As I’m working on evaluating all the teams in each league, I realize that some of these predictions are likely to change. Injuries during Spring Training are an impossible circumstance to forecast. And, even as I’m writing this, there’s still one impact free-agent who could have a significant impact on where I would expect a team to land (James Shields). I was hoping he would sign before I started these posts, but it seems more and more likely that he may not have a home even by the beginning of Spring Training. There’s also the outside chance of a major trade for someone like Hamels, Tulowitzki, etc. But, for now, we will move forward assuming that each teams’ roster is all but set, as we are just a couple weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting.
Let’s begin with how I see the division shaking out in 2015:
- Baltimore Orioles (90-72)
- Boston Red Sox (85-77)
- Tampa Bay Rays (79-83)
- Toronto Blue Jays (75-87)
- New York Yankees (73-89)
I think there are a couple surprises in there for most of you reading this. So, allow me to explain how I came to these conclusions.
For much of this offseason, the focus has been on the GM, rather than the team. And, many analysts have lamented the fact that the Orioles have only lost assets (Markakis & Cruz), without adding any help. But, oh how quickly we forget what Baltimore’s offense could have been last year. Matt Wieters, a phenomenal switch-hitting catcher, played in only 26 games before having to undergo Tommy John surgery. Manny Machado only played half a season, and was on his way to his best offensive season yet (and, he’s still only 22 years old!). Chris Davis missed about a month of the season, and clearly wasn’t himself last year. Add to these factors that the Orioles have added Delmon Young and Travis Snider, and I believe their offense will be every bit as potent as it was last season. They also have easily the best bullpen in the division, and are the best defense as well. With 5 above-average starting pitchers, I see a team that might come back down to the pack a little – but, is still the team to beat in this division.
As much as they may want to talk about signing some big names like Sandoval & Ramirez, I don’t believe the Red Sox addressed enough of their needs. When you lose 91 games one year, you don’t win 91 the next year by signing two big-name bats. Keep in mind that Sandoval (outside the postseason) is only an above-average hitter at best. What concerns me the most is the starting rotation. Buchholz, Porcello, Miley, Masterson, Kelly. A lot of names you recognize. But, a lot of guys that have under-performed of late. If you want to consider any of these guys a #1 starter, it would have to be Porcello, based on his performance. But, in reality, Boston has a #2 starter, two #3’s, and a couple bottom-of-the-rotation guys. I would have thought that with a rotation like this, they would have bolstered their bullpen. But, once you get past Uehara, there’s nothing terribly impressive. Their offense will be one of the top 2 in the division, and they will play very good defense. But, they will have to win a lot of 9-7 games.
Yes, they lost one of the best coaches in the game. Yes, they have traded away some significant pieces (Zobrist, Myers, etc.). But, have you taken a good look at their pitching staff? From top to bottom, they are 2nd only to Baltimore in this division. Cobb, Archer and Odorizzi are formidable (though unknown at this point) starting pitchers. And, their bullpen is rock solid, including the likes of McGee, Boxberger, and Beliveau – all averaging 10+ K/9 last season with WHIPs of 0.89, 0.84, and 1.08, respectively. But, the Rays fall short in offense and defense – potentially the worst in the division in both areas. Their biggest offensive threat outside of Longoria looks to be a young right-fielder named Kiermaier, who will be entering his first full season in the majors (though, he did play 108 games last year).
This might come as a surprise to many, because everyone seems to think the Blue Jays are on the rise. And, the additions of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson are going to make an already potent offense that much more dangerous – easily the best offense in the division. But, you know how I said Tampa has a great overall pitching staff? Well, the polar opposite is true of the Blue Jays. In this division, they have the worst starting rotation (Dickey & Buehrle at the top are getting old, and are both more suited to be #3 starters), and the worst bullpen (a closer with a 1.37 WHIP? Yikes.). They will be much improved on defense with the additions of Russell and Donaldson, but as a team they will remain middle-of-the-pack at best. If the Red Sox will need to win a lot of 9-7 games – the Blue Jays will have to win a lot of 12-10 games, if they are going to compete in this division. And, I just don’t see that happening.
I’m not sure this comes as much of a surprise to anyone. They managed to outperform everyone’s expectations a year ago, and finished with a winning record, though 12 games out of first place. However, they have lost their anchor – their captain – #2. No, he wasn’t lighting up the stat sheet in his final season, but there’s no question he was the leader and inspiration in that clubhouse. Now, it’s Girardi’s team. And, it just keeps getting older. Tanaka is probably the best pitcher in the division. But, the rotation has nothing but question marks after that. Can Pineda stay healthy? Can Sabathia even be a shadow of his former self? Can Eovaldi and/or Capuano perform as even average pitchers? I will give GM Brian Cashman credit for recognizing that if he was going to have this starting rotation, he would need a stellar bullpen. And, with Betances and Miller leading the way (along with a little-known rookie named Chasen Shreve – who could be phenomenal), they likely have the best bullpen in the division. But, with a below-average starting rotation, and an offense that seems to be aging before our eyes (your best legit weapon might be Chase Headley!!), I don’t see how they could overcome others in the division who continue to improve.