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Another offseason has passed and the 2021 MLB season is on deck. As the new year dawns, the American League East is emerging as one of the most competitive races in baseball. Four teams can legitimately make a case for the division crown this year with the Rays coming into the season as the defending division and American League champions, looking to stave off challengers with a weaker roster. The Yankees are looking better than ever as well as the rejuvenated Blue Jays along with a still competitive Red Sox squad, while Baltimore doesn’t have much hope. Here is a look at each team in the American League East for the 2021 season complete with lineup and rotation projections, team outlooks and standings accordingly.

1. New York Yankees: 102-60

Projected Lineup:

2B: DJ Lemahieu

RF: Aaron Judge

1B: Luke Voit

DH: Giancarlo Stanton

SS: Gleyber Torres

3B: Gio Urshela

LF: Clint Frazier

C: Kyle Higashioka/Gary Sanchez

CF: Aaron Hicks

Projected Rotation: Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon, Luis Severino, Domingo German

Another season and another early playoff exit has come for the Yankees. New York has qualified for the postseason every year since 2017, and still has yet to reach the World Series with their current core. However, they have proven that they are not satisfied with these disappointing shortcomings of the past and they continued that trend this year. Throughout their recent success, their only true flaw has been the lack of quality starting pitching depth. While ace Gerrit Cole was as advertised last season, the Yankees did not have much behind him to get them through October, as shown by their ALDS exit. With Masahiro Tanaka heading back to his native Japan, this issue needed to be addressed. The team was active on that market as they brought in former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber on a one year deal and acquired former top prospect Jameson Taillon from the Pittsburgh Pirates. If these guys can stay healthy along with big returns from Luis Severino and Domingo Germán whom both didn’t pitch in 2020, the Yankees should form a top 5 rotation in baseball. The bullpen looks to be one of the most efficient in the league again in 2021 as although Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle are both out, Chad Green and Zack Britton should have no problem picking up the slack to set up Aroldis Chapman each night. We all know about the lethal lineup the Bronx Bombers boast and nothing about it should change this year. Re-signing DJ Lemahieu was huge for this team as they kept their table setter at the top of the order to set up the power guys in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton as well as breakout slugger Luke Voit. A bounce back year seems to be in order for Gleyber Torres and with highly touted prospect Clint Frazier now getting the chance to play everyday, New York’s lineup is as dangerous as it has been in years. The emerging bat and ace glove of Gio Urshela in the hot corner is also a major plus towards the end of the order. The Aaron’s, Judge and Hicks are both also top tier defenders at their positions. With every other team in the division having flaws of their own, this is the Yankees division to lose. They are the most well rounded team among the group and New York should capture their 2nd AL East title in three years with relative ease. And with Houston losing some key players, the Yankees are now the clear favorite in the AL to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009. In 2021, it’s put up or shut up time for the Bronx Bombers.

Team MVP: DJ Lemahieu

2. Tampa Bay Rays 90-72

Projected Lineup

LF: Austin Meadows

2B: Brandon Lowe

DH: Randy Arozarena

1B: Ji-Man Choi

3B: Yandy Diaz/Joey Wendle

RF: Manuel Margot

SS: Willy Adames

C: Francisco Mejia

CF: Kevin Kiermaier

Projected Rotation: Tyler Glasnow, Chris Archer, Ryan Yarbrough, Luis Patino, Brent Honeywell/Andrew Kitteridge

After making their first World Series appearance in 12 years, the Rays will begin their pennant defense at a disadvantage. It was a brutal winter for Tampa as key pieces from last year’s run now find themselves elsewhere, mostly due to the team’s own decisions. Not picking up Charlie Morton’s $15 million option was bad enough but it got worse when the team traded former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to the Padres for four prospects, both moves done to save money. These huge losses in the rotation have come in the bullpen too as standout relievers from last year went out the door with Jose Alvarado being traded and Aaron Loup walking in free agency. Even with the lost arms from last year, that doesn’t mean this team won’t be competitive. Although the rotation is depleted, Tyler Glasnow had a phenomenal 2020 season and is emerging as an elite level pitcher to carry the load. Behind him though, uncertainty lies. Luis Patino, the #19 prospect in baseball will likely be a part of the starting rotation as he was the main piece for Tampa in the Snell trade and looks to be MLB ready with serious potential. Ryan Yarbrough has been a very solid pitcher thus far but has been used as an opener mostly. Chris Archer is a complete wild card as he has been horrible since Tampa traded him in 2018. For the fifth spot, either Brent Honeywell or Andrew Kitteridge will likely fill in. In the bullpen, shutdown closer Nick Anderson still remains atop arguably the best unit in the league with John Curtiss, Pete Fairbanks, Diego Castillo and others making up a plethora of effective arms. The lineup hasn’t changed much from 2020 other than the loss of Hunter Renfroe, which doesn’t hurt much. Tampa will need a bounce back year from Austin Meadows to be a table setter as other than Brandon Lowe and Ji Man-Choi, nobody in the order was a consistent performer last year. Playoff legend Randy Arozarena will be one of the featured bats as Tampa hopes he can continue to utilize a deadly combination of power and speed to produce on offense. Yandy Diaz, new catcher Francisco Mejia (also acquired in the Snell deal) and Manuel Margot have also shown some promise at the plate and can all be reliable hitters each game. This team truly shines with their gloves though. Kevin Kiermaier is arguably one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball. With an exciting glove of Willy Adames at short and an emerging defensive wizard in Margot, this team is very balanced on paper. However, with a full season, the Yankees improving and accounting all the Rays lost last year, a setback is due. It won’t be severe enough to knock Tampa out of the playoff discussion but it should have them out of divisional contention and having to scratch and claw to return to the playoffs in a crowded AL wild card race.

Team MVP: Brandon Lowe

3. Toronto Blue Jays 86-76

Projected Lineup:

CF: George Springer

SS: Bo Bichette

2B: Marcus Semien

DH: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

LF: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

3B: Cavan Biggio

RF: Teoscar Hernandez

1B: Rowdy Tellez

C: Danny Jansen

Projected Rotation: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Nate Pearson, Ross Stripling, Robbie Ray, Tyler Chatwood

For the freezing cold up north, the Blue Jays have been quite hot this winter. After making their first playoff appearance since 2016, Toronto’s rebuild seems to be coming along ahead of schedule which prompted the team to spend some big bucks to sure up for 2021. In early January, Canada’s team made two huge splashes in the free agency market as they signed one of the best all around players in baseball George Springer to a 6 year/$150 million deal to be their new center fielder at the top of the lineup. They also picked up another impact bat in shortstop Marcus Semien on a one year rental after a down season in 2020. Adding these two playoff hardened veterans will no doubt rub off on this already impressive young lineup as guys like Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio can only get better with them. The lineup is going to be a major strength for this team as it has been in year’s past as the new additions combined with the young guns make up a starting nine that can hit with the best. The defense should also be a plus as both Springer and Semien bring high quality gloves to go with Bichette and catcher Danny Jansen. Pitching however is where this team struggles. While Hyun-Jin Ryu had a very efficient 2020 season and top prospect Nate Pearson has massive potential, the rotation doesn’t have much to fear behind them. Ross Stripling and Robbie Ray are both quality starters but their best seasons are behind them and they have regressed in the last few years. New acquisitions Tyler Chatwood and Steven Matz will be fighting for the fifth rotation spot, while both are highly inconsistent. The Blue Jays bullpen isn’t much better either. While they did ink 2019 all star Kirby Yates to replace Ken Giles as their closer, how they are going to get him those opportunities is very questionable right now. Ryan Borucki seems to be their best setup option as his 2.70 ERA from 2020 says but he did struggle with injuries and pitched in just 26 games. Other than those two, there isn’t much reliability for Toronto in the later innings. However, after an impressive 2020 campaign that lured two premium hitters up North, the Blue Jays should be one of the most dangerous hitting teams in the league in 2021 and will be right in playoff discussions. Everyone knows though, you need pitching to win and Toronto doesn’t have much of that. While they’ll be in the playoff race into late September, the lack of quality arms will keep the Blue Jays from reaching the postseason this year. But with the outstanding young core developing even more and huge arms such as Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke being free agents next year, the future is very bright in the six.

Team MVP: George Springer

4. Boston Red Sox 76-86

Projected Lineup:

2B: Kiké Hernandez

SS: Xander Bogaerts

3B: Rafael Devers

DH: J.D. Martinez

CF: Alex Verdugo

C: Christian Vazquez

RF: Hunter Renfroe

1B: Michael Chavis

LF: Franchy Cordero

Projected Rotation: Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, Garrett Richards

The Red Sox enter the 2021 season as a very hard team to predict. After running through the league to claim the franchise’s 9th World Series title in 2018, Boston has gone on quite the downswing. An 84 win campaign in 2019 was followed up with major salary complications within the team which forced them to trade superstar outfielder Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, prior to the 2020 season. Karma struck the Sox hard with this deal as while Boston going just 24-36 this year, Betts led Los Angeles to a championship. More fan favorites have also left the team recently as well as Betts’ former outfield mates in Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. are both out of town. However, this team still does have talent. This lineup is one of the more dangerous ones in the league as every guy in the order can swing the bat. Signing utility man Kike Hernandez as the new leadoff man is a plus and a good bet to get on base for the big bats of Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers to drive in. Behind them comes some young guys with tons of promise as Alex Verdugo (the main prospect received from the Betts deal) and Hunter Renfroe should provide impactful offensive and defensive production. Catcher Christian Vazquez enjoyed a breakout season in 2020 offensively and all signs show that he will be an important part of the lineup again in 2021. Michael Chavis and Franchy Cordero both have nice offensive upside, as well as some bench bats in Bobby Dalbec and the flexible Marwin Gonzalez. Pitching is where this team is going to have a lot of trouble though. The team’s two best starters in Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez both did not pitch in 2020 with major injury concerns and one has to wonder if they can get back to their 2018 form again. Nathan Eovaldi had a horrible 2019 season and only pitched 9 times in 2020 as he battled injuries as well. Martin Perez and Garrett Richards are no more than rotation fillers it seems as Perez has not posted a sub 4.oo ERA season since 2013 and Richards only pitched 51 innings last year, with a 4.03 ERA. The bullpen doesn’t show many promising signs either. While the acquisition of Adam Ottavino to pair with Matt Barnes was a smart move, both had very bad 2020 seasons. With Brandon Workman gone, there aren’t any other reliable options to set these guys up either. While Boston does have one of the better lineups in the league, they will be the odd man out in a division with three quality teams as overall pitching depth holds them back from reaching a .500 mark this season.

Team MVP: Xander Bogaerts

5. Baltimore Orioles 63-99

CF: Austin Hays

RF: D.J. Stewart

LF: Anthony Santander

DH: Trey Mancini

1B: Ryan Mountcastle

C: Chance Cisco

2B: Yolmer Sanchez

3B: Rio Ruiz

SS: Freddy Galvis

Projected Rotation: John Means, Felix Hernandez, Dean Kremer, Hunter Harvey, Keegan Akin

Baltimore enters 2021 with the same expectation as they have had for the last four years. They are in rebuild mode and are not in a position to even be competitive this season. The Orioles will be the punching bag for the other four teams in the division to pick up wins off of. Even though the birds are heading for another losing season, it doesn’t mean this season isn’t important. After back to back 100 plus loss seasons in 2018 and 2019, this is a year Baltimore needs to show some signs that the rebuild is progressing. The lineup should show some flashes this year as all three outfielders are developing hitters in front of the powerful Trey Mancini and top prospect Ryan Mountcastle. Yolmer Sanchez and Freddy Galvis are nice veteran pickups for the locker room as well. The rotation is still the biggest question of this rebuild as other than John Means, nobody on the roster has shown much promise. Obviously, Felix Hernandez had his best days years ago and while Dean Kremer, Hunter Harvey and Keegan Akin are all young with upside, we haven’t seen much if anything at the major league level that tells us they can really help Baltimore win in 2021. There isn’t a clear closer or any set roles for that matter in the Orioles bullpen but their best option will likely be lefty specialist Paul Fry and we could even see Hunter Harvey be transitioned into a closer role at some point. While Baltimore may not do much this season, there is a bright future ahead with top prospect Adley Rutschmann and highly regarded pitching prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall possibly making it to the big club at some point this year. All in all, the Orioles will struggle again this year but with the debuts of these new faces, some hope for the future could be shown this year.

Team MVP: Anthony Santander

Image: ClutchPoints