Since Spring Training is officially underway and everybody in the baseball world is excited for the upcoming season, we will over the next week or so look at, preview and predict the six divisions in the MLB. Today we start off with the AL East.
The American League East is made up of the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Baltimore Orioles, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays. Unlike the two-horse race it was in 2015, the 2016 AL East is full of divisional contenders. Honestly, if any team wins the AL East this season I would not be entirely shocked, yes even the Orioles. A few days back, Baseball Prospectus released their full predictions for the 2016 regular season.
Surprising a lot of people, Baseball Prospectus have the Tampa Bay Rays winning the division and although you can’t tell from the image, they also have the Sox snagging a playoff berth via Wild Card. Now to get to the correct and real preview, N2K’s Preview.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays offseason didn’t really have much impact for this season. The Jays lost perennial Cy Young candidate David Price (more on that later) and signed international prospect Vlad Guerrero Jr (not really during the offseason). Guerrero Jr won’t play this season but the kid can flat out play, he hit 33 homeruns in 60 swings without batting gloves. Without Price, Marcus Stroman is expected to take over as the team’s #1 pitcher but this staff will be made or broken by the production of RA Dickey. If Dickey can string together a magical season like he did a few years ago then he could really propel them into the playoff conversation.
The left side of the infield is maybe the best in baseball with Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. If Tulowitzki can stay in between the lines this season he could be the best 5 or 6 hitter in baseball. I say 5 or 6 because Donaldson should bat 3rd, Jose Bautista 4th with Edwin Encarnacion and Tulo batting 5th and 6th in no particular order. Kevin Pillar will track down pretty much anything in center, making up for Joey Bats’ lack of range but Russell Martin’s best years are behind him. Martin’s biggest asset to Toronto will be assisting the pitching staff and framing pitches, don’t expect Martin to eclipse 0.240 offensively.
Boston Red Sox
On paper, the Red Sox are the best team in baseball. Now keywords there are ‘on paper’. Expect bounceback years from Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez but if they start off slow, Farrell should be quick to entrust Travis Shaw and Brock Holt with their duties. Xander Bogaerts is getting exponentially better and will get his first All Star Game appearance as well as his second Silver Slugger (not Carlos Correa). Dustin Pedroia could have a career rebirth after tapering off due to injuries the past two years, but regardless his leadership will be invaluable to an extremely young roster. As for veteran leadership, David Ortiz is a man on a mission this year and wants to go out in style after announcing his plans to retire following the conclusion of the season. Blake Swihart (pictured) will open eyes this season offensively and get robbed of an ASG appearance. The four-man outfield rotation of Jackie Bradley Jr, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, and Chris Young should be able to help out both on the field and at the plate.
The Red Sox had the most successful offseason, outside of the Atlanta Braves but were able to apparently add the few key pieces keeping them from October. Dombrowski and his staff added bonafide ace David Price, world class closer Craig Kimbrel and up-and-coming reliever Carson Smith transforming a struggling bullpen into a late innings masterpiece.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays will go as far as Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson and Chris Archer can take them. Many people have the Rays performing well this season but I can’t really see that happening. Sure Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr, Steve Pearce, James Loney and Logan Forsythe should complement their lineup well. But outside of Longo and Dickerson, the threat of the longball isn’t that great. However, I do anticipate Corey Dickerson to have a really strong year but I am having trouble seeing this team being as successful as everybody else seems to think.
Bottomline, the Rays bullpen is abysmal. Last season Tampa Bay had the 20th best bullpen but traded away Jake McGee, who is one of the top five relievers in the game. I know I am beginning to sound like a broken record but bullpens win championships, that is why the Royals and Yankees find the success they do. That is also why I see the Red Sox doing so well this year. Bullpens ease the burden of a shaky pitching staff which is exactly what the Rays have. The Rays have been able to get more wins via defensive shifting (believe it or not) but all the shifting in the world won’t make them a playoff team this year. Expect Tampa to lose a lot of late and close games.
The Orioles spent a boatload on Chris Davis, a player who led the league in strikeouts with 208 last season. As a batter, no independent outcome is worse than a strikeout. Putting the ball into play can move runners around or perhaps lead to an error but striking out does nothing besides change the out total on the scoreboard. Despite tossing money at a player that is less consistent as the outcome of a flipped coin the Orioles could make a run into October.
They have a few diamonds in the rough that could have a productive year. I’m not talking about Manny Machado or Adam Jones, they will continue to amaze fans and get some AL MVP consideration just like clockwork. I’m talking about the X-Factors, if Baltimore fans want a prayer at the playoffs these guys will have to step up and shine. Starting pitcher Kevin Gausman and shortstop JJ Hardy are my X-Factors and both are players that haven’t exactly lived up to their potential (mostly looking at Gausman). If Gausman can perform like scouts thought he would then the Orioles could very well end up in the postseason discussion.
New York Yankees
The bad guys, the Bronx Bombers, the 2004 ALCS Finalists, whatever you want to call them it doesn’t matter. The Yankees are back in contention but under a different facade. Instead of buying the free agency market with their deep pockets, this team has placed a big importance on innings 7, 8, and 9. Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman will be the most devastating bullpen combo in the history of baseball. And a bullpen of their caliber will take an immense load off of the starting rotation.
Tanaka, Pineda, and Eovaldi will all have career season thanks to the insurance and comfort that their bullpen provides. Other than the pitchers, the addition of Starlin Castro was low-risk and high-reward. Alex Rodriguez, Chase Headley, Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira still play in basically the world’s biggest wiffleball park therefore their power numbers shouldn’t waiver. Also, Jacoby Ellsbury is still owed over $21 million each year until 2021 in maybe one of the worst current contracts in the league. I expect the Yankees to do well this season but not as well as everybody thinks they will do.
N2K’s AL East Prediction
Boston Red Sox 90-72
Toronto Blue Jays 87-75
Baltimore Orioles 84-78
New York Yankees 84-78
Tampa Bay Rays 79-83
Cover Photo via Getty Images
Image Predictions via Baseball Prospectus