DINGERS FROM THE 6IX
by Quinn Sweetzir
With the season opener just 4 days away, the Toronto Blue Jays enter the season with expectations of a mid-eighties win total and quite likely a third consecutive playoff appearance. Among the Jays biggest and perhaps overlooked opsticles is the fact that they play in what could quite likely be the best division in baseball. With three playoff teams last season, as well as two more which are expected to provide a reasonable competition, it’s highly possible that any of these teams could steal the thunder from the American league finalist Toronto Blue Jays. Due to the nature of this division, I decided to preview each of the divisions other teams in order to determine exactly where the Jays stand.
INFIELD GRADE: B+
Overall the Orioles infield is quite good. Manny Machado is at the very least a top four third baseman in baseball, with the ability to play short when necessary. His bat and glove bring an immense talent for the Orioles to build around for years to come. Moving to the opposite corner, Chris Davis might strikeout a ton, but largely makes up for it with his insane power. Jonathon Schoop also displayed a strong ability to hit dingers last season, and when healthy, J.J. Hardy can be an average hitting short stop with strong defence. New catcher Wellington Castillo is also a passable, if unexceptional replacement for Matt Wieters.
OUTFIELD GRADE: C+
Although the Orioles largely lack three strong everyday outfielders, their use of platoons and bench players is among the most effective in baseball. Despite declining somewhat, Adam Jones is still a very good center fielder and Seth Smith, Joey Rickard, Mark Trumbo, and Hyun Soo Kim are capable of combining to performing to at least a league average level of production.
BENCH GRADE: B
This is largely a continuation of their outfield, however it gets a slightly better grade thanks to the inclusion of decent backup cat her Caleb Joseph and utility infielder Ryan Flaherty provide the Orioles with reasonable depth. Combine this with the ability to platoon outfielders, and you can see strong pinch hitters can improve this teams chances of winning.
STARTING ROTATION GRADE: D
Easily the biggest weakness of this Orioles team, their starting rotation can quite simply be described as inconsistent and incapable of leading a team on its own. Chris Tillman (who opens the season on the DL), Kevin Gausman, and Dylan Bundy might perform at a league average level. However, Wade Miley inspires little confidence and he’s not even healthy right now. Ubaldo Jimenez has been one of the worst starters in baseball over the last three seasons and depth options such as Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright are should terrify Orioles fans whenever they start
BULLPEN GRADE: A-
The Orioles hope to make up for their subpar rotation with an exceptional bullpen, which consists of last years best reliever – Zach Britton. Additionally, solid arms such as Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens are capable of pitching in multiple roles throughout the season. Other arms which make the team could include Jayson Aquino, Oliver Drake, and Vidal Nuno, who are all capable of providing decent middle relief for an Orioles team hoping to contend.
BALTIMORE ORIOLES PREDICTED RECORD: 84-78 (3RD IN AL EAST)
Boston Red Sox
INFIELD GRADE: B-
The middle infield of the Red Sox is one of the best in baseball; we’ve been waiting for a decline in the performance of second baseman for years which has never come, and Xander Bogaerts should be in the discussion for the best young short stop in baseball. Hanley Ramirez’s resurgence last season also gives the Red Sox reason to be optimistic however, Mitch Moreland is an average first baseman at best, there are still serious questions about the abilities of Pablo Sandoval, and Sandy Leon is in line for some serious regression.
OUTFIELD GRADE: B
Last season’s MVP runner up Mookie Betts is among the best outfielders in baseball, and should contend for the MVP once again. Jacky Bradley Jr. is very strong defensively, however he is probably due for some offensive regression. Even still, he’s probably a 3 win player. Andrew Benintendi is also an exciting prospect who could be a very talented outfielder. My biggest concern with him is his lack of experience.
BENCH GRADE: A-
Former all-star Brock Holt’s ability to hit for average and play all over the diamond is a massive plus for a team with question marks at a couple infield positions, and Chris Young is an above average fourth outfielder with a strong ability to hit lefties and run the bases. Backup catcher Christian Vazquez is also a strong defender behind the dish.
STARTING ROTATION: A
This grade would be an A+ if David Price was fully healthy, however this rotation is still among the best in baseball. The Red Sox made the biggest splash of the offseason when they traded for Chris Sale, adding him to a rotation that already included reigning AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello (even if he does regress somewhat), all stars Stephen Wright, Drew Pomeranz, and young starter Eduardo Rodriguez can play at a high level. When David Price returns, this rotation will be scary good.
The bullpen starts with Craig Kimbrel, who is still one of the best relievers in baseball, with a killer curveball, even if he is coming off a mediocre season. The bullpen does weaken after that however, which features several players with great stuff, but average results including Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, and Heath Hembree. Neither Tyler Thornburg or Fernando Abad is going to scare anyone either.
BOSTON RED SOX PREDICTED RECORD: 93-69 (1ST IN AL EAST)
New York Yankees
INFIELD GRADE: C+
The expected leader of this year Yankees squad is immensely talented, however he is due from some regression on what was an incredible start to his major league career. The middle infield is also decent, with strong defender Didi Gregorius (who does start the season on the DL) and contact hitter Starlin Castro. However, Chase Headly has struggled offensively in the last few seasons, and his defense is only going to decline as he ages. Meanwhile, Greg Bird was impressive as a rookie in 2015, however is coming off a season without major plate appearances thanks to an injury.
OUTFIELD GRADE: C
Although there are some big names in the Yankees outfield, I have serious questions about their ability to produce consistently. Brett Gardner is still getting it done, but is only getting older. Being a contact hitter, I could see Gardner declining rapidly in the coming seasons. Meanwhile, Jacoby Ellsbury is a former star, however has struggled to stay on the field at times in the past and has a monster contract which he has not lived up to recently. Aaron Judge is also very talented, but struggled to hit in the big leagues when called up last season. Matt Holliday could also see real time in both the outfield and as a DH, however is more of a one year stopgap than a long-term solution.
BENCH GRADE: B-
Although Chris Carter is a good addition for a very small price, the rest of the bench is rather thin. Aaron Hicks is a defense first forth outfielder and a career .223 hitter. Ronald Torreyes has limited MLB experience and was at best a 45-50 grade hitter. And Austin Romine has disappointed in most of his MLB career so far.
STARTING ROTATION GRADE: C
Masahiro Tanaka has a very impressive spring training and thought his career, but there are still concerns about his elbow being ready to explode at any moment. CC Sabathia rebounded nicely last year, but even if he repeats that performance – which on its own is unlikely – he’s a number four starter at best. Meanwhile, Luis Severino struggled badly last season, and although I think he could rebound impressively, I am not certain. Michael Pineda has also been very inconsistent throughout his career; however his peripherals do support a rebound of sorts. 5th starter Chad Green also has just 45.2 innings of replacement level MLB experience under his belt as well.
BULLPEN GRADE: A
Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances are among the best relievers in baseball, and must be used accordingly if the Yankees want to succeed. Tyler Clippard’s days as an all-star may be behind him, but him and Adam Warren can provide solid middle relief behind their 2 stars. The rest of the bullpen is weak, but if arms like Tommy Layne and Bryan Mitchell can be useful relievers, it could go a long way for the evil empire.
NEW YORK YANKEES PREDICTED RECORD: 78-84 (5TH IN AL EAST)
Tampa Bay Rays
INFIELD GRADE: C+
This quality of this lineup starts with Evan Longoria, who experienced a Russianness of sorts last season, rebounding nicely from an average 2015. As we move to the right, it weakens immensely, with so middle infielders Matt Duffy and Brad Miller. Meanwhile, Logan Morrison is a rather low quality first baseman, who hasn’t been worth more than 1.1 WAR in his entire 6 year career. Behind the dish, Derek Norris is a solid catcher, and the addition of Wilson Ramos when he returns from injury will be a real plus to the rays.
OUTFIELD GRADE: B
The simple fact is Kevin Kiermaier is one of the best outfielders in baseball, especially defensively. Having him in center instantly gives the Rays a good grade. However the rest of the outfield is no slouch either, with several options including Stephen Souza Jr., Colby Rasmus, Corey Dickerson, and Mallex Smith. If they can get good seasons from two of these guys than their outfield is in great shape. If they can get that frim more, than they become elite.
BENCH GRADE: B+
Similarly to Baltimore, the excess of good outfielders is the biggest reason for this strong grade, however the possession of two very good catchers once Wilson Ramos returns from injury is a luxury which very few teams possess. Tim Beckham and Nick Franklin might not be the best bench infielders, but they have enough talent to get it done if someone goes down for a few weeks.
STARTING ROTATION GRADE: B
The Rays underachieved somewhat last season and one of the biggest reasons for this was the struggles of Chris Archer. However the fact remains that Archer remains the ace of this staff, and should return to form nicely this season. Jake Odorizzi should continue to be good enough to contribute to this staff, and young starter Blake Snell is worth getting excited about. The health of Alex Cobb is concerning, and Matt Andriese has relatively mediocre tuff overall. But if someone in the rotation does struggle, Erasmo Rameriz can perform like a solid starter.
BULLPEN GRADE: B-
Overall the Rays bullpen is solid, however there are some concerns. Despite being pretty successful last season, Alex Colome is in line for some regression, if only because he was so good last season. Beyond him, Brad Boxberger, Danny Farquhar, and Xavier Cedeno hope to provide decent middle relief, and Shawn Tolleson hopes to rebound after a terrible season in 2016.
TAMPA BAY RAYS RECORD PREDICTION: 82-80 (4th in AL EAST)