Most or all of last year’s division winners figure to enter the upcoming season as the favorites to repeat, but some degree of turnover is inevitable. Last season, for instance, three of the game’s six divisions crowned new champions. You never know which winner(s) from a year ago will off, but you can make educated guesses based on the offseasons clubs have had. With spring training right around the corner, let’s begin by taking a look at how the reigning AL divisions champs have fared this winter. All of those clubs won 100-plus games and took home their divisions by large margins in 2019. Has the gap closed on any of them?
AL West – Astros (107-65; won division by 10 games):
- As those who follow the game even a little bit know, this has been the winter of discontent for the typically dominant Astros. There’s no more GM Jeff Luhnow or manager A.J. Hinch, both fired for their roles in the team’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal. They’ve since been replaced by James Click and Dusty Baker, respectively. Those two are in the strange spot of inheriting a team that, despite three straight 100-win seasons and last year’s AL pennant, is in a tumultuous position. There’s still plenty of talent on hand, but the Astros have lost some of their major pieces from 2019 (Gerrit Cole, Will Harris, Wade Miley and Robinson Chirinos) and, thanks in part to luxury-tax concerns, haven’t really made any moves to get better. Meanwhile, their greatest challenger in the AL West, Oakland, continues to look formidable, and two of the division’s other teams (the Rangers and Angels) have worked hard to improve themselves.
AL East – Yankees (103-59; won division by seven games)
- New York’s a popular World Series pick after swiping Cole from Houston, though the Yankees’ rotation suffered a blow earlier this week with the announcement that lefty James Paxton will miss three to four months after undergoing back surgery. It’s the latest notable injury for a Yankees team that endured one after another a season ago. Despite Paxton’s issues and the Tommy John surgery center fielder Aaron Hicks underwent last fall, the club’s clearly banking on better health in 2020, as it hasn’t made any major transactions aside from signing Cole and re-upping outfielder Brett Gardner (both were important moves, granted). The Yanks also lost two longtime key contributors – shortstop Didi Gregorius and reliever Dellin Betances – to free agency, though they did just fine last year despite having to go significant stretches without them (Betances essentially missed the whole season). Looking around their division, the Yankees remain the clear front-runners, though the Rays should be legitimate challengers again. The Red Sox are in line to get markedly worse if their Mookie Betts trade goes through; the Blue Jays have upgraded their roster, but they still look a ways away from seriously taking on the Yankees; and there’s no doubt the Orioles will be the division’s whipping boys yet again.
AL Central – Twins (101-61; won division by eight games)
- An offense that set the all-time home run record with 307 last season has seemingly gotten even stronger this winter with the signing of $92MM third baseman Josh Donaldson, who smacked 37 as a Brave in 2019. While the Twins’ offense is terrifying, there’s less certainty surrounding its pitching staff. Minnesota hasn’t been able to pull in an ace-type starter since the prior campaign concluded, but it has been active in addressing its rotation. Jake Odorizzi’s back, having accepted the Twins’ qualifying offer. So is Michael Pineda, whom they re-signed on a multiyear deal, though he’ll miss the early portion of 2020 as a result of a PED suspension from last season. Likewise, new addition Rich Hill (injured) won’t be ready from the outset. But the Twins did bring in revived veteran Homer Bailey alongside Hill, and if the aforementioned Betts trade becomes official, they’ll also pick up the underrated Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers. Minnesota will continue to look like a quality team even if the Maeda addition falls through, but it could face more resistance in its division. The Indians haven’t made many (any?) high-end acquisitions in recent months, but they still boast a solid roster. The White Sox appear to have gotten much better thanks to a slew of noteworthy moves, and even the last-place Tigers have made an effort to increase their talent.