Previewing the Orioles' AL East foes

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Taking stock of the Orioles' division rivals ahead of the 2017 season.

Boston Red Sox

2016 record: 93-69 (first place; lost in ALDS)

Key additions: Another year, another premier left-hander joins the Red Sox rotation. Last year, it was David Price as their marquee free agent. This year, it's Chris Sale, who came over in a massive winter meetings trade that sent top prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech to the Chicago White Sox. Sale was Boston's major acquisition this offseason, though they also added setup reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Milwaukee Brewers. Some of their most important additions will come from within, with hard-throwing reliever Carson Smith nearing a return from Tommy John elbow reconstruction and third baseman Pablo Sandoval in line for an everyday job after shoulder surgery.

Key losses: Boston's entire 2016 season was about saying goodbye to slugging designated hitter David Ortiz, who retired at the end of the year, but that's about the only one of their major pieces gone. Right-hander Clay Buchholz was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in what amounted to a salary dump, too. Two other significant departures are those of relievers Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa. They weren't major factors in 2016, but have been fixtures in their bullpen for years and could be missed.

X-Factor: Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval

These two were listed in this space last year, and they're still there. Ramirez had a bounce-back year at first base, batting .286 with 30 home runs, but more will be expected of him as he becomes Ortiz's heir apparent. Sandoval, however, was a complete nonfactor last season. He played in three games and didn't get a hit before shoulder surgery shut him down.

Outlook: The young stars at the top of the Red Sox lineup — Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi — are enough to buoy any team's hopes. They have one of the most complete lineups in the league, and a rotation featuring Sale, Price and Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello will be among the game's most formidable. The bullpen seems to still be a question, but anything short of another division title will probably be considered a disappointment in Boston.

Tampa Bay Rays

2016 record: 68-94 (fifth place)

Key additions: Two of the biggest names to join the Rays this offseason — catcher Wilson Ramos and pitcher Nathan Eovaldi — are beginning the year on the disabled lst. Ramos should be back after a few months following his September ACL tear, while Eovaldi had Tommy John surgery late last season and is basically a lottery ticket. Of the more useful additions they made are outfielders Mallex Smith and Colby Rasmus. Smith came in a trade with the Seattle Mariners and is a major speed threat, while Rasmus signed a one-year deal. Former Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter signed a minor league contract and is fighting for a roster spot. Their most significant addition in the offseason might have been right-hander Jose De Leon, a touted prospect who came from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Key losses: The additions of Smith and De Leon came at a cost for the Rays, as left-hander Drew Smyly went to the Mariners and second baseman Logan Forsythe went to the Dodgers. The Forsythe deal in particular was puzzling, as he was probably their second-best position player behind Evan Longoria.

X-Factor: Mallex Smith

The Rays' pitching is their strong suit, with Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi headlining the rotation, but Smith gives them an exciting young position prospect that can shoot some life into the club. Tampa Bay, at times, was a drag to watch in 2016, with a rotating cast of players that didn't inspire much enthusiasm and had a record worthy of the talent on the field. If Smith can hit for enough average to play every day, he can be a special player to watch there for years to come.

Outlook: There has been more talent leaving the Rays in recent years than staying there — they also traded Steve Pearce and Matt Moore at last year's nonwaiver trade deadline — and it doesn't seem that there's much there to replace it. Especially with the rest of the division improving or staying contenders, it's not a good time to be the Rays.

Toronto Blue Jays

2016 record: 89-73 (second place; lost in ALCS)

Key additions: The biggest move the Blue Jays made this offseason was to keep their own star, Jose Bautista, on a one-year deal. Bautista wasn't the typical monster at the plate that he was in years past, but he's still a major part of the team's identity on and off the field. Replacing his former running buddy, Edwin Encarnacion, will be a combination of Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. Morales was signed to a way-above-market three-year deal early in the winter, compared with what the rest of the sluggers signed for. Pearce got a two-year deal, and if he's anywhere near as productive as he was when healthy in 2016, it's a good signing.

Key losses: Encarnacion's defection to the Cleveland Indians probably had one of the biggest impacts of any move in the American League, since it dings the Blue Jays' pennant hopes and buoys the Indians' chances for another trip to the World Series. Outfielder Michael Saunders, who was an All-Star last year and was a shoo-in to get at least a qualifying offer before a bad second half, is now with the Philadelphia Phillies, while former Maryland star Brett Cecil took his left-handed relief skills to the St. Louis Cardinals on a massive deal.

X-Factor: Devon Travis

Travis missed two months with a knee injury, but came back to play 101 games and bat .300 with a .785 OPS and 40 extra-base hits. He doesn't get the headlines that some of his teammates or other rising-star infielders get around the game, but he's going to be a big part of keeping the Blue Jays lineup humming and providing a little balance in a group of big-swinging sluggers.

Outlook: The Blue Jays lineup never seemed to get it together last year, but big years from Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada meant they had one of the sneakiest rotations in the game — and that's saying nothing about Aaron Sanchez, who went 15-2 with a 3.00 ERA. If the Blue Jays get back to the playoffs and extend their current window, it will be owed to the arms as much as their heralded bats.

2016 record: 84-78 (fourth place)

Key additions: After dealing him to the Chicago Cubs in July, the Yankees signed closer Aroldis Chapman back to a massive five-year contract to resume his closer role in 2017. That was the only big-ticket splash in another restrained offseason for the Yankees, though not the only big-impact signing. Matt Holliday signed a one-year deal to join the club from the St. Louis Cardinals at a cost of $13 million. Chris Carter, whose 41 home runs led the National League last year, signed for just $3.5 million. They'll be veteran presences in a clubhouse as full of youth as it is of talent.

Key losses: First baseman Mark Teixiera (Mount Saint Joseph) retired at the end of last season, and designated hitter Alex Rodriguez retired during the season, but those were the only notable exits from the Bronx last year.

X-Factor: The Baby Bombers

When the Yankees went on a run in the second half of 2016, it was owing to the bevy of young stars they brought up from the minors, headlined by catcher Gary Sanchez and outfielder Aaron Judge. Sanchez hit 20 home runs in 53 games and could be the best of the bunch, and the current crop could be joined soon by outfielder Clint Frazier, who was acquired in a trade for reliever Andrew Miller last year. And their top prospect, shortstop Gleyber Torres, could start the year in Double-A and thus be on the cusp of joining them. Whenever that group coalesces, look out.

Outlook: It's hard to say just what the Yankees' young core will give them over a full season, and a rotation featuring Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda isn't the worst group to get behind. But it's safe to say no one will much want to face these Yankees this year, whether they're a playoff club or not.

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