Previously, we covered the teams who, without question, are better than the Yankees heading into 2016 with rosters currently constructed. Now we move into the teams who could finish better or worse and have similar chances to the Yankees heading into the season.
Toronto Blue Jays: I would give the Jays a slight nod over the Yankees keeping in mind they get a six game head start based on last year’s results. This Blue Jays team is going to hit the heck out of the ball but it would be silly to ignore Jose Bautista’s age, Edwin Encarnacion’s age and health Troy Tulowitzski’s own health issues every season. While on the field, that trio makes the Blue Jays far and away the most feared lineup in the game, but the entire middle of the order could be a threat for major regression, which is a big risk to attach to when the team made exactly one playoff run and it was with David Price who is no longer there. The Jays, like the Yankees, will have a lot of options in the rotation without a ton of guarantee, and have an inferior bullpen. Still, a healthy offense will win them far more higher scoring games and for that reason, they are still more dangerous.
Boston Red Sox: Finishing nine games back of New York, the Red Sox have been a Jekyll and Hyde franchise of late. The arch-rivals have had a playoff win one time since 2008, getting swept in 2009, collapsing in 2011 and coming in last place in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Of course, the one year Boston did win a playoff game was in 2013 when it won the World Series. So suffice it to say choosing how the team will finish is a bit difficult, regardless of offseason moves. Boston acquired Carson Smith and Craig Kimbrel to remake a bullpen and make it a strength instead of a weakness. It also acquired David Price, strengthening a questionable rotation and weakening its division rival Blue Jays in the process. With Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez coming off forgettable years and Xander Boegarts and Mookie Betts another year older, it’s not difficult to see a lot of upside for Boston in the 2016 season. Whether that upside garners first, second, or third place in the division remains to be seen, but it should be a three way battle for the division and a potential wildcard spot, with the Sox being one of the teams on par with the Yankees.
Cleveland Indians: If there is a team to tab for a major upgrade in performance in the league this season, the Indians are very likely to be the winners. Cleveland finished 81-80, a full six games behind the Yankees, but ended the season 32-22 over the last two+ months. The Indians will have an advantage in the rotation over New York, boasting top of the line starters in: Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, with solid options in the back end. All three of the aforementioned pitchers can turn into an ace. The Yankees have the advantage in the bullpen as usual but the Indians’ offense should be much improved with Francisco Lindor and Mike Napoli for a full season along with a presumably healthy Michael Brantley once his season starts in late April or early May. The upside of the rotation and offense compared to the 2015 season, should be enough to put Cleveland in the playoff conversation.
Detroit Tigers: The AL Central will be no joke in 2016 unlike many other years in the past, so much so that the Minnesota Twins don’t make the list as a contender partially because the Indians, Royals and now the Tigers, are making it instead. Detroit had potentially the biggest offseason, acquiring Cameron Maybin for a full year, and signing: Jordan Zimmerman, Justin Upton and Francisco Rodriguez. The Tigers’ biggest weaknesses – outfield offense, starting pitching and end of game pitching, all took substantial improvements. Detroit’s bullpen is not guaranteed to be good but should be more stable, its rotation should be formidible with Justin Verlander finishing the year strong, Zimmerman added and guys like Derek Norris and Anibel Sanchez presumably healthy and on the roster for a full season. Jose Iglesias is back from injury and Miguel Cabrera will try to remain healthy as well. The Tigers mainly tanked to end the year 74-87, so a massive improvement is very much a possibility with the team in contention again.