We’ve spent the majority of this offseason focusing on the Red Sox because, well, we’re a Red Sox blog. This is what we do. Still, we know that once the season gets started we are going to be seeing a lot of American League East action, with 76 games being played against division rivals. Because of that and the fact that these teams are Boston’s most direct threat to making the postseason, it’s always worth keeping tabs on the other AL East teams. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what’s gone down so far this offseason around the division and where each team stands as we start to approach spring training.
Tampa Bay Rays
This is going to be a different kind of Rays team in 2017 even though they haven’t changed that much of their roster. All they had to do was trade Evan Longoria, though, as he had been the face of the franchise for the better part of a decade. It’ll be strange to watch a Tampa Bay team without him manning third base, and in return they got a decent enough package of prospects led by Christian Arroyo, who will eventually take over Longoria’s spot in 2018. The Rays also lost Logan Morrison who was a big part of their lineup last year, and their biggest addition thus far has been Denard Span who also came over in the Longoria deal. This is a Rays team that won 80 games last year, but it seems as if it’s only a matter of time until they also trade 2017 saves leader Alex Colomé along with potentially dealing their ace Chris Archer. It appears the Rays are going to try and rebuild on the fly right now, and as things stand at the start of January they are probably pegged for last place by most prognosticators.
If it seems as if the Orioles have no idea what they’re doing, I think that’s because the Orioles probably have no idea what they’re doing. That’s not (solely) front office incompetence, but also ownership spinning a different vision than the front office. This offseason has been loaded with Manny Machado trade rumors, but their owner is actively working against this as he’s shut off one potential trade partner in the Yankees (and one that has the young talent to make the deal worth it, to boot) and there is some speculation he could nix any deal. The good news for Baltimore is that they will be better in 2018 if they hold onto Machado. The bad news is they still won’t be good enough to compete without a major move or six, and then their future looks a lot bleaker. The Orioles still have a strong offense who can explode on any given night, but their pitching staff is inconsistent at the top with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman then just straight up bad after that. Plus, Zach Britton ruptured his ACL and could be moved back to the rotation for some unknown reason when he comes back. I could see the Orioles ultimately selling off Machado at the deadline and challenging the Rays of the division’s basement.
Toronto Blue Jays
Here, I think we have what is potentially the most underrated team in the division. Granted, I don’t feel they belong in the top tier with the Red Sox and Yankees, but the Blue Jays have a solid little roster that I could easily see playing above its head. They still have Josh Donaldson at the hot corner for at least one more year along with Justin Smoak, Russell Martin and Kendrys Morales. They lost Jose Bautista, but signing one more bat would give them a solid lineup. I wouldn’t be shocked if they were on the periphery of the J.D. Martinez market, for example. On top of that, they have some help coming from the farm soon including Vlad Guerrero Jr., who has an argument to being the best prospect in baseball. With Anthony Alford, Richard Urena and Rowdy Tellez ready to come up soon, too, this could be a very different Blue Jays team very shortly. The pitching will carry them if they’re good, though, as their rotation is quietly one of the best 1-5 in the American League. Overall I think this is probably a .500 team, but it only takes a few breaks and a midseason trade to make a .500 team into a true playoff contender.
New York Yankees
The one good thing I can say about the Yankees is that it’s as fun to hate them as it has been in about ten years. Between everyone talking about how likable they were last year, their run in the postseason and their trade for Giancarlo Stanton, I want nothing more than for them to fail miserably in 2018. Unfortunately, it’s probably not going to happen because this is a great team. Their lineup is bananas with Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in the middle and a whole lot of talent around them. Their two holes are at second and third base, but one will be filled with former number one prospect in baseball Gleyber Torres, and they’ll probably find a cheap veteran to fill the other spot. There’s some risk in the rotation, but also plenty of upside with Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino and Sonny Gray rounding out the top three. Plus, they still have one of the best bullpens in baseball. I absolutely believe the Red Sox are right there in terms of talent, but the Yankees are perhaps the league’s biggest threat to win 100+ games in 2018 and it’s going to be an absolute battle between Boston and New York atop this division.