This is Part 1 of LMBF’s MLB season previews. From this point forward we will be previewing a new division every Wednesday leading up to opening day. Brought to you by our Baseball Staff; John Hayes, Charlie Wooding and Steve Campbell. 

Boston Red Sox

Key Offseason Moves:

Acquired Chris Sale via Trade for Yoan Moncada and 3 prospects

Signed Mitch Moreland to a 1 year deal

Traded Travis Shaw and minor leaguers for Tyler Thornburg

Season Outlook:

After the 2016 Boston Red Sox juggernaut offense was silenced en route to being swept by a solid but depleted Cleveland Indians pitching staff, many wondered if GM Dave Dombrowski would take the bait on Edwin Encarnacion.  But, good ol’ Dave finally took a bargain play when he took a one-year flyer on gold glove first baseman Mitch Moreland for only $5.5 million.  Does Moreland have the bat to contend for any of the three triple-crown categories?  Nope, not even the Pesky Pole will help him there…but he is a significant upgrade defensively at first base for Hanley Ramirez, and more importantly he will allow Hanley to focus on trying to fill the shoes of David Ortiz in the DH role.  Also, did I mention Moreland has managed over 20 home runs in three of the last four seasons?

But, the main story line this year is undoubtedly the blockbuster trade that occurred in December when Dombrowski sent the MLB’s #1 prospect, Yoan Moncada, and a few other highly touted prospects to the Chicago White Sox for ace Chris Sale.  I don’t think I need to spend much time talking about the impact Chris Sale will have.  I’m not just talking about 2017 either.  The Red Sox will enjoy two consecutive club options after this year, so they now own the rights to one of the best pitchers in baseball for three years.

This offseason was a defining moment in the trajectory of the Red Sox organization.  They are finally acknowledging that no matter how powerful the offense is, pitching and defense will need to improve in order to contend each year.  I will be honest, I’m sick of this whole best rotation in baseball talk.  Can we all please be real with ourselves and acknowledge how much of a laughable outlier Rick Porcello’s Cy Young season was?  I mean seriously, he will be lucky to post 16 wins with an ERA under 3.70 this year in my mind.  Yes, the addition of Tyler Thornburg as a legitimate set-up man will be huge for Craig Kimbrel’s confidence.  Yes, David Price and Chris Sale are both elite pitchers.  But this rotation still has minimal playoff experience and will take time to mature.

For the offense, the big question in my mind is just how much Bogaerts and Betts, among others, will suffer from the loss of Big Papi.  His career year not only put runs on the board, but it also paved the way for the Red Sox’s young core to see good pitches and build confidence.  In order for this offense to even come near matching its 2016 production, Benintendi will have to have a Rookie of the Year type campaign combined with stellar years from Betts and Bogaerts at the heart of the order.  My main concern is that the pressure on Hanley Ramirez to produce in the clean-up spot as a DH could simply be too much, and I fully expect him to struggle through slumps at crucial times of the season.

All in all, while I think that this team is primed for success, I am not 100% confident in calling them division winners.  But, I certainly think the Red Sox will compete with the Blue Jays and the Yankees from start to finish en route to clinching a playoff berth.  In the end, I simply do not see them winning a pennant with the team’s lack of experience and the loss of its playoff hero, Ortiz.  But, I would not be surprised if this team ran the regular season table to win the AL East and made it to the ALCS before falling to an unlikely foe.  2017 may not be Boston’s year, but I am very confident they will return to the World Series before Chris Sale becomes a UFA in 2020.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  2. Xander Bogaerts, SS
  3. Mookie Betts, OF
  4. Hanley Ramirez, DH
  5. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
  6. Mitch Moreland, 1B
  7. Andrew Benintendi, OF
  8. Jackie Bradley Jr., OF
  9. Sandy Leon, C

Pitching Staff

  1. David Price
  2. Chris Sale
  3. Rick Porcello
  4. Drew Pomeranz
  5. Eduardo Rodriguez
  6. Spot Starter: Steven Wright

Steve Campbell

Baltimore Orioles

Key Offseason Moves:

Traded Yovani Gallardo for RF Seth Smith

Re-signed Mark Trumbo for 3 years, $37.5 million.

Signed Welington Castillo for 1 year plus a player option.

Season Outlook:

With the bad taste of last year’s AL Wild Card game still in their mouths, the Orioles enter 2017 looking to prove their window of contention remains open. Despite the departure of Matt Wieters, the core of the lineup remains largely intact, albeit a year older. Age and depth are concerns for this Baltimore ball club, as Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, and Chris Davis are all on the wrong side of 30. The Orioles played it smart by being patient and waiting until a slow free-agent market dropped a discounted Trumbo back into their laps. However, Baltimore did not make any moves to bolster its rotation, banking on greater production from former top prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. The departure of starter Yovani Gallardo for RF Seth Smith should strengthen the lineup against left-handed pitching – something the Orioles’ offense desperately needed – but does no favors in the event of injuries within the rotation. The bullpen remains a strength as the return of Darren O’Day should help Baltimore lock down games after the 6th inning. With only one prospect in MLB.com’s Top 100 (#99 Chance Sisco, a catcher and the main driver behind the organization’s reluctance to offer Wieters a qualifying offer this offseason) and heavy competition from the young, dynamic Yankees, ever-competitive Red Sox, and go-big-or-go-home Blue Jays, 2017 may be the Orioles’ best shot at winning the AL East for some time. Oh, and did I mention that Manny Machado and Zach Britton are due for big-money extensions after the 2018 season?

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Adam Jones, CF
  2. Hyun-Soo Kim, LF
  3. Manny Machado, 3B
  4. Chris Davis, 1B
  5. Mark Trumbo, DH
  6. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
  7. Wellington Castillo, C
  8. Seth Smith/Joey Rickard, RF
  9. J.J. Hardy, SS

Pitching Staff

  1. Kevin Gausman
  2. Chris Tillman
  3. Wade Miley
  4. Dylan Bundy
  5. Ubaldo Jimenez

John Hayes

Toronto Blue Jays

 

 

 

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Kendrys Morales for 3 years, $33 million.

Re-signed Jose Bautista for 1 year, $18 million with a 2018 mutual option and 2019 vesting option..

Signed J.P Howell and Joe Smith.

Season Outlook:

After falling to Cleveland in the ALCS, Toronto found themselves in the middle of a busy offseason. On paper, the Blue Jays lost a significant amount of talent to free agency, including the departure of Bautista Bash Bro, Edwin Encarnacion. Team president Mark Shapiro filled this mammoth hole in the lineup nicely with the signing of 1B/DH Kendrys Morales to a reasonable 3-year, $33 million deal. The Jays are banking on improved performance from Jose Bautista to bridge the gap between Morales’ and Incarnation’s production. Will it be enough?

Toronto was smart to remain patient in a slow free-agent market, signing Bautista to a one-year deal for $18 million with a pair of options. At that price and duration, Joey Bats provides tremendous value, particularly offensively, if he returns to form after a down year. The departures of bullpen pieces Joaquin Benoit and Brett Cecil led to the signings of J.P. Howell and Joe Smith, both of whom are looking for bounce-back years themselves. The Blue Jays benefit from a strong rotation anchored by Aaron Sanchez. Toronto will need Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, and Marco Estrada to take steps forward this year with the expectation that J.A. Happ will experience a regression after his career year in 2016. Don’t be surprised if veteran Francisco Liriano wins 15 games this year now that he’s had time to get settled into the organization.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Devon Travis, 2B
  2. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
  3. Josh Donaldson, 3B
  4. Jose Bautista, RF
  5. Kendrys Morales, DH
  6. Russell Martin, C
  7. Justin Smoak, 1B
  8. Kevin Pillar, CF
  9. Melvin Upton, Jr./Ezequiel Carrera, LF

Pitching Staff

  1. Aaron Sanchez
  2. J.A. Happ
  3. Marcus Stroman
  4. Marco Estrada
  5. Francisco Liriano

John Hayes

New York Yankees

Key Offseason Moves:

Traded Brian McCann for RHP’s Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman

Signed Matt Holliday to a 1 year deal.

Signed Aroldis Chapman for 5 years, $86 million.

Signed Chris Carter for 1 year.

Season Outlook:

The Yankees are in that “Cubs 2015” green area heading into 2017. This team can and will compete for a wild card spot, but this year is only the beginning. The 2017 Yankees have a nice combination of young talent (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Greg Bird) and established vets (Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka). Throw in 7 MLB.com top 100 prospects, led by #3 overall prospect Gleyber Torres (flags fly forever, but Theo might want that one back) and things are looking up in the Bronx. Much like the 2015 Cubs, the major questions revolve around their pitching, and without a Jake Arrieta type jump from Severino or Pineda, its hard to see the Yankees overcoming the Red Sox giving the ball to C.C Sabathia and Chad Green with regularity. If they intend on keeping their prospect depth, the 2017 Yanks are playing for a Wild Card berth at best, and a World Series title seems like a long shot. But if they get ancy, and make a play for Jose Quintana or Sonny Gray, well then a World Series title is most certainly in play.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Brett Gardner, LF
  3. Gary Sanchez, C
  4. Aaron Judge, RF
  5. Matt Holliday, DH
  6. Greg Bird/Chris Carter, 1B
  7. Chase Headley, 3B
  8. Starlin Castro, 2B
  9. Didi Gregorius, SS

Pitching Staff

  1. Mashiro Tanaka
  2. Michael Pineda
  3. Luis Severino
  4. C.C Sabathia
  5. Chad Green

Charlie Wooding

Tampa Bay Rays

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Colby Rasmus to a 1 year deal

Traded Logan Forsythe to LAD for Jose De Leon

Signed Wilson Ramos to a 2 year deal

Traded Drew Smyly to SEA for Mallex Smith, Carlos Vargas and Ryan Yarbrough. 

Season Outlook:

The Rays had a busy winter, but none of there moves really pushed them in either direction. The Wilson Ramos signing might indicate a desire to compete now, but they will have to wait for him until about mid-season, and even then he may not be able to catch. Colby Rasmus on a 1 year deal is an interesting bounce back play, but he was quite terrible last year, so depending on him to hit is a stretch. And then theres those trades. The Rays swapped 2 years of Forsythe for 6 years of De Leon, and while the general consensus was this was a great move by the Rays, I’m not sure it helps the 2016 team much. They also moved Drew Smyly, getting back 3 young Mariners, with only Smith really figuring to contribute to the MLB roster. The overall feeling here is one of confusion, because the Rays don’t seem to be tearing it down, but I can’t see how this 2017 team makes a WC push. Individually, I think all the Rays moves this winter have been solid, however as a whole its hard to see where the next great Rays team is coming from. The pitching staff looks great in 2017 and even better in the future, but that lineup just isn’t that of a contender.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Nick Franklin, 2B
  2. Kevin Kiermaier, CF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Brad Miller, 1B
  5. Matt Duffy, SS
  6. Corey Dickerson, DH
  7. Steven Souza, RF
  8. Colby Rasmus, LF
  9. Curt Casali, C

*Wilson Ramos joining mid-season at DH or maybe C or 1B.

Pitching Staff

  1. Chris Archer
  2. Jake Odorizzi
  3. Alex Cobb
  4. Blake Snell
  5. Jose De Leon

Charlie Wooding

Predictions

Steve

  1. Red Sox
  2. Blue Jays (WC)
  3. Yankees (WC)
  4. Orioles
  5. Rays

Hayes

  1.  Boston Red Sox
  2.  New York Yankees (WC)
  3.  Toronto Blue Jays
  4.  Baltimore Orioles
  5.  Tampa Bay Rays

Wooding

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Toronto Blue Jays (WC)
  3. New York Yankees
  4. Tampa Bay Rays
  5. Baltimore Orioles

Bold Predictions

Steve: Chris Sale posts an ERA above 3.50. The AL East will be a rude awakening for him.

Hayes: The Yankees will win 90 games. The 2017 Yankees’ season will remind fans of the Cubs’ 2015 success story, albeit with less talent and a longer championship timeline. This year will mark the beginning of the return of the Bronx Bombers.

Wooding: Chris Sale wins the AL Cy Young. Call me a homer, but Chris Sale is the best pitcher in AL and with the opportunity to finally play for a real contender I think he has a terrific season ending in a Cy Young.

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