Back towards the end of the season, I looked back at how the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians had entered 2019 season coasting on the success of the previous seasons. Their refusal to build upon those successes resulted in a complacency that saw both expected “super-teams” sitting on their couches in October. Both teams had lost numerous players through free agency, while their two biggest competitors, the Yankees and the Twins, had chosen to re-arm, and were rewarded with 100+ win seasons each.
Instead of learning from their mistakes, both teams have doubled down on this...I can’t even call it a strategy, really. List of priorities, perhaps? The Boston Red Sox, after letting go of both Dave Dombrowski and Alex Cora in under half a year, have seen numerous free agents depart, losing Rick Porcello, Andrew Cashner, Steve Pearce, and Brock Holt; the Cleveland Indians, meanwhile, have seen Yasiel Puig, Jason Kipnis, Tyler Clippard, and Danny Salazar leave, among others. Both teams have made minor signings to fill those holes, but all departures have seen a sizable drop in total payroll.
Of course, losing players in free agency was not sufficient, as the Red Sox traded superstar outfielder Mookie Betts and former Cy Young starter David Price earlier this week. The Indians, meanwhile, sent two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber out to Texas, and Francisco Lindor is currently waiting in limbo. Far from adding to their squads and trying to compete, both teams have clearly valued saving money over victories, content with mediocrity.
They’re not the only ones that have not added much going into spring training. The Oakland Athletics have seen multiple pitchers leave via free agency, including Blake Treinen, Tanner Roark, Homer Bailey, and Brett Anderson, although they still retain a large chunk of their core.
While not quite a similar situation, the Houston Astros find themselves closer to this group than they might perhaps prefer, having lost Wade Miley, Robinson Chirinos, Hector Rondon, Will Harris and Gerrit Cole. Of course, they’re still a major player, with a lineup that remains strong even after losing the trash can, and their rotation still boasts Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke at its top. And perhaps their inability to add significant pieces extends more as fallout from the cheating scandal than a refusal to spend money, as they have made significant salary investments in the past. No matter the reason, however, they do nonetheless find themselves merely treading water at best.
With all this going on, the Yankees and Twins have engaged in an arms race — quite literally. Lacking an ace, the Yankees went out and acquired the best one available in the aforementioned Cole, creating a 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation that ranks among the best in baseball. The Twins, meanwhile, looked to shore up their rotation depth, signing Rich Hill and Homer Bailey and acquiring Kenta Maeda as part of the Mookie Betts trade. They also managed to improve the lineup by adding Josh Donaldson to a list of mashers, and picked up Tyler Clippard for the bullpen.
Time will tell just how much the action — or inaction — of these teams will shape how they do during the season. After all, as the saying goes, “You can’t predict baseball, Suzyn.” Nonetheless, it’s clear that only some of the contenders at the top of the American League have truly bought into their windows of contention, and have refused to sit complacent on their success.