Tiebreaker breaks down its 2019 American League preview by team. Who are our picks for the top contenders and bottom feeders as we approach spring training?
American League Preview
(Teams Listed In Predicted Order Of Finish)
1. New York Yankees
There was never a problem with the Yankees last season. They won 100 games and that should have been enough to a win any division – except the one the Red Sox played in. So the Bronx Bombers decided they needed a rebuild.
While they were chasing Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, they busied themselves with a number of less spectacular acquisitions, trading for pitcher James Paxton, signing relievers Zach Britton and Adam Ottavino and infielders D.J. LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitski.
Remember, this team set a Major League record with 267 home runs last season. How many more could you possibly expect them to launch? Then again, how much better will they be if starters Luis Severino and J.A. Happ have big seasons?
2. Boston Red Sox
It was an incredible season for the Red Sox. They won a franchise record 108, another World Series and fielded a team led by AL MVP Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez. They were fun to watch.
Interestingly enough, they did something you don’t see very often. They basically kept the team intact. The biggest moves of the offseason were re-signing pitcher Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce, whose bat led the Sox to the Series win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The next best move would be welcoming Dustin Pedroia back after missing most of last season.
While its hard to argue with success, you wonder how the Sox will compensate for the loss of relievers Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel to free agency or if starters Chris Sale and David Price falter. Remember, no team has won consecutive Series titles since the Yankees three-peat (1998-2000).
3. Tampa Bay Rays
Its nothing short of miraculous that the Rays won 90 games last season with a roster lacking legitimate stars. Refreshingly, it served as a reminder its possible to win with a well-crafted team that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Remember, they saved just over $72 million by dumping Evan Longoria on the San Francisco Giants last year.
Of course, their problem is they played in this division and only a cataclysm will prevent the Yankees and Sox from eating up two of the five playoff spots. Can three teams one division make it to the postseason? Why not. Young stars Willy Adames and Joey Wendle are huge assets.
They did make a few moves, signing starter Charlie Morton – $15 million annually – from the Houston Astros to team with Cy Young winner Blake Snell (21-5, 1.89 ERA). And they acquired veteran catcher Mike Zunino to tend to the staff.
4. Toronto Blue Jays
Unlike Tampa, Toronto were vexed playing the Yankees and Red Sox so often. They finished 16 games under .500 and really don’t appear any better off than they did at the end of the season. They also are hurting financial because they still owe Tulowitzki $34 million, even though he now plays for the Yankees.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of excitement here. They have two pretty good starters in Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, but neither would be even a No. 2 starter in Boston, New York or Tampa. Stroman’s ERA in 2018 was 5.54. Sanchez is often injured and has thrown just 141 innings in the last two seasons. So they hope a kid, like Sean Reid-Foley, can help there. If it wasn’t for Baltimore, we’d drop them even further in the division.
The one bright spot, and it is spotlight bright, will be the introduction of rookie third baseman Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., the best prospect in the Major Leagues. The kid can rake.
5. Baltimore Orioles
Its almost impossible to fathom a Major League team losing 115 games in a season. But that’s exactly what the Orioles did in 2018. You have to go back to the 1939 St. Louis Browns to find a worse team in franchise history. They redefined embarrassing. And the failure came with quite a cost for longtime manager Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette, the VP of baseball operations. Out with the trash.
There was so much wrong with this team last year its hard to know where to start, but a 5.18 ERA (the worst in baseball) and .248 batting average (dead last in the AL) are top-flight options.
This is a long-term rebuild – so long Adam Jones and Kevin Gausman – and for the sake of rookie manager Brandon Hyde, the former bench coach of the Chicago Cubs, and rookie general manager, Mike Elias, who comes over from Houston, you can only hope ownership has the patience to deal with it.
1. Cleveland Indians
We begin with bad news. Infielder Francisco Lindor will miss two months with a calf injury, pumping an immediate brake on a season in which the Indians hope to win a fourth straight division title. And who knows whether pitchers Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer (2.21 ERA) will even be on the opening-day roster. My goodness, have the Tribe tried hard to deal them.
If one of both are gone, Carlos Carrasco, Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger will, in some combination, be asked to pick up the slack. And they are three pretty good pitchers.
Lindor’s absence will hurt, as will the trade of catcher Yan Gomes. But Cleveland does have a lot of young talent, like outfielders Tyler Naquin and Greg Allen, who likely will get their shot.
2. Minnesota Twins
The Twin Cities welcome Rocco Baldelli from the Tampa Bay’s staff. He is now the youngest manager in the Majors (37). But frankly, they aren’t a very good team anymore and unless the Indians totally cave they have no chance of unseating them as division winners.
Minnesota’s golden boy, catcher/DH Joe Mauer has retired and that will take some pop from an already so-so lineup. Power-hitting Nelson Cruz will help, as will Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, Jose Barrios and Michael Pineda.
To survive, they will need more from Byron Buxton and Miquel Sano, who both had terrible seasons. Buxton had migraines, toe and wrist injuries last season. Sano hit just .199.
3. Kansas City Royals
The Royals won only 58 games. Just think for a second how terrible this division was in 2018. It seems like just the other day – actually it was 2015 – when they were winning the World Series and being celebrated as one of the great young teams in the game.
Now suddenly, the big news is they signed Billy Hamilton to play centerfield. But you can’t steal your way to the a 30-game improvement in one season. The build has to be from the floor up.
Kansas City has no power. And they have very little pitching. We do like Whit Merrifield very much and in Adalberto Mondesi the organization has one of the best young shortstop – players, actually – in the AL.
4. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers barely beat out the Chicago White Sox for the worst team in the division. They lost 98 games, likely enough to make Ron Gardenhire wonder if he made the right decision taking over the team. Hard to believe they won four straight divisional titles from 2011-14.
The Tigers do have some talent, but some of it is aging, like starter Jordan Zimmerman. Michael Fulmer, the 2016 AL rookie of the year, has been hurt. In fact, its hard to believe Fulmer is still around judging by how hard Detroit peddled him last season. And let’s face it, Tyson Ross is no Denny McLain. Righty Casey Mike was the first overall pick in the 2018 draft. Matt Manning, the 2016 first-round pick, is right behind him.
Nick Castellanos and the fading Miquel Cabrera, who will be 100 soon, will anchor the lineup. They acquired Jordy Mercer to play shortstop and have cut the payroll to just over $100 million.
5. Chicago White Sox
Pity the poor White Sox. Harper and Machado played them for the fool this offseason, feigning interest in signing with them just because the White Sox cleared about $72 million to spend. Chicago even went to the trouble of acquiring Machado’s brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, and best friend, John Jay, in an effort to entice him.
The thing is, the White Sox aren’t the Cubs. There isn’t a lot of sexiness to them. They are a bad team in an average division and after losing 100 games last season, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way out of the pit.
They did acquire starter Ivan Nova and Kelvin Herrera to team up with Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. But there is only so much power Jose Abreu can muster in their support.
1. Houston Astros
Picking the Astros to win the division may be the easiest call of the year. They are still the most talented team, rivaling the Yankees and Red Sox from top to bottom. They scored 263 more runs than they allowed last year. That’s power.
They won 103 games, most by beating up the weak teams in their division. But they also had a lineup with George Springer, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman and few teams could match that. If there was a weakness it was in left field, but they signed Michael Brantley to a two-year deal. The dude struck out only 60 times in 631 at-bats last season. Unheard of.
Even with Morton gone to Tampa and Dallas Keuchel off to free agency, the starting pitching is strong with Jason Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Remember this name: Righthander Forrest Whitley. He is 6-feet-7, 240 pounds and he pops it like Nolan Ryan.
2. Oakland A’s
The A’s lost to the Yankees in the 2018 Wild Card game, but that did nothing to diminish the accomplishment of winning 97 games with a payroll including only one player making over $10 million, slugger Khris Davis. And he hit 48 homeruns. Only the Yankees hit more homers than Oakland’s 227.
They managed it with sluggers like Matt Chapman and Matt Olson and a starting staff that was wrecked by a series of injuries and mishaps. The season featured 15 different starting pitchers. So from that perspective, things can only get better.
Sean Manaea pitched a no-hitter against the Red Sox last April. But he was lost for the season in September after shoulder surgery and may not play this year. As of right now, Daniel Mengden and Frankie Montas will be joined by Mike Fiers. And Blake Treinen is one of the game’s best closers.
3. Los Angeles Angels
With the best player in the game, Mike Trout, prowling around in centerfield, the Angels will always be a force. That is until he becomes a free agent in two years. And that point they will become a question mark.
And once Shohei Otani recovers from Tommy John surgery, the two-way star will bolster the lineup as the designated hitter. But will not pitch again until 2020, at the earliest.
Frankly, the Angels have themselves to blame. They gave Albert Pujols $250 million he earned hitting for St. Louis. He is an average player now. They spent a lot less this offseason to get Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill and Cody Allen to bolster the pitching staff.
4. Seattle Mariners
The Mariners made news by trading Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, perhaps the AL’s top relief pitcher, to the New York Mets in a deal that netted them veteran outfielder Jay Bruce and Jarred Kelenic, the sixth overall pick in the 2018 draft.
And then they dealt starter James Paxton to the Yankees and shortstop Jean Segura to the Philadelphia Phillies for J.P. Crawford and Carlos Santana before shipping Santana to Cleveland for Edwin Encarnacion.
But if the Mariners improve upon 89 wins, that will not be the reason. Nor will it be Mallex Smith added to the top of their lineup. Their problem remains starting pitching. Veteran Mike Leake and a diminished Felix Hernandez are at the top of staff that added rookie Justus Sheffield, acquired from the Yankees for Paxton.
It was on off year for the Rangers. They won only 67 games, which seems hardly believable for a franchise that was so deep for so long. And they really didn’t have a bad team. Many clubs would have loved to have Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor and Shin-Soo Choo. Gallo hit 40 homers last season- and struck out 207 times – and is just 25 years old.
They could use a big year from Omar Mazara, who hit just .258 last season But it turned into too many left-handed bats and the Rangers hit only .240 as a team. And on top of that, they have no starting pitching, even with Lance Lynn signed as a free agent for three years.