George Springer and the Future of the AL East

George Springer and the Future of the AL East

by January 30, 2021 2 comments

The Blue Jays got their guy — George Springer — and in the process, have changed the outlook of the American League East.

After signing the most prized position player on the market, Toronto instantly became one of the favorites in the American League. What can’t be forgotten though is the division the Blue Jays play in, and the challenges that will continue to come with that — the always intriguing AL East…

Baltimore Orioles (2020 record: 25-35) 

The Orioles enjoyed three postseason berths in a span of five years during the 2010s. Baltimore’s commitment to a rebuild however has made those playoff appearances feel like a lifetime ago. The upcoming 2021 campaign surely won’t help the cause. 

Former two-time AL home run champion Chris Davis and starting pitcher Alex Cobb have taken up far too much of the Orioles payroll and budget for the team to acquire above-average veterans to help in the development of its younger players. Instead, the team has faltered far too much relative to their divisional foes. 

The best move the Orioles could have made this offseason was trading 31-year-old shortstop Jose Iglesias for futures — and that’s what they did. Iglesias was flipped to the Angels on December 2 for two minor league arms (Garrett Stallings and Jean Pinto). This trade alone should be considered a win for Orioles fans when taking a look at this year’s offseason — trading a veteran infielder who overachieved in his first year with the team for mid-level arms. 

The Orioles are simply not ready to compete. Barring an unforeseen collapse from one of their divisional foes, they will yet again be in the mix for the top 3-5 pick in next year’s draft. 

Boston Red Sox (2020 record: 24-36)

Chaim Bloom and company were quiet in the early goings of the offseason, but to be fair, so was every team not named the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. The relatively slow-moving offseason appears to be picking up for the 2018 World Series champions after the acquisitions of Enrique Hernandez, Garrett Richards, and Adam Ottavino.

The story for the Red Sox this offseason has been the rumored potential of an Andrew Benintendi trade. No matter the quality of return, it would be safe to say that garnering a position player of Benintendi’s caliber in the immediate future would not be realistic in any deal. 

Boston and Toronto may have been comparable both from a pitching and lineup perspective entering the 2020 season. That narrative has surely changed after the emergence of the Blue Jays this past season, and the offseason the team’s front office has had this winter. The Blue Jays have overtaken the Red Sox in all facets of the conversation. If Toronto’s bullpen can yet again perform at an above-average level, then it may be a runaway. 

The Red Sox are the team in the AL East that is most affected by the Blue Jays’ acquisition of Springer in the short term. Bloom and the rest of the Red Sox’s brass should still occupy the trust of the Boston faithful for now. If nothing else, watching Alex Verdugo in the outfield for years to come should provide enough optimism moving forward.  

New York Yankees (2020 record: 33-27)

In 23 years of being the general manager of the Bronx Bombers, Brian Cashman had made exactly one trade with the Red Sox – Stephen Drew for Kelly Johnson in 2014. That changed on January 25 however when the Yanks pulled the trigger on sending the aforementioned Ottavino to Boston. New York saw their 2020 World Series hopes come to a crashing end when they were defeated by the Rays in the ALDS. Despite that, the Yankees can still make the case they have the best roster in the AL East as the 2021 campaign approaches. 

New York couldn’t get its offseason off the ground running until DJ LeMahieu resigned. After that six-year, $90 million-domino fell, the Yankees’ task was to address the rotation. 

The pending exits of Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton forced the team’s brass to take a flyer on veteran arm Corey Kluber and trade for former Pirates hurler Jameson Taillon

The Yankees’ heavy lifting in the offseason appears to be done. With that said, the 27-time World Series champions can still make the case they own the most potent lineup and “ready to contend” rotation in the division. 

Tampa Bay Rays (2020 record: 40-20)

The defending AL champions may have lost noteworthy big-league pieces off their roster this offseason. However, historically in Tampa, the formula has never involved retaining high-caliber players long-term. 

The Rays acquired a number of intriguing prospects from the San Diego Padres in the Blake Snell trade. One of which being right-handed pitcher Luis Patino, a piece definitely worth keeping track of moving forward knowing Tampa Bay’s history of developing young arms (Patino closed the 2020 season as the 23rd ranked prospect according to Baseball America). 

Tampa Bay controls four of the top 50 ranked prospects in baseball, including Wander Franco, who is destined to be a full-time MLBer in 2021. 

Despite losing the aforementioned Snell in a trade, and Charlie Morton to the Atlanta Braves via free agency, the Rays are here to stay. 

Toronto Blue Jays (2020 record: 32-28)

The negative connotation that has followed the Blue Jays and its inability to recruit high-profile free agents has surely taken a hit this winter. Last year, it was Hyun Jin Ryu that was brought on to be the team’s ace, and this year, it was Springer to lead the outfield.

On top of recruiting the former Astros center fielder to join a young lineup of budding stars in Toronto, the team inked 2019 All-Star closer Kirby Yates and signed former Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien

The Blue Jays delivered this offseason. The team’s flexibility in the infield gives them an immediate advantage in the AL East. But championships aren’t won in the offseason — just ask the 2011 Red Sox. 

The lineup appears to be as dangerous as any in baseball, assuming the core position players perform up to their potential.

Whether the Blue Jays meet expectations or not in 2021, they’ve become one of the most fascinating teams to follow.

What to watch early on: Nate Pearson’s progression in the rotation and Cavan Biggio’s transition from second base to third base.

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