With only a little more than a week left until Opening Day for most teams (and only a couple days away from Opening Day for the Mariners and A’s) it’s time to really start looking forward to the coming season. With that in mind, we’ll spend this week looking at the rest of the competition in the division, going in reverse order of last year’s standings. Then, on Friday we’ll take a broader look at the rest of the American League. Today, since it’s Friday, we’re going to take a quick look at the ten non-AL East clubs.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox had a chance to make a real jump toward contention this season and talked a big game in the offseason. They were connected to both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper throughout the winter, but of course ended up with neither. Instead, they have a lineup led by José Abreu and not much else, hoping for breakouts from guys like Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson. Top prospecy Eloy Jiménez may be the best player on this team by the end of the year. The pitching is certainly suspect, and again they can only hope for breakouts from Carlos Rodón, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo López. If everything goes right you may be able to squint and see a .500 team, but this is likely another year of development on the South Side.
The Indians are the heavy favorites in the American League Central, but still had one of the most confusing winters of any team in baseball. Despite being as talented as they are and how top-heavy the AL is, Cleveland mostly stood pat, adding Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers while losing Michael Brantley, Edwin Encarnación and Yandy Díaz. Additionally, Cleveland reportedly shopped both Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, though they are still there. They still have Francisco Lindor (who may miss the start of the year but won’t be out long) and José Ramírez as well as an elite rotation, but they seem like they’ve taken a bit of a step back. Despite, they’re likely to make the playoffs somewhat easily.
Dave Dombrowski’s former club is in the middle of what appears to be a long rebuild, and they are in the worst part of it now. Their best pitcher (Michael Fulmer) is undergoing Tommy John surgery and the most exciting young player on the roster might be setup man Joe Jimenez. I like Jiménez, but that’s not great. They do still have Miguel Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos has turned into a very good hitter, but there’s not a lot here. The bottom of the AL is rough so Detroit may not be the worst team here, but it’ll be a long year for the Tigers.
Three American League teams have a legitimate case at being called the best team in baseball heading into the regular season, and Houston is one of them. They have an absurd core of offensive talent with Alex Bregman, José Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer along with an elite one-two punch of Justin Verlander. Their bullpen is also very deep, and they have some top prospects who will be ready to come up and contribute at some point this year. They are the easy favorites in the AL West, and possibly the favorites to win it all.
Kansas City Royals
If you’ve read or listened to any MLB-wide previews before the regular season, you’ve probably heard that the Royals are going to be bad, but they’ll be fun while they’re bad. Kansas City is after my heart, putting together a roster of contact, speed and defense and seeing what happens. It sort of flies in the face of the trends around the league, and it almost certainly won’t lead to a lot of wins. They could challenge for the all-time stolen base record, though, and I’m going to try and watch as much of them as possible.
Los Angeles Angels
Every year I fall into a trap where I think the Angels are going to end up being better than they are, and I am falling into it again. They start with Mike Trout, the best player on the planet, which is a pretty decent starting point. They have Shohei Ohtani, who won’t pitch but should join the lineup at some point in May. If he’s anything close to what he was last year, that’s a huge addition. They have perhaps the best defensive player on the planet in Andrelton Simmons and good secondary bats like Justin Upton and Justin Bour. I like their bullpen, but their rotation is a big question mark. I could see a lot of different outcomes for them this year, but I think most likely is they stick around the wildcard race all year.
The American League sort of seems like everyone already knows how it’s going to end up before the season even starts, but if there’s a team to make a big leap from last year this is the most likely one. The Twins have a strong top arm in José Berríos, they added Nelson Cruz to their lineup and have a huge breakout candidate in Byron Buxton. I’d feel better if they added another pitcher this winter, but I wouldn’t be totally surprised if they pushed Cleveland this year.
The A’s surprised everyone in 2018 by keeping pace with the Astros pretty much all year and eventually getting into the wildcard game against the Yankees. They have every chance to be back in the mix this year, though it doesn’t seem possible they’ll get as much magic out of their rotation. They still have Matt Chapman, one of the most underrated budding stars in the game, and Khris Davis anchoring the lineup and a tremendous bullpen led by Blake Treinen. Despite all that, I’m not sold enough on their rotation having enough upside for this team to be as competitive as they were a year ago.
The Mariners acted like a team tearing things down and starting over this winter, but that’s not really what happened. Despite trading Robinson Canó, Edwin Díaz and Mike Zunino, among others, they still have a roster that seems sort of solid? The lineup has Edwin Encarnación, Mitch Haniger, Dee Gordon and some other solid veterans and offseason signing Yusei Kikuchi could be big in their rotation. Seattle isn’t going to contend in 2019, but they aren’t all that far off with some shrewd moves.
The Rangers are the most interesting team that no one seems to talking about. They don’t have a great shot at contending, but if everything goes exactly right they could definitely surprise some people. Their offense has legitimate upside with Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Rougned Odor while the bullpen is led by a budding star in José Leclerc. The rotation is where the real intrigue, though, as Texas is rolling with a group of: Mike Minor, Drew Smyly, Edinson Vólquez, Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller. This is a wild rotation full of reclamation projects, and I’m fascinated to see how it turns out. Probably not super well, but it will be interesting!
Here’s how I see the AL playing out.
- Twins (WC)
- White Sox
What do you think?