By Sweeny Murti
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (WFAN) — Now that the Yankees are gearing up to become the Yankees again, will the rest of the AL East prepare to fight or will they run and hide?
In 2017, the Red Sox and the Yankees were the only teams to finish over .500. Boston won 93 games, while New York won 91. Tampa Bay finished with 80, Toronto 76, and Baltimore 75. How the rest of the division positions itself for 2018 will have a dramatic impact on how the regular season unfolds for the Yankees.
The Rays haven’t finished above .500 since 2013 and could move several key pieces this winter, even Evan Longoria. The Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson and the Orioles’ Manny Machado are both a year away from free agency, making them possible trade chips.
So what are these teams going to look like in 2018?
Both the Orioles and the Blue Jays have to consider whether they really can go for it next season and make one last run with their MVP-caliber stars and maintain at least a scintilla of a possibility of re-signing them. If they cannot they need to maximize the return for these players and make their best trades now. The same goes for the Rays and their handling of Longoria. The Rays are more severely financially challenged than the O’s and Jays.
If these teams choose to stay and make a run, they will need to sink more into their respective payrolls now so that they can improve and compete. If they choose to cut bait now, they will set up the Yankees and Red Sox for a division race that will look more like 2004-05 when the other three teams were hopeless also-rans. There could easily be 45-50 wins at stake in the AL East portion of the schedule.
Given the Rays’ history, it would seem obvious which direction they go. But what will the Blue Jays and Orioles do? Would they make plays for stud starting pitchers like Yu Darvish or Jake Arrietta? Would they try to add other players and significant payroll to compete in 2018? If they don’t, then they have to run to the floor like Mortimer Duke in “Trading Places” and yell “SELL, SELL, SELL!”
And if they do, the AL East will become a playground for the big kids in New York and Boston.
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