AL East
Before I get into the last installment of my offseason moves evaluations, I'd like to address a myth that has been circulating since the end of last October: the 1998 Yankees were not the greatest team ever; they had one of the greatest seasons ever but they are certainly not one of the greatest teams ever.  If they win 100 games over several years, then they'll get that kind of consideration.  But to even suggest that this team was better than the Yankees of the 20's and 30's (especially 1936-1939), the Philadelphia A's from 1929-31, the 1906-08 Cubs or the Big Red Machine shows a profound ignorance of history.  One only has to compare how many Hall-of-Fame talents were on this Yanks squad - my guess is 3: Jeter, Raines and perhaps Cone - to realize that this team, while very good, can not be considered even in the top 10 best ever.  The aforemententioned teams have at least 5 players who are in the Hall, or are Hall-of-Fame quality in the case of Rose and Perez.  This Yanks team might not be as good as the 1972-1974 A's.  Yeah, Straw has the talent, but like Rose can't seem to stay out of trouble enough to get the recognition.  Either way, with or without Strawberry, this Yanks squad falls short.  I'll plumb further details in a later column.
But for today, I need to look at the AL East.  The Yankees made probably the biggest splash of any team this winter when they traded David Wells, Graeme Lloyd and Homer Bush for Roger Clemens.  Yankee Stadium is a paradise for left handers, both hitters and pitchers so it's no coincidence that most of the great Yankee hurlers have been lefties.  Wells was a very good lefty on a starting staff that is now decidedly right-handed.  Clemens is talented enough to compensate, but the Yanks no longer have that nice lefty-righty-lefty-righty rotation that keeps hitters from getting comfortable.  Lloyd quietly had a spectacular year last year and his left arm will be missed in the NY bullpen.  Homer Bush is not much more than a bench player and certainly would have never displaced Knoblauch without benefit of injury.  The Yanks lost Tim Raines to free agency but his absence from this veteran team will not be felt with the emergence of Ricky Ledee and solid Chad Curtis around.  Late-season superman Shane Spencer will share time with Ledee probably in a strict platoon.  Darryl Strawberry's latest escape on the wild side could cost him and the Yankees dearly.  If the allegations are proved true, the Strawman might have seen his last days in a ML uni and the Yanks will be without an important power source from the left side.  The biggest loss for the Yankees this season will be Joe Torre who is that latest victim in what seems like a cancer epidemic in the major leagues.  Don Zimmer has been named as his interim replacement, and although Zim is a great guy in the clubhouse, he is a terrible game manager.  He could conceivably make things interesting for the rest of the division if Torre is out for very long.  Still on balance, like the Braves in the NL East, they should have enough talent, even with all the adversity, to probably win their division.
Boston GM Dan Duquette's game of fantasy baseball with Red Sox looks to be nearing an end.  I suspect a widespread revolt in the Red Sox nation is fast approaching, culminating in the first guillotining in US history.  The Red Sox' Orwellian handling of Mo Vaughn begged for ACLU litigation and it's a wonder why any player would want to play in Boston, given the intense media scrutiny, the volatile fans and now the Big Brother front office.  Still, the most important signing this off season for the Red Sox was one made last offseason when they signed Pedro Martinez.  Why?  Because everyone in the Martinez family wants to play baseball together and will gleefully sign with this overbearing organization to do so.  So what exactly do the Red Sox have this year?  Well, on the offensive side they have Nomar Garciaparra and an bunch of role players and on the pitching side they have Pedro Martinez, Tom Gordon and a bunch of innings eaters... a formula that's eerily similar to the Royals.
The Toronto Blue Jays have an intriguing mix, much like the the Tigers.  Their starting rotation will benefit from the renewed presence of David Wells.  With Roy Halladay, Cris Carpenter and Kelvim Escobar, the Jays have an intimidating crew of hard throwers.  The bullpen is deep enough that even if Robert Person is not able to go, they have legitimate alternatives for the end game.  The Jays offense will also be interesting to watch.  This team is loaded with good young hitters: Carlos Delgado, Jose Cruz, Jr. and roto-studs Shawn Green and Shannon Stewart.  Alex Gonzales and Willie Greene look like their going to turn their careers around, also.  All totalled, this team probably has the best chance to give the Yanks some late season headaches.
The Baltimore Orioles are a joke.  I'm not saying that they don't have some quality players; they do.  But as a team, the parts are far greater than their sum.  On a team with great defense, The O's group of groundball pitchers (Mussina, Erickson, Kamieniecki, Ponson) would do really well.  On a team with great strikeout pitchers, their offense would make up for their lack of outfield defense.  But they don't really have either.  Add to that Angelos insistence on giving the fans all the stars he can afford, rather than the best team he can afford, and you have the exact recipe the Yankees used for mediocrity throughout 1980's. Deshields is a nice offensive player, but is at best an average defender on a team that needs a wizard at second.  Albert Belle is a great hitter, but the O's needed a centerfielder with range to compensate for Anderson and Surhoff far more than they needed another slugger.  The addition of Charles Johnson was a good move, considering the alternative of having Hoiles or worse behind the plate.  Lenny Webster is a good catcher but probably not for everyday service.  He's a perfect backup for Johnson.  The Will Clark signing has me completely befuddled, unless they needed more players who frown.  Calvin Pickering is a monster hitter who just needs major league at bats, but will now waste the year either backing up Clark or futzing arounf in AAA.  Almost as befuddling is the naming of Mike Timlin as the closer.  While he's a decent reliever, it seems pretty clear that he is lacking in some of the intestinal fortitude to be the team's primary closer.  If Ray Miller elects to go with a bulpen by committee, then they might be OK there.  Of course, Miller the manager and Miller the pitching coach never seem to be on the same page, so who knows.  Expect a third place finish or lower for as long as they maintain their current philosophy.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays were desperate for power so they signed Jose Canseco.  If he can stay healthy, he will help out an anemic line-up.  In the bandbox that is Tropicana, he might threaten 60 homers if the D-Rays can keep him in the line-up for 150 games.  Fred McGriff will be most certainly be better than last year, but I don't expect him to return to his halcyon days of 35 homers a year.  My guess is he'll hit 25 -30 and drive in around 90.  The rest of the offense still looks pretty bad and the prospects of help from the farm are not particularly rosy.  There are a number of older prospect types in AAA, but none merit a "Star of the future" label.  The pitching is decent and if they can stay healthy might be one of the better staffs in the AL.  The real strength of this team is their pitching in the minors.  Matt White, Ryan Rupe and Bobby Seay all have the talent to be impact pitchers.
1) New York
2) Toronto
3) Boston
4) Baltimore
5) Tampa Bay