My favorite time of year. Despite another teeth-chattering snowfall this morning, I’m dreaming of sunshine, warm breezes, and spring training. As the Billpen celebrates its 2nd birthday, we’ll slide into the 2016 season with our predictions gauntlet, beginning today with the American League East.
1. Toronto Blue Jays, 93-69, lost in ALCS
2. New York Yankees, 87-75, lost in ALWCG
3. Baltimore Orioles, 81-81
4. Tampa Bay Rays, 80-825. Boston Red Sox, 78-84
Key additions: OF Hyun-Soo Kim, RHP Odrisamer Despaigne, OF Mark Trumbo, P Yovani Gallardo
Key losses: OF Gerardo Parra, LHP Wei-Yen Chen, RHP Bud Norris, OF Steve Pearce
The Orioles’ tunnel vision on re-signing a few core players might have been their downfall for this season. Matt Wieters accepted a costly qualifying offer, Darren O’Day signed for more than $10 million a year, and Chris Davis took up the bulk of their time and money signing for a massive 7-year deal worth $160 million. Because of this, they lost out on Gerardo Parra and had to sign Mark Trumbo, and they lost out on Wei-Yen Chen (who started 31 games) and had to trade for Despaigne. Though Adam Jones and Manny Machado are great guys to have on the team, there are a lot of question marks leading into 2016 and I don’t think Buck Showalter’s managerial acumen can overcome this.
Lineup: Bringing Davis back helps, but Hardy had a career worst year in 2015, Paredes is a streaky player, and Hyun-Soo Kim has never taken a Major League at-bat.
1) Manny Machado, 3B
2) Jimmy Paredes, DH
3) Adam Jones, CF
4) Chris Davis, 1B
5) Mark Trumbo, RF
6) Matt Wieters, C
7) Hyun-Soo Kim, LF
8) JJ Hardy, SS
9) Jonathan Schoop, 2B
Rotation: Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez, Odrisamer Despaigne, Kevin Gausman
Tillman leading the rotation is worrisome, as he posted a 1.387 WHIP and 4.45 FIP in 2015.
Boston Red Sox
Key Additions: LHP David Price, RHP Craig Kimbrel, LHP Carson Smith, RHP Roenis Elias, OF Chris Young
Key Losses: LHP Wade Miley, 1B Mike Napoli
New GM Dave Dombrowski had a smart (although expensive) offseason, building around franchise players Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. Signing David Price gives them the ace they desperately needed last year and will take the pressure off Clay Buchholz to be said ace. Trading for Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith brings a new age bullpen and relieves aging Tazawa and Uehara of the high pressure closer duties. In David Ortiz’s final year, maybe the Red Sox can make a run at something special.
Lineup: Were Panda and HanRam’s woes last year due to new team blues or are they over the hill? Bogaerts broke out last year for a career high in hits an average, but others have to step up around him.
1) Mookie Betts, RF
2) Xander Bogaerts, SS
3) Dustin Pedroia, 2B
4) David Ortiz, DH
5) Pablo Sandoval, 3B
6) Hanley Ramirez, 1B
7) Rusney Castillo, LF
8) Blake Swihart, C
9) Jackie Bradley, Jr., CF
Rotation: David Price, Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Joe Kelly, Eduardo Rodriguez
Having Price helps immensely, but how will he navigate the offense happy East?
New York Yankees
Key Additions: LHP Aroldis Chapman, 2B Starlin Castro, OF Aaron Hicks
Key Losses: 1B Greg Bird*, C John Ryan Murphy, OF Chris Young, LHP Justin Wilson, RHP Adam Warren
As always, the Yankees’ primary concern will be health and age. Not a single Yankees’ pitcher threw 200 innings last year, and though they are coming back healthy for 2016, the bullpen (even with expensive new toy Aroldis Chapman) will have tremendous stress on it. Tanaka will take the brunt of the workload and management will hope and pray that Pineda, Nova, Severino, and Eovaldi can pull their weight. The offense already suffered a massive blow, losing Greg Bird to a season ending shoulder injury. This leaves only 36-year old Mark Teixeira with the cleanup duties, and even though he did surge last year, he might not have enough in the tank knowing he’s the only option. A-Rod will turn 40, Beltran 39, and Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner are all on the wrong side of 31. If this were 2008, this team would be on par with some of the 90s Yankees, but it’s not 2008. Girardi will have to have a revolving door at DH to keep legs fresh throughout the season. Starlin Castro is a huge improvement at second base over Stephen Drew; most of Castro’s defensive woes should be cured by a shorter throw to first base, and his power should increase in the smaller ballpark. Call it the reverse-Robinson Cano effect. Trading away backup catcher John Ryan Murphy was another puzzling move, leaving another aging vet (Brian McCann) with the most of the work at an already grueling position. If anything happens to him, the Yankees are left with untested Austin Romine to hold down the fort. As good as that bullpen is, I can’t help but think that the aging Yankees can’t replicate last season’s success.
Lineup: Old, creaky, and out to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke.
1) Brett Gardner, LF
2) Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
3) Alex Rodriguez, DH
4) Mark Teixeira, 1B
5) Brian McCann, C
6) Starlin Castro, 2B
7) Carlos Beltran, RF
8) Chase Headley, 3B
9) Didi Gregorius, SS
Rotation: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, Ivan Nova, Nathan Eovaldi
It’s a fragile group, and CC Sabathia will be coming back from rehab – I’m glad he got help but who knows how it will affect his pitching?
Tampa Bay Rays
Key Additions: OF Steve Pearce, OF Corey Dickerson, C Hank Conger
Key Losses: C John Jaso, SS/2B Asdrubal Cabrera
Overview: The stingy Rays won’t win the Al East but they could make a run at the Wild Card. Pitching and defense is the Rays’ recipe for victory, specifically with perennial highlight reel Kevin Kiermaier in center, and Chris Archer headlining a sneaky good rotation. Matt Moore and Drew Smyly both had injury problems last year, forcing spot starts out of some younger arms that weren’t ready for the bigs just yet. Adding Corey Dickerson was highway robbery; though Dickerson has been injury prone in the past, he will DH in Tampa, and hopefully the warm weather plus less action will cure his ailments and resurrect his ~.300 career average. Logan Forsythe was a pleasant surprise up the middle last year, and if Brad Miller can just tread water until top prospect Willy Adames is ready, the Rays won’t go unnoticed in 2016.
Lineup: On paper it isn’t great, but the Rays have always been creative. They finished 2nd to last in the AL in runs last season, but were only 2 games below .500. Their defense keeps them in games.
1) Corey Dickerson, LF
2) Steven Souza, RF
3) Evan Longoria, 3B
4) Logan Morrison, DH
5) Logan Forsythe, 2B
6) James Loney, 1B
7) Kevin Kiermaier, CF
8) Tim Beckham, SS
9) Hank Conger, C
Rotation: Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, Erasmo Ramirez, Matt Moore
Go back to the lineup portion and reread what I said about defense keeping them in games. This is why. This incredible, young, and disciplined group of throwers could be the best group in the East.
Toronto Blue Jays
Key Additions: LHP JA Happ
Key Losses: LHP David Price, LHP Mark Buehrle
Last season’s American League leading offense returns all of their offensive starters with lofty goals for 2016. Despite the division looking to be much more competitive than 2015, the Blue Jays offense, that was first in the American League in slugging, on-base, doubles, home runs, and total bases, is stacked from top to bottom starting with Ben Revere and ending with Ryan Goins. Though Tulowitzki struggled in the short time after his acquisition, they are comforted with MVP Donaldson, 40-homer Bautista, and 39-homer Encarnacion. Marcus Stroman is returning after missing 95% percent of the season with a torn ACL, and though David Price went to division foe Boston and Mark Buehrle retired, they bolstered the pitching staff by adding Happ and re-signing Marco Estrada in free agency. With youngster Osuna at the back end of the pen, the Jays will be division favorites once again – though it won’t be as easy as 2015.
Lineup: All of the home runs. All of them.
1) Kevin Pillar, CF
2) Josh Donaldson, 3B
3) Jose Bautista, RF
4) Edwin Encarnacion, DH
5) Troy Tulowitzki, SS
6) Chris Colabello, 1B
7) Russell Martin, C
8) Michael Saunders, LF
9) Ryan Goins, 2B
Rotation: Marcus Stroman, RA Dickey, Marco Estrada, Drew Hutchison, JA Happ
Stroman will have a lot to handle this year, his first full season in the majors and leading the likely favorites of the East (not my favorites). He was 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA after he returned from his torn ACL (it must have been that rehab start in Lansing that set the mood)
Best outfield: If it were 2012 I’d say the Yankees, but I’m going with Toronto
Best infield: Toronto
Best rotation: Tampa Bay
Best lineup: Boston
Best bullpen: Boston
1) Boston, 93-69
2) Toronto, 91-71
3) New York, 83-79
4) Tampa Bay, 82-80
5) Baltimore, 80-82
This is a really good division, but there is no one team that is head and shoulders above the rest. Boston is like part of a neck above the rest, but not head and shoulders. I think their pitching is just good enough to eke out a division victory over Toronto.
Thanks for reading.
Header photo: Kinfay Moroti