Boston Red Sox
2016: 93-69, first place, lost to Cleveland in ALDS.
Manager: John Farrell (fifth season).
He’s Here: LHP Chris Sale, RHP Tyler Thornburg, 1B Mitch Moreland.
He’s Outta Here: DH David Ortiz, 3B Travis Shaw, RHP Clay Buchholz, RHP Koji Uehara, RHP Junichi Tazawa, RHP Brad Ziegler, C Ryan Hanigan, C Bryan Holaday, 3B-2B Aaron Hill.
Projected Lineup: 2B Dustin Pedroia (.318, 15 HRs, 74 RBIs), LF Andrew Benintendi (.295, 2, 14 in 34 games), RF Mookie Betts (.318, 31, 113, All-Star), SS Xander Bogaerts (.294, 21, 89, All-Star), DH Hanley Ramirez (.286, 30, 111), CF Jackie Bradley (.267, 26, 87, All-Star), 3B Pablo Sandoval (.000, 0, 0 in 3 games before season-ending shoulder surgery; .245, 10, 47, .658 OPS, 126 games in 2015), 1B Mitch Moreland (.233, 22, 60, Gold Glove with Texas), C Sandy Leon (.310, 7, 35).
Rotation: RH Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.15 ERA, 189 Ks, AL Cy Young Award winner), LH Chris Sale (17-10, 3.34, 233 Ks, All-Star with White Sox), LH Eduardo Rodriguez (3-7, 4.71, 100 Ks), RH Steven Wright (13-6, 3.33, All-Star), LH Drew Pomeranz (11-12, 3.32, 186 Ks with Padres and Red Sox, NL All-Star; will start season on disabled list), LH David Price (17-9, 3.99, 228 Ks; likely to start season on disabled list with sore elbow).
Key Relievers: RH Craig Kimbrel (2-6, 3.40, 31/33 saves, All-Star), RH Tyler Thornburg (8-5, 2.15, 13 saves with Milwaukee), RH Joe Kelly (4-0, 5.18), RH Matt Barnes (4-3, 4.05, 66 2/3 IP).
Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. The Red Sox made offseason moves with an eye toward winning now, as opposed to down the road. Sale’s addition brings an instant boost, giving them a powerful 1-2-3 punch that includes Porcello and Price, the 2012 AL Cy Young winner. Sale’s presence should ease the pressure on Price – a serious injury concern as he begins his second season in Boston. Pomeranz will start the year on the 10-day disabled list with a left forearm flexor strain. In the bullpen, Thornburg is expected to provide stability as a setup man for Kimbrel. But success could be contingent on health, with Price unable to pitch during spring training and Thornburg working his way back from a shoulder issue.
Outlook: It will take a while to get used to life without Ortiz, but Boston’s young core of Betts, Bradley and Bogaerts certainly puts the Red Sox among the early favorites in the American League. How far they go will depend upon how well the new-look rotation performs, how Sandoval looks after sitting out nearly all of last season, and whether the lineup remains as potent without Big Papi’s game-changing left-handed bat.
Toronto Blue Jays
2016: 89-73, tied for second place, wild card, lost to Cleveland in ALCS.
Manager: John Gibbons (fifth season).
He’s Here: DH Kendrys Morales, INF-OF Steve Pearce, LHP J.P. Howell, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, RHP Joe Smith, RHP Mat Latos, INF-OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., RHP Glenn Sparkman.
He’s Outta Here: 1B-DH Edwin Encarnacion, OF Michael Saunders, LHP Brett Cecil, RHP Joaquin Benoit, RHP R.A. Dickey, RHP Scott Feldman, C Dioner Navarro, C Josh Thole.
Projected Lineup: 2B Devon Travis (.300, 11 HRs, 50 RBIs in 101 games), 3B Josh Donaldson (.284, 37, 99), RF Jose Bautista (.234, 22, 69 in 116 games), DH Kendrys Morales (.263, 30, 93 with Kansas City), SS Troy Tulowitzki (.254, 24, 79), LF Steve Pearce (.288, 13, 35 in 85 games with Baltimore and Tampa Bay), C Russell Martin (.231, 20, 74), 1B Justin Smoak (.217, 14, 34), CF Kevin Pillar (.266, 7, 53).
Rotation: RH Aaron Sanchez (15-2, AL-leading 3.00 ERA), LH J.A Happ (20-4, 3.18), RH Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48), RH Marcus Stroman (9-10, 4.37), LH Francisco Liriano (8-13, 4.69 with Pittsburgh and Toronto).
Key Relievers: RH Roberto Osuna (4-3, 2.68, 36/42 saves), RH Jason Grilli (7-6, 4.12 with Atlanta and Toronto), LH J.P. Howell (1-1, 4.09 with Dodgers), RH Joe Smith (2-5, 3.46 with Angels and Cubs), RH Joe Biagini (4-3, 3.06).
Hot Spots: First Base and Left Field. Pearce was on a throwing program this spring after right elbow surgery last September but seems set to start the season in left field, making the switch-hitting Smoak a regular at first base. If Smoak struggles, Pearce will likely move in to replace him, leaving Toronto with an offensively challenged platoon of Melvin Upton Jr. and Ezequiel Carrera in left. While Pearce is expected to provide some pop at either position, all the other players in this equation are inconsistent hitters at best.
Outlook: After losing in the ALCS each of the past two seasons, Toronto hopes to take the next step in 2017 and reach its first World Series since 1993, when Joe Carter’s home run gave the Blue Jays the second of back-to-back titles. To get to the Fall Classic, Toronto will have to overcome the loss of Encarnacion, the slugger who signed with AL champion Cleveland. The Blue Jays will hope for a bounce-back year from Bautista, hobbled by foot and knee injuries last season, and a power boost from Morales as he moves into hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. Toronto has reason to feel good about its rotation, arguably one of the strongest in the American League, but doesn’t have much depth should any of its projected starters go down with an injury. Despite struggling for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, the young Osuna is a dependable anchor at the back of the bullpen.
2016: 89-73, tied for second place, lost wild-card game to Toronto.
Manager: Buck Showalter (eighth season).
He’s Here: C Welington Castillo, OF Seth Smith, RHP Logan Verrett, OF Aneury Tavarez, OF Anthony Santander, RHP Gabriel Ynoa, RHP Alec Asher.
He’s Outta Here: C Matt Wieters, RHP Yovani Gallardo, OF Steve Pearce, LHP Brian Duensing, OF Nolan Reimold, RHP Vance Worley, RHP Tommy Hunter, OF Drew Stubbs, LHP T.J. McFarland.
Projected Lineup: LF Hyun Soo Kim (.302, 6 HRs, 22 RBIs), CF Adam Jones (.265, 29, 83), 3B Manny Machado (.294, 37, 96), 1B Chris Davis (.221, 38, 84, MLB-high 219 Ks), DH Mark Trumbo (.256, MLB-best 47 HRs, 108), RF Seth Smith (.249, 16, 63 with Seattle), 2B Jonathan Schoop (.267, 25, 82), C Welington Castillo (.264, 14, 68 with Arizona), SS J.J. Hardy (.269, 9, 48).
Rotation: RH Kevin Gausman (9-12, 3.61 ERA, 174Ks), RH Dylan Bundy (10-6, 4.02, 104 Ks), RH Ubaldo Jimenez (8-12, 5.44, 125 Ks), LH Wade Miley (2-5, 6.17 with Orioles; 7-8, 4.98 with Seattle), RH Tyler Wilson (4-6, 5.27).
Key Relievers: LH Zach Britton (2-1, 0.54, 47/47 saves), RH Brad Brach (10-4, 2.05, 2 saves), RH Darren O'Day (3-1, 3.77, 3 saves), RH Oliver Drake (1-0, 4.00), LH Donnie Hart (0-0, 0.49).
Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. Right-hander Chris Tillman, the opening day starter in 2015 and 2016, developed a shoulder issue in spring training and will begin the season the disabled list. That’s a bad omen for a rotation with several question marks and not much depth. The Orioles are ready to take the shackles off Gausman and Bundy (both drafted No. 4 overall) after closely monitoring their innings, but can they handle the pressure of working atop the rotation? Jimenez has been hot and cold the past few seasons, and Miley offered little help after being acquired late last season specifically for the stretch run.
Outlook: The Orioles intend to once again pound the opposition into submission, hoping their power-laden lineup is enough to overcome a questionable starting rotation. That’s why Executive VP of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette brought back Trumbo and paid heavily to retain Davis one year earlier. Five starters hit at least 25 homers last season for a team that earned a playoff berth for the third time in five years. The theory is that the ascension of Kim to the leadoff spot and the acquisition of Smith will improve the team’s ability to put runners on base ahead of those long balls. If the starters can keep the Orioles in the game through six or seven innings, the formidable bullpen should be able to finish up nicely. Showalter puts a high priority on defense, which is why Smith was brought in to play right field instead of Trumbo, whose strong suit is definitely swinging the bat.
New York Yankees
2016: 84-78, fourth place.
Manager: Joe Girardi (10th season).
He’s Here: LHP Aroldis Chapman, DH-OF Matt Holliday, DH-1B Chris Carter, RHP Ernesto Frieri, INF Ruben Tejada, C Wilkin Castillo, INF Pete Kozma.
He’s Outta Here: 1B Mark Teixeira, C Brian McCann, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, RHP Kirby Yates, RHP Nick Goody, INF Dustin Ackley, DH Billy Butler, OF Eric Young Jr.
Projected Lineup: LF Brett Gardner (.261, 7 HRs, 41 RBIs, 16 SBs), C Gary Sanchez (.299, 20, 42 in 53 games), 1B Greg Bird (missed last season following shoulder surgery; .261, 11, 31, .871 OPS in 46 games in 2015), DH-OF Matt Holliday (.246, 20, 62 with Cardinals) or DH-1B Chris Carter (.222, 41, 94, NL-high 206 Ks in 160 games with Milwaukee), CF Jacoby Ellsbury (.263, 9, 56, 20 SBs), 2B Starlin Castro (.270, 21, 70), 3B Chase Headley (.251, 14, 51), RF Aaron Judge (.179, 4, 10, 42 Ks, 84 ABs in 27 games), SS Ronald Torreyes (.258, 1, 12).
Rotation: RH Masahiro Tanaka (14-4, 3.07 ERA, 165 Ks), RH Michael Pineda (6-12, 4.82, 207 Ks), LH CC Sabathia (9-12, 3.91), RH Luis Severino (3-8, 5.83), RH Bryan Mitchell (1-2, 3.24 in 5 games) or LH Jordan Montgomery (14-5, 2.13 at Double-A and Triple-A).
Key Relievers: LH Aroldis Chapman (4-1, 1.55, 36/39 saves for Yankees and Cubs), RH Dellin Betances (3-6, 3.08, 12/17 saves), RH Tyler Clippard (2-3, 2.49 for Diamondbacks and Yankees), RH Adam Warren (7-4, 4.68 for Cubs and Yankees), LH Tommy Layne (2-1, 3.63 for Red Sox and Yankees), LH Chasen Shreve (2-1, 5.18, 1 save in 37 games).
Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. The Yankees entered spring training with two open spots, and the inconsistent Severino will get another chance to start after an impressive debut in 2015. A fifth starter isn’t needed until mid-April, so Mitchell will begin the season in the bullpen. He missed most of 2016 with a toe injury. The 24-year-old Montgomery was still in the mix and could get a quick call-up. Tanaka has remained healthy and sharp all spring, but the hefty Sabathia is always a concern and Pineda’s inconsistency has puzzled the Yankees.
Outlook: With starting shortstop Didi Gregorius (.276, 20, 70) expected to miss the first month of the season with a shoulder injury, Torreyes figures to fill in. A team in transition, the Yankees plan to start three young players in Sanchez, Bird and Judge and await the emergence of top prospects Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, James Kaprielian and Gleyber Torres. Holliday should provide more offense than Alex Rodriguez did before his August release last year. After his hot start, Sanchez cooled in late September and must show he can adjust when pitchers pound his weak spot. Judge must cut down on his strikeouts and Bird needs to establish himself as an everyday player after missing all of 2016.
Tampa Bay Rays
2016: 68-94, fifth place.
Manager: Kevin Cash (third season).
He’s Here: C Wilson Ramos, OF Colby Rasmus, OF Mallex Smith, OF Peter Bourjos, C Derek Norris, RHP Shawn Tolleson, RHP Tommy Hunter, RHP Jose De Leon, OF-INF Rickie Weeks, C Jesus Sucre.
He’s Outta Here: LHP Drew Smyly, 2B Logan Forsythe, RHP Kevin Jepsen, LHP Enny Romero, RHP Steve Geltz, INF Alexei Ramirez, OF Mikie Mahtook, INF-OF Taylor Motter.
Projected Lineup: 1B Logan Morrison (.238, 14 HRs, 43 RBIs in 107 games), CF Kevin Kiermaier (.246, 12, 37, 21 SBs, Gold Glove in 105 games), 3B Evan Longoria (.273, 36, 98), 2B Brad Miller (.243, 30, 81), DH Corey Dickerson (.245, 24, 70), LF Mallex Smith (.238, 3, 22, 16 SBs in 72 games with Atlanta), SS Tim Beckham (.247, 5, 16 in 64 games), RF Steven Souza Jr. (.247, 17, 49 in 120 games), C Derek Norris (.186, 14, 42 with Padres) or Wilson Ramos (.307, 22, 80 with Washington; will begin season on disabled list).
Rotation: RH Chris Archer (9-19, 4.02 ERA, 233 Ks in 201 1/3 innings), RH Alex Cobb (1-2, 8.59 in 5 starts), RH Jake Odorizzi (10-6, 3.69), LH Blake Snell (6-8, 3.54), RH Matt Andriese (8-8, 4.37).
Key Relievers: RH Alex Colome (2-4, 1.91, 37/40 saves), RH Tommy Hunter (2-2, 3.18 in 33 appearances with Cleveland and Baltimore), RH Erasmo Ramirez (7-11, 3.77, 2 saves), LH Xavier Cedeno (3-4, 2.70), RH Brad Boxberger (4-3, 4.81), RH Shawn Tolleson (2-2, 7.68 with Texas), LH Justin Marks (0-0, 1.00 in 4 appearances), RH Jumbo Diaz (1-1, 3.14 in 45 appearances with Cincinnati).
Hot Spot: Starting Rotation. The Rays thrive on pitching and defense, and neither was nearly as consistent a year ago as it was when Tampa Bay made the playoffs four times from 2008-13 under manager Joe Maddon. Any chance of re-emerging as a serious contender likely begins with Archer, a first-time All-Star two years ago who must rebound from losing 19 games in 2016. Cobb returned from Tommy John surgery late last season and is trying to regain the pre-injury form that had him on track to be the opening day starter in 2015. Odorizzi looks to build on a strong second half that bolstered his confidence, while Snell and Andriese are being counted on to show why management was comfortable with trading left-handers Matt Moore (last summer) and Drew Smyly (this winter).
Outlook: The Rays have missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons, but a budget-minded front office feels spending modestly in free agency to sign Ramos and Rasmus, trading for Smith and pitching prospect De Leon, and giving defensive whiz Kiermaier a six-year, $53.5 million contract will help the club escape the AL East cellar. A lingering question is whether Tampa Bay has done enough to improve the overall talent around team leader Longoria, especially since Ramos, Duffy and Boxberger figure to begin the season on the disabled list.