The first thing I look at when assessing the immediate prospects for a team in the coming season is the quality of its core. I define the core of a team as the players whose performance would be most difficult to replace. I settled on seven as the number of players in the core, even though stronger teams tend to have a larger core and weaker teams a smaller one.
I like to keep this a subjective exercise, which hopefully will lead to an interesting
discussion as other bauxites produce their own lists and justifications. The only qualifier is that players must have at least some major league experience. I will start here with what I consider the core talent of each team in the AL East.
The basement dwellers have had a difficult time converting prospects into quality major leaguers for a long time now.
Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, JJ Hardy, Nick Markakis, Mark Reynolds, Zach Britton, Tsuyoshi Wada
(Others) Jim Johnson, Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen, Brian Roberts
Once upon a time Roberts was by far the best player on the team, but injuries and his status as an over-30 middle infielder have bumped him off the list.
Boston Red Sox:
Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford
(others) David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard
The Sox' core seven is wall to wall all-star. The most difficult decision was to include the injured Crawford over the aging but productive David Ortiz
New York Yankees:
Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Curtis Granderson. Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Gardner
(others) Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Nick Swisher, Derek Jeter, Russell Martin, Hiroki Kuroda
The first 5 spots are locks, but the last two are up for grabs. It is without doubt an aging core - but we have seen the Yankees in this position before and they are always able to produce that one key player along with a handful of free agents to revitalize the team.
Purely on potential one would have to include Pineda, but he did not perform especially well in a pitcher's park. Burnett should be an ace pitcher but has underperformed and I'm not yet a believer in Nova.
Tampa Bay Rays:
Evan Longoria, David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson, Desmond Jennings, Matt Moore, Ben Zobrist
(others) BJ Upton, Wade Davis, Matt Joyce, Sean Rodriguez
No team in the league has a larger share of talent invested in their starting rotation than the Rays. All seven are homegrown products. BJ Upton should be on the list but he has only rarely lived up the promise of his impressive athleticism.
Toronto Blue Jays:
Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Ricky Romero, Yunel Escobar, Sergio Santos, Colby Rasmus, Kelly Johnson, Brandon Morrow
(others) Adam Lind, JP Arencibia, Henderson Alvarez, Brett Cecil
The first four are easy. Santos is included because of his remarkable strikeout rate. Morrow has shown flashes of brilliance and gets the nod over the talented but flawed Lind and Arencibia, I expect Alvarez to be on the list next year.