Projected to finish first: Boston Red Sox
2016: 93-69, lost in ALDS to Indians
Significant additions: SP Chris Sale, 1B Mitch Moreland, RP Tyler Thornburg
Significant losses: DH David Ortiz, SP Clay Buchholz, 3B/1B Travis Shaw, RP Brad Ziegler, RP Koji Uehara, RP Junichi Tazawa
Clubhouse catalyst: 2B Dustin Pedroia
The season is a success if: they go all the way. Nothing else will suffice in Boston after GM Dave Dombrowski pulled off the blockbuster trade of the winter, prying Sale away from the Chicago White Sox for the hefty price of four top prospects. A front three of Sale, David Price and 2016 AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello would be the best in the league, but Price has been dealing with elbow soreness. Moreland won’t replace Ortiz’s bat, but can play a nice first base and free up the DH spot for Hanley Ramirez. Even without Ortiz’s 38 homers and 1.021 OPS from 2016, they should have no problem scoring runs, with RF Mookie Betts poised for an MVP-caliber season, and consensus top-prospect-in-baseball Andrew Benintendi ready to break through.
2. Toronto Blue Jays
2016: 89-73, lost in ALCS to Indians
Significant additions: DH Kendrys Morales, IF/OF Steve Pearce, RP Joe Smith, RP J.P. Howell
Significant losses: DH/1B Edwin Encarnacion, OF Michael Saunders, RP Brett Cecil, RP Joaquin Benoit, SP R.A. Dickey
Clubhouse catalyst: C Russell Martin
The season is a success if: they lose no ground to the Red Sox and make another trip to the postseason. Toronto’s offseason was defined by the loss of 2016 AL RBI king Encarnacion, and it will take two men — the consistent Morales and the versatile Pearce — to replace him. The January re-signing of RF Jose Bautista makes this, once again, a lineup with plenty of pop, but the Blue Jays will need bounce-back seasons from 1B Justin Smoak, LF Ezequiel Carrera and Bautista himself to get in contention. Their rotation isn’t as top heavy as Boston’s, but Toronto goes five deep with starters who have won 11 games at least once in the past three years.
3. Baltimore Orioles
2016: 89-73, lost in wild-card game to Blue Jays
Significant additions: C Welington Castillo, OF Seth Smith, OF Craig Gentry, RP Vidal Nuno
Significant losses: C Matt Wieters, SP Yovani Gallardo, IF/OF Steve Pearce, RP Vance Worley
Clubhouse catalyst: CF Adam Jones
The season is a success if: they prove the sabermetric projections wrong again. The Orioles have made the playoffs in three of the past five seasons with essentially the same formula — lots of roster manipulation, plentiful home runs and lockdown relief pitching. But in starting pitchers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, they now have the potential for the kind of top-of-the-rotation standouts they have been lacking. And the Orioles may need them badly, as projected No. 1 starter Chris Tillman has been shelved with a sore shoulder. After re-signing outfielder/designated hitter Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez, the O’s have six hitters in their lineup who bashed at least 22 homers in 2016. Discount the Orioles at your own peril.
4. New York Yankees
Significant additions: RP Aroldis Chapman, DH/OF Matt Holliday, 1B/DH Chris Carter
Significant losses: 1B Mark Teixeira, C Brian McCann, SP Nathan Eovaldi
Clubhouse catalyst: C Gary Sanchez
The season is a success if: they stay on the fringes of contention while inching toward the free agent class of 2018. After showing some uncharacteristic restraint the past two offseasons, the Yankees are positioned perfectly. If everything breaks right — a huge 2017 from breakout star Sanchez, sustained health for a veteran rotation, leaps forward by youngsters such as first baseman Greg Bird and right fielder Aaron Judge — they could find themselves in contention, even in the toughest division in the game. If not, their impressive collection of top prospects — bolstered by last summer’s trades of relief pitchers Chapman and Andrew Miller — gets another year closer to arrival in the Bronx, just as this sleeping giant prepares to awaken in time for the arrival of the Manny Machado/Bryce Harper free agent class two winters from now.
5. Tampa Bay Rays
Significant additions: LF Colby Rasmus, RP Tommy Hunter, OF/1B Rickie Weeks Jr., C Wilson Ramos, SP Jose De Leon
Significant losses: 2B Logan Forsythe, SP Drew Smyly, RP Kevin Jepsen
Clubhouse catalyst: 3B Evan Longoria
The season is a success if: their decision to keep trying, rather than rebuild, doesn’t prove to be a disaster. The Rays produced their worst record in nearly a decade last year, but rather than go full rebuild, they traded away just one veteran — Forsythe to the Dodgers — and held on to additional pieces such as Longoria and starting pitcher Chris Archer, while focusing on improving their offense. They accomplished that with the additions of Rasmus and Ramos (the latter out until the around June with a knee injury). But with their paltry payroll of $60 million or so, there appears little hope of contending in the stacked AL East.
Coming soon: AL and NL Central (Tuesday), AL and NL West (Weds.)
Fancy Stats: The Cubs’ youth puts a dynasty within reach