Andy Kirkaldy: More questions than answers for AL East teams

Corey Buxton asked me last week what I thought about the Red Sox’s chances this year. To be honest, I said, I hadn’t really sized it up.
But then I rattled off, well, is pitcher Clay Buchholz going to make it through the year healthy? Were the end-of-the-season surges by fellow hurlers Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello last year for real, or are they going to be mediocre again (or worse)? How healthy is Eduardo Rodriguez, and can he build on his strong rookie season as a starting pitcher?
Are outfielders Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo going to hit? Is Hanley Ramirez going to field OK at first base? Is there an all-you-can-eat buffet in Boston safe from Pablo Sandoval? Will the bullpen hold up with new acquisition Carson Smith out with injury and 42-year-old Koji Uehara reporting “general soreness,” something to which a 60-year-old pickup soccer player can relate?
I was going on and on until Corey finally summed it up: “A lot of question marks.”
To be fair, Boston has some pluses: David Ortiz at DH, Pedroia at second and Xander Bogaerts at short, young catcher Blake Swihart and capable backup Ryan Hanigan behind the plate (with Christian Vazquez nursing his rocket arm back to health in Pawtucket), all-world Mookie Betts in right field, terrific outfield defense, and starter David Price and closer Craig Kimbrel, the offseason pickups to anchor the pitching staff.
They could be OK. The funny thing is you could say the same thing about the entire American League East. Every team has its pluses and minuses, its knowns and unknowns, or, as Donald Rumsfeld would say, its known unknowns.
The Yankees have plugged their second-base hole with Starlin Castro, but Chase Headley at third and Didi Gregorius at short are essentially replacement-level players. Teixeira at first and A-Rod at DH have seen better days, as has Carlos Beltran in right field, although all three remain dangerous hitters when and if healthy.
McCann behind the plate is a two-way plus, as is Brett Gardner in left field. As is Jacoby Ellsbury in center field if he’s not nursing an injury — only once in the past four years has he played more than 134 games.
The rotation is full of those known unknowns. Tanaka is still pitching with a torn ligament, Pineda is in his second year returning after two years of shoulder woes, Nathan Eovaldi returns after two years in a row allowing about 20 more hits than innings pitched, and C.C. Sabathia is fading fast. Luis Severino might be the best bet on the staff, but don’t tell my fantasy competitors on Saturday I said so. If the Bombers have to start Ivan Nova, they should issue the infielders batting helmets.
Of course, those starters can hand off the baton to the shutdown bullpen trio of Andrew Miller, Dillon Betances and, when he returns from suspension, Aroldis “Pistol-Packing” Chapman. That group is the team’s greatest strength, and is not to be underestimated — the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals demonstrated the value of a shutdown relief corps.
Still, like the Sox, the Yankees carry question marks. And such is the case with the other American League East teams. Toronto retains most of its offense, but lost its best starter, Price, to the Sox, and has a shaky rotation. Tampa Bay has a terrific young starting staff, but its bullpen and offense do not inspire fear.
Baltimore can hit, but will put two statues in the corner outfield slots and hope opponents hit the ball to Adam Jones in center. Their top two relievers are excellent, but the bullpen is not deep and the team’s top starter, Chris Tillman, saw his ERA jump dramatically a year ago while his walks increased and strikeouts decreased. Another starter, Kevin Gausman, begins the year on the DL.
Outside of the East, K.C. lost Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist from their championship team and did not replace them with the same quality. The Royals’ rotation looks especially thin. The Angels and Tigers continue slow declines, although Detroit should be better this year.
Some tout Texas as a sleeper, but the Rangers’ best pitcher, Yu Darvish, is recovering from surgery, as is their closer. Josh Hamilton is hurt again, and the bullpen doesn’t look like a strength. The Astros might be best positioned of all the teams, but as the season neared they were still looking for answers at first and third base and the bottom of the rotation.
So, sure, the Sox and Yankees have question marks, but they are not alone. The biggest questions remain what and how much is going to go right for which teams, and which are going to make moves to answer their questions as the season moves along. In the meantime, the forecast on my Magic 8-Ball comes up, “Hazy. Try Again Later.”

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