1. Blue Jays
2. Red Sox
If the Red Sox had a healthy David Price to headline their rotation with newly acquired ace Chris Sale and defending AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, they’d rank No. 1 in this category. But Price’s elbow injury, which will sideline him until at least May and could become more a serious setback, suddenly has Boston’s rotation depth looking a bit weak. Behind Sale and Porcello, the Red Sox will need bounce-back seasons from Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz and a return to full health for knuckleballer Steven Wright.
With the Sox knocked out of the top ranking, the honors go instead to the Blue Jays, who have strong big league pitchers in all five rotation spots. Toronto’s 3.64 starters’ ERA in 2016 was the best in the AL by a large margin; no other team was below 4.08. All of their key rotation members last year (Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ and Marcus Stroman) are returning in 2017, joined by Oriole-killer Francisco Liriano.
At No. 3 is Tampa Bay. Stalwart starting pitchers have been a Rays’ tradition for the last decade, and they’ve got several excellent arms in Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi and Blake Snell. Another Rays’ tradition, though, is trading away their stalwart starting pitchers, so it’d be surprising if all four are still in the rotation by the end of the season.
The Orioles’ and Yankees’ rotations lag behind the others. Both are filled with question marks. Can the Orioles count on any consistency from enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez and last year’s ineffective trade acquisition, Wade Miley? Will Dylan Bundy take a step up in his first full year in the rotation? For the Yankees, will strikeout artist Michael Pineda rebound from his 4.82 ERA last year? Does 36-year-old CC Sabathia have anything left, and who will fill out the back of the rotation?
Ultimately, I give the Yankees the slight edge because they have one thing the Orioles don’t: a bona fide ace, the stellar Masahiro Tanaka. Kevin Gausman could grow into the ace role for the Orioles, but Tanaka is the superior pitcher right now. And the shoulder injury suffered by Chris Tillman — who figures to be out until at least May — has created a void in the Orioles’ rotation.