MLB.com is taking a position-by-position look at the teams in the American League East. This week, we’ll continue with starting pitchers.
What a difference a year can make. Twelve months after the Yankees’ rotation was viewed as the likely Achilles' heel in their pursuit of an elusive 28th World Series championship, a strong case can be made that the Bronx Bombers now boast the top starting five in the American League East.
The big-ticket addition of stud right-hander Gerrit Cole promises to increase headaches for batters in this powerhouse division, boosting optimism in the Bronx that the Yankees can reach their first Fall Classic since 2009. The path to a second consecutive division title is not unobstructed, however, as each of their division rivals presents a formidable stumbling block on a nightly basis.
The division’s best
Cole is projected to be a difference-maker, helping New York edge the Rays for the AL East’s best five-man staff. It took a landmark nine-year, $324 million deal for the Yankees to land the runner-up in last year’s AL Cy Young Award chase, a hurler whom general manager Brian Cashman has referred to as his “great white whale.” Cole led the Majors with 326 strikeouts while going 20-5 with an AL-best 2.50 ERA for the Astros last year, and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has said that he expects Cole to help deliver multiple World Series titles during his time in pinstripes.
The rest of the Bombers’ starting five promises to be solid, if not spectacular. Masahiro Tanaka is coming off his second career All-Star selection, owning a 75-43 record and 3.75 ERA over his first six seasons in the Majors. Luis Severino is expected to be healthy after losing most of 2019 to injuries, while James Paxton is set to miss three to four months after undergoing spinal surgery on Wednesday. He rode a strong second half to finish 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA in his first Bombers campaign. J.A. Happ, who allowed a career-high 34 homers last year, was shopped during the offseason, but the veteran was encouraged by a strong September. He'll have a bigger role now with Paxton out of action.
The rest (in alphabetical order)
Toronto’s rotation will begin the year with more stability. The addition of Hyun-Jin Ryu is the most significant for the squad, as the 32-year-old left-hander is expected to take on the ace role after he finished second in the National League Cy Young Award voting with the Dodgers last season. Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson should provide a stable of innings to a team that used 21 different starters in 2019.
The Blue Jays are looking for a bounce-back year from Matt Shoemaker after the right-hander tore the ACL in his left knee five starts into last season, and while the fifth spot in the rotation has yet to be decided, there will be plenty of competition during Spring Training. Japanese hurler Shun Yamaguchi joins contenders Trent Thornton and Ryan Borucki, the latter two who are embarking on their sophomore seasons.
The Orioles are still looking to add a veteran to their starting mix, and a reunion with Andrew Cashner could be on the horizon. Whether or not that happens, the rotation will be full of question marks. Surprise 2019 AL All-Star John Means returns to head the rotation, followed by veteran righty Alex Cobb, who is fully recovered from right hip surgery.
Asher Wojciechowski also returns; he and new addition Kohl Stewart probably have a leg up on snagging two mid-rotation jobs. The Orioles also signed veteran lefty Wade LeBlanc to a Minor League deal to fight for one. He'll be up against prospect Keegan Akin, Rule 5 Draft picks Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, and the returning David Hess. All are likely to start games for the Orioles at some point in 2020.
If healthy, the Rays could have one of the Majors’ best rotations, featuring three All-Star caliber hurlers. Charlie Morton, who finished third in the AL Cy Young Award race last season, will lead the rotation. Blake Snell, the 2018 Cy Young Award winner, expects to bounce back after battling multiple injuries in '19. Then there’s Tyler Glasnow, who won AL Pitcher of the Month in April after posting a 1.74 ERA in five starts but missed about four months due to injury.
Tampa Bay has considerable talent and options for the fourth and fifth starting roles. Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough are projected to round out the rotation, and they’ve enjoyed success in their first two seasons in the big leagues. Chirinos posted a 3.51 ERA in 18 appearances last year and Yarbrough went 11-6 with a 4.13 ERA to help the Rays weather injuries.
Health is again the wild card as the Red Sox believe they can boast one of baseball’s best rotations. Ace Chris Sale was inconsistent and injured last season, but the lefty thinks he is over the left elbow woes that ended his season early.
Nathan Eovaldi failed to live up to expectations after signing a four-year, $68 million contract. This was due mainly to an injury to his right elbow that required surgery, but he was also inconsistent once he got healthy. The good news is that lefty Eduardo Rodriguez had a breakout 2019 season, winning 19 games. Boston’s new addition is veteran lefty Martin Pérez, who replaces Rick Porcello. Boston could also look to add another starter after reportedly trading David Price to the Dodgers.
Ian Browne, Alexis Brudnicki, Juan Toribio and Joe Trezza contributed to this story.