With Spring Training games only 8 days away, here are my predictions for the 2018 AL East:
Boston Red Sox:
Nearly everyone’s favorites to win the AL East at the end of last year, the Red Sox appeared to take a step back in 2017. While the debut season for Chris Sale on the Red Sox is everything fans and the front office could have wanted, the majority of the team disappointed many.
2016 Cy Young award winner Rick Porcello was perhaps one of the biggest blows to the 2017 Red Sox. While most of Boston wasn’t expecting him to repeat his 5.1 fWAR season, fans sure weren’t excited to see his ERA sitting at 4.65 at the end of the season. Good news on Porcello however, he seems to have taken a liking to the new Red Sox pitching coach Dana LeVangie, “As a player, to see your pitching coach spend that much time at that time of year and have something prepared for you, it gives me chills just thinking about it because that’s how much he cares and that’s how much he works.”
Another disappointer for the Red Sox last year was Xander Bogaerts. While he still finished the year with a perfectly acceptable 3.2 fWAR, his bat seemed to have gone missing from the previous season as evidenced by a 2016 slash line of .294/.356/.446 with 21 home runs compared to his 2017 slash line of .273/.343/.403. There’s a pretty easy explanation to this- on July 6th, Xander Bogaerts was hit on the hand by a 92 mph fastball from Rays righty Jacob Faria. While the X-Rays came out negative, Bogaerts had a miserable next two months batting .193. When asked about how long his hand had been hurting him, here’s what he had to say, “It was months. It definitely wasn’t good. I had to be a little bit smarter with it but I wanted to play”.
Another offensive hit came when the Red Sox traded away Travis Shaw to the Brewers in exchange for Tyler Thornburg. With their trust in Pablo Sandoval, the Red Sox made their biggest mistake of the offseason. Thornburg never saw any action on the mound in 2017, missing all of Spring Training due to a “miscommunication” in the training program and later succumbing to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in April. The Red Sox ended up designating Sandoval for assignment while watching Travis Shaw have a marvelous season across the league with the Brewers.
Enough with the negatives. The Red Sox and their fans will be able to see Rafael Devers play his first full season in 2018. If all goes right, he’ll be the Red Sox’ first 3rd baseman worth more than 2.0 fWAR in 6 years. My hopes are high for Devers, and I hope we find the slugger we’re looking for with him. The Killer B’s (Benintendi, Bradley Jr., and Betts) look up to make a daunting outfield and will look to best the Yankees outfield next year. Despite what many sports fans (especially Red Sox fans, I’ll admit) may have considered a “down year” for them, the Red Sox still managed to win 93 games in a seemingly always competitive AL East. Barring the possible addition of JD Martinez later this offseason, my 2018 prediction for the current Red Sox roster is: 92-70. I see lots of positive regression in the coming year.
Photo: Ron Schwane
New York Yankees:
The Yankees were supposed to be bad last year. After playing with the thought of a rebuild, the 6’7” Aaron Judge quite frankly put his foot down and just said “no”. Aaron Judge was the biggest surprise of 2017, no question. The 25 year old rookie went on to slash .284/.422/.627 with 52 home runs and 8.2 fWAR. Judge took home the honors for Rookie of the Year, the Silver Slugger, the Home Run Derby trophy, as well 2nd place in MVP voting.
Luis Severino figured it out last year, carrying the Yankees rotation where Tanaka couldn’t. Long a top prospect and breakout candidate, Severino ended up putting a Cy Young numbers with a 2.98 ERA and 230 strikeouts in 193.1 innings.
Opposite of the Red Sox, I see some of the Yankees key players from last year regressing a fair bit. Steamer projects that Judge will be half as valuable next year. Not to say that a 4.0 fWAR player isn’t valuable, but those 4 wins can decide whether or not you make the postseason. Didi Gregorius is a similar player, there were low rumblings of moving Didi with his value at an all time high, and with top prospect Gleyber Torres looming, the Yankees will have to make room one way or another. However, the Yankees planned for possible regression of these players by taking on 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins for $265 million dollars, as well as sending Starlin Castro the Marlins way.
With money to spend and prospects to burn, the Yankees seem to be in one of the best positions in baseball. 2018 projection for the current New York Yankees: 91-71. Holes that they do have can easily be covered.
Photo: Kim Klement
Toronto Blue Jays:
What a crossroads Toronto is in. The Blue Jays seem to have good faith in their roster, with former MVP Josh Donaldson coming off a fantastic, yet shortened season. As well as Aaron Sanchez, coming off a lost season to a year-long blister. Bad luck can explain how 2017 went. After starting the season nightmarishly and finishing the rest of the year near .500, important decisions need to be made. With Josh Donaldson becoming a free agent at the end of this year, the window of opportunity may be coming to a close. However, with uber prospects on the horizon, maybe selling a few veterans and opening payroll isn’t a terrible idea. My prediction for the 2018 Blue Jays: 82-82.
Photo: AP Photos
Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays always seem to be a .500 team. Unable to commit to a path, the Rays always seem to be in a compete or rebuild limbo. Chris Archer recently saying he’s nearly sure that he’ll be in a Rays uniform to start the season. On the other side of the trade stick, Jake Odorizzi has been shopped relatively hard this winter with only two years of team control left. The trade of Evan Longoria earlier this offseason doesn’t make too much sense as he didn’t fetch a spectacular return all while having a team friendly contract and being a long time fan favorite. The low-budget Rays seem to have something in the works, with a dynamic farm system up and coming. With farm members such as Brent Honeywell, Jesus Sanchez, Willy Adames and Jake Bauers, the future seems bright. If the Rays ever decide to commit some money, they’ll be scary in the coming years. My prediction for the 2018 Rays: 77-85
Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP Photo
The Orioles are another team stuck in the mud. Orioles superstar Manny Machado is coming up on a contract year, and had been previously shopping him earlier this offseason. Despite being one of the best players in the game, a return for a year of Machado won’t look much better than what Detroit got for JD Martinez. With or without Machado, the Orioles don’t stand much of a chance to division rival Red Sox and Yankees. The Orioles starting rotation is tattered and below league average, and the quick fix attempts with Wade Miley and Jeremy Hellickson have not worked out in their favor. MLB.com currently has their starting rotation predictions, and it’s not very pretty. Outside of Kevin Gausman and Dylan Dundy, the Orioles have Gabriel Ynoa, Miguel Castro and Alec Asher. A quick plug in fangraphs shows a predicted 3.8 fWAR for all 5 of them combined. The Orioles farm system doesn’t bear much help them make a decision what path to go down either. Outside of Austin Hays, there isn’t much potential for a future superstar. The patchy rotation, as well as the loss of Zach Britton to a torn Achilles doesn’t spell out the most successful combination. My prediction for the 2018 Orioles: 76-86
Photo: Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun