With the boom-and-bust Red Sox and tough-to-figure Rays in the mix, the American League East has become a tough division to call in recent years. In 2015, few predicted the Blue Jays would go all in at the trade deadline and emerge with a powerhouse team. Baltimore’s decline was equally surprising.
For Toronto, David Price was both the key to winning the East and the reason the club failed to make the World Series, but no one can deny how much he improved the team’s prospects in August. This season, the same impact player moved from Toronto to Boston, where he will front a Red Sox rotation with high expectations after two straight last-place finishes.
Looking at the other clubs hoping to claim the AL East, the Blue Jays’ biggest moves were the subtractions of Price and GM Alex Anthopoulos; the Yankees decided to add a third closer; and Baltimore locked down Chris Davis to maintain the status quo offensively. Each of the five teams head into the 2016 season with holes. Here are the weaknesses of every AL East team, listed in order of the 2015 standings.
1. Toronto Blue Jays
We expect Toronto’s intimidating offense to be the club’s strong suit again in 2016, but the bullpen is much improved with Drew Storen now in the mix. The Blue Jays’ weak link is the rotation, which will lack both Price (9-1, 2.30 ERA) and innings-eating Mark Buehrle (15-8, 3.81 ERA). Marcus Stroman takes the reins as the team’s No. 1 option after compiling a 3.31 ERA across 24 career starts. It’s hard to predict the number of innings and effectiveness Stroman will deliver given his limited track record. Behind Stroman are Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey, and J.A. Happ before considering the fifth starter. Toronto could very well regret not resigning Price.
2. New York Yankees
One of the wildest offseason rumors that involved the Yankees was trading star closer Andrew Miller. Instead, the Yankees added the best closer on the market, Aroldis Chapman, giving the club the most imposing bullpen in the game. However, the rotation issues from 2015 remain for New York. Losing Adam Warren in the Starlin Castro trade might make the situation worse if the starters cannot stay healthy (a distinct possibility for this group). Along with suspect pitching depth, the Yankees still have to prove they can handle left-handed pitching after a dreary end to 2015. Aaron Hicks, Castro, and Gary Sanchez will have a shot to prove their worth in the lineup.
3. Baltimore Orioles
Aside from a few peaks and valleys, Baltimore hovered around .500 for nearly all of 2015 and ended an even 81-81. This offseason, the club made resigning slugger Chris Davis and reliever Darren O’Day their top priorities, so they accomplished those goals. Yet the biggest change of the offseason remains the subtraction of Wei-Yin Chen, who inked a five-year deal with Miami. Chen was an expensive proposition for an O’s club, who now feature a franchise-record payroll, so they passed. Considering the rotation was not a strength in 2015, this area will be Baltimore’s weakest link next season, too.
4. Tampa Bay Rays
Tampa has featured superb young pitching in recent years, and 2016 will be no different with Chris Archer, Erasmo Ramirez, and Jake Odorizzi at the top of the rotation. Likewise, Matt Moore and Drew Smyly should return stronger after injury-shortened seasons and Alex Cobb comes back from Tommy John surgery. This rotation could be among MLB’s best by midsummer after placing sixth with a 3.63 ERA in 2015. On the flip side, the team was 25th in runs scored and the offensive woes will continue. Besides a declining Evan Longoria, the biggest impact bat is Logan Forsythe. This team can’t match firepower with many MLB teams.
5. Boston Red Sox
Barring an 11th hour blockbuster, Boston will start the season as the most improved team in the AL East. The no-ace problem became settled with the arrival of Price, and the mediocre bullpen should now be an asset with Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith on board. Even with Price taking over for over Wade Miley, the rotation lacks durability and consistency in Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez. Beyond the rotation, we expect bumps in the road as Hanley Ramirez moves to his third position in three years. With Pablo Sandoval across the diamond, Red Sox officials must believe the best infield defense is a good offense.
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