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MLB’s 2020 Shortened Season, Shorter Preview: The AL East

In a shortened MLB season, who has the best odds at taking the AL East? The Yankees? The Blue Jays? The Rays? The Red Sox? How about the Orioles?

Yankees Nostalgia Train by MTA is licensed under CC 2.0

MLB’s 2020 Shortened Season, Shorter Preview: The AL East

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

The 60 game MLB Season is upon us, and what better way to begin a shortened season than with some truncated analysis and team previews. So we’ve taken the best bits from our “30 in 30” Preview series and put them all in one, easily accessible place.

So let’s dive into the American League East!

Baltimore OriolesJustin Colombo

“Can it get worse for the Baltimore Orioles? No, it probably can’t.” That was a question posed in our 30 in 30 Series look at the Orioles heading into this season.

Sadly – the answer to that question is yes. Just as Covid-19 was entrenching itself in this country, Orioles star Trey Mancini revealed he had been diagnosed with colon cancer on March 6th. To say it’s a huge blow for a club that seems to lack any type of competitive direction would be an understatement. You can look at the way the front office handled Jonathan Villar to get a sense of the front office mindset.

Most recently the Orioles front office has begun selling off any player with a potentially large price tag. These moves have no competitive thought behind them. Absolutely none.

Jonathan Villar was acquired by the Orioles in a trade that sent Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop to Milwaukee in exchange for pitcher Luis Ruiz and infielder Jean Carmona. The former-Milwaukee star was coming off his second failed attempt to match his incredible 2016. For a struggling Brewers squad, Villar stole an MLB-leading 62 bases, notched 168 hits, 38 doubles, and 19 home runs in 2016. The following two seasons would see a downturn in production, as Villar fell into the background of Miller Park.

This past season Villar stole 40 bases, knocked 176 hits, 33 2Bs, and 24 home runs, returning to his 2016 form. The most important thing Villar brought to the Orioles in 2019? Consistency. It takes a lot of gumption to play in all 162 games for a team that can’t buy a win.

And now Villar is in Miami.

Why? Because you didn’t want to pay him somewhere around $6 million for his services? Get real. That’s bad for baseball and it’s bad for Baltimore.

Even worse? Chris Davis is still owed $69 million over the next three seasons. As it stands right now, the Orioles payroll sits at $46 million dollars for the year. That’s $10 million dollars more than what the Angels will be paying Mike Trout. So while this year’s team is cheap and young, let’s hope that when the Orioles grow up, they don’t leave the next to find a better paycheck. And the majority of that payroll is taken up by Davis and Alex Cobb. Woof. Buckle up, Orioles fans! It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Boston Red SoxRyan Kelly

Mookie Betts is gone. Alex Cora is gone. So, what can we expect in 2020?

Honestly, that’s probably harder than ever to predict for this team heading into the season. The Red Sox certainly have the talent to be competitive, and vie for a Wild Card berth at least. But it remains to be seen how much leeway ownership gives them to start the season. If they limp out of the gate, we may see a fire sale. On the other hand, maybe a new manager and a hot start in a shortened season will do the trick. Maybe Boston just gives the finger to the luxury tax. Who knows. It’s safe to say that the Red Sox have not found themselves at such a crossroads for some time.

Toronto Blue JaysViolet Jones

The 2019 Toronto Blue Jays expected to have a rough year and, largely, that’s what they got. A 67-95 record was good for fourth in the AL East and another playoff-less season north of the border. Late in the 2018 season, they traded the Bringer of Rain, Josh Donaldson, to Cleveland, officially opening up third base for wunderkind Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in 2019. He did not disappoint, but didn’t quite set the world on fire like we all assumed he would. That would be a disappointment were it not for the influx of other youngsters making an impact – some of whom, we were not expecting.

Son of former major leaguer Craig Biggio, Cavan Biggio entered the season outside of the MLB Top 100 prospects list, but was arguably the Blue Jays’ most valuable rookie contributor. Biggio slashed .234/.364/.429 with 16 HR and 48 RBI in 100 games. What’s most interesting about Biggio’s rookie season is the fact that he led Blue Jays batters in WAR at 2.4, despite having a -2.7 defensive WAR. His 12.6 offensive WAR was responsible for that, best among Blue Jays hitters in 2019. That’s a pace for 26 HR and 78 RBI over a full season, both of which would’ve been second-most on the team.

Alongside Vlad Jr was another highly anticipated top prospect, SS Bo Bichette.

In just 46 games, Bo hit .311/.358/.571 with 11 HR and 21 RBI. Over a full season, that pace would’ve been good for 39 HR and 74 RBI. Defense was a weak spot for Bichette, which is to be expected of a first-year player. Just like Cavan, Bo has all the pieces to be a pillar of this infield for the foreseeable future. That is, if he can cut down on the defensive mistakes.

Don’t expect the Jays to compete for a playoff spot in 2020, but do expect them to be a whole lot of fun. With a full spring training under their belt and the knowledge that they’ll be starting the season in the bigs, expect Biggio, Bichette, and Vlad Jr to be must-see TV all summer. Add in recent free agent acquisition Travis Shaw (a sneaky candidate for bounce-back of the year) over at first base and they may have the most pop in their infield of any team. The pitching is still enough of a question mark that I don’t think they’ll outscore enough opponents to climb the standings, but expect a team around .500 all season that shows real promise for 2021 and beyond.

Tampa Bay RaysRyan Kelly

Let’s get one thing straight. It’s just plain sad that every offseason we have to be reminded that the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t long for their home at the Trop. A team this resilient should not have to be subjected to constant chatter about a permanent move to a new city, or worse… a time share north of the border.

Tampa quietly defies expectations so often, on paper such a product should have no trouble holding down a baseball home in The Sunshine State. Now, of course, they haven’t won titles. They aren’t pacing the league in wins. But playing in a division with Boston and New York, and owning the league’s cheapest payroll, they won 96 games a year ago. They clinched a Wild Card berth, won the one game play-in, and took the Astros to 5 games in the ALDS. Their Cy Young-winning pitcher from the season before took a major step back, and they still finished with the A.L.’s lowest team ERA. The Rays just know how to figure it out.

Tampa has made some excellent acquisitions to their lineup. On the mound, the Rays have proven that they can pace the league even without the help of Blake Snell. If he can return to any semblance of his 2018 self, he will lead a staff of guys who can eat innings and keep the ball in the ballpark. The bullpen, led by Emilio Pagan and Diego Castillo, is chock full of power arms. It all adds up to one of the quietly deepest rosters in all of baseball. There is no reason why another 90-win season would be off the table, nor a Wild Card berth.

New York YankeesJustin Colombo

The New York Yankees are the top team to beat in the AL East.

That’s a fact. I know you’ve been hearing it a lot, but it’s a fact.

And what better year to figure out what to do with guys like Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar than play a weird shortened season?

In all seriousness, this is a perfect situation for the Yankees. In a division where the Rays are your toughest competition, while everyone else figures out their rebuild, the Yankees can experiment with the top-tier guys they have.

On the mound, we’ll truly see if Jordan Montgomery can be a back of the rotation starter. The Yankees can also let Tanaka prove his worth as he heads into free agency. On top of that, you can let Gerrit Cole get adjusted to the AL East in a no-pressure setting. Not that he needs it, but that’s what he’s walking into.

The Yankees have options galore, and Aaron Boone can play with whatever pieces to the puzzle he wants. Afterall, this season is going to be weird anyway, so why not lean into that weirdness on the daily?

Compiled by Joe Danbusky, Justin Colombo and Kevin Michael Morin.

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