MLB Season Preview: AL East
By: Dakota Arturo
5. Boston Red Sox (71-91, 5th)
- Signed 3B Pablo Sandoval to 5/$110mil deal
- Signed LF Hanley Ramirez to 4/$88mil deal
- Signed RHP Justin Masterson to 1/$9.5mil deal
- Signed RHP Alexi Ogando to 1/$1.5mil deal
- Re-signed LHP Craig Breslow to 2/$3.85mil deal
- Traded LF Yoenis Cespedes & RHP Alex Wilson to DET for RHP Rick Porcello
- Traded RHP’s Allen Webster & Rubby De La Rosa to ARI for LHP Wade Miley
- Traded RHP Anthony Ranaudo to TEX for LHP Robbie Ross Jr.
- Traded 3B Will Middlebrooks to SD for C Ryan Hanigan
- Traded RHP Aaron Kurcz to ATL for RHP Anthony Varvaro
- Traded RHP Myles Smith to ARI for RHP Zeke Spruill
- RHP Burke Badenhop signed 1/$1mil deal with CIN
- C David Ross signed 2/$5mil deal with CHC
- LHP Drake Britton, C Dan Butler, C Ryan Lavarnway, & 2B Jonathan Herrera DFA’d
Projected Lineup – Grade: A+
- 1. Mookie Betts (RF)
- 2. Dustin Pedroia (2B)
- 3. David Ortiz (1B)
- 4. Hanley Ramirez (LF)
- 5. Pablo Sandoval (3B)
- 6. Mike Napoli (1B)
- 7. Rusney Castillo (CF)
- 8. Xander Bogaerts (SS)
- 9. Christian Vazquez (C)
Projected Rotation – Grade: C+
- 1. Clay Buchholz
- 2. Rick Porcello
- 3. Wade Miley
- 4. Joe Kelly
- 5. Justin Masterson
Top Bullpen Arms – Grade: B
- Koji Uehara (CL)
- Junichi Tazawa
- Alexi Ogando
- Robbie Ross Jr.
- Anthony Varvaro
Most Valuable Hitter: LF Hanley Ramirez
This distinction is entirely dependent on Ramirez’s ability to stay healthy. A player averaging <115 games played over the last 4 season can’t guarantee this. I’ll still take my chances on an MVP-type season. 15 pounds of added muscle plus a transition to hitter-friendly Fenway Park will do wonders for Hanley’s power numbers. As it stands, Hanley averages 408.7 feet on his HR’s. The added muscle and lineup protection may add to this. Ramirez’s power numbers were suppressed last season in part due to a 10.5% HR/FB rate, a sharp decline from his 21.1% in 2013.
His walk rates also fell due to an over-aggressive approach. Hanley’s O-Swing% shot up to 31.9% last season (26.2% career), a weakness that opposing pitchers picked up on – 41.4% Zone% (pitches in zone) compared to 47.9% career. No team stresses the importance of patience and a sounds approach as greatly as Boston, so expect these numbers to improve. Hanley’s skillset is among the best in baseball. His problem in LA and especially Miami was finding an environment to maximize his talent. In Boston, Hanley joins two of his best friends in David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval. If there’s a time for Hanley to display his full range of skills, it’s now.
There were numerous other batters I considered for this distinction. Those include David Ortiz, Xander Bogaerts, and Mookie Betts. Ortiz is the obvious pick if he foregoes aging for another year. Bogaerts – owner of a .400+ OBP through April & May 2014 – has added lots of muscle in the offseason, and has 2 no doubt HR’s in the early goings of Spring Training. Finally, there’s Betts. Mookie’s .291/.368/.444 slash line in 189 AB’s was no fluke. His 88.3 Contact % ranked 20th in all of baseball last season (among players with 200+ PA’s). Betts’ O-Swing% (% of pitches swung at outside zone) sat at 20.4%, the 3rd lowest total in the MLB. The talent is certainly there. Betts boasts an excellent approach to go along with his already freakish athleticism. If Betts were still rookie eligible, he’d be a near lock for AL ROY award in my books
Most Valuable Pitcher: RHP Clay Buchholz
No one is expecting Clay Buchholz to return to 1.74 ERA 2013 form. He doesn’t need that to happen to headline Boston’s staff though. One of the positive developments out of camp in the early goings is the development of Buchholz’s changeup. Clay’s changeup averaged 80.3 MPH each season from 2011-2013. In 2014 that average speed inexplicitly rose to 81.6 MPH. Not coincidentally, Buchholz lost a feel for the pitch and relied less on it (throwing it 11.4% of the time vs. 16.5% in his career). Buchholz’s raw stuff is as good as anyone’s in the AL East. If he can re-incorporate his CH, the 4 pitch mix he features will be that much more dangerous.
Rookie of the Year: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez
The easy choice here is Rusney Castillo. Castillo has a chance to even become the AL’s ROY. Still, Castillo is stuck in the middle of an outfield jam, and has already expressed the willingness to spend time in AAA refining his skills. That could propel one of many other rookie-eligible players to this honor, one being Rodriguez. Other candidates include any of the 5 projected AAA starters; Herny Owens, Edwin Escobar, Matt Barnes, and Steven Wright.
Rodriguez – acquired at the ’14 trade deadline from BAL for LHP Andrew Miller – went 3-1 with a 0.96 ERA and a 39/8 K/BB ratio in AA Portland after the trade. At just 21, Rodriguez’s eye-popping numbers propelled him up many prospect lists. Rodriguez flashes a FB touching 97 MPH with movement in addition to a CH with plus potential. Among a group of major league ready prospects, Rodriguez may not get the first call to the bigs. But when he is eventually summoned, my guess is that it’s for good. Rodriguez’s ceiling is likely higher than that of any other SP in Pawtucket. If he touches into that potential in 2015, this distinction will belong to him.
Optimistic Outlook: 98-64
This may be an unlikely outcome, but it’s certainly attainable. Top to bottom Boston has the MLB’s best lineup. I’d even go as far as saying 100+ wins is possible if everything comes together and a top tier pitcher is acquired at some point. How can 98 wins be reached? Dustin Pedroia’s wrist fully heals, returning his pull power to Fenway. The youngsters continue developing…Mookie Betts builds on his already insane career ascension while last April & May’s version of Xander Bogaerts returns. Hanley Ramirez, amidst his prime years, finds his comfort zone with Papi and boasts his full talent package. Big Papi somehow fights off aging concerns once again and Mike Napoli gets on base at a .350+ clip in the final year of his contract.
The only piece holding this team from 90+ win certainty is the rotation. Fortunately those who break camp in the starting rotation don’t all need to excel. If one or two projected starters fails to bounce back, say Justin Masterson & Joe Kelly, Boston’s depth can cloak the problem. Only 5 or 6 of the 10-11 competing starting pitchers need to produce at an above replacement level. With an AAA rotation stacked with promising youngsters, Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens to name a few, the chances of this happening are quite reasonable.
Pessimistic Outlook: 84-78
Boston would have to suffer injuries at a 2014 Texas Rangers-rate to fall this far. One of two injuries isn’t going to kill the team, GM Ben Cherington built the roster to withstand a 162 game schedule. Injuries would have to kill the roster, and many would have to struggle. It’s entirely possible for veterans like David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, and Dustin Pedroia to show their age. Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Christian Vazquez have all shown potential, yet opposing pitchers frequently find ways to adjust to rookie success.
Likewise, the rotation is far from perfect. With Clay Buchholz the roller coaster is always running; few can predict whether we’re in for another 10-1, sub-2.00ERA season or one where he’s among the leagues worst. Boston’s rotation is dependent on bounce back seasons from Wade Miley, Justin Masterson, and Joe Kelly. Plus why should Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, Brian Johnson, or any other AAA pitching prospect succeed when the recent wave of young arms failed to do so?
4. Tampa Bay Rays (77-85, 4th)
- Signed RHP Ernesto Frieri
- Signed SS Asdrubal Cabrera to 1/$7.5mil deal
- Traded RF Wil Myers, C Ryan Hanigan, LHP Jose Castillo, & RHP Gerardo Reyes to SD for C Rene Rivera, RHP Burch Smith, & 1B Jake Bauers, received RF Steven Souza Jr & LHP Travis Ott from WAS
- Traded 2B Ben Zobrist & SS Yunel Escobar to OAK for CF Boog Powell, SS Daniel Robertson & C John Jaso
- Traded RHP Jeremy Hellickson to ARI for SS Andrew Velazquez & OF Justin Williams
- Traded LHP Cesar Ramos to LAA for RHP Mark Sappington
- Traded LF Matt Joyce to LAA for RHP Kevin Jepsen
- 2B Sean Rodriguez traded to PIT for cash
- C Jose Molina released
Projected Lineup – Grade: C-
- 1. Desmond Jennings (CF)
- 2. John Jaso (DH)
- 3. Evan Longoria (3B)
- 4. James Loney (1B)
- 5. Steven Souza (LF)
- 6. Kevin Kiermaier (RF)
- 7. Asdrubal Cabrera (SS)
- 8. Rene Rivera (C)
- 9. Nick Franklin (2B)
Projected Rotation – Grade: B+
- 1. Alex Cobb
- 2. Drew Smyly
- 3. Chris Archer
- 4. Alex Colome
- 5. Jake Odorizzi
Top Bullpen Arms – Grade: B-
- Grant Balfour (CL)
- Brad Boxberger
- Kevin Jepsen
- Jake McGee
- Ernesto Frieri
Most Valuable Hitter: 3B Evan Longoria
This one was easy to pick. Even if Longoria has another down-year, Tampa Bay’s lineup is so underwhelming that he’d most likely still top any other batters in terms of WAR. Longoria’s line drive rates were actually above career norms last year, yet he boasted just a .285BABIP (.301 career). Additionally, his career low .404 SLG could be attributed to a decreased HR/FB rate (10.8% in 2014 vs. 15.4% career). Longoria drew less walks than usual last year, mainly due to an increased O-Swing% (31.6% in 2014 vs. 27.0% career), or percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that he swung at. At just 30, Longoria seems primed to rediscover his power stroke en route to an all-star season.
Most Valuable Pitcher: RHP Chris Archer
Archer followed up on an impressive 2013 rookie campaign with another sub-3.50ERA season. His K numbers jumped significantly and FIP dropped a near full point. Archer showed more trust in a plus fastball that averaged ~95MPH last season. He also shows off an impressive slider that keeps opponents off balance. Of all young Rays arms, Archer has by far the best stuff. I see 2015 as the year this 26-year old takes off.
Rookie of the Year: LF Steven Souza Jr.
With a lack of major league talent in the higher levels of the farm system, Souza Jr. faces little competition. Though old for the league, Souza Jr. mashed to the tune of a .350/.432/.590 slash line in AAA last season. That was with the Syracuse Chiefs, Souza’s employer prior to Tampa Bay acquiring his talents in the Wil Myers deal. Tampa Bay is hoping for his hit & power tools to translate to the major league level immediately.
Optimistic Outlook: 87-74
A lot needs to go right for this to occur. LHP Matt Moore, out until at least June, would have to return to ace form upon arrival, with the rest of the young staff progressing. Evan Longoria in MVP form is a must, and outlier seasons from complimentary lineup pieces such as Steven Souza Jr., Desmond Jennings, and James Loney would be needed.
Pessimistic Outlook: 65-97
The fate of Tampa Bay’s lineup sits entirely in the hands of Evan Longoria. If Longoria misses an extended period of time, or closely mirror his 2014 production, Tampa Bay will be a mess offensively. A Matt Moore return to full form is far from given, so there’s a chance that Tampa Bay’s rotation sits in the hands of 5 hurlers, all under the age of 27. The Rays have more of a chance to land a 2016 top 5 pick than other AL East opponents because of their small-market nature. If out of competition at the trade deadline, expendable pieces will be dealt.
3. Toronto Blue Jays (83-79, 3rd)
- Signed C Russell Martin to 5/$82mil deal
- Claimed 1B Justin Soak off waivers from SEA
- Traded LHP Sean Nolin, 3B Brett Lawrie, RHP Kendall Graveman & SS Franklin Barreto to OAK for 3B Josh Donaldson
- Traded 1B Adam Lind to MIL for RHP Marco Estrada
- Traded CF Anthony Gose to DET for 2B Devon Travis
- Traded LHP JA Happ to SEA for RF Michael Saunders
- CF Melky Cabrera signed 3/$42mil deal with CHW
- RHP Casey Janssen signed 1/$5mil deal with WAS
- RHP Brandon Morrow signed 1/$2.5mil deal with SD
- CF Colby Rasmus signed 1/$8mil deal with HOU
- 1B/LF John Mayberry Jr. signed 1/$1.45mil deal with NYM
Projected Lineup – Grade: A
- 1. Jose Reyes (SS)
- 2. Jose Bautista (RF)
- 3. Josh Donaldson (3B)
- 4. Edwin Encarnacion (1B)
- 5. Russell Martin (C)
- 6. Dioner Navarro (DH)
- 7. Michael Saunders (LF)
- 8. Miacer Izturis (2B)
- 9. Dalton Pompey (CF)
Projected Rotation – Grade: B-
- 1. R.A. Dickey
- 2. Mark Buehrle
- 3. Marcus Stroman
- 4. Drew Hutchison
- 5. Daniel Norris
Top Bullpen Arms – Grade: B-
- Aaron Sanchez (CL)
- Steve Delabar
- Brett Cecil
- Aaron Loup
- Kyle Drabek
Most Valuable Hitter: RF Jose Bautista
This one really is a toss up. Toronto holds three of baseballs premier power hitters in Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion. Pure entertainment awaits the fans who will witness these three launching bombs in little league-sized Rogers Centre. Still I’ll take Bautista of the three. After all, Joey Bats is coming off an outstanding .928 OPS 2014 campaign. Most view Bautista as simply a power bat. Few realize that he also contains one of the best approaches in the game. In fact Bautista walked at a higher clip than he struck out last year, leading to an outlandish .403 OBP. His contact rates inside and outside the strike zone were up, and the 35 HR’s launched exceed 2012 & 2013 totals. At 34 Joey Bats’ production is destined to spiral downwards, but I see one or two more MVP-worthy seasons up his sleeve.
Most Valuable Pitcher: RHP Marcus Stroman
Toronto got an absolute steal in Stroman when they selected him 22nd overall in 2012. Most organizations viewed Stroman as a reliever, thus his drop to the twenties. Stroman has an excellent FB with excessive movement to go along with 4 secondary offerings – changeup, cutter, curveball, and slider. Statistically speaking, all signs point to Stroman breaking out in a big way. The discrepancy between his 3.65 ERA and 2.84 FIP (measure ERA with a league average defense) shows just this. His K numbers impressed many, but the 1.93 BB/9 – a number lower than any posted in the minors – stands out even more. Even more impressive was Stroman’s ability to induce groundballs. Stroman’s 53.8% GB% ranked 13rd in all of baseball (100IP min.), an absolute necessity in hitter-friendly Rogers Centre.
The statistics tell one tale, but Stroman’s abilities from the naked eye paint the bigger picture. Viewing just one innings of work leaves spectators dumfounded. The natural movement Stroman has on his pitches is just fun to watch. The fact that he can command those very pitches with such precision makes it that much more amazing. This is a kid who’s flying under the radar, and is ready to break out in a big way.
Rookie of the Year: LHP Daniel Norris
To be fair, this selection may have been influenced by the lifestyle has has chosen. RHP Aaron Sanchez and CF Dalton Pompey both figured into this discussion too. Sanchez has some of the best stuff in the system, but has trouble controlling it (evident by his first ST outing) and may start in the bullpen. Pompey is projected to start for Toronto in CF, yet hasn’t logged a single at-bat over AA, so the transition may be difficult. Norris on the other hand has a full 4-pitch repertoire that gives him the ceiling of a #1 SP. He can go to his plus FB that touches 97, a slider and changeup that grade as plus, or his curveball.
Optimistic Outlook: 98-64
40 year old R.A. Dickey & 36 year old Mark Buehrle fight off the aging curve for another year while Daniel Norris & Marcus Stroman stay healthy and pitch to the best of their abilities. This projection is entirely possible if Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson all play >120 games. Toronto’s offensive production is entirely dependent on star-power, so big seasons out of their 3-5 hitters may lead to an AL East division title.
Pessimistic Outlook: 81-81
As stated above, Toronto’s offensive production depends on their three superstars (Bautista, Donaldson, Encarnacion). The lineup is extremely top heavy, with organizational fillers such as Maicer Izturis and Dioner Navarro rounding out the lineup. Again, if the injury bug hits one or more of their core superstars, this offense could be in trouble. Same goes for the rotation. Buehrle and Dickey are proven starters while Norris and Stroman boast tons of potential. But beyond these four, Toronto has little depth. Injuries/underperformance from any of Dickey/Buehrle/Stroman/Norris gives the backend of this rotation a very bad look.
2. New York Yankees (84-78, 2nd)
- Signed LHP Andrew Miller to 4/$36mil deal
- Re-signed 3B Chase Headley to 4/$52mil deal
- Re-signed 2B Stephen Drew to 1/$5mil deal
- Re-signed LHP Chris Capuano to 1/$5mil deal
- Re-signed LF Chris Young to 1/$2.5mil deal
- Traded RHP Shane Greene to DET, received SS Didi Gregorius from ARI
- Traded RHP David Phelps & 3B Martin Prado to MIA for RHP Nathan Eovaldi, 1B Garrett Jones & RHP Domingo German
- Traded C Francisco Cervelli to PIT for LHP Justin Wilson
- Traded LHP Manny Banuelos to ATL for RHP David Carpenter & LHP Chasen Shreve
- SS Derek Jeter retired
- RHP Hiroki Kuroda signed in Japan
- RHP Brandon McCarthy signed 4/$48mil deal with LAD
- RHP David Robertson signed 4/$40mil deal with CHW
- RF Ichiro signed 1/$2.5mil deal with MIA
Projected Lineup – Grade: B-
- 1. Brett Gardner (LF)
- 2. Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
- 3. Chase Headley (3B)
- 4. Mark Teixiera (1B)
- 5. Brian McCann (C)
- 6. Carlson Beltran (RF)
- 7. Alex Rodriguez (DH)
- 8. Stephen Drew (2B)
- 9. Didi Gregorius (SS)
Projected Rotation – Grade: C+
- 1. Masahiro Tanaka
- 2. Michael Pineda
- 3. CC Sabathia
- 4. Nathan Eovaldi
- 5. Chris Capuano
Top Bullpen Arms – Grade: A
- Dellin Betances (CL)
- Andrew Miller
- Adam Warren
- Justin Wilson
- Esmil Rogers
Most Valuable Hitter: C Brian McCann
There is little to no chance that McCann posts a 5.1 WAR as he did in 2010. He doesn’t need to do that to earn MVP of this aging lineup. The only hitters with a remote chance of earning this mark are Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. Yet both Ellsbury and Gardner produce a large chunk of their value on the basepath and defense. McCann’s offensive numbers were down last year in part due to a putrid .231 BABIP – significantly below his .283 career mark. McCann still makes good contact and pulls fly balls at a significant rate. Don’t be shocked to see a .260/.330/.470 mark with 25+ HR’s from McCann in 2015.
Most Valuable Pitcher: RHP Masahiro Tanaka
Outside of Michael Pineda, Tanaka is the only starter with front of the rotation stuff. Tanaka was filthy last year before elbow issues sidelined him indefinitely. Tanaka went 13-5 with a 2.77ERA and 9.31 K/9 while limiting line drives and walks. If Tanaka returns to full strength, he becomes the AL East’s most dynamic starter. If he doesn’t? Well I’d be willing to nominate Andrew Miller or Dellin Betances as New York’s Most Valuable Pitcher.
Rookie of the Year: 2B Rob Refsnyder
Again a case of a player facing little competition. Refsnyder, listed as a 2B/RF, has shown the ability to hit for a descent average and some pop since being drafted out of the University of Arizona in 2012. The only issue with Refsnyder is that he’s a below-average fielder, whether at 2B or RF. The hit tool should make up for this, especially when you only need to produce more value than Stephen Drew, a defense-first SS playing out of position.
Optimistic Outlook: 87-75
While unlikely, New York has a few players bound for bounce-back seasons. Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Didi Gregorius all fit this mold. Tons of raw talent also sits in the rotation. Unfortunately it’s a rotation that lacks depth, so those in it need to perform. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and newly-acquired Nathan Eovaldi must be workhorses until Ivan Nova re-establishes himself in the rotation. If all these things fall into place, New York’s dynamic bullpen can lead an aging group to the postseason. If anything, Kansas City proved that a shutdown bullpen can hide mediocre rotation results.
Pessimistic Outlook: 72-90
When attempting to project a lineup’s success, you have to consider the entire range of possible outcomes. One can dream of 2009 Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixiera returning, but how likely is that? There’s a far better chance of these three dropping further down the typical bell-shaped career curve. It wouldn’t be shocking to see below league-average production at 4 or even 5 positions. Mark Teixiera/Garrett Jones (1B), Stephen Drew/Rob Refsnyder (2B), Didi Gregorius (SS), Carlos Beltran (RF), and Alex Rodriguez/Chris Young (DH) could all produce at said levels. Combine this with an iffy rotation and you have a 70-80 win team.
1. Baltimore Orioles (96-66, 1st)
- Signed SS Everth Cabrera to 1/$2.4mil deal
- Signed LHP Wesley Wright to 1/$1.7mil deal
- Re-signed LF Delmon Young to 1/$2.25mil deal
- Traded LHP Stephen Tarpley to PIT for RF Travis Snider
- DH Nelson Cruz signed 4/$58mil deal with SEA
- C Nick Hundley signed 2/$6.5mil deal with COL
- RF Nick Markakis signed 4/$44mil deal with ATL
- LHP Andrew Miller signed 4/$36mil deal with NYY
- Traded 2B Steve Lombardozzi to PIT for cash
Projected Lineup – Grade: B
- 1. Alejandro De Aza (LF)
- 2. Manny Machado (3B)
- 3. Adam Jones (CF)
- 4. Chris Davis (1B)
- 5. Steve Pearce (DH)
- 6. Matt Wieters (C)
- 7. J. Hardy (SS)
- 8. Travis Snider (RF)
- 9. Jonathan Schoop (2B)
Projected Rotation – Grade: B
- 1. Chris Tillman
- 2. Wei-Yi Chen
- 3. Bud Norris
- 4. Miguel Gonzalez
- 5. Kevin Gausman
Top Bullpen Arms – Grade: A-
- Zach Britton (CL)
- Darren O’Day
- Brian Matusz
- Tommy Hunter
- Wesley Wright
Most Valuable Hitter: 3B Manny Machado
It was difficult choosing between Machado, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones, but as always, I’ll go with the youngster. Jones is starting to get up there in age, and is yet to improve upon his putrid walk totals. Davis is coming off a 50-game Adderall suspension, not to mention the .196 AVG he produced before the suspension. That leaves Machado. Machado has seen time in part of 3 different seasons, yet is entering just his age 23 season. He’s added points to his OPS every season, and is now fully healed from a knee injury that bothered him for parts of 2013 & 2014. Machado’s 51 2B’s in 2013 led the AL, not shockingly the only season injuries didn’t constrain him. If fully healed, Machado should only add to that production.
Most Valuable Pitcher: RHP Kevin Gausman
After attending LSU for three years, Gausman was the first pitcher taken in the 2012 MLB Draft, 4th overall by Baltimore. Gausman tore through the minors and made appearances out of the bullpen the following year. By 2014, Gausman was slotted into the starting rotation and didn’t disappoint. Gausman produced a 7-7 record in 20 starts to go along with a 3.57 ERA, far improved from his 5.66 2013 ERA. He kept K’s and BB’s at a manageable rate, and improved upon his FIP significantly. Now, in 2015, Gausman is poised to break out in a big way. He already taunts a plus fastball that has touched 100 MPH in the past. To go with that, Gausman’s repertoire consists of a plus slider and a filthy CH that scouts see as a potential plus-plus pitch. There it is, three plus pitches for a 24 year old entering his third season of work. 2015 looks to be the year where Kevin Gausman establishes himself as ace of Baltimore’s staff.
Rookie of the Year: RHP Dylan Bundy
Bundy was considered the gem of baseballs legendary 2011 MLB Draft before Tommy John surgery robbed 1 ½ years of development time. Bundy made a brief return in 2014, logging 9 starts between A/A+ before a lat strain ended his season. Bundy’s whiffed 7 batters over 4.1 innings in his last outing. Due to start in AA Bowie, Buck Showalter hasn’t shied away from touting Bundy. If there’s any sort of need in the rotation, a Bundy call up from AA isn’t out of the question. I generally wouldn’t pick a ROY who is starting in AA, but 1B Christian Walker was the only viable alternative.
Optimistic Outlook: 93-69
Chris Davis finds a way to hit bombs without his Adderall, and impoves upon his putrid .196 2014 average. Manny Machado and Matt Wieters pick up where they left off before an ACL Tear and TJ Surgery, respectively, sidelined them in 2014. At least 2 of Chris Tillman, Wei-Yi Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez replicate last seasons’ success while young pitchers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman back up their hype. Ubaldo Jimenez – already receiving positive buzz in camp – justifies his multi-year commitment. A collection of these reasonable scenarios would push the O’s beyond 90 wins again. GM Dan Duquette’s offseason was fairly quiet but Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters’ returns overlook that.
Pessimistic Outlook: 80-82
Star CF Adam Jones going down with an injury is the easiest way to accomplish this. The O’s lineup is centered around stars, but filled out by big question marks. Buck Showalter is depending on guys like Alejandro De Aza and Steve Pearce. Pearce – previously a Pittsburgh career minor leaguer – had an outlier of a season in ‘14. De Aza’s career numbers don’t support his 2014 BABIP fueled production. Then you have RF Travis Snider – a platoon option – and 2B Jonathan Schoop, owner of a putrid .244 career OBP.
- 1. Boston Red Sox (94-67)
- 2. Toronto Blue Jays (88-70)
- 3. Baltimore Orioles (84-78)
- 4. New York Yankees (77-85)
- 5. Tampa Bay Rays (73-89)
AL East MVP: LF Hanley Ramirez (BOS)
15 pounds of added muscle plus shifting focus away from the rigors of playing SS and finding his comfort zone equates to a career year for HanRam. If Hanley plays >140 games, the talent is there to produce a .290/.390/.550 line with 35+ HR’s.
AL East Cy Young: RHP Marcus Stroman (TOR)
Stroman becomes not only Toronto’s ace, but the king of the AL East. People are severely underestimating just how good Stroman’s stuff is. I’m expecting a huge 2015 campaign from Stroman…9+K/9, 15+ wins, and an ERA under 3.00 aren’t out of the question.
AL East ROY: LHP Daniel Norris (TOR)
Norris sits in a Toronto rotation with little depth, so expect him to get every chance to stick. Sanchez’s teammate RHP Aaron Sanchez may have a higher ceiling, but Norris’ control gives him a clear advantage starting in April. It wouldn’t shock me to see Norris tossing 150+ innings of sub-4.00 ERA baseball in 2015.
Who Goes Deepest into October? Boston Red Sox
I know, I know, Boston doesn’t have an “ace”, but I’d argue that Kansas City was without one too. James Shields has proven to be an absolute workhorse, but I’d stop short of calling him an ace. They just needed one starter to emerge in the postseason. That pitcher was Yordano Ventura. Boston’s lineup is so strong that one postseason ace could bring them as far as Kansas City got.
It also helps when you have David Ortiz – the most clutch postseason hitter in Boston history – and Pablo Sandoval – owner of a .344/.389/.545 career postseason line. Part of Ben Cherington’s fascination with Pablo Sandoval stemmed from his ability to hit frontline pitchers with such ease. There’s a reason San Francisco has had recent postseason dominance.
With the lineup Ben Cherington pieced together, anything can happen in October. What separates this 1-9 from a team like Toronto is that Boston has depth, and tons of it. Toronto definitely has its stars, but the team lacks depth and is an injury or two away from struggling. With Boston no such issue exists. If any projected starter misses time, capable options exist everywhere. Super UTIL man Brock Holt can fill at almost any position, while Allen Craig & Daniel Nava back LF, RF, 1B, and at times CF. Mookie Betts can shuffle back to 2B in case of a Dustin Pedroia injury, and offseason pickup Hanley Ramirez offers defensive flexibility. The lineup is too strong, top to bottom, to miss out on October baseball.