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Your MLB American League preview

By Scott Mitchell, Toronto Sun

Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista reacts after an at bat during spring training in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista reacts after an at bat during spring training in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Can the Red Sox survive without Big Papi? Will the Angels find help for Mike Trout? Will Jose Bautista find his form? Your guide to the American League:

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

BOSTON RED SOX

Last year: 93-69, 1st in AL East; lost in ALDS

Biggest addition: LHP Chris Sale (White Sox, trade)

Biggest loss: DH David Ortiz (retired)

Biggest question: Is David Price going to be healthy?

After going out and acquiring Sale, the Red Sox were dealt a blow early in spring training when Price, last year’s prized acquisition, came down with a sore elbow. He hasn’t pitched since. As the words “Tommy John” are being thrown around in relation to Price, who may not take the mound until May at the earliest, the Sox were already trying to replace the significant production lost (.315/.401/.620 with 38 home runs) when Ortiz’s brilliant career came to an end on a high note.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Last year: 89-73, 2nd in AL East; lost in ALCS

Biggest addition: DH Kendrys Morales (Royals, free agent)

Biggest loss: DH Edwin Encarnacion (Indians, free agent)

Biggest question: How do they replace Encarnacion?

The starting rotation is the same and still really, really good. The bullpen is similar. The manager is back with a new contract extension in hand. The only thing that’s gone are the 66 home runs hit between Encarnacion and OF Michael Saunders, now a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. In their stead? Morales, who hit 30 homers with the Royals last season, and jack-of-all-trades lefty masher Steve Pearce. Perhaps the Blue Jays’ biggest offensive gains, however, could come with full and healthy seasons from 36-year-old right fielder Jose Bautista, who’s playing for another contract, and second baseman Devon Travis.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Last year: 89-73, 3rd in AL East; lost in Wild Card

Biggest addition: OF Seth Smith (Mariners, trade)

Biggest loss: C Matt Wieters (Nationals, free agent)

Biggest question: Is the starting rotation good enough?

That problem has been compounded this spring due to right-hander Chris Tillman’s shoulder woes. Led by a lethal middle of the order composed of 1B Chris Davis (38 homers), CF Adam Jones (29 homers), 3B Manny Machado (37 homers) and recently-re-signed DH Mark Trumbo (47 homers), the O’s will continue to hit home runs in bunches, but their starting rotation is mediocre at best and will have trouble consistently handing leads over to a fantastic bullpen with all-star closer Zach Britton as its anchor. Young righties Kevin Gausman, 26, and Dylan Bundy, 24, do possess upside, however.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Last year: 84-78, 4th in AL East

Biggest addition: LHP Aroldis Chapman (Cubs, free agent)

Biggest loss: C Brian McCann (Astros, trade)

Biggest question: Can they stay in the hunt until late July?

While a return engagement with Chapman was no small investment at five years and $86 million, that’s about all the Yankees did this winter as they continue to let their rebuild take shape. There were big gains on that front in 2016, with catcher Gary Sanchez turning into a legitimate late-season star, while the trades of Chapman and left-hander Andrew Miller brought an influx of young talent. If the Yanks are in the hunt this July, we could see some of that financial clout suddenly back in the picture, which could be a game-changer in the playoff race.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

Last year: 68-94, last in AL East

Biggest addition: C Wilson Ramos (Nationals, free agent)

Biggest loss: LHP Drew Smyly (Mariners, trade)

Biggest question: Are the kids ready to compete?

They would seem to be pulling up the rear in the AL East at this point, but the Rays might be closer than everyone thinks when all is said and done. They still have a franchise cornerstone in 3B Evan Longoria, while CF Kevin Kiermaier has quickly developed into the best defensive centre fielder in the game, and one who could potentially supplement that with a 20/20 season. Unsurprisingly, the Rays’ success, or lack thereof, will hinge on a talented but young rotation, headlined by RHP Chris Archer, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Blake Snell and RHP Alex Cobb.

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Last year: 94-67, 1st in AL Central; lost in World Series

Biggest addition: DH Edwin Encarnacion

Biggest loss: Game 7 at home last November

Biggest question: How will they do now they’re favourites?

Terry Francona’s group was a popular spring sleeper at this time last year, but it didn’t take long for them to show they were wide awake as legitimate contenders, reeling off a franchise-record 14-game winning streak in June. In the off-season, Cleveland decided its time is now, as general manager Mike Chernoff went out and signed Encarnacion to the richest deal in team history, positioning them as one of the American League favourites. They boast a deep lineup, a great ’pen, and a rotation headlined by Cy Young contenders Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, but now there are expectations and pressure to deal with, as well.

DETROIT TIGERS

Last year: 86-75, 2nd in AL Central

Biggest addition: C Alex Avila (White Sox, free agent)

Biggest loss: OF Cameron Maybin (Angels, trade)

Biggest question: Is there another run left in the veterans?

One year after finishing on the periphery of the wild-card race, 1B Miguel Cabrera (34), 2B Ian Kinsler (35), DH Victor Martinez (38) and closer Francisco Rodriguez (35), will try to stave off Father Time for another year. Headlined by veteran right-hander Justin Verlander, who’s coming off one of the best seasons of his career, the Tigers' rotation could be much improved if 2016 rookie of the year Michael Fulmer (11-7, 3.06 ERA) and lefty Daniel Norris (4-2, 3.38 ERA) take steps forward, but a July sell-off wouldn’t be a surprise.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Last year: 81-81, 3rd in AL Central

Biggest addition: RF Jorge Soler (Cubs, trade)

Biggest loss: RP Wade Davis (Cubs, trade)

Biggest question: Is the Royals’ short run over?

After winning 89 and 95 games, respectively, over the 2014 and 2015 seasons, the ’15 World Series champions took a step backwards last summer, finishing with a .500 record. The culprit was a rotation that held a 4.67 ERA, fourth worst in the American League. Similar to the Orioles, their spot in the AL Central pecking order will come down to a starting rotation that’s headlined by left-hander Danny Duffy and a group of mid-rotation arms that don’t offer much upside.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Last year: 78-84, 4th in AL Central

Biggest addition: 2B Yoan Moncada (Red Sox, trade)

Biggest loss: LHP Chris Sale (Red Sox, trade)

Biggest question: When will the prospects arrive?

Division-mate Detroit decided to stay the course, but the White Sox went in the complete opposite direction this off-season, blowing things up with the trades of Sale and OF Adam Eaton. Closer David Robertson, OF Melky Cabrera, LHP Jose Quintana, 3B Todd Frazier and 1B Jose Abreu could all be next to go, while the fanbase will simply suffer through the losses and wait for Moncada and right-hander Lucas Giolito, the jewel of the Eaton haul from the Washington Nationals, to arrive. The fruits of the rebuild on the north side of Chicago should give the south-siders hope.

MINNESOTA TWINS

Last year: 59-103, last in AL Central

Biggest addition: C Jason Castro (Astros, free agent)

Biggest loss: 3B Trevor Plouffe (Athletics, free agent)

Biggest question: Will Byron Buxton turn into the star they need?

In the rebuilding White Sox and Twins, the AL Central may feature two of the worst teams in baseball this season. The Twins were already there in 2016, earning the first-overall pick in the 2017 draft thanks to a god-awful 59-103 record, one that might not get much better this summer. A lot of it hinges on the development of Buxton, the 2012 second-overall pick. The outfielder suffered through a pair of false starts the past two seasons, striking out 34.5 per cent of the time, but the precocious 23-year-old seemed to figure things out in the final month of the season, hitting nine home runs over the last 29 games.

 

AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST

TEXAS RANGERS

Last year: 95-67, 1st in AL West; lost in ALDS

Biggest addition: RHP Tyson Ross (Padres, free agent)

Biggest loss: DH Carlos Beltran (Astros, free agent)

Biggest question: Is there enough rotation depth?

The bullpen was one of the league’s worst last season with a 4.40 ERA, while the starting rotation behind Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels is suspect. For a single season at $7 million, the signing of Ross, who missed all of 2016 with shoulder problems and is currently on the mend from thoracic outlet surgery, was a savvy upside play by Rangers GM Jon Daniels, one that could pay off big, or not at all. Expect to hear the Rangers linked to available starters all season long.

 

SEATTLE MARINERS

Last year: 86-76, 2nd in AL West

Biggest addition: SS Jean Segura (Diamondbacks, trade)

Biggest loss: RHP Taijuan Walker (Diamondbacks, trade)

Biggest question: Can King Felix rediscover his ace form?

Since taking over in September 2015, general manager Jerry Dipoto has made close to 40 trades, leaving less than 25 per cent of the original 40-man roster he inherited in place. It might not matter if ace Felix Hernandez doesn’t return to form. After a handful of dominant seasons, Hernandez pitched to a 3.82 ERA last season in just 25 starts, and the peripherals were even uglier. Everyone in the Pacific Northwest will be watching to see if the downward trend continues.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Last year: 84-78, 3rd in AL West

Biggest addition: OF Josh Reddick (Dodgers, free agent)

Biggest loss: 1B/3B Luis Valbuena (Angels, free agent)

Biggest question: Are the Astros this year’s Cleveland?

For those of you who don’t think April baseball matters, the Astros were evidence to the contrary in 2016. After surprisingly winning 86 games to secure a wild-card berth in 2015, the Astros took a small step backwards last season, mostly thanks to a horrific 7-17 start to the season. A trendy pick this off-season like the Indians were a year ago, the Astros have all the ingredients you look for in a post-season team.

 

LOS ANGELES ANGELS

Last year: 74-88, 4th in AL West

Biggest addition: 2B Danny Espinosa (Nationals, trade)

Biggest loss: RHP Jared Weaver (Padres, free agent)

Biggest question: Can they get Mike Trout some help?

Already a two-time AL MVP at the age of 25, Trout has been the best player in baseball for five years now, accumulating WAR at a historic pace that has him on par with men like Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams. With a number of bad contracts either now off the books or coming off next winter, the Angels are positioning themselves to get Trout some much-needed help. If they don’t, the Angles may have to eventually think about what it would take to trade away an all-time great in the middle of his prime.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Last year: 69-93, last in AL West

Biggest addition: OF Matt Joyce (Pirates, free agent)

Biggest loss: IF Danny Valencia (Mariners, trade)

Biggest question: When will Moneyball work again?

The A’s have Moneyballed their way to 68- and 69-win seasons the past two years, but the process hasn’t changed as Billy Beane went out and did what he usually does this off-season, adding platoon pieces — Joyce and Rajai Davis to the outfield mix — and under-valued bullpen parts. They did, however, make an uncharacteristic run at Edwin Encarnacion, which suggests they may believe a competitive window is opening in the next couple of years with the arrival of shortstop prospect Franklin Barreto, the reason Josh Donaldson resides in Toronto.

smitchell@postmedia.com