4) Toronto Blue Jays
Oh boy, this is a toughie. 2015’s AL East champions the Blue Jays really didn’t have to do an awful lot over the offseason to make themselves contenders to do the same again in 2016. They are by default. American League MVP Josh Donaldson is just one of the vast array of offensive talent on baseball’s most offensive team. Throw in Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki and Edwin Encarnacion and you’re going to be getting runs. Many of them home runs.
The pitching situation is a little bit more of a touchy subject in Toronto. They lost Price (admittedly they only had him for a mere 3 months) to their division rivals your Boston Red Sox and replaced him with, well, J.A. Happ. I’m not sure that’s really a replacement as much as it is roster filling. Happ had an impressive second half of 2015 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, flashing ace in September/October (1.75 ERA for the month, 11.25 K/9). That’s all well and good, but really now, Happ is a known commodity and such a small sample size compared to his 9 years of obscurity in the Majors is dizzying.
Obviously Toronto are hoping that the Pirates “fixed” the 33 year old Happ. They’ve done it before for other pitchers, why not for this one? Well he wasn’t exactly pitching in AL East so there’s that. Either which way, it’s more likely that the Blue Jays are quite content to skirt the starters issue altogether. That enormous offensive potential translates into plenty runs. 2015’s World Series winners the Kansas City Royals got their rings off the back of a mediocre rotation backed up by solid bats and a lights out bullpen.
Toronto don’t really have the latter, though they have plenty of the former, perhaps more than any other team in the game. So you see, it’s somewhat difficult to judge the future of what already was a pretty complete line-up that didn’t really do any awful lot over the offseason. Sure, they lost Price. That’s a seriously big loss by any metric, but they still have more than enough quality to get the job done.
Undoubtedly Toronto will be Boston’s top competitor for the division in 2016, but there are reasons to be positive. Even in 2015, Rick Porcello bombs and Eduardo Rodriguez pitch tipping included, the Red Sox came out on top over the Blue Jays as many times as the opposite. In the second half of the season when Boston hit their groove (and Toronto too, for that matter), the Red Sox went 6-3 against the Jays. With the emergence of a young core of talent, the Red Sox showed us that they were very close to competing with the best in the division in 2015, but for a few missing pieces.
Dombrowski hopes to have filled all the pieces and the Red Sox are unquestionably the most improved side in the league for it. How far that takes them remains to be seen, but the signs show that Dombrowski may have done just enough at a time of weakness for divisional rivals to ensure a return to contention in 2016 is a very real possibility.