Spring AL East Preview
The crown jewel of baseball, where any of the five teams in the division can win the Pennant.
I only have Baltimore and Tampa Bay at the bottom of these standings because you can't have five teams in the top three. I wouldn't be shocked if all five teams finished the season .500 or better. The Rays are a team with incredible riches in their rotation captained by Chris Archer, and an interesting lineup with a ton of power but a ton of strike outs. Their high homers and low AVG's add OF Colby Rasmus and C Derek Norris (holding the fort for Wilson Ramos, one of the best catchers in the league who will need at least half the season to recover from a knee injury). The O's have the opposite situation than the Rays as they have a great line up adding OF Seth Smith and C Welington Castillo to their amazing middle of the lineup of CF Adam Jones, 3B Manny Machado, 1B Chris Davis and DH Mark Trumbo. Their rotation is a weak spot as they face having only four mlb caliber players as their ace Chris Tillman has a sore shoulder. Their rotation is the only thing that gives me pause to drop them in the standings.
The Blue Jays have one of the most explosive lineups in baseball and they take just a little step down by losing Encarnacion and Saunders to the Indians and Phillies, but they add Kendrys Morales to DH and their rotation adds another year of maturity from AL ERA Champ Aaron Sanchez and WBC hero Marcus Stroman. The Yankees also benefit from another year of maturity from super-phoenom catcher Gary Sanchez (20 homers in 53 games... seriously), healthy sleeper !B Greg Bird and under appreciated bull pen monster Dellin Betances (I'll give him credit over Chapman who nearly gave up the World Series in game 7).
I love the Red Sox this year despite the retirement of David Ortiz because Mookie Betts sure looks like a guy that can repeat or improve on his should have been MVP season of 2016 of 31 homers, 113 RBI, .318 AVG and 26 SB's. Mitch Moreland was brought in as the new DH/!B and although I'm not especially excited to have he and Pablo Sandoval in the lineup on a daily basis, SS Xander Boegaerts still isn't even 25 years and 2B Dustin Pedroia isn't slowing down. The rotation has a new ace in Chris Sale who I think is the best pitcher in a group including last year's Cy Young Rick Porcello and 2012 Cy Young David Price (if he's healthy). Even if Price misses some time with an injury, the Sox still have knuckler Steven Wright, and lefties Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez who are all quite promising pitchers.
Mookie Betts (BOS)
The AL East is a great division for MVP Candidates because of players like Evan Longoria (TB), Dustin Pedroia (BOS), Manny Machado (BAL), and Josh Donaldson (TOR), but Mookie Betts is breaking out as a player that could surpass Trout for best player in baseball. Last season 3B Longoria at 30 years old had his career best in homers with 36 and his best AVG since his mid-20's with .273 and the last four seasons he has been durable playing 160 or more games each year. The biggest hindrance for him is the OBP of the players around him keeping him having any 100 RBI seasons since 2010 and the Rays losing ways. 2B Pedroia is back to health playing 154 games last year, notching 201 hits and a .318 AVG after a shorter 2015. Betts had to change positions from 2B to the outfield when he broke into the majors because of Pedroia's resume of '07 ROY, '08 MVP, 4 Gold Gloves, 1 Silver Slugger, 4 All-Star Games, and 2 World Series Championships.
3B Machado is making himself the cornerstone of the Orioles who also has the home run champs of the last two seasons in its lineup with Trumbo and Davis. He has a 4th place finish and 5th place finish in MVP voting the last two seasons, has established himself as one of the best fielding players in the league and hit 35 and 37 homers the last two seasons as well. In the three seasons of his career that he has been healthy the whole year he has hit .283, .286 and .294 ('13, '15 and '16 respectively). 3B Donaldson has just edged out Machado the last few years in production and awards, winning the AL MVP in 2015 and finishing 4th last season. Donaldson had a monsterous 2015 with 41 2B's, 41 HR, .297 AVG, and 123 RBI. His 2016 wasn't too shabby either, with 37 Hr, 99 RBI, and a better .404 OBP despite a slight drop in AVG.
RF Mookie Betts broke out last season by hitting 31 homers to match his 42 doubles (matching his 2B production of the year before) and finding almost every piece of hardware he could earning the Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, All-Star Game Appearance, top fielder in the majors award (at a new position for him in LF) and finished second in MVP voting to Mike Trout. He finished second in the AL with a .318 AVG, lead the league in total bases, sixth in the AL in SB's with 26 and lead the Red Sox to winning the AL East at 23 years old. He has established himself as a player that can outperform Mike Trout as the best all-around player in baseball.
Cy Young Candidate
Chris Sale (BOS)
I could easily give arguments for Orioles closer Zach Britton (probably should have been AL Cy Young in 2016), Jay's Marcus Stroman (WBC hero, I'll say it until they air those damn games on a network where kids can see them), or Rays Chris Archer (who still might be my Cy Young pick with a gun to my head), but as a new Bostonian this is the perfect year for me to go full bore for Chris Sale. In Sale's five full seasons as a starter in the majors he has finish 6th, 5th, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in Cy Young voting and hasn't had a WHIP over 1.10 or under 200 K's since 2012. He has lead the league in complete games twice in the last four years and the two years he didn't he lead the league in strikeouts per 9 innings. He has been the most dynamic pitcher in the AL, their version of Clayton Kershaw, but has been stuck on a losing White Sox team that hasn't made the playoffs since he broke into the league. Sale changed teams in the off season to the Red Sox who had already won the AL East behind the 2016 Cy Young winner Rick Porcello. Sale's ERA might not be under 3.00 this season (no AL starting pitcher's was in 2016) but the sky is the limit for his strike out and win totals, especially if he can maintain his great WHIP totals.
Rookie of the Year Candidate
Andrew Benintendi (BOS)
Benintendi enters the season as mlb.com's top prospect and the Red Sox starting left fielder. He had a solid final season as a minor leaguer hitting .312, .378 OBP, 31 doubles, 12 triples, 9 homers and 16 steals in 97 games before being called to the bigs. He established himself as a solid player in the show right away with a .295 AVG, .359 OBP, 11 doubles and 2 homers in just 105 at bats (keeping him rookie eligible for 2017). That's a lot of doubles at all levels for a 21 year old and he won't have to turn all of those into homers to contend with the prodigious power of Gary Sanchez in the ROY race this year as the Yankee catcher blew past his rookie minimums last seasons. Another Yankee, OF Aaron Judge may chase Benintendi's rookie campaign but the 6'7" masher doesn't quite have the AVG or OBP (or even the doubles in the minors) track record of his Boston counterpart.
Dark Horse Player
Brad Miller (TB)
I almost feel like I'm not getting that deep into my dark horse prediction of Brad Miller because I feel like I talk about him a lot to any poor soul stuck listening to my baseball yammering. 2016 was a breakout season for the Rays short stop... first baseman? DH/ left fielder? Hell, in 2015 he logged time at six positions and DH and this upcoming season he moves over to second base. To see why he's a dark horse we had to take a look at his first full season of 2015. Miller had 11 homers, 22 doubles, 46 RBI, .258 AVG and stole 13 bags. He was a super utility player whose tools seemed to be his ability to play anywhere on the diamond, ability to steal a base here and there but didn't have much power. His numbers for 2016, however, established him as a very different kind of player where he was mostly the starting short stop but would move to other positions depending on what the line up needed. His bat came alive with some pop (although his AVG dipped to .243) as he had 30 homers (THIRTY!), 29 doubles, 81 RBI and only 6 steals. Perhaps his steals went down because he wasn't stopped at first base as much as he was the year prior. He comes into 2017 getting to stay at one position and probably hitting cleanup in a powered up Rays lineup of boppers like Corey Dickerson, Longoria, Steven Souza, Colby Rasmus, and Logan Morrison. There will be strike outs, but there will be homers at the Trop this year.
Most likely to be suspended for a fight
Colby Rasmus (TB)
Division of characters of Stroman, Bautista, Machado, Pedroia, Sandoval and Sabathia, but Rasmus has the daddy issues that might make him hulk out. Stroman is known for showing up opposing hitters and dugouts from the mound, Bautista shows up pitchers with his bat flips, Pedroia shows up everyone with his lazer shows, and Sandoval has been known to hulk out of his belt and all of that has been in good fun. Sabathia has been known to find himself in a scuffle as has Machado but they don't seem to have the strange and deep seeded issues of Colby Rasmus. I just don't trust a guy who lives in Florida with a history of personality issues that stem from an overbearing father who claims to know better than all the experts around them to not go nuclear on everyone else.