Jays looks to defend AL East crown
Capsules of American League East teams, listed in order of finish last year:
Toronto Blue Jays
2015: 93-69, first place, lost to Kansas City in ALCS.
Manager: John Gibbons (fourth season).
He's Here: LHP J.A. Happ, RHP Drew Storen, RHP Jesse Chavez, LHP Randy Choate, RHP Gavin Floyd, RHP Joe Biagini, OF Darrell Ceciliani, OF Junior Lake, RHP Arnold Leon, RHP/LHP Pat Venditte.
He's Outta Here: LHP David Price, OF Ben Revere, LHP Mark Buehrle, LHP Jeff Francis, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, RHP Liam Hendriks, RHP Mark Lowe, C Dioner Navarro, INF Cliff Pennington.
Projected Lineup: CF Kevin Pillar (.278, 12 HRs, 56 RBIs), 3B Josh Donaldson (.297, 41, 123; AL MVP), RF Jose Bautista (.250, 40, 114), DH Edwin Encarnacion (.277, 39, 111), SS Troy Tulowitzki (.280, 17, 70 with Colorado and Toronto), 1B Chris Colabello (.321, 15, 54), C Russell Martin (.240, 23, 77), LF Michael Saunders (.194, 0, 3 in 9 games), 2B Ryan Goins (.250, 5, 45).
Rotation: RH Marcus Stroman (4-0, 1.67 ERA in 4 starts), RH Marco Estrada (13-8, 3.13), RH R.A. Dickey (11-11, 3.91), LH J.A. Happ (11-8, 3.61 with Seattle and Pittsburgh), RH Aaron Sanchez (7-6, 3.22 in 41 games, 11 starts).
Key Relievers: RH Roberto Osuna (1-6, 2.58, 20 saves), RH Drew Storen (2-2, 3.44, 29 saves with Washington), LH Brett Cecil (5-5, 2.48, 5 saves), LH Randy Choate (1-0, 3.95 with St. Louis), RH Jesse Chavez (7-15, 4.18 in 30 games, 26 starts, with Oakland).
Hot Spot: Pitching Staff. Debate raged all winter about whether the hard-throwing Sanchez, 23, should be in the rotation or the bullpen. Sanchez made 11 starts last season, beating Houston with eight strong innings on June 5 before missing the next seven weeks with a strained muscle in his side. Rather than being stretched out again when healthy, Sanchez returned in a relief role, capably setting up closer Osuna. Sanchez, who gained 25 pounds in offseason workouts this winter, has made it clear he'd prefer to start. But teaming him with Osuna, Storen and Cecil would give the Blue Jays a fearsome foursome to help shorten games out of the 'pen.
Outlook: There's no time like 2016 for the power-packed Blue Jays to build on last season's AL East title, which marked their first playoff appearance in 22 years. Bautista and Encarnacion are two of 10 Toronto players eligible for free agency at season's end. Others who can hit the open market next winter include such key cogs as Cecil, Dickey and Storen, meaning Toronto's roster could see major turnover before next spring. With that in mind, there's an attitude of World Series or bust around these Blue Jays, whose prolific bats could well match or exceed the MLB-high 891 runs they scored last season.
New York Yankees
2015: 87-75, second place, lost to Houston in wild-card game.
Manager: Joe Girardi (ninth season).
He's Here: 2B Starlin Castro, LHP Aroldis Chapman, OF Aaron Hicks.
He's Outta Here: RHP Adam Warren, LHP Justin Wilson, OF Chris Young, LHP Chris Capuano, 2B Stephen Drew, INF Brendan Ryan.
Projected Lineup: CF Jacoby Ellsbury (.257, 7, 33, 21 SBs), LF Brett Gardner (.259, 16, 66, 20 SBs), RF Carlos Beltran (.276, 19, 67, 34 2Bs), 1B Mark Teixeira (.255, 31, 79), C Brian McCann (.232, 26, 94), 3B Chase Headley (.259, 11, 62), SS Didi Gregorius (.265, 9, 56), 2B Starlin Castro (.265, 11, 69 with Cubs).
Rotation: RH Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51), RH Michael Pineda (12-10, 4.37, 156 Ks, 169 2-3 IP), RH Luis Severino (5-3, 2.89 in 11 starts), RH Nathan Eovaldi (14-3, 4.20), RH Ivan Nova (6-11, 5.07 in 17 starts following return from Tommy John surgery) or LH CC Sabathia (6-10, 4.73).
Key Relievers: LH Aroldis Chapman (4-4, 1.63, 33/36 saves, 116 Ks, 61 1-3 IP with Reds), LH Andrew Miller (3-2, 2.04, 36/38 saves, 100 Ks, 61 2-3 IP), RH Dellin Betances (6-4, 1.50, 9/13 saves, 131 Ks, 84 IP), LH Chasen Shreve (6-2, 3.09, 64 Ks, 58 1-3 IP), RH Branden Pinder (0-2, 2.93), RH Nick Rumbelow (1-1, 4.02), RH Bryan Mitchell (0-2, 6.37).
Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. Sabathia's spot was in jeopardy following a string of poor spring training outings, and the team doesn't know how he would respond if put in the bullpen, a role he's never filled. After trading Warren, the Yankees hope Mitchell can handle his job as a multi-inning reliever who can make spot starts or shift into the rotation if there are injuries — a concern after Tanaka (wrist, forearm), Pineda (forearm), Eovaldi (wrist) and Sabathia (knee, alcohol rehab) missed time last year. Chapman, quickly tabbed the closer in an intimidating bullpen, will sit out the first 30 games while serving a suspension for domestic violence. But during that stretch, Miller and Betances will simply continue to fill the roles they executed so well last year.
Outlook: New York hopes Castro, a right-handed bat, will lessen its vulnerability to left-handed pitching. The Yankees also are counting on Ellsbury, Gardner, Rodriguez and McCann to rebound from their late-season slumps. After missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons, the Yankees returned last year — for nine innings. New York's hopes for a long postseason run largely rest on health. With the contracts of Teixeira and Beltran, and possibly Sabathia, expiring after this season, New York will have more opportunity to retool next fall and winter. Still, this is a team that seems intent on getting under the luxury-tax threshold in 2018, in time to pursue that autumn's talented free-agent class.
2014: 81-81, third place.
Manager: Buck Showalter (seventh season).
He's Here: OF Hyun Soo Kim, OF-1B Mark Trumbo, RHP Yovani Gallardo, DH Pedro Alvarez, RHP Odrisamer Despaigne, RHP Vance Worley.
He's Outta Here: LHP Wei-Yin Chen, OF Gerardo Parra, 1B Steve Pearce, C Steve Clevenger.
Projected Lineup: 3B Manny Machado (.286, 35, 86, 20 SBs, 162 games), DH Pedro Alvarez (.243, 27, 77 with Pirates), CF Adam Jones (.269, 27, 82), 1B Chris Davis (.262, 47, 117), RF Mark Trumbo (.262, 22, 64 with Arizona and Seattle), C Matt Wieters (.267, 8, 25 in 75 games), LF Hyun Soo Kim (played in South Korea), SS J.J. Hardy (.219, 8, 37), 2B Jonathan Schoop (.279, 15, 39).
Rotation: RH Chris Tillman (11-11, 4.99, 120 Ks, 173 IP), RH Yovani Gallardo (13-11, 3.42 ERA, 33 starts with Rangers), RH Kevin Gausman (4-7, 4.25, 112 1-3 IP), RH Ubaldo Jimenez (12-10, 4.11, 168 Ks, 184 IP), RH Miguel Gonzalez (9-12, 4.91, 109 Ks, 144 2-3 IP).
Key Relievers: LH Zach Britton (4-1, 1.92, 36/40 saves), RH Darren O'Day (6-2, 1.52, 6 saves), RH Brad Brach (5-3, 2.72, 1 save), LH Brian Matusz (1-4, 2.94), LH T.J. McFarland (2-2, 4.91), RH Oliver Drake (0-0, 2.87).
Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. The Orioles added Gallardo, a workhorse who will take the ball every fifth day. But they lost Chen, arguably their most consistent starter, so the success of the rotation depends on everyone else stepping up. Tillman won two fewer games than in 2014 and his ERA jumped by a run and a half. Gonzalez also tailed off in 2015 and has struggled this spring. Showalter can only hope Jimenez continues his resurgence from a dismal 2014 campaign and Gausman finally shows he's ready to be a regular member of the starting five.
Outlook: The Orioles spent a whole lot of money to improve a team that slipped to .500 last year after reaching the ALCS in 2014. Not only did they fork over big bucks to maintain Davis and O'Day, but they added free agents Alvarez and Gallardo, traded for Trumbo, retained Wieters and took a flyer on Kim. Expect the Orioles to hit plenty of homers and score quite a few runs, but they'll need to back that up with pitching to contend in the talent-laden AL East.
Tampa Bay Rays
2015: 80-82, fourth place.
Manager: Kevin Cash (second season).
He's Here: OF-DH Corey Dickerson, SS Brad Miller, C Hank Conger, 1B-OF Logan Morrison, OF-INF Steve Pearce, RHP Ryan Webb, LHP Dana Eveland, RHP Danny Farquhar.
He's Outta Here: LHP Jake McGee, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 1B-DH John Jaso, C J.P. Arencibia, OF Daniel Nava, RHP Brandon Gomes, RHP Kirby Yates, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, RHP Nathan Karns, OF Grady Sizemore, OF Joey Butler.
Projected Lineup: 2B Logan Forsythe (.281, 17, 68), SS Brad Miller (.258, 11, 46 in 144 games with Seattle), 3B Evan Longoria (.270, 21, 73), DH Corey Dickerson (.304, 10, 31 in 65 games with Colorado), LF Desmond Jennings (.268, 1, 7 in 28 games), CF Kevin Kiermaier (.263, 10, 40, 12 triples, 18 SBs), 1B James Loney (.280, 4, 32 in 104 games), RF Steven Souza Jr. (.225, 16, 40), C Rene Rivera (.178, 5, 26 in 110 games).
Rotation: RH Chris Archer (12-13, 3.23, 252 Ks in 212 IP), LH Drew Smyly (5-2, 3.11 in 12 starts), LH Matt Moore (3-4, 5.43 in 12 starts), RH Jake Odorizzi (9-9, 3.35 in 28 starts), RH Erasmo Ramirez (11-6, 3.75 in 34 appearances, 27 starts).
Key Relievers: RH Brad Boxberger (4-10, 3.71, 41/47 saves), LH Xavier Cedeno (4-1, 2.09, 1 save in 61 appearances), RH Alex Colome (8-5, 3.94), LH Dana Eveland (0-1, 5.40 in 10 appearances with Atlanta), RH Steve Geltz (2-6, 3.74, 2 saves), RH Matt Andriese (3-5, 4.11 in 25 games, 8 starts), RH Danny Farquhar (1-8, 5.12 in 43 appearances with Seattle), RH Ryan Webb (1-0, 3.20 in 40 appearances with Cleveland), LH Enny Romero (0-2. 5.10 in 23 appearances).
Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. For all the talk about how much better the Rays could be on offense, they are built to thrive on strong starting pitching, a dependable bullpen and superior defense. Archer was a first-time All-Star a year ago. Smyly and Moore returned from injuries during the season and performed well enough to inspire confidence they can team with Archer, Odorizzi and Ramirez to give Tampa Bay one of the most formidable rotations in the league. With Alex Cobb on track to return from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for all of 2015 and prospects Blake Snell, Taylor Guerrieri and Jacob Faria rising in the minors, the Rays think they have the type of pitching necessary to re-emerge as a playoff contender.
Outlook: The Rays believe they have everything it takes to return to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus, including an improved lineup. Their sub-.500 finish last season left them with consecutive losing records for the first time since 2006-07, and the team's offensive shortcomings were the main culprit. With Dickerson, Morrison and Pearce potentially adding more pop to the middle of the lineup, the hope is the Rays will score more runs while not sacrificing anything defensively. The plan also is to fare better in close games after going 46-48 in games decided by two runs or fewer last season.
Boston Red Sox
2015: 78-84, fifth place.
Manager: John Farrell (fourth season).
He's Here: LHP David Price, RHP Craig Kimbrel, OF Chris Young, RHP Carson Smith, LHP Roenis Elias.
He's Outta Here: LHP Wade Miley, LHP Craig Breslow, LHP Rich Hill, RHP Alexi Ogando.
Projected Lineup: RF Mookie Betts (.291, 18, 77, 21 SBs), 2B Dustin Pedroia (.291, 12, 42), SS Xander Bogaerts (.320, 7, 81), DH David Ortiz (.273, 37, 108), 1B Hanley Ramirez (.249, 19, 53), 3B Pablo Sandoval (.245, 10, 47), LF Rusney Castillo (.253, 5, 29), C Blake Swihart (.274, 5, 31), CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (.249, 10, 43).
Rotation: LH David Price (18-5, 2.45, 225 Ks, 220 1-3 IP with Detroit and Toronto), RH Clay Buchholz (7-7, 3.26), RH Rick Porcello (9-15, 4.92), RH Joe Kelly (10-6, 4.82), LH Roenis Elias (5-8, 4.14 ERA with Seattle) or RH Steven Wright (5-4, 4.09).
Key Relievers: RH Craig Kimbrel (4-2, 2.58, 39/43 saves, 87 Ks in 59 1-3 IP with San Diego), RH Koji Uehara (2-4, 2.23, 25 saves, 47 Ks), RH Junichi Tazawa (2-7, 4.14, 3 saves, 56 Ks), RH Carson Smith (2-5, 2.31, 13 saves, 70 IP, 92 Ks with Seattle), LH Robbie Ross Jr. (0-2, 3.86, 6 saves, 60 2-3 IP, 53 Ks), LH Tommy Layne (2-1, 3.97, 1 save, 47 2-3 IP, 45 Ks).
Hot Spot: Pitching Upgrades. The Red Sox made their biggest free agent splash by signing Price to a $217 million, seven-year pact. He was steady last season after being dealt from Detroit to Toronto, winning nine games for each team and posting an ERA under 3.00 for the first time since 2012. The only major injury concern in the starting rotation coming out of camp appears to be fellow lefty Eduardo Rodriguez (10-6, 3.85), who will start the season on the disabled list as he works his way back from a right knee injury sustained early in workouts. Smith also will begin the season on the DL with a strained flexor muscle in his forearm. Boston is counting on Kimbrel, acquired from San Diego for four young players, to help stabilize the bullpen.
Outlook: The Red Sox are coming off their third last-place finish in four years. In 2013, they won the World Series. Farrell returns to the dugout after missing the last six weeks of the 2015 season receiving treatment for cancer; the team went 28-20 under bench coach Torey Lovullo. Ramirez, one of last year's big free agent signings, will move to first base after struggling to adapt to the outfield during his first season in Boston. Sandoval also will try to bounce back in his second season at Fenway Park. If the Red Sox start poorly, attention will turn quickly to the farewell tour for Ortiz, who has said this will be his final season.
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