The teardown of the Orioles began in July as they spiraled deeper into last place in the American League East. The task of rebuilding was next on the docket and ensured that they wouldn’t contend again for at least a few years. There’s no timetable given and no reason to believe in a quick fix. Changes have ripped apart the organization like a tornado — a new head of baseball operations, new assistants, a new manager and new director of player development and director of scouting. The Orioles got a late start in making the hires and evaluating the talent on their roster, which doesn’t stack up to their division rivals. It isn’t close. They took a hard fall into last place with 115 losses, worst in the majors, and reaching triple-digit losses again is a realistic possibility.
Boston Red Sox
And now comes the hard part — when the encore doubles as the farewell tour. The Red Sox shocked baseball with a run of wire-to-wire dominance unwitnessed since the 1998 Yankees, winning 108 games and their fourth World Series title since 2004. They cleared every obstacle in their path, from Opening Day, when the bullpen imploded vs. Tampa, to Game 3 of the World Series, when a walk-off homer beat them in the 18th inning. They return basically their entire roster, but change is coming. In the next two years alone, free agency looms for standouts such as Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rick Porcello and Jackie Bradley Jr. They’ll be motivated to go for broke, because this isn’t the start of a budding dynasty. It’s already the last waltz.
New York Yankees
This will give you an idea of the lofty expectations the Yankees face in 2019: Last year’s 100-win campaign, which ended when the Yanks gave the eventual champion Red Sox their toughest October series, is generally considered a flop in New York. Too harsh? Maybe. But the loaded Yankees are a World Series-or-bust team again, thanks to big-name stars such as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, blooming youngsters like Gleyber Torres and a velocity-crazed bullpen.
GM Brian Cashman re-signed Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia and bolstered the rotation by trading for Seattle lefty James Paxton and re-signing J.A. Happ. Paxton could be the October ace the Yankees crave, and he and Luis Severino should lead a rotation that just might be the key to toppling Boston in the brawny American League East.
The Yankees, with all their young talent, are set up to contend for years, but they might have to go through Boston to get back to the World Series — which would be a nice way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their last championship season.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays were quite pleased to win 90 games in a 2018 season that started brutally bad and included a string of key injuries that forced them to employ some innovative strategy.
But they were far from satisfied.
Team officials started talking that way right from the start of the offseason, plotting to be aggressive and take advantage of some rare financial flexibility to do so at a higher price point. And they showed they were serious about making the most of their window to contend, working an early November trade to acquire catcher Mike Zunino in a sell-high deal for outfielder Mallex Smith in the first in a series of moves that may continue up until Opening Day.
By Christmas, the Rays had let veteran closer Sergio Romo and outfielder Carlos Gomez become free agents, DFA’d leading home run hitter C.J. Cron (getting only the $50,000 waiver fee), signed free agent starter Charlie Morton to a two-year, $30 million deal, swapped supposed cornerstone first baseman Jake Bauers for hard-hitting Yandy Diaz and traded three minor league pitchers in a deal that netted reliever Emilio Pagan (plus a draft pick).
Rather than seeking to plug specific holes, senior VP Chaim Bloom said their approach was more about saying, “Okay, we have this group now that did what they did last year, that we feel strongly about their futures; how can we help support that group to put them in the best position to do what we didn’t do this past year, which is pop champagne and get to the postseason?”
Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays head into the new season firmly fixated on building for the future after definitively closing their previous competitive window during a miserable 2018. At the transition’s forefront is top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who tore through Double-A and Triple-A while earning wide acclaim as the best prospect in baseball. Guerrero, who will be 20 on Opening Day, is the first such franchise-altering talent acquired and developed internally since Carlos Delgado, and for the team to avoid an extended period of pain, he’ll need to hit the ground running after Josh Donaldson became the latest star slugger to depart the club. Once called up, likely after his free agency has been pushed back a year, Guerrero will arrive to find a new manager in Charlie Montoyo and a mostly new coaching staff. A return to contention hinges on how the Blue Jays manage to fill in around their budding star, as there’s very little certainty on the roster beyond him.