New Decade, Who Dis?: AL East

There’s no grey area out here in the East. You’re either part of baseball’s upper crust, or you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. In Boston and New York, they’re doling out mega contracts without batting an eyelash, but if you’re in Toronto or Tampa, you’re looking under couch cushions just to get through arbitration. It’s not easy to win out here, just ask the Boston Red Sox, who managed to finish in the top 10 in three of the four metrics used in this series, and still managed to lose a whopping 24 games from their previous season record. As they mull over what to do with a core that may need to move out, the Blue Jays are looking inward to a group of second-generation players that could be the torchbearers for the next generation of competitive baseball north of the border. Oh, and the Yankees are officially the best team in baseball and the Orioles are still awful. Also, in equally surprising news, water is wet and it’s cold in winter.

Salary Committed – Per Spotrac’s 2020 estimates.
Offense – Using Fangraph’s OFF statistic
Starters – Using Fangraph’s total pitching WAR, and separated by starters
Relievers – same as starters, but for relievers
Defense – Using Fangraph’s DEF statistic.

The New York Yankees: The Empire Strikes Back

Yankees at Orioles 4/7/19
  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: OFFENSE
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: STARTERS
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: N/A

When Jose Altuve pumped an Aroldis Chapman fastball over the fences in Houston, putting a violent end to the Yankees 2019 season (and a cap on their first World Series-less decade in a century), they were an elite team. Even when they had to keep the ship afloat with two-by-fours, thanks to a tidal wave of injuries, they did everything at the highest levels. Aaron Judge could hit, Gio Urshela could field, and that bullpen could sling. There was one weakness in this outfit, and it was in who took the mound when the game started. By most comparisons, their rotation wasn’t bad, but when the rest of your team is so friggin good at everything else, even an average rotation can stick out. Their response was to go out and sign the best pitcher in baseball to the most lucrative contract ever awarded to a starting pitcher. It seems almost condescendingly simple, see weakness, fix weakness with best player on the market. But in today’s overly complex and convoluted world of financially driven roster construction, it’s so rarely the case that it seems almost shocking. The addition of Gerrit Cole makes the Yankees the clear favorite in the American League to go to the fall classic, repairing the one chink in this teams armor in a major way. There is nothing else to do for this team, even adding depth would seem redundant after the performance of their bench last season. Just go out and win, baby.

The Tampa Bay Rays: So Far, yet So Close

  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: BULLPEN
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: DEFENSE
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Jason Castro

In some ways, the Tampa Bay Rays embody the Oakland A’s message: Just keep sleeping on us, when you wake up it’ll be too late. It’s true, for the team that draws among the fewest fans in baseball, they put together an awful lot of winning teams. Living in the shadow of the high spending Yankees and Red Sox, not to mention the brand name prospects of the Blue Jays casts a sort of mystery around them, making Tampa one of the most intriguing teams headed into the new decade. As per their typical Modus Operandi, the offseason began in earnest with the trade of beloved outfielder Tommy Pham to the San Diego Padres for Hunter Renfroe and a “slapdick prospect”, knowing that Pham would be due a significant raise via arbitration (estimated $8.6M per MLBTR). Now here we are, approaching another season of “how will they do it this year?”, and they’re only sporting one of the most interesting rosters in the game. One would think that a catcher could be a necessary addition after the departure of Travis D’arnaud to the Braves, which would make Jason Castro a reasonably priced fit. His plus defensive skills can only help their impressive pitching staff, and coming off a 101 OPS+ season, there’s reason to believe that he can provide some offense as well. This the part where I say “The Rays could surprise some people this year!”… but should them winning surprise anyone anymore?

The Boston Red Sox: Falling Down from the Peak

Red Sox at Orioles 8/10/18
  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: OFFENSE
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: STARTING PITCHING
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Pedro Strop

As predicted, the Red Sox offseason has been fairly quiet in terms of who is coming in. I put Pedro Strop as a potential free agent target pretty much because MLBTR had him on their predictions, and why the hell not. He’s a reliable bullpen arm that won’t cost a whole lot after a down season, and every team could use another reliever. The real topic of discussion in regards to the Red Sox is what to do with Mookie Betts? The Red Sox have engaged several teams including the Indians and Dodgers in regards to moving the MVP outfielder, entering the final year of his contract. It’s the correct move, from a baseball business perspective: Move the star player you know you’re not going to re sign in order to get some value back, rather than letting him walk to free agency with nothing to show for it. What’s difficult is gauging Bett’s ultimate value. One would assume that a mixture of decent MLB level talent and upper crust prospects would be the primary return, making trading partners slim, and finding a partner that is willing to take Betts on a “rental” narrows the field even further. So what now? I wouldn’t go so far as to predict a full tear down at Fenway, but I would look for the Red Sox to re evaluate their team, and after Betts is moved, look to part with other company like Rafael Devers to bolster a farm system sold out by former GM Dave Dombrowski to finance the latest in Boston’s flag collection. It’s going to be a wild year in Red Sox nation, and not the fun kind.

The Toronto Blue Jays: The Children Shall Lead Them

  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: BULLPEN
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: STARTING PITCHING
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Alex Wood or Will Harris

Safe to say, that if Major League Baseball has a “parents day”, the Blue Jays would have the most legendary one of all. This team is practically crawling with upside in its lineup, thanks to it’s group of second-generation big leaguers: Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel, and of course, Vlad Guerrero Jr.. With the addition of lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, to the rotation, the Blue Jays are starting to gather some buzz as a team to watch in the near future. I wouldn’t say in 2020 necessarily, but as the Red Sox begin their decline and the Orioles continue to flounder in baseball’s basement, but who’s to say that 2021 isn’t a year that these young Jays make a run at the Rays or even the mighty Yankees? The bullpen is looking quite thin going into this regular season though, and someone like Will Harris could be an option to help shore that up, though it may come at a higher than comfortable cost for an otherwise rebuilding team. I would also suggest Alex Wood as a possibility, for the reason I suggested him as a fit for the Pirates earlier in our series. He presents a less risk/reward version of Ryu in a way; a high upside lefty with a checkered injury history. However Wood seems more likely a candidate for a one year deal, with maybe a team option for a second. I like what the Blue Jays are doing, and they’re a team to bookmark for future season, but for this one, just work on keeping the ship afloat and getting these young sailors their sea legs. They’re not quite ready to brave the ocean just yet.

The Baltimore Orioles: It’s All Bad. Like, All of it.

Blue Jays at Orioles 4/11/18
  • BIGGEST STRENGTH: NOTHING
  • BIGGEST WEAKNESS: EVERYTHING
  • FREE AGENT TARGET: Anyone who will play there and do baseball things.

So it’s the last team in this series. It’s the day after Christmas, and i’m tired (I work retail management as my day job). Do I seriously have to write about the Orioles? The truth is, that it seems as though they’re starting to make moves in the right direction via the Dylan Bundy trade and other small moves here and there, but there’s nothing coming in the near future. A laughable percentage of their 2020 payroll (48%) is going to pay Chris Davis, who has scrummed together (according to baseball reference) an embarrassing -2.9 oWAR since 2017. They waived Jonathan Villar for reasons that are both understandable (this team is so bad) and yet confounding (he was literally the only player of value) at the same time. The Orioles could very well be good some day, after all, the Astros went through a similar process to get to where they are now, but for right now, it’s just really… really… bad.

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