Well, 2021 hasn’t gotten off to the start I was exactly hoping for. We are 5 days in and no teams have made any big moves yet. Even worse, I have spent the last three days in bed doing nothing but hoping this pain in my side goes away… which it hasn’t. Luckily, today I felt good enough to give you guys my projections for the A.L. and I know all my friends cannot wait to hear what I have to say about the South Side, so let’s get it started.
I’ll start with the A.L. West, which in my opinion does not really impress me in terms of producing a team that can win the pennant. Oakland had a very promising 2020, however, with ten players up for free agency (most notably closer Liam Hendricks, shortstop Marcus Semien, and starting pitcher Mike Fiers), the A’s have a lot to do this offseason with very little money in their market. With their past history of trading players with high value to get young prospects in return, I can see them hitting the reset button and trading either Matt Chapman or Matt Olson this offseason. All in all their rotation is promising, but with so many departures and last season being their best shot at competing, I see Oakland with two options: blowing it up and finishing at the bottom of the division or keeping what they have and trying one last time to see what they can do. As for the Rangers and Mariners, these two teams are pretty similar with both franchises near the end of their rebuilds and hopeful for the future. Stars Kyle Lewis (SEA) and Joey Gallo (TEX) look to lead these teams at some point down the road, but I do not see 2021 as that year. Lewis is coming off of his ROTY campaign and I can’t wait to see the damage he can do in a full season. Gallo, coming off an injury had a disappointing 2020 season, but people forget he had back to back 40 homerun seasons and was easily on his way to a third before getting hurt in 2019. As for the Angels, they may have stars Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon as well as a solid leader in Joe Maddon (had to give my guy a shoutout), but they have a very unpromising rotation and bullpen. I personally am rooting for a season in which we can get the best player in baseball to the postseason, but pending free agency (still a long shot), Trout will have to wait another year. Angels fans can finally be hopeful when Albert Pujols’ ($30M in 2021) contract is up after the season and Justin Upton’s ($28M in ’21 and ’22) contract is up the season after that. All that leaves me with is who I think will win the division: the Houston Astros. I have very little to say about a team who cheated (still unpunished, thanks Manfred), but even with no Justin Verlander, George Springer, or Michael Brantley they seem the favorites for 2021. Let’s be hopeful the Mariners or A’s have a breakout season.
Now onto the A.L. Central. I will save time and refrain from mentioning the Royals or Tigers, but hopefully the day will come when those franchises are able to turn it around again. Cleveland has a solid rotation led by Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, and Carlos Carrasco, but with the notion that their star shortstop and face of the franchise Francisco Lindor is leaving, they are no threat to winning the division. With the lack of movement this free agency and seeing what return the Cubs and Rays got for their aces, I don’t see Cleveland getting the return they deserve for Lindor. As for Minnesota, they NEED to re-sign Nelson Cruz and I am honestly surprised he hasn’t been signed yet. Regardless if he’s 30 or 40, he slashed .303/.397/.595 and at times single handedly carried the teams offense. With other bats in the lineup such as Buxton, Donaldson, Kepler, Sano, and Polanco, this team can put up runs at will. Their rotation is led by Kenta Maeda, Jose Berrios, and Michael Pineda, and after the year Randy Dobnak put together last year he can potentially be put ahead of Pineda in the rotation. The bullpen is strong led by lefty closer Taylor Rogers (who looks to have a breakout 2021), and pending free agency the Twins can add some depth where they see fit and contend for a division title. However, the Chicago White Sox have a lot to say about that. With a lineup including Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Mon- ok you guys get the point, this team is going to RAKE. 1-9 this team will be tough to pitch to, and even on a bad day I do not see starting pitchers going deep into games against this lineup. My biggest question mark with this team was always pitching, but after signing Lance Lynn, the potential rotation of Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, Dallas Keuchel, Michael Kopech (barring injury), and Dylan Cease makes a strong case for top 5 rotations in baseball. I think the Sox need to add maybe one or two more quality arms to the pitching staff after losing Colome and Dunning. If they were to add a guy like Liam Hendricks to be their closer, they go from division favorites to A.L. favorites. My new question mark is manager Tony LaRussa, who may be a proven winner and all, but with this young Sox team I am interested to see how things develop behind the scenes. With the bulk of their roster young and signed through 2022 (besides Lynn), White Sox fans can be hopeful that if this season doesn’t result in a World Series run, they have a legitimate shot in 2022 and the years following.
Lastly, we have the A.L. East. Baltimore surprisingly will be better this season than years past, despite their record potentially saying otherwise. The future of the Orioles looks to be promising building around players such as Hanser Alberto, Trey Mancini, Adley Rutschman, and Ryan Mountcastle. I’d guess the Orioles organization is aiming to seriously compete again sometime around 2022-23. The Boston Red Sox are also on the rebuild, and while the news of hiring Bianca Smith is huge for baseball, Red Sox fans shouldn’t expect any more big news this offseason. However, even with a big move they still don’t have the pieces to contend with New York or Toronto, and will spend 2021 fighting for the third spot (and ultimately finishing fourth) in the division. The Rays are the defending A.L. Champions, and while they have a similar roster from last year, losing their ace Blake Snell might just put them behind both the Blue Jays and Yankees. Adding veteran Michael Wacha could be of some help, and with a lot of the Rays players under contract through 2023 this team will still compete each year for the division. While I may not see them winning the division as of right now, I do believe they will squeeze into a wild card if they manage to finish second in the division. Next up we have the New York Yankees. With bats in the lineup like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Voit, and Gleyber Torres, as well as playing 81 games in a hitter-friendly ballpark – the runs will come. They arguably have one of the best bullpens in the league, and despite losing starters J.A. Happ, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka to free agency, baseball fans would be foolish to believe that with the money the Yankees have they won’t go after more starting pitchers. Plus they do still have Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, and (once he heals from Tommy John) Luis Severino. As for the Blue Jays, their young stars – Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – are beginning to shine and this feels like a very streaky team that can surprise everyone and steal the A.L. East. Their pitching staff is respectable with veterans Hyun Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray, and Ross Stripling, however they are going to need a huge year from their future ace-in-the-making Nate Pearson. His ceiling is extremely high and while at the moment he relies on his high 90s fastball and slider, if he finds more control and develops a third pitch (whether it be his curveball or changeup) he can do some serious damage in the league. This projection is also all pre-free agency with Toronto being linked to some big names such as Trevor Bauer, DJ Lemahieu, and George Springer. I see Toronto battling for the second spot in the division with the Rays, but if the Yankees deal with injuries and/or the Blue Jays sign one of the three names listed above, I can definitely see them coming out on top in 2021. My pick for the division? At the moment it has to be New York, but if the Yankees can’t sign a quality arm for the rotation and Luis Severino doesn’t bounce back from Tommy John, the Blue Jays will do their best at making that division title that much harder for the Yankees.