We’re now in the doldrums of the offseason, as much of the hot stove’s action has taken place. With a number of blockbuster trades and high-profile signings already consummated, it’s as good a time as ever to look around and take stock of how the Yankees’ competition is stacking up.
Last season, the Yankees had the misfortune of playing in the most difficult division in baseball. The 2016 AL East featured three playoff teams and four teams above .500, not to mention a last place team whose talent level was vastly undersold by its poor record. Most notably, what was probably the best team in the American League last year, the Boston Red Sox, won the division.
How does Boston look as we head towards 2017? Let’s have a look:
It doesn’t take much more than a cursory scan of Boston’s ZiPS projections, courtesy of FanGraphs and Dan Syzmborski, to see that, at this point, the Red Sox again look awesome. The only positions at which they project as below average are third base and first base, and even that is assuming Boston gives numerous at-bats to the newly signed Mitch Moreland (projected OPS+ of 90) rather than simply allowing incumbent first baseman Hanley Ramirez (120 OPS+) to play every day.
The Yankees’ young talent is impressive and exciting, but it would be tough for New York’s batch of youngsters to soon match the precocious position player core in Boston. Mookie Betts leads the way with a 5.9 WAR projection, and is backed up by Jackie Bradley Jr and Xander Bogartes, both of whom project for between 3 and 4 WAR. They are joined by rookie Andrew Benintendi, who projects for a solid 109 OPS+, and rounds out Boston’s set of Killer B’s.
The Boston lineup simply appears very strong, even with David Ortiz retired. The Red Sox project to have six batters with above average OPS+ figures, not to mention solid reserves like Chris Young and Brock Holt who provide nearly league average offense.
Now, Boston’s hitters were outstanding last year, and that wasn’t enough to push them into elite status with the Cubs. That was because their pitching couldn’t quite match the excellent production of their batters. That situation looks unlikely to repeat.
In 2017, the Red Sox will feature a pitching staff that is nearly every bit as good as their top-of-the-line position players. Chris Sale, the new staff ace acquired at the cost of the best prospect in baseball, looks to be worth his hefty price. His top comp is CC Sabathia, and his 6 WAR projection leads a rotation that, according to ZiPS, features six pitchers that project to post better than average ERA’s.
ZiPS doesn’t count on AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello to repeat his great 2016 campaign, but it does peg Porcello for nearly 200 innings with a 3.55 ERA and 3.62 FIP. The $217 million man David Price had an uneven debut season with the Red Sox, but he still projects as a workhorse, to the tune of 218 innings and 5 WAR. Even the back of Boston’s rotation looks capable, as none of Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright, and Eduardo Rodriguez can be counted on for durability, but each possess quality stuff and projections greater than 2 WAR.
Boston’s bullpen doesn’t appear as dominant as the Yankees’, but it still has firepower. Craig Kimbrel has fallen from his peak, but he still projects for an excellent 67 ERA-. Tyler Thornburg, yet another of Dave Dombrowski’s numerous offseason additions, also projects for a strong 71 ERA-, and Carson Smith, after missing the 2016 season, projects for a 72 ERA-. Anyone looking to the relief corps to find a clear weakness on the Boston roster will be disappointed.
There just doesn’t seem to be any sort of significant weakness on the Red Sox right now, and that’s the harsh reality that the rest of the AL East will have to grapple with in 2017 and beyond. Dombrowski inherited a large chunk of young talent when he took over from Ben Cherington, and he has aggressively retooled Boston into what looks like one of the best teams in MLB. A number of things would likely have to go wrong to dislodge the Red Sox from a playoff spot. It’s certainly possible that those things could go wrong, but from our view at this point in the offseason, the Yankees and the rest of the division have their work cut out for them.