Batting Around: Who’s the AL East favorite after latest round of hot stove moves?

At long last, the owner-imposed lockout is over and Major League Baseball is back. Spring training is underway and there has been a flurry of hot stove moves over the last few days. The regular season will begin Thursday, April 7.

Throughout the season the CBS Sports MLB experts will bring you a weekly Batting Around roundtable breaking down pretty much anything. The latest news, a historical question, thoughts about the future of baseball, all sorts of stuff. Last week we tried to predict the end of the lockout. This week we’re going to tackle baseball’s deepest division.

Which team is the favorite in the AL East?

Dayn Perry: I’ll lean Blue Jays by a hair. I obviously love the young core, and the addition of Matt Chapman to the infield scene is potentially a real needle-mover. Much of course depends on the health of Chapman and George Springer, but I love the upside. I also think they’ve done a nice job of fortifying the post-Robbie Ray rotation with Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi. I think you can make a case for any of the non-Orioles teams in this division to win the flag, but right now I’m leaning Toronto.

RJ Anderson: It’s a tough question and frankly it’s too early to answer it given the potential for other needle-moving transactions. That said, I tend to agree with Dayn about the Blue Jays. I will note that PECOTA, at least, has the Yankees as the favorites. So, for as relatively disappointing as their offseason has been, they’re not to be slept on.

Matt Snyder: I’m gonna go with the Blue Jays. The top three are a bit of a bunch to me with the Yankees and Rays joining the Blue Jays while I have the Red Sox a step or two behind. I think I like the Blue Jays best for multiple reasons anyway, but there’s a separation point here: The Jays went 25-11 in Rogers Center last season and 22-22 in their other “home” games. They’ll get a full season in Rogers this time around. On top of that, there are a different set of Canadian protocols and it’s entirely possible a good number of visiting teams will be compromised. As noted, I like them anyway, but this should be close enough that even a game or two in “bonus points” on the home-field thing could swing this.

Mike Axisa: I think it’s the Blue Jays too. They have a great roster, first and foremost, and they’re also going to enjoy something of a home-field advantage because unvaccinated travelers aren’t allowed into Canada. We don’t know who that is or how many players it affects exactly, but it’s not zero (Chris Sale still isn’t vaccinated, for example), and there will be a tangible impact. Plus Toronto is just really good. Excellent lineup, improved infield defense with Matt Chapman, and four above-average starters. Pretty good starting point there. The Rays will be very good again – the projection systems have them as a third- or fourth-place team right now, though projections always underrate the Rays because Tampa’s thing is leveraging very specific skills of players the projection systems see as pretty blah overall – and the Yankees and Red Sox won’t go away quietly despite their underwhelming offseasons. I think the Blue Jays are a hair better than the rest of the pack right now, with the home-field advantage a potential difference-maker.

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