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The AL East has always been the Yankees/Red Sox division since the 5-team division realignment began in 1994. They are of course, the Evil Empires of baseball. Both are. Sorry Yankee and Red Sox fans, you both are. Accept it and move on.
But for nearly a decade now, the other three teams, the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Rays have gotten into the mix as since 2008, only the Yankees and Red Sox have won 60% of the division titles, as opposed to winning the division 12 of 13 years from 1995-2007. But maybe we are back to the trend as the Yankees and Red Sox are going back to the great arms race of stockpiling stars and the Orioles, Rays, and Blue Jays fall back again as we somewhat saw in 2017.
To me, the Red Sox and the Yankees are a cut above while the Rays seem to zero in on getting the farm for their (finally) new ballpark down the road while Baltimore and Toronto face serious questions on replenishing their farm and starting over.
My outlooks are where I project the teams to finish in 2018.
1ST PLACE: BOSTON RED SOX
2017: 93-69 1st place (Lost in ALDS to Houston)
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-JD Martinez (FA-Arizona) SUBTRACTS: OF-Rajai Davis (FA-Cleveland), OF-Chris Young (FA-Los Angeles Angels), P-Doug Fister (FA-Texas), P-Fernando Abad (P-Philadelphia), P-Blaine Boyer (FA-Kansas City), P-Addison Reed (FA-Minnesota)
Outlook: Boston may have won the division last year but they did an unusual thing, well at least for them. They lacked major power. Losing David Ortiz to retirement stung obviously, but they really had no sting in the bats. While the Red Sox had 4 players with 20 or more HR and 3 others with double digits in HR, they finished dead last in the American League in home runs. So the need to get a power-hitter was high and they did so in JD Martinez, who punched out 45 HR in both Detroit and Arizona in 2017. Martinez fills the need of the power and will likely see most of the time at DH, which could be more helpful given he’s had his own injury woes in the past. But Boston still has a formidable lineup with Betts, Bogaerts, Benintendi, and if Devers shows he can play 3rd and Jackie Bradley can figure out how to be consistent at the plate, Boston can be a legit threat. The pitching, on paper, should be excellent with 2 former Cy Young winners in the rotation with Price and Porcello, but both have to improve last year’s performances (and Price has to keep healthy and not act like a knucklehead either). But Chris Sale is one of the game’s best pitchers and if the Red Sox pitch what they are capable of pitching, they can rival the Astros rotation without question. And they have probably the game’s best closer in Craig Kimbrel, who heads a solid relieving group. What more can you ask for? It is time for Boston to show it on the field and not just on paper.
2018 PROJECTION: 96-66 (I like Boston to get better with their bats and arms in 2018)
2ND PLACE: NEW YORK YANKEES
2017: 91-71 (Beat Minnesota in Wild Card; Beat Cleveland in ALDS, Lost to Houston in ALCS)
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Giancarlo Stanton (Trade-Miami), 3B-Brandon Drury (Trade-Arizona); 1B-Adam Lind (FA-Washington) SUBTRACTS: 3B-Chase Headley (Trade-San Diego), 2B-Starlin Castro (Trade-Miami), P-Bryan Mitchell (Trade-San Diego), 3B-Todd Frazier (FA-New York Mets), P-Jaime Garcia (FA-Toronto), P-Michael Pineda (FA-Minnesota)
Outlook: The Yankees, already having young superstar Aaron Judge in the lineup, added a piece that many Bronx Bomber fans hope will become a New Murderer’s Row in Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins for Starlin Castro. Of course, it has gotten most baseball fans thinking the Yankees are the team to beat in the AL, over Boston, Cleveland and Houston. And for me, to quote Lee Corso, “not so fast.” The Yankees offense is still top notch, don’t get me wrong with those two, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and others. But the question will be the pitching. Are they capable of pitching well with Severino, Tanaka, Gray, and Sabathia? It’s possible yes, but save for Severino (who is young), the others are question marks with consistency (Tanaka, Sabathia) or durability (Gray). The bullpen, however, when they are on, is lights out with Green, Betances, and Robertson to go along with Chapman, but Aroldis has to pitch better because he nearly imploded everything at the end of the season. So there are some questions as well as if Aaron Boone can manage as he hasn’t managed on any level yet. But overall, the Yankees should be in the thick of things especially if their rotation pitches well.
2018 PROJECTION: 95-67 (Still unsure if they have the same arms as the other AL powers, but the bullpen will save face).
3RD PLACE: TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Last year: 76-86, 4th place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Curtis Granderson (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), OF-Randall Grichuk (Trade-St. Louis), SS-Aledmys Diaz (Trade- St. Louis), IF-Yangervis Solarte (Trade-San Diego), P-Jaime Garcia (FA-New York Yankees), P-Seung-hwan Oh (FA-St. Louis), P-Tyler Clippard (FA-Houston), P-John Axford (FA-Oakland) SUBTRACTS: P-Tom Koehler (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), Mike Bolsinger (FA-Japan), 2B-Ryan Goins (FA-Kansas City), IF-Darwin Barney (FA-Texas), C-Miguel Montero (FA-Washington), OF-Michael Saunders (Pittsburgh), OF-Jose Bautista (FA)
Outlook: Toronto is going to be very different as it looks like they are fielding a team more to just field a team in the season as opposed to being a threat in the AL East. And they do have a farm that is up and coming. If the Jays are out of it by the deadline, don’t be surprised if they try to move Josh Donaldson before as he is a free agent at season’s end. Whether the Jays compete or not will be dependent on Marcus Stroman and JA Happ. If they can pitch like they did in 2016, the Jays may push for the second Wild Card spot. If not, Toronto will have some pieces to sell at the deadline.
2018 PROJECTION: 79-83 (Toronto just doesn’t have the same firepower that they had when Bautista and Encarnacion were there in 2015 and 16).
4TH PLACE: TAMPA BAY RAYS
2017: 80-82, 3rd place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Denard Span (Trade-San Francisco), OF-Carlos Gomez (FA-Texas), 1B-CJ Cron (Trade-Los Angeles Angels), IF-Christian Arroyo (Trade-San Francisco), IF-Joey Wendle (Trade-Oakland), P-Daniel Hudson (Trade-Pittsburgh), P-Anthony Banda (Trade-Arizona) SUBTRACTS: 3B-Evan Longoria (Trade-San Francisco), 1B-Logan Morrison (FA-Minnesota), IF-Trevor Plouffe (FA-Texas), OF-Peter Bourjos (FA-Chicago Cubs), P-Steve Cishek (FA-Chicago Cubs), P-Jake Odorizzi (Trade-Minnesota), P-Tommy Hunter (FA-Philadelphia), OF-Steven Souza Jr (Trade-Arizona), P-Alex Cobb (FA)
Outlook: The Rays begin life without Evan Longoria, which may be a blessing in disguise. Yes, he was the face of the franchise, but the money locked into his contract, but with a new park finally in the picture, the Rays can save some money, get the farm ready for the move, and things are good down the road. But in 2018? Not so sure. But the Rays way is simple: if you are looking for a re-birth, Tampa Bay is the place and you have to think the likes of Denard Span and Carlos Gomez are hoping that is the case. Adding Christian Arroyo, a top prospect in the Giants farm system in the Longoria trade will give hope that the Rays will be at least competitive in 2018. If Chris Archer has a good year, he can probably net a good return for the Rays if they do end up being out (which many believe they will be) and it will only help Tampa Bay’s future even more.
2018 PROJECTION: 73-89 (The Rays play hard every night and the pitching will keep them in games, but they’re outmatched by the talent on other teams).
5TH PLACE: BALTIMORE ORIOLES
2017: 75-87, 5th place
OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Colby Rasmus (FA-Tampa Bay), IF-Engelb Vielma (Trade-San Francisco), P-Andrew Cashner (FA-Texas) SUBTRACTS: C-Wellington Castillo (FA-Chicago White Sox), IF-Ryan Flaherty (FA-Philadelphia), P-Wade Miley (FA-Milwaukee), SS-JJ Hardy (FA), P-Ubaldo Jimenez (FA), P-Jeremy Hellickson (FA), OF-Seth Smith (FA)
Outlook: One does wonder if Baltimore may have doomed themselves similar to the Orioles teams of the late 90’s where they held on to players too long (similar to what the Phillies did early on this decade and the Tigers had done recently). The Orioles are somewhat of that all-or-nothing power team. Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo are either going to send baseballs 450 feet away into the outfield at any park, or they will take a walk back to the dugout on strikeouts as that is what they are primarily good for at this point. There are some key players like Trey Mancini, Jonathan Schoop, and the reliable Adam Jones for offense and Tim Beckham tore the cover off the ball when he came from Tampa Bay at the deadline, but it seems like it won’t be enough in the division. And if Manny Machado has the year like he had last year where he was nearly in a slump for the entire first half, Baltimore will likely be sellers because the rotation is a gigantic mess. Which of course brings up the possibility of Machado being dealt as he too, is a free agent. Baltimore’s best bet is if they are not in the mix of a Wild Card is to just clear the deck and start anew, which is what they really need.
2018 PROJECTION: 68-94 (porous pitching and some holes in the lineup will really doom the O’s in 2018).
That’s it for the AL East
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat