Throughout the season, we kept regular tabs on the Yankees’ divisional foes throughout the ebb and flow of a 162-game season. As the offseason gets ready to open, it’s time to take a look back and see how everybody’s 2019 went, and where they stand as they look towards the future.
Baltimore Orioles (54-108, 49 GB)
This season was a massive success for the Baltimore Orioles, finishing seven games better in their bad-on-purpose season than in 2018. I’m not sure whether that’s a compliment to this year’s squad, or a sign of just how bad the 2018 team actually was.
Positives within the past season are few and far between, but they are there. Hanser Alberto, Anthony Santandar, Johnathan Villar, and Trey Mancini put together solid seasons at the plate, while Austin Hays impressed as a September call-up. John Means, meanwhile, came out of relative nowhere and put together an All-Star first half, although he struggled a bit down the stretch.
They have a couple of trade candidates in Villar and Mancini, and with the breakout and continued development of Alberto, Santandar, and Hays, it’s actually possible that the Orioles have some players who finished the season on the roster that might still be there when the team is competitive — and that’s something you could not say last season. They’ve also begun to embrace analytics throughout the organization.
Finding the right words to describe the Orioles is difficult, as calling them “terrible” would be an insult to things that are actually terrible, like that one raisin cookie hidden among the chocolate chips. It’s going to be a few dark years in Baltimore, as the franchise reinvents itself throughout. But hey, at least they finished better than the Tigers.
Toronto Blue Jays (67-95, 36 GB)
The record may have seen a decline from 2018 (73-89), but the Toronto Blue Jays are looking brighter than they have since they won the division in 2015. They have a strong core of young hitters, led by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. They have plenty so-called financial flexibility, with somewhere between $50M (Spotrac’s estimate) and $60M (BlueBirdBanter’s estimate) in payroll, a number that can be dropped even further should they trade Ken Giles. And they have a farm system that is universally well-regarded.
What they don’t have, however, is major league-ready pitching, because they have traded pretty much all of it away in the last two years — a reasonable move, but it nonetheless leaves the team with a big hole. Fortunately for them, however, they have numerous top pitching prospects (five of their top six prospects are pitchers), not to mention the plethora of top pitchers hitting the open market.
The team, as constructed now, has little chance to compete in the stacked American League. A successful offseason, however, combined with growth from their young core, might see the Blue Jays challenge for a Wild Card spot — and as the Nationals just showed the world, that’s all you need.
Boston Red Sox (84-78, 19 GB)
The Red Sox won 24 fewer games in 2019 than they did during their 108-win 2018, the largest drop-off by a World Series champion since...the 2014 Red Sox, who won only 71 games immediately following their 97-win campaign in 2013. In fact, only one other champion has seen a drop-off of more than twenty wins since the turn of century: the Anaheim Angels (yes, I remember when they were still called that) lost 77 games in 2003 after their 99-win World Series campaign.
Things have quickly gone sideways for the Red Sox, and with their stated goal of getting under the luxury tax penalties, that just might continue.
With a leaky pitching staff that gave up 5.11 runs per game, it was the lineup that allowed Boston to win as many games as they did. This same lineup, however, expects to lose Mitch Moreland and his 112 OPS+ to free agency, might see J.D. Martinez and his 140 OPS+ opt out, and is looking at the wild possibility of trading 2018 MVP Mookie Betts. Even with Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and Andrew Benintendi, losing that much firepower would certainly make things difficult for Boston.
Likewise, the pitching staff is completely filled with holes, due to Chris Sale’s injury-riddled season (which was also his career worst by far), the looming free agency of Rick Porcello, and the injury histories of David Price and Nathan Eovaldi.
With former Tampa Bay Rays senior vice-president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom replacing Dave Dombrowski, the Boston Red Sox will look to put their 2019 season behind them and open a new chapter in their organization’s history. What that looks like remains to be seen.
Tampa Bay Rays (96-66, 7 GB, reached ALDS)
The Tampa Bay Rays were the Yankees’ biggest competitor in 2019, and it looks like that will be the same as the new decade begins.
For all the talk about the Houston Astros pitching staff, the Tampa Bay Rays were right up there, with a better ERA (3.65 vs. 3.66) and FIP (3.65 vs 3.98), and they were second or third in most other categories. That looks to remain the same next year as well, with Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow leading a pitching staff that has revolutionized how pitchers are used. Their offense, meanwhile, is anchored by youngsters Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe, and while collectively they were far from elite, the squad did put together an approximately league-average 101 OPS+ in 2019.
What truly makes Tampa Bay dangerous is the depth they have in their farm. Their farm system ranks among the top in the league, headlined by two-way youngster Brendan McKay and the top prospect in all of baseball, 18-year-old shortstop Wander Franco, along with four other players on MLB’s Top 100 prospects list. Should even half their top prospects develop, the Rays will add to their already-strong core.