The five AL East teams can be separated into three tiers.
First, the contenders, which consists of the defending champion Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Either team could win the division and surprise nobody, and the other club seems earmarked to claim the top wild-card spot. The Red Sox will be going for their fourth straight division title, while the Yankees haven't won since 2012.
Then the Tampa Bay Rays solely occupy the second tier. The Rays stunned everyone last year by winning 90 games, and they would likely be the best team in the AL Central.
With Opening Day around the corner, let's break down the AL East:
2018 record: 47-115 (5th in AL East)
O/U win total: 57
World Series odds: 600-1
3-year trend: 2016 (3rd); 2017 (5th); 2018 (5th)
Highest projected WAR: Alex Cobb (1.5)
X-factor: Cedric Mullins
Prospect to watch: Yusniel Diaz (MLB.com: No. 64)
Winter report card: C-
|4||Chris Davis (L)||1B||-0.1|
|6||Rio Ruiz (L)||3B||0.9|
|8||Chance Sisco (L)||C||0.8|
There won't be anything remarkable about the Orioles' roster on Opening Day. It'll be difficult to muster any excitement, as Cedric Mullins and Jonathan Villar are the only position players projected to be worth more than one win above replacement. That's incredibly bad.
However, watching the development of Mullins, Trey Mancini, and Chance Sisco will be interesting. Richie Martin and Drew Jackson, two Rule 5 picks, are also looking to prove themselves as major leaguers.
Dylan Bundy and Alex Cobb are likely the best players on Baltimore's roster, and both could be included in trade rumors if they perform well. Any reliever who experiences early success will also likely be jettisoned for prospects.
2018 record: 108-54 (1st in AL East)
O/U win total: 90
World Series odds: 6-1
3-year trend: 2016 (1st); 2017 (1st); 2018 (1st)
Highest projected WAR: Mookie Betts (7.1)
X-factor: Rafael Devers
Prospect to watch: Darwinzon Hernandez
Winter report card: C+
|1||Andrew Benintendi (L)||LF||3.7|
|3||Mitch Moreland (L)||1B||0.8|
|6||Rafael Devers (L)||3B||2.4|
|7||Brock Holt (L)||2B||0.7|
|8||Jackie Bradley Jr. (L)||CF||2.6|
|Blake Swihart (S)||C/OF||0.4|
*Dustin Pedroia will start season on IL
The reigning champs' lineup is one of the most feared in baseball, and Boston will get Dustin Pedroia back at some point this season. While most of the focus will be on whether Betts can repeat as MVP, the team's main 2019 narrative should instead turn to whether Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers can take steps forward.
While last year's championship-winning rotation didn't change, Boston's bullpen lost Craig Kimbrel, and the unit is looking desperate. Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes will take the highest-leverage innings, and they can be shaky. It's unclear who manager Alex Cora will trust beyond those two.
2018 record: 100-62 (2nd in AL East, 1st AL wild card)
O/U win total: 96
World Series odds: 6-1
3-year trend: 2016 (4th); 2017 (2nd); 2018 (2nd)
Highest projected WAR: Aaron Judge (4.6)
X-factor: Gary Sanchez
Prospect to watch: Jonathan Loaisiga (MLB.com: No. 66)
Winter report card: A
|1||Brett Gardner (L)||CF||1.3|
|7||Greg Bird (L)||1B||0.3|
|Tyler Wade (L)||IF/OF||0.0|
It's crazy to look at the lineup above and then remember the Yankees will begin the season without Aaron Hicks. When he returns, it'll be interesting to see if the club sticks with Luke Voit or Greg Bird at first base after bumping Giancarlo Stanton to DH.
It will also be worth following how skipper Aaron Boone uses DJ LeMahieu, who wasn't signed to a two-year, $24-million contract to be a bench bat.
*Luis Severino, CC Sabathia to start season on IL
*Dellin Betances to start season on IL
Without Luis Severino until likely May, the Yankees' rotation looks fallible. However, even with Dellin Betances beginning the season on the injured list, the team's bullpen looks like the best in baseball.
Early in the season, Boone may call upon his bullpen often, as New York's starting depth will be pushed to its limit with Severino and CC Sabathia shelved. James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka have also struggled to stay healthy, but Luis Cessa and Loaisiga are waiting in the wings.
2018 record: 90-72 (3rd in AL East)
O/U win total: 86
World Series odds: 35-1
3-year trend: 2016 (5th); 2017 (3rd); 2018 (3rd)
Highest projected WAR: Blake Snell (4.0)
X-factor: Tommy Pham
Prospect to watch: Brent Honeywell (MLB.com: No. 28)
Winter report card: B+
|1||Kevin Kiermaier (L)||CF||2.6|
|3||Joey Wendle (L)||3B||1.4|
|5||Ji-Man Choi (L)||1B||0.8|
|7||Austin Meadows (L)||RF||1.3|
|9||Brandon Lowe (L)||2B||1.4|
|Michael Perez (L)||C||0.1|
Mike Zunino gives the club some certainty behind the dish after a campaign when the Rays ran out five different catchers, and four were worse than replacement level.
Lastly, Tommy Pham could be poised for a huge year after finally being handed the starting job.
* - will likely pitch after openers
* - could act as openers
After trying the opener strategy in 2018 and watching it pay huge dividends, expect a lot more of the same from the Rays. Ryne Stanek and Hunter Wood will likely reprise their roles as openers, with new recruit Emilio Pagan potentially used in the first inning, too.
2018 record: 73-89 (4th in AL East)
O/U win total: 76
World Series odds: 90-1
3-year trend: 2016 (2nd); 2017 (4th); 2018 (4th)
Highest projected WAR: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (4.6)
X-factor: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Prospect to watch: Danny Jansen (MLB.com: No. 11)
Winter report card: C
|1||Billy McKinney (L)||LF||0.9|
|2||Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||2B||1.7|
|3||Justin Smoak (S)||1B||1.7|
|4||Kendrys Morales (S)||DH||0.4|
|7||Freddy Galvis (S)||SS||1.3|
|Richard Urena (S)||IF||0.1|
Unlike the also rebuilding Orioles and their lineup, there are the makings of a major-league team on the Blue Jays' roster. The progression of Billy McKinney, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Danny Jansen is worth following.
Regardless of how well that trio plays, though, Toronto's 2019 season is all about waiting for Vlad.
*Ryan Borucki, Clay Buchholz likely to start on IL
*David Phelps, Ryan Tepera, John Axford to start year on DL
Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard were added primarily to eat innings and help the Blue Jays through a season that won't be competitive. The team's focus will be squarely on whether Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez can recapture some form of their past dominance.
Another interesting pitcher to follow is 19-year-old right-hander Elvis Luciano, who was taken as a Rule 5 pick and, therefore, must stay on the Jays' 25-man roster to be retained.