a good foundation to build from, and will continue to grow in years to come.