By Brandon Rothman
Welcome to the American League East Preview on the Moraine Valley Broadcast Channel! Let’s take a look into the crystal baseball to find out what may happen in the 2016 season.
BOSTON RED SOX
After a few rough losing seasons in a row, the Red Sox look to rebound in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball. The offense should still be there – they were ranked 4th in baseball last season. They have shored up both the front and back end of their pitching staff by adding David Price to a yet another record breaking contract (a seven year / $217 million deal) and acquiring four-time All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres for four minor league prospects. It looks like they are sick of having a top 5 offense and a near bottom 5 pitching staff. It doesn’t look like these two can do it alone. Clay Buchholz is going to have to be more consistent that last year’s roller coaster. The offense just needs to keep up the pace it did last year. The young Mookie Betts and Xander Bogarts had solid sophomore years and look to repeat that success. Hanley Ramirez will be back in the infield and Big Papi (David Ortiz) is taking the retirement tour and will want to go out on a high note. All in all, there is a solid improvement in the offseason to this team’s worst performing parts, and it looks like the motor may be running better than in previous years.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
It looked like that the loss of Joe Maddon may have thrown this team off its hinges, but for a team everybody forgot about, the Rays did better than expected last season. New manager Kevin Cash kept the team in good position and they look to bring their offense out of the cellar this year. The additions of Steve Pearce – who can straight smash the ball at Tropicana Field, Corey Dickerson, and Logan Morrison should make this offense much improved over previous years. The lineup is almost a 50/50 lefty/right split, which should keep opposing pitching staffs thinking. The Rays have had a mediocre- to low- ranked offense and highly ranked pitching staff for years. This team has the opposite problem than their new rivals the Red Sox, and just added what they may need to solve this problem. Pitching looks similar to last year; maybe Chris Archer has a legit shot at the Cy Young this year. This team is a solid run defense team and looks to keep it up this year. Using the offseason to uplift the bat situation, they may fly under the radar until the rest of the division wakes up.
After coming so close to the pennant in the 2014 season, the Baltimore Orioles took a nosedive in 2015. It isn’t that they were the worst team in any offensive or defensive category; they actually did pretty well considering the league averages, but had trouble finishing off the big games, even though they had a few games where they scored near 20 runs. The pitching could have used some improvement, however, they did nothing in the off-season to make anyone think that will improve in the 2016 season. Baltimore just inked right-handed starter Yovani Gallardo to a three-year, $35 million deal, costing the team a first-round pick, and the hope is to gain some stability at the top of the rotation. They haven’t done much offensively, but if the usual suspects, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters can stay healthy and contribute, we may be in for a surprise from the Buck Showalter-led crew.
NEW YORK YANKEES
So how about that middle infield? It’s something the Yankees have struggled with since losing Robinson Cano and the retirement of Derek Jeter. As Didi Gregorius settles into the shortstop position there, they have brought in Starlin Castro to try and fix that problem immediately. The rest of the lineup stays pretty much the same, which isn’t a bad thing. The Yankees finished up the season with one of the best offenses falling just shy of the Blue Jays in a few offensive categories. As long as the old (Arod, Texiera, Beltran’s getting there) can keep up with the new, they should cruise along just as well behind the plate as they did last year. The big question is, can they keep the rotation healthy long enough to win the division? The Yankees enter the year with an incredible amount of uncertainty in the rotation. Only C.C. Sabathia pitched enough innings to qualify for award consideration, and none of starters pitched well enough to even be considered for any award. The plan? Get the hardest throwing, shut down closer in the league to plug the hole in the boat. That plug is Aroldis Chapman. He should help them right away. If the offense can just keep up with the opposition, they should have the closer they need to win games, even if it is 7-6.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
It may seem on the surface that a quiet offseason is a bad one, but in the case of the Blue Jays, it’s probably not such a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably a good thing. The moves they wanted and needed to make were done in the midst of last season. Newcomers Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki added as much to their new team as they subtracted from their last. This offense came in ranked best in baseball last season and there seems to be no reason it won’t happen again. If Kevin Pillar can keep up his numbers from last year this lineup will be a painful one to face. On the pitching side of things, the expectation is Marcus Stroman will be the number one guy and can stretch his inning count a bit more this year. They brought back lefty J.A. Happ and still have R.A. Dickey, Marco Estrada, and Drew Hutchinson, who were good enough to carry a team to the playoffs last year. The plan is simple: bash the ball on offense and it won’t matter how much the other team can. Remember this team won 93 games last year and only had to save 34. Every other team that had more than 90 wins had at least 47 saves.
1 Toronto Blue Jays 91 71
2 Boston Red Sox 87 75
3 Tampa Bay Rays 83 79
4 New York Yankees 81 81
5 Baltimore Orioles 75 87