The American League East has been baseball's most top-heavy division for years now. Buoyed by the perennially monstrous payrolls of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, the division boasts the preseason favorite to win the AL pennant nearly every spring. The East has accounted for half of the AL's playoff teams five of the last six seasons and 10 times since the Division Series was added to the mix in 1995.
Last season saw the Tampa Bay Rays force their way into the upper echelon, becoming the first AL East team other than the Yankees or Red Sox to make the playoffs since the Baltimore Orioles did it in 1997. The Rays' ability to maintain the core of the group that lost to the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series, and the expectation that a roster that still skews young could be even better in 2009, has helped ratchet the stakes up even higher for the upcoming season.
The Yankees responded to the end of their 13-year run of October baseball by committing nearly a half-billion dollars to three high-priced additions they expect to vault them back to the top of the game. And the Red Sox filled in around the edges of a roster that already was one of the game's deepest and most talented with a series of lower-profile but well-regarded offseason moves.
With the 2009 season set to begin next week, the three best teams in baseball may all reside in the same division. Over the next four days, The Tampa Tribune and TBO.com will break down the Beasts of the East by pitching, offense and defense before laying out the reasons why each team might win the division. Who do you think will prevail in each category? Let us know daily on TBO.com.
We'll summarize your votes for all categories in an article that will publish Sunday, right before Opening Day on Monday, April 6.