With Opening Day a couple weeks away, Major League Baseball teams are trying to figure out what their roster will look like at the beginning of the season. Some teams scream “rebuilding” (looking at you, Baltimore Orioles), while others look like they can compete for the World Series if everything goes right (hello, New York Yankees). But teams can surprise as well. Nobody expected the Oakland Athletics to be as good as they were last year, but at the same time, baseball fans know never to count the Athletics out because of Billy Beane, their Executive Vice President.
In the American League East division, there should be an exciting competition for the top spot between the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees made a huge statement this offseason, signing starting pitcher Gerrit Cole to a nine-year deal, indicating that they felt the one piece missing from their team was an ace. Since that happened, Luis Severino, another Yankees starting pitcher and their former ace, underwent Tommy John surgery, knocking him out for this season. That opens a spot in the Yankees rotation that should go to Jordan Montgomery, who himself came back from Tommy John surgery just last season. The Yankees have dealt with other injuries this spring as well, as outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge are both questionable for Opening Day. That could leave the Yankees in a place similar to where they were most of last season, although the club has more depth than almost any team in the league. The Red Sox’ biggest question will be how they can do without superstar outfielder Mookie Betts, who was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last month in an effort to clear salary. To replace Betts, Boston signed veteran outfielder Kevin Pillar, who is a decent starter, but a definite step down from Betts. Ace starting pitcher Chris Sale has also dealt with some elbow trouble, which will cause him to get a late start to the season. Boston’s goal for the offseason was to cut salary and remain competitive, which should happen if Sale does not miss too much time. The Rays are sort of like the Athletics of the American League East because nobody expects them to be as good as they are, but they almost always compete for the division. This year should be no different. They get key pitchers back from injury and have almost as much, if not more, depth than the Yankees on the hitting side. As mentioned previously, the Orioles are in a rebuilding phase, and are not expected to compete for the division. Their goal will instead be to evaluate their young players and determine if they are players that can be built around. The wild card here is the Toronto Blue Jays, who could possibly compete for the division. The Blue Jays have a lot of young players, specifically hitters, who could push the team forward if they take the next step. Toronto also upgraded on pitching over the offseason, acquiring starting pitchers Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson and Shun Yamaguchi. This division should be a fun one to watch in the standings in August and September with three or four teams competing for the division title.
The American League Central division should have less competition for the title than the East division, simply because both the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals are rebuilding. That leaves the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians to battle for first place. The Twins are the favorites at this point to win the division, partly because they won the division last year and have mostly the same team, if not better. They added third baseman Josh Donaldson and starting pitchers Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Homer Bailey this offseason, which should only make the team deeper. Donaldson’s signing also pushes Miguel Sano to first base, which limits the defensive liability he was at third base. The White Sox had one of the most active offseasons, acquiring Yasmani Grandal, Dallas Keuchel, Edwin Encarnacion, Nomar Mazara and Gio Gonzalez while also signing outfielder Luis Robert, one of the top prospects in the league, to a long-term deal. Robert’s long-term deal allows him to start the season in the majors, which he probably would not have done had he not signed an extension. The accrual of talent on the South Side of Chicago has the White Sox primed for a run at a playoff spot and possibly the division title. The Indians may now regret trading starting pitcher Corey Kluber given their other pitching injuries, but there is still enough talent there to give the club a chance to lead the division. Cleveland also had a couple young pitchers step up and prove themselves in the big leagues last season, so that depth should help mitigate the injuries the veteran pitchers are facing. This division could be another exciting race to watch come September, but it could just as easily be a one-team race.
The American League West division is a little harder to pinpoint. How will the Houston Astros rebound from the cheating scandal? Can Beane use his magic to keep the Athletics in the race? Will the Los Angeles Angels become a contender with the additions of third baseman Anthony Rendon and notoriously creative manager Joe Maddon? The biggest question here is the Astros. Nobody knows how much of an impact the cheating had on their success, but one would think that the club still could win the division with the amount of talent they have. They did lose Cole to the Yankees, but they still have Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke at the top of the rotation and are getting Lance McCullers back from injury. The Angels’ acquiring of Rendon should help the offense score more runs and not rely too much on superstar outfielder Mike Trout, as well as give an upgrade on former third baseman Zack Cozart, who was traded to the San Francisco Giants during the offseason in order to clear salary. If the Angels can find quality pitching to complement their hitting, they have a shot at the division title. Shohei Ohtani should return from injury in May and Andrew Heaney is good when healthy, but they need to find other quality options to fill out the rotation. Offseason additions Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy could be those options, but they will have to prove that they can do more than eat innings. Griffin Canning also showed promise last year but will miss at least the first month of the season. The Athletics seem to have found some good, young hitters for once that could be there for a while. These players include third baseman Matt Chapman, shortstop Marcus Semien, outfielder Ramon Laureano and first baseman Matt Olson. They also have promising young pitchers A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo, although Puk is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season. Oakland is, like usual, quietly good and could push for first place in the division just like last year. The Texas Rangers were rebuilding, or rather retooling, since they seem ready once again to make a run at the division title. Texas’ rotation is one of the best in the league, with Corey Kluber, Mike Minor, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson as the top four. However, they do not have too much depth pitching-wise, so if one of their starting pitchers gets hurt, it could have a big impact. Their hitting should be good though, and they have plenty of players to help fill holes during the season. The Seattle Mariners are still rebuilding, and as such are not expected to compete. However, they still have some promising young players, such as outfielder Kyle Lewis and starting pitcher Justus Sheffield. Both will be on the Opening Day roster and should be regulars, as the club will want to see just how good they can be. This division could be the best race for first place in the American League, as four of the five teams in the division have a somewhat decent chance of competing. However, it is not likely that all four teams compete for the whole season and it will likely be down to one or two teams by September.
There are a lot of good teams in the American League. There is not a clear-cut team that has far and away the most talent in the league. The Yankees and Astros will likely be battling throughout the season for the top American League team, but a team like Tampa Bay could sneak in there with all the injuries the Yankees are having. All three divisions should be good races though, with the East division the one that probably be the closest come September. It should be an interesting season and one that will be fun to watch.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org