The AL East, once again, looks to be baseball's toughest division, fortified by the Yankees' massive spending spree to close the gap on the Rays and Red Sox. So what if you could assemble your own team from the players in the AL East? Consider their talent, age, offense, defense, overall contributions and long-term potential, and pick and put together essentially an All-Star squad. Here's one way it might turn out. (And if you have a different idea, let us know by posting it on our Heater blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays):
Dioner Navarro, Rays
Why: Best all-around player of the bunch, and at 25 still getting better.
Next choice: Jorge Posada, Yankees; or Jason Varitek, Red Sox.
Why not: Maybe a few years ago; now just a pair of fading stars.
Not in their division: Gregg Zaun, Orioles; Rod Barajas, Blue Jays
Mark Teixeira, Yankees
Why: For $180 million, he'd better be the best.
Next choice: Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox; or Carlos Pena, Rays
Why not: A tough call as all three are All-Star caliber players on both sides of the ball.
Not in their division: Aubrey Huff, Orioles; Lyle Overbay, Blue Jays
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
Why: Hard to ignore the AL MVP, even if he can't hit the high inside fastball.
Next choice: Brian Roberts, Orioles; or Robinson Cano, Yankees
Why not: Both are pretty darn good, but this is the deepest position in the division.
Not in their division: Akinori Iwamura, Rays; Aaron Hill, Blue Jays
Derek Jeter, Yankees
Why: Reputation is starting to exceed performance, but that will carry him for another year or two.
Next choice: Jason Bartlett, Rays.
Why not: He's the better defender but doesn't provide as much offensively.
Not in their division: Cesar Izturis, Orioles; Jed Lowrie, Red Sox; Marco Scutaro, Blue Jays
Evan Longoria, Rays
Why: Younger, more athletic, more of a team player (and less of a distraction), better defender. And he's all-natural.
Next choice: Alex Rodriguez, Yankees; or Mike Lowell, Red Sox
Why not: Their better days are behind them, and their hips.
Not in their division: Melvin Mora, Orioles; Scott Rolen, Blue Jays
Carl Crawford, Rays
Why: Biggest impact player of the bunch, can change a game on the field, at the plate and on the bases.
Next choice: Jason Bay, Red Sox
Why not: Seems to be more of a steady contributor than an impact player.
Not in their division: Johnny Damon, Yankees; Travis Snider, Blue Jays; Felix Pie, Orioles
B.J. Upton, Rays
Why: Simply, he has the ability to be the best player in the league.
Next choice: Vernon Wells, Blue Jays
Why not: Simply, he used to have the ability to be the best player in the league.
Not in their division: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox; Adam Jones, Orioles; Brett Gardner, Yankees
Nick Markakis, Orioles
Why: His all-around greatness has been obscured by his team's overall struggles.
Backup: Alex Rios, Blue Jays; or J.D. Drew, Red Sox
Why not: Neither has lived up to expectations, though at least Rios still could.
Not in their division: Gabe Gross/Gabe Kapler, Rays; Xavier Nady, Yankees
David Ortiz, Red Sox
Why: If injuries are behind him, he can resume playing the role of Big Papi.
Backup: Pat Burrell, Rays
Why not: Ability is there, but there's some question how he will adjust to the DH role.
Not in their division: Adam Lind, Blue Jays; Hideki Matsui, Yankees; Luke Scott/Ty Wigginton, Orioles
CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain
Why: Could be looking at a hand of five aces, though it plays a bit different in the big city.
Next choice: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, Brad Penny); or Rays (James Shields, Scott Kazmir, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine, Jason Hammel/Jeff Niemann).
Why not: With the Sox, health is a concern, though John Smoltz is an impressive Plan B; with the Rays, it's more a matter of consistency.
Not in their division: Blue Jays (Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch, David Purcey, Ricky Romero, Scott Richmond); Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie, Koji Uehara, Adam Eaton, Mark Hendrickson, Alfredo Simon)
Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
Why: Has the potential for the biggest season, and has the deepest support staff.
Next choice: Mariano Rivera, Yankees
Why not: One of the best ever, but the end is approaching; plus his backup band isn't as good.
Not (quite) in their division: Troy Percival, Rays; B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays; George Sherrill, Orioles
Joe Maddon, Rays
Why: He got the Rays to the World Series. Need another reason?
Next choice: Terry Francona, Red Sox
Why not: Doesn't get enough credit for all the managing involved with managing in Boston.
Not in their division: Cito Gaston, Blue Jays; Joe Girardi, Yankees; Dave Trembley, Orioles