Forecasting the 2016 Season: AL East

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Toronto Blue Jays: Arguably the most potent lineup in baseball – depending on health, of course – the Blue Jays are loaded to brim with offensive firepower. There are three 40-homer threats (Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson); three more with 20-homerun ability (Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, and Justin Smoak); and a couple more who can slug double digit dingers (Michael Saunders, Kevin Pillar, Chris Colabello, and Devin Travis).

The pitching staff is fronted by a healthy, budding ace in Marcus Stroman. R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada are solid, league average big league arms. But J.A. Happ, who nearly doubled his previous season high in WAR last season, is likely headed for a decline. The wild card is flame-throwing right-hander Aaron Sanchez, who just earned a spot in the club’s rotation. Sanchez’s control took a huge, dramatic leap forward this spring, posting a 19-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 20.0 innings. If – and it’s a big if – that proves to be a repeatable skill, he could team with Stroman to give the organization a lethal one-two combination.

The bullpen looks solid with Roberto Osuna reclaiming his closer’s role and Drew Storen sliding into the setup spot. Just don’t expect the new Mark Shapiro-led front office to deal away any of the remaining top prospects for help down the stretch.

Bottom Line Record: 92-70

2. New York Yankees: After surprising a lot of people with an 87-win campaign last season, the Brian Cashman-led Yankees quietly put together one of the better offseasons around baseball, acquiring talented infielder Starlin Castro – to help plug their hole at second base – and dominant closer Aroldis Chapman, who ended up getting suspended for 30 games for domestic violence.

Castro, along with the wizardry of Didi Gregorius, should give the club one of the better up-the-middle combinations.

But per the typical Yankees squad, the 2016 team will be incredibly reliant – to a fault – on expensive, aging position players: Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and Alex Rodriguez are all on the wrong side of 35; and Brian McCann, Chase Headley, Brett Gardner, and Jacoby Ellsbury are all entering their age-32 season.

With that being said, however, there’s really no reason why any of the offensive players can match – or exceed – their mostly overall production from a year ago (only Didi Gregorius topped 3.0 wins above replacement).

There’s some real promise found in the quartet of power arms fronting the rotation: Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, and Luis Severino.

Tanaka, who’s health will always be a concern especially considering that he’s pitching with a partially torn elbow ligament, has averaged more than 3.5 wins above replacement per 200 innings in his career. Pineda battled through some poor luck as he posted an impeccable 156-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Eovaldi has one of the best arms in the game. And Severino, despite struggling with some homer-friendly tendencies during his debut, should be worth at least 2.0 wins in 2016.

And now the real strength of the team: the bullpen – particularly the backend.

Once Chapman comes back from his 30-game suspension, New York has a three-headed monster that’s going to terrorize teams from the seventh inning on, harking back memories of the Mariano Rivera (when he was throwing two innings at a time) and John Wetteland era.

The Yankees are going to do two things often in 2016: (1.) win a lot of one run games and (2.) rarely lose a lead after the sixth inning.

Bottom Line Record: 88-74

3. Boston Red Sox: Just on the principal of addition by subtraction the Red Sox should see a rise in their win total in 2016: gone is Mike Napoli and Rusney Castillo isn’t likely to see nearly 300 plate appearances again. Add in – what one would assume are easy – bounce back years from Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez with a full season from Mike Cameron clone Jackie Bradley Jr., and the Red Sox are poised to have a solid batch of hitters.

New GM Dave Dombrowski brought in ace David Price and Craig Kimbrel to help solidify a shaky pitching staff. Three-fourths of the remaining rotation – Eduardo Rodriguez, Clay Buchholz, and Rick Porcello – should all be worth a minimum of two wins above replacement. And knuckleballer Steven Wright has the ability to post a 4.00 ERA while chewing through some much needed innings.

The bullpen looks strong with Kimbrel closing out games behind Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, and Carson Smith. Expect Dombrowski and Co. to start unloading some of the club’s prospects before mid-June to bolster their chances at playoff contention.

Bottom Line Record: 86-76

4. Tampa Bay Rays: Organizationally speaking, the Rays are facing a tough decision. After winning 90+ games for four straight seasons, the team sputtered to a 77-win campaign in 2014 and only bested that mark by three games last year. The decision: do they sell off the attractive pieces they have – Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore (if he can bounce back and re-establish his value), and Desmond Jennings – and undergo another rebuild?

In short: yes, emphatically.

Tampa Bay’s system is chock full of prospects, many of which are nearing big league readiness, but they’re likely two or three years away from truly being able to contend.

Anyway, they have one of the top defense in baseball with a solid, potentially above-average rotation. The offense is one collective group of average-ness.

Catching’s a black hole on offense. But Logan Morrison, James Loney, Steven Pearce, Steven Souza Jr., Brad Miller, Kevin Kiermaier, Evan Longoria (who’s posted 105 and 110 wRC+ totals the past two seasons), and Desmond Jennings are all league average bats. Everything about Logan Forsythe’s breakout season in 2015 smacks of regression.

In the end, they’ll once again hover around the .500 mark.

Bottom Line Record: 80-82

5. Baltimore Orioles: Coming off of two 93+ win seasons in their previous three years, the Orioles fell back to earth as they struggled to hover around the .500-mark in 2015.

And with the exception of a handful of players, this is a very flawed ball club, OBP-deficient ball club.

Of their projected – likely – starting nine, only two players – Manny Machado and Chris Davis – could be expected to post OBP marks in the .350-range. Otherwise, there’s going to be an awful lot of guys struggling to break the .315-mark in 2016: Matt Wieters, Jonathan Schoop, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, and Pedro Alvarez. Left fielder Joey Rickard will likely fall somewhere in between.

It’s almost as if the front office took a page out of the newly formed Devil Rays a couple decades ago and loaded up on big name, aging, one-dimensional power hitters.

In terms of pitching, well, it’s a very underwhelming group with the high probability that none of their projected starters – Chris Tillman, Yovani Gallardo, Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Kevin Gausman – top more than 2.2 or 2.3 wins above replacement – though Gausman’s production is likely to be limited by a wonky shoulder. The bullpen could be decent, middle of the pack with the likes of Zach Britton, Mychal Givens, Darren O’Day, and Brian Matusz.

It’s likely going to be a very long, hard summer of the O’s.

Bottom Line Record: 76-86


About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.