Editor-in-Chief Justin Guglielmetti offers a comprehensive team-by-team preview for the upcoming regular season of American League baseball.
New York Yankees: The Bronx Bombers shocked the sports world by choosing not to pursue Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but part of the reason might be that they already boast a stacked lineup and one of the deepest benches/minor league pipelines in MLB. A year after winning 100 games despite enduring injuries to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, maddeningly inconsistent production from Giancarlo Stanton and only three viable starters for most of the season, the Yankees come into 2019 retooled at every position. Health could be a concern again, with staff ace Luis Severino expected to be out with a rotator cuff injury until May and shortstop Didi Gregorius missing the first half of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. But New York has the top-end bats, a more complete rotation headed by newcomer James Paxton and one of the most talented bullpens in league history to weather the storm.
Boston Red Sox: Coming off one of the greatest seasons in the annals of the sport, it may seem like sacrilege to peg the Sox as a Wild Card team. Chris Sale is the favorite to win the Cy Young that has long eluded him, Mookie Betts just won a deserving MVP over Mike Trout in his prime and J.D. Martinez is a legit Triple Crown threat. Take a closer look though and you will find an infield in peril: a left side with more leaks than the Titanic, an injured (and probably washed) second baseman in Dustin Pedroia and first base manned by Mitch Moreland, whose disastrous summer collapse underscored the fact that he probably shouldn’t have gotten an All-Star berth for the only above-average half of his career. Of course, these and some minor bullpen issues are ultimately minor qualms next the team’s top-end talent. Watch out for flamethrowing Nathan Eovaldi, who could ride the momentum from his legendary postseason run to a long-awaited breakout.
Tampa Bay Rays: Nobody is quite sure how the anonymous players on the Rays managed to win 90 games last year, and for that very reason, we can’t count them out in 2019. Late bloomer Tommy Pham looked like one of the best players in MLB after his trade from St. Louis and should be an All-Star. Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier is a defensive wizard. Freaking Blake Snell (who I’d wager the average baseball fan has never heard of) is the reigning Cy Young winner, even though the underlying sabermetrics indicate he is in for major regression. Expect another fun, weird season from Tampa Bay, complete with more relievers-starting-games shenanigans.
Toronto Blue Jays: Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. is the only thing that matters. Toronto has no shot at the postseason even if starters Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez return to form, which means this year is all about how long it will take the Jays to call up the most hyped prospect since Bryce Harper. Guerrero has already demonstrated the flair and all-around game that made his father must-see TV, which combined with Kevin Pillar’s Superman catches and Stroman’s five-foot-seven-ness should make for decent viewing even in their mediocrity.
Baltimore Orioles: On the one hand, no team since 1939 has had two sub-50-win seasons in a row. Chris Davis is bound for some positive regression after possibly the worst individual season in history and the team is starting the year completely healthy. On the other, the Orioles traded away their two best players — Machado and Jonathan Schoop — at last year’s trade deadline and have exactly one decent arm in their entire pitching staff: a 28-year-old middle reliever named Mychal Givens who will be testing the pressured waters of the closer role for the first time. Oh, and this is still the hardest division in the game. Buckle up, O’s fans — it’s going to be ugly.
Cleveland Indians: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer lead the best starting rotation in the AL. Cleveland boasts two MVP candidates on the left side of their infield in Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor. They also lack anything even remotely resembling an MLB-caliber outfield and have an inconsistent, high-strikeout, high-walk bullpen that seems custom-made for sending their fans into cardiac arrest. These are major concerns that the Indians need to address should they hope to make some noise in October, but the rest of this division is so bad that it almost doesn’t matter. They could probably waltz into the playoffs with something as low as 85 wins.
Minnesota Twins: The addition of Nelson Cruz and a full season from the K-less wonder Willians Astudillo should help boost Minnesota’s mediocre offense. But if the Twins want to emerge as a true challenger in the AL Central, they’ll need their youngsters to reverse the trajectory of their stalled development. That means Jose Berrios has to become a true ace, Miguel Sano can’t hit .199 and newly-jacked Byron Buxton must perform as something more than a defensive specialist. Certainly not an impossible expectation but also not something to count on from a team that’s been letting its fans down for the majority of the decade.
Chicago White Sox: Despite the fact that they reside in the third biggest metropolitan area in the United States, the South Siders decided to adopt a small market identity and not pursue Manny Machado. I guess they trust that Yoan Moncada will finally pick up a baseball bat and stop strolling to the plate with a stringless tennis racket in hand. The White Sox look like total garbage for the third year in a row. At least fans will get to see the debut of phenom Eloy Jimenez, who has the talent to develop into a superstar.
Kansas City Royals: As most of baseball has embraced the launch angle revolution and sent league-wide power numbers skyrocketing, the Royals have decided to steer in the opposite direction. With speedsters Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi and Billy Hamilton in the starting lineup, along with pinch runner extraordinaire Terrance Gore on board, Kansas City could boast the entire top half of the steals leaderboard by season’s end. That is, assuming those guys can actually get on base. With awful pitching and no exciting prospects waiting in the wings, the 2015 World Champs will struggle to reach even 70 wins.
Detroit Tigers: If healthy, Miguel Cabrera hasn’t quite hit Pujols territory yet and should still be a perfectly adequate major league hitter. Nick Castellanos could hit 30 homers with the right batted ball luck. And uuuuhhh, Jordan Zimmermann used to be good about four years ago. That’s all I’ve got — I don’t even recognize most of the names on the Tigers’ major league roster.
Houston Astros: There’s nothing very exciting to report here, as the Astros look poised to convincingly claim their third consecutive division crown. None of Houston’s free agency losses, which included 2017 World Champion mainstays Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Marwin Gonzalez, should make much of a dent given the team’s unparalleled roster depth. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are still terrifying, legit aces. The bullpen is loaded with a number of wipeout options for every situation. Offensively, the lineup should be even better in 2019, as a healthy Carlos Correa will look to break out and finally fulfill his long-awaited MVP potential alongside stud third baseman Alex Bregman. The addition of Michael Brantley in left field, the ’Stros’ weakest position last year, should help as well.
Los Angeles Angels: Sometimes, you just feel it in your gut. The Angels have done almost nothing to inspire confidence for pretty much the entirety of Mike Trout’s tenure with the team, but I’ve got the sense that a historic season is coming from the Millville Meteor after signing his record extension. Shohei Ohtani is a huge post-hype sleeper, a budding star who most casual fans seem to think is missing the entire season just because he’s not pitching. Former defensive specialist Andrelton Simmons has become one of the most complete and exciting players in baseball. Starters Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs, with new closer Cody Allen, highlight a rock-solid if spectacularly unsexy pitching staff. It won’t be easy getting there, but I’m envisioning the second Wild Card seed and a do-or-die trip to Boston for the Halos.
Oakland Athletics: Ranking the A’s third and predicting that they won’t factor much in the playoff picture might feel a little harsh for a team that just won 97 games, and there is still a lot to like in Oakland. Defensive god Matt Chapman put up one of the sneakier 8+ WAR seasons in recent memory. Khris Davis’s average has remained stagnant (.247 for four seasons in a row!) but his batting eye and consistency have steadily improved. Blake Treinen is one of the best relievers in MLB. I just don’t feel comfortable betting on a team trotting out Mike Fiers as its number one, which will be the case until Sean Manaea returns after the All-Star break. Oh, and Kyler Murray isn’t walking through that door.
Seattle Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki’s touching farewell in Japan could end up being a seminal moment in baseball history, but it’s about the only thing Mariners fans will get to enjoy this season. Having the longest current postseason drought in the game (17 seasons) didn’t deter Seattle from selling the farm in the offseason, as they shipped off Robinson Cano, James Paxton, Jean Segura and superstar closer Edwin Diaz for prospects and contract relief. Edwin Encarnacion will help fill some of those gaping lineup holes (Nelson Cruz left in free agency and Kyle Seager begins the year on the IL) and Mitch Haniger is in for an All-Star season that should help prop the M’s out of the cellar. You just can’t anticipate much more than that.
Texas Rangers: Joey Gallo is a Three True Outcomes god and an absolute joy to watch; he’s either looking ridiculous whiffing on a hanging curveball with that big loopy swing of his or launching the same meatball 500 feet into orbit. Unfortunately, baseball is a sport where one player can only make so much difference, and even if Gallo were Babe Ruth in his prime, he wouldn’t be able to save the rest of this roster. Run down the list of names — Asdrubal Cabrera, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller, Elvis Andrus, Edinson Volquez — and it looks like a laundry list of washed-too-soon veterans who peaked as youngsters in the early 2010s. That’s not a great look for the great state of Texas.