As former Rockies General Manager and current MLB Network analyst Dan O’Dowd said during the 2020 MLB Draft telecast, “Baseball is a hard game to predict the future.”
He’s correct. But I’m going to try and do it anyway.
This is part three of a six-part series where I take a look into my crystal ball (or shiny sphere for a play on words with my last name) and try to predict the next time each team will be ready to contend for the postseason. (This is not necessarily when each team will make the postseason, because there could be more teams that are contenders than playoff spots, whatever that number is going to be going forward.) It’s going to be when can I look at a roster and say, “that team can make the playoffs.” This is obviously a complete shot in the dark because new players will be drafted and trades and free agent signings will happen over the years, but I’m looking at this mainly with the personnel currently in each organization.
We started with the central divisions. Now let’s take a look at the American League East.
After making three postseason appearances last decade, it was time for the Orioles to start over in 2018, leading to a 115 loss season and the top pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. They selected Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, who is arguably already the face of the franchise. Joining Rutschman as potential everyday players in Baltimore are 2019 second rounder Gunnar Henderson, 2020 second overall pick Heston Kjerstad, and fellow 2020 draftees Jordan Westburg and Hudson Haskin. Ryan Mountcastle solidified himself with an impressive 2020 campaign and the team hopes Yusniel Diaz, the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade, could become a key player moving forward.
On the mound, the crown jewel of this system is 2018 first rounder Grayson Rodriguez, who looks like a future front of the rotation starter. 2017 first rounder DL Hall should join him to create a dynamic right-left duo atop their rotation. Another piece of the Machado deal, Dean Kramer, got a handful of starts in 2020 and should be in the rotation going forward. There’s really not much on their current roster that is going to be an impact player on Baltimore’s next contender, but you can start to see the pieces coming up through the organization. The Orioles will also add a potential impact player with the No. 5 selection in the 2021 Draft.
Projected playoff contenders: 2024
Boston Red Sox
Get your hard hats out, folks. Time for some demolition.
If I were in charge, this would be a full blown rebuild. And based on their inactivity this winter, I think Chaim Bloom knows that’s the path they need to take. (They hired him to fix the farm system.) Anyone with value is gone. Bogaerts? Gone. Devers? Gone. Benintendi? Gone. I’d even listen on Alex Verdugo because I really don’t think this team is any good. They have zero pitching and their farm system is bottom five in my eyes. They lucked into a World Series two years ago. A great offense that had everything going their way (maybe had some help, but who really knows) and David Price covered up what was otherwise a terrible pitching staff. They were okay in 2019, but 84 wins is a disaster of a season in the eyes of Boston fans. And 2020 was a real disaster. Yes, they missed Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez. But even with those guys I still think their pitching is no good.
The Red Sox need to start over because they need to overhaul their entire pitching staff and you can’t patch that together. Spending on pitching, especially relievers, is a bad idea. You have to develop your own. I think if you try and patch it together, you make it worse with a number of relievers on bad contracts. (How did Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee and Wade Davis work out for the Rockies?) Tanner Houck looks like a good start, but they need so much more. Bryan Mata and Jay Groome are probably still a year or two away. They need a lot of young arms because they need both starters and relievers. That’s going to take time.
The only close to ready players are Jeter Downs (shortstop, probably second baseman), Bobby Dalbec and Triston Casas (corner infielders). You have to find room for those guys, so that makes especially Devers expendable because JD Martinez isn’t going anywhere. I was a fan of their 2020 Draft strategy. If they think Nick Yorke is really going to hit, fine. They can plug him in at second base when he’s ready. And can you imagine Blaze Jordan hitting bombs over the Green Monster? My goodness. If he hits enough, that’s going to be fun. They have the fourth pick in the 2021 Draft, so they should be able to add an impact arm (Jack Leiter or Jaden Hill) to their system. (I would think you have to go pitcher. But they need everything. So best available player.)
The bottom line is this team is a mess. Chaim Bloom has his work cut out for him. There’s no easy fix here and it’s going to be a while.
Projected playoff contenders: 2026? (Really hard to say.)
New York Yankees
Despite what Yankee fans will tell you, this team is in pretty good shape. The Rays had their number all year in 2020 and that held true in the ALDS as well, but the series went five games and could’ve went either way. Looking ahead, the Yankees will certainly be in postseason contention in 2021. They secured their top free agent target when they re-signed DJ LeMahieu and added another starter shortly thereafter in former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, who should slot in behind Gerrit Cole. That was probably the top two things atop their wish list this winter, perhaps they could use more depth in the rotation, but this team doesn’t have to do a whole lot else. (Is that Stanton contract impacting them yet? That was a terrible trade the second it happened. Even the Yankees can be crippled by big contracts.) They’re pretty good as they stand right now. In terms of the future, a lot of their impact bats are years away, while their top young arms are closer to making an impact in the Bronx.
Projected playoff contenders: 2021
Tampa Bay Rays
Just two months after reaching the World Series, the Rays did what they do and traded Blake Snell to San Diego for a quartet of young players. (If I’m Blake Snell, I’m ecstatic to be out of there.) The headliner coming back to Tampa is Luis Patino, who is one of my favorite pitching prospects in the game. He’s only 6’1” but has electric stuff that should fit near the top of a rotation, though I think he needs more time in the minors. What’s left of the Rays rotation is Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Josh Fleming, and the newly acquired Michael Wacha. Brendan McKay and Shane McClanahan will also be in the mix. (I’m sure they’ll use their fair share of openers as well.)
Randy Arozarena was the breakout star of the postseason, but I don’t think he’s going to be the superstar player that would lead you to believe. He got really hot at the right time but still has holes in his offensive approach. There’s not a lot of big names here (there never are) and the Rays live and die with the home run ball, which dried up in the World Series. What I am looking forward to is seeing Wander Franco making his much-anticipated debut at some point in the upcoming season.
I think you’d have to say they’re trending downward heading into 2021 without their ace and their feast-or-famine offense, but they have the pieces to be on the upswing again in the not-too-distant future.
Projected playoff contenders: 2022
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have the makings to be one of baseball’s more exciting teams very soon. Everyone knows about their young core of position players in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Teoscar Hernandez. We got a glimpse of Alejandro Kirk and oh yeah, they added Austin Martin to the mix in last June’s Draft. This could be on of the game’s top offenses in a hurry. (Don’t forget about Jordan Groshans, who I expect to become an elite prospect in 2021.)
On the mound, Hyun Jin Ryu thrived in his first year in this division and provides a veteran for what is otherwise a young group. Nate Pearson is one of the game’s top young hurlers and is very close to being ready. He’ll be a full-time member of the rotation early on in 2021, if not on Opening Day. I think they stole Simeon Woods Richardson from the Mets and Alek Manoah, Adam Kloffenstein and CJ Van Eyk add to what could be an all homegrown rotation one day. We’ve also heard all winter that the Blue Jays were going to make a splash, and they did by bringing in George Springer. They are also rumored to be in the mix for Michael Brantley as well. I fully believe adding Springer (and potentially more) to this talented, young core takes this club to the next level.
Projected playoff contenders: 2021
(Cover Photo: Kevin Sousa/USA TODAY Sports)