This is a Yankee blog and we’re all Yankees fans. It’s no surprise that we see the baseball world through Yankees-tinted lenses. This can sometimes lead to a bias where we don’t notice the shockwaves sent through baseball when the Yankees make a big splash, like acquiring Giancarlo Stanton for example. Brian Cashman’s busy offseason has forced the rest of baseball to adjust their outlook and expectations.
Nowhere is this truer than the AL East. Perennially the best division in baseball, it’s not unusual to have four of the five division teams playing meaningful September baseball. In fact, since MLB added the second Wild Card six years ago, the AL East has sent at least two teams to the playoffs in five of those years. All five teams have been able to produce the kind of young, cheap talent that front offices dream of, and it’s kept them competitive over the past decade.
The rapid ascendance of the Yankees, and their steal of Stanton, has thrown the futures of some of these opponents into doubt. The Toronto Blue Jays, Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles are all coming off disappointing seasons. With the logjam of talent at the top of the division, they are all now considering long rebuilds.
If there was one team in the AL East due for some positive regression, it’s the Toronto Blue Jays. This is the team that made back-to-back ALCS appearances in 2015 and 2016, and still boasts a healthy level of talent. Unlucky injuries sidelined important pieces like perpetual MVP candidate Josh Donaldson, 2016 AL ERA leader Aaron Sanchez, and the entire middle infield.
Key starters like JA Happ and Marco Estrada missed significant time as well. If the Jays had had their best players on the field, and combined them with outstanding seasons from Justin Smoak and Marcus Stroman, it’s not hard to imagine they may have snuck past Minnesota and secured a third straight playoff berth.
The Jays find themselves at a crossroads headed into 2018. On the one hand, they could go for it one last time with their rapidly aging core. Or they could sell off their assets who are likely to leave at the end of the season, including Smoak and Donaldson, in preparation for the arrival of Vlad Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette. It’s easy to make a case for the Jays to punt, but the appeal of trying for one more playoff run with Stroman, Sanchez, Donaldson, Smoak and Russell Martin has to be powerful.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays find themselves closer to the “punt” side than their Toronto contemporaries. In the wake of the Evan Longoria trade, the low-payroll, marginally talented Rays are probably being led into selling off some of their most valuable bits. This includes Chris Archer of course, but they may decide to cash out on Kevin Kiermaier before age robs him of so much defensive value.
The last team in the trio is the Baltimore Orioles, who are an absolute mess. One of the few teams that decided not to pursue Shohei Ohtani at all, the Orioles announced they were “philosophically opposed to the posting system”. Ben Lindbergh remarked they must also be philosophically opposed to making the playoffs. Combine the mishandling – or nonhandling – of Ohtani with the will-they-or-won’t they Manny Machado drama, and the fact that a couple of our Camden Chat counterparts will probably make starts for the 2018 Orioles, and you have a recipe for a painful gutting.
All three teams still have notable levels of MLB talent, and none are far removed from being playoff contenders. In a neutral season, if all were healthy and had a little luck, it wouldn’t be crazy to suggest we’d see another year where four teams in the AL East compete for a handful of playoff spots. This is not a neutral season, as the Yankees have seized control of the offseason and made themselves the favorites to win the division. In doing so, not only have they increased their chances of making the playoffs, but they’ve possibly accelerated the tear-downs of more than one AL East rival.