In our Silver Linings series, we’re checking in on the most promising developments for non-contending teams during an otherwise disappointing 2018 season. Today, we’re checking in on the American League East. It has been a runaway all year long for the Red Sox and Yankees, but that doesn’t mean the other three organizations in the division haven’t had promising developments of their own.
Here are the silver linings from the AL East …
Rays: Sustained Winning
There was plenty of hand-wringing over the 2017-18 offseason as the Rays continued to move established-but-controllable major leaguers — and, with them, salary obligations. Perhaps, then, we might have expected a mid-summer trade of Chris Archer to trigger yet more alarm bells over the perpetually tight-fisted Tampa Bay organization.
By that point, however, the Rays were drawing at least some begrudging respect for wrapping up the month of July one game over .500 despite a piddling payroll and exceedingly youthful roster. Since? Well, they’ve won 33 of their past 48 ballgames, giving the Rays the same 87-68 record as the powerhouse Indians.
Unfortunately, owing to the two division pillars and the yet-more-meteoric rise of the Athletics, the Tampa Bay organization hasn’t really been in contention at all despite its startling success. But in this case, at least, winning is its own reward — particularly in a year in which the club announced new plans for a long-anticipated ballpark.
That’s enough to constitute a true silver lining. But this one is particularly sparkly — diamond-studded, even — because of what it means for the future. Virtually all of the improvement has been driven by young, cheap, controllable players. There are too many interesting developments to single out, in fact, making the Rays a fascinating team to watch going forward.
Young lefty Blake Snell is the most obvious standout, but he’s hardly the lone reason for excitement. Breakout performances from Joey Wendle, Mallex Smith, and Daniel Robertson are nearly as exciting. The return of Matt Duffy, arrival of Jake Bauers and Willy Adames, emergence of slugging duo C.J. Cron and Ji-Man Choi, and stable of young hybrid hurlers leave room for plenty of optimism — particularly if relative veterans Kevin Kiermaier and Tommy Pham can play to their established ceilings and the club can put some of its open payroll space to good use.
Blue Jays: Superstars-in-Waiting
For a team with a hefty payroll and a variety of established veterans, there’s no sugarcoating the disappointing course of the 2018 season. And there really haven’t been many bright spots on the MLB roster.
Rather remarkably, in fact, the Jays do not have a single player on their roster that has reached 2.0 fWAR on the season. Lefty J.A. Happ did exceed that tally before being traded. The club’s current leader in pitching fWAR is Ryan Borucki, who’s at 1.9 fWAR. A nice showing, to be sure, though his success has been predicated on home run suppression that may not be sustainable. On the position-player side, the solid efforts of Justin Smoak, Randal Grichuk, Kevin Pillar, and Aledmys Diaz have put them between 1.6 and 1.8 fWAR to this point in 2018.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some areas of interest on the MLB roster. Catcher Danny Jansen, in particular, could be a foundational piece. Billy McKinney, Dwight Smith Jr., and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. have shown promise in their early exposure to the majors. On the pitching staff, Sam Gaviglio has posted better peripherals than results, perhaps leaving some room for optimism. Relievers Ryan Tepera and Tim Mayza have been solid and remain controllable.
But the bottom line remains that, for the Toronto faithful, the true excitement is on the horizon. MLBTR’s recent roundup of the 20 top minor-league performers of 2018 houses the very best developments for the organization this season. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. seems ready to join Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto as immensely productive young big league sluggers. Shortstop Bo Bichette could be an up-the-middle powerhouse for years to come. A third youngster with big league bloodlines, Cavan Biggio, also turned in a big campaign, as did fellow infielder Kevin Smith.
Orioles: Amateur Outlook
This is, simply put, the worst team in baseball. That undesirable title was up for grabs as of the middle of the season, but the O’s are now running away with the race to the bottom. The club sits at present on a 45-110 record, fully 8.5 games back of the next-worst team in baseball.
So … where do you really go for hope? There’s no uber prospect waiting in the wings, as is the case in Toronto. That’s not to say that the O’s lack promising youngsters, but none truly stand out in anything approaching the manner of Guerrero and Bichette. One young hurler, Dean Kremer, did land on our top-20 list. He, along with top Baltimore prospect Yusniel Diaz, came t the organization in the Manny Machado deal. Another mid-season trade brought in Jonathan Villar, who has thus far been in bounceback form in Baltimore.
Truly, though, the chief silver lining of this abysmal campaign is the team’s outlook for acquiring top-quality amateur players. That’s not quite what you’d hope for, and perhaps portends a lengthy rebuilding process, but it’s hard to deny. In particular, the 2019 draft will afford an opportunity to land one or more premium talents, as the O’s will have the top overall pick. Beyond that, too, the organization seems finally to have turned the corner on its philosophy regarding the spending of international money. With plenty of cash to invest, the organization is slated to pursue the top-available talents and ought to come away with some intriguing new talent to bolster the farm.