PT TOMORROW: AL East — 2020 foresight: Lineup changes

New York Yankees

The Yankees in 2020 will have the enviable quandary of figuring out how to re-integrate players who have missed most if not all of 2019, like Giancarlo Stanton (OF, NYY), Aaron Hicks (OF, NYY), Greg Bird (1B, NYY) and Miguel Andujar (3B, NYY), back into their lineup.

Jacoby Ellsbury (OF, NYY) stopped counting years ago, but he still technically has a guaranteed year left on his contract as well.

Andujar is perhaps the most interesting case, given the surprising breakout of Giovanny Urshela (3B, NYY). If Urshela is deemed to have done enough to secure his spot, Andujar could be trade bait, though the Yankees may let Andujar recoup some of his value in the minor leagues to start the season rather than selling low. 

In one way, shape or form, there is at least an extra body or two lying around here. If MVP candidate D.J. Lemahieu (1B, NYY) is playing first base, he could be doing so at the expense of Luke Voit (1B, NYY) and Bird, if he can get healthy enough to resume his career, which may not be something to bank on at this stage.

If Lemahieu moves across the diamond to third, he collides with Urshela. The old cliche of “these things tend to work themselves out” has indeed held true for New York in 2019 and perhaps it will again in 2020, but it is also quite possible that GM Brian Cashman will use the offseason to clear a bit of the logjam in the infield.

The outfield may be a bit less murky, if the Yankees let Brett Gardner (OF, NYY) leave in free agency, opening up a spot for Hicks. Of course, that’s what many expected them to do this past off-season, only to have Gardner re-sign on a one-year deal and perform reasonably well, so perhaps the team will run it back with Gardner one more time. 

Letting Gardner walk could also let Clint Frazier (OF, NYY) re-emerge as part of the Yankees outfield. Frazier is currently enjoying a bit more playing time in September due to an injury to Mike Tauchman (OF, NYY) but is doing little with it (1-for-15). Still, given the way Tauchman had faded prior to his injury, Frazier could well attain a spot higher on New York’s outfield pecking order to start 2020 with a good spring.

 

Baltimore Orioles

While Anthony Santander (OF, BAL) has seemingly put a hammerlock on one of the Orioles’ starting outfield spots for 2020, the open auditions to join Santander in that outfield have not yielded much clarity.

Since returning from an ankle injury, D.J. Stewart (OF, BAL) has been better (19-for-52, .390 OBP since August 19), but he has only one home run, a far cry from the pace he had set at AAA-Norfolk, where he had launched 12 home runs in 230 AB.

The Orioles are also taking a late-season look at Austin Hays (OF, BAL), who went 3-for-4 in the team’s game September 11, earning him another start the following day. Hays’ ability to play center field may allow him to carve out his niche in the team’s future plans, given that the team has muddled through with the likes of Steve Wilkerson (OF, BAL) after Cedric Mullins (OF, BAL) flamed out as the starter to open the year.

For his part, Mullins never got on track this season, finishing the year at AA-Bowie after posting a .205/.272./.306 line in 66 games at AAA-Norfolk.

The Orioles have also been taking a late-season look at Mason Williams (OF, BAL). The 28-year-old spent most of the year at AAA-Norfolk, where he hit .308/.371/.477 with 18 HR in 121 games. He is obviously a bit old to be considered a prospect, but he could be a short-term stopgap until the Orioles’ other outfield prospects like Yusniel Diaz (OF, BAL) begin to earn their way to the majors. 

Diaz’s campaign at AA-Bowie may have been a slight disappointment, but it did end on a high note. Over the last two months, Diaz slashed .312/.373/.529 in 153 plate appearances in 36 games in and around an early August quad injury.

The prospect most Orioles fans most want to see is Ryan Mountcastle (1B, BAL), but the fact that Mountcastle did not receive a September call-up perhaps suggests that Mountcastle will have a difficult time breaking camp with the big league team.

Mountcastle posted an .871 OPS in 553 plate appearances at AAA-Norfolk but walked only 24 times. 

Baltimore is at least paying lip service to the idea that it will give Chris Davis (1B, BAL) yet another chance to resurrect his career and make its hefty investment in his something less than the unmitigated disaster it has been.

If and when Baltimore gives up on Davis, that could be the opening that brings Mountcastle to Baltimore as the team’s first baseman of the future, with Trey Mancini (1B, BAL) shifting back to the outfield — provided that Mancini is not moved along as part of the team’s rebuilding efforts.

Another off-season domino that could fall in Baltimore is that the strong season of Jonathan Villar (SS, BAL) could make him an attractive trade target. The Orioles do not exactly have a shortstop prospect beating down the door.

Rule 5 pick Richie Martin (SS, BAL) has survived the season on the Baltimore roster — barely — but not exactly made a strong case for an expanded role.

The bat of Rylan Bannon (3B, BAL) came alive upon his promotion to AAA-Norfolk (.317/.344/.549), and he could well be part of the team’s plans at either third or second base in 2020, positions where Hanser Alberto (2B, BAL) has provided a surprising amount of offense for Baltimore this season.

Alberto himself could be a trade candidate, but he and Bannon could also co-exist, given that Rio Ruiz (3B, BAL) has done little to hang onto the playing time he was given in 2019.

 

Boston Red Sox

There will be some big decisions awaiting whoever succeeds Dave Dombrowski as president of the Red Sox.

J.D. Martinez (DH, BOS) could opt out of his contract, and Mookie Betts (OF, BOS), who is set to enter free agency after the 2020 season, has thus far resisted the team’s attempts to lock up his services the way it did with Xander Bogaerts (SS, BOS).

It has even been suggested that, assuming the team intends to operate with the luxury tax threshold as something akin to a hard cap, that this will be an either-or scenario at best between Martinez and Betts, with Martinez holding at least some of the cards. 

Assuming Martinez stays, Betts trade could lead Martinez to logging more time in the outfield, though the team might also prefer to continue to deploy Martinez as its designated hitter, both to preserve Martinez’s health and to optimize the team’s defense.

One way or the other — either DH at-bats freed up by Martinez or the Red Sox moving on from their first-base tandem of Mitch Moreland (1B, BOS) and Steve Pearce (1B, BOS) — Bobby Dalbec (3B, BOS) could head to spring training with a chance of earning a substantial role with Boston from the start of the 2020 season. 

Dalbec did not have a standout season in the minors, but he did hit 27 HR in 472 AB, albeit with 139 strikeouts (71% ct%).

The Red Sox will also have to figure out what they are doing at second base. At least in theory, Dustin Pedroia (2B, BOS) has not yet retired, though the team likely is not counting on much from him, even if he manages to make it back on the field.

That may leave Michael Chavis (2B, BOS) as the starter, presuming he is able to regain his health after a late-season shoulder injury. But there had already been substantial concerns about Chavis’ bat even before the injury (63% ct%, .221 xBA, minus-4 BPV).

There is no guarantee free-agent-to-be Brock Holt (2B, BOS) will be back, particularly after another solid (if power-deficient) year at the plate.

If the Red Sox do wind up going deeper within the system for other second base options, those could include Marco Hernandez (2B, BOS) and C.J. Chatham (SS, BOS), who posted a .298/.333/.408 line between Double-A and Triple-A this season.  

 

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays in 2019 have gotten their money’s worth and then some from Avisail Garcia (DH, TAM), but given his resurgence, Garcia may well have priced himself out of returning to Tampa Bay. Garcia has likely performed well enough to attract other suitors but not so well (.256 xBA, sub-100 PX/xPX) that Tampa may feel compelled to over-extend to keep him.

The DH at-bats a Garcia departure would free up could also be put to other use. While he has struggled thus far in September (4-for-22, HR), Nate Lowe (1B, TAM) would seem to have little left to prove at AAA-Durham, where he posted a .929 OPS this season.

Between Lowe, Ji-Man Choi (1B, TAM) and Jesus Aguilar (1B, TAM), the Rays probably have first base and DH covered, though a healthy Yandy Diaz (DH, TAM) could also be used at one spot or the other in 2020 as well. 

Of course, Diaz could also be deployed across the diamond at third base, where his main competition would be the likes of Matt Duffy (3B, TAM) and Joey Wendle (3B, TAM).

In what has largely been a lost season after a bit of a breakout in 2018, Wendle has been heating up a bit lately, which could make him a bigger factor in the team’s 2020 plans than one would have presumed a month ago.

Wendle obviously also has extensive playing time at second base and could be an option at the position if for some reason Brandon Lowe (2B, TAM) fails to reclaim his starting job, as is expected.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays obviously hope they will not have to give too much thought to three-quarters of their infield for the foreseeable future, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B, TOR), Bo Bichette (SS, TOR) and Cavan Biggio (2B, TOR) in the majors and experiencing varying degrees of success and growing pains. 

While he has yet to establish himself as a definite part of the team’s core, Rowdy Tellez (DH, TOR) has probably shown enough, at least in terms of power, to continue to get chances to hit his stride at the plate, either as the team’s designated hitter or first baseman, given that Toronto is not expected to make much of an effort to retain the services of Justin Smoak (1B, TOR).

Toronto will likely head into 2020 with Lourdes Gurriel (OF, TOR) as its left fielder and Randal Grichuk (OF, TOR), who is under contract through 2023, either in center field or right.

Toronto would clearly love Derek Fisher (OF, TOR) to “happen” as their third outfielder, but he has simply failed to produce thus far since coming over via trade with the Astros. He has recently seemed to be losing time to Teoscar Hernandez (OF, TOR), his fellow contact-challenged Houston import.

Anthony Alford (OF, TOR) is on the Toronto roster this September, as is Jonathan Davis (OF, TOR). Billy McKinney (OF, TOR) is still kicking around, as is Brandon Drury (3B, TOR). 

There aren’t a ton of glimmers of hope in these skills sets to latch onto, beyond perhaps Hernandez’s power, which his strikeout rate more than offsets. 

It’s certainly possible that someone among this motley crew will parlay a hot spring into a run of playing time, but it may also be a situation where Toronto brings in a more solid option from the outside, if only as a stopgap until the next member of the organization’s bloodline pipeline — Griffin Conine (OF, TOR) — is ready a year or two.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.