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2018 AL East preview

With spring training back and the season just over a month away, it’s time to survey the Yankees’ competition in the AL East and project what the division will look like at season’s end. With Manny Machado‘s impending free agency, the Rays’ late offseason fire sale, and the huge additions of Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez, the landscape has shifted significantly even since last season’s end. In order to refresh yourself on offseason transactions and each team’s key players, here’s a brief look at the Yankees’ main rivals in 2018.

Baltimore Orioles

Major transactions: (-) Jeremy Hellickson, Wade Miley, Welington Castillo (+) Andrew Cashner

Key players: Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones

The Orioles remain largely unchanged from the deeply flawed team that went 75-87 and came in last in the division last year. With Machado’s free agency just one year away and the team barely competitive in a resurgent AL East, the O’s made the decision to shop their star player this past offseason. Though there were brief flurries of rumors implicating teams from the White Sox to the Yankees, nothing materialized. Though Machado seems poised for another year of excellence, the rest of the roster is severely lacking in talent.

The pitching staff that posted an ERA of 4.97 last year, “good” for 4th-worst in the league, returns largely unchanged. Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are functional MLB starters, and the addition of Andrew Cashner should add some competence to their shaky rotation. However, the loss of Zach Britton to an Achilles injury detracts from a bullpen with few other standout members. On the offensive side, the team remains overly reliant on the long ball and will continue to strike out at a high rate. Though positive contributors like Jonathan Schoop, Trey Mancini, and Adam Jones complement Machado, none seem poised to put the team over the top, especially given their pitching woes. Look for the Orioles to retain their role as the bottom-feeders of the AL East this year.

Fangraphs: 75-87. Baseball Prospectus: 70-92. My prediction: 72-90

Tampa Bay Rays

Major transactions: (-) Evan Longoria, Steven Souza, Logan Morrison, Corey Dickerson, Jake Odorizzi, Tommy Hunter, Steve Cishek, Alex Cobb (pending) (+) Denard Span, C.J. Cron

Key players: Chris Archer, Kevin Kiermaier, Wilson Ramos

After finishing a respectable 80-82 last season and remaining in the Wild Card race until deep into the season, the Rays tore down nearly their entire roster this past offseason. The trade of stalwart Evan Longoria to the Giants in late December turned out to be only the beginning of the fire sale that ensued. Many of the Rays’ best players from last season including Steve Souza, Logan Morrison, and Corey Dickerson were somewhat unexpectedly shipped off while further pieces like Tommy Hunter and Alex Cobb left in free agency. Though he remains young, bona fide ace Chris Archer also seems likely to be traded during the season as the team hands the keys to their graduating prospects.

Some established veterans remain, like Kevin Kiermaier and Wilson Ramos, but the significant subtractions from an offense that already ranked 25th in baseball in runs scored last year suggests the team will struggle to get on the board. While the team looks set for a tough year, their farm system was universally ranked in the top 10 in baseball, with premier prospects Brent Honeywell and Jake Bauers on the horizon. While their still-solid pitching staff may keep them competitive, the Rays are likely to join the Orioles in the cellars of the AL East.

Fangraphs: 78-84. Baseball Prospectus: 84-78. My prediction: 65-97

Toronto Blue Jays

Major transactions: (-) Brett Anderson, Ezequiel Carrera, Dominic Leone, Jose Bautista (pending) (+) Curtis Granderson, Yangervis Solarte, Randal Grichuk, Aledmys Diaz, Jaime Garcia, Seung-hwan Oh

Key players: Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Troy Tulowitzki

After a short stint as one of the best teams in baseball, the Blue Jays severely underperformed last season with a disappointing 76-86 campaign. However, a solid core headlined by Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, and a supporting cast of veterans could make the Blue Jays a dangerous challenger this season.

A combination of injuries and underperformance doomed their once formidable offense in 2017, putting up the 4th-fewest runs in all of MLB. However, healthy seasons from Donaldson and perennially injured Troy Tulowitzki could boost a team that also added Yangervis Solarte and Randal Grichuk in the offseason. Their pitching staff also has significant upside, with elite starter Marcus Stroman complemented by a combination of young talent (Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna) and proven veterans (J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada, Jaime Garcia). While significant injury risk exists on this roster, the upside is there for the Blue Jays to confound critics and make a surprise run at the Yankees and Red Sox at the top of the division.

Fangraphs: 87-75. Baseball Prospectus: 80-82. My prediction: 84-78

Boston Red Sox

Major transactions: (-) Addison Reed, Doug Fister (+) JD Martinez

Key players: Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez

The Red Sox come into 2018 as the reigning AL East champs after a 93-69 finish last year. Though the team remains largely unchanged from the 2017 season, their recent addition of J.D. Martinez provides a huge power boost to a lineup that struggled to put the ball over the fence. Given that the Red Sox managed to produce the league’s 10th-best offense while hitting the 4th-fewest home runs last year, the injection of firepower that Martinez will bring could set them up to be an elite run-scoring team. Boston has quality hitters at nearly every spot in the lineup with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, and Jackie Bradley Jr. forming the young core of the team.

They’re further bolstered by a deep, strong pitching staff led by 2017 Cy Young runner-up Chris Sale. Should David Price return to form and live up to his massive contract, the Red Sox would feature two of the league’s premier starting pitchers. Though some question marks remain about the rest of the rotation, Craig Kimbrel leads a solid bullpen with the ability to keep the Sox and their formidable offense in any game. Ultimately, the team’s depth of premier talent sets them up well to launch a defense of their AL East pennant.

Fangraphs: 93-69. Baseball Prospectus: 89-73. My prediction: 94-68

New York Yankees

Major transactions: (-) Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, Todd Frazier, Bryan Mitchell, Michael Pineda, Matt Holliday, Jaime Garcia (+) Giancarlo Stanton, Brandon Drury

Key players: Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez

After a supposed “rebuild” season in which the team went 91-71 and came within one game of a World Series berth, the mentality is back to championship or bust in the Bronx. With the Yankees’ roster already one of the strongest in the league, they went out and traded for NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to build a modern day Murderer’s Row of absolute mashers. The lineup looks to be one of the most daunting in baseball, with the trio of Stanton, Judge, and Sanchez poised to terrorize pitchers on every pass through the order. Supporting them are a host of other talented hitters, headlined by fan-favorite Sir Didi Gregorius and Greg Bird, among others. Though Chase Headley and Starlin Castro became casualties of the luxury tax plan, it should allow elite prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar to get their shot in the Bigs this season. The late offseason addition of Brandon Drury both provides cover for these youngsters, as well as adds another powerful young hitter to the mix.

On the other side of the ball, both the rotation and bullpen are filled with electric arms capable of shutting any lineup down. The Yankees boast one of the best front 3’s in baseball with Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and Sonny Gray. Behind them sit Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and a host of others ready to slam the door shut on any lead. Rookie manager Aaron Boone will certainly be scrutinized by the press from day one, but he enters the season with one of the best Big League rosters in the game at his disposal. With a host of young talent waiting in the wings as well, the Bombers are set up to be World Series contenders both this year and for many years to follow.

Fangraphs: 94-68. Baseball Prospectus: 96-66. My prediction: 96-66