One player who needs to step up for each AL East team in 2017

Pitchers highlight the biggest area of concern for the powerful division heading into this season.

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Even though the AL East was one of the most competitive divisions in baseball in 2016, with three teams (Boston, Toronto and Baltimore) making the playoffs, not everything went according to plan.

Each squad had at least one player that massively underperformed, hampering that team’s ability to compete for a World Series title.

For every team but the Red Sox, a starting pitcher was the major problem, but Boston enters 2017 needing a certain hefty position player to step up.

That said, here is one person from each AL East squad that needs to rebound in a big way this season:

New York Yankees: Michael Pineda, SP

Pineda has been an enigma for his entire four-year MLB career, alternating between dominant and terrible, with more bad starts than good.

In 2016, the right-hander went 6-12 with a 4.82 ERA while allowing a whopping 27 home runs, but still managed 207 strikeouts in 175.2 innings pitched.

Though he pitches in a hitter-friendly ballpark like Yankee Stadium, Pineda is going to have to lower his ERA and his home-run total or he could find himself out of a job.

Boston Red Sox: Pablo Sandoval, 3B

This is perhaps the most obvious selection on the list. Big things were expected from the Kung Fu Panda in 2016, but he showed up to spring training out of shape and overweight.

He managed only six at-bats and failed to record a hit before landing on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, which ended up costing him the whole season.

Now that David Ortiz has retired, the Red Sox could use someone to replace his slugging abilities. Panda isn’t the same as Papi, but a rebound season in 2017 could help Boston take a big step toward another playoff appearance.

Toronto Blue Jays: Marcus Stroman, SP

After a breakout 2014 season and an injury-shortened 2015 campaign, Stroman had a lackluster effort in 2016, going 9-10 with a 4.37 ERA.

He proved his ACL was fine, though, amassing an impressive 204 innings pitched while striking out 166 batters.

Sometimes it takes a pitcher an extra year to recover from a devastating injury and regain a feel for his mechanics, so Stroman is a strong possibility to have bounce-back season in 2017. Without Edwin Encarnacion in the batting order, the Jays will need Stroman and the pitching staff to pick up some slack for what’s likely to be a weaker lineup.

Baltimore Orioles: Ubaldo Jimenez, SP

Jimenez had one of his worst seasons as a pro in 2016, going 8-12 with a 5.44 ERA for a team that desperately needed him to do better.

A better season from Jimenez could have helped the Orioles land a better playoff position, which could have prevented the loss in the wildcard game.

However, that’s in the past, so Jimenez can make amends for his poor 2016 campaign this year. If he can even compile numbers like he did in 2015, when he went 12-10 with a 4.11 ERA, the Orioles will be a playoff-caliber team again.

Tampa Bay Rays: Chris Archer, SP

Though Archer still struck out 233 batters in 201.1 innings pitched, the results simply weren’t there for him in 2016.

He finished the year with a dismal 9-19 record and an ERA of 4.02, far off his 12-13 record and 3.23 ERA in 2015.

However, Archer’s deserved run average (DRA) was only 2.92, meaning he was the victim of poor defense and run support throughout the season. Even if the Rays don’t make the playoffs in 2017, Archer is a good candidate to return to elite form this season.

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