This is a division that didn't exactly focus on starting pitching over the winter. In fact, the pitching in the division probably got worse over the winter. There were two notable exports from the division in Tampa Bay's Matt Garza and Toronto's Shaun Marcum, and both teams plan to fill those spots internally with young players. The biggest pitching acquisition by any AL East team this winter might be Chris Archer, the centerpiece of the package that Tampa received from Chicago in exchange for Garza. All in all, this just hasn't been a winter to remember for all of those AL East pitching buffs.
(And as a side note, if you think that I've missed someone who's likely to be a rotation candidate this spring, let me know in the comments. I don't think I missed anyone obvious, though.)
5) Orioles: Brian Matusz, Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Duchscherer, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton
This is an impressive group of young pitchers, but it's clearly the worst rotation in the division. Matusz could take a big step forward next season and Guthrie is a solid mid-rotation workhorse, but there are question marks abound beyond those two. Duchscherer is a 33-year-old with 32 career starts and 28 innings pitched over the past two seasons. Bergesen had a nice debut but his high-contact style caught up with him last season and we're not sure how he'll adjust. And the final three guys listed, Arrieta, TIllman and Britton, have yet to prove that they can pitch well at the MLB level. Arrieta and Tillman both struggled in their MLB debuts, with both pitchers walking nearly as many guys as they struck out, and Britton has yet to reach the majors and likely won't until later this year. A rotation of Matusz-Britton-Arrieta-Tillman-Bergesen could be one of the best in baseball in a couple years, but right now this isn't a strength for them.
4) Yankees: CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Mark Prior, Andrew Brackman, Sergio Mitre
The lack of depth here is an obvious problem. Behind Burnett, they have Garcia, Nova, Mitre and three guys that didn't pitch in the majors last season. Obviously Sabathia and Hughes give them a nice top of the rotation, but if they end up getting the bad A.J. again next season it's hard to see this rotation being anything but a liability. And it's been a lot easier to make contact on Burnett since he's become a Yankee, which doesn't bode well. There's been talk about possibly calling up Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances during the season, but I can't really view that possibility as anything but a panic move that would impede their development. I have a hard time believing that the Yankees won't add a starter at some point during the season.
3) Blue Jays: Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepczynski, Kyle Drabek, Jesse Litsch, Scott Richmond
If they still had Marcum, they might be at the top. And even without him, they're not that far off. For me, the final three rotations in the division are pretty close together. Romero is one of the unheralded great pitchers in the game; his ability to miss bats while keeping the ball on the ground is pretty unique and his change-up is one of the very best in the game. Morrow isn't quite on Romero's level, but he's making Toronto's decision to acquire him last winter look brilliant, and his strikeout numbers can be truly eye-popping. It's a strong one-two punch like in New York, but the Yankees can't stack up with Toronto's depth right now.
2) Red Sox: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Felix Doubront
I know that you gotta love Jon Lester, but the rest of this rotation just makes me feel uncomfortable. Buchholz showed some nice improvement last year but that 2.33 ERA doesn't remotely reflect his skill level; he's more of a 3.60-3.90 ERA pitcher at this point. With that said, it's still a really strong top of the rotation. Frankly, it's the veteran guys, Lackey, Beckett and Matsuzaka, that really worry me. Lackey appears to be a solid mid-rotation guy at this point, which is fine, but the Red Sox aren't going to love paying him elite pitcher money when he's a No. 3 starter. Beckett's struggles last season were well-documented and Matsuzaka's high walk-high flyball profile continues to concern me. And given how expensive this group of guys is, I'm not sure how much flexibility they have to make changes in-season. This is a really, really good rotation; I don't want my comments to suggest otherwise. I just prefer the following rotation, personally.
1) Rays: David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, Andy Sonnanstine, Jake McGee
Even without Matt Garza, this is Tampa Bay's strength. David Price gives them a legitimate ace. I believe that Shields will bounce back in 2011; he got killed by BABIP and HR/FB last season. Hellickson should immediately provide an impact with his strong command of a solid four-pitch mix. Davis and Niemann weren't great last season but there are reasons to be optimistic and they still should provide good production for back-of-the-rotation starters. And I like their depth, too, with Sonnanstine and McGee in the bullpen along with Alex Cobb, Alex Torres and Chris Archer in Triple-A. If you still don't quite understand why Tampa Bay felt comfortable trading Garza, it's probably because of all the guys I just talked about.