Today, we kick off our offseason preview series with a look at the AL East. The Red Sox look to defend their AL East title and World Series championship, while the Yankees will work diligently to move atop the AL East hierarchy. Meanwhile, the Rays hope to build upon a surprisingly strong season despite their limited resources, and the Orioles and Blue Jays are gearing for some significant re-shuffling.
By Sahil Shah
2018 Record: 47-115 (5th in AL East, Worst Team in Baseball)
2018 Payroll: $127,633,703 (20th in MLB)
The Orioles are coming off a massive midseason fire sale that saw them deal away most of their top players, including Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, and Brad Brach. The face of the franchise, Adam Jones, is expected to leave free agency after 11 seasons and a lot of good memories for fans. Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette were axed, with Astros assistant general manager Mike Elias expected to become the new president of baseball operations. The search for a new manager has yet to formally kick off, and several changes in the coaching staff and front office are still expected. The team had the worst record in baseball in 2018 and suffered through their worst season in franchise history. Oh, and there’s that $161 million first baseman that we’ll be paying until 2038 to be the worst player in baseball.
In conclusion, the Orioles have hit rock bottom. Or maybe not, but for my own sanity, let’s not go down that road.
The Orioles are sitting at Step #1 of their rebuild. All eyes are going to be on the minor league system. DL Hall, Ryan Mountcastle, and Austin Hays have had varying degrees of success in the minor leagues, and they will look to take a significant leap in 2019. Trade deadline acquisitions, highlighted by Yusniel Diaz, Luis Ortiz, and Dillon Tate, have injected some fresh, new talent into the Orioles farm system, and the team hopes that they can make a big splash in 2019. Although there won’t be much success at the major league level, they will audition their younger players to determine whether or not they fit in the team’s long-term plans. They got a head start last year by getting extended looks at Cedric Mullins, David Hess, and Yefry Ramirez, all of whom are expected to make next year’s Opening Day roster. This undoubtedly is going to be painful to watch, but there will be a number of intriguing players to watch as the Orioles look to build their next contender.
The correct answer to this question is young talent at any position; however, the Orioles need to put emphasis on rebuilding their rotation. Since winning baseball was brought back to Baltimore in 2012, the team has never had a reliable, consistent ace to anchor their rotation (with apologies to Chris Tillman, who had a very good run in Baltimore). While the Orioles offense and bullpen was able to lead the team to three playoff appearances over that time period, their average to below average starting rotations held them back from being legitimate World Series contenders. The Orioles must put emphasize on correctly identifying pitching talent and properly deploying them if they want to get back to the top of the baseball hierarchy.
Although the Orioles need to prioritize their young talent, they still need to add some veteran players to provide leadership in the clubhouse and give their younger players flexibility to develop at their own pace. Signing players who are looking for 1-year prove-it deals at a low price would accomplish this goal, while also giving the Orioles more potential trade chips at next year’s trade deadline. Pursuing veteran catchers like Jonathan Lucroy or Brian McCann could be a big boon for the Orioles by giving the team a stable, experienced presence behind the plate to work with their young starters. A reunion with former Oriole outfielder Nick Markakis would also make a lot of sense for both sides. Markakis still primarily resides in Baltimore, has a clear affinity for the team, and is a great clubhouse presence. He would easily slide into the “face of the franchise” role held by Adam Jones for so many years, and help the Orioles sell tickets in a season where attracting fans to the ballpark will not come easy.
And one last note — if you know an Orioles fan, give them a hug tomorrow. We really need it.
Boston Red Sox
by Jake Levine
2018 Record: 108-54 (1st in AL East, World Series Champions)
2018 Payroll: $227,398,860 (1st in MLB)
The Red Sox are coming off the most dominant season of the 21st century and almost all the pieces that factored into their fourth championship in the last fifteen years are still in place. Mookie Betts is gearing up for another MVP-caliber season along with J.D. Martinez who just had a career year, cementing himself as a top-five hitter in baseball. The third-best lineup in the majors last year by wRC+ (110) shows no sign of slowing down, with other young talent such as Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Rafael Devers all supporting the cause.
However, it might be starting pitching that is the greatest strength of this team. The Red Sox rotation just posted the second-best ERA- in the majors (84). Their top four starters (Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez) are all under contract for next season, and Sale is an early Cy Young favorite for the upcoming year. The Sox will not have much payroll room to work with, as $150 million is already guaranteed in contracts, plus an estimated cost of $57.9 million in arbitration. However, most if not all of the moves the Red Sox will have to make will be minor as they try to become the first team this century to win back-to-back championships.
The bullpen is the only place where the Sox will have some questions in 2019. All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel is a free agent and while the club has shown some interest in him, odds are they will not be willing to meet the market price for him. It is unclear whether they will try to obtain a player with previous experience closing games or shift someone from their current bullpen, such as Matt Barnes, into that spot.
One of the Red Sox’ priorities should be to re-sign Joe Kelly. He had a very inconsistent 2018, finishing with a 4.39 ERA, but he proved he has closer potential with his dominant postseason showing. Two other relievers they could target are Adam Ottavino and Andrew Miller. For the lineup, World Series MVP Steve Pearce is a cheap option to platoon with Mitch Moreland at first base, but there is no other hole the Sox will have to fill in their offense. One thing they can do is get a head start on the 2020 offseason with Xander Bogaerts, Chris Sale, and Rick Porcello becoming free agents at the end of next year. Expect contract extension talks with Bogaerts, but the Sox might have to save some money for Mookie Betts, who is a free agent the year after. Speaking of Betts, pay the man whatever he wants in arbitration. Back-to-back years of arbitration hearings will not help their relationship when they try to sign him to a long-term contract.
New York Yankees
By Matt Schneider
2018 Record: 100-62 (2nd in AL East)
2018 Payroll: $179,598,151 (6th)
The Yankees might not have ended the season the way they wanted, but there is still a lot to be optimistic about. Going into 2019, the Yankees offense is still loaded. After hitting the most home runs and scoring the second most runs in the AL in 2018, most of the Yankees position players are returning. Brett Gardner was re-signed to a one-year contract, leaving Neil Walker as the only position player who is leaving. It was announced recently that Didi Gregorius, the starting shortstop, would be getting Tommy John surgery. The Yankees need to find a way to replace his offensive and fielding production until he returns about halfway through, they season. Gary Sanchez also underwent surgery on his shoulder, but he is expected to be ready for April. Other than an open spot in the middle infield, the Yankees are strong at every other position.
Pitching is a totally different story for the Yankees. Their illustrious bullpen could lose Zach Britton and David Robertson in free agency. The biggest issue the Yankees faced in 2018 and need to address this winter is their pitching rotation. Their starters finished fourteenth in ERA and tenth in FIP. The Yankees rotation is currently made up of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Sonny Gray. Severino and Tanaka had solid, yet inconsistent, years and are expected to keep it up next year. Sabathia was re-signed to a one-year deal and is expected to be the fourth or fifth starter. Gray is being heavily shopped around the league because of his poor performance. Jordan Montgomery is also an option, but he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and won’t be able to play in the first half.
The Yankees need to spend this winter. They reset their luxury tax and have the money to spend a ton. This year’s free agent class is very talented and there are many options. The Yankees need to sign a middle infielder to fill in for Didi Gregorius. Manny Machado is the most obvious option for this role. Machado is young and already proven superstar. The only problems are the large contract he will require and the log jam that will occur when Gregorius returns. If Machado signs, the Yankees should consider packaging third baseman Miguel Andujar with a few prospects for a starting pitcher.
If Machado signs elsewhere, the Yankees still have many options for middle infielders. These players include Neil Walker, Daniel Murphy, Brian Dozier, and Josh Harrison. All are not expected to garner major deals this winter, but would give the Yankees another solid infield option. A final consideration for the Yankees is Bryce Harper. The Yankees have been interested in Harper ever since he came up. The crowded outfield situation makes it difficult to sign him now, but if Harper is willing, the Yankees could have him play first base.
There are many pitcher options for the Yankees. Patrick Corbin is the best starter on the market and he is expected to sign with the Yankees. He has always expressed interest in the team and is coming off an outstanding year in Arizona. The Yankees have also been in contact with former Astro Dallas Keuchel. Although numbers have been going down over the past years, he is a contact-oriented pitcher who has the potential to give the Yankees a strong season in 2019. Other options for starting pitchers include Nathan Eovaldi, Charlie Morton, Clay Bucholz, and Lance Lynn. In the trade market, James Paxton, Carlos Carrasco, and Corey Kluber have all been thrown around. Each would require a large package, but if the Yankees sign Manny Machado, they might consider offering Andujar in there.
The bullpen is not as big of an issue for the Yankees. David Robertson is one of my all-time favorite Yankees and a great pitcher, so I really hope they re-sign him. There have also been talks between the Yankees and relievers Adam Ottavino and Andrew Miller. Depending on what contract those players are seeking, the Yankees should definitely consider signing one of them.
Tampa Bay Rays
by Felipe Zwanzger
2018 Record: 90-72 (3rd in AL East)
2018 Payroll: $68,810,167 (30th in MLB)
Current 2019 Outlook:
Moneyball 2.0 is in the works in Tampa Bay. The Rays posted their best season since 2013 by winning a surprising 90 games in 2018, easily surpassing most, if not all, preseason predictions. What makes this most impressive is that the 90 wins came with little to no contributions from Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brent Honeywell, who figured to form the core of the team this past season. Instead, it was breakout seasons from AL Cy Young Blake Snell, rising rookies Ryan Yarbrough and Joey Wendle, and an impressive power show from CJ Cron that propelled the team to success.
Tommy Pham (2.6 WAR in 39 games) and Ji-Man Choi (1.0 WAR in 49 games) proved to be savvy trade-deadline pickups by the front office. Having Pham and Choi for a full season will be huge for the offense. The Rays also traded Chris Archer to the Pirates for a surprising return given Archer’s frustrating performances over the past few seasons. Tyler Glasnow showed flashes of the potential that once made him a consensus top prospect in baseball, while fellow prospect Austin Meadows made his presence felt in the lineup by posting a 114 OPS+ in 2018. Prospect Christian Arroyo could supplant Matt Duffy as the everyday third baseman by the All Star Break,
The one glaring hole in the Rays lineup was at catcher, and this need was filled rather quickly. The Rays traded Mallex Smith (who may be one of the more underrated players in baseball) to acquire catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Guillermo Heredia. The bullpen will also need to be addressed with Sergio Romo reaching free agency and Vidal Nuno being released.
Don’t expect the Rays to make too many moves this offseason, but with so little money committed for 2019, they could make a splash. Signing Nelson Cruz to a 2-year contract to be their designated hitter could give their offense a nice boost. Additionally, they should go after a few relievers, such as AJ Ramos or Jeurys Familia, to shore up their bullpen depth and give manager Kevin Cash more flexibility in deploying his unconventional pitching strategies.
Toronto Blue Jays
by Cam Cain
2018 Record: 73-89 (4th in AL East)
2018 Payroll: $150,946,147 (11th in MLB)
Current 2019 Outlook:
The Jays are loaded with young talent in the majors and high minors. They are stacked with position-player prospects, including third baseman Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., shortstop Bo Bichette, and catcher Danny Jansen. They aren’t quite as deep at pitcher, but Sean Reid-Foley and Eastern League All-Star Jordan Romano could earn rotation spots in 2019 as well. But all of these players have yet to prove themselves at the major league level, and with the deadline trades of Josh Donaldson and JA Happ, the leam is lacking star power, at least until Vlad establishes himself as a regular. The Blue Jays don’t expect to compete with the likes of Boston and New York in the AL East in 2019, but their next competitive team appears to be just around the corner.
The Jays are in somewhat of an in-between season. While they wait for their prospects to develop, they need inexpensive major leaguers to fill out the lineup. They could use a second baseman, a cost-controlled starting pitcher, and depth on the bench.
With the team presumably trying to get younger, 31-year-old first baseman Justin Smoak and 30-year-old reliever Ryan Tepera could be players worth trading for prospects. Both are coming off solid seasons, though not quite as good as the ones they put up in 2017. Additionally, they may want to sign an infielder on a one year deal. Neil Walker, Daniel Descalso, and Logan Forsythe could be interesting options.