The Red Sox, Yankees, and everybody else? Or will it be the Red Sox, Yankees, and the Rays? Or will Toronto climb back up? Or will Baltimore…nah.
Last year, Boston won their fourth World Series in 14 years, the most out of any team in the Majors in that timespan as they were probably the best team from beginning to end of the season. They handled their hated rival Yankees and then the defending champion Astros while taking care of the Dodgers. The Yankees were strong enough to win any other division but ended up having to face their foes and losing in 4. The Tampa Bay Rays, a team that is polar opposite of the Red Sox and Yankees “quietly” won 90 games last year doing things very differently as they used a “bullpen by committee” starting rotation that some teams are starting to pick up on. Toronto, with injuries galore and struggles all season, was not any factor in any race but have gotten fans intrigued by the “Vlad Jr. Watch” (which should have been last year but they are going to use the most out of his services). And Baltimore…..um, I love Camden Yards!
I will go do a preview of where I think the teams are, though it many not be too surprising in the order. But here we go.
(1) NEW YORK YANKEES
Last Season: 100-62, lost to Boston in ALDS
KEY ADDITIONS: SS-Troy Tulowitzki (FA-Toronto), C-DJ LeMahieu (FA-Colorado), P-James Paxton (Trade-Seattle), P-Adam Ottavino (FA-Colorado).
KEY LOSSES: SS-Adeiny Hechavarria (FA-New York Mets), 2B-Neil Walker (FA-Miami), OF-Andrew McCutchen (FA-Philadelphia), P-Lance Lynn (FA-Texas), P-David Robertson (FA-Philadelphia)
The Yankees by most standards in an off-season were very quiet. They did add James Paxton in a trade with Seattle, but many figured and possibly hoped they could have been a player in the Bryce Harper sweepstakes (Harper grew up a Yankees fan) or the Manny Machado sweepstakes. But ultimately, they just added pieces to improve the rotation, depth, and bullpen and given they already have a $300+ million player on the team with one, maybe two others looking for a similar deal down the road, it was not surprising they “stood pat.” And that to me is pretty scary. The Yankees will still crank ’em out of the Bronx with Stanton, Judge, and the youngsters of Andujar and Torres. If Gary Sanchez gets his head on straight and return to the high hopes many have for him, it is going to be a lethal lineup. But if he doesn’t, they do have a veteran catcher in DJ LeMahieu that can take over and may be their best move if Sanchez struggles. The rotation was probably the one thing that separated the Red Sox with them. The Paxton trade is huge but if Tanaka and Happ can hold up and give them quality outings on a consistent basis to turn it over to Ottavino, Betances, and Chapman, the Yankees will have a very strong winning formula to get World Championship #28. PREDICTION: 101-61
(2) BOSTON RED SOX
Last year: 108-54 (Defeated Yankees in ALDS, defeated Astros in ALCS, defeated Dodgers in World Series)
KEY ADDITIONS: None
KEY LOSSES: 2B-Ian Kinsler (FA-San Diego), P-Drew Pomeranz (FA-San Francisco), P-Joe Kelly (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Craig Kimbrel (FA)
Boston, much like their foes in the off-season did very little. They exercised options on Chris Sale, Eduardo Nunez, while keeping World Series hero Steve Pearce and late trade acquisition Nate Eovaldi around. However, the two major cogs to the Red Sox bullpen in Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly are nowhere to be found, which is a bit concerning as it may have been the one “not so major strength” of the team last year. Now, if the Red Sox starters can stay healthy and do what they are capable of, then another division title and another World Series title is in reach in 2019. However, the one trend of Dave Dombrowski-run teams is slowly continuing in Boston: bullpen needs weren’t addressed and the prior trades made has knocked the once stacked farm system down. So the Red Sox right now hope the arms in the bullpen step up and the rotation keeps healthy for an entire season. Regardless of the pitching, we know Boston’s offense will be rolling with MVP Mookie Betts and JD Martinez leading the way. Xander Bogaerts will continue on the upswing, but at some point Red Sox fans have to hope that Jackie Bradley Jr and Rafael Devers can be legitimate answers for them. If they struggle, then the Red Sox will fall back behind the Yankees. But still, to think this team is going to have a major drop-off from 2018, it won’t happen, but enough of one that the Yankees can reclaim the East. MY PREDICTION: 99-63
(3) TAMPA BAY RAYS
Last year: 90-72
KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Avisail Garcia (FA-Chicago White Sox), C-Mike Zunino (Trade-Seattle), IF-Yandy Diaz (Trade-Cleveland), OF-Guillermo Heredia (Trade-Seattle) P-Charlie Morton (FA-Houston), P-Emilio Pagan (Trade-Oakland)
KEY LOSSES: OF-Mallex Smith (Trade-Seattle), 1B-Jake Bauers (Trade-Cleveland), P-Brock Burke (Trade-Texas) OF-Carlos Gomez (FA-New York Mets), P-Sergio Romo (FA-Miami) OF-CJ Cron (Waivers-Minnesota)
The Rays may have been the most active team in the American League East this year. I will say it again: the Rays may have been the most active team in the American League East. Granted, it doesn’t look like “much” but if Avisail Garcia looks like what he was a few years ago in Chicago and the hope that came with him coming in the Tigers farm, he could be a massive steal of a signing. Mike Zunino is probably the best defensive catcher in the game while being able to work with a good group of young pitchers. Charlie Morton will be the veteran of the bunch of the starters that should help stabilize them a bit (and that was a big move I think for the Rays, assuming he can look like first half Charlie Morton and not second half Charlie Morton). And of course there is Blake Snell, who won the Cy Young for the Rays last year as it could be a tough rotation in the front if all goes well. For a while it seemed like the Rays were hot on the pursuit of Nelson Cruz before he opted to go to Minnesota. So the one thing I will say on Tampa Bay is if they are in the thick of a post-season chase, don’t be surprised if they push for a deal to land a big name bat, albeit a rental one. The Rays will have to get some hope for the offense with Garcia, but will need Willy Adames, Austin Meadows (part of the Chris Archer deal), and Tommy Pham to step up in 2019 to really make a legit run. The one thing I will never do again is doubt the Rays and Kevin Cash. And this year, it wouldn’t surprise me if they see some October baseball. And I do think they will make a big trade during the season to get a key bat (Nick Castellanos?) MY PREDICTION: 92-70
(4) TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Last year: 73-89
KEY ADDITIONS: SS-Freddy Galvis (FA-San Diego), P-Matt Shoemaker (FA-Los Angeles Angels), P-Clayton Richard (Trade-San Diego), P-John Axford (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), SS-Eric Sogard (FA-Milwaukee) P-David Phelps (FA-Seattle)
KEY LOSSES: SS-Troy Tulowitzki (FA-New York Yankees), IF-Yangervis Solarte (FA-San Francisco), P-Marco Estrada (FA-Oakland), P-Tyler Clippard (FA-Cleveland)
Paging Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Paging Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Blue Jays fans are wanting your services badly. Unfortunately, it looks like Vladdie will make his appearance in May. Until it happens and even when it happens, it may be a very long year North of the Border. Toronto is looking more in rebuild mode than anything at this point. The days of Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion are long gone. And the hope now may be Marcus Stroman gets a good year going to up his trade value and the Jays net a good return to have a quality rebuild as opposed to their divisional birdie brethren in Baltimore, where they just dropped the ball. However, it doesn’t seem like the Jays, even with Guerrero, will be a major force this year or the next couple of years unless they can make some moves to replenish the farm, but how aside from Stroman? Morales and Smoak may help some returns, but by and large, this team is a long ways from competing and in a division where you have to see New York and Boston all the time, a rebuild is pretty difficult unless you know how to do it right like the Rays do. MY PREDICTION: 68-94
(5) BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Last year: 47-115
KEY ADDITIONS: IF-Alcides Escobar (FA-Kansas City), IF-Drew Jackson (Trade-Philadelphia), P-Nate Karns (FA-Kansas City)
KEY LOSSES: C-Caleb Joseph (FA-Arizona), OF-Adam Jones (FA-Arizona), IF-Tim Beckham (FA-Seattle)
Baltimore didn’t learn from Detroit, who didn’t learn from Philadelphia. Meaning, instead of the Orioles selling back in the 2017 trade deadline, they strangely opted to go in. And now it is a disaster. The contract of Chris Davis is immovable. Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, and Dylan Bundy are inconsistent at best and the rest are just not close to the same talent as the rest of the AL East (they do match up better with Toronto). However, a new manager is at the helm as Brandon Hyde takes over for Buck Showalter. And there are some pieces to look at like Renato Nunez and Trey Mancini (who played decently in the second half). But let’s face it, it’s hard to think the Orioles will have less than 100 losses again this season. There’s just not a lot of hope. But losing 115 I doubt will happen again. MY PREDICTION: 55-107
That’s it for this division.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat