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Strongest American League Threats to Boston’s Throne

With Prince Fielder, Robinson Cano, and Ian Kinsler on the move this winter, the American League has a new look. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

The free agent market has been put on ice this winter, as the Major League Baseball offseason has been held up by the holidays and the grand pursuit of Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. However, players have been changing uniforms across the American League, both through massive contracts as well as significant trades. Before the drama of the offseason resumes, let’s assess which teams across the American League pose the biggest threats to the Boston Red Sox and their attempt to repeat as pennant winners.

New York Yankees

Amongst American League East foes, I believe the Yankees will be the best threat to the Red Sox in 2014. New York has shown this offseason that they are still willing to throw money left and right if it means a chance at reaching the postseason. The Yankees won 85 games last season despite CC Sabathia finishing with a 4.78 ERA and a lineup that brought shame to the nickname “Bronx Bombers,” hitting just 144 home runs, fewer than the Houston Astros.

Along with the hope for better health out of Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees will have fresh new names powering their offense in 2014. Brian McCann gives them their first weapon at catcher since Jorge Posada in his prime. Carlos Beltran should be a productive outfielder and part-time designated hitter. And the team gains former Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury for speed and superb defense in the outfield. The loss of one star, Robinson Cano, should easily be outweighed by the impact of three.

However, offense will only carry the Yankees so far. The team will have questions in its bullpen, like most clubs, but New York has a clear weakness in their rotation as well. While they can rely on Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, and Ivan Nova to eat innings at the worst, the team desperately needs another impact arm to have a chance to keep up with Boston over the course of the season. I believe that pitcher is Masahiro Tanaka, so we’ll wait and see if the Yankees manage to sign him, or another appealing option such as old foe Matt Garza.

Detroit Tigers

The Red Sox and Tigers battled it out in the American League Championship Series last year, but this season Detroit looks completely different after two huge trades. They first sent first baseman Prince Fielder to Texas, a team we’ll discuss shortly, in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler, and then second sent starter Doug Fister to Washington for a handful of pieces and financial flexibility–which the team used to sign closer Joe Nathan.

On paper, the Tigers have lost more than they’ve gained in terms of talent and potential. However, Detroit solved their primary issues by sacrificing the two of their strengths–pitching depth and offense. Fielder was a significant presence in the lineup, but by parting with him Detroit boosts their infield defense both by adding Ian Kinsler and by shifting Miguel Cabrera from third base to first base, a move that should also help prolong Cabrera’s career as he works at a less physically demanding position.

The loss of Fister is a blow to their rotation, but the ability to then sign Nathan solves a much more impactful issue at the back of the rotation. Consider the possibility that a 38-year old Koji Uehara may not be as insanely dominant as he was in 2013, and the fact that Mariano Rivera has finally retired. The Detroit Tigers potentially have the best closer in the American League, and they snatched him away from the last team on this list.

Texas Rangers

No, I’m not putting the Oakland Athletics in this conversation. Despite consecutive AL West titles and an excellent offseason thus far, I can’t put faith in the Athletics to continue their incredible success. In all likelihood, the Athletics will win the West again–but if the Rangers make the postseason with a Wild Card, they’re the stronger threat to the Red Sox.

As previously mentioned, Texas acquired Prince Fielder to provide power to a lineup that needs it. The Rangers will have one of the best nine-man lineups in all of baseball after also signing free agent Shin-Soo Choo, who had his best year last season in Cincinnati with a .423 on-base percentage. I admire the Rangers front office for bringing in weapons like Fielder and Choo, while also walking away from players like Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz, not to mention investing in brilliant successes like Adrian Beltre.

The Rangers are a threat to the Red Sox because of their rotation. While it’s still not entirely clear as to who exactly is the ace of the Boston staff, Texas is led by Yu Darvish, the primary cause of all this drama regarding Tanaka. Darvish is the real deal and his success in MLB is something special. And while the team did receive recent news that Derek Holland will be out until at least midseason after surgery, the staff should still be strong enough to succeed while being backed by an incredible lineup. And Texas may just go out and bring in a starter like Garza to take Holland’s place.

All in all, the Red Sox don’t have much to worry about quite yet. The American League will have several great teams, but the Red Sox are defending champions, and until someone else does manage to dethrone them as champions of both baseball and the AL, they can keep rejoicing following a magical year.

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