From the proven big-name aces to the dark-horse contenders and everyone in-between, the American League East is stocked with terrific starting pitching talent -- though every team would love to add an arm or two more.
As we continue our Around the Horn series, let's take a closer look at each AL East club's starting-pitching situation:
The known: The Blue Jays have their ace of today in Hyun Jin Ryu and their potential ace of tomorrow in Nate Pearson. Ryu will be expected to lead the staff again after posting a 2.69 ERA in his impressive 2020 debut with Toronto, but he can't do it all himself. It will be especially interesting to see how the left-hander handles being built back up to a full workload. Pearson represents upside that the rotation needs. The club's No. 1 prospect enters '21 with some lessons learned from his uneven debut season, and the Blue Jays need him to step into a role in the upper half of their rotation.
The unknown: Robbie Ray, Steven Matz and Tanner Roark project to be the other starters in this rotation, but what does the role of a starter really mean for the Blue Jays this season? The club had success with bulk relievers in 2020, especially some of their younger arms, and that strategy will need to continue as they stretch their full staff back out to 162 games. This means heavy bullpen usage and piggyback strategies are very much on the table, so it's best not to view this rotation as five traditional starters. This should become much clearer as we get to the latter stages of Spring Training.
-- Keegan Matheson
The known: John Means and ... that's about it. Well, not exactly. But the 2019 All-Star is the O's all but official Opening Day starter and the only rotation member written in ink. The O's were excited by the strong '20 debuts from Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin, and they signed reclamation projects Félix Hernández and Matt Harvey, as well as Wade LeBlanc, to Minor League deals for depth this winter. They profile now as the favorites to crack the rotation behind Means, though Kremer and Akin will encounter workload restrictions throughout the year.
The unknown: What do King Félix and Harvey have left in the tank? How restricted will the prospects be, both early on and deep into the summer? How will the Orioles cover innings in a year with 102 more games scheduled than in '20? Can upper-level prospects like Michael Baumann, Alexander Wells and Kevin Smith debut in '21? These are the big questions in Orioles camp, and many of the answers depend on what shape the rotation ultimately takes. The O's are considering a slew of non-traditional pitching alignments, including a six-man rotation, openers and piggybacking.
-- Joe Trezza
The known: We don't necessarily know what their rotation will look like, or even if they'll use a traditional rotation, but there are five pretty safe bets for pitchers who will function more like traditional starters come Opening Day: Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Chris Archer, Rich Hill and Michael Wacha. The Rays have plenty of depth behind them, with veteran swing man Collin McHugh and young lefty Josh Fleming among those in the mix. There's further depth behind that group, too, with the hard-throwing duo of lefty Shane McClanahan and right-hander Luis Patiño and a healthy Brent Honeywell Jr. The Rays have a ton of talented arms. They added experience in the offseason, and manager Kevin Cash is not afraid to deploy them in whatever way is likely to get the most out of them.
The unknown: How is this going to work exactly? If there's a club most likely to try something creative to tackle the industry-wide uncertainty about increasing pitchers' workloads coming off a shortened season, it's the team that popularized the opener. The Rays seem more inclined to ask for 100-120 or so innings from a group of eight to 10 bulk-inning type pitchers rather than expecting 180-200 innings out of five arms. How will they use the arms on their roster and in their system? And will the guys they have take the necessary steps forward to replace Charlie Morton (Braves) and Blake Snell (Padres)? Will Glasnow's new slider help him take a step forward? Can Archer and Wacha return to form? What does Hill have left? Are McClanahan and Patiño ready to live up to their lofty potential? The Rays almost always seem to find a way with their pitching staff, and it'll be as interesting as ever to see how they get there this year.
-- Adam Berry
The known: Thanks to Eduardo Rodriguez's return, the Red Sox have hope for a much better rotation than a year ago. There will be even more optimism if Chris Sale returns by midseason from Tommy John surgery. Flame-throwing Nathan Eovaldi is expected to be the team's No. 2 starter behind Rodriguez until Sale returns. The key for Eovaldi has always been health, and he has had no issues this spring. Garrett Richards is the key new addition to the rotation after signing a one-year, $10 million deal. Much like Eovaldi, Richards has always been billed as having great stuff, but he's had trouble harnessing it. Nick Pivetta and Martín Pérez are expected to fill the final two spots.
The unknown: The general expectation is that Sale will be back this season, but when? And once he comes back, how good will he be? Prospect Tanner Houck excited the fan base when he had three dominant starts at the end of last season. Due to the numbers game, he likely starts the season at Triple-A, but he could be an X-factor if he can earn himself another callup. The thinking when the Red Sox traded for Pivetta is that he needed a chance of scenery after things didn't work out with the Phillies. It will soon become apparent if that is the case. As excited as the Red Sox are about having Rodriguez back, it will be interesting to see how many innings the club asks him to pitch after he didn't log any last year.
-- Ian Browne
The known: Gerrit Cole returns for his second season as the Bombers' ace, aiming to fulfill his stated objective of bringing multiple championships to the Bronx over the life of his contract. The Yankees have added a couple of high-ceiling gambles in Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon, while pointing to a 6 percent soft-contact rate to indicate that Jordan Montgomery pitched better than his stats in 2020. The fifth-starter derby is highlighted by Deivi García and Domingo Germán, with Luis Severino expected back in June or July.
The unknown: Let's assume that Cole will be Cole -- he pitched to a 2.84 ERA in 12 regular-season starts and appeared to be getting stronger into the postseason. Kluber, Taillon and Germán combined for one inning in the Majors last year, making their situations unpredictable. Kluber owns two Cy Young Awards, but he hasn't turned in a full season since 2018. Taillon believes he will be good for 120-150 innings coming off Tommy John surgery, but the Yanks will likely be conservative. Germán led the Yanks with 18 wins in '19, but he hasn't pitched in a big league game since that September due to a domestic-violence suspension. Who will show up?
-- Bryan Hoch