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The Rays could be the Yankees’ biggest threat for years to come

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Tampa Bay, not Boston, will be the biggest challengers to the Yankees in the East.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Yankees and Red Sox have a historic rivalry, one that’s considered among the best in all of sports. However, Boston’s 2019 season was nothing short of disappointing, especially coming off a campaign in which they won 108 regular season games and steam-rolled every team they faced in the postseason en route to a World Series victory.

J.D. Martinez has an opt-out clause in his contract, and Mookie Betts has swirled in trade rumors as the Red Sox agitate to get under the luxury tax. Both of them were top five in fWAR on their team this season and last season. If they are both in different uniforms in 2020, the Red Sox may be in danger of finishing under .500 for the first time since 2015.

On the flip side, the Tampa Bay Rays have developed a strong core of talent both offensively,and on the mound. Guys like Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Brandon Lowe all seem cornerstones that a successful team can build around. They won 90 games in 2018 and 96 this year, despite an unfathomably low payroll around $68 million. Only four other teams were lower, and none of them even sniffed the playoffs, let alone almost hitting triple digits in the win column.

With that said, the Rays may be New York’s toughest competitor to own the American League East over the next couple years. Over the last two seasons, Tampa Bay has played the Yanks better than the rest of the division, winning 16 of their 38 games against them. That’s a 42% winning percentage compared to Bostons 15-23 mark and 39% winning percentage against New York. The Red Sox could be losing their top two offensive weapons, while the Rays are just getting better and better.

The Rays’ treasure trove of young talent is what really could keep the Yankees up at night. Tampa bay has MLB’s top prospect Wander Franco, according to MLB.com, not top mention lefty pitcher Brandan McKay who is the 12th-best prospect in baseball. FanGraphs rates Tampa Bay’s farm system as easily the best in the game, stocked with high-upside hitters and pitchers, as well as considerable depth. Boston owns just one top-100 prospect in Triston Casas (85), and ranks dead-last among the league’s systems according to FanGraphs.

With the firing of Dave Dombroski, the Red Sox have left their future in the hands of general manager Brian O’Halloran and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. Once the offseason is officially upon us, the Red Sox’s newest men in power will likely begin to run the team far differently than Dombrowski. The team indicated even before it hired Bloom that it wanted to cut payroll, and after Bloom’s thrifty tenure in Tampa, all signs point to a dip under the luxury tax line. It wouldn’t really be a stunner if they attempted to flip Betts either before next season or before the deadline, both to cut salary and restock a barren farm system.

With the two teams heading in opposite directions, the Rays seemingly have a brighter future and will be a tougher challenge for the Yankees to overcome than the Red Sox. We shall see if the Yankees are up to the task, with a level of analytical wherewithal that can keep pace with the Rays, and a level of financial might that far outstrips them.