M-SABR 2017 Season Preview: AL East

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Today, we take a look at the AL East. Previews are given in alphabetical order; standings predictions will be released before Opening Day.

Baltimore Orioles

2016 Record: 89-73 (3rd in AL East, lost in AL Wild Card Game)

2016 Payroll: $156,868,519 (11th)

Offseason Moves: Key departures from 2016 include Yovani Gallardo, Steve Pearce, and Matt Wieters. The biggest acquisitions made by the Orioles are Wellington Castillo and Seth Smith.

2017 Outlook: The Orioles are an interesting team. Despite having clear holes on their roster (specifically in the back end of their rotation), the Orioles took the first AL Wild Card spot in 2016, thanks to 4 rWAR seasons from both Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman (who knew?), a 6.7 rWAR performance from Manny Machado, power surges from Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, and, oh, Zach Britton’s masterful performance. This Orioles team outperformed their Pythagorean W-L record by five games (89-73 vs. 84-78), and most of the names on the team will not wow anybody. This team just doesn’t look like it will be better in 2017. The rotation is a bit more shallow without Yovani Gallardo, Britton/Trumbo’s seasons are most likely unreplicable, and Chris Tillman will not be ready for Opening Day. The Orioles are all around a solid team, but is that enough to compete in today’s AL East?

Player to Watch: Dylan Bundy

Dylan Bundy showed signs of brilliance in 2016, posting a 1.7 rWAR in 109.2 IP. The talent is there, and the Orioles need a huge performance from Bundy in 2017 to contend. Tillman will be injured to start the year, and there’s no way to know whether he will replicate a 4 rWAR. For the Orioles to win the AL East – perhaps for the Orioles to contend in the AL East – Dylan Bundy needs to perform to his potential.

– Zane Harding

 

Boston Red Sox

2016 Record: 93-69 (1st in AL East, lost ALDS)

2016 Payroll: $215,416,336 (3rd)

Offseason Moves: Key departures from 2016 include Big Papi and Travis Shaw (not to mention top prospects in Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech), with key additions being Chris Sale, Mitch Moreland, and Tyler Thornburg.

2017 Outlook: The need to replace Big Papi’s production cannot be understated, so we’ll see if Han-Ram can step up at DH and if Moreland can serviceably take on the first base role. Otherwise, we’ll probably see the Sox shopping for a hitter come July. The trading of Travis Shaw suggests the Red Sox are riding with Sandoval at 3rd base. Offseason reports suggest Sandoval is focused and determined to redeem himself to the fanbase, though worse come to worst the Sox can fall back on reliable utility-hero Brock Holt to step in. The additions of Sale and Thornburg should only bolster the team’s 2016 ERA, which was good for 4th in the AL. The big questions for pitching are 1) Which David Price are the Red Sox going to see in 2017, and 2) Is Porcello going to maintain his Cy Young-level performance? Given Price’s recent injury scare, fans already have some reason to be pessimistic about his outlook. As for Porcello, coming off a career-high in innings, we’ll see if he can either continue to perform such that his xFIP heavily trumps his ERA again or if some of his 2016 luck will catch up to his numbers.

Players to Watch: Sale, Price, and Porcello

Overall the Red Sox have plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the 2017 season, though if they want to succeed in the postseason they’ll need at least two of the Sale-Price-Porcello trio to perform like the consistent top tier pitchers that they are capable of being.

– Griffin Murphy

 

New York Yankees

2016 Record: 84-78 (4th in AL East, missed playoffs)

2016 Payroll: $227,365,376 (2nd)

Offseason Moves: Most notably, the Yankees re-signed Aroldis Chapman to a 5-year deal, while also signing Matt Holliday and Chris Carter. Key departures include Nathan Eovaldi (who will not pitch in 2017 anyways), Brian McCann (sent away to make way for Gary Sanchez to start), and Mark Teixeira (who retired).

2017 Outlook: In the midst of what many fans would call a rebuild, there is optimism in the Bronx that this year will be an important next step in building a potentially dynastic team. The biggest story for the Yankees last season was rookie phenom Gary Sanchez, who was called up in late August and promptly caught fire like no rookie before him. He cooled off a little towards the end of the season, but ended up with a line of .299 AVG/20 HR/42 RBI in just 229 plate appearances, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. Sanchez is just one of the Yankee’s promising prospects, including seven on the Top 100. Among the players looking to make their major league debut this year are Arizona Fall League MVP Gleyber Torres, who came over in the Aroldis Chapman trade, and outfielder Clint Frazier, who came over in the Andrew Miller trade. One major question mark for the Yankees this season will be their starting pitching. Besides ace Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees’ starters all had ERAs between 4 and 5, with the exception of CC Sabathia, but he’s not getting any younger. Michael Pineda showed he can have good stuff, but lacked consistency down the stretch. Luis Severino, who looked so promising when he came up in late 2015, split time between AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre and the Yankees, and was downright awful in a starting role. By signing Aroldis Chapman again, the Yankees improved an already good bullpen featuring Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances.

Players to Watch:

  • The Rotation: Guys like Michael Pineda and Luis Severino need to stay off the disabled list and deliver quality starts more often than not. An average FIP under four from these guys would be a major driver of a playoff run.
  • The “Baby Bombers”: Gary Sanchez can’t afford to have a sophomore slump, Greg Bird needs to be the impact hitter he was down the stretch in 2015, and Gleyber Torres needs to hit if/when he comes up.
  • Veterans: The veterans need to lead by example. I’m looking at you, Jacoby Ellsbury. Expecting an 8.1 bWAR season like 2011 is unrealistic, but he needs to provide more offense than 2016’s dismal .263 AVG/9 HR/56 RBI in 148 games.

– Austin Stamford

 

Tampa Bay Rays

2016 Record: 68-94 (5th in AL East, missed playoffs)

2016 Payroll: $71,329,749 (30th)

Offseason Moves: Despite losing Matt Moore (at the trade deadline) and Drew Smyly (this offseason) in trades, they were able to restock on more solid young pitching prospects that will look to make their way in to the rotation.  The biggest trade was sending Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers and getting top pitching prospect Jose de Leon in return. The Rays signed Wilson Ramos, Colby Rasmus, and Shawn Tolleson over the offseason.

2017 Outlook: 2016 was a tough year for baseball in Tampa.  Pitching, which is usually a strength for the Rays, was an absolute disaster.   Their ace, Chris Archer, led the league in losses with 19 on the year and a 4.02 ERA.  They also didn’t score many runs as they ranked 24th in the majors in that category as well.  One bright spot, however, was the power that the team showed.  Their 216 home runs were good for 6th in the majors.

As always, young pitching is the key for the Rays.  Chris Archer had a rough year but after his showing in the World Baseball Classic thus far is looking at a rebound year.  Jake Odorizzi is a solid and still young pitcher who can make an impact this year.  Blake Snell also looks primed to make more of a splash in the majors after a solid rookie season.  They also have maybe the most exciting defensive player in the game of baseball right now in Kevin Kiermaier.

Players to Watch: The Free Agent Signings

The Rays made some big signings (for them) this offseason by acquiring Wilson Ramos to shore up the catcher position and Colby Rasmus to add greater defense to the outfield.  The addition of Shawn Tolleson also gives them a viable option to set up and potentially close out some games.  If the top of the rotation can bounce back and a powerful offense can put more men on base to make the home runs count, the Rays could improve and compete in the AL East.

– Josh Rusgo

 

Toronto Blue Jays

2016 Record: 89-73 (2nd in AL East, lost ALCS)

2016 Payroll: $159,923,579 (10th)

Offseason Moves: The Blue Jays lost Edwin Encarnacion to free agency, but they managed to re-sign Jose Bautista. Additionally, the club signed DH Kendrys Morales to a 3 year, $33 million contract. They also gave a 7-year deal to 23-year-old Cuban infielder Lourdes Gurriel, younger brother of the Astros’ Yulieski. For the past two years, the Blue Jays have reportedly been interested in a trade for Mets RF Jay Bruce, but again no deal was made. The club previously tried trading for Bruce last offseason, when he was still a member of the Reds, but a deal fell through at the last minute due to a failed physical by a player involved in the deal. In other minor news, the Blue Jays signed Mat Latos, J.P. Howell, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

2017 Outlook: It is undeniable that the loss of Encarnacion will hurt the Blue Jays. Though they did retain Bautista, the 36-year-old is nowhere near the same hitter he was a few years ago; his 2016 season was his worst since his 2010 breakout. Troy Tulowitzki isn’t getting any younger, and he hasn’t played a full season since he was a rookie 10 years ago. That said, it’s not all bad news for the Jays. Josh Donaldson will again contend for MVP, as he hopes to put up his 5th consecutive 7-win season. Aaron Sanchez led the AL in ERA in 2016. He won’t be on an innings limit this season, and at only age 24 he could be at the front of this rotation for a long time. Toronto’s rotation of Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, and Francisco Liriano is the second best in the AL East. Liriano struggled in Pittsburgh in the first half of the season but was strong after being traded to Toronto, particularly in his last four starts. The Blue Jays look like a solid bet to make the postseason for a third straight year. However, the Red Sox and Yankees are loaded with young talent, and the Jays must win sooner rather than later as their window in the AL East may be closing.

Player to watch: J.A. Happ

Happ had been a mediocre pitcher for the better part of a decade before finally breaking out last year in his first season with the Jays. He finished 6th in Cy Young voting after winning 20 games with a 3.18 ERA, but his peripherals show he is due to regress. He is currently under contract for 2 more years, and it will be interesting to see if he can replicate his 2016 success.

– Cam Cain

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