In sizing up the major league landscape at the offseason’s midway point, ESPN.com senior baseball writer Jayson Stark polled executives around the league, asking them to identify the five teams that improved themselves most and the five that have done the least to help their chances in 2013.
Not surprisingly, the Blue Jays topped the first list after trading for three starting pitchers who averaged 209 innings apiece last season (R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson), a dynamic leadoff man (Jose Reyes), a guy who hit .346/.390/.516 (Melky Cabrera) before testing positive for a banned substance and two players (Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis) who give them the depth and versatility they lacked in 2012.
"I give them a lot of credit," one NL executive told Stark. "They recognized that right now, the Red Sox and Yankees aren't the Red Sox and Yankees. The AL East isn't the AL East like it used to be. They saw a window of opportunity, and they're going for it. A lot of teams never take that swing. At least they took it."
Perhaps more surprising was the team that executives think improved itself the second-most in baseball: The Boston Red Sox.
The Sox have added eight free agents (assuming they come to terms with Mike Napoli), for the most part because they had more holes to fill than almost any other team in baseball after their worst season in more than four decades.
Nevertheless, executives on the whole were bullish on Boston’s acquisitions, though there were divided opinions as to how much better the Red Sox would be in 2013. This from Stark:
They're deeper. Our panel agreed on that. Their clubhouse should be much more harmonious. They've added more of Keith Law's top 50 free agents (six) than any other team in either league. And “they've brought in a bunch of guys who can play in Boston,” said one AL executive. But on the other hand ...
"They've added a lot," said one AL exec. "But remember, they had to add a lot, because they had so many holes."
And another AL exec gave this scathing review: "To me, they've spent a lot of money to be mediocre."
On the other end of the spectrum are the Orioles, who executives ranked fourth among the teams that have improved the least this offseason.
"I'm really surprised by what they've done, or haven't done," one AL executive told Stark. "With the momentum they had going into the offseason and the resources I thought they had financially, I don't think anybody would have been surprised if they'd gotten in on something big."
Missing from either list are the New York Yankees, who re-signed Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Ichiro Suzuki and added Kevin Youkilis to help shore up the left side of the infield in Alex Rodriguez’s absence.
Your turn: Which AL East team do you think has improved itself most? Which has improved itself least? And remember, there’s still nearly two months before pitchers and catchers report, so there is still work to be done. Vote in the polls above and share your thoughts in the comments section.