As great of a season as the Tampa Bay Rays had in 2019, they still finished seven games behind the New York Yankees. The Yankees certainly got better with the signing of Gerrit Cole and will hope for the healthy returns of Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton.
The Rays are the chief threat once again. The Boston Red Sox spent their offseason trying to shed money because the tax of having too many luxuries became too burdensome for owner John Henry. That resulted in the trade of Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers. A good package of players returned, but only one, Alex Verdugo, will make an impact in 2020.
The Toronto Blue Jays will be much better with full seasons of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and a revamped starting rotation of Major League pitchers with actual track records. The Baltimore Orioles will still be a bottom-feeder.
With that, here are the odds to win the AL East per 5Dimes Sportsbook as of February 20, 2020:
There are only two options in this division. The first is to lay -425 to tie up your money for more than seven months on the Yankees to win the AL East. The other is to take the BaseRuns and 3rd Order Win% AL East champs of 2019 at +650. The Yankees won by seven games based on the actual records of games played, but the Rays had the better record per the alternate standings metrics of BaseRuns, a context-neutral run differential metric, and 3rd Order Win%, which is adjusted based on strength of schedule and “underlying concepts” as calculated by Baseball Prospectus.
You can read more about it in the team preview for the Yankees, but New York was much better with men on base than with the bases empty and that created a rather big gap between the team’s actual record and the BaseRuns record.
Ultimately, the game is played between the lines and the Yankees are still very likely to win this division. The -425 price tag implies that the Yankees win the division about 81% of the time. That seems a little bit high to me.
The February announcement that Severino had a setback after last season’s injury-plagued campaign does make the Rays a little bit more interesting. The Yankees are missing Domingo German for a domestic violence suspension and James Paxton had a surgical procedure on his back that will keep him out until at least June.
The Rays could very well win the AL East. They are the only other team that can. If you wanted to take the +650 price, you could and you could easily justify it, given that this is a two-team race and one of the horses is already limping out of the starting gate. The +650 price tag implies a 13.33% likelihood of the Rays winning this division and that seems light to me, particularly when they really are the only other team with the chance to do so.
Tampa Bay +650 is really the only option for a division future here and it is a pretty good one all in all.