How peculiar is it to think of Evan Longoria outside of the American League East?
The now-former Rays third baseman was a fixture at the hot corner in AL East games for the last decade, providing Tampa Bay the small glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, they could unseat the Yankees and Red Sox. While his reputation as a Yankees’ killer has been blown out of proportion — Dis .846 OPS vs. NYY is his worst against an AL East team — he tormented Mariano Rivera and CC Sabathia often and was the one player up until the last few years that you truly feared in a thin Rays lineup. He seems like a pleasant enough person, but watching your team pitch to him 19 games a year was anything but pleasant.
However, Longoria was on the decline and despite having an incredibly affordable deal for a former star, it made sense for Tampa Bay to move him. In the long term, the Rays will either benefit from the prospects they bring aboard and/or from the financial wiggle room losing his contract provides.
In the short term, the Longoria trade doesn’t handicap the Rays yet, but it signals a likely rebuild for Tampa Bay with more trades on the way, something that benefits the Yankees in the short term. Getting Chris Archer out of the division, particularly with his horrid numbers against Boston, is certainly in New York’s best interest.
And it’s not just the Rays. The Orioles have very little reason to go all out this season and are considering dealing Manny Machado. They’re a team with 1-2 quality starters and replacement level fillers in the rotation otherwise, not to mention their lack of a closer at the moment. Their lineup is fine but doesn’t move the needle when compared to the Yankees and Red Sox.
So before you even factor in the Giancarlo Stanton deal, the Yankees were set to improve this season simply from seeing the teams around them fall back.
Granted, perhaps the Rays and Orioles don’t consider trading their star third basemen without Stanton adding to the behemoth in the Bronx. But it stands to reason that they saw the Yankees and Sox as tough barriers to bypass in the near future regardless of the moves this offseason.
Even with the Jays and Sox looking to improve, steps back from Baltimore and Tampa could give the Yankees a boost in the regular season. They went 24-14 against the two while Boston went 20-18.
Sure, the Red Sox have more potential to benefit, but there could be enough extra wins to go around. Last year’s East was the best division in the AL, perhaps in the entire league, so the bottom teams taking a step back could lead to better records up top. Furthermore, the AL West will be slightly more crowded with the Angels’ acquisitions, though the Indians should still benefit from the decidedly bad teams that populate the Central.
Beyond simply having two direct competitors nosedive, the Yankees are well-positioned to start well in 2018 compared to 2017, a year when they were 30-20 after two months. Already, they have a better top five in the rotation with Sonny Gray replacing Michael Pineda. Stanton will take at-bats that went to Matt Holliday while Greg Bird shouldn’t start nearly as poorly.
And the bullpen should be a better setup as well. They’ll have Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson taking innings than belonged to Tyler Clippard and Jonathan Holder. Furthermore, Chad Green can move into Adam Warren’s role while Warren takes innings that went to Bryan Mitchell, among other shuttle relievers. There will be no more Tommy Layne experiment.
Part of what held the Yankees nine games shy of their Pythagorean record was their inability to capitalize on leads and their 18-26 record in one-run games. That shouldn’t plague them as much with a better bullpen on paper and a lineup that could produce enough runs to keep the Yankees out of late-and-close situations. Things will go wrong in 2018, but the team has the infrastructure in place to avoid the mid-season pitfalls of a year ago.
The scary thing for competitors is that the offseason is far from over. The Red Sox seem poised to add J.D. Martinez, but the Yankees could still add a starter and maybe even another infielder without subtracting from their major-league roster. Still, even without another move this winter, the Yankees look better than the 91-win regular season squad from just a few months ago.