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AL East: Red Sox, Rays take aim at the champs; Jays look to deal

Breaking down each team in the AL East heading into the offseason. Teams are listed in order of 2009 finish. Check out the other division previews here:

AL CentralAL WestNL EastNL CentralNL West

PENDING FREE AGENTS: LF Johnny Damon, DH Hideki Matsui, SP Andy Pettitte, OF/1B Xavier Nady, 4C Eric Hinske, UT Jerry Hairston Jr.,C Jose Molina.

PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: None.

PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: RP Mark Melancon, SP Ian Kennedy, CF Austin Jackson, SP Zach McAllister,C Jesus Montero.

BUILDING FOR: Their 28th world championship.

BIGGEST HOLES: Left field, designated hitter, the back of the rotation.

TARGETS: LFs Matt Holliday and Jason Bay, DHs Matsui and Damon; Pettitte.

BREAKDOWN: The Yankees' focus this offseason will be on how -- and whether or not -- to replace World Series heroes Damon and Matsui. They'll certainly be in the mix for Holliday and Bay, but after their spending spree last winter, could back off on long-term deals given that those two are just five and four years younger than the incumbents, respectively. Bobby Abreu's signing set the market for defensively-challenged, soon-to-be 36-year-olds who can still get it done at the plate at two years, $9 million per, though Damon and Matsui's increasing fragility may bring them in for less. Consensus is that the Yankees will only re-sign one of the two. As for the rotation, another one-year deal for Pettitte seems like a given, and one can't rule out a run at John Lackey, but the Yankees have shown commitment to their home-grown pitching prospects, which likely means Phil Hughes will return to starting chained by an innings limit while Joba Chamberlain will finally be fully unleashed. Expect the Yankees to also keep arbitration-eligible Chad Gaudin, who greatly improved his slider under pitching coach Dave Eiland, as insurance on those two, but to non-tender Chien-Ming Wang, who is coming off shoulder surgery that could have him rehabbing past Opening Day. As for the remaining free agents, Francisco Cervelli is ready to replace Molina. Hinske and Hairston would be worth keeping on the bench. Coming off Tommy John surgery, Nady is an afterthought and should be headed elsewhere.

PENDING FREE AGENTS: LF Jason Bay, RP Billy Wagner, OF Rocco Baldelli, SS Nick Green, SP Paul Byrd,1B Jeff Bailey.

PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: C/1B Victor Martinez ($7.7/0.25M club -- exercised), SP Tim Wakefield ($4M club), RP Takashi Saito ($6M club), C Jason Varitek ($5M club/$3M player -- club declined), SS Alex Gonzalez ($6/0.5M club -- declined).

TRADE ACQUISITIONS: OF Jeremy Hermida (from Marlins for RPs Hunter Jones and Jose Alvarez).

PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: OF Josh Reddick, SP Michael Bowden, SP Junichi Tazawa, RP Dustin Richardson.

BUILDING FOR: A return to first place -- ahead of the Yankees.

BIGGEST HOLES: Shortstop, left field.

TARGETS: Bay, LF Matt Holliday, SS Marco Scutaro, SS Orlando Cabrera, SS Miguel Tejada.

BREAKDOWN: The Red Sox made the no-brainer move to pick up Martinez's option on Monday, but they predictably declined Varitek's option. Boston needs to make it clear to Varitek that if he chooses to pick up his player option it will be to serve as Martinez's backup. The Sox have to be considered the favorites for Bay, but with the Yankees also looking for a corner outfielder, the price should be steep. Adding the young and talented Hermida for a pair of marginal minor league relievers gives Boston an in-house backup plan. Boston signed Wakefield to a two-year, $5 million deal as rotation insurance on Monday. Saito's a tougher call, given that his 2010 salary was inflated by the incentives he reached this year. Wagner will go elsewhere to close. The Sox will spend far more money to fill left field, but their toughest decision will be what to do about shortstop. Boston declined Gonzalez's option, but are the Sox willing to give Jed Lowrie another chance to be the de facto starter, coming off a season wrecked by wrist surgery? My guess is they'll bring in Scutaro and make Lowrie fight for another opportunity.

PENDING FREE AGENTS: RP Chad Bradford, RP Russ Springer, RP Joe Nelson, RP Troy Percival, RP Jason Isringhausen, C Michel Hernandez.

PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: LF Carl Crawford ($10/1.25M club -- exercised), C Gregg Zaun ($2/0.5M mutual -- club denied), RP Brian Shouse ($1.9/0.2 club -- denied).

TRADED: 2B Akinori Iwamura (to Pirates for RP Jesse Chavez).

PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: SP Wade Davis, 2B Sean Rodriguez, SP Jeremy Hellickson, CF Desmond Jennings, SS Reid Brignac, UT Elliot Johnson, SP Mitch Talbot.

BUILDING FOR: A return to the playoffs.

BIGGEST HOLES: Right field.

TARGETS: RF Jermaine Dye, OF Rick Ankiel.

BREAKDOWN: Follow the dominos as they fall: The Rays traded Scott Kazmir to the Angels late in the season, a move spurred by the starting pitching depth evidenced by the September arrival of Wade Davis, who joined David Price and Jeff Niemann in the Rays' strong, young rotation, which is now even younger and should ultimately be even better. That trade, it's generally believed, freed up the payroll needed for Tampa Bay to pick up Crawford's option. It also brought in slugging second baseman Rodriguez, who gives the Rays depth behind Ben Zobrist (who is unlikely to repeat his career year), thus enabling them to flip Iwamura to the Pirates for a solid righty set-up man in Chavez, a move that also cleared up a potential expense as the Pirates picked up Iwamura's $4.85 million option for 2010 as part of the deal. With Brignac backing up Jason Bartlett, who is also due for a big correction at the plate in 2010, the Rays infield is set, their rotation is loaded and their bullpen has been reinforced. The Rays declined the options on Zaun and Shouse.

That leaves right field as the Rays' big problem. Having gotten little value from B.J. Upton and Pat Burrell this year, the Rays can't continue to punt a big offensive position any longer. The trouble is, they can't compete financially for Bay or Holliday, and while Abreu would have been a great mid-priced fix, the Angels kept him from hitting the market with a two-year extension. The Tropicana Dome turf likely eliminates the hobbled Vlad Guerrero, Hideki Matsui or a trade for Milton Bradley from consideration. That leaves the Rays with these options: pony up for Dye; roll the dice on a high-upside question mark such as Ankiel or Andruw Jones; sell high on Zobrist or Bartlett in a deal for someone like Adam Dunn, Brad Hawpe, J.D. Drew or Carlos Lee (plus salary relief); or give the job to Matt Joyce and hope that the Edwin Jackson deal turns in their favor. Another season with Gabe Gross getting the majority of the at-bats in right will be another season looking up at the Yankees and Red Sox.

PENDING FREE AGENTS: RP Danys Baez, RP Mark Hendrickson, SP Rich Hill, OF Jeff Fiorentino.

PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS:Melvin Mora ($8/1M club -- declined), C Chad Moeller ($850/50K club -- declined).

PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: SP Brian Matusz, SP Chris Tillman, SP Jake Arrieta, 1B Brandon Snider, SP Troy Patton.

BUILDING FOR: The role of emerging team in the game's toughest division.

BIGGEST HOLES: Third base, shortstop, first base, bullpen.

TARGETS: 1B Carlos Delgado, 3B Troy Glaus.

BREAKDOWN: The Orioles are the next ascendant team in the AL East, but they're still a few years away and need to avoid trying to buy in too early. They have a strong, young outfield, an emerging stud catcher and a deep supply of starting pitching prospects, the overflow from which can help stock the bullpen. The George Sherrill trade got them a future corner infielder in Josh Bell, who should pair nicely with Brian Roberts, just signed to a four-year extension. Once those pieces have established themselves, the O's can open up the coffers and flesh out the roster, but for now they'll let Mora go and should stick with inexpensive veteran stop-gaps in the infield (incentive-laden contracts for Delgado and Glaus seem perfect) while giving the youngsters their opportunities.

PENDING FREE AGENTS: SS Marco Scutaro, C Rod Barajas, 1B Kevin Millar, IF John McDonald.

PLAYERS WITH OPTIONS: None.

PROSPECTS ON THE VERGE: C J.P. Arencibia, SP Brad Mills.

BUILDING FOR: Rebuilding, actually -- under a new front office.

BIGGEST HOLES: Shortstop.

TARGETS: Takers for Roy Halladay, Aaron Hill and (in a perfect world) Vernon Wells.

BREAKDOWN: Eight years of J.P. Ricciardi have left the Blue Jays with Halladay (who was on the major league roster when Ricciardi arrived and whom Ricciardi failed to cash in at this year's trading deadline), the young slugging trio of Hill, Adam Lind and Travis Snider, and a plethora of mediocrities and pitching casualties. As good as those four might be or might become, they are not the core of a team that can make an impact in the AL East. Having finally jettisoned Ricciardi, the Blue Jays, under new general manager Alex Anthopoulos, need to be rebuilt from the draft on up. Wells' contract, which includes a full no-trade clause and owes the center fielder $107 million over the next five years, is Ricciardi's parting gift to the organization, leaving Halladay, a free agent a year from now, and Hill (who will be 28 in March and has a favorable contract with three years of club options) as the only veterans with any meaningful trade value. In the meantime, with Scutaro and McDonald free agents, the Jays need someone capable of playing shortstop in the major leagues next year; the organization currently contains no such player.