The East was the most competitive division in the American League last season, the Boston Red Sox won the division by just four games over the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, while the Tampa Bay Rays have committed to a full rebuild and finished last.
Boston Red Sox (93-69):
2017 Projected Record: 89-73
The Red Sox have built a World Series contender around young core players like Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Brock Holt, and Jackie Bradley Jr. But, the Sox also have veteran leadership in Dusting Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez. What separates them from the other teams in the division is they traded away top prospects who are major league ready or a year away from the show.
Boston’s biggest splash came at the winter meetings when they traded four top prospects for Chicago White Sox phenom pitcher Chris Sale. This move bolsters up the rotation, which was already equipped with David Price in the #2 spot and 22 game winner Rick Porcello in the #1 spot.
Also, David Ortiz‘s retirement is a big blow to the offense as they lose 38 home runs and 127 RBI’s. Those are big shoes to fill, but they shouldn’t have a problem filling them with veterans such as Hanley, Mitch Moreland, and Pedroia; and hopefully the younger guys like Bradley and Bogaerts make a huge impact this season as well.
Red Sox player to watch: Mookie Betts
Betts is entering his fourth season in the majors and had a huge impact last year, posting a slash line of .318/.363/.534 while smashing 31 home runs and driving in 113 runs. Look for Betts to have a slash of .298/.366/.545 with 34 home runs and 115 RBI’s.
Baltimore Orioles (89-73):
2017 Projected Record: 78-84
“Why didn’t Showalter give the ball to Zach Britton?” That’s the question that haunts Baltimore fans from October’s 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays on an 11th inning walk-off home run from Edwin Encarnacion. Overall Baltimore had a fantastic 2016 season as they improved upon their 81-81 record in 2015.
The addition of Mark Trumbo, who clubbed 48 home runs with 108 RBI’s really helped spark the offense. Britton’s 47 saves and 0.54 ERA helped the club out a lot too. Baltimore had big years out of Adam Jones and Chris Davis as well.
The Orioles haven’t done a whole lot this off-season; their biggest move was re-signing Mark Trumbo after he and the club went back and forth on the length and dollar amount of the deal. I don’t foresee them making anymore moves until at least spring training.
Orioles player to watch: Zach Britton
Last season, Britton was a perfect 47-47 in save opportunities, a career high, and a 0.54 ERA, the lowest ERA ever recorded by a reliever with at least 50 IP. Britton also set an all-time record of 43 consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run. I expect 40 saves and a 1.33 ERA from Britton this season.
Toronto Blue Jays (89-73):
2017 Projected Record: 81-81
Last season the Toronto Blue Jays found an unlikely ace in J.A. Happ. Happ went 20-4 in 32 starts this season and in 195 innings, he posted a 3.18 ERA with 163 strikeouts. Last season, Toronto made it to the ALCS where they lost in five games to the Cleveland Indians.
The Jays retained their power hitters, with the exception of Encarnacion, so they pretty much have the same team as last year. Without Encarnacion, Toronto loses 42 home runs and 127 RBI’s, and unless Kevin Pillar finds some big time pop it seems unlikely they’ll make that up. Toronto also lost R.A. Dickey to Atlanta, so it seems that Francisco Liriano will have a bigger role this year.
Blue Jays player to watch: Melvin Upton Jr.
Last season Upton hit .239/.291/.402 with 20 home runs, 61 RBI’s and 27 stolen bases. I think Upton can be a bigger threat on the base paths, he still has a lot of speed and could easily swipe 35-40 bags. Look for Upton to hit around .250 with 23 bombs and 67 RBI’s, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 30-35 stolen bases.
Tampa Bay Rays (68-94):
2017 Projected Record: 80-82
2016 wasn’t anything to write home about for the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa finished last in the AL East and missed the postseason for the third straight season. Chris Archer, Tampa’s highly touted starter, didn’t make as big an impact as expert analysts thought. Archer posted a lackluster 9-19 record in 33 starts last season. Over 201.1 IP he posted a 4.02 ERA and 233 strikeouts.
The Rays have done more subtracting than adding this off-season, but they are coming in with a lot of young and promising talent in Steven Souza Jr., Kevin Kiermaier, and Matt Duffy. The starting rotation is a little skimpy, but they could surprise us all. It will be interesting to see what’s done with veteran Evan Longoria once the season gets rolling, as he has stated his displeasure with how the organization is being run.
Rays player to watch: Matt Duffy
Duffy had a breakout year in 2015 with the San Francisco Giants, but spent most of last season on the DL. Duffy is likely to start at shortstop this season for the Rays. Expect Duffy to hit .275 with 10 home runs and 65 RBI’s.
New York Yankees (84-78):
2017 Projected Record: 83-79
The New York Yankees will look to make a splash in the next few years as they’ve quickly built the best farm system in all of the MLB. Although they had an average year, they found a standout player in the young catcher Gary Sanchez. In just 52 games, Sanchez belted 20 home runs with 24 RBI’s and 12 doubles. In 2017, the Yankees will have five of nine players who started on opening day last season. Mark Teixeira retired and the organization forced A-Rod out. Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann signed with the Houston Astros. Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley, Starlin Castro, and Didi Gregorius are returning this season.
Yankees Player to Watch: Didi Gregorius
Last season, Didi’s bat heated up big time! He posted a slash line of .276/.304/.447 while pounding 20 homers and driving in 70 runs in 153 games. Gregorius is a left handed hitter, so he has the luxury of the short porch at Yankee Stadium, but in 2015 he played 155 games for the Yankees and only hit 9 home runs; so expect Didi’s new found power to have an impact this season. Didi’s production levels have gone up every year, so look for him to post a slash of .283/.324/.467 with 25 home runs and 80 RBI’s.