Every year since 2013, I have written an American League East preview. This year will be more of the same, but with one key difference: this is the first season in which I will be doing my preview/prediction with no hope that the Baltimore Orioles will play worthwhile baseball beyond Opening Day.
With that sobering fact in mind, I will also add my All-Star representative predictions for each AL East squad just so this can be at least a little fun. So without further ado, I give you the American League East.
Yankees: 100-62 (100-62 in 2018)
The Yankees are absolutely loaded in every facet. This is a team that hit a Major League-record 267 home runs in 2018, and that was with Aaron Judge missing 50 games after being hit on the wrist by a pitch, and Gary Sanchez being limited to just 89 games. Sanchez should bounce back from a disappointing year offensively, and Judge should be able to avoid another freak injury. Add to that the natural progressions of Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, the additions of D.J. LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzski, plus a more comfortable Giancarlo Stanton, and this offense could well exceed 300 home runs in 2019; an unheard of number that seems very realistic with this lineup.
The rotation will be missing its best pitcher to start the year as Luis Severino is suffering from right rotator cuff inflammation and will not realistically return until sometime in May. C.C. Sabathia, in his final year before retirement, will also miss the start of the season. Not only is the 38-year-old suspended for the first five games for intentionally throwing at Austin Romine in his final start of 2018, but he is also recovering from a knee scope and heart procedure that will keep him out until the end of April at the earliest. No matter, as the rotation still has three potential aces in Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and Jay Happ, not to mention top prospect Jonathan Loaisiga waiting in the minors for his chance. On top of that, the bullpen might be the deepest in the game with four closer-caliber pitchers in Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, and Dellin Betances, though the latter of the bunch will start the year on the injured list. Basically, if they Yankees have the lead after the fifth inning, the game is over.
The only reason I don’t have the Yankees winning more games than last season is because of the names on their injured list. Joining Severino, Sabathia, and Betances are Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorious, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jordan Montgomery. Having said all that, once at full strength this team could be the best and most dangerous team in the American League.
2019 Projected All-Stars: 6
Red Sox: 98-64 (108-54 in 2018)
Another loaded ballclub, the Red Sox are coming off their fourth World Series Championship in the last 15 years. They have arguably the best player in the game not named Mike Trout in Mookie Betts, and J.D. Martinez won TWO Silver Slugger awards last season as an outfielder and designated hitter. Andrew Benintendi will only continue to get better, while Xander Bogaerts is as steady and reliable as they come at shortstop. Dustin Pedroia should be back at some point and will be looking to reclaim his status as one of the top second basemen in the game, while Rafael Devers, despite a bit of a sophomore slump last season, could be another 30-homer guy in that lineup. Not to mention World Series MVP Steve Pearce, who can play all over the diamond but will start the year on the injured list.
The rotation is stacked as it returns five starters from last year’s team. Four of them featured ERA’s under 4.00, while the fifth starter, former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, had a 4.28 ERA and won 17 games.
With such a stacked team, why am I picking them second? One, 108 wins is a ridiculous number and very hard to duplicate. Two, this bullpen leaves much to be desired. Joe Kelly is gone, which wouldn’t seem like a big loss until you figure that he was dominant in the postseason (1 ER in 11.1 IP over 9 games). But the big loss in closer Craig Kimbrel, who still doesn’t have a job. There is always the potential that Kimbrel could return to the team, but it would have to be on the Red Sox terms, and he would need significant time to get into game shape. The team really doesn’t have a true closer, and they will struggle to close games out just enough to be unseated in the division. That is, unless they return Nathan Eovaldi to the bullpen role that he flourished in during the postseason, which would be robbing Peter to pay Paul.
2019 Projected All-Stars: 4
Rays: 85-77 (90-72 in 2018)
The Rays designated C.J. Cron and his 30 home runs for assignment in November, a head-scratching move that allowed him to be claimed by the Minnesota Twins. Tommy Pham is a solid player, and Kevin Kiermaier is healthy for the first time in, like, four years. Matt Duffy could be a key contributor for the ballclub, but he seems as injury-prone as Nolan Reimold. Still, the Rays will be competitive, but certainly not because of their offense.
The Rays deployed an “opener,”–a bullpen arm who specializes in getting the first few outs of the game before handing it over to another reliever–in roughly 50 games last season, give or take a few. And while manager Kevin Cash has stated they will use the same strategy in 2019, I have to believe the frequency will be significantly less. Blake Snell is the reigning Cy Young winner in the American League, and Ryan Yarbrough looks primed to take over a full time rotation spot after starting, opening, and relieving his way to a 16-6 record with a 3.91 ERA in 147.1 IP last season. Tyler Glasnow seems ready to finally realize the potential that made him a top-50 prospect on every published list from 2014-’17. Added to the fray is Charlie Morton, who saw a career-resurgence at the age of 33 that led to 29 wins and a 3.36 ERA over the last two seasons in Houston. The AL’s sixth-best bullpen (3.80 ERA) remains mostly intact, with the exception of the departed Sergio Romo, and should prove to be a strength once again for a team that doesn’t figure to do much offensively.
2019 Projected All-Stars: 2
Blue Jays: 69-93 (73-89 in 2018)
Josh Donaldson? Gone. Kendrys Morales? Gone. Russell Martin? Gone. Jose Bautista? Long gone. The players that made the Blue Jays at least formidable over the last two/three seasons are no longer on the ballclub. Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. looks to be a star in the making, and Justin Smoak could drop 30+ bombs again like he did in 2017. If Teoscar Hernandez can work on his plate discipline, he could elevate his game to a 30-homer threat. The real offensive threats on this team, however, will begin the year at the minor league level.
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. is baseball’s top overall prospect, but to control his service time (don’t let the Blue Jays tell you any differently) he will begin the season in the minors. While I’m not convinced that the son of a Hall of Famer won’t eat his way out of the league a la Dmitri Young, he should challenge for 2019 Rookie of the Year honors, provided he stays healthy (he will start the year on a rehab assignment for a strained oblique after missing more than a month in 2018 to a knee sprain). The other top prospect is Bo Bichette, son of former slugger Dante Bichette. Bichette absolutely raked during spring training, batting .417 with 4 home runs in Grapefruit League action, a continuation of his .328 career minor league batting average. Both of these young men should hit in the middle of Toronto’s lineup for years to come. That could start as early as this spring/summer.
The rotation is a crapshoot after Marcus Stroman. Matt Shoemaker is reliable when he’s healthy. The problem is he hasn’t been healthy since 2016, making just 21 starts over the last two seasons. Aaron Sanchez was a monster in 2016 when he made 30 starts and went 15-2 with a 3.00 ERA. Since then, he has made just 28 combined starts in two seasons due to injury. If the duo of Shoemaker and Sanchez can stay healthy and pitch to their potential, it could go a long way in hastening the Blue Jays apparent rebuild. Until then, fans of the ballclub will have to find solace in knowing Guerrero and Bichette will be here soon.
2019 Projected All-Stars: 1
Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.
Orioles: 60-102 (47-115 in 2018)
The 2018 Orioles were historically bad, stumbling out of the gates to the third worst record since the 162 game schedule was implemented in 1961, trailing only the 1962 New York Mets (40-120) and the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119) in futility. Chris Davis hit .168, the lowest mark in the history of the game for any qualifying player. Trey Mancini injured his knee in April and didn’t start hitting until after the All-Star break. Adam Jones recorded his lowest home run total since his inaugural season in Baltimore and failed to reach 25 home runs for the first time since 2009. The lowest ERA in the rotation belonged to David Hess at 4.88, followed by Alex Cobb at 4.99. Basically, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for the club, prompting a fire-sale of sorts in July. The Orioles traded away any player with value not named Trey Mancini or Mychal Givens and began a rebuild that was probably two years overdue.
2019 should be better, but only because just about every team can fall out of bed and accidentally win 50 games. The Orioles will be younger, faster, and more aggressive than years past. But the inexperience and lack of legitimate starting pitching will lead to another lost season. Even if players like Alex Cobb, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Mark Trumbo, etc. bounce back this season, they are likely to be traded at the deadline for mid-level prospects as Mike Elias and company will look to stockpile as much young talent as they can to hasten the rebuilding process.
There is hope in the distant future as the Orioles seem to have woken up from a 36-year slumber and have finally made it a point to catch up with the rest of the pack, but it will be at least three years before this team moves out of the cellar of the AL East. Strap in, folks. It’s going to be a long and bumpy ride.
2019 Projected All-Stars: 1