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Bring on the Baseball: 2015 American League East

As I am writing this, Spring Training officially starts for all Major League teams. It truly is a year for anyone to compete, and the American League sits poised to be competitive to the end, and most teams have at least one new addition to their line-up or pitching rotation. Many players changed teams and uniforms in the off-season, and many are still on the free agent market. But one thing’s for sure, the rosters may have to be passed out to players just so they know who is who. We look at the profiles for the American League East Division teams as Major League Baseball gears up for 2015, and what their expectations seem to be.

  1. Boston Red Sox(89-73)
  2. Toronto Blue Jays(87-75)
  3. Baltimore Orioles(84-78)
  4. New York Yankees(81-81)
  5. Tampa Bay Rays(64-98)

Bring on the Baseball: 2015 American League East

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have been, in basic terms, a very up and down team in the last five years: winning seasons in 2010-2011, a poor 69-93 showing in 2012, a World Series Championship in 2013 and a 71-91 record for 2014. They made it their mission to improve over the off-season, and in terms of their roster at the moment, they accomplished mostly what they set out to do. The addition of catcher Ryan Hanigan provides manager John Farrell with a possibility for a platoon between Hanigan and catcher Christian Vazquez.

The addition of Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello improves their pitching rotation, albeit with no clear cut ace, as they join Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly. The media has addressed this seemingly glaring hole multiple times, but Farrell seems ready to take his team into the season with the rotation looking as it does. Recent trade talks have the Red Sox putting an offer out to the Phillies about Cole Hamels, but nothing seems to be getting done quite yet.

The Red Sox line-up has improved further yet, with the additions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. There is still the question of whether or not Ramirez can actually play left field, but Farrell reports he has been working hard to acclimate himself to the outfield. Sandoval, meanwhile, fills the gap at third base, replacing the traded Will Middlebrooks and utility Brock Holt, who had a breakout 2014 season. The rest of the infield is Mike Napoli at first, Dustin Pedroia at second and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, with Vazquez most likely getting more playing time behind the plate over Hanigan.

While Ramirez looks to man left field, center and right field aren’t so obvious: Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo, the Red Sox recent Cuban signing, could be the other two starting outfielders, but that leaves Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Shane Victorino on the bench, as well as no obvious spot for prospect Bryce Brentz. The recent signing of highly sought out Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada, who has Chase Utley/Robinson Cano-like upside, solidifies the middle infield for the future.

Prediction: The Red Sox have enough hitting to win most of their ballgames, and if Buchholz returns to form and the Red Sox rotation can perform without an ace, they have a shot at 90 wins. The question remains whether designated hitter David Ortiz can still perform at his previous levels in his age-39 season. With the competitiveness of the American League East, the Red Sox are about an 88-89 win team.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have had some disappointing seasons in the last 5 years, as they have the talent and power to win their division but haven’t turned in great finishes. They have not won the division since 1993, the year in which they won their second World Series in a row. A respectable 83-79 record in 2014 only gave them third place in a tough division, but the additions they acquired in the off-season will give them the added boost they need. Their line-up has improved mightily, with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion anchoring it for yet another year. The Toronto Sun recently called the projected line-up as “absolutely ridiculous,” up, along with Josh Thole, who will most likely catch R.A. Dickey and his knuckleball.

Arguably the biggest acquisition of the off-season by Toronto was third baseman Josh Donaldson, who resurrected his career by converting from catcher to the hot corner and fixing his swing to become an All-Star with the Athletics in 2014. Toronto gave up some talent to get Donaldson, trading their third baseman Brett Lawrie, shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto, left-handed pitcher Sean Nolin and right-handed pitcher Kendall Graveman, who looks to compete for a rotation spot in Oakland. Donaldson will be a major asset to Bautista and Encarnacion in the middle of the order, where they will most certainly be a pitcher’s nightmare.

The Blue Jays loss of Melky Cabrera in the outfield was covered by the addition of Michael Saunders, who has been predicted to be the underrated left fielder of the 2015 season. Saunders combination of speed and recent work with Jays hitting coach Brook Jacoby could lead him to have a breakout year, while given a chance to start on a full-time basis. Kevin Pillar, Andy Dirks and non-roster invitee Chris Dickerson could also see some time in left field.

The reason Toronto isn’t being regarded as a division winner is due to their rotation, which has some age to it in veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle, but has a bright future in prospects. Marcus Stroman impressed the Blue Jays last season with an 11-6 record, while starting 20 of his 26 games pitched. Drew Hutchison showed some flashes of potential last season, finishing 8th in the American League in strikeouts and finishing with an 11-13 record, but he’s still looking to fully shake off the Tommy John surgery of 2013.

Prediction: The Blue Jays line-up has extremely improved, but the rotation leaves many question marks for Toronto. A good season from their veteran starters, another good year from Stroman, and a line-up that produces three top ten home run hitters in Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson will lead the Blue Jays to an 87-88 win year.

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles look to repeat last year’s success, a 96-66 1st place finish in the east. They dealt with numerous injuries and a suspension that limited them in the second half of the year, and they aren’t quite the team they were last year at this point. Their recent success under manager Buck Showalter gives them some potential for the upcoming season, but it’s all a waiting game to see whether the outfield pulls together, whether Manny Machado and Matt Wieters can recover from their injuries, and if the rotation can put a solid effort into the season.

The Baltimore offense will feel the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis heavily this season, after Cruz led the American League in homers with 40 and was third with 108 RBIs. The Orioles wanted to take the risk of adding Cruz to compliment the offense last season after his involvement with Biogenesis, but the risk paid off in the end, and netted Cruz a large contract with the Mariners.

Markakis had been in the Orioles franchise since being picked 7th overall in the 2003 draft, and through injuries and an inconsistent 2013 season, Markakis recovered to have a respectable 2014 campaign which saw him play right field and first base. His moving to Atlanta on a four-year contract leaves a major gap in the Baltimore outfield, where the only guarantee is center fielder Adam Jones, who was an All-Star for the 4th time in 2014 and won his 4th Gold Glove award. The acquisition of Travis Snider provides the Orioles with an underrated outfielder who is primed to perform well in his first chance starting.  He says he is ready to play and show off the bat that hasn’t been given an opportunity to be in the everyday line-up.

In left field, the competition will be between Alejandro de Aza, who has performed well recently with the White Sox and Orioles, David Lough, who hasn’t hit Major League pitching too greatly in his career, Delmon Young, who was re-signed to a one-year contract during the off-season, and Nolan Reimold, who returns to Baltimore as a non-roster invitee after starting 2014 on the disabled list with Baltimore, getting claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays and then again by the Arizona Diamondbacks. de Aza seems like the favorite but Reimold is capable of having a strong spring and impressing Buck Showalter enough to earn a Major League roster spot.

The pitching rotation is Baltimore’s strong spot in the AL East, because of the young arms they possess and the potential of all of them. Chris Tillman is banking on three straight winning seasons and has put up impressive numbers, being regarded as one of the most underrated pitchers in the American League. Following Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez and another underrated young arm, Kevin Gausman, round out the Orioles rotation. They also have Ubaldo Jimenez on the roster, but after his poor showing in 2014, it is not expected he will be in the rotation any time soon.

Manager Buck Showalter says that third baseman Manny Machado (knee) and catcher Matt Wieters (Tommy John surgery on elbow) will be ready for Opening Day, which provides the Orioles line-up with an instant boost, and their defense with two top of line fielders. Chris Davis has only one more game to serve from his 2014 suspension of 25 games for his violation of the MLB drug policy.

Prediction: The Orioles remain powerful in their line-up, especially with the returns of Machado, Wieters and Davis, and can easily contend for the division crown with good hitting and run scoring. If the rotation shows maturity and Tillman, Gausman and Chen can all win at least 10 games, the Orioles are in good hands for the 2015 season, and perhaps an 84-85 win season, if not more.

New York Yankees

The Captain has made his last hurrah. The Core Four is officially out of the game and on their way to having plaques in the outfield and numbers on the wall. This 2015 Yankees team will be like no other, in the sense that it won’t be very good. Age, inconsistency, injuries, Alex Rodriguez- all these come to mind when thinking about the Yankees of the last three seasons. Joe Girardi enters his 8th season at the helm of the Bronx Bombers, and their recent 85 and 84 win seasons in 2013 and 2014, respectively, show that they are on track for an even worse season in 2015.

The New York offense/defense consists of Brian McCann behind the dish (injuries and inconsistency), Mark Teixeria at first base (injuries have limited him), some combination of Stephen Drew (inconsistency) and a rookie like Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela at second, Didi Gregorius (never given a chance to start on an everyday basis), Chase Headley at third (good chance for a breakout season), Brett Gardner in left field (primed to be the best offensive Yankee), Jacoby Ellsbury in center (injury past), and Carlos Beltran in right (injuries and entering age-37/38 season). It would be a miracle to have all predicted starters stay healthy and reliable enough for a full season to contribute to runs being scored.

Designated hitter remains an even bigger question. The acquisition of Garrett Jones for well-liked utilityman Martin Prado gives the Yankees a lefty option at DH, and a good one at that. A .270 season with at least 15 homers would be enough for Jones. The resurrection of Chris Young after moving from Queens with the Mets to the Bronx with the Yankees makes him an interesting candidate for time in the outfield and at DH. And lastly, that leaves Alex Rodriguez as the last candidate. Girardi has said that if Rodriguez can’t hit in Spring Training, he won’t see playing time during the season. Rodriguez’s chance at DH is all dependent upon the way he performs in exhibition games against Major League pitching.

The rotation also leaves some room to wonder what the Yankees will do this season. Masahiro Tanaka is the obvious number one on the depth chart, and he claims his elbow is fully healed, but he won’t know for sure until he starts pitching live games. Following him will be some combination of CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nate Eovaldi, Chris Capuano/Adam Warren/Chase Whitley, until Ivan Nova recovers from Tommy John surgery. Sabathia has dealt with knee injuries the past two or three seasons and Pineda has dealt with elbow injuries. Eovaldi is a strong case for a breakout season, with a hard fastball and some work with pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

The bullpen is one of the strongest parts of this Yankees team. Rookie sensation Dellin Betances looks to build on his strong 2014 campaign. Andrew Miller was a huge pick-up for the Yankees and can use Miller and Betances as a dual closer’s role. David Carpenter and Justin Wilson, both off-season pick-ups from the Braves and Pirates, provide stability and new options for Girardi to choose from.

Prediction: The best part of the Yankees team is their bullpen, and not even that can be utilized if they can’t score runs with their line-up lacking a star player and a player who can provide them with at least 150 games played. The rotation will take some work and decision making from the Yankees staff, and it is yet to be seen whether Didi Gregorius is the answer to the Yankees shortstop problems. A 78-82 win season is in the works for them.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays are primed to be the worst team in the American League East after an off-season of rebuilding, holding on to their young pitching and All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria. Their young team and pitching rotation gives them hope for the future, but this season seems to be lost already.

The Rays strong point comes from their rotation. Despite trading Jeremy Hellickson to the Diamondbacks and losing David Price at the trade deadline of 2014, the Rays still hold quite an intriguing rotation: Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, and Alex Colome/Nate Karns, dependent upon their performances in Spring Training. With Matt Moore out until at least late June/early July, the Rays will have to do without him and use either Colome and Karns in the fifth spot. Cobb had a decent 2013 but an up-and-down 2014, yet has reached double digit wins both years. Archer and Smyly are underdogs for 2015, having some seasoning the past two years and ready to start full-time this season.

The Rays added Rene Rivera, John Jaso, Asdrubal Cabrera and Steven Souza in the off-season, with Rivera looking to be the starting catcher, Jaso the designated hitter, Cabrera the shortstop, and Souza a viable speed option off the bench. They are supplemented by Curt Casali as the back-up catcher, James Loney at first base, Nick Franklin/Logan Forsythe at second, Longoria at third, David DeJesus in left field, Desmond Jennings in center, and the surprise of the 2014 season, Kevin Kiermaier manning right field, and Brandon Guyer and Tim Beckham coming off the bench. Big seasons from Longoria and Kiermaier and a .280 average from Loney will lead the Rays to some wins this season. Desmond Jennings continues to look for the breakout season that was constantly predicted for him, and a full recovery from injuries gives him that chance in 2015. The trading of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar to the Athletics (Escobar was later shipped to the Nationals) and Wil Myers and Ryan Hanigan to the Padres (Hanigan was later shipped to the Red Sox) shows the Rays are rebuilding.

Prediction: The rebuilding ways of the Rays, while also losing General Manager Andrew Friedman (Dodgers) and manager Joe Maddon (Cubs), has left them in a tough position for 2015 and the years to come. Their future rests in their young players and prospects, perhaps in five years or so. For the 2015 season, their wins will come from their young rotation and big hitting from key bats. A 62-65 win season seems appropriate for the Rays at this time.


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