MLB Preview 2017: American League East
|Dustin Pedroia, Boston|
2016 Record: 93-69
Despite winning the highly competitive AL East last season, Boston flopped out in the ALDS, amounting to a relatively disappointing 2016. They responded by simply going out and trading for one of the top hurlers in the sport, in lefty ace Chris Sale from the White Sox. Sale went 17-10 with a 3.34 ERA in '16, and could immediately take over the top spot in the rotation, even with reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and former Cy Young winner David Price also returning. The addition may give the Red Sox another wonderful arm to build around, but the move did not come without cost. Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech are two of the best prospects in baseball, especially Moncada, a shortstop with superstar upside. The move indicates the Red Sox are going all in for a World Series title, putting added pressure on a roster with plenty of talent. Boston is led by shortstop Xander Bogaerts, designated hitter Hanley Ramirez and long-time staple Dustin Pedroia, who is now 33. Bogaerts and Pedroia could form the best middle infield in baseball, and at 24, Bogaerts is only getting better. The Red Sox are also hopeful for resurgent seasons from third basemen Pablo Sandoval (just six at-bats in 2016) and a breakout from outfielder Andrew Benintendi, an early favorite for AL Rookie of the Year. Overall, Boston has the makeup of a top-end team, with a wonderful top-end of the rotation, a superb bullpen and some terrific offensive talent. If things go right, this team should return to the World Series for the first time since 2013, when they won it all.
Projected Record: 96-66 Projected Result: Lose in World Series
2. Toronto Blue Jays
2016 Record: 89-73
The Blue Jays have been to two consecutive American League Championships, but enter a transition season in 2017. Two key members of their recent successful teams, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, are both gone, leaving Toronto looking to others to step up. The good news is that this offense could still be lethal, with Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki ready to go. Donaldson has grown into one of the best third basemen in baseball, recording 37 homers and 99 RBIs in '16, while Tulowitzki is still an All-Star caliber shortstop when healthy. The X-Factor of the team has to be their rotation, which was a force all last season but has some questions. Aaron Sanchez has developed into an ace, but is still trying to prove '16 was no fluke, when he went 15-2. J.A. Happ is as steady and reliable as they come as a middle-end option, while Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman are still growing. Hoping for a bounce-back campaign is Francisco Liriano, who was okay in Toronto after being dealt by Pittsburgh at the trade deadline. Liriano has struggled with injuries throughout his career, but if he is the No. 5 in the rotation, he could still surprise. The bullpen is also trying to emerge as one of the best groups in baseball, as budding star Roberto Osuna keeps getting better. Osuna had 36 saves in 2016 after a wonderful rookie season, and is ready to continue to grow his pitching arsenal. Rock-solid set-up man Jason Grilli is also going to play a big role, after being acquired from Atlanta at the deadline. The Blue Jays may miss Encarnacion and Bautista's power, but the offense should still be in good shape, particularly if Tulo stays healthy and recently acquired Kendrys Morales takes over the DH role and breaks out. If the rotation and bullpen can continue to improve, a return to the ALCS is not completely out of the question.
Projected Record: 87-75 Projected Result: Lose in Wild Card Game
3. Baltimore Orioles
2016 Record: 89-73
Despite playing in the tough AL East and not being a huge market team, Baltimore has continued to be one of the most consistent franchises in the MLB, now recording five straight seasons of at least a .500 record. The same old faces are back in '17, which should mean another successful season for the O's. 3B Manny Machado, 1B Chris Davis and center fielder Adam Jones gives Baltimore some wonderful pop in the heart of their lineup, but also a group that strikes out a ton. That puts a lot of stress on the top of the lineup, which could be worrying. Baltimore is immensely deep in their rotation, with five quality starters, from Chris Tillman to Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. It also has two guys trying to prove themselves, in Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley. Gallardo was an ace in Milwaukee a few years back but has struggled to adjust to AL batters, while Miley has bounced around over the past couple seasons and struggled in 11 starts last season for the Orioles. If those guys don't produce, the Orioles can always fall back on a bullpen that has superstar closer Zach Britton, who went 47 for 47 on save opportunities. It may be hard for Britton to completely replicate those numbers, but his play is a major advantage for Baltimore over some of the others in the American League. The Orioles also must break in a new catcher in Wellington Castillo, who replaces multiple All-Star Matt Weiters, which could need some adjustment. From the looks of it, this seems like a prototypical Baltimore team. They have their core of stars, an efficient rotation and are solid defensively, which should keep them right in the thick of things in the playoff chase. However, they might not have the offensive punch or diversity to get over the top in such a tough division.
Projected Record: 84-78 Projected Result: Miss Postseason
4. New York Yankees
|Aaron Judge, New York|
2016 Record: 84-78
The Yankees have long been known as the team able to spend big-time cash to acquire marquee free agents and while they won't go away from that formula anytime soon, there is some significant young talent on this roster. Most notable of those young stars is catcher Gary Sanchez, who has been so good the Yankees moved on from former All-Star Brian McCann. In just 53 games in the MLB, Sanchez had 20 home runs and hit .299, looking quite like the real deal. First basemen Greg Bird appears primed for a breakout after missing all of last season due to injury, and outfielder Aaron Judge has legit power. When paired with quality veterans Matt Holliday (signed this off-season to play DH for the Yanks), and speedy outfielders Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, this lineup has plenty of potential. Much like others, the key has to be the rotation, which has some question marks. Masahiro Tanaka (14-4, 3.07 ERA in '16) is still an ace but heads into a contract year, while C.C. Sabathia appears to be nearing the end of his career. Michael Pineda has been frustratingly inconsistent throughout his time with the Yankees, while youngster Luis Severino needs to recover from a brutal '16 in which he went 3-8 with a nearly 6 ERA. The bullpen should be top-notch, as the Yankees paid big money to Aroldis Chapman to bring him back as closer, and the flamethrower should be helped by superb relievers Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard. With many long-time icons of the franchise moving on (Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera) New York still sits in somewhat of a transition phase. The young studs are good enough to provide some fireworks but some rotation woes and depth questions could hold them back. The Yanks should be competitive, but some of the youth and growing pains could restrict them from making a serious run at the postseason.
Projected Record: 82-80 Projected Result: Miss Postseason
5. Tampa Bay Rays
2016 Record: 68-94
After two missed postseason appearances but still competitive years, Tampa struggled mightily in 2016, dropping to 94 losses, their most since changing from the Devil Rays to simply the Rays. It wasn't super surprising, considering the defense was poor, the base-running putrid, and not a whole lot of roster upside. Long-time third basemen Evan Longoria is still in Tampa, and while the rest of the team struggled, he had a resurgent season, with 36 home runs. Longoria may be nearing the end of his prime years, but is still a building block with his power and experience. Beyond him, the lineup lacks a lot of playmakers. Possible leadoff man Kevin Kiermaier is okay, Wilson Ramos could have a bounce-back season after being acquired from Washington and many believe first basemen Brad Miller could be in store for a huge 2017 after knocking 30 home runs last year. The Rays' rotation has always been something they could rely on, but there are some question marks there as well. Chris Archer had a relatively disappointing '16, but the flamethrowing right-hander can still be considered the ace of the staff. However, he needs others to step up around him, notably vets Alex Cobb and/or Drew Smyly in order for the group to really be successful. Another concern is the closer role, where former reliever Alex Colome has transitioned. Colome was pretty good after moving to the role, but still lacks the experience of other guys in the division. As the calendar turns, the Rays appear to be on the verge of major changes. A new stadium has reportedly been in the works for a long time and a possible rebranding could also be happening. But, that doesn't change the fact this team is still years away from competing and lacks much concrete direction. Stars like Archer, Longoria and Miller will keep them playing hard every game, but it is hard to imagine them improving at all from last year.
Projected Record: 68-94 Projected Result: Miss Postseason