Category Archives: Major League Baseball

2017 American League Central Projections

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X-Cleveland Indians 92-70

As good as the 2016 Major League Baseball season was for the Cleveland Indians, they are left to ponder as far as what could have been. The Indians enjoyed a postseason run that saw them sweep the heavily favored Boston Red Sox in the American League Divisional Series, and defeat the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series for their first World Series appearance since 1997. The Indians were one victory away from their first World Series Championship since 1948, but they would be the first team since the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985 to blow a 3-1 lead in the Fall Classic, and the first since the Baltimore Orioles in 1979 to lose the final two games at home as their demise saw the Chicago Cubs become a team of destiny. And as close as the Indians were in 2016, it will be even tougher for them to get back to the World Series here in 2017.

But luckily for the Indians they are led by manager Terry Francona who is one of the best in the business as far as motivating and getting the most out of his clubs. Francona won a pair of World Series Titles as the skipper of the Red Sox, and in four years with the Tribe, they’ve never had a losing record. Now it will take the ultimate coaching effort from Francona in order to get his team to move on after last year’s collapse.

In 2016, the Tribe was one of the most balanced teams in baseball and it could once again be a strength for them. Last year each one of Cleveland’s starting pitchers was able to win at least 11 games, while this unit had 81 saves which was fifth in the American League.

Corey Kluber

In the last three years starting pitcher Corey Kluber has won 45 games as he is no longer a secret outside of Northern Ohio. However after Kluber was able to win 18 games in 2014, he would lead the American League in losses in 2015 with 16. Kluber did this while he posted an earned run average of 3.49 in 2015 as he was sometimes a hard luck loser. But after Kluber was able to once again win 18 games last season, along with the Indians explosive offense, he could find himself in the mix to win his second A.L. Cy Young Award.

But even with Kluber leading the way, the strength of Cleveland’s pitching staff will once again be their bullpen. Francona has his version of “The Nasty Boys” in relief pitchers Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen. Allen saved 32 games for the Tribe last season, while Shaw was able to record 25 holds. Miller was acquired from the New York Yankees just prior to the trade deadline last year and he proved to be vital coming down the stretch. Miller struggled late in the World Series, but he should be able to bounce back as the elongated delivery coming from his 6’7″ frame makes his fastball that much more difficult for batters to pick up.

After the Indians offense was able to score 777 runs last season which was second in the American League, they should once again be fun to watch. First baseman Mike Napoli left in free agency to sign with the Texas Rangers, but Indians general manager Mike Chernoff didn’t waste anytime in finding a replacement for him as he signed first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion. For the last eight years Encarnacion has developed into one of baseball’s most feared power hitters. Encarnacion hit 239 homers while wearing a Toronto Blue Jays uniform which is third most in their franchise history. And even at the age of 34, Encarnacion will provide the Indians with a veteran slugger that can provide some of their other key hitters protection in the lineup.

Francisco Lindor

After shortstop Francisco Lindor finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, he is beginning to show his worth as one of Major League Baseball’s future stars. And along with displaying some slick fielding at shortstop, Lindor is a potential .300 hitter whose ability to set the table will be important for Cleveland.

Carlos Santana will alternate with Encarnacion at first base and being the Indians designated hitter as he looks to build off hitting a career-high 34 home runs last season. I don’t see Santana taking a step backwards as playing with Encarnacion could make them one of the best power hitting combinations in the American League.

A shoulder injury is expected to keep second baseman Jason Kipnis on the shelf to begin the season, but he is one of Cleveland’s best overall players along with being a leader. And if the Tribe is able to get off to a solid start without him, their chances will only be magnified upon his return to the lineup.

Like Lindor, outfielder Tyler Naquin is one of the young and bright stars that the Indians can lean on. Last year as rookie, Naquin batted .296 with 14 home runs and 43 runs batted in, and heading into 2017, he is seeking to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. Shortstop Jose Ramirez gives the Indians another potential .300-hitter in their lineup as Cleveland has the potential to hang with the best offenses in the American League.

Right out of the chute the Indians will be on the road to face the Texas Rangers as these two clubs could once again be two of the best in the American League. The competition in the A.L. Central will once again be difficult, however Cleveland has the ability to hold their on within the division.

Detroit Tigers 87-75

After four consecutive trips to the postseason which included winning the American League Pennant in 2012, the last two years have seen the Detroit Tigers fail to make the playoffs. But after missing out on a playoff berth by just 2.5 games in 2016, there is some optimism for the Tigers heading into the 2017 Major League Baseball season. And for Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, he has a veteran team that is definitely in win-now mode.

Miguel Cabrera

Since first baseman Miguel Cabrera joined the Tigers in 2008, he has done just about all that a future Hall of Famer can do. Cabrera is a two-time American League MVP which included him winning the Triple Crown in 2012 as he became the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to lead the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Cabrera will have his 34th birthday in April, and although that the Tigers will look to use him more as a designated hitter, he still has one of the best bats in baseball as he is one of the top contact hitters that the game has ever seen.

As a team the Tigers were able to go yard 211 times last season which was sixth in the American League and you can expect more of the same this season. After outfielder Justin Upton signed a six-year, $132.75 million contract with Detroit last off-season, he appeared to be pressing and thus got off to a slow start. However Upton was eventually able to get it going as his 31 homers were second to Cabrera’s 38 on the Tigers. Upton has been a very streaky hitter during his career, but with that he has the potential to put the Tigers lineup on his back for an extended period of time.

When the Tigers acquired second baseman Ian Kinsler from the Texas Rangers in 2014, they got him for his ability to be a table setter; however he has been able to do than and then some. Kinsler was able to blast 28 home runs for the Tigers last season, while he also won his first Gold Glove Award. And even at the age of 34, Kinsler is still able to get it done at a very productive level.

Even on knees that he taken a beating from his days as a catcher, designated hitter Victor Martinez can still get it done. Martinez is 38-years of age, but he still possesses the ability to hit at least 25 home runs, while giving Cabrera some protection. Since joining the Tigers in 2014 after being released by the Houston Astros, outfielder J.D. Martinez has turned into a star. In three years with the Tigers, Martinez is batting .299, while he was hit 83 homers. And I expect Martinez to have a big 2017 campaign due to the fact that he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

In each of third baseman Nick Castellanos’ three seasons with the Tigers, he has continued to improve, and as he finds himself in one of Major League Baseball’s best hitting lineups, he has the potential to become an All-Star this season.

Justin Verlander

Starting pitcher Justin Verlander has been the face of Tigers pitching for more than a decade. Verlander’s 2,197 strikeouts are the second most in franchise history, while nine out of the last ten seasons have seen him pitch at least 200 innings. Verlander is 34-years age, and what has allowed him to be able to remain around in baseball so long is that he is a very determined athlete. Several times Verlander has been written off by his skeptics, but he now combines his power fastball with craftiness to work the corners of the plate. And after once again leading the American League in strikeouts last season with 254, Verlander should once again be solid for the Tigers here in 2017.

2015 saw the Tigers lose starting pitcher Max Scherzer in free agency as it impacted their postseason chances. However after the Tigers traded outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets in 2015, they found themselves a gem in return.

Michael Fulmer

In trading the slugging Cespedes, the Tigers received starting pitcher Michael Fulmer. Fulmer was a first-round pick of the Mets in 2011, but as they are a team that is currently loaded with pitching, they could afford to part with him and the Tigers were more than happy to receive him.

Fulmer started 26 games for the Tigers last season and he sported a record of 11-7 with an earned run average of 3.06 in 159 innings pitched. Fulmer became the first Tigers player to be the American League Rookie of the Year Award since Verlander in 2006, and he is poised to become Detroit’s next ace.

Fulmer has a power fastball that he can mix up with a slider and a changeup. Fulmer just turned 24-years of age last month and the Tigers are going to proceed with caution, but it would not surprise me to see him get close to pitching 200 innings this season.

However for the Tigers, there will more than likely be a drop off in their starting pitching production behind Verlander and Fulmer. Last year the Tigers pitching staff’s earned run average of 4.24 was 11th in the American League with no other starting pitcher winning more than 9 games. After starting pitcher Jordan Zimmerman won 19 games in 2013 as a member of the Washington Nationals, his career has taken a step backwards. Last year Zimmerman agreed to a five-year, $110 million contract with Detroit, but he was only able to make 19 starts. And if the Tigers are going to be a playoff team here in 2017, Zimmerman is going to need to pitch much better.

The Tigers bullpen still has been unable to shake their reputation of blowing games which is one of the issues that has prevented them from winning their first World Series Championship since 1984. Relief pitcher Francisco Rodriguez was able to save 44 games for the Tigers, but he knows how to put stress on a pacemaker as he allowed 45 hits in just 58.1 innings pitched last season.

The upcoming Major League Baseball season will mark the first time that the Tigers will take the field without being under the ownership of Mike Illitch since 1991. Illitch was a very respected throughout the Detroit area and I expect the Tigers to play with tremendous emotion this season as they seek to honor him.

Kansas City Royals 85-77

After the Kansas City Royals won the World Series in 2015, they took a huge step backwards last season as injuries were a big reason why they finished 81-81. And as there is always optimism heading into a new Major League Baseball season, the Royals will be fighting an uphill battle before it even starts.

On January 22, the Royals received the tragic news that starting pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in an automobile accident in the Dominican Republic. Ventura was only 25-years of age, and he was just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. Ventura’s death will leave a void in the Royals starting rotation, but the organization must find a way to move on.

Aside from Ventura’s death, the Royals understand that they’re a small market team which means that they have to rely on developing talent as opposed to big spending in free agency.

The small market Royals lost designated hitter Kendrys Morales and starting pitcher Edinson Volquez in free agency, while they traded relief pitcher Wade Davis and his 44 saves over the past two seasons to the Chicago Cubs. Outfielder Jarrod Dyson was sent to the Seattle Mariners as Royals general manager Dayton Moore understands the business side of operating a small market team. And as Moore will probably be trading other talented players soon, he is still attempting to field a team that can compete for the American League Central Title.

The Royals have some talented players in their lineup; however this team is not known as an offensive juggernaut which means that they’ll once again have to scrap and claw to consistently score runs. The Royals should benefit from having a healthy Mike Moustakas at third base. Injuries limited Moustakas to just 27 games last year and Kansas City missed his bat as well as his spirit in their lineup. Along with Moustakas, first baseman Eric Hosmer is the heart and soul of this team. Hosmer made his first All-Star Game appearance last season and in 2017 he will continue to be one of the best first basemen in the American League.

Salvador Perez

Catcher Salvador Perez was able to avoid an severe injury scare after a collision in the World Baseball Classic as he was playing for his native Venezuela and he is on track to be in the lineup for Kansas City on Opening Day. What Perez gives the Royals is a leader, a clutch bat, and one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. Each of the last four years has seen Perez make the All-Star team along with winning a Gold Glove which is something that cannot be lost of the Royals pitching staff.

To offset the loss of Morales, the Royals are going to need outfielders Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Brandon Moss to have solid impacts. Gordon is set to begin his eleventh season with the Royals and he has entered some rare air. Gordon’s career wins above replacement total of 32 is eighth most in franchise history, and his 278 doubles are sixth. Injuries limited Gordon to 128 games last season and he is still a vital part of this team; especially in the outfield as he is a three-time Gold Glove winner.

Like Hosmer, Perez and Gordon, Cain was a big part of the Royals championship team in 2015. And like Gordon, injuries got the best of Cain last season. But the Royals and Cain will enter in an awkward position being that he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following the season. The Royals want to compete, but if they fall out of competition prior to the trade deadline, I would not be surprised to see Cain put on the trade market.

The Royals signed Moss to a two-year contract for $12 million after he had one of the best seasons of his 10-year career. Moss hit 28 home runs last year for the St. Louis Cardinals, and although that he might not be the consistent threat that Morales was, he is still solid enough to contribute in Kansas City as I see him being more of a designated hitter than an outfielder.

But one player who could be a sleeper for Kansas City in their lineup this season is outfielder Paulo Orlando. Injuries last season opened the door for Orlando to be an everyday player, and he made the most of hit as batted .302. I don’t see Orlando taking a step backwards in 2017 as he should once again be a regular in manager Ned Yost’s lineup.

The Royals pitching staff that was a big part of their run to the playoffs in both 2014 and 2015 struggled last season as I don’t see things getting any better this season. The Royals team earned run average of 4.21 was ninth in the American League last season, while they were only able to muster 68 quality starts. But if starting pitcher Danny Duffy is able to build off of his 12-3 mark from last season, it could keep Kansas City in the playoff picture.

Ned Yost

Yost is one of the best managers in baseball as far as having the idea of the pulse of his team. Yost is a hands off manager that lets the players police themselves, and his laid back approach should once again allow Kansas City to relax and hang around in the playoff picture.

Chicago White Sox 68-94

The last four years have seen the Chicago White Sox finish with a losing record, and the recent success by the Chicago Cubs which includes them winning the World Series last season means that the South Siders have become nearly forgotten in the Windy City. In five years as the manager of the White Sox, Robin Ventura was never able to get Chicago to the postseason, while they never finished higher than fourth place in the American League Central during the last four years. But Ventura cannot take all of the blame for the White Sox struggles as this is an organization that cannot figure out if they want to contend or rebuild. However it is now Rick Renteria’s turn to be the skipper of the South Siders as with the 2017 Major League Baseball season right around the corner, all signs points to the Pale Hose being in rebuilding mode.

The past five years saw starting pitcher Chris Sale emerge as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Over the last five seasons Sale won 70 games while he also got the nod to start in Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game last summer. But Sale had his issues with the White Sox front office which reached a fever pitch on July 23 when he was suspended for five games after he used scissors to destroy the team’s throwback uniform that he didn’t want to wear. Aside from trading Sale, outfielder Adam Eaton was traded to the Washington Nationals in a move that saw the Sox receive three young pitchers in Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, and Dane Dunning that the jury is out on.

The writing was on the wall for a divorce between Sale and the White Sox. And during the off-season the White Sox were able to find a trade partner in the Boston Red Sox. In exchange for Sale, the White received four players which includes infielder Yoan Moncada who received a ton of hype when he defected from Cuba, but has yet to deliver in Major League Baseball.

Todd Frazier, Jose Abreu

Moncada joins a White Sox lineup that includes first baseman Jose Abreu and third baseman Todd Frazier who if nothing else will excel in putting balls into the seats. Since making his Major League debut for the South Siders in 2014, Abreu has been one of the best first baseman, but he gets lost in the shuffle since he doesn’t play on a good team. And aside from possessing a solid glove at first base, you can also pencil him in to hit 30 home runs, while also driving in 100 runs. After the White Sox acquired Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds last year, it took him some time get going as he appeared to be pressing. However Frazier would rebound to hit 40 homers for the first time in his career. But with Frazier’s power surge came an increase in his strikeouts as he struck out 163 times last season which was the eighth most in the American League. An oblique injury has currently sidelined Frazier which could effect him to start the upcoming season; especially in Chicago where the temperature will still be cold in April.

The departure of Sale means that starting pitcher Jose Quintana is now the White Sox best option in their rotation. Quintana has a career earned run average of 3.20, but his career record is only 46-46 as like Sale, he has not always gotten run support. But if Chicago can find a way to score runs for Quintana this season, he has the potential to win 15 games. Starting pitcher James Shields is seeking to redeem himself after going 4-12 with the White Sox last year. Shields posted an earned run average of 6.77 with the Sox and as he is an aging pitcher, the time is now for him to reinvent himself if he wants to stick around.

David Robertson

In two seasons with the White Sox, relief pitcher David Robertson has saved 71 games including 37 last season. Robertson will once again be in the mix to be one of the best closers in baseball, but if the Sox fall out of contention he will become at hot commodity on the trade market.

With not that much expected of the White Sox, they will definitely fly under the radar as the focus in Chicago is on the Cubs. However the last thing that the White Sox can afford to have is another season of losing baseball on the South Side.

Minnesota Twins 60-102

After six postseason appearances over a nine-year span, the Minnesota Twins have fallen on hard times. The Twins have not made the playoffs since 2009, while they’ve only had one winning season since then either. Things went from bad to worse last year for the Twins as they lost 103 games for the first time since 1949 when they were still the Washington Senators. Heading into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, there is only one way to go for the Twins which is up, but how much progress can we realistically expect this team to have?

Paul Molitor

Paul Molitor is set to begin his third year as the manager of the Twins. And after the Twins overachieved in 2015 by winning 83 games, he was dealt a harsh dose of reality last year.

The biggest issue for the Twins is their lack of pitching. In 2016, the Twins team earned run average of 5.08 and 59 quality starts were each last in the American and they didn’t have one starting pitcher win at least 10 games. There isn’t that much optimism for Minnesota’s pitching staff heading into 2017 as their rotation is comprised of either youngsters such as Tyler Duffey who are trying to make a name for themselves in Major League Baseball, or veterans such as Ervin Santana whose best days are behind them.

And for the Twins, their pitching issues won’t help them in the American League Central where they’ll have to compete against two of the better hitting lineups in baseball in the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.

Brian Dozier

But if there is one thing that will keep fans in the Twin Cities excited over the summer in regards to Twins baseball, it is the bat of second baseman Brian Dozier. Last season Dozier slugged 42 home runs which was the highest single-season total for a Twins player since Harmon Killebrew hit 49 in 1969. Dozier could be setup to have another big year at the plate, however the bigger question is whether or not that he’ll finish the year in a Twins uniform?

Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey did receive some offers for Dozier over the winter, but there wasn’t anything that was enticing enough for him to pull the trigger on a deal. Dozier is under contract with the Twins through 2018. However being that the Twins are not setup to contend anytime soon, a trade for Dozier could bring back some value for them.

It should be another long summer in the Twin Cities, and the best thing that Minnesota can hope for is that they won’t get the brakes beaten off of them.

X-Division Winner

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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2017 American League West Projections

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X-Texas Rangers 90-72

Since 2009, the Texas Rangers have been one of the better teams in Major League Baseball as they have seven winning seasons and a pair of American League Pennants to their credit. But as good as the Rangers have been, the one thing that they’ve been unable to put on their resume is a World Series Championship. The Rangers entered the MLB Playoffs last October with the best record in the A.L. as another trip to the Fall Classic appeared to be in the cards. However the Rangers would not win a game as they were swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Divisional Series. And whereas the Rangers fell short of their goal in 2016, the winning culture that has been created in Arlington by general manager Jon Daniels is still in place as this is a team that’ll once again be in contention to win the A.L. West under manager Jeff Banister.

The Rangers had one of the top offenses in 2016 as they were fourth in the American League in runs scored (765) and hits (1,446), while they were fifth in home runs with 215. A big reason for the Rangers success on offense was the emergence of second baseman Rougned Odor. Odor has three years under his belt in Major League Baseball, and in spite of the fact that he is slight in stature at 5’11”, 195 lbs., he led the team in home runs last year with 33. Odor is a legitimate AL MVP candidate as he is rapidly becoming one of the better players in the game.

Adrian Beltre

Third baseman Adrian Beltre continues to defy the odds as he batted .300 last year with 32 home runs and 104 runs batted in. Beltre will be 38-years of age next month, but he still has one of the quickest bats in baseball, while he can also get it done at the hot corner. Beltre continues to provide the Rangers with clubhouse leadership and he’ll once again have an impact on this team.

The Rangers cannot get enough of first baseman Mike Napoli as he has returned for his third stint with the club. Napoli was a key member for Texas when they made the World Series in 2011, and the same can be said about his presence with the Cleveland Indians last year. In 2016 with the Indians, Napoli hit 34 home runs as he had a big hand in the Indians winning the American League Pennant. Napoli is 35-years of age and like Beltre, he’ll provide the Rangers with a leader in their clubhouse.

Outfielder Nomar Mazara is just beginning to scratch the surface as far as how good that he can be. Mazara hit 20 home runs for Texas last year and finished fifth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. And if Mazara can work on his plate discipline as he struck out 112 times in 568 plate appearances, along with avoiding the dreaded “sophomore slump” he can be an impact player in the middle of the Rangers lineup.

The speed of shortstop Elvis Andrus will once be key at the top of the Rangers lineup as he continues to re-write the record book for stolen bases in their franchise history, while catcher Jonathan Lucroy should have a big impact as he is now set to begin his first full season with the club. Lucroy was acquired from by the Rangers from the Milwaukee Brewers last year before the trade deadline, and in 47 games with Texas, he batted .276 with 11 homers and 31 runs batted in. But Lucroy’s biggest impact with the Rangers will be behind the plate as he works with the team’s pitching staff.

The Rangers were 13th in the American League last season in team earned run average (4.37), but there should be some improvement with the unit in 2017. The switch from the National League to the American League has not slowed down starting pitcher Cole Hamels who in 44 starts with the Rangers is 22-6 with a 3.42 earned run average. Hamels has been durable during his Major League Baseball career as he has thrown at least 200 innings in eight of the last nine years which should rub off of the rest of the Rangers starting rotation as far as being around a player of his caliber that knows how to get it done at this level.

Yu Darvish

Starting pitcher Yu Darvish missed the entire 2015 Major League Baseball season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery and he returned last year to go 7-5 with a 3.41 earned run average in 17 starts. Towards the end of the 2016 campaign, Darvish began to show some of the flashes that made him one of the game’s best power pitchers prior to the injury. And if Darvish is able to give the Rangers 150-180 innings this year, it will be a huge plus.

In relief pitcher Sam Dyson’s first year as the Rangers full-time closer, he saved 38 games, while finishing 53 contests. Dyson only allowed 19 earned runs as he faced 285 batters to become one of the premier closers in the American League. And if Dyson once again flirts with saving close to 40 games for Texas, it will more than likely signal that this team is once again the top team in the A.L. West.

Last year saw the Rangers battle with the Cleveland Indians for most of the year as far as seeing who was the best team in the American League. These two clubs will get it on in Arlington to begin the season before the Rangers begin a 12-game stretch against the A.L. West. The Rangers should once again be the team to beat within the A.L. West and a strong start in April could put them in the catbird’s seat.

Houston Astros 87-75

After the Houston Astros made the postseason in 2015 as a wild card, the expectations for them increased heading into the 2016 Major League Baseball season. The Astros were able to finish last year with a winning record as they won 84 games, but they fell five wins shy of the final playoff spot in the American League. Now a year later, the Astros are a more mature team, and after team general manager Jeff Luhnow made some tweaks to the roster, the postseason could once again become a reality in Houston.

What helped the Astros make the playoffs in 2015 was a hindrance to them in 2016. Houston led the American League in team earned run average in 2015 at 3.57, but that number dipped last season as it was 4.06 which was fifth. And a big part of that slight dip in production was due to the regression of starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel.

Dallas Keuchel

In 2015, Keuchel went 20-8 with a 2.48 earned run average to being named as the American League’s Cy Young Award winner. Keuchel also led the A.L. in innings pitched in 2015 with 232 which led to the theory of him being fatigued last year. In 2016, Keuchel went 9-12 with an earned average of 4.55 has his fastball lacked some zip. And for the Astros to have a chance of making the postseason this year, Keuchel is going to once again have to find the magic from 2015.

Like Keuchel, starting pitcher Collin McHugh had a big campaign in 2015 as he won 19 games. But unlike Keuchel, McHugh benefited from a ton of run support when he took the mound. And once factored in that McHugh wasn’t getting the same run support in 2016, along with the fact that his earned run average was 4.34, the Astros suffered.

Overall no Astros pitcher that started at least 20 games last year had an earned run average below 4.00. Luhnow didn’t upgrade Houston’s starting rotation, but he did the next best thing by acquiring veteran catcher Brian McCann from the New York Yankees.

McCann has always been a solid contributor to a team’s pitching staff; especially for his ability to frame pitches and call games. And as a pitcher like Keuchel is looking to bounce back, throwing to a veteran such as McCann will make his job on the mound every fifth day a little bit easier.

McCann’s arrival in Houston will also add some depth to the Astros lineup as in each of the last nine years he has hit 20 home runs.

The Astros have a solid blend of power and speed in their lineup that could make them very difficult to deal with. Second baseman Jose Altuve is one of Major League Baseball better contact hitters as he has won the American League’s batting title in two of the last three years, while leading the league in hits in each of the last three seasons. Altuve is also a fantasy baseball owner’s best friend as he has the ability to consistently get on base, while always being a threat on the base paths. Altuve’s ability to get on base for the Astros should pay big dividends for an Astros lineup that has the potential to consistently put the ball over the fence.

In 2015, the Astros were second in the American League in home runs with 230, but they only managed to hit 198 last season with was ninth. The Astros lineup up is littered with power bats which includes utility man Evan Gattis who led the club in home runs last season with 32, and outfielder George Springer who hit 29 homers. The Astros also have shortstop Carlos Correa who is one of Major League Baseball’s young phenoms, and veteran outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran who might not be the player that he was in 2004 when he went on a tear to help Houston reach the playoffs, but his 19 years of MLB experience will definitely come in handy in the clubhouse.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch may once again have to go with a “closer by committee” for 2017 as this could be the one thing that will hold this team back coming out of spring training. But by the summer the Astros will be a force in the American League.

Seattle Mariners 86-76

The past few years have seen the Seattle Mariners come close to breaking their playoff drought, but they’ve been unable to get over the hump. In 2014, the Mariners fell one game short of getting to the playoffs and last year it was three. The M’s have been so close to breaking Major League Baseball’s current longest postseason drought, but will 2017 be the year that they finally give baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest something to cheer about in October?

Jerry Dipoto is in his second year as the Mariners general manager and he’s already begun the process of attempting to improve Seattle’s team when he traded starting pitcher Tijuan Walker to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for infielder Jean Segura. In one year with the Diamondbacks, Seguara led the National League in hits with 203 and his ability to get on base in front of Seattle’s big boppers will be important. Aside from Segura, the M’s also acquired outfielder Jarrod Dyson from the Kansas City Royals who has stolen at least 30 bases in four out of the last five years. And just like Segura, the ability of Dyson to get on base will be vital to Seattle’s lineup.

As a unit the M’s were able to blast 223 homers which was second in the American League last season and they have the potential to once again be a prolific offense. Segura will set the table in Seattle for second baseman Robinson Cano and designated hitter Nelson Cruz who last year combined to hit 82 home runs. Cano was able to put his struggles in 2015 behind him as he hit a career-high 39 home runs. But at the age of 34, will Cano be able to replicate this success? Like Cano, Cruz is a veteran hitter as he is 36-years of age. However each of the last three Major League Baseball seasons have seen Cruz belt at least 40 homers as he has turned Safeco Field into his own personal launching pad.

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager is getting plenty of fanfare as he is the reigning National League Rookie of the Year, but his older brother Kyle has turned out to be a solid third baseman in Seattle. In each of Seager’s six seasons with the Mariners, his productivity at the plate as increased. Seager is coming off of his first 30-homer campaign as being in a lineup with Cruz and Cano has been beneficial to him. Seager is rapidly becoming one of the better third baseman in the American League and it would not surprise me to see him make his second All-Star Game appearance this summer.

The Mariners team earned run average of 4.00 was third in the American League last year, but in order for them to make the playoffs, they are going to need more from their stud. Last season was a down year for starting pitcher Felix Hernandez who is 25 starts went 11-8 with an earned run average of 3.82. Hernandez failed to reach the 200-inning plateau for the first time since 2007 as injuries got the best of him. Whether it was due to injuries or age, the fastball of “King Felix” lost some zip and it might be time for him to begin locating his pitches more.

Felix Hernandez

But Hernandez and the rest of the Mariners pitching staff should benefit from Dipoto bringing in veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz. The 38-year old Ruiz has never been known for his bat as it more about his ability to call a game behind the plate. And his ability and leadership should be beneficial to the M’s pitching staff this year.

Whereas injuries slowed down Hernandez last year, starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma emerged as a solid contributor in the M’s rotation as he led the club in wins with 16. Iwakuma also benefited from good run support as he has an earned run average of 4.12, but like Hernandez, he should be aided by having Ruiz behind the plate.

Relief pitchers Edwin Diaz and Steve Cishek each have the ability to close games which gives Mariners skipper Scott Servais flexibility as far as the use of his bullpen goes, and this will be important as they look to hang around in the American League West.

Aside from Servais, Seattle’s coaching staff is littered with former Major League Baseball players that includes bench coach Tim Bogar, hitting coach Edgar Martinez, and pitcher coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. And this wealth of experience on the Mariners coaching staff could be the difference in whether or not that they’ll be able to end Major League Baseball’s current longest playoff drought.

Los Angeles Angels 79-83

The 2014 Major League Baseball season saw the Los Angeles Angels finish with the best record in the league as they won 98 games. But since then it has been a steep decline for the Angels as they’ve missed the postseason in each of the last two years which included them managing to only win 74 games in 2016. What has hurt the Angels more than anything else has been issues within their front office. Angels manager Mike Scoiscia has not always been on the same page with the team’s general managers and there is some hope in Anaheim that he and Billy Eppler can be on the same page as this is the only way for this team to have a chance.

Mike Trout

But for Eppler and Scoiscia, life is made easier in knowing that they can build around one of the best players in the game. At times outfielder Mike Trout can make the game of baseball look very easy. Trout is only 25-years of age and already he is a two-time American League MVP in just six Major League Baseball seasons. Trout is coming off of a season where he batted .315 with 29 home runs and 100 runs batted in last year to be named as the A.L. MVP. Trout’s energy is infectious and as you expect to see him bat at least .300 while hitting 30 homers, stealing 30 bases, and driving in 100 runs, how will the team around him fare?

Designated hitter Albert Pujols led the Angels in home runs last year with 31, but at the age of 37, his body is breaking down. The last four years have seen Pujols deal with foot issues which has limited his effectiveness. Pujols won’t be available to begin the season after undergoing foot surgery in December. And although that Pujols still has pop in his bat, he is not the overall player that he was during his prime with the St. Louis Cardinals.

As a team the Angels were sixth in the American League in batting average (.260), but they were tenth in runs scored (717). Outfielder Kole Calhoun is a product of the Angels system, but he is a scrappy player that will give you everything that he has on a nightly basis and the same can be said about first baseman C.J. Cron. Third baseman Yunel Escobar is coming off of consecutive seasons in which he hit at least .300, while he also has one of the best gloves at the hot corner in the American League. And as Escobar is in the final year of his contract with the Angels, I believe that he’ll be locked in this season in each phase of the game.

The Angels also brought in veterans such as outfielders Ben Revere and Cameron Maybin, along with infielders Luis Valbuena and Danny Espinosa as this lineup should have more balance this season.

The Angels lineup will have to keep them in games as their pitching staff will more than likely struggle once more. Last year the Angels team earned run average of 4.28 was 12th in the American League and their 64 quality starts were 14th. Starting pitcher Jered Weaver led the Angels in wins last year with 12, but he is now a member of the San Diego Padres.

Garrett Richards

Starting pitcher Garrett Richards is the best option for the Angels in their rotation when he is healthy; however Richards was shut down last season due to elbow issues and it will be interesting to see how he’ll be able to hold up in 2017. But unfortunately for the Angels after Richards, their rotation is extremely thin.

This season will be interesting to say the least for the Angels who have enough offense to contend for a playoff spot, but they’ll more than likely come up short due to their lack of quality pitching.

Oakland Athletics 71-91

The best way to describe the Oakland Athletics is that they are Major League Baseball’s version of the stock market. The Athletics have been way up and way down in the standings over the past 30 years due to the fact that they play in one of MLB’s smallest markets and without a lucrative television deal, it makes it extremely difficult for them to maintain their roster when quality players are set to become unrestricted free agents. From 2012-2014, the A’s made three consecutive trips to the postseason which included a pair of American League West Championships. But since then it has been a rapid decline in Oakland as Athletics general manager Billy Beane has had another one of his infamous fire sales. The A’s are coming off of consecutive last place finishes in the A.L. West which is the first time that this has occurred since 1998. And as the 2017 MLB campaign is set begin, are the A’s ready to show some improvement?

Bob Melvin has seen the best of times and the worst of times during his tenure as the manager of the Athletics. But if the A’s are going to shock most people and contend in the American League West this year, they will need to get better pitching.

Last year Oakland’s team earned average of 4.51 was 14th in the American League as they were bombarded by injuries and an overall lack of quality starting pitching. Injuries limited starting pitcher Sonny Gray to just 22 starts, while he had an earned run average of 5.69. Gray’s down year threw a wrench into Beane’s plans of trading him and he needs the youngster to have a bounce back season in order to increase his trade value, while starting pitcher Kendall Graverman continues to improve as he could flirt with being a 15-game winner this season in Oakland.

When the Athletics signed relief pitcher Ryan Madson in 2016, it was expected that he would be with the club until the team found a trade partner. But surprisingly Madson stayed with the A’s for the entire season which led to him saving 30 games in Oakland for just the second time in his career. And whereas Beane did not trade Madson in 2016, I don’t see this season ending with him in Oakland as a quality relievers are always en vogue the closer that you get to the trading deadline.

The A’s were a light hitting team as they were 14th in the American League in bating average last season at .246, along with being dead last in on-base percentage at .304. And once you exclude the contributions of outfielder Khris Davis and infielder Marcus Semien, this was an Oakland lineup the struggled immensely to find consistency. Davis emerged as a big time power bat as he hit 42 home runs last season and Semien followed suit with 27. But for Davis, his biggest issue has been ability to bring it consistently as he committed 21 errors in the field last season.

There a huge gap between the talent level of the Athletics and the contenders in the American League West this year, and it won’t take us that long to see it.

X-Division Winner

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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2017 American League East Projections

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X-Boston Red Sox 96-66

After a pair of last place finishes in the American League East in 2014 and 2015, the Boston Red Sox were able to bounce back in 2016. The Red Sox would win 93 games en route to claiming the A.L. East Title. The Sox appeared ready to make another a run at the World Series Title until they ran into the Cleveland Indians in the postseason. The Indians would sweep the Red Sox in the American League Divisional Series which meant that the career of designated hitter David Ortiz was over. In 14 years with the Red Sox, Oritz hit 483 home runs, while also being a catalyst for three World Series Championship teams. And now as the Red Sox are preparing for life without “Big Papi”, they are hoping not to take a huge step backwards.

Dave Dombrowski

Since Dave Dombrowski became the Red Sox president of baseball operations in August 2015, he hasn’t been afraid of making trade. And after Dombrowski’s wheeling and dealing put the Red Sox back into the postseason last October, he didn’t waste anytime this off-season when he acquired starting pitcher Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox.

Last year the Red Sox starting rotation produced the American League’s Cy Young Award winner in starting pitcher Rick Porcello who won 22 games in the regular season, along with starting pitcher David Price who won 17 contests. But behind Porcello and Price, Boston’s starting rotation was thin and it showed up in their playoff loss to the Indians. Acquiring Sale gives the Sox more depth in their starting rotation as he’ll more than likely be their ace, while it will push both Porcello and Price down in the pitching order.

Chris Sale

Each of the last five Major League Baseball seasons have seen Sale be on the American League’s All-Star team, while he has struck out at least 200 batters in each of the last four years. Sale hurled 6 complete games last year with his quirky delivery for a left-handed pitcher as the ball is released from his 6’6″ frame keeps opposing batters on their toes. And I don’t see Sale being intimidated by playing under the microscope in Boston.

If you watched the Red Sox play in 2017, you know that their bullpen was shaky at times. Dombrowski hopes that he was able to sure up the middle relief when he acquired relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers. In 67 games for the Brewers last season, Thornburg posted a 2.15 earned run average, while striking out 90 batters, and saving 13 games. If Thornburg is on his game, the Red Sox eighth inning issues could be a thing of the past, while he could also be an alternative in the ninth inning as well.

Craig Kimbrel

Last year relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel struggled at times as he posted a career-high 3.40 earned run average. What hurt Kimbrel more than anything else was that he walked 30 batters last season which came back to hurt him at times. Kimbrel was still able to save 31 games for the Red Sox, but he’ll need to be closer to the player that led the National League in saves each year from 2011-2014 as a member of the Atlanta Braves.

Even without Big Papi no longer being around, the Red Sox once again have one of the more proficient offenses in the American League. The Red Sox led the A.L. in runs scored last year with 878 as the next closest team was the Indians with 777, while their team batting average of .282, and on-base percentage of .348 also led the way.

Mookie Betts

Outfielder Mookie Betts is coming off of a breakout season as he batted .318 with 31 home runs, 113 runs batted in, and 42 doubles. Betts finished second in the American League MVP voting and the case could be made that he should have won it. However with Betts possessing the blend of speed and precision, he should once again be in the mix to win the award as he’ll be a coup for anyone that picks him up in fantasy baseball.

Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. wasn’t that far behind Betts as far as being a breakout player for the Red Sox either. Bradley is coming off of a career-high in home runs with 26. Bradley had an on-base percentage of .349, however he was only able to steal 9 bases which is alarming with his speed. And I see the speed of Bradley being an aspect that Red Sox manager John Farrell will look to utilize more this season.

Along with Betts and Bradley, the Red Sox have another talented young outfielder in Andrew Benintendi as Boston could have their own version of “The Killer B’s”. The Red Sox made Benintendi the seventh overall selection of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft and it hasn’t taken him that long to make an impact on the big club. Last season in just 34 games, Benintendi batted .295 as he was able collect 31 hits, while also displaying tremendous range defensively in the outfield. And if Benintendi is able to build off of his strong showing last year, his name will definitely be in the mix as far as American League Rookie of the Year candidates.

Aside from Betts, Bradley, and Benintendi, the Red Sox have plenty of depth in their outfield with Chris Young and Brock Holt as Farrell has a good problem on his hands.

Dustin Pedroia

Now that Ortiz has retired, you can expect second baseman Dustin Pedroia to become more of a leader than he already is. Since Pedroia made his debut with Boston in 2006, he has been a scrappy player that everyone has respected. Pedroia is a lifetime .301 hitter, and it would not surprise me to see him get at least 40 doubles this season as he has been known to spray the baseball off of the Green Monster at Fenway Park.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is a star in making as he is fresh off of his first All-Star Game appearance. Bogaerts has the potential to hit more than .300 this season, while belting 25 homers, and it doesn’t hurt that he can flash the leather in the field. Like Bradley, Benintendi, and Betts, I expect the Red Sox utilize the speed of Bogaerts on the bases this season as Boston could be a deadly hit and run team.

As the Red Sox decided to do away with the experiment of having Hanley Ramirez play left field, he had a stellar campaign in 2016. After hitting just .249, with 19 homers and 53 runs batted in for 2015, Ramirez bounced back in a big way last season to hit .286 with 30 home runs, while driving in 111 runs. Ramirez worked on his craft to be a solid first baseman for the Red Sox, and it didn’t hurt him being around Ortiz. However with Ortiz now retired, and with Ramirez’s propensity to play when he wants to, it’ll be interesting to see what version of him that Boston will see this season.

Ramirez will split time at first base and being the designated hitter with Boston’s newest acquisition Mitch Moreland as the two of them will attempt to replace some of the contributions by Ortiz. In seven years with the Rangers, Moreland hit 110 home runs, including 45 over the last two seasons. But only time will tell how Moreland will be able to fare under the microscope in Boston.

Then there is the case of third baseman Pablo Sandoval. After Sandoval helped the San Francisco Giants win three World Series Championships, he hit free agency following the conclusion of the 2014 Major League Baseball season. The Red Sox scooped up Sandoval to the tune of $90 million over five years, but he has been far from living up to his end of things.

In two seasons with the Red Sox, Sandoval has only played in 129 games, while only batting .242 with 10 home runs and 47 runs batted in. Sandoval was limited to just three games last season due to shoulder surgery. Sandoval’s playing weight has always been an issue, but he showed up to spring training this year in arguably the best shape of his career as he looks to put his struggles with the Red Sox behind him.

As always the American League East will be tough to navigate. But if the Red Sox are able to manage within the division, while taking care of their business with everyone else, they should be able to reach the postseason for a second consecutive year.

Y-New York Yankees 88-74

Three of the last four years have seen the New York Yankees fail to reach the postseason, but things could be ready to change in the Bronx. The Yankees have taken a back seat in the American League East to the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and Baltimore Orioles as they’ve been in the process of trying to get from under some of their huge player contracts. The Yankees bid farewell to aging veterans in designated hitter Alex Rodriguez and first baseman Mark Teixeira who both retired, while they traded catcher Brian McCann to the Houston Astros. Trades last year of relief pitchers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman to the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs respectively netted the Yanks some prospects for the future as they are hopeful to be able to contend with them for years to come.

Gary Sanchez

The emergence of catcher Gary Sanchez made it easy Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to part with McCann. In 53 games last year for the Yankees, Sanchez became an overnight sensation in the Big Apple as he batted .299 with 20 homers and 42 runs batted in. The Yankees brass sees Sanchez as the real deal and not the next Kevin Maas, but it will be interesting to see what he can do as New York’s everyday catcher, while the fans and media alike expect him to build off of what he was able to do in 2016.

The Yankees drafted outfielder Aaron Judge in 2013 and he has worked his way through their minor-league system. Judge has tremendous power as he can hit the baseball onto the Major Deagan Expressway. But for all of Judge’s power he has to work on his plate discipline. Judge struck out 42 times in just 95 plate appearances last year as he was only able to sport a batting average of .179. But the ceiling is still high for Judge who won’t turn 25-years of age until next month and he is a big part of the Yankees future plans.

First baseman Greg Bird showed flashes for the Yankees as he split time with Teixeira in 2015. Bird was expected to have a bigger role for the Yankees in 2016, but he suffered a torn labrum which put him on the shelf for the entire campaign. Now Bird is back and after hitting 11 homers in just 41 games for the Yanks, he is a guy that has the potential to go yard at least 25 times this season.

But aside from the youngsters, the Yankees have some veteran players that have some pop in their bats as well. Last year as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, first baseman Chris Carter led the National League in home runs with 41. At the plate it is either feast or famine for Carter as he has a career batting average of just .218 which is a good indication as to why it only took the Yankees $3.5 million to sign him. But make no mistake about that Carter is able to make contact with the baseball, it goes very far as if nothing else the combination of himself, Judge, and Sanchez will always put on a show in batting practice. Carter will be primarily used a designated hitter as this Yankees team will more than likely live and die by the three-run homer.

Along with Carter, Cashman also signed veteran outfielder Matt Holliday this off-season. For Holliday’s 13-year Major League Baseball career he has averaged 27 home runs and 105 runs batted in per season, while sporting a .303 batting average. At the age of 37, it will be difficult for the Yankees to expect Holliday to put up numbers at the plate like he did earlier in his career. However a veteran such as Holliday who was able to win a World Series Championship with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 will be vital for a young Yankees team.

However aside from the optimism that the Yankees have for their youngsters, there are some question marks on this roster. As the seasons go by outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is becoming less productive. When the Yankees brought Ellsbury on board in 2014, they were hopeful to get the player that led the American League in stolen bases in 2013 with 52 for the Boston Red Sox as he helped them win the World Series. But that has not been the case for Ellsbury’s time with the Yankees as he’s been oft-injured, while not being the lead-off hitter that they expected. In three seasons with the Yankees, Ellsbury’s batting average is 33 points lower than he was with the Red Sox. And if Ellsbury gets off to slow start this season, expect the fans in the Bronx to let him have it.

Outfielder Brett Gardner is as scrappy as they come, and although that his skills are beginning to diminish, the Yankees will find a spot on this team for one of the fan favorites. In the infield the Yankees will miss the contributions of Teixeira who was a five-time Gold Glove winner. The Yankees still have solid defenders in third baseman Chase Headley and shortstop Didi Gregorious. Second baseman Starlin Castro had a solid first season with the Yankees after he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs, and he hit a career-high in home runs with 21, while he cut down on the errors defensively as he only had 12 last year.

And overall the offense will have to carry the Yankees as they won’t be able to consistently rely on their pitching staff. As a team the Yankees team earned run average of 4.16 was seventh in the American League. But manager Joe Girardi had to lean heavily on his bullpen due to the fact that his starting pitchers don’t have the ability to go deep into games.

Last season the Yankees had 70 quality starts which was tenth in the American League, while no starting pitcher was able to throw a complete game. Girardi relies heavily on his bullpen which has seen them wear down as the season progresses.

All signs point to 2017 being the last year that starting pitcher CC Sabathia will be with the Yankees. Sabathia was instrumental in helping the Yanks win the World Series in 2009, but age and injury have caught up to him. Sabathia is 36-years of age and the Yankees would be fortunate to squeeze 12 victories, along with 150 innings out of him this season.

Masahiro Tanaka

Starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was the only Yankees pitcher to win more than 9 games last season. Tanaka has been with the Yankees for three years and he has yet to reach the 200-inning mark in a single season as he has been bothered by elbow issues in the past. However if Tanaka is able to remain healthy, 15 victories could be in the cards for him this time around.

Starting pitcher Michael Pineda has been extremely up and down during his time with the Yankees as you never know what to expect from him on an inning-to-inning basis as he could look like a Cy Young Award winner in one breath, and a career minor-leaguer in another. However since Pineda is set to become a free agent following this season, the possibility looms that he’ll be able to get his act together for the entire year.

And as the Yankees must once again rely on their bullpen, they made the right move to bring Chapman back to the Bronx. Chapman saved 20 games for the Yankees last season after he was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds. But when the Yankees were ready to wave the white flag, they traded Chapman to the Chicago Cubs. Chapman came up big for the Cubs as they won the World Series, however when he hit free agency his asking price was too high for them.

Aroldis Chapman

It took $86 million over the next five years for the Yankees to lure Chapman to the Bronx, but he should be well worth the investment as he’s a dependable flamethrower that can consistently get the job done in the ninth inning.

A big reason why the Yankees brought Chapman back was because they weren’t sold on relief pitcher Dellin Betances being their closer. Betances has been primarily used as a setup man. But when the Yankees traded both Chapman and Miller last season, Betances was thrust into the role as the team’s closer. Betances’ earned run average more than doubled last season from the previous one as it was at 3.08. This was due to the fact that the Yankees over used him since they don’t have starters who can consistently go deep into games.

The situation was compounded this off-season when Betances went to arbitration and as he was seeking $5 million, the Yanks were only willing to give him $3 million. The battle was played out in the media with Yankees team president Randy Levine being critical of Betances’ agent Jim Murray whom he criticized for attempting to have his client compensated like a closer. But either way it would be prudent of Girardi to find a way to better manage Betances’ appearances this season in order to keep him fresh.

As usual the American League East should be one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball. And if the Yankees are able to get enough pitching, the season could end with them once again headed for the playoffs.

Y-Toronto Blue Jays 88-74

The last two years saw the Toronto Blue play a very exciting brand of baseball. The Blue Jays had a lineup that was full of sluggers who were always more than eager to launch homers high and deep into the Toronto sky. This brand of baseball led to the Blue Jays winning the American League East in 2015 for the first time since 1993 and it would also lead to another postseason appearance last October. But things would change for the Blue Jays towards the end of the 2015 Major League Baseball season when general manager Alex Anthopoulos declined a five-year contract extension as the result of a power struggle between he and the recently hired Mark Shapiro who was now the team’s president of baseball operations. Shapiro’s philosophy is different from that of Anthopoulos, and when the Blue Jays take the field to begin the 2017 MLB season, they are definitely going to have a different look.

For nearly eight years, first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion captivated baseball fans in Toronto with his power hitting ability and trademark of “walking the bird” each time that he went yard. Encarnacion’s 239 home runs while wearing a Blue Jays uniform are the third most in franchise history and he still had plenty in the tank which was evident by his 42 homers and 127 runs batted in last season. But Shapiro decided to let Encarnacion walk in free agency as he landed with the Cleveland Indians after both sides agreed on a three-year deal that is worth $60 million.

Along with Encarnacion, outfielder Michael Saunders who hit 24 homers last season for the Jays left Toronto as well in free agency as signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. And it seemed that outfielder Jose Bautista was headed for the same fate as Encarnacion and Saunders until he and the Blue Jays came to an agreement on a one-year deal for $18 million late in the free agency period.

Like Encarnacion, Bautista is one of best power hitters in Blue Jays franchise history. Bautista’s 265 career home runs are the second most in franchise history which has also seen him lead the American League in home runs on two separate occasions. However Bautista has done this while always having Encarnacion protecting him. And with Encarnacion now in Cleveland, along with the fact that Bautista is 36-years of age, it’s less of a guarantee that “Joey Bats” will enjoy another vintage year at the plate.

The departure of Saunders means that Melvin Upton Jr. will become an everyday player in Toronto’s outfield. The Jays acquired Upton from the San Diego Padres, and in 57 games with Toronto, he batted .196, while hitting 4 home runs. Throughout Upton’s career he has always been a guy who has been known for his potential, but overall he has failed to live up to it, and I believe that the Blue Jays are set to find that out firsthand.

And whereas that the Blue Jays lost Encarnacion in free agency, Shapiro picked up designated hitter Kendrys Morales. Morales was a valuable bat in the middle of the Kansas City Royals lineup when they won the World Series in 2015, and he should be able to fit in with the Jays as he is coming off of the second 30-homer campaign of his Major League Baseball career.

Josh Donaldson

After being named as the American League MVP in 2015, third baseman Josh Donaldson was right back in the mix last year. Donaldson is one of the best at the hot corner in baseball with his glove and bat alike. In two seasons with Toronto, Donaldson has hit 78 home runs, and he should be in the running to once again hit at least 35. Like Donaldson, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was an addition to the Blue Jays in 2015 as they became a playoff contender. Tulowitzki is not the same player that he was during his time with the Colorado Rockies, but the Jays still need him to remain healthy as he is a player that still has the potential to go yard at least 20 times.

The Blue Jays pitching staff was overshadowed by the team’s potent lineup, but this unit led the American League in team earned run average last season at 3.78. Starting pitcher J.A. Happ became the first Blue Jays pitcher since Roy Halladay in 2008 to win 20 games. In Aaron Sanchez’s first year as a full-time starter for Toronto, he was able to win 15 games. Marcus Stroman was the only Jays starting pitcher to reach the 200-inning plateau last season, but he must become more consistent as he has the potential to win 15-18 games; however he must not only work on getting ahead of batters, but also putting them away.

Veteran starting pitcher Francisco Liriano was picked up from the Pittsburgh Pirates and he has a wealth of experience to pass on to the youngsters in Toronto’s rotation. Liriano is a two-time American League Comeback Player of the Year winner and his ability to work the corners as a left-handed pitcher should be valuable against the power lineups that the A.L. East has.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has two dependable relief pitchers to close out games in Roberto Osuna and Jason Grilli. Osuna has saved 56 games over the last two seasons for Toronto, while Grilli can be either a setup man or a closer which gives Toronto some much needed depth late in contests.

The Blue Jays pitching staff has the benefit of working with catcher Russell Martin who is one of the best in the business behind the plate. Martin knows how to call a game, while he can frame pitches like now other. And the cherry on top is that Martin is a solid contributor as each of his two seasons with the Blue Jays has seen him hit at least 20 home runs.

As previously mentioned the American League East will more than likely once again be the toughest division in baseball. The Blue Jays should hold their own as it will just be a matter of how long that it will take them to gel.

Baltimore Orioles 85-77

The 2016 Major League Baseball season saw the Baltimore Orioles possess one of the best teams in Major League Baseball, but they played in the league’s toughest division. The American League East saw four of their teams in contention for the postseason with three teams getting there. The Orioles were one of those A.L. East teams that were able to reach the postseason, but since they were unable to win the division, they had to begin the playoffs in the Wild Card Game. And as the O’s went back and forth with the Toronto Blue Jays, they were ultimately done in by their bullpen in extra innings. It was a bitter ending to a solid season for the Orioles, but as a new season is to begin, along with the fact that manager Buck Showalter is once again leading the way in Baltimore, this squad will once again be a tough out.

The Orioles have allowed some quality sluggers such as designated hitter Nelson Cruz to leave in free agency over the past few years, but they continue to fins a way to trudge along. Third baseman Manny Machado is one of the treasures of Major League Baseball. Machado continues to improve at the hot corner with his glove as well as hit bat. Machado’s numbers at the plate have increased in each of his five years with the O’s. And after Machado batted .294 with 37 home runs and 96 runs batted in last season, he will once again be in the running to win the American League MVP Award.

As a team the Orioles led the American League in homers last season with 253 and the long ball will once again be en vogue at Camden Yards. After outfielder/first baseman Mark Trumbo led the the A.L. in homers last season with 47, there was a huge possibility that he would leave Baltimore in free agency like other sluggers have recently. However there weren’t any teams that were willing to break the bank for Trumbo’s services which resulted in him returning to the Orioles. It’s not a guarantee that Trumbo will once again be the top power hitter in the A.L., but he should benefit from being in a solid O’s lineup.

Chris Davis

First baseman Chris Davis has led the American League in strikeouts, but the caveat to that is his power. The past five years have seen Davis belt 197 home runs and “Crush” should continue to climb up Baltimore’s all-time home runs list. For nearly a decade outfielder Adam Jones has been the face of the Orioles franchise. Jones is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner as he has plenty of range in center field, while he continues to provide Baltimore with a consistent bat at the plate being that you can always count on him to hit at least 25 homers.

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop is quickly becoming one of the better second baseman in the American League. Schoop hit a career-high 25 home runs last season, but he needs to work on his plate discipline. Schoop struck out 137 times last season, while he was only able to draw 21 walks. And if Schoop can cut down on the strikeouts, while drawing more walks and picking up his batting average, he could be in line for his first All-Star Game appearance this summer.

It will be up to veteran catchers Welington Castillo and Caleb Joseph to replace the contributions of Matt Wieters behind the plate as he joined the Washington Nationals. And the combination of Castillo and Joseph will have their hands full with an Orioles pitching staff that is far from stellar.

The Orioles team earned run average of 4.22 was tenth in the American League, while their 69 quality starts were 11th. And aside from starting pitcher Chris Tillman who won 16 games last season, there isn’t a ton of optimism for this rotation in Baltimore.

Zach Britton

However Showalter will have to rely on his rock solid bullpen that features relief pitchers Zach Britton, Brad Brach, and Mychal Givens. Britton led the American League in saves last season with 47, while he posted an earned run average of just 0.54. It’ll be hard for Britton to top his performance from last season. But Showalter will once again lean on him.

24 of Baltimore’s first 27 games will come against the American League East. And although that I don’t anticipate anyone running away with the division, it will still be important for Baltimore to get off to a solid start.

Tampa Bay Rays 68-94

After the Tampa Bay Rays were a thorn in the side of the baseball world for seven years, it is safe to say that the thrill is gone. Each of the last three Major League Baseball seasons have seen the Rays finish with a losing record with the bottom officially falling out in 2016 as they lost 94 games for the first time since 2007. And by the way that things are shaping up in Tampa, it won’t be getting better anytime soon.

Matthew Silverman

Matthew Silverman is in his fourth year as the Rays president of baseball operations and he needs to get into gear as far as redeveloping Tampa’s minor-league system which was the backbone of their success from 2008-2013.

One of the positives for the Rays heading into the 2017 Major League Baseball season is that they still have third baseman Evan Longoria. Longoria is hands down the best player in the franchise history of the Rays and he is coming off one of his best seasons as he hit a career-high 36 home runs. Longoria is 31-years of age, and with the Rays not expected to contend for a playoff spot this year, will he be trade bait?

But if the Rays decide to keep Longoria, he would be a part of a lineup that had plenty of pop in 2016. The Rays hit 216 home runs which was fourth in the American League, and they had four players hit at least 20 homers. But whereas the Rays know a thing or two about going yard, many were of the solo variety as they were 14th in the A.L. in runs scored. The Rays need a table setter in their lineup who could be outfielder Desmond Jennings who has only appeared in 93 games over the last two years, while utility man Brad Miller will look to make it consecutive years where he hits 30 home runs.

The pitching staff of the Rays is looking to bounce back; especially starting pitcher Chris Archer whose 19 losses were the worst in American League. However Archer does have electric stuff, but he appeared to be over pitching at times last year due to the fact that there wasn’t a ton of talent around him. And if Archer is able to put it all together, winning 15 games isn’t out of the question for him this season.

Relief pitcher Alex Colome saved 37 games last year in his first season as a closer, but he flew under the radar since the Rays were not a good team. But being that Colome was able to strike out 71 batters in just 56.2 innings pitched, the other teams in the American League will need to pay closer attention to him this time around.

Archer, Colome, and the rest of the Rays pitching staff should benefit from the team signing veteran catcher Wilson Ramos. Ramos was in the midst of having the best season of his career last year as a member of the Washington Nationals until he suffered a torn ACL. Ramos is expected to be healthy by July and he should be able to provide the Rays a veteran backstop to work with this pitching staff.

For Rays manager Kevin Cash, his team doesn’t have the talent or financial stability that their rivals in the American League East have. And thus Tampa Bay needs to get back to what made them which is to scrap and claw for 162 games.

X-Division Winner

Y-Wild Card Berth

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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2016 MLB Winter Meetings Recap

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Starting pitcher Chris Sale could be the missing link to get the Boston Red Sox back to the World Series.

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2016-2017 MLB Hot Stove

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Although that the 2016 Major League Baseball season is in the books, the action is heating up on the hot stove. 29 teams are out to topple the Chicago Cubs as World Series Champions, while the Cubs want to remain as the kings of the mountain. MLB’s Winter Meetings are set to take place next month, while we all are awaiting a new collective bargaining agreement, but there are some moves that could be made in the next few weeks on the trade front and here they are.

Chris Sale-Starting Pitcher-Chicago White Sox

Chris Sale

The past five years have seen Chris Sale become one of the better starting pitchers in Major League Baseball. Over that stretch Sale is 68-47 while he’s also been a five-time American League All-Star. But as good as Sale has been, he has been unable to make the White Sox a contender as they’ve finished with a losing record in each of the last four years.

The boiling point between Sale and the White Sox may have been reached this past summer when he was sent home after he allegedly destroyed the team’s throwback uniforms that they were scheduled to wear during his start as he wasn’t a fan of them. It appeared that this would be the opening for White Sox president of baseball operations Kenny Williams to pull the trigger on trading Sale, but he decided to hold on.

However as the off-season is here, there are several contenders such as the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers to could be in line for a quality front line starter such as Sale which could see valuable prospects return to the White Sox organization.

Joey Votto-First Baseman-Cincinnati Reds

After the Cincinnati Reds fired manager Dusty Baker following the conclusion of the 2013 Major League Baseball season, their fortunes have changed. Under Baker, the Reds made the postseason three times during his six years in Cincinnati. But since Baker was fired, the Reds have not had a winning season as they appear to be in rebuilding mode.

Joey Votto

The past decade has seen first baseman Joey Votto emerge as one of the best players in Reds franchise history. Votto’s career on-base percentage of .425 is tops in Reds franchise history while his batting average of .313 is fifth, and his 221 home runs are ninth. Votto has a National League MVP to his credit as he took home the honor in 2010, while he has also earned one N.L. Gold Glove Award. But as the Reds are rebuilding, Votto is 33-years of age and he has hefty contract attached to him.

Votto is under contract through 2024 and he is still owed $192 million. Quality first baseman are tough to come by in baseball which makes Votto a hot commodity for contenders around baseball such as the Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners, Houston Astros, and New York Mets if they are willing to take on his take on his massive contract for the next eight years.

Evan Longoria-Third Baseman-Tampa Bay Rays

Evan Longoria

For the last nine years, third baseman Evan Longoria has become the face of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise. The Rays made Longoria the third overall pick of the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft, and he would be vital in their American League Pennant in 2008. In a Rays uniform, Longoria has gone on to be a three-time A.L. All-Star while he is also the organization’s all-time leader in home runs (241), doubles (302), and runs batted in (806). ¬†And at the age of 31, Longoria is coming off of a career-high in home runs with 36.

But Longoria is putting up these numbers for a Rays team that is coming off of their first, last place finish in the American League East since 2007 as they are in full rebuild mode and trading their best player in franchise history could be beneficial for both sides. Longoria is still owed $107 million through 2023, and as the Rays play in one of the smaller markets in Major League Baseball, it doesn’t make financial sense for the organization to keep a player who will command a high salary on a cellar dweller.

If the Rays are interested in trading Longoria, you can expect a plethora of teams to inquire about his availability. The Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, New York Mets, and San Francisco Giants could all be in play for Longoria as they’re all contenders that need help at the hot corner.

Ryan Braun-Outfielder-Milwaukee Brewers

Ryan Braun

From 2007-2012, the Milwaukee Brewers were one of baseball’s better teams with outfielder Ryan Braun at the forefront. In 2007, Braun was named as the National League’s Rookie of the Year as he batted .324 with 34 home runs, and 97 runs batted in. Braun would continue to put up impressive numbers for the Brewers which included him being named as the N.L.’s MVP in 2011.

But shortly after that Braun’s popularity began to fade when he was linked to the Biogenesis scandal. Braun’s involvement would see him suspended by Major League Baseball for parts of two seasons and he quickly became an afterthought.

However at the age of 32, Braun is coming off of one of his best seasons as he batted .305 with 30 home runs and 91 runs batted in this past year for Milwaukee. The Brewers went 73-89 here in 2016 as they are an organization that needs to figure out which direction that they are headed in.

Braun has five years and $91 million remaining on his contract and if a big-market team such as the Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, or Texas Rangers would be willing to take on the money, they could potentially get a quality veteran bat in the middle of their lineup.

Paul Goldschmidt-First Baseman-Arizona Diamondbacks

Paul Goldschmidt

Over the past few years I have maintained that if Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt played in a bigger market, or on a better team that he would be a household name. Goldschmidt got a taste of the postseason in 2011 as a member of the Diamondbacks, but as his play as has improved, the team around him has gotten worse.

Each of the last four seasons have seen Goldschmidt be an All-Star which included this year as he batted .297 with 24 home runs and 95 runs batted in. But the last three years have seen the Diamondbacks finish with a losing record.

There have been wholesale changes over the past few weeks in the Diamondbacks front office as it isn’t clear how much power that the team’s president of baseball operations Tony La Russa still has being that a new general manager in Mike Hazen has been brought in. And if the Diamondbacks truly feel that it’s time to start over, they could get a king’s ransom in return for Goldschmidt as he is the complete package for as a first baseman being that he can hit for power and average, while he’s also one of the better defensive players in Major League Baseball at his position.

And if Goldschmidt is made available by the Diamondbacks, expect teams such as the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, New York Mets, Seattle Mariners, and St. Louis Cardinals to be in the mix.

Brett Gardner-Outfielder-New York Yankees

Brett Garnder

New York Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner will never be confused with being one of the most talented Major League Baseball players, but he makes up for it with heart and sheer determination. Gardner has spent his entire nine-year career with the Yankees which has seen him win a World Series Titles along with one All-Star appearance. Gardner is a lifetime .264 hitter, and although that he doesn’t have the speed that he did earlier in his career to steal bases, he is still an above average defensive presence in left field for the Yankees.

The past few years have seen the Yankees flirt with dealing Gardner who is now 33-years of age as New York is looking to get younger. But the only way that I see this scenario playing out where Gardner is trading during the off-season is if the Yankees are able to sign a free-agent outfielder such as Yoenis Cespedes which would make the veteran player expendable.

And if that’s the case I could see the Yankees trading Gardner to a litany of teams as they would more than likely be looking for some help to their pitching staff in return.

Andrew McCutchen-Outfielder-Pittsburgh Pirates

Andrew McCutchen

As the Pittsburgh Pirates have returned to respectability, outfielder Andrew McCutchen has become the face of that movement. McCutchen was the 11th overall pick of the 2005 Major League Baseball Draft by the Pirates, and by 2009, he was ready for his debut. In 2013, McCutchen helped the Pirates reach the postseason for the first time since 1992, and his .317 batting average, to go along with 21 home runs, 84 runs batted in, and 27 stolen bases were good enough for him to be named as the National League’s MVP. McCutchen is a five-time All-Star, but he had a down year in 2016 as he only batted .256 and you have to wonder at the age of 30 if his productivity is set to decline?

I equate McCutchen’s numbers in 2016 to that of simply a down year for both he and the Pirates. But if the Pirates are serious in trading the former National League MVP, there will be plenty of teams that would be interested in his services.

Brian Dozier-Second Baseman-Minnesota Twins

The past six years have seen the Minnesota Twins be one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball which included them losing 103 games this past season. But one bright spots for the Twins over the last few years has been the emergence of second baseman Brian Dozier.

In each of Dozier’s six seasons, his productivity has increased which saw him hit 42 home runs this past season.

Brian Dozier

Dozier isn’t scheduled to become a free agent until 2019 and it is hard to believe that the Twins will be a legitimate contender before then. And as the Twins are in need of an injection of talent, a trade of Dozier could bring back some quality prospects for their minor-league system. I do expect to see teams such as the Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Toronto Blue Jays show interest in Dozier if he is made available by the Twins.

Carlos Gonzalez-Outfielder-Colorado Rockies

The thin air of the Rocky Mountain region allows the Colorado Rockies to consistently have one of the best offenses in Major League Baseball with one of the prime examples of that being outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. Gonzalez has spent the last eight seasons with the Rockies which was highlighted by him hitting 40 home runs in 2015. This past season Gonzalez batted .298 with 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in.

But as good as Gonzalez’s production has been, he is not going to get the Rockies any closer to being a contender being that their pitching staff continuously struggles as their 4.91 team earned run average was 13th in the National League this past season.

Carlos Gonzalez

Gonzalez just turned 31-years of age last month, and he is set to earn $20 million next season in the final year of his contract. I doubt that you’ll see Gonzalez re-sign with Colorado once his deal is up which means that it is prudent for the Rockies to attempt to trade him now in order to get some value back for him.

Unlike other players on this list, I don’t see Gonzalez getting traded over the winter due to his contract. However if the Rockies fall out of contention next season, you can expect to hear Gonzalez’s name in trade talks leading up to the trade deadline as there will be interested teams even if they know that he could only be a rental.

Joe Mauer-First Baseman-Minnesota Twins

Joe Mauer

The offensive skills of Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer have declined rather rapidly ever since he was named as the American League’s MVP in 2009. That year saw Mauer bat .365 with 28 home runs and 96 runs batted in, but he hasn’t come close to that production in recent years as he only batted .261 with 11 homers and 49 runs batted in this past season.

Mauer is a fan favorite in the Twin Cities being that he was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. But baseball is a business and if the Twins could find a way to deal Mauer, they might think about it. Mauer is 33 years of age with $46 million remaining on his contract over the next two years. And a change of scenery to a contending team could be just what the doctor ordered for Mauer to resurrect his career.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The First Of Many

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Kris Bryant

When the Chicago Cubs made third baseman Kris Bryant the second overall pick of the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft, they hoped that he would develop into a star, but even they could not have imagined what would happen so soon. Bryant made his MLB debut in 2015, and in 151 games he batted .275 with 26 home runs and 99 runs batted in to be named as the National League’s Rookie of the Year. Bryant’s stellar rookie campaign was a part of the Cubs turnaround in 2015 that saw them make their first postseason appearance since 2008, and their first trip to the NLCS since 2003. Bryant would follow his solid rookie campaign up with another stellar performance here in 2016 as he batted .292 with 39 home runs and 102 runs batted in. Chicago finished 2016 with the best record in Major League Baseball and Bryant would go on to help the Cubs win their first World Series Championship last month since 1908 as he was named N.L. MVP. It’s scary good for Bryant as he’s only 24-years of age as he’ll never have to buy another drink with the Chicago city limits, while his nod to be the N.L. MVP is more than likely the first of many.

The Cubs fan base has waiting for a very long time to get behind a player like Bryant. The Cubs have had talented players suit up for them over the years such as Andre Dawson and Sammy Sosa. But neither Dawson or Sosa were homegrown talents. The Cubs have also had their fair share of players come up through their system that had a ton of hype attached to them, only to fizzle out under the pressure, while Bryant has never run from the spotlight as he has embraced it.

Now the sky is the limit for Bryant as he has helped to deliver to World Series Title to an organization that had written the book on championship droughts. Bryant is in line to become the Cubs best third baseman since Ron Santo, while he has the potential to own the City of Chicago due to his athletic ability and boyish good looks as he is on pace to rewrite the franchise’s offensive record book.

It’s tough to pencil a player in to be a future Hall of Famer at the age of 24, but if Bryant is able to maintain the pace that he’s currently on for the next decade, he’ll be on the fast track to Cooperstown.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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