The 2017 Yankees and AL East Predictions (Part 2)

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The Yankees have rebuilt with youth but lack proven starting pitching. But their success will be predicated as much on their competition as the makeup of the team. Here, then, is a look at the competition and predictions for the season. Hint: there’s some good news on the opening weekend.

The 2016 Yankees finished fourth in the AL Beast and barely missed out on a playoff spot. But the division was strong and sent three teams to the playoffs: Baltimore, Boston, and Toronto. If the 2017 Yankees want to do better, they are going to have to win most of their head-to-head matchups.

And it all Starts with the Tampa Bay Rays

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

There was a time when Tampa was as much of a threat in the division as any team. 2008 saw them beat Boston in the ALCS and advance to the World Series. But that proved to be the high-water mark when the team still dreamed that Manager Joe Maddon would lead them to the promised land.

But he left to make dreams come true in Chicago, and the Rays have returned to their malaise. A team that finished with 94 losses and last in the division decided to re-tool with retreads. If the Rays had any local fans, they would be bitterly disappointed.

And we need not look any further than the pitching to see how far this team has fallen. Identifying and developing great young arms–from David Price to Chris Archer–has been the hallmark of this franchise for a decade.

The Times, They are A-Changing

This year, however, the vanguard of this team has become more of hope than a lifeline. That is not to say that the pitching staff will not be great in 2017. It is that we can no longer assume that as a fact.

For instance, here is an excerpt from an excellent piece by Dave Stevenson of FanSided:

"Chris Archer is their staff ace. Ignore his 19 losses from last season. This is more indicative of Tampa’s offense and his terrible luck than his ability. Archer finished 2016 with 4.02 ERA while pitching over 200 innings for the second consecutive season."

So the ace of the staff, Archer, lost 19 games last year and finished with a 4.02 ERA. And the best advice for the new season? To ignore last season. That is not much help for the team or hope for the fans.

But Archer is a great pitcher and could go out and have a Cy Young year. It is just that the “could” is a bit more suspect based on last year. The rest of the staff is just as shaky. Jake Odorizzi gives up too many home runs; Alex Cobb is coming back from Tommy John surgery; and, Blake Snell could have a good year but pitched to a 5.87 ERA in spring training.

The worst news is that pitching remains the strength of the team.

A Bad Joke about a Bad Offense

The Rays are the most polite team in baseball because they never get offensive. And it’s a shame because they have one the best players in baseball, Evan Longoria, and they refuse to surround him with talent. Longoria slashed .273/.318/.521 with a career high 36 home runs, which helped him collect 98 RBI’s. And all the while playing the hot corner at an All-Star level.

Brad Miller is a promising young shortstop who hit 30 homers last year, but his average was only .243. Corey Dickerson was the next most powerful and hit 24 dingers but, again, his average was .245. To understand these numbers in context, wait until we get to the Red Sox.

The best hitter for average was Longoria; the only other player who hit above .247 was Logan Forsythe. And they traded him! However, they still have Kevin Kiermaier, and he should do well out of the lead-off spot. It’s just that it takes more than two or three good offensive players to compete in this division, maybe any.

No Help From the Pen…

The bullpen is equally a mess. But, like the offense, they do have one great player: closer Alex Colome. It was Erasmo Ramirez, however, who was used the most last year. He pitched twice as many innings (90) as the next non-closer (45). And Erasmo–the Rays most relied upon pitcher–put up a 3.77 ERA while giving up a hit per inning.

That means the Rays will probably rely more on Danny Farquhar this year. But he only pitched 35 innings last year and threw up a 3.06 ERA.

No, the Rays were not a good team last year. They decided to fix things with retreads and hopes for the future. Some of these moves already seem like a disaster. They brought in Shawn Tolleson to repair the bullpen. His spring ERA, though, is 7.20…and that turned out to be the good news.

It was recently announced that Tolleson is going on the 60-day disabled list.

They had the same luck with the offense. Curt Casali got by far the most plate appearances of any of their four catchers (256). The problem for the Rays was that he was also their worst offensive catcher, slashing just .186/.273/.336.

So the team brought in Wilson Ramos to be the everyday catcher. He, too, just went on the 60-day disabled list.

…Or the Farm

And they will not look to the farm for help. They traded Forsythe for 29th ranked prospect P Jose De Leon. He might develop nicely but is not expected to make a significant impact on the 2017 Rays. Their top fielding prospect, Willy Adames, is ranked 21st by some but has never played above Double-A. The system does not have much to give and looks unlikely to be a significant factor for Tampa.

The Rays most recent move is the most telling. They brought in Peter Bourjos the last week of camp. That shows how much uncertainty the Rays themselves feel about the team.