It seems like the offseason gets longer and longer every year. Having a World Series end so quickly and so distastefully didn’t help, and a deep freeze around the two best free agents in a long time has hurt as well. But don’t worry, baseball fans, spring training literally is around the corner, with pitchers and catchers reporting tomorrow!
With that in mind, let’s go over the AL East, see which teams have improved and regressed, and if we can expect any final big moves as we approach fake baseball, then finally real baseball.
The team that had the biggest excuse to do nothing in the division has mostly done just that. Early in the offseason, they inked Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year, $68 million deal and agreed to a one-year contract with World Series MVP Steve Pearce. Remember that note about Pearce winning MVP, it’ll be a question at the Liberty Well some point in the future.
The Red Sox clearly believe Eovaldi has turned a corner in his career, and put up the money to reflect that. It feels like they still have one move left though, doesn’t it? All offseason we’ve expected them to retain Craig Kimbrel as their closer, and they haven’t yet. Maybe it’s a play similar to what they did with J.D. Martinez last year, who didn’t sign until February 25th. Unlike Martinez, Kimbrel has begun to show some warts, and relievers are notoriously finicky. Still, the Red Sox need a lot of help in the bullpen, losing Joe Kelly and only signing two relievers to minor-league deals with invites to spring training.
Outside of the bullpen, the Sox return most of their big pieces. Their four star outfielders are still under contract, Chris Sale and David Price are still at the top of their rotation, and Xander Boegarts is still at shortstop. The payroll is projected to be right around $221 million, above the CBT, despite rumors earlier this winter that the Sox were going to ditch Rick Porcello and an outfielder to try and get under. That may still happen, or the Red Sox may have realized it’s actually still incredibly profitable to spend over the CBT threshold every year and make deep playoff runs. Crazy talk.
I never know what to say when I have to write about the Rays. Last year we all thought they were going to be dreadful, and they won 90 games. We all chuckled at the opener, but it was relatively effective. Early in the offseason, they seemed like a perfect fit for JT Realmuto, Josh Donaldson or Nelson Cruz, with a laughably low payroll but a good enough team that one or two superstars could really push them over the top.
Instead, the team acquired catcher Mike Zunino from the Mariners and traded for Yandy Diaz in a three-team deal with Seattle and Cleveland. Tampa’s offseason acquisitions probably carry the biggest error bars of any team in the division, with free agent signee Charlie Morton also joining that group. Yankee fans have seen what Morton can do when he’s on, and Zunino has always come with a lot of hype, but it’s equally as likely this blows up in the Rays’ faces. Don’t worry, though, Tampa only has the deepest farm system in the game in case something goes wrong.
If last year was a rebuild for Toronto, this year is a “tune-up”, where the primary goal is to see who can stick at the major league level. Vladimir Guerrero Jr is already projected to be one of the very best players in baseball, and once he passes the Super Two deadline, expect him to strike terror in the hearts of the entire AL East for the better part of a decade.
Beyond Vladdy, the Jays have a number of major-league ready pieces that need to be tested on the biggest stage, with players like Sean Reid-Foley, Danny Jansen, Rowdy Tellez, Anthony Alford and possibly Bo Bichette all looking to spend the bulk of the season on the major league roster. The team is gearing up for a 2020-2023 competitive window, and it looks like 2019 is the test drive year.
While deep with position players, the team still is going to struggle with rotation depth, with both Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman posing pretty big health and performance questions. Matt Shoemaker was brought in to stabilize the rotation a bit, and will be joined by Clayton Richard, traded from the Padres.
Naturally, the Jays will also be a lot leaner this year in terms of the roster, if not payroll. Russell Martin was traded to the Dodgers, with the Jays eating a healthy amount of money, and Troy Tulowitzki was of course released in December.
The Baltimore Orioles will play 162 games in Major League Baseball this season, with 81 of those games coming at home.