With the A’s and Mariners facing off in Japan in less than one week, and with the season starting for all 30 teams on March 28, it’s time to start making predictions for each MLB team. We’ll go division by division, starting with the AL East. This is a very intriguing division with two World Series contenders, another playoff contender, and two rebuilding teams. Red Sox or Yankees, who wins the division? Let’s discuss.
First Place: New York Yankees
Projected Record: 99-63
Brett Gardner LF
Aaron Judge RF
Aaron Hicks CF
Giancarlo Stanton DH
Gary Sanchez C
Luke Voit 1B
Gleyber Torres SS
Miguel Andujar 3B
DJ LeMahieu 2B
The Yankees just broke the record for the most home runs in a season, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll slow down this season. Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Giancarlo Stanton form an amazing 1-2-3 punch, while Gary Sanchez is bound to bounce back this season after his .197 BABIP suggests he was an extreme victim of bad luck. Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are also two young promising players, although I have serious concerns over the latter’s plate discipline and defense. DJ LeMahieu should produce, at the very least being a gold-glove caliber fielder, while Troy Tulowitzki should also thrive in a limited role. The X-Factors are Luke Voit and Brett Gardner, with the former needing to prove that his tremendous 2018 wasn’t a fluke and with the latter needing to defy father time. This is a formidable lineup, and even though they may strikeout too much, their power is game-changing. There are few teams with as deep of a lineup as the Yankees; every hitter 1-9 is a threat.
Even with Luis Severino out until May, New York’s rotation should also be considered a strength. Severino is on the cusp of becoming an ace and should continue his progression once he returns. Meanwhile, the Yankees acquired James Paxton from the Mariners, who comes with tremendous upside and should at least possess an ERA around 3.40. Meanwhile, Tanaka and Happ are two veterans who should provide stability and solid production in the middle of the rotation, and could possibly even be All-Stars. It’s unclear how Sabathia will fare in his last MLB season, but even if he falters, New York has plenty of options ready in the minors to fill in. This rotation symbolizes the entire Yankees roster: deep with incredible upside.
Nothing illustrates how dominant the Yankees can be than their incredible bullpen. Aroldis Chapman is still a tremendous option as a closer, while Dellin Betances has established himself as one of the game’s premier relievers. Furthermore, Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino are capable of being closers, yet New York is able to utilize them as middle relievers. Although Chad Green allowed a 46.8% hard contact rate, he’s still effective and provides value with his ability to pitch multiple innings, while Jonathan Holder showed signs of promise last season. The rest of the bullpen is up for grabs with the remaining spots possibly going to their young pitching prospects, but either way, this bullpen could carry New York to the playoffs by itself in 2019. It’s deep, filled with pitchers who can strike batters out with the best of them, and has five pitchers capable of being All-Stars. When it’s all set and done, this may end up being the greatest bullpen of all time.
As mentioned, the Yankees have plenty of young pitchers ready to make an impact on the MLB team with Domingo German, Jonathan Loaisiga, Luis Cessa, and Chance Adams. That will be critical given Severino’s injury and Sabathia’s age. There’s also position player depth with Greg Bird, Clint Frazier, Tulowitzki all able to fill in as starters if they need to.
With a combination of a high ceiling, depth, and star power, the Yankees may be the best team in all of baseball. They’re the clear best team in this division, and I’m not even sure it’s close.
Second Place: Boston Red Sox
Projected Record: 89-73
Mookie Betts RF
Andrew Benintendi LF
JD Martinez DH
Xander Bogaerts SS
Mitch Moreland/Steve Pearce 1B
Rafael Devers 3B
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Sandy Leon C
If the defending champions are going to repeat in 2019, they are going to need their offense to deliver once again. Both Mookie Betts and JD Martinez had an OPS over 1.000 last season, and project to do the same this season. Boston also needs Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts to continue to produce at a high level, and the same can be said for the platoon of Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce. While Dustin Pedroia and Sandy Leon will likely be marginal contributors this season, and with Jackie Bradley Jr. more of a defensive first outfielder than an impact hitter, Rafael Devers will be the key for this lineup heading into next season. The 22-year-old has shown flashes of excellence but needs to improve on his defense and consistency in order to take the next step in his development. With four possible All-Stars, this is a very solid lineup. Though it is top-heavy, this lineup should not have any problems scoring runs this season.
As tremendous as their offense is, Boston’s rotation may actually be their strength heading into this season. Chris Sale could easily run away with the AL Cy Young award this season, while David Price and Rick Porcello are established veterans who will provide solid production. Postseason hero Nathan Eovaldi is back after signing a four-year, $68 million contract to remain in Boston, and the Red Sox are gambling on him to continue that success over to this season. Will it work? That remains to be seen, but he’ll at least be another impact contributor in this well above average rotation. Eduardo Rodriguez has shown that he can be an above average MLB pitcher, and will produce much more than the average #5 starter.
The Red Sox better hope their rotation shines this season; their bullpen looks to be a massive liability. After losing Joe Kelly and most likely Craig Kimbrel this offseason, the team doesn’t have many reliable options manager Alex Cora can count on. Matt Barnes is a fine option out of the bullpen, but he’s not closer material. The same can be said for Ryan Brasier, Heath Hembree, and Brandon Workman, whom all have the potential to be reliable relief pitchers, but have limited track records. The rest is anyone’s guess, which further proves that this bullpen is too weak for this team to win a World Series. Though it shouldn’t affect their playoff push, if Boston goes into the playoffs with the bullpen the way it is currently structured, they’ll be a guaranteed first-round exit.
The Red Sox have the game’s worst ranked farm system, so any depth pieces will be coming from their major league roster. Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez are versatile players off the bench, but the team has very few options if a starter or reliever goes down with an injury. That could prove to be problematic.
This is a very strong team headlined by Betts, Martinez, and a strong rotation. However, their bullpen and limited depth force them to be the clear second-fiddle to the Yankees, and I’m extremely considered about a backslide after winning 108 games and the World Series title last season.
Third Place: Tampa Bay Rays
Projected Record: 86-76
Austin Meadows RF
Tommy Pham LF
Avisail Garcia DH
Ji-Man Choi/Yandy Diaz 1B
Willy Adames SS
Joey Wendle 2B
Mike Zunino C
Matt Duffy 3B
Kevin Kiermaier CF
As things stand right now, there is plenty of reason to be concerned about the Rays’ lineup, which contains a lot of uncertainty. Though Tommy Pham is one of the game’s best outfielders, the rest have a lot of red flags. In the outfield with Pham, Austin Meadows is unproven while Kevin Kiermaier has had issues staying healthy. The infield isn’t much better; Joey Wendle has had one good season fueled by a high BABIP, Matt Duffy cannot stay healthy, Willy Adames is also unproven, while the Ji-Man Choi/Yandy Diaz duo contains two players who have a limited track record and are relative unknowns. Meanwhile, both Mike Zunino (.669 OPS) and Avisail Garcia (.719 OPS) had down seasons last year, and Tampa Bay is betting on them to rebound in 2019. Still, this lineup has some promise. Garcia and Zunino both were tremendous in 2017, Kiermaier is an excellent fielder, Wendle is a solid starter, while Adames and Meadows are former top prospects. The Rays offense may be awful in 2019, but there’s also a good chance that they exceed all expectations.
An essential part in the Rays winning 90 games last year was how they utilized pitching staff, using “openers” to make up for a lackluster rotation. Still, their traditional starting pitchers could match up with any other team. Blake Snell is coming off of a season in which he had a 1.89 ERA and won the AL Cy Young award. Although they are plenty of signs that he’ll regress in 2019, he’ll still be extremely productive at the top of Tampa’s rotation. Recently signed Charlie Morton may actually be the best pitcher on the roster after revitalizing his career with the Astros and should prove to be well worth the $15 million the Rays are paying him. Tyler Glasnow was acquired along with Meadows in the trade that sent Chris Archer and has the type of “nasty stuff” that makes front offices drool. Look for him to breakout this season. Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos will likely be used as the pitcher who pitches after the opener, and while neither has a high ceiling, they’re safe bets to be decent contributors for the Rays this season. With a combination of talent and brilliance of the front office, the rotation should not be a concern for Tampa this season.
The Rays have done a tremendous job developing relievers in order for their strategy of utilization to work. Jose Alvardo quietly posted a 2.27 FIP this season and is Tampa’s best option at closer. Deigo Castillo, Ryne Stanek, and Hunter Wood are all high velocity, filthy pitching arsenal type of pitchers who should be above average contributors. Expect those three to be the main pitchers used as openers in 2019. Meanwhile, Chaz Roe’s incredible slider continues to make him an intriguing option, while the rest of the bullpen is also satisfactory. Like the rotation, there are enough choices in the bullpen for manager Kevin Cash; it should also not be a problem for the Rays this season.
The Rays are overflooded with young pitchers who could make an impact this season. Jose De Leon and Brent Honeywell are among that group, and those two may allow the Rays to employ a traditional five-man rotation. There’s also a chance we could see two-way player Brendan McKay make his debut this season, while Nate Lowe, Nick Solak, and Brandon Lowe could all make a major impact this season. At the major league level, Daniel Robertson is an excellent option off the bench given his versatality, and depth won’t be an issue even if the young players do not make the impact they are supposed to.
The Rays don’t have any sort of star power, but they are a solid, all-around team that should easily compete for a playoff spot this season. I have a lot of trust in Cash and this front office; they won 90 games with a much inferior team last season. It’ll be close, but this team looks playoff bound heading into the season.
Fourth Place: Toronto Blue Jays
Projected Record: 75-87
Randal Grichuk RF
Lourdes Gurriel Jr./Devon Travis 2B
Justin Smoak 1B
Kendrys Morales DH
Danny Jansen C
Teoscar Hernandez/Billy McKinney LF
Kevin Pillar CF
Brandon Drury 3B
Freddy Galvis SS
A traditional strength for the club, the Blue Jays’ lineup looks bleak heading into the season. This is a team in desperate need of a true leadoff hitter, yet no one on their team has the on-base skills to fill that role. Meanwhile, power is also light; Randal Grichuk, Justin Smoak, and Kendrys Morales will likely be the only players on the opening day roster who hit 20 home runs. Now, the defense is strong with Kevin Pillar and Freddy Galvis, but those two provide such little offensive output that their elite defense doesn’t matter. This offense could be flooded by young talent very soon. Danny Jansen has the type of two-way upside that’s rare for a young catcher, and Toronto could have Vladimir Guerrero Jr. manning the middle of the lineup very soon. Until they get established in the majors, however, scoring runs could be an issue for the Blue Jays in 2019.
Toronto’s rotation looks to be an even bigger weakness. Marcus Stroman’s 3.91 FIP last season suggests he’s more of a middle of the rotation starter than an ace, while Aaron Sanchez has been awful the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Matt Shoemaker, Clay Bucholtz, and Clayton Richard were brought in to be fillers in the rotation, but only Shoemaker will be able to provide Toronto with the innings that needed to be eaten up by the veterans. In the offensive heavy AL East, a top-notch rotation is needed to slow down the Yankees and Red Sox, but this rotation is a train wreck.
Though better, Toronto’s bullpen isn’t significantly different from its rotation. Ken Giles can be a decent closer when he’s right, but his inconsistency tends to make him unreliable. At the same time, Ryan Tepera, Bud Norris, and Joe Biagini are all solid, but none provide much excitement. David Phelps is a decent bounce-back candidate after missing all of last season due to injury, while Tim Mayza, David Paulino, and rule five draft pick Elvis Luciano could possibly be contributors, though it’s difficult to tell at the moment. Though their relief corps is decent, the Blue Jays should not be expecting it to carry the load of their weak rotation.
Guerrero Jr.’s arrival will provide a massive jolt to the Blue Jays, and his expected impact certainly boosts their win projection. Outfielder Anthony Alford, and pitchers Ryan Borucki and Sean Reid Foley are also amongst Toronto’s young players that should have a positive influence on Toronto’s win total this season. These youngsters better deliver; there is absolutely no pitching depth nor position player depth currently on the major league roster. If the injuries pile on, the Blue Jays could be in trouble.
The Blue Jays aren’t an awful team, but it’s hard to find any sort of strength on this team. They don’t stand a chance of competing in this highly competitive division, but they should be an exciting team to watch once Guerrero Jr. makes him highly anticipated debut. Their rebuild is going strong, however; Guerrero Jr., Jansen, Alford, Reid-Foley, and Bo Bichette are all prospects with tremendous upside and ready to make an impact soon.
Fifth Place: Baltimore Orioles
Projected Record: 50-112
Cedric Mullins CF
Jonathan Villar 2B
Trey Mancini LF
Mark Trumbo DH
Renato Nunez 3B
Chris Davis 1B
Joey Rickard RF
Chance Sisco C
Richie Martin SS
Just three years ago, the Orioles made the playoffs thanks to a scary lineup headlined by Manny Machado, Adam Jones, and Jonathan Schoop. None of these three remain on the team; the Orioles are at the beginning of a painful rebuild. There is very little talent in the lineup, with no one projecting as average starters. Cedric Mullins has upside as an above average fielder and decent leadoff hitter, while Trey Mancini posted a .826 OPS in 2017. Jonathan Villar, Mark Trumbo, and Renato Nunez are all okay starters, but none have shown much promise. Neither has Chris Davis, who is arguably the worst position player in the MLB. Chance Sisco is the best chance Baltimore has to have at least an average starter in the lineup; he still has potential to be an everyday starter behind the plate despite having just a .577 OPS in limited action last season.
To say that the Orioles rotation is weak would be a dramatic understatement. The Orioles are about to go into the season with Dylan Bundy, who had a 5.17 FIP last season, as their ace. Though Alex Cobb improved as the season progressed last season, he’s a low 4.00 ERA pitcher at best, while Andrew Cashner probably shouldn’t be in a MLB rotation after posting a 5.32 FIP in 2018. Nate Karns can be a sneaky addition if he recovers from his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery, but he provides a lot of uncertainty. At the #5 spot, Baltimore will likely have to give it to David Hess, who had a 5.80 FIP last season. This rotation isn’t ideal to say the least, though they may lead the league in one category- most home runs allowed.
Mike Wright Jr.
Though this isn’t necessarily a compliment, the Orioles’ relief corps is probably the team’s top facet. Mychal Givens has been a productive reliever during his three-year career and is coming off a season in which he posted a 3.07 FIP, while Paul Fry and Richard Bleier are solid lefty options out of the bullpen. After that, however, it’s a train wreck. The rest of the relief corps is made up of pitchers who likely wouldn’t make any other team’s MLB roster; all project to be liabilities for Baltimore this season. So while the bullpen is Baltimore’s “strength” heading into the season, it still has zero depth and relies way too heavily on three pitchers.
Just from looking at the projected starters, it should be clear that Baltimore’s depth is lacking in talent. We could see top prospects Yusniel Diaz and Ryan Mountcastle make their debuts this season, but that likely won’t come until the second half.
The Orioles are the worst team in baseball, and I’m not sure it’s close. I’m projecting them to finish 49 games out of first place and 25 games out of fourth place, which should tell you all you need to know about the club heading into this season.