Be it Red or White, this should be a good summer to play for the Sox.

Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez wound up in Boston. Adam Dunn picked Chicago, plus Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski decided to stick around.

“They did a great job getting players,” David Ortiz praised his Red Sox. “This is a tough division to play in and you definitely want to go out there and get whatever you can, whatever’s available, and that’s what they did. So it all depends on us now.”

Konerko, beginning his 13th season with the White Sox, echoed that sentiment.

“We certainly have what we need in every area: starters, bullpen, lineup,” he said. “We have what we need, it’s just a matter of coming together as a team and executing. That’s easier said than done, and you have to stay healthy on top of it.”

All that, and that’s not even mentioning the four teams that made the AL playoffs last season — the Texas Rangers, New York, Tampa Bay and Minnesota.

Health could be the biggest question in Boston, where Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury are coming back from serious injuries. But the Red Sox landed Crawford with a $142 million, seven-year contract and traded for Gonzalez, giving them an upgraded lineup with their deep rotation.

The Red Sox finished third in the AL East in 2010, unable to keep up with the first-place Rays and wild-card Yankees. Those teams aren’t planning on backing up, and Toronto and Baltimore should be better, too.

While Boston is much improved, there are plenty of potential challengers.

“Like I always said, our division is the toughest in baseball,” Derek Jeter of the Yanks said.

The Central could have its own three-team race. Minnesota is seeking its third straight division title, Detroit signed dangerous switch hitter Victor Martinez and Chicago added Dunn.

“Looking at the Twins over the years, they’re always going to be competitive,” said Jim Thome, who opted to return to Minnesota in January instead of signing with the Rangers. “Look at what the White Sox and Tigers have done; they’ve upped their teams, too. It should be a fun, fun division.”

The White Sox got off to a difficult start last year, moved into first at midseason and stumbled down the stretch while the Twins surged into the playoffs.

Chicago responded with an offseason spending spree that rivaled the Red Sox, adding Dunn’s big bat, shoring up its bullpen and bringing back Konerko and Pierzynski. Now even Manager Ozzie Guillen and General Manager Kenny Williams are getting along again.

“The Central is going to be tough. Central goes down to the wire every year,” White Sox pitcher John Danks said. “If it doesn’t come down to the wire it will be a rarity.”

Texas ran away with the West on the way to the pennant. Josh Hamilton is back, but the Rangers could be pushed by Oakland and the Los Angeles Angels.

Of course, a major injury or trade could jumble any division, setting up a wild season.

“The American League in general, the last couple years, has been really good,” Konerko said. “Even the teams that were last place in each division were tougher than usual.”

A look at the AL in predicted order of finish:


RED SOX: All the pieces are there for a third World Series championship in eight years. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka form a solid rotation, with Tim Wakefield ready to fill in if needed. The lineup has speed with Crawford and Ellsbury, and power with Ortiz, Gonzalez and Youkilis.

The most glaring issue could be Jonathan Papelbon, who is under pressure after a rough year. Bobby Jenks or Daniel Bard could take over at closer.

YANKEES: Spurned by Cliff Lee, the Yankees strengthened their bullpen and weakened a division rival by signing free-agent Rafael Soriano to a $35 million, three-year contract to set up for Mariano Rivera. Soriano had an AL-best 45 saves for Tampa Bay last season and gives New York another dynamic arm.

That bolstered bullpen could get plenty of work.

Beyond CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, there are major questions for Manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild. A.J. Burnett had a strong spring training but is coming off a dismal season. Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia will begin the year in the last two slots, but that could change quickly if either gets off to a poor start.

RAYS: It was a long, cold winter for the defending division champs, whose payroll constraints played a role in the departure of Crawford, first baseman Carlos Pena, starting pitcher Matt Garza and seven of the team’s top eight relievers. Tampa Bay’s payroll is projected to be about $41 million, down from $73 million last season.

Third baseman Evan Longoria and center fielder B.J. Upton are back to go with a deep rotation headed by David Price. Manager Joe Maddon also is hoping to get an offensive boost from Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, who signed one-year deals with goals of putting up big numbers and doing better in free agency next winter.

ORIOLES: Looking for a surprise team? Buck Showalter took over the Orioles last August and led them to a 34-23 finish. Then Baltimore did a decent offseason impersonation of its big-budget division rivals, signing first baseman Derrek Lee and designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero, and trading for third baseman Mark Reynolds and shortstop J.J. Hardy.

The biggest problem is they play in the East, and they’re going to need their young starting rotation — headed by Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matusz — to step up to contend.

BLUE JAYS: The Blue Jays are hoping new manager John Farrell can help Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek turn into the foundation of a strong rotation that will help them keep up in their division. Farrell, who takes over for the retired Cito Gaston, spent the previous four seasons as Boston’s pitching coach.

The lineup, which had a major league-leading 257 homers, took a hit with the trade of outfielder Vernon Wells to the Angels, but still has homer king Jose Bautista, Aaron Hill and Adam Lind.


WHITE SOX: The main marketing slogan is “All In” and they certainly earned it in the offseason. They re-signed first baseman Konerko and catcher Pierzynski to multiyear deals, and bolstered their bullpen by adding free-agent relievers Jesse Crain and Will Ohman.

But the biggest move was a $56 million, four-year contract for Dunn, who gives Chicago some sorely needed power from the left side. He has 354 homers and 880 RBI in 10 major league seasons but never has been a regular designated hitter.

TWINS: The team had a quiet winter, re-signing right-hander Carl Pavano and Thome, who needs just 11 homers to reach 600 for his career. Then again, Minnesota’s biggest offseason need was time – a sorely needed break for stars Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan to recover from injuries.

Mauer had minor left knee surgery in December, delaying his progress in spring training. Morneau was limited to 81 games due to a concussion. Nathan, who had 47 saves in 2009, is coming back after reconstructive right elbow surgery. Their health could be key to Minnesota’s chances.

TIGERS: Martinez gives Detroit another big bat for its potent lineup, but first baseman Miguel Cabrera was arrested in February on suspicion of driving under the influence and resisting an officer without violence, both misdemeanors. Cabrera, who has submitted a written plea of not guilty, insists he is focused on baseball and the Tigers are going to need him.

The Tigers will be without oft-injured reliever Joel Zumaya at the start of the season, leaving newcomer Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde to handle the action late in games. Detroit also is looking for a bounce-back year from right-hander Brad Penny, limited to nine starts for St. Louis due to a back problem.

INDIANS: Grady Sizemore is on his way back after undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee. He could give Cleveland another offensive threat to go with Shin-Soo Choo, who quietly hit .300 with 22 homers and 90 RBI last season.

That’s it for the bright side in Cleveland, which has a suspect rotation beyond Fausto Carmona and is likely headed for its third consecutive losing season.

ROYALS: Kansas City’s rich farm system is even more loaded after a December trade sent Zack Greinke, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and cash to Milwaukee for shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain, and right-handers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. The problem is most of the top prospects are at least a year or two away from having a significant impact.

Until the youngsters develop, the bottom of the Central is between the Royals and Indians.


RANGERS: One of the majors’ toughest lineups got a little deeper when third baseman Adrian Beltre agreed to an $80 million, five-year contract in January. Beltre, an outstanding defender, hit .321 with 28 homers and 102 RBI for Boston. He pushes Michael Young to designated hitter and utility infielder, unless the Rangers agree to trade Young.

Texas tried to bring back Cliff Lee, who instead decided to sign with Philadelphia. Neftali Feliz toyed with becoming a starter but will stay as the closer. Brandon Webb, who won the NL Cy Young Award in 2006 with Arizona, could help the rotation.

ATHLETICS: Newcomers Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham are being counted on to boost an offense that managed just 109 homers and 663 runs, the team’s second-fewest in the last 28 non-shortened seasons. Matsui will serve as the primary DH after batting .274 with 21 homers and 84 RBI last season for the Angels.

The pitching staff is young and talented from the front of the rotation to the back of the bullpen. Trevor Cahill went 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA last season, and Andrew Bailey had 25 saves and a 1.47 ERA. But Bailey was hampered by a strained forearm in spring training, a concern.

ANGELS: Mike Scioscia’s team is hoping the return of Kendrys Morales and a retooled bullpen will help return the Angels. Los Angeles was third in the division last season at 80-82, its first losing record since 2003.

Morales, who hit 34 homers in 2009, was lost for the year when he broke his leg jumping on home plate to celebrate a game-ending grand slam May 29. Free-agent relievers Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi will help in the middle innings, and Vernon Wells should provide a lift on offense and defense after coming over in a trade with Toronto. Wells hit 31 homers in his last season with the Jays.

MARINERS: There was a lot of anticipation in Seattle a year ago, and the Mariners finished with the AL’s worst record at 61-101.

Seattle finished with a major league-low 513 runs, but has All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki and AL Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez, who had a majors-best 2.27 ERA in 2010.