I think basically every baseball fan would agree that this offseason has been torture, and that’s been particularly true for Red Sox fans. Boston has not only had a winter headlined by a return of Mitch Moreland, but they’ve also seen their rivals get better without much cost. Everyday readers of this very blog have, fortunately for them, gotten to witness my descent into madness in real time. That’s been pretty neat, but other than that this winter has sucked. Everyone has their theories about about what’s happening here, and the reality is that it’s likely a combination of many things. I tend to think the biggest influencer is that GM’s are no longer willing to pay aging players, and if that’s the case then there are going to be real issues to be solved when this CBA expires in 2021. Others point to collusion by ownership, which sounds tinfoil cap-y but also isn’t unprecedented in this game.
Another major factor has been the willingness for teams to undergo extended rebuilds to get to a championship-caliber roster. As one source put it in this Jeff Passan article, teams have never been so willing to lose. Generally speaking, I hate this phenomena. Rebuilding has always been part of the game, and it’s undeniably worked recently with the Cubs and Astros, but it’s gotten to the point where at least a full third of the league is fully giving up on competing. That is not interesting from a fans’ point of view, and that’s really what the league should be keeping in check here. Not every one of these rebuilding projects can work, either. If I were to be commissioner for a day, after I made sure I was getting a fat paycheck I’d do everything I could to de-incentivize these kind of rebuilds.
All of that being said, I will acknowledge that there is a positive that is going along with all of these rebuilding teams. It’s turned things into a buyer’s market, and that has led to some outstanding teams. Sure, there are going to be a lot of duds on the schedule, but I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about the top of the American League. Essentially, I think of it like the NBA right now. There is absolutely a parity problem in that league as well, largely for the same reasons, but the games between the top teams are always appointment viewing. Right now, the American League has some incredible teams at the top that are going to make those series must-see.
Let’s go division-by-division, as there are at least five teams spread out across the league that are going to be really fun to watch, and a few teams that could join them. In the East, it’s all about the Red Sox and Yankees. I think the Blue Jays could surprise some people, but Boston and New York are clearly the class of the division. The Sox, of course, have won two straight division titles and have a great young core in the lineup to go with a dynamite pitching staff. Tossing J.D. Martinez in the middle of that young lineup would only make things better. The Yankees, meanwhile, have a high-upside pitching staff to go with a legitimately terrifying trio in the middle of their order with Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. Both teams are projected to win 91 games according to Fangraphs’ depth chart projections. Remember, these kinds of projections tend to skew conservative.
The Central has just one of the teams I see as the elite class in the Indians, but they certainly fit the bill. Cleveland was eliminated by New York in last year’s postseason so it can be easy to forget just how good this team is. They might have the best rotation in baseball led by Corey Kluber and they also have a great young offense led by an unmatched middle infield tandem in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Fangraphs projects them to win 93 games. I’d also keep an eye on the Twins who have a dynamic one-two punch in the lineup between Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. They’ve been rumored to be in the running for Yu Darvish, and that kind of pickup could move them closer to this discussion.
The West, meanwhile, is the most exciting division in the league. Obviously, they are led by the defending champion Astros. Houston boasts the best young core of any team in baseball led by Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer. They also have a rotation that just added Gerrit Cole to put in behind Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, while also boasting a great bullpen. This is the best team in baseball, and Fangraphs projects them to win 98 games. That’s insane. I would also put the Angels in this class, if for nothing else than for pure entertainment reasons. Projections don’t necessarily agree (Fangraphs has them at 88 wins), but this is a team with Mike Trout, a guy who may end up with a realistic claim to being the best player of all time, and Shohei Ohtani, the closest thing we’ve had to Babe Ruth since, well, Babe Ruth. Baseball isn’t as star-driven as other sports, but the Angels have a couple of the rare players I’d buy a ticket just to see the play. To top that off, they should also have the best defense in baseball if that’s your thing. Even beyond them, Seattle could make some noise with a lineup that has as much upside as just about any in baseball.
Ultimately, from a strictly Red Sox point of view, all of this elite competition in the American League kind of sucks. Putting more good teams in the way of a championship isn’t exactly what most of us are hoping for. There’s also the fact that tanking has led to a lot of this divide around the game, which I’ve already made clear I hate. There’s nothing I can do about either of those things, though, so we might as well find some solace in all of it. That solace is the fact that the American League playoff races should be rad as hell this year, and the actual playoffs should be even better.