Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 AL East Predictions

Well Yankee family, it's that time of year again! Last year I did a prediction series where I went through each division, team by team, predicting what the end-of-the-year outcome would look like. I am hoping to have a little bit more success this season, as I only predicted one division, in it's entirety(NL East), correctly. If you didn't have a chance to read them, I had Boston, Kansas City, Houston, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco as the respective division winners, with Pittsburgh and New York representing the NL Wild Card teams and New York and Detroit representing the Wild Card squads for the AL. I should also note that I predicted Cleveland to take fourth place in the AL Central... So like I said, hoping for some better results this season.

We begin, as we did in 2016, with the best division in all of the game, including three teams that advanced to the 2016 postseason; the American League East. After witnessing one of the greatest final seasons from any single player in the history of our game, David Ortiz lead his Boston Red Sox to another division title. Surprisingly, they were treated to an early exit thanks to a three-game Division Series sweep at the hands of the eventual AL champs, the Cleaveland Indians. Honestly, you could easily see any one of these five teams representing the East, as this is one of the strongest and tightest divisions in the show. Will the East produce three playoff-bound teams yet again in 2017? Let's take a look.

5. Tampa Bay Rays

Starting pitching has always been a perennial strength of the Tampa Bay Rays. Despite having one of the top 10 SPs in all of baseball in Chris Archer, their once strength has transformed into one of the shake year rotations in the American League. Their next best starter outside of Archer, Drew Smyly, was shipped off to Seattle for a package of prospects. Alex Cobb is returning this season after missing all of 2016 due to injury. Jake Odorizzi, Matt Andriese and Blake Snell round out the end of Tampa's thin rotation. And Smyly was not the only big departure of the off-season. All-Star second baseman and Rays leadoff man Logan Forsythe was shipped to the Dodgers, forcing Tim Beckham and Corey Dickerson into a lefty/righty platoon  atop the batting order. James Loney, who was HUGE for the Fish when Logan Morrison went down, is in Texas now and Steve Pearce is playing north of the border. With so many subtractions and very few impactful additions, I don't see Tampa finishing anywhere other then at the bottom of the division.

4. Baltimore Orioles

The unofficial theme for this ball club in 2017 should be "feast or famine". After losing Matt Wieters to free agency, the O's acquired Wellington Castillo from the Diamondbacks. Which is like George Foreman having another child; it's just going to be another George. Castillo has the same " homerun or bust" hitting mentality as 2/3 of the rest of the Birds batting order(Trumbo, Davis, Alvarez, Hardy, Schoop). Even their bullpen, outside of Zach Britton, is unhittable one day and gives up 1.7 million runs the next. And as is perennially the case, Baltimore's starting pitching staff is a major concern. It will either be the unproven Kevin Gausman or the inconsistent and often injured Chris Tillman competing for the number one spot. After those two you have Dylan Bundy(the lone bright spot in the Orioles rotation), the not-so-good-anymore Ubaldo Jimenez and the simply awful Wade Miley to round it out. They will definitely need to hit the ball out of the ballpark in order to stay competitive in 2017. I just can't see a potent offense carrying a suspect starting pitching staff over the course of a 162 game season.

3. Toronto Blue Jays

A season after making their second consecutive trip to the postseason, Toronto lost maybe the most important player on their team to the Cleaveland Indians in free agency, Edwin and Encarnacion.  Left with the task to replace the gawdy numbers by the All-Star first baseman, the Jays signed Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce to fill the void. Pearce should help shore up the revolving door that is left field for Tarano and  Morales may end up as one of the more underrated signings of the winter. As for their pitching, staff ace Marcus Stroman got his '17 off to a great start by taking home MVP honors of the World Baseball Classic. J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez are coming off career-best seasons and are hoping to build off of them in 2017. To round it out, Toronto is hoping for much more than they received last season from their trade-deadline acquisition, Francisco Liriano. The only bugaboo for the Jays this season, and has been for the last few seasons, is the uncertainty of their bullpen. Despite representing the Dominican republic in the WBC, closer Roberto Osuna fell apart at the end of last season and has much to prove to get back into the conversation of elite closer. Though picked third, I fully anticipate Turano being in it until the very end.

2. New York Yankees

Yankee fans are finally going to get an idea of what a Brian Cashman team looks like. The seasoned GM has managed to keep his team relevant while almost completely overhauling the roster. Since the trade deadline from last year, Cashman has managed to obtain the second best farm system in all of baseball, with his gutsy moves like: Chapman for the number three overall prospect Gleyber Torres, Adam Warren and Billy McKinney, Miller for Clint Frazier(#27ovr), Justice Sheffield and two others,  Beltran for Dillon Tate,and even moving back stop Brian McCann this off-season for a couple of fireballers from Houston. And none of those names include the Yankees three most promising young stars Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Greg Bird. The latter Bird has had an incredible spring and has made the signing of 2016 NL homerun champ Chris Carter almost obsolete. Cashman also signed Matt Holliday this off-season for his electric right-handed bat and his invaluable clubhouse leadership. As for the pitching staff, Cashman inked Chapman to a record deal(5yr/$85M) to bring back the Cuban Missile to close for the boys in pinstripes. Tanaka had the best year of his Yankee career last season and can opt out of his contract at seasons end. Sabathia completely reinvented himself a season ago, sporting the lowest ERA he has had in pinstripes. And Sabathia said that he believes this is the year that Michael Pineda puts it all together and competes for a Cy Young award. Luis Severino has had a tremendous spring and has asserted himself as the number four starter for New York. With maybe the best bullpen in baseball and such a young, counted nucleus of players, the Yankees look to be in it for the long haul and should, at worst, be one of the two Wild Card teams in the American League.

1. Boston Red Sox

For The second consecutive season, I am going against my Yankee-loving gut and picking Boston to take the division in 2017. Boston made far an away the biggest splash of the off-season by acquiring the dominant lefty Chris Sale from the White Sox for a truckload of prospects, headed by the number one prospect in baseball, Johan Moncado. Sale is undoubtedly the most dominant left-handed starter in the American League, and is added to a staff that already includes the 2016 Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, former Cy Young Award winner David Price, and first-time All-Star in 2016 as well as one of the few remaining knuckleballer in baseball, Steven Wright. Additionally, with the unbelievable break out performances last year by the likes of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogarts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and number two overall prospect Andrew Benintendi, the Red Sox are poised to have as potent an offense as they did last year. Even with the loss of the retired David Ortiz, GM Dave Dombrowski brought in Mitch Moreland to shore up defensively the position at first base, as well as provide some much-needed left-handed power to their already deep lineup. The GM also upgraded the Open by trading third baseman Travis Shaw to Milwaukee for fireballer Tyler Thornburg. Thornburg, in conjunction with a full, healthy season for the hard throwing Carson Smith, should be more than enough to fill the void left by the departure of former closer Koji Uehara. They had a phenomenal 2016, and barring any major injuries, they look poised to go for it again in 2017.

 Let the debating begin.

The Final Days of Spring…

Although Spring does not officially end until Tuesday, June 20th, it is coming to an end for Major League Baseball.

Today is the final day off for the Yankees during the Spring Training schedule which concludes Friday at Sun Trust Park in Atlanta, GA, the new home for the Atlanta Braves.  After returning to Tampa after the Georgia trip, the Yankees will have an off day on Saturday before they embark on the bus trip down I-275 to St Peterburg to kick off the 2017 season next Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

This means there are only four exhibition games left to decide the future of the starting rotation or at least the one leads off the season.  Manager Joe Girardi has stated the team could skip the fifth spot in the rotation early in the regular schedule due to the number of planned days off. While the Yankees have two days off during the first week of the season, they’ll also need to push Masahiro Tanaka’s second start by a game to allow him to pitch the home opener at Yankee Stadium against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, April 10th.  This most likely means that both CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will make their second starts of the season on short rest.  

Prior to yesterday’s game against the Rays, the Yankees announced that they have released Jon Niese.  Niese was never under consideration for the starting rotation, but his release means that he is out for bullpen consideration.  This probably enhances the chances for reliever Ben Heller to make the Opening Day roster.  Heller has done a fine job this Spring and certainly deserving of the opportunity.  Ernesto Frieri hasn't shown me enough to warrant the creation of a spot on the 40-man roster.

It’s possible that Niese stays with the organization.  He’ll have a couple of days to see if he can find another major league opportunity or he could stay with the Yankees for extended spring training as he continues his rehabilitation from last year’s season-ending knee surgery.

This should be a very active week on the transactions wire.  There have already been a few opt-out’s like outfielder Drew Stubbs, formerly with the Minnesota Twins, and pitcher Ross Detweiler, formerly with the Oakland A’s.   Former Yankees outfielder Austin Jackson, who could have opted out, elected not to, a potential sign that he has made the Cleveland Indians roster in a bench role.  There will be much more activity in the coming days as teams begin their final cuts.  I am sure that there will be a surprise or two along the way.  Probably nothing that will bring help to the Yankees but there’s always the chance the team swings a minor trade to open up some room on the 40-man roster.  

I do not expect the Yankees to make a trade for a replacement shortstop to fill-in while Didi Gregorius is out.  I think they’ll go with the in-house options for now.  The question remains who but Tyler Wade or Pete Kozma seem like the most obvious choices (assuming the Yankees don’t slide Starlin Castro over from second).  Ronald Torreyes slots in only as a platoon at best.  I don’t see him as the full-time starter in any scenario.  But then again, I am not the manager of the team and stranger things have happened.

It has been reported that the Tampa Bay Rays have interest in Rob Refsnyder.  Although none of us really want to see Refsnyder go, it would be tough to watch him traded within the AL East  We’d then be reminded of the trade 19 times a year.  It could certainly be a trade that we’ll eventually regret.  

Aaron Hicks is turning up the heat on Aaron Judge in the fight for right field.  I still want and expect Judge to win the battle, but Hicks was the man of the day in yesterday’s 7-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Grapefruit League action.  He hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning and drove in a total of 3 RBI’s for the game.  Bryan Mitchell was the starter and winner, but it was a less than impressive outing for the young right-hander.  He went three innings, struggling in the third.  He allowed six hits and three runs, while walking two.  His struggles, combined with those of Adam Warren on Saturday, could very well open the door for Jordan Montgomery to snag a spot in the rotation.

With the win, the Yankees improved their Spring record to 22-7-1.

On Tuesday, Masahiro Tanaka will make his final Spring appearance at Steinbrenner Field against the Detroit Tigers as he tunes up for Opening Day.  Only Tiger batters stand between Tanaka and his impressive Spring 0.00 ERA.  Hit now or forever hold your peace.

Jordan Montgomery will start Wednesday, with Luis Severino slated for Thursday in their respective final auditions for the rotation.  The odds favor Severino if for no other reason than he is already on the 40-man roster.  But Montgomery is everyone’s sentimental favorite.  Cashman, make room!  

Have a great Monday!