2018 AL East Preview

This year, much like it was in the early 2000s, the AL East is clearly a two horse race. If neither the Boston Red Sox nor the New York Yankees come out as division champs, it will be the biggest shock of the upcoming season. This piece is going to include my predictions for how the 2018 season is going to play out in the AL East. In the coming weeks, I’ll have full predictions for every other division as well. So, here we go. 1st Place: New York Yankees 2017 record: 91-71, second in AL East, lost in ALCS to Houston My 2018 prediction: 99-63 Key acquisitions: Giancarlo Stanton (OF), Brandon Drury (2B/3B) Key departures: Starlin Castro (2B), Chase Headley (1B/3B), Todd Frazier (3B), Jaime Garcia (LHP) The New York Yankees came within one game of reaching the World Series, only to see their dreams crushed by the would-be Champions, the Houston Astros. 2017 was a semi-rebuilding year for the Yankees. Their main goal was to stay competitive, but to let their top prospects get playing time in the majors. This included starting pitcher Luis Severino, right fielder Aaron Judge and first baseman Greg Bird. Severino came third in AL Cy Young voting, Aaron Judge was the unanimous AL Rookie of the Year and finished second in AL MVP voting, and Greg Bird’s season was filled with injuries. But, Bird came back to hit .244/.426/.512 in the playoffs with 3 HR and 6 RBI, including a go-ahead home run off of Andrew Miller in game 3 of the ALDS. Regardless of what anybody says, nobody expected that team to get within a game of the World Series. This year, as it used to be for the Yankees, it’s World Series or bust. This off-season the Yankees did what the Yankees are known to do, they made a splash. And not just any splash, they made one of the biggest splashes the league has seen in years. The Yankees led the league in home runs in 2017, with 241. They’re aware that power in their lineup is their biggest strength, and they made sure to let the world know that. That’s why on December 11th the Yankees acquired the 2017 National League MVP, Giancarlo Stanton. Last season, Giancarlo Stanton hit a league leading 59 HR and now he’s teammates with Aaron Judge, who set the major league record for home runs by a rookie with 52. Add in Gary Sanchez’s 33 HRs in 122 games, Didi Gregorius’ 25 HRs in 136 games and Greg Bird’s untapped power from the left side of the plate, and you have one of the most potent offences in MLB history. They still have some slight question marks at second and third base. The plan right now seems to be to have prospect Miguel Andujar man the hot corner, while the team’s top prospect, Gleyber Torres, starts at second. Torres is coming off of season-ending Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing arm, but he says that he’s 100% going into the season. Although he will most likely be their starting second baseman, there is a chance that he won’t open the season with the big league club. If the Yankees were to start him in Triple-A for the first two weeks of the season, it would gain the team an extra year of control. Much like the Cubs did with Kris Bryant a few years ago. It’s a dirty move, but if the opportunity is there, it’s smart to take it. However, with Torres missing the majority of last season, it makes sense to give him some time in Triple-A regardless of gaining an extra year of control. In which case Ronald Torreyes or Tyler Wade would be the Opening Day second baseman. Going into this week it seemed that Miguel Andujar was going to be the starting third baseman. After The Red Sox signed J.D. Martinez on Monday, I thought there was a chance that Brian Cashman would respond by signing Mike Moustakas to a one-year deal to start at third base. In the end, Cashman did make a move, it just wasn’t as flashy as a Moustakas signing would’ve been. On Tuesday, in a three team deal involving the Yankees, Rays and Diamondbacks, Cashman acquired 2B/3B Brandon Drury from Arizona. Since the beginning of the off-season, Drury has been mentioned as a trade candidate for New York. It took until the week that Spring Training begins to finally get it done, but Cashman got it done nonetheless. Drury is an interesting player. He’s only 25, which was definitely a contributing factor to him being on the Yankees’ radar, along with his defensive versatility. Since his MLB debut in 2015, Drury has played 1 inning at first base, 1067 innings at second base, 311 innings at third base, 6 innings at shortstop, 469 innings in left field and 235 innings in right field. Although it looks like he’ll have a starting role in the infield, this gives the team plenty of options to use him as a depth player if they do in fact want to start Torres and Andujar at second and third. At the plate, Drury slashed .267/.317/.447 in 2017, to go along with 13 HRs. The Yankees will hope that Drury can replicate what Didi Gregorius did a few years ago. Excelling in New York after being mediocre in Arizona. Although this lineup has the potential to be one of the deadliest the game has ever seen, there are some uncertainties. First off, as good as Greg Bird is expected to be, he’s had lots of trouble staying healthy. If he can stay away from the disabled list, he has a legitimate shot at hitting 30 home runs. Aaron Hicks had his best season as a pro, but he’s still never reached 400 plate appearances in a season. He’s projected to be the everyday starting center fielder, so it will be interesting to see if he can handle the job. If he can’t handle the everyday duties, the Yankees do have Clint Frazier as their fourth outfielder, and the most expensive pinch runner in the game, Jacoby Ellsbury as their fifth outfielder. As much as Yankees fans wanted Ellsbury traded in the off-season, I have a feeling that he will end up being an integral part of this Yankees team. You heard it here first. In terms of starting pitching, the Yankees are bringing back the exact same rotation they ended last season with. Luis Severino is coming off a Cy Young calibre season. Masahiro Tanaka had the worst regular season of his career, but he bounced back in a big way in the postseason, posting a 2-1 record with a 0.90 ERA, 0.65 WHIP and limiting opponents to a .145 batting average. Sonny Gray was acquired from the Oakland Athletics at the non-waiver trade deadline, and he didn’t have a great second half, but he did show some flashes which should get fans excited. I’ll talk about him more in a bit. And to round out the rotation, there is C.C. Sabathia, who had his best season since 2012, and second year southpaw Jordan Montgomery, who greatly exceeded expectations and looks to build off of what was a solid rookie season. The Yankees may not have gotten a big name starter in free agency or via trade, but there is something to be said about having the continuity in the rotation. Plus, there’s still a chance that they acquire a sixth starter before Opening Day. Lastly, what may be the strongest part of this Yankees team, the bullpen. You can make an argument that another team, such as the Astros, has a better top-to-bottom lineup than the Yankees, but there’s no debating the fact that the Yankees have the best bullpen in the league. Chad Green was one of the best relievers in all of baseball. Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson were acquired from the White Sox in a mid-season trade, and dominated down the stretch. Dellin Betances had a bad year by his standards and was essentially benched in the playoffs, but he should have no problem bouncing back and having another great year since he won’t have an much pressure on him as he’s had in years past. To close things out, they still have Aroldis Chapman, who didn’t have as dominant a year as we’re used to seeing from him, but he still throws harder than any human who has ever lived, so I’m sure he’ll be fine. Those five pitchers registered strikeout percentages of 40.7, 37.5, 37.1, 38.3 and 32.9, respectively. Having all five for the entire season will shorten ball games, and make the starters’ lives a whole lot easier. Player to watch: Sonny Gray As I stated earlier, after being acquired during the season, Gray was nothing special. It would seem that it was more a product of him changing teams and having to learn to pitch to new catchers than anything. People forget that Gray is only three years removed from finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting. If he can regain that Cy Young candidate form, he could push Tanaka out of the second spot of the rotation, and create one of the best 1-2-3 punches in the league.

2nd Place: Boston Red Sox 2017 record: 93-69, first in AL East, lost in ALDS to Houston My 2018 prediction: 98-65 Key acquisitions: J.D. Martinez (OF) Key departures: Addison Reed (RHP), Doug Fister (RHP) A week ago, I thought the AL East would be competitive, but I thought that the Yankees would have a clear path for the division title. That path isn’t so clear after Monday’s signing of J.D. Martinez. It seemed destined to happen that Martinez would be a Red Sox from the moment he hit free agency. Boston has been looking to replace David Ortiz ever since he retired, and Martinez is about as close as they can get. For much of the off-season, their offer seemed to be the only one Martinez had received. And yet, there was always a question of whether they would actually get it done. Going into the off-season, Martinez’s agent Scott Boras made it clear that his client was going to be aiming for a seven year contract worth upwards of $210 million. But as all other free agents this year have learned, teams are pinching pennies in preparation for next year’s all-time great free agency class. So, in the end, Martinez “settled” for the Red Sox, and it seems to be the most impactful signing of the off-season. The Red Sox won the AL East last season with 93 wins, and are essentially bringing back the exact same team. The only players they really lost were a 7th/8th inning pitcher, who didn’t meet expectations after being acquired mid-season from the Mets, and a fringe 5th starter, who had a great stretch of starts late in the season, but had an underwhelming season as a whole. If that’s all you lose, and you sign a player who hit 45 HRs in 119 games and put up a 1.066 OPS, second in the majors behind only Mike Trout, you had a pretty good off-season. In terms of their lineup, they get a much needed power boost. While the Yankees led the league in home runs with 241, the Red Sox hit 168, which was last in the AL, and 27th in the majors. Match Martinez with Mookie Betts, who finished top-6 in MVP voting for a second straight season, and rookie standout Andrew Benintendi, who would’ve easily won Rookie of the Year if it wasn’t for Aaron Judge having record breaking year, and you have the makings of a very good lineup. Other than those three though, nobody in the Sox lineup was anything special in 2017. Mitch Moreland hits a lot of doubles and provides a decent amount of power. Dustin Pedroia has had some recent trouble staying healthy, in fact, he’s expected to miss Opening Day with a knee injury. Rafael Devers is a star in the making at third base. He showed lots of promise in his 58 games last season, and should be making a huge jump in production with his first full season in the majors. Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Hanley Ramirez all had off years at the plate, but I’d expect them to improve on that and return to something closer to their 2016 production. First-year manager Alex Cora has said that he envisions Hanley Ramirez as his number three hitter which would be the best case scenario for Hanley. Assuming Martinez is batting cleanup, this would give Hanley some much needed lineup protection, allowing him to possibly put up numbers similar to the ones he put up in 2016. On the other hand, he may be platooned with Mitch Moreland at first and see his plate appearances drop. There is also a major contractual reason why he might be held out of the lineup on a regular basis. If Hanley Ramirez registers 497 at-bats this season, it would kick in his vesting option, which would promise him $22 million in 2019. If he’s on fire late in the season and they’re in a race for the division title, I’m sure the Sox would disregard the option and continue playing him. However, if he’s average or slightly above average and he’s creeping up on 497 at-bats, the Red Sox will definitely hold him out to avoid guaranteeing him that 2019 money. If you think that teams don’t care about things like that, you are very wrong. Much like the Yankees possibly keeping Gleyber Torres in the minors for two weeks in order to gain an extra year of control, this is a loophole that the Red Sox will be keeping a close eye on all season. That’s the business of sports. Overall, due to the acquisition of J.D. Martinez, this lineup has the potential to do some damage.

Now onto the strength of these Boston Red Sox, their starting pitching. The Red Sox have two Cy Young winners in their starting rotation, along with one of the five best pitchers in the game. Chris Sale leads the way after coming in second in Cy Young voting this past season. Sale pitched to a 17-8 record with a 2.90 ERA and an incredible 308 punch outs. Going into August, Sale was a clear frontrunner for the Cy Young. But a lousy August and September, along with Corey Kluber’s brilliant run from July to the end of the season, ended his hopes of winning his first Cy Young award. Sale followed up his poor last couple of months with two bad postseason starts. All that said, there’s nothing to worry about with Sale. He’s going to be in the Cy Young conversation from Opening Day until game 162, and will push 300 strikeouts for the second consecutive season. Next up in the rotation is the biggest question mark for the Red Sox, David Price. His time as a Red Sox has been disappointing, but he seems to be healthy going into this season, and will be one of the more important parts of this team’s Championship hopes. Drew Pomeranz was very good last season, and will need to continue his stellar pitching going into 2018. To say that 2017 was a dumpster fire for Rick Porcello is an understatement. In 2016 he went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA, 3.40 FIP and 72 ERA-, all on his way to his first career Cy Young award. He followed up that season with an 11-17 record, 4.65 ERA, 4.60 FIP and 102 ERA-. It certainly looks like 2016 may have been a fluke year. Porcello is going to need to bounce back in a big way if he doesn’t want to be run out of town. This rotation has a legitimate chance at being one of the league’s best, but they have plenty of hurdles to clear before they can be. There’s not much to say about Boston’s bullpen other than that it lives and dies by the arm of Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel had one of the best years of his career in 2017. But he will need to duplicate that if the Red Sox want to compete with the Yankees. If he falls back to his 2016 form, it’s hard to see the team doing anything. He’s already one of the best closers of all-time, so the likelihood of the latter being true seems small, but it’s still going to be something to keep an eye on. To go along with Kimbrel, Tyler Thornburg, who the Sox traded Travis Shaw for before the 2017 season, and Carson Smith, who missed almost all of last season after having Tommy John surgery in 2016, are expected to enter the season healthy. If they can both avoid injuries, which has been difficult for them the past couple of seasons, they can be key pieces in the 7th and 8th inning. Player to watch: David Price After signing a 7 year $217 million contract in December of 2015, his tenure as a Red Sox has not gone as planned. His regular season numbers in 2016 weren’t terrible, but they’re nowhere near to what we’re used to seeing from Price. In his one start in the postseason in 2016, he was lit up for five runs in just over three innings. Price’s 2017 season was even worse. He missed the first two months of the season with an injury, then he was involved in an off field controversy with Baseball Hall of Famer, Dennis Eckersley, which brought a lot of attention and scrutiny to Price. A month later, in July, he was hurt again and didn’t return until mid-September. Upon his return, he was utilized as a reliever, and was actually quite effective. However, the Sox aren’t paying him over $200 million to be a reliever. When healthy, Price has been one of the best starters in the league for years now. If he can pitch anywhere near the level he’s capable of, the Red Sox will have the best 1-2 starters in the league. If not, well, I guess he has a long relief role with his name on it.

3rd Place: Toronto Blue Jays 2017 record: 76-86, fourth in AL East My 2018 prediction: 78-84 Key acquisitions: Randal Grichuk (OF), Curtis Granderson (OF), Jaime Garcia (LHP). Yangervis Solarte (INF) Key departures: Jose Bautista (RF)* In the entire MLB, I’m not sure that there’s a team I’m more confused about than the Blue Jays. Part of me thinks that they’ll be decent, another part of me thinks they’ll be back in the mid-70s in terms of wins. First things first, they haven’t made anywhere near as big of a splash as the Yankees or Red Sox. The Jays were rumoured to be involved in the Christian Yelich sweepstakes, but he ended up in Milwaukee. They made an attempt at Shohei Ohtani, but never seemed to be serious contenders. That brings us to the moves they actually did make. Grichuk is definitely the most interesting of their acquisitions. He’s still fairly young, 27 in August, he’s flashed some power, 22 HRs in 2016 and 22 HR in 2017, but there’s just something about him that has never clicked. This year he has a fresh start, in a hitter-friendly park and he’ll be getting regular at-bats, so if he’s ever going to figure it out, this is the year for him to do it. Granderson will provide some power from the left side of the plate, but he’ll be more of a depth outfielder than anything. Garcia will serve well as the team’s fifth starter. He didn’t have the best 2017, but some of that can be attributed to the fact that he played for three different teams. In fact, in the span of two weeks from July 21 to August 4, he was traded twice and made three consecutive starts for three different teams. Lastly, Yangervis Solarte will serve well as a utility infielder, and as insurance in case Devon Travis continues to have injury problems. Now, onto the best move that the Blue Jays made all off-season: They didn’t re-sign Jose Bautista (yet). I’ve been preaching to Jays fans for a couple of years now that Bautista needed to go. I really hope they don’t cave in and sign him before the season begins. Those are some valuable at-bats that a player like the aforementioned Grichuk should be receiving. Now, onto their lineup. I mean, I guess they’re decent? Don’t get me wrong, they have a few pieces. Josh Donaldson should be healthy this year, and will return to putting up MVP numbers. Don’t forget that this is a walk year for Donaldson. He’s aiming to get one final contract that brings him into retirement, whether or not that comes from the Jays is to be seen. I think it’s more likely that he leaves Toronto to get that contract, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he wants to stay in Toronto for the remainder of his career. Which brings me to what I’m looking for most when it comes to Donaldson: whether or not the Jays are willing to trade him mid-season. I thought that they would’ve been smart to get the most that they could for him by dealing him in the off-season, but I don’t hate the fact that they kept him. They should be fairly healthy to start the season, and knowing that Donaldson is a soon-to-be free agent, they might look at this as their last chance to compete for a few years until Vlad Guerrero Jr and Bo Bichette are big league ready. However, if they’re nowhere near .500 a few months into the season, you have to think that they would get what they can for Donaldson, to ensure that they aren’t left empty handed if he does decide to leave. Other than Donaldson, you have to hope that Smoak’s 2017 wasn’t a one off. Tulowitzki and Martin are on the back nine of their careers. Both of them still provide good defence, but their bats are nowhere near what they used to be. Devon Travis clearly has talent, but as the old saying goes, the best ability is availability. Kevin Pillar is still one of the better defensive center fielders in the league, but he’s mediocre at best at the plate. Kendrys Morales actually had a productive first year as a Blue Jays. But he’s no Edwin Encarnacion, which is what he was signed to be. The middle of this lineup has promise, but the rest of it is nothing special. Say what you want about Marcus Stroman; he’s annoying, he should stop yelling and celebrating after every at-bat, he should stop Tweeting as much as he does. say all you want. The one thing you can’t say about Stroman: he’s not good. This past season, his ERA- was 70. For comparisons sake, Chris Sale and Luis Severino, who ended up second and third in Cy Young voting, had ERA- of 64 and 67. The main reason why I don’t think Stroman gets the credit he deserves is that he’s a ground ball pitcher who doesn’t rack up the strikeouts. In his four major league seasons he averages a ground ball percentage of 59.6. In each of the last two seasons he has pitched over 200 innings, but he hasn’t exceeded 164 strikeouts. His style of pitching isn’t ‘sexy’, but it’s effective. He was clearly upset last week about losing out on his arbitration case, but Jays fans shouldn’t worry about it affecting his play. This is a guy that lives with a chip on his shoulder (#HDMH), if anything, losing in arbitration will make him even hungrier for success. J.A. Happ is an interesting case. His first stint with the Blue Jays left much to be desired, but since being re-acquired prior to the 2016 season, he’s been great. In 2016, he finished sixth in Cy Young voting, and this past season, despite going 10-11, he had a solid year. He reduced his FIP while increasing his strikeout percentage, all while having a slightly worse ERA-. The southpaw should have another successful season as Toronto’s 2nd/3rd starter. Aaron Sanchez’s 2017 is a season to forget. After having an incredible breakout 2016 campaign, Jays fans were salivating at the thought of having Stroman and Sanchez as their 1-2 starters for the next decade. Those dreams saw a major speed bump though as Sanchez only started eight games. Sanchez couldn’t get over a lingering blister issue that prevented him from taking the mound on a regular basis. Hopefully that problem is in the past so that he can get back to being one of the more dominant young pitchers in the game. To round out the rotation, the Jays have veterans Marco Estrada and Jaime Garcia. Neither of them had a good 2017, but Estrada has shown in his Jays career how good he can be, and after being traded twice last season, Garcia should perform at a higher level now that he can focus solely on being a Blue Jay. Roberto Osuna has been 23 years old for just over two weeks and he already has 95 career saves. When Craig Kimbrel turned 23 in 2011 he had 15 career saves. Aroldis Chapman had 0. Kenley Jansen had 9. And just for fun, at the age of 23, Mariano Rivera was pitching in single-A. Now let’s get one thing straight, it’s blasphemous for any human to compare Osuna to Rivera in any way, but this is just to show how impressive Osuna’s career has been thus far. In fact, solely based on his age and career thus far, if you had to give me a choice of any current pitcher that has a chance of sniffing Mo’s all-time saves record, I would take Osuna. The chances of him actually doing it are about 0%, but you get the point. But, I digress. To go along with Osuna, the Jays have Ryan Tepera and Danny Barnes who both had good seasons. Aaron Loup had his best season since 2014, and is a much needed lefty out of the bullpen. Only time will tell if he can replicate his performance, or if he’ll go back to being the liability he was the previous two years. As long as the Jays can get the ball to Osuna, they should be in good shape. The one knock on Osuna is that he’s blown 16 saves over the past two seasons, but he’s too talented for that to continue being a problem. Player to watch: Justin Smoak This one is going to be short and sweet. If the Blue Jays want any chance at making the playoffs, Smoak is going to have to prove that his performance from this past season was not a fluke. 2016: 14 HR, 34 RBI, .217/.314/.391, 32.8 K%, 91 wRC+, -4.9 OFF, -0.1 fWAR 2017: 38 HR, 90 RBI, .270/.355/.529, 20.1 K%, 132 wRC+, 21.9 OFF, 3.4 fWAR As long as he can produce somewhere around that level, and Josh Donaldson stays healthy, the Jays at least have a chance, albeit a small one, at getting a postseason berth.

4th Place: Baltimore Orioles 2017 record: 75-87, fifth in AL East My 2018 prediction: 73-89 Key acquisitions: Andrew Cashner (RHP) Key departures: Welington Castillo (C) The Baltimore have some talent. The key word being ‘some’. Now that Manny Machado has moved back to shortstop, the O’s might have the second best middle infield in the majors. But after Machado and Jonathan Schoop, this team doesn’t have much. Adam Jones is still an above average hitter, but his defence has taken a hit. The past two seasons his UZR has been -10.1 and -13.3 and he has -10 and -12 defensive runs saved. Chris Davis is always a home run threat when he’s at the plate, but strikes out over 30% of the time and struggles to get on base. Mark Trumbo had what was arguably the worst season of his career and is on the wrong side of 30. On the bright side, Trey Mancini had a great rookie season, hitting 24 home runs. Tim Beckham, after being acquired from Tampa at the non-waiver trade deadline, also proved to be a valuable piece. One thing to look out for with Beckham is his move to third base. Machado made it clear that he wanted to move back to shortstop this season, which is where Beckham has played the majority of his career. Beckham has played some third in the past but only for 52 career innings, as opposed to 1451.1 inning at short. This lineup does have potential to hit for some serious power, but if Davis and Trumbo’s performances from last season are any indication of what’s to come, things aren’t looking too bright in Baltimore. Kevin Gausman had a bad year. Basically all of his stats across the board were worse in 2017 than they were in 2016. His K% went down, BB% went up, opponent’s average, WHIP and BABIP all went up, and his ERA- was 21 points worse than the year prior. He’s going to have to have quite the bounce back season if he’s expected to be a top of the rotation starter. Dylan Bundy seems like he’s been a top prospect for over ten years now. The past two seasons have shown some promise for Bundy, but he’s still been nothing more than a slightly above average pitcher since becoming a full time major leaguer. The only real move the Orioles made this off-season was last week when they signed Andrew Cashner. Cashner, although not a household name, actually had a very good season. Oddly enough, he benefited greatly from moving from the NL to the AL. Although his strikeouts dropped significantly, he improved in just about every other category. The O’s only gave him a two year $16 million deal, so it’s not like they’re investing a lot into him. But this could turn out to be a sneaky good signing for them. In mid-December, it was announced that Baltimore’s closer, Zach Britton, had suffered a ruptured Achilles. In 2016, Britton converted 47-of-47 save chances, while posting a 0.54 ERA in the process. Due to his all-time great year, he received 5 first place votes for the Cy Young award, he ended up finishing fourth, and he even received some MVP consideration. This past season he dealt with injuries and never got the chance to achieve any consistency. In fact, he was almost traded at the deadline, but the O’s ended up keeping him. Britton is currently expected to miss the first half of the season, but he has stated that he’s ahead of schedule. While Britton is sidelined, Brad Brach is expected to assume closer duties. Last season, with Britton missing time, Brach got some experience in the closer role, converting 18-of-24 save chances. Now that he has had time to prepare for being a closer, instead of being forced into the role during the season, it would seem that he’ll be more productive. Setting up for Brach will be the submarine throwing Darren O’Day. Over the last six seasons, O’Day has been one of the more consistent relievers. Year in and year out it seems that O’Day just gets the job done. Player to watch: Manny Machado This seems like cheating. But the truth is that this team goes as far as Machado will take them. The main reason I decided to highlight him is the possibility of him being traded mid-season. This entire off-season he has been the center of trade rumours. Around ten teams have been reported to have had some sort of discussion with Baltimore about acquiring Machado. As we enter Spring Training though, the chances of him being dealt before the season seem to be non-existent. Machado is a free agent after this season, and he is going to sign one of the biggest contracts in baseball history. As of right now, Machado signing with the New York Yankees seems like a foregone conclusion. So, that brings up the possibility of Baltimore trading him at the deadline to make sure that they can at least get some sort of compensation for him. Many teams would be willing to give up assets for Machado to help with a World Series run, even if it means losing him to free agency a few months later. When we get near the trade deadline, if the Orioles are out of contention, as they’re expected to be, the rumblings of a Machado trade will get loud and the Orioles may be ‘forced’ to trade their best player.

5th Place: Tampa Bay Rays 2017 record: 80-82, third in AL East My 2018 prediction: 59-103 Key acquisitions: Denard Span (OF), Carlos Gomez (OF) Key departures: Evan Longoria (3B), Jake Odorizzi (RHP), Alex Cobb (RHP)* Corey Dickerson (OF), Logan Morrison (1B/OF)*, Steven Souza (OF), Tommy Hunter (RHP), Steve Cishek (RHP), Lucas Duda (1B/OF)* Imagine being a Florida based baseball fan right now. Both the Rays and the Miami Marlins had themselves a couple of ol’ fashioned fire sales this off-season. I’m not going to spend much time on this team, because frankly, they don’t deserve it. Here’s a list of Tampa’s top seven home run hitters from 2017: Logan Morrison - 38 HR Steven Souza - 30 HR Corey Dickerson - 27 HR Evan Longoria - 20 HR Kevin Kiermaier - 15 HR Lucas Duda - 13 HR Tim Beckham - 12 HR One of them was traded mid-season. Three of them were traded this off-season. Two of them are currently free agents. And the other is Kevin Kiermaier, who is still the team’s starting center fielder. Don’t get me wrong, Tampa is smart to go into a full out rebuild. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re a joke of a franchise and will be lucky if they reach 60 wins this season with the lineup they have. In terms of pitching, the Rays actually have some potential. Chris Archer is still one of the game’s best pitchers. If he wasn’t stuck in Tampa his whole career, he’d get the respect he deserves and might actually surpass 12 wins for the first time in his career. He’s been involved in trade rumours all off-season, but due to his extremely team friendly contract, the Rays want a King’s Ransom for him. If I had to bet, I’d say that he gets traded during the season. Some contender is going to have a starting pitcher get injured or feel that they are one arm away from winning the World Series, and they’ll pull the trigger on an Archer trade. Blake Snell and Jake Faria are both promising pitchers under the age of 25. Matt Andriese is an average pitcher who will make for a good back of the rotation starter. After missing the entire 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, Nathan Eovaldi is expected to be ready for the start of the season and round out the rotation. Alex Colomé led the major with 47 saves last season. He should come close to reaching that number again, seeing as how the Rays won’t be scoring many runs, which will lead to more save opportunities. Much like Archer, Colomé has been involved in trade rumours over the past few months and is a candidate to be traded during the season. Player to watch: Chris Archer Basically the same reasons I listed for Machado. The possibility of Archer being traded to a contender will be the only story worth monitoring in Tampa.

* - Player is currently a free agent Upcoming Release Dates: AL Central: Read Here AL West: Read Here NL: East: Read Here NL Central: Read Here NL West: Read Here

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