Division Preview and Predictions: AL East
According to many, the AL East is likely considered to be the division made up of mashers. The division includes five teams all of which have varying levels of offensive weapons and is probably one of the more intriguing divisions in the league right now.
2017 should be another fun season for this division as the race will likely include all five teams up until the end. Here are my predictions, in order of how I expect the division standings to end up, and what to look for during the coming season from each team that makes up the AL East.
1. Red Sox (AL East Champion) - The Boston Red Sox are loaded at the moment and appear to be the most talented team of the bunch. Of course, Boston bolstered their rotation this winter by adding Chris Sale to an already deep starting rotation that includes David Price, Rick Porcello, Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez. Last season, Boston's starting rotation ended the season 8th in the league with a 4.22 ERA in 969.1 IP, but will likely have a lot more success in 2017 with the addition of Chris Sale. In addition, the Red Sox possess an extremely talented outfield, not to mention baseball's number one prospect in Andrew Benintendi. If that isn't enough to make them the favorites in the AL East, they are led by a very knowledgeable front office team headlined by Dave Dombrowski and have all of the resources to make a big trade come the trade deadline if they need an additional piece or two. Dombrowski is not afraid to make a big splash and will do so if it helps Boston end the season on top. Based on the Red Sox's current roster and the moves they made this winter, look for them to finish with one of the top three records in the American League this season.
2. Toronto Blue Jays - As it stands right now, Toronto is virtually the same club they were last year besides the subtraction of Edwin Encarnacion, addition of Kendrys Morales as well as Steve Pearce to their lineup and J.P. Howell along with Joe Smith to their bullpen. Even without the Parrot (Edwin Encarnacion), Toronto should not have any issue scoring runs especially with Kendrys Morales as their primary DH, Joey Bats over in rightfield, and the Bringer of Rain, Josh Donaldson, at third base. Those three will likely contribute the most to the Jays offense this coming season as long as all three stay healthy throughout the entire course of the season. In addition, Toronto has a very talented starting rotation anchored by Aaron Sanchez and complimented with the likes of young stud Marcus Stroman, a very consistent Marco Estrada, and J.A. Happ along with Francisco Liriano. Add to that the fact that the Jays display a lot of depth around the diamond and have a deep bullpen which will help them add some much needed assurance to the pitching staff. Lastly, don't be surprised if one of Toronto's starters finishes 2017 in the conversation for the AL Cy Young Award. I would not be shocked to see Marco Estrada in those talks at the end of the season.
3. Tampa Bay Rays - At the start of every season, we go into it basically writing off the Rays because many people either don't feel as though they are talented enough or have enough offense to make it through the season especially compared to the other offensive juggernauts in the division. When you look at the Rays from the outside in, it's obvious that they will likely miss having Logan Forsythe in their everyday lineup, after he was traded to the Dodgers last month, but they possess potentially the best starting rotation out of the other teams within the AL East. Not only do the Rays now have Jose De Leon, who they received in exchange for Forsythe, they will also have Chris Archer, who is projected to have a much better season this year compared to last, as well as Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, Blake Snell, and Matt Andriese. Of course, Cobb will be in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, but if he is anything like he was prior to going down, look out. Another nice quality about the Rays is at the back end of their bullpen in Alex Colome. Colome has been mentioned in the rumor mill and connected most often with the Nationals, but has a 3.10 ERA in 206.0 IP with Tampa Bay during the past 4 seasons along with 37 saves in 45 save opportunities. Look for the Rays to stay in the thick of the race the entire season and give every team a run for their money.
4. Baltimore Orioles - Heading into 2017, the Orioles appear as though they could be the weakest team of the five in the AL East due to having so many question marks, but with the return of Mark Trumbo and the youngsters they have in their starting rotation, Baltimore will likely finish in the middle of the pack. As it stands right now, the Orioles are slated to have Chris Tillman as their Opening Day starting pitcher. Since getting called up to the big leagues in 2009 with the Orioles, Tillman has had mixed results, but put together a very good season quietly last year finishing the season with a 3.77 ERA in 172.0 IP and 140 strikeouts. In addition, Baltimore has Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy and could still look to add another starting pitcher before Opening Day like Doug Fister or Jered Weaver. On the offensive side of things, look for the Orioles to mash the ball once again in 2017 just like they did last season when they finished with a league leading 253 home runs in 5,524 at bats. While Baltimore no longer has Matt Wieters and likely won't be able to add him to their 25-man roster before Opening Day, they do have some nice offensive weapons in the aforementioned Mark Trumbo, new catcher Welington Castillo, Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop, and newly acquired outfielder, Seth Smith. Many folks believe Baltimore's biggest downfall this season will be their outfield defense, but that shouldn't hold them back too much if their able to score enough runs and mash the ball out of Camden Yards.
5. New York Yankees - I know many of you will likely disagree with the Yankees finishing last in the division, which certainly might not happen as they have plenty of talent to surprise us all, but it appears as though they will once again be second fiddle in 2017 to the Mets. Right now, the Yankees are in the midst of a transition period where they are trying to dump payroll, move older players, and give the youngsters a chance to play on an everyday basis. Although the addition of Chris Carter has an effect on that equation, having him in their lineup especially against left-handed pitchers, certainly won't hurt. While we don't know how all of the Yankees young prospects will turn out to perform at the major league level, how Greg Bird will finish the year following right labrum surgery that he had last season, and how the playing situation between Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks will play out in right field, we know one thing is for certain and that is that Joe Girardi has plenty of different options and will likely be a mad scientist all season long. Besides having a lot of depth around the diamond and veteran leadership in Chris Carter and Matt Holliday, the Yankees still have their big three-headed monster at the back end of their bullpen in Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman. As time evolves, those three will be significant for New York's pen as they will provide leadership to the young relievers coming up through the system and will help do a majority of the legwork in 2017.