The American League East is one of the oldest divisions in Major League Baseball, but a lot of the veterans in this division have aged like a fine wine. The scary thing about two of the American League divisions is that no finishing order would come as a surprise. The Boston Red Sox have finished last in three of the last four seasons and could do it again. Or, they could win the division and the World Series. The Toronto Blue Jays could go from first to worst. The New York Yankees could bottom out and post their first losing record since 1992.
Heading into the season, it seems like the Baltimore Orioles are the only team without a shot to win this division, but they weren’t supposed to win it in 2014 either. That certainly makes things difficult from a handicapping standpoint. Baseball is hard enough to bet on as it is, with 162 games over about six months, but the amount of parity in the AL is going to make it really tough. That’s the case here in the AL East this season.
In terms of division winner odds, here are the prices from BetDSI Sportsbook (click the team name for Adam Burke’s MLB season win total analysis):
Toronto Blue Jays +175
Boston Red Sox +188
New York Yankees +355
Tampa Bay Rays +620
Baltimore Orioles +975
The reigning champions are the favorites here in this division. Toronto went 93-69 last season, but it was a tale of two seasons. The Blue Jays were just 45-46 at the All-Star Break, but a 48-23 in the second half after some impact trades that brought in David Price and Troy Tulowitzki. With the returning core mostly in tact, it’s easy to see why Toronto, who led the league with 252 home runs, is the slight favorite. For Toronto, this may be the last hurrah, as Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are impending free agents.
The Boston Red Sox picked up the aforementioned David Price in free agency and also made a pretty significant trade to acquire Craig Kimbrel. A lot of teams are relying on veterans like Josh Donaldson, Alex Rodriguez, Evan Longoria, Adam Jones, and Chris Davis, but the excitement for the Red Sox can be attributed to a lot of young players like Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and younger pitchers like Eduardo Rodriguez. Veterans like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia still have some mileage left in the tank and they will be heavily relied on.
The New York Yankees probably have the most injury questions in the division, but may have the most upside with a healthy team. Masahiro Tanaka’s UCL is ticking like a time bomb, but not many pitchers have the ceiling that Tanaka has. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and several others are on the wrong side of the aging curve. But, Luis Severino and Michael Pineda might be the best #2 and #3 starters in this division and the Yankees have an elite bullpen. Aroldis Chapman is out for 30 games after a domestic assault allegation, but when he returns, Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Chapman form what will probably be the best bullpen in baseball. A healthy team can contend. An unhealthy team could really struggle in a big way.
The Tampa Bay Rays head into the season flying under the radar, which is probably the way that they would like it. A quietly solid rotation anchored by Chris Archer is enough to get some buzz and some excitement going about this team. Jake Odorizzi is a very good starting pitcher and Erasmo Ramirez was very strong over his final three months of the season. A platoon-based offensive attack generally doesn’t resonate with most fans or bettors, but that’s the plan of attack for small-market teams in baseball’s free-market economy.
This offseason has been rather perplexing for the Baltimore Orioles. They overpaid Chris Davis with deferred money until the end of time and they were bidding against themselves. Dexter Fowler reportedly agreed to a deal and then backed out to re-sign with the Chicago Cubs. Yovani Gallardo will slot into the middle of a subpar rotation anchored by Kevin Gausman. Chris Tillman will also work a lot of innings for the team. Manny Machado is a core guy to build around and Adam Jones should still have a couple of years in his prime. This is the only team that would be a big surprise as an American League East champion.
Free Pick: Boston Red Sox
If we made a checklist with four categories - hitting, pitching, baserunning, and defense - you can make a case that the Blue Jays would be the best in three of those four areas. However, the pitching aspect is the problematic one. The Red Sox present a little bit more value in that their front office will be more aggressive in adding to the team at the expense of its minor league depth come Trade Deadline time. The Blue Jays do not have the organizational depth to do that. The Yankees are looking to cut payroll. The Rays don’t have enough offense. Boston isn’t the best team in this division, but it is in the best position to make a run at the division.
Best Value Pick: Tampa Bay Rays
The best value for the price here is the Tampa Bay Rays. This is a really good rotation with a lineup that has above average potential if the platoon guys do what they do best. The Rays should be a good defensive team, particularly in the outfield. Some injury questions in the rotation and a lack of offensive punch have caused bettors and oddsmakers to sour on them a little bit, but at better than 6/1, there’s definitely some value here.