The BA staff previews the American League, looking at team scenarios, best pickups, biggest losses and breakthrough players.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Boston Red Sox
Best-Case Scenario: The talented young duo of Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts leads the way, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval return to pre-2015 form, David Price anchors the rotation and the Red Sox get breakouts from young Jackie Bradley, Eduardo Rodriguez, Blake Swihart and Henry Owens in engineering another worst-to-first turnaround.
Worst-Case Scenario: Sandoval and Ramirez flop again, Rick Porcello posts another ERA near 5.00 and the rotation behind Price combusts, leaving Boston closer to the AL East cellar.
Next First-Time All-Star: OF Mookie Betts
|POSTSEASON CRYSTAL BALL|
|Cubs over Red Sox|
|David Price, Red Sox|
|Mike Trout, Angels|
Toronto Blue Jays
Best-Case Scenario: Baseball’s best offense last year (by 127 runs!) returns with a full season of Troy Tulowitzki to carry the Blue Jays to another AL East title.
Worst-Case Scenario: Injuries take a toll on a lineup dependent on players (Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion) past 30, while the pitching staff produces mediocre results without David Price at the top of the rotation and little help on the way from the farm.
Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Marcus Stroman
New York Yankees
Best-Case Scenario: Luis Severino steps up as a frontline starter, Nathan Eovaldi has a breakthrough season and the Aroldis Chapman/Andrew Miller/Dellin Betances nightmare bullpen shortens games for the Yankees to win the AL East.
Worst-Case Scenario: A lineup full of players in their 30s experiences several late-career drop-offs, Masahiro Tanaka can’t replicate his 2015 season and the Yankees miss the playoffs again in a competitive division.
Next First-Time All-Star: Severino.
Tampa Bay Rays
Best-Case Scenario: The Rays play brilliant defense, Blake Snell gives the rotation a boost behind Chris Archer and a resurgent Matt Moore and Tampa Bay gets back to the playoffs behind the strength of its run prevention.
Worst-Case Scenario: A lineup that ranked 25th in runs scored a year ago scuffles again, keeping the Rays below .500 for the third straight season.
Next First-Time All-Star: OF Kevin Kiermaier
Best-Case Scenario: The Orioles get a full season of Matt Wieters back to join a powerful offense with Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Adam Jones that’s good enough to carry a staff of mid-rotation starters at best with support from a strong bullpen.
Worst-Case Scenario: The starting pitching implodes, with no frontline arms and a rotation that pitches like a group of fourth and fifth starters.
Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Kevin Gausman
American League Central
Kansas City Royals
Best-Case Scenario: Royals fans’ two years of living the impossible dream moves into year three, as re-signed free agent Alex Gordon helps lead the defending champs to back-to-back championships.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Royals’ devastating bullpen becomes simply good, the Ian Kennedy signing backfires as the rotation falters, dropping the Royals back to the pack in the AL Central.
Next First-Time All-Star: 1B Eric Hosmer
Best-Case Scenario: Francisco Lindor plays like an MVP while an excellent young staff of starting pitchers help deliver the team’s first AL Central title since 2007.
Worst-Case Scenario: Offseason shoulder surgery eats into Michael Brantley’s productivity and the lineup as a whole struggles, leaving the Indians in the middle of the pack yet again.
Next First-Time All-Star: SS Francisco Lindor
Best-Case Scenario: The addition of Justin Upton boosts an already formidable lineup, Justin Verlander returns to ace form and a remodeled bullpen helps the Tigers get back to competing for a playoff spot.
Worst-Case Scenario: No more David Price, Verlander continues his slide from ace to mid-rotation starter and another bloated ERA from Anibal Sanchez leaves the pitching staff hurting, and the Tigers again rank toward the bottom of the league in preventing runs for another dismal finish.
Next First-Time All-Star: LHP Daniel Norris
Best-Case Scenario: The Twins’ youth movement pays even bigger dividends in 2016 as the steadily-improving lineup carries Minnesota to its first playoff berth since 2010.
Biggest Offseason Acquisitions: 1B Byung Ho Park, C John Ryan Murphy
Next First-Time All-Star: OF/DH Miguel Sano
Chicago White Sox
Best-Case Scenario: A dramatically revamped infield fixes what’s been a poor lineup for years, and Carlos Rodon gives the Good Guys a second ace to team with Chris Sale.
Worst-Case Scenario: The White Sox find that once again they are simply outgunned offensively, and a mediocre bullpen and shaky back-half of the rotation leads to a fourth-consecutive losing record.
Next First-Time All-Star: LHP Carlos Rodon
American League West
Best-Case Scenario: An athletic lineup plays on both sides of the ball, Lance McCullers breaks through as co-ace to Dallas Keuchel, and Ken Giles locks down the closer role as Houston wins its first division title since 2001.
Worst-Case Scenario: Hitters start catching up to Keuchel and Collin McHugh, Houston can’t solve its first-base hole, and a high-strikeout, young offense comes up just short of a playoff spot.
Next First-Time All-Star: SS Carlos Correa
Next First-Time All-Star: 2B Rougned Odor
Los Angeles Angels
Best-Case Scenario: The best player in the game is able to carry a somewhat wheezing Angels’ roster back to the playoffs along with improved depth in the rotation.
Worst-Case Scenario: The lineup proved to be too thin to support Mike Trout, and the club’s avoidance of the luxury tax and the thin farm system hamstrings new GM Billy Eppler from fixing the problems in the middle of the season.
Next First-Time All-Star: RHP Garrett Richards
Best-Case Scenario: Progress. It’s hard to see the Mariners catching the Rangers or Astros, but for a team with three winning records in the past 12 seasons, 85 wins is a realistic goal.
Next First-Time All-Star: SS Ketel Marte.
Best-Case Scenario: The A’s fix their bullpen problems and avoid the bad luck that doomed them to an awful start in 2015, allowing them to pitch their way into the AL West race.
Worst-Case Scenario: Outgunned offensively by AL West teams with more young talent and much more firepower, the A’s find 2015’s fall to the cellar is part of a long-term trend.
Next First-Time All-Star: OF Josh Reddick