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From 1996-2009, the New York Yankees were at the top of the mountain in Major League Baseball. The Yankees won five World Series Championships which was more than any other club over that stretch. And when it was all said and done, the Yankees had 27 World Series Titles which is more than any other MLB club. But since then the Yankees have a taken a step back which includes missing the playoffs in three of the last four years. However in the early stage of the 2017 MLB season, the Yanks are showing that they are once again a force to be reckoned with.

Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge

The Yankees record of 21-11 is good enough to lead most divisions in Major League Baseball, but not the American League East as they are 1.5-games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the top spot and they have the second best winning percentage in baseball. After beginning the season with a record of 1-4, New York has gone on to win seven of their last nine series which included sweeps of the Tampa Bay Rays, St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs. The sweep of the Cubs put the rest of MLB on notice in regards to the Yankees as the Cubbies are the defending World Series Champions, and this occurred at their home ballpark of Wrigley Field. And although that it is only May, the folks in New York City are beginning to envision seeing this team make it to October.

Brian Cashman

At the request of Yankees owners Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, team general manager Brian Cashman has not been as active in free agency over the past few winters as New York has begun to focus on trading veteran players for prospects, while developing them in their system along with the ones whom they drafted.

We’ve begun to see these youngsters take flight for the Yankees and it began late last season with the emergence of catcher Gary Sanchez. Last year in just 53 games, Sanchez batted .299 with 20 home runs and 42 runs batted in to finish second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. This season injuries have limited Sanchez to just 11 games, but he is expected to once again be a force to be reckoned with. Outfielder Aaron Judge made his Major League Baseball debut last year as he was only able to bat .179 in 27 games. However this season Judge has also been the jury and execution for New York as his 13 home runs lead the American League and he is a solid candidate to be named A.L. MVP.

The Yankees also have a surplus of talent in their minor league system that could soon be ready to help the big club. Pitcher Ben Heller outfielder Clint Frazier were a part of the Yankees compensation that they received for sending relief pitcher Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians last year. And like Sanchez and Judge, Frazier and Heller have the potential to be future building blocks for the Yankees. But aside from the youngsters, the Yankees are getting solid contributions from the veterans in their lineup.

Jacoby Ellsbury

After the Yankees signed outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury from the rival Red Sox, they have not gotten their money’s worth. Ellsbury helped Boston win the World Series in 2013, and he cashed in when he joined the Yanks to the tune of $153 million over seven years immediately following that. Ellsbury was supposed to be a table setter for the Yankees, but his first three years in New York saw him have a batting average of only .265, with an on-base percentage of .328. And this was on the heels of Ellsbury swiping 52 bases in 2013 which led the American League.

However this season Ellsbury is batting .280 to go along with an on-base percentage of .368 which is his best while wearing Yankee pinstripes and he has been a spark for them in their lineup.

Last year the Yankees acquired second baseman Starlin Castro from the Cubs. Castro enjoyed a solid first season with the Yankees as he batted .270 with 21 homers and 70 runs batted in. But here in 2017, Castro is off to a blazing start as his .351 batting average is second in the American League and his presence at the plate has given New York more depth.

Overall the offense of the Yankees is fierce as they are leading the American League in home runs (52), runs (182), and on-base percentage (.356). Cashman has put together a solid offense together, and even though that he wasn’t very active in free agency, he did make a key signing in picking up veteran outfielder Matt Holliday.

Holliday has always been a solid player which has seen him be a seven-time All-Star, while also helping the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series in 2011. Holliday is 37-years of age, but he is off to a solid start at the plate as he is batting .286 with 6 home runs and 19 runs batted in. I expect Yankees manager Joe Girardi to give Holliday some time at designated hitter throughout the season in order to keep him fresh as having a veteran like him in the lineup as much as possible will be very beneficial to the club.

Coming into the 2017 Major League Baseball season I expected the Yankees pitching to be either feast of famine, and so far they have feasted. The Yankees team earned run average of 3.56 is third in the American League as they are receiving solid starting pitching.

Starting pitcher Michael Pineda has been the ultimate wild card for the Yankees throughout his career with them. But with Pineda scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season, he has been dialed in on the mound. Pineda is 3-2 this season with an earned run average of 3.27, while striking out 50 batters. The same can be said for starting pitcher Luis Severino who is 2-2 this season with an earned run average of 3.40. This past Sunday, Severino got a no-decision against the Cubs, but he was still able to limit their potent lineup to just a single run over seven innings, while striking out nine batters.

At 36-yeas of age, veteran starting pitcher CC Sabathia might not be in the running to win the American League’s Cy Young Award like he was earlier in his career, but he knows how to pitch. Sabathia is 2-2 this season with an earned run average of 5.77. And whatever that Sabathia can’t do when he takes the mound every fifth day for the Yanks, he can pass on his knowledge of the game to the youngsters.

Arm issues along with Major League Baseball hitters getting adjusted to starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka have meant that he has had to change his approach on the mound. Tanaka does have 5 victories so far this season, be he has benefited from the strong Yankees lineup as he is sporting an earned run average of 4.31.

Prior to trading relief pitchers Miller and Aroldis Chapman last year, the Yankees had the best bullpen in baseball. But after the trade that sent Miller to the Indians, along with the deal which sent Chapman to the Cubs, New York’s bullpen struggled as relief pitcher Dellin Betances was unable to shoulder the load. However with the Yankees bringing Chapman back in free agency, he is once again locking down the ninth inning as Betances is setting things up for him in the eighth. Chapman already has 7 saves this season, while Betances has 6 holds, and this combo will be vital in order for the Yankees to keep doing damage this season.

The Yankees are going to continue to hit this season as they have one of the best lineups in baseball. However it will come down to pitching in order for the Yankees to get back to the postseason. During the off-season Cashman avoided the temptation of giving up prospects to obtain the services of starting pitcher Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox as he eventually was traded to the Red Sox. But regardless of whether or not that the Yankees current starting rotation which has had issues in recent years as far as staying healthy and pitching deep into games will be able to hold up, New York is going to need another frontline starter in order to be legitimate contenders for the World Series.

The American League East will once again be fierce as the Yankees are currently battling for the top spot in the division with the Orioles, while the Red Sox are laying in the weeds. The Rays might not have a playoff caliber team on paper, but they always play their divisional foes tough. And although that the Toronto Blue Jays have gotten off to a slow start, they are not out of the mix, while they can also play spoiler.

Coming into this Major League Baseball season, all of the talk in the Big Apple was focused on the New York Mets who have the sizzle, but through nearly six weeks it has been the Yankees who’ve been taking care of business. And although that the youngsters such as Judge and Sanchez are still wet behind the ears, it hasn’t prevented them from becoming household names in New York City as 2017 is setting up to be a very promising year for them and their teammates with the Yankees.

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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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!!!!!!

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Brian McCann

In November 2013, the New York Yankees signed catcher Brian McCann to a five-year deal for $85 million. The Yankees signed McCann for his ability to call games behind the plate, along with the fact that he possessed a quality bat. In nearly three years with the Yankees, McCann is only batting .233, and although that he is owed $34 million over the next two years, he could become expendable.

After rookie catcher Gary Sanchez appeared in two games for the Yankees last year, while appearing for a cup of coffee on May 13, he got called up once again last month. But it didn’t take Sanchez that long to become a household name around the Big Apple as from August 10-27, he became a one-man wrecking crew for the Yanks. Over that stretch Sanchez hit 11 home runs and in the process re-ignited some life into a fan base that was ready to mail it in for 2016. At just 23-years of age, Sanchez has been getting the bulk of the time behind home plate for New York over the last few weeks and you have to wonder if the organization is ready to commit to him as their backstop of the future?

Gary Sanchez

Sanchez’s ability saw the Yankees part with catcher John Ryan Murphy over the winter as he became the organization’s heir apparent behind the plate. Sanchez doesn’t have the experience as of yet, but what he does represent is a much cheaper option for the Yankees who would love to get under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million. As of now the Yankees have $127.7 million committed to player salaries for next season which includes the $17 million that is owed to McCann.

I’m not around McCann, but I am sure that the competitor in him doesn’t want to look over his shoulder as he’ll be fighting for playing time with a young stud such as Sanchez. And for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, he can really come out of this situation smelling like a rose if he plays his card right.

The past six weeks have seen the Yanks do a solid job of re-stocking their minor-league system as they traded relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs, relief pitcher Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians, and outfielder Carlos Beltran to the Texas Rangers. The trades saw the Yankees receive minor league prospects such as pitcher Justus Sheffield and outfielder Clint Frazier, while they’ve recently called up prospects in their own system such as Sanchez and outfielder Aaron Judge. The Yankees front office sees the current direction of Major League Baseball as more than ever there is a youth movement. And New York is seeking to stock pile as many young prospects as possible to either build around, or to use in order to obtain an All-Star caliber player through a trade.

A potential trade of McCann could see the Yankees shed some salary, while also getting some more prospects in return as he is a veteran catcher that knows how to work with a pitching staff, and he also brings intangibles to the table such as being a good “framer” of pitches which is becoming a growing quality for catchers to have. However the Yankees always have the option to keep McCann in the fold in order to groom McCann, but it could cause a media firestorm in New York City.

Brian Cashman

With Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings set to take place this December in Washington D.C., Cashman could be a hot commodity as teams will be in process of re-tooling their rosters and a veteran catcher like McCann could become very enticing.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The New Nasty Boys

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The law firm of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller will make the New York Yankees tough to score runs on in late inning situations in 2016.

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A Quiet Surge

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For their existence the New York Yankees have been one of the most storied franchises in all of professional sports. The Yankees have won 27 World Series Championships which is by far the gold standard in Major League Baseball. The Yankees have had a who’s who of Baseball Hall of Famers such as Babe Ruth and Yogi Berra suit up for them while they’ve also been romanticized in film as well. The Yankees have also had no problem with being front page news as they play in the world’s biggest media market. Former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner once equated owning the team to having the Mona Lisa due to the fact that it is very rare which makes this year’s edition of the Bronx Bombers very intriguing.

From 1995-2012, the Yankees only missed the postseason one time and over that stretch as they enjoyed five World Series Championships in seven appearances in the Fall Classic. But the past two seasons have resulted in the Yankees watching the playoffs from home. We didn’t know what to expect from the Yankees in 2015, but they appear to have found their groove this summer.

http://www.todaysknuckleball.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Yankees-Fist-Bump-400x240.jpgAs the month of July is winding down, the Yankees have a record of 54-42 which is good for the top spot in the American League East. The Yanks have an 12-game lead in the AL East over their arch-rival in the Boston Red Sox while they swept a three-game series this week from the Baltimore Orioles to put them seven games back which might be too much for them to recover from. The Toronto Blue Jays are in second place in the division as they are 5.5 games behind the Yankees who are keeping all of the teams within the AL East at a distance and they’ve done it without much fanfare.

The Yankees didn’t have one starter elected to this month’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game and in spite of the fact that they are in first place in the AL East, they’ve flown under the radar which is rather surprising as they typically have been an organization that garners a ton of media attention.

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Joe Girardi

This is the first season since 1994 in which the Yankees don’t have shortstop Derek Jeter in the lineup. The Yankees came into this season with many questions and uncertainties about their team. But under manager Joe Girardi, the Yankees are showing that actions speak louder than words. On May 24, the Yankees had finished a stretch where they had lost 10 of 11 games and their record was 22-22. The Yanks were in second place in the AL East and they were searching for answers as they were trying to find themselves, but since then they’ve been in a strong groove and it has been the veterans on this club that are answering the bell.

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Alex Rodriguez

After being suspended for the entire 2014 MLB season as the result of performance-enhancing drugs, Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez came into this season with something to prove. At first the Yankees wanted nothing to do with Rodriguez as they were looking to get rid of him as they felt that he was an embarrassment to their organization. But A-Rod has been one of the Yankees best players this season as he is batting .277 with 23 home runs and 58 runs batted in. Rodriguez is doing this in the twilight of his career as he’ll be 40-years old on Monday and he’s attempting to show that he is clean along with proving that he has the ability to still be one of the better power hitters in the game of baseball. Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira entered 2015 coming off of consecutive subpar seasons. But Teixeira changed his diet as he is now gluten free and at the age of 35, he is still a productive player for the Yanks. Teixeira might not be a .300 hitter like he was at one point during his MLB career, but he is tied for fourth in the American League in home runs with 24, and he’s second in runs batted in with 65 as he and A-Rod have provided the pop in the middle of New York’s lineup. Outfielder Brett Gardner is enjoying one of the best seasons of his MLB career as he is batting a career best .293 with a .370 on-base percentage. And because of this Gardner would go on to be named to his MLB All-Star Game earlier this month. Now that outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury has returned from the disabled list, the Yankees have their leadoff man and table setter as their lineup in rounding out.

Pitching wise, the Yankees team earned run average of is one of the highest in the American League as they’re 11th in the category at 3.95, but they continue to crank out wins. Starting pitchers Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, and Nathan Eovaldi have all had their fair share of ups and downs this season, but Sabathia is the only one that currently has a losing record. Pineda has shown flashes of potentially developing into an ace, but he still needs to put it together consistently while Tanaka has been able to shake off the words of his detractors that say that he is destined for Tommy John surgery due to his elbow problems. Tanaka is 7-3 with earned run average of 3.64 in 13 starts this season.

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Andrew Miller

But wherever the Yankees starting rotation has been unable to hold their own this season, the bullpen has picked up the slack. Relief pitchers Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances each have the ability to be a closer for Girardi, but it is Miller that gets the ball in the ninth inning as he has 23 saves this season.

The ups and downs of the Yankees this season and the fact that this isn’t you’re typical “murderers row” type team that we’re accustomed to seeing from them has allowed them to go a bit unnoticed this season. Under the control of team owners Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, these Yankees don’t consistently spend the big bucks on players like they did when the team was being run by their father George, but one stroke of the pen can always change that. And if the Steinbrenners give Yankees general manager Brian Cashman the okay, this team will be a player on the trade market. With what the Yankees currently have on their team, they’ll be in the hunt to win the American League East, but a trade for another starting pitcher, middle reliever, or quality bat could be the difference in them merely making the playoffs and hoisting the World Series Championship Trophy this October. And regardless of what this current Yankees roster looks like, they’ll still be must-see TV if they can make it to October.

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Boom Or Bust Time For The Yankees

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Free agency in Major League Baseball is set to begin and the next few months will be a very important stretch for all teams, but especially in regards to the New York Yankees. For the first time since the early 1990’s, the Yankees have failed to qualify for the playoffs in consecutive years. In fact the 84-win season that the Yankees are coming off of is their lowest win total in a non-strike shortened season since 1992 when they only won 76 games. New York has several holes on their team that must be addressed and it is up to Yankee owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner along with team general manager Brian Cashman to execute a plan of attack that will get the team back to the postseason.

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Hal Steinbrenner

The Yankees payroll of $208 million last season was the second highest in MLB, but a ton of that money was given to veteran players that were mainly injured or who are past their prime. 34-year old starting pitcher CC Sabathia earned $23 million last season. But knee problems relegated him to only making a handful of starts as he was 3-4 with a 5.28 earned run average. For 2015, Sabathia is once again set to earn $23 million and the Yankees can no longer rely on him being a guy that is going to give them 200 innings every season. Last winter there was a huge bidding war for Japanese born starting pitcher Mazahiro Tanaka. The Yankees won out as they signed the Japanese phenom to a seven-year, $155 million contract. Tanaka was as good as advertised as through July 3, he was 12-3 with a 2.27 earned run average and he was in the running to win the American League Cy Young Award. But elbow problems forced Tanaka to miss two months of the season and the injury that he suffered injury smells of a potential Tommy John procedure. This past season Tanaka earned $22 million and he is set for the same number in 2015. Since hitting 39 home runs in 2011, the production of Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira has regressed. Teixeira only batted .216 with 22 homers and 62 runs batted in this past season. Teixeira is set to earn $22.5 million next season. Last off-season, the Yankees signed designated hitter Carlos Beltran to a three-year deal worth $45 million. At 37-years of age, Beltran is not the player that he once was which was evident by his career lows in batting average (.233), home runs (15), and runs batted in (49).

Then there is the case of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez was suspended for the entire 2014 MLB season due to his multiple infractions in regards to his usage of performance enhancing drugs. Rodriguez is 39-years old and his baseball skills have greatly diminished. Rodriguez is set to earn $21 million dollars next season and for the Yankees it appears that they have “dead money” on their hands with him.

Already the Yankees have $144.6 million committed to next year’s payroll and in spite of the Steinbreener’s publicly refusing to surpass the $189 million threshold, they will give Cashman the Neiman Marcus card in order to improve this team over the winter because they want and need to return to the role of being contenders.

The Yankees have a glaring hole at shortstop as they need to replace the retired Derek Jeter. Guys like Jeter don’t come along everyday and Cashman will have his hands full in replacing him. Hanley Ramirez is the most attractive shortstop on the free-agent market. Ramirez will be 31-years of age next month and with declining defensive skills, he could be a risk for the Yankees at shortstop. There have been “internet” rumors surfacing about Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki seeking to be traded out of Denver and that rumor grew legs when he was spotted in the stands at Yankee Stadium last summer. Tulowitzki is under contract through 2021 and he is still owed $129 million. Tulowitzki has not appeared in at least 140 regular season games since 2011 and like Ramirez, the Yankees could be taking a risk in acquiring him.

The Yankees could be in the market for some more depth in the outfield and with the Baltimore Orioles recently declining to pick up the option for outfielder Nick Markakis, he makes total sense as someone that the Bronx Bombers should pursue this winter. Last season Markakis batted .276 with 14 homers and 50 runs batted in. But Markakis’ biggest contribution came on defense as he won his second Gold Glove Award in helping the Orioles win their first American League East Title since 1997. If the Yankees are willing to go after Markakis, he would join a pretty good defensive outfield in the Bronx with Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner.

But the name of the game in baseball is pitching as it is the deciding factor in winning championships. The Yanks team earned run average of 3.75 this past season was eighth in the AL and with question marks surrounding the health of Tanaka, Sabathia, and starting pitcher Ivan Nova who is coming off of Tommy John surgery , it is time for the Steinbrenners to open up their illustrious vault. This year’s crop of free agent starting pitchers will be highlighted by James Shields, Max Scherzer, and Jon Lester as the Yankees will need to sign at least one of those players. Shields will turn 33-years old next month, but he is coming off of a year in which he helped the Kansas City Royals reach the World Series for the first time since 1985. In the last eight seasons, Shields has thrown at least 200 innings in each year as he has been extremely durable. Scherzer is 30-years old and he won the AL Cy Young Award in 2013 as he went 21-3 with an earned run average of 2.90 to go along with 240 strikeouts for the Detroit Tigers. Scherzer is a power pitcher that the Yankees may go after, but Yankee Stadium historically has not been a pitcher’s park like Comerica Park is in Detroit. The Yankees are very familiar with Lester as he was a thorn in their sides during the last nine seasons with the Boston Red Sox. In nine seasons in MLB, Lester is 116-67 and he knows how to get it done it October as he helped the Sox win a pair of World Series Championships.

More than ever the time is now for the Yankees to strike as the American League East in 2015 could be there for the taking. Like the Yankees, the big-market Red Sox missed the playoffs this past season and they have already begun the process of re-tooling. After winning the AL East this past season, the Orioles have some key players that need to be re-signed and it still is not clear whether or not that they will be able to keep their team in tact. The Toronto Blue Jays still have a ton of questions in regards to their starting pitching rotation while the departure of manager Joe Maddon from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Chicago Cubs sent shock waves around Major League Baseball as he appeared to be the glue that kept Tampa Bays together as far as being a very formidable foe. The opportunity is there for the Yankees front office to make big things happen this winter.

Sources: Baseball-reference.com, Baseballprospectus.com

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