After an uncommonly slow offseason, things are really heating up as the New York Yankees and the other 29 MLB teams approach spring training, which is now just over two weeks away. With the 2021 teams shaping up, it’s time to take a look at who will be the Yankees’ major competition to watch.
The Boston Red Sox:
The Boston Red Sox has always been the traditional rival of the New York Yankees, up to 2018. Since then, the tables have turned as other teams strengthened in the East. While the other teams got better, the Red Sox got worse. The Red Sox made some bad moves, and beyond their control, they were beset with major injuries, particularly to the pitching staff.
Plain and simple, the Red Sox were a mess last season, and things are not looking that good for this season either. The only major move the Red Sox made is re-hire the shameful Alex Cory as it’s manager again. That in itself does not address the Red Sox problems of starting pitching and the bullpen. Xander Bogaerts and J. D. Martinez are rumored to be traded for pitching help, but with Mookie Betts’ loss last season to the Dodgers, if they move either of the two, they will have no lineup at all.
Last season the Red Sox, the Tigers, and the Rangers fought for the American League’s last place. The Red Sox ended up at the bottom of the barrel in the East. Although the Red Sox probably won’t end up last this season, they will struggle to get out of the hole they have created for themselves.
The Baltimore Orioles:
In recent years the Baltimore Orioles have fought to stay out of the American League’s last place. They have been pretty much in rebuild mode seemingly forever. Going into the 2020 season, there was no reason to be optimistic that the team would be competitive, and they weren’t; they ended up fourth in the league, the first time they were out of the basement since 2016.
Going into the 2021 season, the Orioles still have the problem of first baseman Chris Davis. The Orioles once star player has completely and unexplainable fallen apart. He occupies so much of the Orioles payroll that they have to play him. But last year, he didn’t have a single home run and batted only .115. There is no reason to believe he will improve this year.
The Orioles picked up Kevin Smith from the Mets, and he will likely be the best pitcher in their starting rotation. But the rotation and bullpen will hold them back, but that being said, there is a chance that the Orioles could find themselves advancing from last year’s stats.
The Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays are the big surprise team of the offseason. After reaching the World Series for the first time since 2008, the Rays lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The surprise is that after going to a World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays got rid of two of the reasons they got there in the first place. They let veteran pitcher and postseason winning pitcher Charlie Morton walk. Morton signed a one year deal with the Atlanta Braves. Following that, they traded away their ace Blake Snell to the San Diego Padres.
Also, if you follow the Rays spending traditions, they will not go out and hire any high paid pitchers like Trevor Bauer to replace them. Although a greatly diminished team, it doesn’t mean they won’t contend. The Rays always seem to be able, with no money, to put together a pretty good team. They also still have Yankee killer Tyler Glasnow in the rotation. They have a good lineup and presently a much stronger bullpen than the Yankees.
The Tampa Bay Rays will still contend, but their likelihood of replicating their 2020 season is near zero.
Toronto Blue Jays:
The Toronto Blue Jays are the team to watch in 2021. They are young and energetic, and like the San Diego Padres, they are on a mission. A mission to win the East, the ALCS, and go on to a World Series for the first time in 27 years. The last time they won the East Division was in 2015. During the last two years, they have made major improvements in the team, and this year one of the most active in the offseason.
Before the 2020 season, the Jays signed P Tanner Roark, P Shun Yamaguchi, and P Mark Rzepczynski. This offseason, to bolster a team that came in just one game behind the New York Yankees last season, the Jays signed LHP Robbie Ray, SS Richard Urena, RHP A.J. Cole, LHP Kirby Yates, RHP Tyler Chatwood, and the big prize, centerfielder George Springer to a $150 million contract, the biggest contract ever given by the Jays.
With money to spend, the Jays are not done yet improving the team. They have signed 20 new Jays players in the month of January so far. The Toronto Blue Jays mean business and will be the major competition for the New York Yankees this coming season. It’s just my educated opinion; only time will tell; the Yankees may still make more improvements. Many things can change in baseball, where nothing is certain.
The New York Yankees or the Toronto Blue Jays will win the AL East. If it’s the Yankees, it will be close. Then the teams to watch for the Yankees will be the Houston Astros and the Chicago White Sox. If the Yankees can advance to the World Series, it will be against the Los Angeles Dodgers or, less likely, the San Diego Padres.
EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.