Once again, the American League East is shaping up to be a chaotic assortment of teams with no clear favorite to win the division. The Yankees have more question marks than some other teams, but there’s no one team that screams “juggernaut” here. While some teams have more warts than others, the East is a collection of imperfections compounded by uncertainty. To try to make heads and tails of it is to decide which injury-prone players will get hurt and which won’t, which pitching staffs will beat expectations and which will flounder, and which rising prospects will shine and which will quickly be handed a ticket back to Triple-A. That doesn’t stop every baseball writer and their grumpy uncle from publishing standings projections, of course, because that’s just how spring training works.
The following is not an attempt to divine which AL East teams will be playing baseball in the middle of October. It is instead an attempt to divine how the other four teams stack up against the Yankees. This may in fact be a more pointless venture than the aforementioned kind of content. The Yankees will only play a relative handful of games with each of these teams, and as we all know, 19 or so games isn’t enough of a sample to draw conclusions.
That’s why fun was invented. Fun is good!
So, the Orioles spent enough money this offseason to buy a small island. They walked away from free agency with three new players, and netted Mark Trumbo in a trade. Most of that money went towards retaining Chris Davis, Darren O’Day, and Matt Wieters (when he accepted his qualifying offer). Baltimore failed to upgrade its starting rotation, making a lateral-at-best move by replacing Wei-Yin Chen with Yovani Gallardo, and are relying on Davis, Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez not striking out so much that a rip in spacetime appears in the middle of Camden Yards. There’s also the matter of Trumbo playing a full season’s worth of defense in right field.
That all being said, Baltimore has put together one of the best bullpens in the game. The duo of Zach Britton and O’Day is an excellent one to build around, and then Mychal Givens, Brad Brach and Dylan Bundy himself will round out the relief corps. And, not for nothing, Adam Jones and Manny Machado still exist.
For all intents and purposes, this is nearly the same team that Baltimore trotted out last year, but it’s a much more Orioles-y team. The rotation is probably worse, there are = going to be even more strikeouts and dingers, and the relievers are good. So look forward to Miguel Gonzalez’s yearly outing against the Yankees where he looks like Dizzy Dean.
Random player that will give the Yankees fits: Pedro Alvarez
I mean, it’s obvious, right? Alvarez is a huge and hefty slugger with a proclivity to strike out at any given moment. This naturally means that he’s going to deposit a baseball in the short porch at Yankee Stadium every single chance he gets. Fear him.
Boston Red Sox
David Price is staying in the AL East. He’s being joined by Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith. The Red Sox looked at their pitching staff, decided that it simply wouldn’t do, and made an effort to fix it. The rotation behind Price is still one huge shrug emoji (Clay Buchholz? Rick Porcello? Joe Kelly?) and Eduardo Rodriguez just landed on the DL. But the Sox should score enough runs and have a good enough bullpen to counteract that with enough regularity to get by.
You see, Mookie Betts is still a thing, as is Xander Boegarts, and Dustin Pedroia. Oh, and it seems that whole “Hanley Ramirez at first base” experiment is going well. Hanley still hit fairly well last year, and now that a lot of the negative defensive value is going away, he’ll be much more useful. David Ortiz fueled by a farewell tour should be a sight to behold, too.
Add that to a store-brand version of the Yankees’ late inning bullpen house of horrors, and it’s easy to see why so many are picking Boston to win the East. With both teams having restocked and rearmed, 2016 is going to provide some vintage rivalry games.
Random player that will give the Yankees fits: Steven Wright
It was very tempting to pick old friend Chris Young here. All Young does is smash lefties and, well, CC Sabathia is going to pitch against the Red Sox at multiple points during the year. However it’s Wright that will be the monster under the bed. Knuckleballs are always a dicey proposition for the Yankees, and Wright made them look utterly foolish last year. He’s probably going to see more playing time this year.
Tampa Bay Rays
Jake McGee was transfigured into Corey Dickerson in one of this offseason’s more amusing trades. Dickerson is a young power-hitting outfielder and that’s exactly the kind of player that Tampa needed to add. They also added perennial “no seriously this is the year he breaks out!” shortstop Brad Miller, as well as Logan Morrison, who fulfills their requirement of constantly having an underwhelming 1B/DH-type slugger on the roster.
The Rays will once again feature one of the best rotations in the American League. Chris Archer’s hair alone could probably notch 100 strikeouts, but thankfully, he also has an arm. So do Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, and the suddenly good Erasmo Ramirez. It remains to be seen if Matt Moore really does still have an arm, and the existence of Alex Cobb’s arm is unclear at this moment. However, a prospect by the name of Blake Snell could debut this year, and boy does he ever have an arm. Snell is the third best left-handed pitching prospect in the game. The only reason he isn’t the best is because Steven Matz just barely missed the rookie status cutoff and Julio Urias is probably a robot sent back in time from the future and is under the impression that every batter’s name is John Connor.
Basically, the Rays are once again going to depend on run prevention more than they will on run scoring. It should be noted that their offense probably got better, though, so this could be a sleeper team to keep an eye on. If things break the right way, the Rays could be a whole lot of fun. Their entire pitching staff having potent strikeout stuff is basically the best way to turn the Yankees into a shambling mess, and they defend well enough to gobble up a good portion of what gets put into play. Kevin Keirmaier is probably standing behind you at this very moment, waiting to catch a baseball.
Random player that will give the Yankees fits: James Loney
There was literally no other player under consideration for this honor. Loney has a long and illustrious history of turning into Ted Williams when he plays the Yankees. He’s so offensively impotent that many are shocked that he made it through the offseason without being demoted or cut, and that may very well happen at some point this year. Until then, Loney will make the Yankees cry. He has a career .339/.386/.465 line against them. This isn’t Adrian Beltre or Miguel Cabrera or something. It’s James Loney.
Toronto Blue Jays
Can we talk about home runs? Do we even need to talk about home runs? Because the Blue Jays like to hit home runs. A lot of home runs. All of the home runs.
Consider that this lineup includes Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, and Josh Donaldson, the reigning MVP. It also includes Russell Martin, Michael Saunders, and depending on what day it is, either Chris Collabello or Justin Smoak. The city of Toronto may as well cut ties with most of its electrical service providers and use the Jays as a power source. Oh, and there’s Kevin Pillar playing insane defense in center field.
So why aren’t the Jays the runaway favorites for the division? It’s because of their rotation. David Price is no longer here, and what’s left is the awesomeness of Marcus Stroman and the hope that Marco Estrada is actually a good pitcher. R.A. Dickey will provide some innings, but things are much murkier after that. In addition to gambling on Estrada, the Jays are gambling on the leaps and bounds that J.A. Happ made in Pittsburgh can be continued outside of the watchful gaze of Ray Searage. Rogers Centre isn’t exactly the most ideal place to find out.
The Jays are going to be an experiment in seeing just how much pitching is needed to support a god-tier offense. It obviously worked out quite well for them last year, but they also had Price. Only time will tell. In the meanwhile, look forward to the bleachers at Yankee Stadium being under constant mortar attack.
Random player that will give the Yankees fits: Darwin Barney
Barney is probably going to platoon with Ryan Goins at second base until Devon Travis gets healthy. He’s an all-glove, no-hit kind of guy. Because he can’t hurt the Yankees that often with his bat, odds are he’ll make more than a few insane plays that will scuttle entire games for New York. Or he’ll come up with a really clutch hit. Somehow, some way. Barney just feels like the guy. There are also way too many good players on this roster to easily find a “random” player.
Lead photo: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports