2018 American League East preview

March 29, 2018 | Luke Jones

Below is a capsule of the five AL East clubs in their predicted order of finish:

1. BOSTON (2017 record: 93-69, first place)
Notable arrivals: DH/OF J.D. Martinez
Notable departures: SP Doug Fister, RP Addison Reed, OF Chris Young, RP Fernando Abad
Why to like them: Most teams dream of having a Chris Sale or David Price atop their rotation, but the Red Sox have both as well as former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and all-world closer Craig Kimbrel.
Why to dislike them:
Health is a concern with Dustin Pedroia beginning the season on the disabled list, Price needing to prove he’s over his elbow problems, and other pitchers currently ailing.
Player to watch:
Martinez was paid handsomely for his career year at the plate in 2017, but the Red Sox are counting on him to fill the void of David Ortiz, whom the lineup missed dearly last year.
2018 outlook (94-68):
The other AL East giant owned the winter spotlight, but Martinez’s power bat and a healthier version of Price will be the difference in what should be an outstanding divisional race.

2. NEW YORK (2017 record: 91-71, second place)
Notable arrivals:
OF Giancarlo Stanton, INF Neil Walker, INF Brandon Drury
Notable departures: 2B Starlin Castro, 3B Todd Frazier, DH Matt Holliday, SP Michael Pineda
Why to like them: A team that was one win away from going to the World Series added the reigning NL MVP (Stanton) and his 59 home runs to a lineup that led the majors in long balls in 2017.
Why to dislike them: Despite their daunting lineup and elite bullpen, the Yankees didn’t improve a rotation counting on Masahiro Tanaka to rebound and CC Sabathia to fight off Father Time again.
Player to watch: It’s easy to point to Stanton or Aaron Judge, but the 24-year-old Luis Severino building off his superb 2017 season would make the rest of the rotation look that much better.
2018 outlook (90-72, wild card): The youthful Yankees were ahead of schedule last year, but Joe Girardi’s exit can’t be overlooked and even Houston stubbed its toe in 2016 before winning it all in 2017.

3. BALTIMORE (2017 record: 75-87, fifth place)
Notable arrivals: SP Alex Cobb, SP Andrew Cashner, OF Colby Rasmus
Notable departures: C Welington Castillo, OF Seth Smith, SP Wade Miley, SP Ubaldo Jimenez
Why to like them: The lineup will still hit plenty of home runs and the bullpen still has enough firepower to protect late leads until Zach Britton is ready to return to action.
Why to dislike them: The additions of Cobb and Cashner will help, but the embarrassment of finishing with the worst starter ERA in baseball just isn’t forgotten — or fixed — overnight.
Player to watch: How Manny Machado handles the pressure of his pending free agency and the move to shortstop will significantly impact the Orioles’ fortunes — now or potentially for the future in a trade.
2018 outlook (82-80): The late arrival of Cobb offers a more plausible path to a wild-card spot, but a few too many variables must break right for a club facing substantial changes at season’s end.

4. TORONTO (2017 record: 76-86, fourth place)
Notable arrivals: OF Randal Grichuk, OF Curtis Granderson, SP Jaime Garcia, SS Aledmys Díaz
Notable departures: OF Jose Bautista, INF Ryan Goins, INF Darwin Barney, RP Tom Koehler
Why to like them: The Blue Jays aren’t that far removed from back-to-back ALCS appearances and still have a strong rotation that finished first in the AL in starter ERA in 2016.
Why to dislike them: The days of Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion anchoring a loaded lineup are long gone as former AL MVP Josh Donaldson doesn’t have nearly as much help these days.
Player to watch: The 25-year-old Aaron Sanchez looked to be on the verge of stardom before his 2017 season was derailed by recurring blister problems that limited him to eight starts.
2018 outlook (80-82): Like the Orioles, the Blue Jays have enough talent to make a run at a playoff spot if things go their way, but the lineup and bullpen won’t give the starting rotation enough help.

5. TAMPA BAY (2017 record: 80-82, third place)
Notable additions: 1B C.J. Cron, OF Carlos Gomez, OF Denard Span
Notable losses: 3B Evan Longoria, SP Alex Cobb, SP Jake Odorizzi, OF Corey Dickerson, OF Steven Souza, 1B Logan Morrison
Why to like them: Chris Archer, Blake Snell, and Jacob Faria still give the Rays enough upside in a starting rotation that should remain competitive despite the subtractions of Cobb and Odorizzi.
Why to dislike them: The long list of Rays’ departures says all you need to know about outside expectations for 2018, even if Tampa Bay’s front office proves to be geniuses with its maneuvering.
Player to watch: The 29-year-old Archer has posted back-to-back seasons with an ERA above 4.00, making one wonder if he needs the change of scenery so many former teammates received this winter.
2018 outlook (73-89): The projection systems are higher on this team than casual observers, but the Rays are relying too heavily on spare parts and youth to be able to seriously contend this season.