The final time we noticed the American League East, the Tampa Bay Rays had been the category of the division whereas the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays had been placing collectively playoff runs of their very own — and the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles had been battling on the backside.
Since then, an offseason crammed with adjustments noticed Blake Snell and Charlie Morton go away Tampa Bay, free brokers George Springer and Marcus Semien ink offers with Toronto, and a number of high-upside pitching strikes for New York and under-the-radar veteran additions in Boston. And a Baltimore workforce nonetheless ready for a proficient group of prospects to get to Camden Yards.
We requested ESPN MLB consultants David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle and Joon Lee to take inventory of the place issues stand within the revamped division getting into 2021.
Are the Rays nonetheless a World Sequence contender after their quiet offseason?
David Schoenfield: Certain. Sure, it will not be simple changing Snell and Morton within the rotation. However bear in mind, the Rays received two-thirds of their video games final season regardless that these two had been extra good than nice within the common season. They went a mixed 6-4 with a 3.88 ERA whereas averaging simply 4.4 innings per begin. Tampa Bay will not be capable of rely as closely on the bullpen over 162 video games because it did over 60 (with expanded rosters), so a few guys within the rotation have to step up and chew up some innings, with Tyler Glasnow foremost in that group. Nonetheless, these are the Rays, they’ve numerous good baseball gamers on their roster and that depth will preserve them close to the highest of the division.
Bradford Doolittle: Properly, I do not suppose it was all that quiet. Parting methods with pitchers like Snell and Morton is fairly noisy. The Rays are among the many seven or eight groups within the American League that in the event that they received the pennant, it could not be an awesome shock. The pitching workers figures to have much less stability within the beginning rotation, and with some groups, that may fear you. With the Rays, you assume that it is only a matter of buying and selling rotation manufacturing for bullpen manufacturing. They are going to be leaning a bit extra on the transition of prospects into producers than with final yr’s workforce, however the Rays are so good at improvement that that does not appear to be a disaster, both. Tampa Bay can get to the playoffs, and if it does, the Rays will once more be powerful to beat.
Joon Lee: I feel it is extremely powerful to rule out the Rays as a legit postseason contender, even with out Morton or Snell on the high of their rotation. The rotation actually will not be the identical, however this is similar squad that seemingly provides lockdown beforehand no-name relievers who all throw 98 mph on an annual foundation, to the purpose the place it would not shock me if we someday discovered that the Rays even have a machine that creates these pitchers out of skinny air someplace in Tropicana Area. Many of the offense returns right here, so I feel they’re going to be proper within the combine as one of many stronger squads within the American League.
Have the Yankees change into the workforce to beat within the division?
Schoenfield: Whereas the Rays maybe lack star energy, the Yankees are loaded with it, however it comes with an enormous asterisk: Can all these stars stay wholesome? When Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton battled accidents in 2019, keep in mind that the second string stepped up massive time and the Yankees received 103 video games. That did not occur in 2020 and the Yankees scuffled to a 33-27 season. Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon had been actually nice in 2018, after they had been final wholesome, however will their final worth be a lot totally different from what Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ supplied in recent times? I will put the Yankees as the perfect workforce within the division since their upside is clearly highest within the division, however they don’t seem to be an enormous favourite in my e book. I simply fear about all of the harm danger.
Doolittle: Sure, the Yankees are the clear preseason favourite. It is truthful to fret concerning the collective well being of the beginning rotation given the variety of crimson flags in that group. However even when the Yankees find yourself having to piece issues collectively in that space greater than they like, they’re going to nonetheless have a terrific bullpen and the perfect all-around offense within the division. New York has essentially the most full roster within the AL East. The groups behind them are ok to make them work, although, so marking the Yanks as favorites is just the start line for an excellent division.
Lee: Barring accidents, sure, however that appears like a doubtlessly massive if. There was numerous panic final season concerning the Yankees lacking the playoffs when their massive bats went down with accidents and the workforce’s depth did not step as much as fill that manufacturing on the identical ranges. The workforce is changing Tanaka and Happ with Kluber and Taillon, and the rotation will want them to provide to ensure that the Yankees to dwell as much as the expectation that the expertise on this roster calls for.
How good are the Blue Jays after including Marcus Semien and George Springer?
Schoenfield: I really like the offense, particularly once you consider a bounce-back season from Semien, a possible breakout from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and a full yr from Bo Bichette (and extra of the identical from Teoscar Hernandez). However that rotation might be a scorching mess. Hyun-Jin Ryu is the one dependable arm at this level, and I do not know if the bullpen is sweet sufficient to cowl if Robbie Ray and Steven Matz haven’t got higher seasons after struggling in 2020.
Doolittle: Toronto is true there with the Rays because the second-best on-paper workforce within the division. If the Jays can get constant beginning pitching, they are going to be a much-improved workforce. If their younger hitters — Guerrero, Cavan Biggio, Bichette — progress as a bunch, then a run on the Yankees is throughout the realm of risk. Nonetheless, as a result of there’s some uncertainty within the rotation that might be exacerbated by what to me would not seem like an excellent workforce protection, it is attainable that Toronto may find yourself having to outscore groups greater than it could like. Due to that, I would say the vary of outcomes for the Jays is wider than that of the Yankees and Rays.
Lee: I view the Blue Jays in the identical method that I considered the White Sox a couple of years in the past, which is an extremely enjoyable younger workforce with an infinite potential. Between the trio of sons of former massive leaguers, I view Bichette as the largest potential game-changer, though I am hoping we see Guerrero fulfill extra of the big potential he so clearly possesses with the bat. I do not suppose this may essentially be a playoff workforce this yr, however it’s a bunch I view as making an enormous splash subsequent season.
What do you make of Boston’s sequence of under-the-radar strikes this winter?
Schoenfield: It jogs my memory slightly little bit of 2013, when the Pink Sox had been coming off a 69-93 season and signed a bunch of veterans to fill some holes. That technique labored to perfection and the Pink Sox received the World Sequence (after which fell off to 71-91 in 2014). Perhaps Hunter Renfroe is the 2013 model of Shane Victorino and Enrique Hernandez is Stephen Drew. Almost definitely, nonetheless, the Pink Sox will not discover the identical luck. They are going to be higher than in 2020, however that is as a result of they’ve Eduardo Rodriguez again within the rotation, with Chris Sale becoming a member of him in a while.
Doolittle: They seem like one thing of a run prevention mess to me and but have a ok offensive profile to nonetheless undertaking at proper round .500. Chaim Bloom was a part of a Rays entrance workplace that was higher than anybody at determining tips on how to preserve groups off the scoreboard. It is attainable that even because the Pink Sox look to 2022 and past, he is received a plan for this yr’s pitching and protection that finally ends up being higher in apply than it appears in projection. Proper now, although, this appears like a stopgap sort of season between final yr’s bottoming-out and what I presume shall be subsequent yr’s leap again into severe rivalry.
Lee: David stole my thunder! I view this workforce structurally as similar to 2013. The workforce’s entrance workplace framed that season as a bridge yr, however after all, they ended up profitable the World Sequence. Bloom made numerous related signings this offseason, working to construct the group’s depth. The primary distinction between 2013 and 2020 is that as a result of Sale is coming off of Tommy John and will not be again till nicely after the season is underway, this appears like a possible fringe playoff workforce. I do marvel how a lot persistence John Henry may have for the workforce’s present long-term organizational philosophy if this group would not make the playoffs this season. Ben Cherington approached constructing the Pink Sox with an analogous philosophy and was kicked out the door for Dave Dombrowski when issues did not occur quick sufficient for Henry’s liking.
What would a profitable 2021 season seem like for the Orioles?
Doolittle: What number of under-25 gamers have established themselves as legit main leaguers by the tip of the yr? What number of gamers new to the group have been improved by the Orioles’ massive league improvement processes? The baseline is someplace within the vary of 95 to 100 losses and in the event that they beat that, it is a good season. The arrival of Adley Rutschman ought to get everybody in Baltimore excited by what’s to come back. Then once more, if he comes up and flops and the O’s lose 110 video games at this stage of their rebuild, it is going to be arduous to be enthusiastic about what is going on on.
Schoenfield: I feel Brad nailed it. They want the youthful starters — Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Zac Lowther — to point out one thing that implies they’ll pitch within the main leagues, as a result of proper now John Means is absolutely the one starter who has proven the flexibility to pitch at this stage. They’ve a few extremely rated pitchers within the minors in Grayson Rodriguez and DL Corridor, however the hope needs to be when these two are prepared they are going to be becoming a member of two or three different established starters.
Lee: Proceed to construct a strong basis for a company shifting ahead. I’m actually excited to see what Rutschman appears like on the main league stage, contemplating there hasn’t been a lot of an offensive inflow on the catcher place prospect-wise in a substantial period of time. We’re beginning to hit the purpose of the Orioles’ rebuild the place this workforce wants to start seeing one thing resembling outcomes this yr after the seasons of dropping.