Spring Training is finally here. The long winter of no baseball is over. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to their fields in Florida and Arizona and we are getting many photos of players in action. The media is buzzing everywhere trying to get scoops for their next articles. At the same time, there are people in the press ranking teams on who will be back in the playoffs this season or not making it anywhere at all. Unfortunately for our readership base, we will also be doing the trope of ranking teams, except it will be done by division, starting with the American League East.
Boston Red Sox
Man, the Red Sox rotation could be considered really nasty: Chris Sale, David Price (2012 Cy Young Award winner), Rick Porcello (the reigning Cy Young Award winner), Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz. This rotation, when on fire, can shut down lineups on a regular basis. This is when everyone’s on. David Price had a few jitters in his first full season in a Red Sox uniform. He should turn it around. The acquisition of Tyler Thornburg is going to be underrated for replacing one of Junicihi Tazawa or Koji Uehara. The former Brewers starter turned reliever will make an excellent setup man for closer Craig Kimbrel, alongside the returning Carson Smith. With the youth of Smith and Thornburg, it should be a great threesome for a few seasons.
With the signing of Mitch Moreland and the retirement of David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez will move to designated hitter and that is probably best, given the woes of him in left field and average performance at first base. Keeping him offense-first is probably the best use that the Red Sox have for him. As for Pablo Sandoval, now that Travis Shaw is in Milwaukee, there is an open door for Sandoval to re-attain his third base position. He needs to prove himself this season to make the contract look less like an albatross than it already does.
Finally, Allen Craig is probably on his last chance as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training. The once home run hitting machine for the Cardinals has been failing miserably for the Red Sox. If he does not show himself in this Spring Training, it is likely that there is no reason to keep him in the organization. Craig was a good hitter, and should still be.
Toronto Blue Jays
Players who need to step up: Jose Bautista, Kendrys Morales
There is not much to describe the Toronto Blue Jays offseason. The most notable change was the loss of free agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion to signing with the Cleveland Indians for a three year / $60 million deal with a fourth year option. This was after signing Kendrys Morales on a three year / $33 million on November 11. There is clearly no way Ross Atkins and company would have known that Encarnacion would sign for much less than market average. That said, the Morales deal should not be a hindrance. Morales will not put up Encarnacion numbers, but will still produce above average numbers for the designated hitter position.
The deal that signed Jose Bautista also is a case of a bizarre market. Instead of getting the five-year deal that he wanted, he ended up signing on January 18 to a one-year / $18 million contract with a mutual option in 2018, and a vesting option for 2019. In other words, nothing like he ever expected. That said, Bautista will be expected to step up a bit to keep doing what he was doing (50 home run seasons) and replace the loss of Edwin Encarnacion alongside Morales. Whether that happens remains to be seen. The rest of the team is pretty much unchanged besides them.
Players who need to step up: Ubaldo Jimenez, Wellington Castillo
This Baltimore Orioles roster reeks of being flawed. Yes, Mark Trumbo got a three-year / $37.5 million deal to continue slamming balls out of Camden Yards. After that, this is still a strikeout-heavy team that needs to solve several holes in them. The first is at the catcher’s position. Yes, Welling Castillo has improved over the last few seasons as he’s jumped from one organization to another, but he’s not going to replace Matt Wieters. The quick solution is to let Wieters re-sign with the club.
Second, the rotation is a bit of a mixed bag. Behind Dylan Bundy, Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman, it looks like a nightmare. Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez are the fourth and fifth starters. While there is little to be concerned about Miley, Jimenez is another story. The continuously-terrible Jimenez is stuck in the worst division for him (the AL East). There’s a chance Gallardo would have been a better number five, but he was traded for Seth Smith instead.
There is a lot of questions in terms of the roster, but one thing remains the same, the Orioles lineup is still top heavy with some sluggers in Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, along with the acquired Seth Smith. They would benefit from getting a better DH over Trey Mancini, and with Pedro Alvarez still being a free agent, there is an opportunity. Yes, it is another high-strikeout, high-power player. It is still worth a shot.
New York Yankees
It has been an interesting offseason for the New York Yankees. After the trade deadline that vaulted their prospect system to No. 2 in the league behind the Braves, the Yankees turned around and re-signed Aroldis Chapman to a record breaking five year / $86 million deal that has an opt-out after year three. The Yankees then decided to trade away catcher Brian McCann to the Houston Astros for two lower-level pitchers. As a result, the Yankees are putting the full power in the hands of breakout star Gary Sanchez.
The Yankees have a lot of question marks on the team still. With Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia due to be free agents after the season, the team is expecting a lot out of Chad Green, Luis Cessa and Luis Severino before Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery debut in the majors. Their rotation was not bolstered, and as a result, there is a lot of pressure is on Michael Pineda to be the ace that we wanted him to be. There is great youth in this pitching staff. This is their time to shine.
As for the outfielder overload, the Yankees have already stated that they want Aaron Judge to be the right fielder of the now. He needs to get some Swiss cheese out of his swing, but he’s shown he can hit them far away from home plate. The Yankees also need a rebound out of their prized contract Jacoby Ellsbury, who is still here. He has to step it up or else he is destined for the bench. For the Yankees to contend, Ellsbury will have to become a better player. Not saying the one in 2011, but one that is reasonably good.
Tampa Bay Rays
Offseason additions: Jose DeLeon (acquired from LAD), Nathan Eovaldi (signed in FA), Colby Rasmus (signed in FA), Wilson Ramos (signed in FA), Mallex Smith (acquired from ATL/SEA); Shawn Tolleson (signed in FA)
Compared to the other four teams, the Rays have almost no chance for contending. That can change, if people start working to get their numbers in order. Chris Archer needs to rebound and be the ace we know he can be. Kevin Kiermaier is a platinum glove winner. He needs to now get his hitting to a platinum level as well. Colby Ramsus is a good pickup for a rebound candidate and he loves the AL East because he feasts on the small ballparks.
That said, the Rays are several years from being the contenders they once were, unless players like Archer and Kiermaier get it together. The Rays are trading away starters, such as Smyly, with Jake Odorizzi as a prime target himself. Hard to say what the future holds otherwise.
That said, the AL East right now probably will end up look like this:
Boston Red Sox: 92-70
Toronto Blue Jays: 87-75
Baltimore Orioles: 85-77
New York Yankees: 83-73
Tampa Bay Rays: 74-88