Manager: Joe Maddon

Key free agents: OF Pat Burrell (2 years, $16 million); OF Gabe Kapler (1 year, $1 million); RHP Joe Nelson (1 year, $1.3 million); LHP Brian Shouse (1 year, $1.55 million).

Acquired in trade: OF Matt Joyce (from Detroit).

Going, going, gone: OF Rocco Baldelli (signed with Boston); OF Jonny Gomes (signed with Cincinnati); RHP Edwin Jackson (traded to Detroit); OF Cliff Floyd (signed with San Diego); OF Eric Hinske (signed with Pittsburgh).

Written in Stone: The Rays have the curse of expectations, which has brought down many an overachieving ballclub. But their salvation is that they hardly overachieved last year. The Rays were, and are, brimming with talent, and actually should only get better as rising young stars like B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria gain experience. The lineup is bolstered by the addition of DH Pat Burrell, who brings his 33 home runs and, as an added benefit, can leave his glove in Philadelphia. The one nagging concern is Upton, who has been slow to come back from shoulder surgery and won’t be ready to start the season.

Boston Red Sox

Manager: Terry Francona

Key free agents: C Jason Varitek (re-signed, 1 year, $5 million); RHP Brad Penny (1 year, $5 million); RHP John Smoltz (1 year, $5.5 million); RHP Takashi Saito (1 year, $2.5 million).

Going, going, gone: RHP Curt Schilling (retired); SS Alex Cora (signed with Mets); RHP Bartolo Colon (signed with White Sox); OF Coco Crisp (traded to Kansas City); C David Ross (signed with Atlanta); RHP David Aardsma (traded to Mariners); 1B Sean Casey (retired).

Written in Stone: There’s somebody missing from the Red Sox lineup. Wait, it’ll come to me. Dreads, baggy uniform, used to pop into the Green Monster for pee breaks. Mandy, Marty, something like that. OK, the Red Sox don’t seem nearly as formidable without Manny Ramirez, but if he was half as disruptive as closer Jonathan Papelbon said, they’ll be twice as happy without him. Jason Bay doesn’t quite offer M-Ram’s fearsome pop, but he’s outstanding in his own right. In fact, the Red Sox lineup is still one of the best going, especially if Big Papi is over his ailments (primarily an injured wrist). Dustin Pedroia has gone from Rookie of the Year to MVP, so the next step, one supposes, is the Nobel Peace Prize.

New York Yankees

Manager: Joe Girardi

Key free agents: LHP CC Sabathia (7 years, $160 million); RHP A.J. Burnett (5 years, $82.5 million); 1B Mark Teixeira (8 years, $180 million); LHP Andy Pettitte (re-signed, 1 year, $5.5 million).

Acquired in trade: OF Nick Swisher (from White Sox).

Going, going, gone: OF Bobby Abreu (signed with Angels); 1B Jason Giambi (signed with Oakland); RHP Mike Mussina (retired); C Ivan Rodriguez (signed with Houston).

Written in Stone: What recession? The Yankees executed their own personal stimulus package, signing Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett for a combined $423.5 million. But what has receded in recent years is the Yankees’ championship pedigree. They haven’t appeared in a World Series since 2003 or won one since 2000, and last year, they did the unthinkable, missing the playoffs for the first time in a completed season since 1993. But in the same year that the new, $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium opens, the Bronx Bombers will again be locked in a bitter battle with their old rivals, the Red Sox, and their new nemesis, the Rays, for a playoff berth. A-Rod will be sidelined until at least May after hip surgery.

Toronto Blue Jays

Manager: Cito Gaston

Key free agents: C Michael Barrett (minor-league deal); 1B Kevin Millar (minor-league deal); OF Jason Lane (minor-league deal).

Going, going, gone: RHP A.J. Burnett (signed with Yankees); C Gregg Zaun (signed with Baltimore).

Written in Stone: Let’s see, J.P. Ricciardi’s five-year plan is now in its eighth year, and the Jays don’t seem any closer to breaking into the upper echelon of the AL East. Now their always-daunting task of catching up to the Yankees and Red Sox has a new element; they must catch the Rays as well – and hold off an Orioles team on the verge of a youth-oriented breakthrough. As usual, it’s not that the Jays are horrible. They’re just relentlessly slightly above-average, which simply doesn’t cut it in the AL East. On the bright side, they have their own emerging star in Mill Creek’s Travis Snider, just 21, who is being called “Boy Wonder” around the Jays’ camp.

Baltimore Orioles

Manager: Dave Trembley

Key free agents: RHP Koji Uehara (2 years, $10 million); 3B-OF Ty Wigginton (2 years, $6 million); LHP Mark Hendrickson (1 year, $1.5 million); SS Cesar Izturis (2 years, $6 million); C Gregg Zaun (1 year, $2 million).

Acquired in trade: OF Felix Pie (from Cubs); LHP Rich Hill (from Cubs); OF Ryan Freel (from Cincinnati).

Going, going, gone: C Ramon Hernandez (traded to Cincinnati); RHP Daniel Cabrera (signed with Washington); 1B Kevin Millar (signed with Toronto).

Written in Stone: The Orioles finally seem like an organization with a plan. The only problem for impatient Orioles fans, who haven’t witnessed a winning season since 1997, is that this won’t be the year they blossom. While the lineup is getting better – Nick Markakis has become a star, and Adam Jones could reach that stature this season – they simply don’t have the pitching. Not with middling veterans like Adam Eaton and Mark Hendrickson in their rotation, along with 33-year-old Japanese import Koji Uehara.

But the wait won’t be long. Twenty-year-old Chris Tillman, whom the Orioles stole from Seattle in the Erik Bedard trade, is just one of their nearly ready future aces.

They’ll be throwing to a future superstar catcher in Matt Wieters, unless every scout in captivity has missed the boat.


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