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Scouting the Yankees’ competition heading into the offseason

The AL’s top teams all have work to do this winter.

World Series - Washington Nationals v Houston Astros - Game Seven Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Over the course of the regular season, we kept tabs on both the Yankees’ divisional foes and non-divisional contenders. Now that the offseason is just about getting underway and we begin to look ahead, let’s take one last look back at the 2019 season.

Cleveland Indians (93-69, missed postseason)

Despite winning two more games than they had in 2018, the Cleveland Indians were a disappointment in 2019. Expecting to easily coast to a fourth straight AL Central title, Cleveland opted to focus on cutting payroll last winter instead of plugging holes, banking on the theory “the playoffs are a crapshoot.” This left the team lacking at multiple positions, as they relied on younger and unproven talent to carry a lot of the load, alongside Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and the strong pitching staff.

They were not completely wrong; despite losing Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco for much of the season and trading away Trevor Bauer mid-season, the Indians maintained a pitching staff that ranked among the best of the league and was able to carry a lackluster offense to a respectable 93-win season. In what amounts to “treading water is the equivalent of going backwards,” however, Cleveland’s refusal to take a step forward forced them backwards, and they ended the season on the outside of the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Oakland Athletics (97-65, eliminated in Wild Card Game)

For the second season in a row, the Oakland A’s rode a 97-win season to the Wild Card Game, only to lose to a team from the American League East. But that does not mean the season was a failure for Oakland, who has put together a strong core and looks to be a contender in the AL West for the next few years.

Matt Olsen and Matt Chapman put together strong seasons both at the plate (137 and 126 OPS+, respectively) and in the field (both received Gold Glove Awards at their positions). Shortstop Marcus Semien broke out in his age-28 season, driving 33 home runs en route to a Top-3 finish in the MVP voting. On the mound, Liam Hendricks and Sean Manaea headline a pitching staff with a lot of potential, but also quite a bit of holes. Brett Anderson and Homer Bailey will be hitting the free agent market, and while Mike Fiers and Frankie Montas will return, the former will be 35 and the latter just finished an 80-game PED suspension.

The Athletics are far from a perfect team, but they enter the offseason as way-too-early Wild Card candidates for 2020 and the best chance of anybody in the AL West to dethrone the Astros for the first time since 2016.

Minnesota Twins (101-61, eliminated in ALCS)

The Minnesota Twins’ season ended in a familiar way, at the hands of the New York Yankees in the ALDS. But the season the Twins put together under first-year manager Rocco Baldelli was one of the team’s best in franchise history. They look well-positioned to make a strong push to become the third “superteam” in the AL, alongside the Yankees and Astros.

With only one member of the starting lineup over thirty, Nelson Cruz, the Twins’ powerful lineup looks to keep on trucking in 2020. Mitch Garver had one of the best seasons among catchers in 2019, and Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez give the Twins one of the best middle-infields in the league. In truth, there is not a single “easy out” in the lineup — or even a “league-average” out!

Outside of Jose Berrios and 2020 free agent Jake Odorrizi, the Twins’ pitching staff has been lackluster. Michael Pineda essentially served as their #3 starter (a pending free agent, serving a 60-game PED suspension), and although Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, and Tyler Duffey put in sub-3.00 ERA seasons, the bullpen was patch worked together for much of the season. If the Twins want to take the next step and take their place at the top of the league, they need to shore up the pitching staff.

Houston Astros (107-55, lost World Series)

Yankees fans are very familiar with the state of the Houston Astros, as he Yankees/Astros rivalry is arguably the quickest-growing rivalry in baseball. The World Series runners-up rode one of the league’s best offenses, the league’s best starting rotation, and a top bullpen to 107 wins and an AL pennant.

They will continue to be a thorn in the Yankees’ side in 2020, but they will have a lot of heavy lifting to do this winter. In addition to ace Gerrit Cole, the Astros will see starting pitcher Wade Miley, relievers Hector Rendon, Joe Smith, and Colin McHugh, and catchers Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado hitting the market. Nonetheless, the Astros’ front office has shown that they are more than willing to be aggressive while their team is good, so expect them to remain the dominant force in the AL West and one of the favorites for the AL Pennant.