As the 2017 MLB season approaches, the resident baseball nerd here at FirstandMonday.com will be rolling out his pre-season previews, one division at a time.
Today, we kick the tires on the AL East. Red Sox vs Yankees, big money, bandwagon fans, blah blah blah. Seriously though, the Red Sox gone be real good. The rest? Let’s talk about it.
1. Boston Red Sox
2016 record: 93-69
So the Red Sox had an eventful offseason. After weeks of rumors, the White Sox finally decided to move ace Chris Sale, and Boston is his new home. The Red Sox paid a steep price, handing over one of the top prospects in all of baseball in young second baseman Yoan Moncada, but they got their guy. Sale is a true ace, and he’ll be followed in the rotation by David Price and 2016 AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. A very solid 1-2-3. Oh, and they have one of the absolute best closers in the game in Craig Kimbrel. The rotation should be very good.
On the line up side, the Red Sox will take the field for the first time since 2002 without David Ortiz, as Big Papi rode off into the retirement sunset following last season. Still, the Red Sox look to build off of a season that saw them field an incredibly lethal offense. Right fielder Mookie Betts came in second in the AL MVP voting last year, and many felt like he was screwed out of the prize. Add to him names like Ramirez, Pedroia, Xander Bogarts and Jackie Bradley Jr. and I think you can see where this is going. Despite the loss of Ortiz, this offense is still gonna be real good. Andrew Benintendi, seen by many as the best prospect in all of baseball, will take over in left field this season and looks to just add to the already elite offensive party. Oh, and Pablo Sandoval is back and not fat. For now, anyway.
Key player: OF Mookie Betts (Runner up 2016 AL MVP). Like with any team with serious World Series aspirations, this could have gone to several guys, but Betts nearly won the MVP last year for good reason. It’s hard to expect him to do more than he did in 2016, but he’ll need to keep up with that pace to help the Red Sox cover up the loss of Ortiz. I think he’s up to the task.
2017 projection: 98-64, #1 seed in AL
2. Toronto Blue Jays
2016 record: 89-73
Aaron Sanchez was ridiculous in 2016. The Blue Jays presumptive #1 starter went 15-2 with a 3.00 ERA in his first full season as a starting pitcher in the major leagues, and he did so in a division full of big time offenses. He’ll be followed in the rotation by veterans Marco Estrada and lefty JA Happ, who had a sort of ridiculous 2016 campaign as well that saw him go 20-4. Marcus Strohman and Francisco Liriano should hold down the back end of the rotation competently, with Strohman showing some potential to be a top end starter in his own right with a little more seasoning.
Last year, and for several years prior, the Blue Jays have been a slug it out club. While that’s still probably the case, this group has lost a little punch. Edwin Encarnacion will swing a bat for the Indians this season, and Jose Bautista (AKA baseball’s most punchable face), isn’t the player he used to be as he enters his age 36 season. Kendrys Morales will take over for Encarnacion at DH, and he’s fine and all, but Encarnacion was a monster during his time with the Blue Jays. He will be missed. Another big season from Josh Donaldson and more consistency from Troy Tulowitzki would help though. Overall, this club won’t have quite as much firepower as in prior years, but the rotation should be a little better, and that will enough for second place in this tough division.
Key player: SS Troy Tulowitzki (.254 BA in 2016 the lowest of his career in a full season). Tulo didn’t exactly knock the cover off the ball last season. He did make up for it with a pretty stellar defensive campaign (1.8 dWAR), but the Jays need him to hit the way he did when he earned that massive contract that they now have to carry around. He totaled 3.3 WAR in 2016, which is fine, but getting closer to the 6 WAR mark like he did for Colorado from 2009 to 2014 would probably ensure this club sees October baseball.
2017 projection: 86-76, AL Wild Card
3. New York Yankees
2016 record: 89-73
On paper, this team is barely recognizable to me. What happened to the Yankees? Well, George Steinbrenner died… I guess that’s what happened. His boys are in charge now, and gone are the days of reckless, win at all costs spending on the open market. This is still a good club, they’re still the Yankees, but the roster just lacks the panache since Jeter hung up his overrated cleats. Anywho, CC Sabathia is still there and he’s still paid like he’s good, so that’s something. The rotation will likely be lead though by Masahiro Tanaka who was quite good in 2016 when he went 14.4 with a 3.07 ERA in 31 starts. Michael Pineda, who wasn’t so good last year (6-12, 4.82 ERA) will be in the middle of the rotation, along with Sabathia. Hard throwing Dominican youngster Luis Severino will be in the mix in the back end of the rotation, coming off of a subpar 2016 season, but he has a live arm and great stuff. He just has to keep coming along. The Yankees did shell out the cash to bring Aroldis Chapman back to nail down the 9th, and that’s a good thing.
The offense feels like its made up of cast offs from other teams. Didi Gregorious, Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Holiday. It’s an uninspiring group, but should still be fairly proficient. The offense will be lead however by stud phenom backstop Gary Sanchez, who hit .299 with 20 home runs last season in just 53 games. Obviously he can’t be expected to keep up that kind of production, but a 30 home run season should be well within reach. The catching job is 100% his now after the Yankees shipped veteran Brian McCann off to Houston in the offseason. Overall, this is a fine, above average team, but I just don’t see them playing postseason baseball this year.
Key player(s): C Gary Sanchez (3.0 WAR in 53 games in 2016). Sanchez is a star in the making, simply put. If you tried to extrapolate his stats from such a small sample size last year out to a full season your head would explode, but suffice to say he’s incredibly talented and should be the Yankee to lead this club for the foreseeable future.
2017 projection: 83-79
4. Baltimore Orioles
2016 record: 89-73
Another AL East mashers club, the Orioles rotation top three of Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy all showed plenty of promise in 2016. The back end, however, will be held down by shaky veterans Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez. Big seasons will need to be had by Gausman and Bundy if this Baltimore team is to find themselves in playoff contention. Their bullpen is anchored though by Zach Britton, who was one of the best closers in all of baseball in 2016. The lefty finished 4th in the AL Cy Young voting after notching 47 saves and a crazy 0.54 ERA. He’s good stuff, people.
On the offensive side, the Orioles resigned DH Mark Trumbo after he tried hard and failed to find a more lucrative deal elsewhere. Big dudes who play no D but hit the long ball just aren’t sought after like they used to be. The big four of Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Adam Jones launched a combined 151 home runs last year, and they’ll probably need every bit as many this year too if they want to try to win this division. They won’t win it, but a Wild Card run isn’t out of the question if these guys score runs at a decent clip and the back end of the rotation isn’t so bad that it sinks the whole club. Truth be told, second through fourth place in the AL East are a bit of a toss up again, just as it seems to be every year.
Key player: 3B Manny Machado (7.2 WAR in 2016). Machado is one of the absolute best baseball players in the game right now, and he’s just 24 years old. He’s a beast at the plate and a great defensive third baseman. Davis and Trumbo might launch the home runs, and Jones is a great player too, but they need Machado to keep doing Machado things at a very high rate to mask other deficiencies.
2017 projection: 82-80
5. Tampa Bay Rays
2016 record: 68-94
Remember when the Rays were good? Long gone is former skipper Joe Maddon, who the Rays faithful had to watch win a World Series with the Cubs last year (despite his best efforts to blow it with terrible pen management), but they’ve still got Evan Longoria, which is nice. Chris Archer leads the rotation coming off of a somewhat disappointing 2016 where he lead the American League with 19 losses. He still has electric stuff though, and the Rays will look for him to rebound. Both he and his #2 Jake Odorizzi were subject of many a trade rumor in the offseason, but the exorbitant asks of the club kept them both in place in Tampa for at least a little while longer. Young lefty Blake Snell will also be a member of the rotation, and he showed some promise last season which the Rays will want to see him expand on in 2017.
The offense still has Longoria, who’s coming off of his best offensive season since 2013, but he just doesn’t have a lot of help. Kevin Kiermaier is the best defensive center fielder in the game and he’s decent enough at the plate, but there’s just not much meat on the offensive bone in Tampa. Remember when Logan Morrison was going to be an elite offensive first basemen? I remember, sort of, but it just never really materialized. He’s fine, above average, but that’s just about it. The Rays are in for another long season.
Key player: SP Chris Archer (1.8 WAR in 2016, down from 4.3 WAR in 2015). Tampa is going nowhere this season, even if Archer wins 30 games. He’s still their key player though, considering what he may be able to fetch at the deadline if he has a big first half. He’s signed all the way through 2021, so he could bring a king’s ransom if a team is desperate for a top-flight starter when the trades start a’ flying.
2017 projection: 70-92
If you missed our first installment, covering the NL East, it can be found HERE.