2018 American League East Beat
The Baltimore Orioles did not make their first major move of the offseason until this past Thursday.
Well, technically it wasn’t even the offseason when the Orioles signed right-hander Andrew Cashner to a two-year, $16-million contract in free agency. Pitchers and catchers were conducting their first workout of spring training in Sarasota while Cashner was undergoing a physical examination.
Signing Cashner still leaves two open spots in the Orioles’ rotation beyond him, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. And adding Cashner does not provide a whole lot of hope, as BSL’s Rob Shields writes, for a team that finished last in the American League East with a 73-89 record a year ago.
Of course, with nearly 100 free agents still on the market, Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette could still bolster the roster. Yet the chances seem slim of the Orioles landing one of the better free agent starters left such Jake Arrierta, Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn unless their asking prices plummet.
So, what are the Orioles’ best chances of getting back into contention in 2018 after making the playoffs three times in a five-year span from 2012-16? Probably the other teams in the division taking a drop.
However, it would take a lot of good fortune for that to happen. Let’s look at how the four other AL East teams (with last year’s record in parenthesis) stack up as position players get set to report to camp today.
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BOSTON RED SOX (93-69)
Other than firing John Farrell as manager and replacing him with Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora, the Red Sox have basically stood pat following back-to-back division titles. However, follow reports of clubhouse discord last season, that may be a significant move.
The Red Sox didn’t lose any key players from last year’s club and and still appear to be the favorites to land free agent slugger J.D. Martinez. Martinez hit a combined 45 home runs last season with the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks and would improve an offense that was last in the AL in that category a year ago.
The Red Sox got good news when left-hander David Price reported to camp healthy after being limited to 11 starts last season because of injuries. The hope is he will pair with fellow southpaw Chris Sale to provide one of the best 1-2 punches in the major leagues.
NEW YORK YANKEES (91-71)
The Yankees pushed the eventual World Series champion Astros to seven games in last year’s ALCS then made the biggest splash of the offseason. They took advantage of the Miami Marlins’ teardown to acquire reigning National League Most Valuable Player and home run champion Giancarlo Stanton in a trade.
Stanton makes a good lineup fearsome coming off a 59-home run season. He joins young sluggers Aaron Judge, who went deep 52 times last season while winning AL Rookie of the Year honors, and Gary Sanchez, who belted 33 homers during his first full major league season in 2017.
Third base is the only glaring hole for a team that should be considered the AL East favorite. Rookie Miguel Andujar will be counted on at the hot corner after Chase Headley was traded to the San Diego Padres and Todd Frazier left for the crosstown Mets in free agency.
However, Andujar is expected to only fill the hole for a year until the Yankees sign Manny Machado as a free agent next winter.
TAMPA BAY RAYS (80-82)
This is the one team that appears catchable for the Orioles. The Rays are retooling, if not outright rebuilding, following four consecutive losing seasons.
Third baseman and franchise icon Evan Longoria was traded to the San Francisco Giants in the offseason. The Rays continued to shed salary Saturday night when they traded right-hander Jake Odorizzi to the Minnesota Twins and designated outfielder/designated hitter Chris Dickerson, an All-Star last season, for assignment.
While closer Alex Colome could be the next significant player out the door, a group of good young starting pitchers might make the Rays formidable — Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jacob Faria, Nathan Eovaldi and Matt Andriese with 2017 All-Star Futures Game MVP Brent Honeywell right behind them at Class AAA Durham.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS (76-86)
Injuries sunk the Blue Jays last season as they finished 10 games under .500 following back-to-back appearances in the ALCS. However, some low-key trades and free agent signings over the winter have given them more depth and should help guard against another potential spate of disabled list stints.
Left-hander Jaime Garcia was signed to round out a potentially strong rotation that includes Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez along with lefty J.A. Happ.
Trade acquisitions Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte give the Blue Jays betters options in the event oft-injured second baseman Devon Travis and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki experience their usual downtime. Randal Grichuk and Curtis Granderson are upgrades in the outfield.
A season of good health by 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson might be the biggest key of all after the Blue Jays finished at the bottom of the AL in runs scored last season.