We’ve covered the Yankees extensively in our season preview series, but I do think there is a little bit of tunnel vision we sometimes get around here. We’re all so focused on the team in the Bronx that it can be difficult to remember that there are four other teams in the division trying to win.
Well, there’s probably not four teams, but y’know. So how does the rest of the AL East look for 2019? We’ll tackle them in order of projected standings.
108 wins, World Series, blah blah blah. I don’t want to talk about the Red Sox in 2018 anymore. The team returns most of their lineup for this season, and it’s very top-heavy ome, led of course by Mookie Betts and JD Martinez. These two guys are about as good as it gets in baseball, and even if you think Mookie is closer to an eight-win player than a ten-win player, like I do. That’s still two MVP-caliber players at the top of the lineup.
After the top half of the lineup, which also boasts good hitters like Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts, the team doesn’t really have much depth. Guys like Brock Holt and Mitch Moreland don’t scare me, and Rafael Devers took a very real step back in 2018. Maybe he rebounds, maybe he doesn’t, but while the top-line talent is equal to what the Yankees have, I don’t think the offense is nearly as deep on Boston’s end.
On the pitching side, well, Boston’s being weird. Chris Sale is still at the absolute elite of starting pitching, and Rick Porcello and David Price are solid enough if not outstanding. I don’t know if the rotation boasts the upside the Yankees’ does, but the floor is considerably higher I think. And then there’s the bullpen.
The Red Sox let two of their most trusted relief arms walk, and even though Craig Kimbrel is still a free agent, they seem uninterested in a reunion. Instead, they’re trying this unusual committee system and hoping to manufacture a quality bullpen all by themselves. It could work! Relief arms are the most fungible asset in the game. They’re also the most volatile, so the jury is out for now. At the very least, Stephen Wright’s PED suspension probably takes a bite out of the unit’s projected performance.
Speaking of unusual teams, the Rays are projected to win 84 or so games. I feel like they’re better than that, but can’t really put my finger on why? They traded for Mike Zunino and Yandy Diaz, two players that seem to have a fair amount of potential, but haven’t capitalized on it so far in their careers. They also added Charlie Morton to a talented pitching staff, but it sure feels like they could have done more.
The Opening Day payroll is projected to be just north of $53 million, and that includes the $1 million salary Blake Snell will be making after inking his extension this week. Their 2018 payroll was $68 million. You can talk all you want about small markets and such, but it sure feels like the Rays should have been a bigger player in the markets for guys like Josh Donaldson or J.T. Realmuto - relatively short term, high upside commitments. Either one of those would probably have given the Rays a lot more credibility within the division and shortened their error bars considerably.
That said, the pitching is good, the offense will be annoyingly competent, and they have probably the best farm system in the AL. The Rays will be just fine in 2019 and beyond, and playing them will be irritating.
Now, the Blue Jays won’t be good, but they may be fun. Vlad Guerrero Jr. is possibly the best prospect of the last decade or so, and once he’s recovered from his oblique injury — coincidentally taking the heat off the Jays’ service time manipulation — he’ll be raking in the big leagues. Bo Bichette will be on the major league team at some point in the season as well, and we’ll at get a look at the future of the team up north.
On the other hand, someone does have to pitch, and that’s where it all falls apart for the Jays. Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez should be good pitchers, but are both coming off rough 2018s and have very real injury concerns. Matt Shoemaker, Clayton Richards and Clay Buchholz were offseason additions. They may give the rotation a solid floor, you can’t really count on health from any of them either. After that, there are some not good options and you can bet on a whole lot of 7-5 games come August.
Now, the Orioles won’t be good, but they probably won’t be fun either. Staring down the barrel of a long and painful rebuild, Baltimore will be fielding a 25-man roster of players that are ostensibly big leaguers.
Now, I looked up the Orioles projected depth charts for 2019, Do you know who Rio Ruiz is? He’s projected to get the lion’s share of work at third base. It is fascinating to go through these tables and see how many players you actually know. Let us know how many names you recognize in the comments!
So much of the AL East picture comes down to the health of the Yankee rotation and how much regression hits the Red Sox. Both teams project to be very good and you can expect one heck of a race for the division and first Wild Card. The Rays could be a good team in their own right, but it looks like the days of the AL East being the best division in baseball seem to be on hold for now.