The American League East has been won by a club winning fewer than 95 games in each of the last two seasons, something that hadn’t happened since 2000 prior to that.
It’s a reflection of how competitive the division has been in recent years after a long period of time in which New York and Boston dominated at the top and the other three clubs languished. However, the Red Sox look like the favorite to finish in first place in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1915 and 1916 when Babe Ruth pitched at Fenway Park.
Below is a capsule of the five AL East clubs in their predicted order of finish:
1. BOSTON (2016 record: 93-69, first place)
Notable additions: SP Chris Sale, 1B Mitch Moreland, RP Tyler Thornburg
Notable losses: DH David Ortiz, RP Koji Uehara, RP Junichi Tazawa, INF Travis Shaw, RP Brad Ziegler
Why to like them: Already sporting the third-best starter ERA in the AL last year, the Red Sox added one of the game’s best pitchers in Sale to go along with the highest-scoring offense in the majors.
Why to dislike them: Starters David Price and Drew Pomeranz and Thornburg headline the list of current pitching injuries, which put more pressure on an offense that lost the incomparable Ortiz.
Player to watch: A trimmed-down and healthy Pablo Sandoval had a good spring and could help stabilize the hot corner for a lineup with very few holes elsewhere.
2017 outlook (92-70): Even with the current concerns in their rotation and the potential emotional hangover of no longer having Ortiz, the Red Sox still possess the most talent in the division.
2. TORONTO (2016 record: 89-73, tied for second place)
Notable additions: DH/1B Kendrys Morales, 1B/OF Steve Pearce, RP Joe Smith, RP J.P. Howell
Notable losses: DH/1B Edwin Encarnacion, OF Michael Saunders, RP Brett Cecil, RP Joaquin Benoit, SP R.A. Dickey
Why to like them: The Blue Jays finished first in the AL in starter ERA in 2016 with both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman having the potential to be even better this year.
Why to dislike them: You can understand not wanting to invest too much in the 34-year-old Encarnacion, but the Blue Jays are going to miss his dangerous bat in their lineup.
Player to watch: The Toronto lineup looks even more vulnerable if Jose Bautista’s decline in 2016 was more about age and less about the nagging injuries he dealt with.
2017 outlook (88-74, wild card): The Blue Jays offense isn’t quite as dangerous as it was a couple years ago, but the rotation has fewer questions than Boston’s despite lacking the same star power.
3. BALTIMORE (2016 record: 89-73, tied for second place)
Notable additions: C Welington Castillo, OF Seth Smith, RP Vidal Nuno, OF Craig Gentry
Notable losses: C Matt Wieters, SP Yovani Gallardo, 1B/OF Steve Pearce, RP Vance Worley
Why to like them: The home run potential remains impressive, the bullpen dominant, and the infield defense very strong as the Orioles seek their fourth trip to the playoffs in six years.
Why to dislike them: The starting rotation is this club’s Achilles heel every year, but Chris Tillman’s lingering shoulder issue creates more concern than usual in this department for Buck Showalter.
Player to watch: Dylan Bundy enters 2017 as the No. 2 starter in his first full season in the rotation, which is a lot to ask of a pitcher who lost significant parts of three minor-league seasons with injuries.
2016 outlook (85-77): Kevin Gausman might be ready to become a legitimate ace, but there’s too much uncertainty with Tillman and Bundy to trust that the rotation won’t hold back the rest of the club.
4. NEW YORK (2016 record: 84-78, fourth place)
Notable additions: RP Aroldis Chapman, DH/OF Matt Holliday, 1B/DH Chris Carter
Notable losses: C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, SP Nathan Eovaldi
Why to like them: Catcher Gary Sanchez is headlining a youth movement that has many expecting the Yankees to return to prominence soon while the bullpen should be very strong with Chapman’s return.
Why to dislike them: Masahiro Tanaka is very good and Michael Pineda and Luis Severino are talented, but there isn’t much else to really like about a mediocre starting rotation.
Player to watch: After shoulder surgery cost him the entire 2016 season, first baseman Greg Bird had a monster spring and showed the promise he did at the end of the 2015 campaign.
2017 outlook (80-82): The Yankees have some intriguing youngsters to watch, but they’ll have growing pains and there are still too many declining veterans to allow them to seriously contend.
5. TAMPA BAY (2016 record: 68-94, fifth place)
Notable additions: OF Colby Rasmus, OF Rickie Weeks, RP Tommy Hunter, C Wilson Ramos, OF Peter Bourjos, C Derek Norris
Notable losses: 2B Logan Forsythe, SP Drew Smyly
Why to like them: Chris Archer leads a starting rotation that still holds plenty of talent despite injuries and ineffectiveness that led to the Rays underachieving in 2016.
Why to dislike them: The offense lost Forsythe in the offseason and still remains a clear weakness while the bullpen doesn’t inspire much confidence to back up the starting pitching.
Player to watch: Alex Cobb was on his way to becoming one of the top pitchers in the AL before injuries cost him all but 22 innings over the last two seasons, but he finally appears to be healthy.
2016 outlook (74-88): Injuries and tough luck made the Rays worse than their talented suggested a year ago, but the days of Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman still feel like a long time ago.