Can the Red Sox or the Blue Jays dethrone the Royals as American League champions next season? Is it possible for another team to emerge as a contender and add value to our MLB picks?
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox are built to win in 2016. They are loaded with young talent at key positions like shortstop (Xander Bogaerts) and center field (Mookie Betts) and veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia can still play at a high level and their leadership skills are extremely valuable. Don't forget about Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, who are expected to bounce back after disappointing first years with the team. This lineup has the potential to display an elite offense.
Boston added coveted free agent pitcher David Price to stabilize the top of their starting rotation and improve their chances to compete in the AL East. Signing Craig Kimbrel is equally important, as he is one of the best closers in baseball. A bullpen with Kimbrel, former Mariners setup man Carson Smith, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa is scary. The Red Sox are currently at +550 MLB odds to win the American League pennant at Marathon.
Kansas City Royals
Most of the roster that helped the Royals win their first World Series title since 1985 will return next season, but FanGraphs projects Kansas City to finish 79-83 next season.
The team did lose second baseman/outfielder Ben Zobrist, star pitcher Johnny Cueto and key reliever Ryan Madson, among others, in free agency, and they don't have bona fide ace to replace Cueto, but they were able to retain left fielder Alex Gordon and right-hander Chris Young and sign reliever Joakim Soria.
The Royals used the lack of respect card as motivation last season and now their championship core of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Wade Davis and Salvador Perez will have that same fuel this year. The Royals are at +550 to win the American League next season and they deserve to be considered for our MLB picks.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays lost David Price to the Red Sox but they still have a competitive roster. Toronto recently traded outfielder Ben Revere to the Nationals for reliever Drew Storen and they will benefit from a full season of Marcus Stroman and Troy Tulowitzki.
Don't overlook the Blue Jays in the race to win the AL East, this team led the league in home runs, runs scored, doubles, slugging percentage and RBI last season, and with key players like reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion back, they have enough talent to make another deep postseason run. Marathon has the Blue Jays at +600 to win the American League and reach the World Series.
Potential Dark Horse Teams
The Houston Astros (+700), Texas Rangers (+700) and New York Yankees (+900) have holes on their rosters but their strenghts make them dangerous teams.
The Astros have a strong starting rotation, led by AL Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and ultra-talented players like AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, and as long as they stay healthy, they can be a force to be reckoned with.
If Rangers ace Yu Darvish is healthy, his presence along with a full season of Cole Hamels and a potent offense that includes Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre will make this team fun to watch and hard to beat.
The Yankees need starting pitching but they didn't even try to sign David Price or Zack Greinke. Instead, they trust that their aging but explosive offense can get the job done and preferred to add hard-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman to a bullpen that already had Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, making this team virtually unbeatable when leading after the sixth inning.
Boston Red Sox +800
Toronto Blue Jays +1600
Houston Astros +1800
Kansas City Royals +2000
Texas Rangers +2000
New York Yankees +2000
Cleveland Indians +2800
Los Angeles Angels +2800
Detroit Tigers +2800
Chicago White Sox +3300
Seattle Mariners +4000
Baltimore Orioles +5000
Minnesota Twins +5000
Tampa Bay Rays +7500
Oakland Athletics +7500