Red Sox open cheque book to wash away 2010 blues

It is unclear how much return on their investment the Red Sox will get when Crawford and Gonzalez reach their mid-30s and beyond. But for now, they are the team to beat.

For just the second time in the past eight years, the Boston Red Sox failed to make the play-offs last October. The experience left them with a bitter aftertaste.

Spending freely to address their needs, the Red Sox signed free agents Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Bobby Jenks. When Gonzalez is signed to a long-term contract extension sometime next month, the spree will have cost the team US$312 million (Dh1.2bn).

It is unclear how much return on their investment the Red Sox will get when Crawford and Gonzalez reach their mid-30s and beyond. But for now, their addition has made them the team to beat in the American League.

Merely getting players such as Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury back healthy — all three missed significant time last year because of injuries — might have been enough. But Crawford and Gonzalez, coupled with a rotation led by Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, should propel the Sox to the top of the AL East.

The New York Yankees focused their off-season sights on Cliff Lee, but he slipped from their grasp and instead signed with Philadelphia. That left a giant hole in the New York starting rotation, one they are hoping to fill with veterans such as Freddy Garcia and, perhaps, Kevin Millwood, until one of their prospects is deemed ready or they make an in-season deal for a starter.

The New York line-up is still formidable, but a thin rotation could keep the Yanks out of the play-offs.

The Tampa Bay Rays have won the division in two of the last three seasons, but they were rocked by free-agent defections and forced to deal off established veterans because of payroll concerns. A talented group of starting pitchers, led by David Price, will keep the Rays respectable, but the bullpen could be a major weakness.

The Toronto Blue Jays are one of three teams to hire a manager with no major league experience this off-season.

John Farrell, previously Boston's pitching coach, inherits a staff with plenty of promise, but the line-up lost 71 homers and the bullpen must be rebuilt.

It is unlikely the Baltimore Orioles will make the same improvement this year that they exhibited after Buck Showalter was hired to manage them last summer.

The O's added some run producers but their stable of young arms is not ready to compete for a play-off spot.

• AL Central: By virtue of their starting rotation, the Chicago White Sox should win the Central, which could see Minnesota and Detroit also in contention.

Jake Peavy will miss the first month, but the White Sox boast a deep enough rotation to survive. New designated hitter Adam Dunn will team up with slugging first baseman Paul Konerko to give them a formidable middle-of-the-order duo.

The Twins usually manage to be better than expected, thanks to smart play and a solid, if unspectacular, rotation. But Justin Morneau battled the after-effects of last summer's concussion and Joe Mauer again experienced knee issues this spring, two ominous signs.

The Tigers boast the division's best starting pitcher in Justin Verlander, and the arrival of Victor Martinez - who will split time between catcher and designated hitter - gives troubled superstar Miguel Cabrera some protection. But depth is an issue for Detroit, and so, too, is defence, particularly in the middle infield.

Four years removed from the Championship Series, the Cleveland Indians must develop their own stars if they are to contend again. Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley offer hope.

There is hope in Kansas City, of all places. The Royals have been lodged in the division's basement for the better part of the last two decades, but have the highest- regarded farm system in the game.

• AL West: Texas also lost out on Lee, but still boasts a fearsome line-up and a bullpen deep enough to repeat as division champions.

The Oakland A's stable of young starting pitchers could earn them their first trip to the play-offs since 2006.

After dominating the division from 2002 to 2010, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are in transition, still reeling from a winter in which they were not nearly as aggressive with some targeted free agents as they needed to be.

Felix Hernandez will keep the Seattle Mariners interesting — but only once every five days.