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How does the AL East look for 2018?

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The division figures to be a slog yet again

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New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

After capturing a Wild Card berth last year, the Yankees took to the offseason with two specific goals: better the team such that they don’t have to play in that terrifying single-elimination game, and reset the competitive balance tax penalties. Remarkably, the team did exactly that, landing National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, an intriguing infield option in Brandon Drury, signing Neil Walker to a killer deal, and retaining both Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. All the while, the team stayed under that critical $197 million line.

It’s safe to say the Yankees had a pretty successful offseason, but how did the rest of their division fare? For virtually my entire life, the AL East has been the toughest division in baseball, and in spite of the moves made by the Yankees this winter, it looks to be the same case headed into 2018.

Boston Red Sox

Last year’s division champions return what should be a strong lineup on paper, with one very notable addition: JD Martinez. In what felt like the most-inevitable move of the offseason, Martinez inked a five-year, $110 million contract with the Red Sox.

Martinez’s signing carries fascinating implications for Boston’s day-to-day lineup, as the team boasts one of the strongest outfields in baseball without Martinez. He’s a notoriously poor fielder, and so will likely take up the bulk of DH plate appearances. That leaves Hanley Ramirez out in the cold for now, as Mitch Moreland was also signed to a two-year extension, and will be the Opening Day first baseman.

Outside of the above, it appears the Red Sox are banking on a return to form from what was an underwhelming lineup in 2017. The team hit the fewest home runs in the American League, and almost every single everyday player hit worse than he did in 2016. Top prospect Andrew Benintendi was fine in his debut, but not outstanding, adding to the disappointing offensive output. The Red Sox boast better hitters than their performance showed, and with a solid starting rotation, should be neck and neck with the Yankees for the division title.

Toronto Blue Jays

Our neighbors to the north took a page out of the Pittsburgh Pirates historical playbook, acquiring a number of former Yankees in an attempt to raise the team’s collective floor. Curtis Granderson was signed to a one year deal; Yangervis Solarte was traded from the Padres to Toronto; and Tyler Clippard inked a minor-league deal, with his spring training going about as well as you’d expect.

The big splash of the offseason for the Jays was the acquisition of Randal Grichuk from the St Louis Cardinals, in exchange for Dominic Leone, who posted perhaps the quietest excellent season from a reliever in 2017. Grichuk’s defensive ability should take some of the pressure off Kevin Pillar, and on a team known for turning subpar hitters into power threats, there’s potential Grichuk turns into a player to be reckoned with.

Headed into their series with the Yankees, the best thing to happen for the Jays over the winter was health-related. Aaron Sanchez made just eight starts for the team last season, as he battled blister problems all year. Through spring, however, Sanchez has been healthy and looked great, and will be a headliner on what should be a very good Jays rotation.

Tampa Bay Rays

Evan Longoria will not dissect the Yankees this season, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The best player in Rays’ history was dealt to the San Francisco Giants, and that was just the start of a troubled offseason for the Rays. Jake Odorizzi was traded to the Twins, and both Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon require Tommy John surgery. They sent away above-average hitters like Corey Dickerson and Steven Souza, and failed to retain Logan Morrison who signed for well below expected value.

Don’t panic, though, the team did sign Carlos Gomez, coming off a surprisingly solid 2.3 win season for the Rangers in 2017. In the midst of all these transactions, the team was also named in an MLBPA grievance for not spending it’s revenue-sharing pool to the degree expected by the union.

Who knows what the future holds for the Rays. They stripped out a lot of key pieces, but the team has a knack for turning nobodies into serviceable talent. I don’t know if they can do that in 2018, but we’ll soon find out for sure.

Baltimore Orioles

Ah, yes. Judge’s favorite baseball team.

The Orioles are going to have an excellent offense, projected to break the all-time single season home run record. Can enough players get on base to make those home runs really count, though, and can the pitching staff perform at anything approaching league average?

The team tried to answer the pitching holes, signing both Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner as free agents. Maybe you believe in Cobb - I’m rather bearish, personally - but these moves don’t exactly inspire confidence when Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy will be sucking up 60% of the team’s starts.

The bullpen as always looks decent, even if Zach Britton’s troublesome Achilles will keep him sidelined until at least mid-May. With Manny Machado’s departure seemingly inevitable, the team’s going to have one last shot to make an impact in the playoffs, but it sure doesn’t look like they’ve done much to shore up the team, despite claiming they’re going to be competitive in 2018. Color me skeptical.

Real baseball starts Thursday in Toronto, and we’ll have answers to all these questions before long. No matter what happens in the AL East, it’ll be a tough ride to the playoffs, so buckle in, Yankee fans.