As we barrel toward another great season of baseball, let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the teams of the American League’s East Division, in order of last season’s finish. Here is our AL East Spring Training preview.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays return the key pieces of a line-up that scored the most runs in the league last season, and it wasn’t even close. The Jays scored 891 runs, well ahead of the #2 Yankees’ total of 764 and +25% more than the league average of 710 runs scored. MVP Josh Donaldson and mashers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista led the charge, and were joined late in the season by all-world shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo didn’t do much for the Blue Jays in his brief time there but he figures to deliver his normal numbers over a new full season north of the (U.S.) border. Hitting coach Brook Jacoby must love his job. These guys can rake.
The Blue Jays also added Drew Storen to a stacked bullpen that includes presumed closer Roberto Osuna. Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders and Kevin Pilar provide depth and have additional pop, though it remains to be seen whether Saunders has recovered from last season’s knee injury.
For most of last season, the Jays’ biggest problem was the lack of a bona fide ace in their rotation. They went out and got one in David Price. Unfortunately, he’s now with the rival Red Sox and they replaced him with J.A. Happ. Happ had a sensational stint last season with Pittsburgh after Toronto traded him there, but he’s basically a 32-year-old .500 pitcher with a career 4.13 ERA and 1.367 WHIP. Assuming he pitches more like his career numbers than he did with the Pirates, that’s a steep drop from David Price. The Jays do have Marcus Stroman coming back for a full season after returning earlier than expected from a torun ACL. He pitched well (4-0 with a 1.67 in four starts) and the team undoubtedly expects a big year from him. But after him, there’s the aforementioned Happ, the either ageless or aging R.A. Dickey (it’s hard to tell), and Marco Estrada, who last season either had a fluke year or a breakout season at Age 31. This rotation could be amazing or could induce major heartburn.
New York Yankees
Added Aaron Hicks for much-needed outfield depth and Starlin Castro to fill the 2B position that had basically been vacant since Robinson Cano departed. Castro will top the 1,000 hit mark this season at Age 26, and he could form a dynamic combination with shortstop Didi Gregorius. Luis Severino showed promise last season as a future top starter, and Michael Pineda showed flashes of what he can do when he’s on. The team’s biggest strength though, is the bullpen. Adding Aroldis Chapman to a pen that already had last year’s lights-out co-closers Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances is an interesting strategy that could pay off by shortening games for them, assuming that Chapman does not get a lengthy suspension from MLB for his domestic violence allegations, and also assuming that Miller isn’t traded.
The ends of the contracts for Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and Alex Rodriguez are finally in sight but the players are still going to be counted on this season. Sabathia is clearly a shadow of his former self. Teixeira showed a lot of power in a resurgent 2015 season, but will be 36 years old and coming off yet another injury. By the way, he hasn’t batted higher than .256 since the 2009 season. A-Rod had a terrific start to the season last year that virtually no one expected, but batted just .216 after the All-Star break and will be 41 in July. The starting outfield is Brett Gardner (32 but seems younger), Jacoby Ellsbury (32 but seems much older), and Carlos Beltran (39 and played well last year but seems to have been active since the Carter Administration). Among the non-Sabathia starters who aren’t Pineda or Severino, Ivan Nova and Nathan Eovaldi don’t scare too many major league batters. Also, Masahiro Tanaka might or might not have a cranky elbow. The Yankees could still score a lot of runs to offset a shaky starting rotation and get to that fabulous bullpen, but they’re going to need lots of ice packs to get there.
You never count out a team that has Buck Showalter as its manager. The man has been around forever with four franchises now and learned to manage from the late Billy Martin. So there’s that. The Orioles also have a strong offensive core. Adam Jones will get his 30 home runs and free-agent returnee Chris Davis could have potentially video-game-like power numbers. Matt Wieters is back for a full year after Tommy John surgery and is playing for a big contract next year after accepting the Qualifying Offer. And don’t forget young Manny Machado, who smacked 35 home runs last season and is still just 23 years old. Also, the Orioles acquired outfielder/1B Mark Trumbo, a streaky hitter who nevertheless could thrive as more of a role player in Baltimore.
The Orioles lost Wei-Yin Chen to the Marlins as a free agent, leaving them with a projected starting rotation of Chris Tillman (4.99 ERA), Miguel Gonzalez (4.91 ERA), Kevin Gausman (4.25 ERA) and the eternally confounding Ubaldo Jimenez (4.11 ERA). Newcomer Odrisamer Despaigne recently arrived but is unlikely to change this calculus much. Gausman is young and could well break out, but this rotation probably won’t scare many major league offenses. Also, J.J. Hardy has had a rough go for two seasons now with injuries and sapped power. He batted just .219 last season and it remains to be seen if he has anything left.
Tampa Bay Rays
The starting rotation could be terrific with Drew Smyly, Chris Archer, a recovered-from-TJ Surgery Matt Moore, and underrated Jake Odorizzi. It could also be terrible, but these guys have the talent to pull it off. The Rays also have a stellar outfield with All-World Defender and potential 20-20 center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, Steve Souza, and newly acquired Corey Dickerson. They also have Brandon Guyer and newly acquired Steve Pearce, who for some reason hits like Ted Williams at The Trop. Brad Boxberger did well in the closer’s role last year with 41 Saves but also lost 10 games and had a 1.37 WHIP. And lest we forget, the Rays still have Evan Longoria manning 3B, their franchise player who remains a power-hitting asset.
Potentially the starting rotation. Potentially Boxberger. Potentially a few of their outfielders not hitting well. This team has a lot of maybes and potential. Also they currently project their catcher as Rene Rivera. That could change, but if not they’ll have a backstop whose fielding was just okay and whose offense was historically bad last season (with a .178 batting average, he was a whopping 37 points shy of reaching his weight).
Boston Red Sox
A lot went wrong for this team last season and they ended up in last place in 2015. One huge weakness was that they had five #3 starters in their rotation, so they traded away Wade Miley to Seattle and signed David Price. Not only is he a true ace and major upgrade over Miley, but he also came from the rival Toronto Blue Jays, making it a big win all around for the Sawx. The team also acquired Craig Kimbrel, one of the game’s finest closers, to alleviate pressure on the very effective but now-40-year-old Koji Uehara. With Price at the top of the rotation, Eduardo Rodriguez, Clay Buchholz and Rick Porcello look much better. This team also has Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, dynamic young players who can lead the team for years to come. And David Ortiz, now in his swan season, did hit 37 homers last year.
The Sox will still be haunted by last year’s major free agent signings of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Ramirez was unable to field the ball in left field and will move to first base this season. If he hits another 19 homers this year and can catch the ball in the field, he should be okay in that spot but it’s hard to know with him. Sandoval struggled against lefties and stopped switch-hitting altogether last season. His conditioning might or might not be an issue, but the Sox need him to produce better. Dustin Pedroia can still produce but has been bedeviled by injuries. And David Ortiz is a total wild-card. He could replicate his 37 homers of a year ago, but it’s impossible to predict and that’s especially true if he gets off to another slow start.
For previous installments in this series, check here: