2016 MLB Preview: American League East

(Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

2015:

  1. Toronto Blue Jays* 93-69
  2. New York Yankees* 87-75
  3. Baltimore Orioles 81-81
  4. Tampa Bay Rays 80-82
  5. Boston Red Sox 78-84

2016 Prediction:

  1. Toronto Blue Jays* 88-74
  2. Tampa Bay Rays* 86-76
  3. Baltimore Orioles 81-81
  4. New York Yankees 79-83
  5. Boston Red Sox 74-88

There is a real chance that 2016 will be the last shot for the Blue Jays to make a run as Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are both free agents at the end of the season and they are unlikely to keep both of them. The lineup should nonetheless be a force once again as those two combined with reigning MVP Josh Donaldson and a full season of Troy Tulowitzki Pitching has always been a question mark with this team and with David Price departing for Boston, that will be the case once again. Marcus Stroman is as exciting to watch as any pitcher in baseball, but the rotation depth was better with him as the number 2 starter behind Price. I think Drew Storen should be the closer because he has proven that he is not effective as a setup man. Either Roberto Osuna or Aaron Sanchez will likely transition into the starting rotation along with Stroman, Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey, and J.A. Happ. Kevin Pillar covers a ton of ground in the outfield and will not let many balls drop in center field. This team ended a 22 year postseason drought by making it to a classic Game 6 of the American League Championship Series a season ago, and they will likely find themselves playing in October again in 2016.

One thing the Rays always have is pitching, and they have more on the horizon in southpaw Blake Snell and RHP Brent Honeywell not far behind him. Chris Archer has emerged as a Cy Young candidate atop this rotation and they also have Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore, and Erasmo Ramirez in the mix before they get back Alex Cobb from Tommy John Surgery this summer. The Rays have a very good outfield led by Kevin Kiermaier. They also acquired Corey Dickerson from the Rockies this offseason, and I think he will be an excellent fit. Every few years, this team seems to find its way into the playoff picture when people are not expecting it. I will be among the many surprised this year when the Rays find themselves in a postseason scenario in 2016.

Buck’s Birds have been fairly steady over the past couple of seasons. They made the postseason in 2012 and 2014 and advanced to the American League Championship Series in 2014 where they, like the Blue Jays a season later, fell to the Kansas City Royals. There is plenty of offense in this lineup, but it is predominately right-handed. Retaining Chris Davis and recently importing Pedro Alvarez will add some balance. But those two alone combined for 339 strikeouts a season ago, and Davis’ 208 led all of baseball. Davis signed back for seven years, $161 million. This is a guy who averages 37 home runs, 101 RBI, and 200 strikeouts over a 162 game span. In 2014, he hit .196. Everybody in baseball loves power when it has proven time and time again that it drys up in October. I do not see any possible way that contract ends well for the Orioles. While Adam Jones is still the face of this franchise, Manny Machado is a superstar. If there was anybody they should have given a long term deal to, it was him. I will be curious to see if Davis’ deal handcuffs them financially when they are trying to lock up the 23-year old in a few years. The rotation will be a question once again, and Kevin Gausman once again needs to be the guy to step up and anchor this staff. The back end of the bullpen is solid with Darren O’Day and Zach Britton. Do not overlook Brad Brach, who has very quietly put together a very nice career and will likely be pitching the seventh inning. I wrote a feature on him a few months ago. It was a nice surprise for them to see Matt Wieters accept the qualifying offer, but I do not think that Yovani Gallardo is an upgrade over Wei-Yin Chen. They finished .500 in 2015, and I can see them finishing around there once again.

The Yankees made the Wild Card Game a season ago, and fell flat against a superior Astros team. They responded by not signing one free agent to a Major League contract. I commend them for this, because overpaying in free agency is not the answer. Instead, they went out and acquired Starlin Castro to play second base and Aroldis Chapman to pitch the ninth inning. He will be suspended 30 games to start the season, but Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are more than capable of handling the bullpen duties until he returns. I still think that this team has plenty of question marks. Luis Severino has future ace written all over him. But is he their best pitcher right now? Will Masahiro Tanaka be healthy and be able to give them 200 innings? What will CC Sabathia provide in return for the $25 million he will be making this year? They gave Jacoby Ellsbury $153 million and they sat him in the Wild Card Game a season ago because the Yankees faced a tough lefty. Do think he cannot handle southpaws? When you are making that much money, you better be in the lineup everyday, especially in the postseason. Can Alex Rodriguez repeat what he did last season? How about Mark Teixeira? The previous big contracts have come back to bite this team because these guys are making over $20 million well into their 30s and are not nearly as productive as they were in their prime. But that is why it was smart for the Yankees to shy away from free agency this year (yes, I do think they have $500 million sitting around somewhere with Bryce Harper‘s name on it for 2018 as well). Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Jorge Mateo, Gary Sanchez, and James Kaprielian are key pieces for the future, and will be a part of the next great Yankees team. But I just see too many uncertainties with this team for 2016.

For whatever reason, a lot of people love the Red Sox and are picking them to win this division and even make a pennant run. I am not as high on this team as some people are. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval have been nothing short of disasters when they combined to sign for over $180 million last year. They were both below replacement level in 2015. The Hanley experiment in left field was hard to watch and now they expect him to handle first base. This may be the worst defensive corner infield in baseball by a landslide. I am not in love with the David Price signing either. The rest of the rotation is suspect, and I do not think giving someone who plays every five days $217 million is really going to make this team a lot better. They gave up a ton for Craig Kimbrel, but again, he pitches one inning and they need to get him the ball in the ninth with a lead. I do not see that happening very often. The outfield is very promising, but I just do not think the team adds up to a contender.

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