• Josh Talevski

2021 MLB Offseason Grades: AL East Edition

Peter Cziborra/Reuters

After a long but exciting offseason, Spring Training is finally underway for all 30 Major League Baseball clubs. Although this year’s Spring Training feels different, Opening Day is slated for its normal April 1 date with a full 162-game schedule and the return of fan attendance.

While many teams had tighter budgets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the offseason was not without its big contracts, surprising trades and teams looking to make a push for a World Series title in 2021.

While the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers and other teams stockpiled star players in hopes of playoff runs, other clubs made solid acquisitions towards rebuilding or rebounding after a tough 2020 season. There will be six installments of offseason grades, with each one covering a different division, so let’s go ahead and take a look at how the offseason transpired in the American League East.

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: D-

Additions: SS Freddy Galvis, SP Felix Hernandez, SP Matt Harvey

Baltimore flirted with a possible F grade until they were able to trade pitcher Alex Cobb, his sizable contract and cash to the Los Angeles Angels for infield prospect Jahmai Jones. The O’s shipped the defensively-gifted Jose Iglesias to the Angels as well, replacing his presence with shortstop Freddy Galvis, who is a downgrade however with both the bat and glove. With Baltimore continuing to try and develop its starting pitching prospects, pitchers Felix Hernandez and Matt Harvey were signed, but both pitchers are on the wrong side of their respective careers. They aren’t awful signings, but they are questionable given that Taijuan Walker, Jake Odorizzi and Julio Teheran are still available. If King Felix can reinvent himself, this season could add to his Hall of Fame case. Expect another bottom-five finish in MLB for the Orioles in 2021, but there may still be excitement to be found in the potential breakout of first baseman Ryan Mountcastle or the debut of top catching prospect Adley Rutschman.

Boston Red Sox: C+

Additions: SP Garrett Richards, SP Martin Perez, RP Adam Ottavino, INF Kike Hernandez, UTIL Marwin Gonzalez, OF Franchy Cordero, OF Hunter Renfroe

Whether you remember it or not, the Red Sox finished last in the AL East standings last season, but they have the potential to be a winning team again in 2021. Boston still has a solid offensive core consisting of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Alex Verdugo. With the retirement of Dustin Pedroia, Kike Hernandez is a nice signing for Boston to fill its void at second base. While Franchy Cordero is yet to prove himself in the majors and Hunter Renfroe is coming off a down season with Tampa Bay, both have the potential to be productive corner outfielders. The Red Sox even found a way to improve their bench by signing veteran Marwin Gonzalez, who can play all over the diamond. Boston’s biggest need was clearly starting pitching, and the Sox signed Garrett Richards and re-signed Martin Perez. Factor in a healthy Eduardo Rodriguez and a midsummer Chris Sale return, and it's reasonable to assume Boston makes a Wild Card run. However, most of the Red Sox transactions, including their trade for Adam Ottavino, have been for guys who are coming off disappointing seasons, so expect some players to continue to struggle this season for Boston, in what will likely be an inconsistent season.

New York Yankees: A

Additions: 2B DJ Lemahieu, SP Jameson Taillon, SP Corey Kluber, RP Darren O’Day, OF Greg Allen

The Yankees already have a talented roster that makes them the American League favorite in 2021. The biggest offseason question for New York was whether or not they would re-sign DJ Lemahieu, and GM Brian Cashman answered with a six-year $90 million dollar contract. New York also offered a one-year contract to former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and traded for Jameson Taillon, who could be yet another former Pirates starter to break out on a new club. Both pitchers are coming off injury-riddled seasons, but, if healthy, are projected to form one of the most formidable rotations in baseball. The Yankees bullpen, which added veteran Darren O’Day, is also expected to be one of the team’s greatest strengths. Although it took a while, the Yankees added all the pieces they needed to this offseason to get them closer to their 28th World Series title in franchise history.

Tampa Bay Rays: D+

Additions: SP Chris Archer, SP Michael Wacha, C Francisco Mejia, SP Rich Hill, SP Collin McHugh, C Mike Zunino

The Rays are the defending AL champions, but it had to be disappointing to watch an offseason that seemed to be more about the players lost than the players gained. Tampa Bay has always dealt with a strict budget, and the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help matters as the Rays traded Blake Snell’s five-year $50 million deal to the Padres. Tampa Bay also lost key starting pitcher Charlie Morton, traded first baseman Nate Lowe and designated Hunter Renfroe for assignment. On a more positive note, the Rays kept the services of catcher Mike Zunino and acquired former top catching prospect, Francisco Mejia, along with pitching prospects Cole Wilcox and Luis Patino in the Snell deal. With Tyler Glasnow anchoring the rotation, the Rays signed four veteran starters to duke it out for two or three rotation spots. The Rays have a great track record of improving veteran starters, so look for Chris Archer and Michael Wacha to improve their game in 2020. Rich Hill is coming off an underrated season with the Twins last year and could also find success in Tampa Bay. Even though the Rays may take a few steps back in 2021, it won’t be long before they emerge as serious playoff contenders, thanks to their top-ranked farm system in MLB.

Toronto Blue Jays: A+

Additions: OF George Springer, RP Kirby Yates, 2B Marcus Semien, SP Tyler Chatwood, SP Steven Matz, RP David Phelps, SP Robbie Ray

If you thought the Yankees had a good grade, the Blue Jays found a way to top it and land the first A+ grade of the 2021 offseason. The Blue Jays young core surprised baseball and squeaked their way into the playoffs as the eighth seed but were easily swept by the top-seeded Rays. Now Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez and Cavan Biggio add superstar outfielder and former World Series MVP George Springer into the mix and Marcus Semien, who finished third in the AL MVP race in 2019. Both players have excellent playoff experience that will serve Toronto well. Toronto also made the low-risk, high-reward signing of Kirby Yates, one of baseball’s best relievers in 2019 who projects to bounce back nicely after elbow surgery ended his 2020 season with the Padres. The Jays also acquired Steven Matz from the Mets, who started his career strong but never seemed to stay healthy in New York. If Matz plays a full season, he could be a steady middle-of-the-rotation arm. Add in the re-signings of starter Robbie Ray, who struggled last season with Arizona and Toronto but is only 29 years old, and reliever David Phelps and the Blue Jays might just have a shot at a Wild Card berth or even upset the Yankees and win the AL East.