AL East teams take different paths to improvement in 2012

Happy new year to all of you! Thanks for all of your comments in 2011. I'm looking forward to hearing from everyone in 2012!

At this point in the offseason, fans base their predictions for the upcoming season on the players teams lost or gained. If that's the case then the Angels (Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson) and Marlins (Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, Ozzie Guillen) are headed to the World Series in 2012, while the A's are going to lose 110 games. Mark it down. (If you didn't pick up the sarcasm there, you need to write "get a sense of humor" down as your new year's resolution.)

Everybody talks transactions, but player movement isn't always a predictor of future success. Just because a team was active in the offseason doesn't mean it is the most likely to win its division. See: 2011 Red Sox. Remember how wicked good Boston was supposed to be when they acquired Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford? This time last year, Boston was everybody's favorite to win the American League pennant - on paper.

Fast forward to Sept. 28, 2011 and it was the last-place Orioles who ended the Sox's hopes of making the postseason. The best team of the 2010-11 offseason - the can't miss team - staged the worst September collapse in mjor league history.

If you look around the AL East you'll see five different teams taking five different offseason approaches to improving their ball clubs.

Some teams don't need offseason player movement to improve. Look at teams like the Rays and Yankees, who stood fairly pat this offseason. Other than re-signing C.C. Sabathia, New York has been fairly quiet on the free agent and trade fronts. Even though there are weaknesses in the Yanks' starting rotation, their offense alone could put them in the 95-win range. Think about it: New York had 97 wins with the exact same team in 2011.It's hilarious watching Yankee fans get all riled up because Brian Cashman's name isn't popping up as often as expected in hot stove rumor mills.

The Rays are choosing to invest their energy in the continued development of their promising young players; especially pitchers Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson. Tampa just signed Moore to a five-year, $14-million deal, locking him up years before free agency. It's very similar to what the Rays did locking up Evan Longoria early in his career.

It's obvious one of the quickest ways to improve a team is to get big-name players, but some teams spend the offseason acquiring complementary players who fit into their club's identity. Like the Yankees, the Red Sox have been fairly dormant as well this offseason. Instead of making the big splash in free agency or re-signing their own players to contract extensions, it appears GM Ben Cherington is filling holes with solid players, not superstars. Instead of being aggressive pursuing the big closer free agents like Ryan Madson or Bell (when he was available), Cherington traded for Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon to shore up the back end of the bullpen. Very solid, but not flashy.

Hopefully the Orioles aren't finished making moves, but it appears Dan Duquette is pulling from many different approaches. Unlike the Angels and Marlins, the O's aren't interested in the $100 million free agents. They haven't offered their young stars like Matt Wieters or Adam Jones long-term contracts like the Rays.The Birds haven't traded any of their big leaguers for proven veterans like the Red Sox.

Duquette seems to be carving a niche for himself in the international free agent market targeting Asian pitchers; most notably Tsyoshi Wada. In the meantime, he and Buck Showalter are taking a hard look at the minor league system to ensure better player development for the future.

So which approach is the best? Let's revisit this discussion in November 2012! Until then, happy new year to all!