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Ranking the American League's top 4 lineups

@paul_casella
January 15, 2020

As if hitting more home runs than any team in the history of Major League Baseball wasn't enough last season, the Twins took it one step further on Tuesday by reportedly agreeing to a four-year deal with free-agent slugger Josh Donaldson. The addition of Donaldson undoubtedly solidifies an already potent

As if hitting more home runs than any team in the history of Major League Baseball wasn't enough last season, the Twins took it one step further on Tuesday by reportedly agreeing to a four-year deal with free-agent slugger Josh Donaldson.

The addition of Donaldson undoubtedly solidifies an already potent lineup, but is it enough to give the Twins the best offense in the ultracompetitive American League?

A case can be made for a number of teams, from the obvious candidates like the Twins, Yankees, Astros and Red Sox to some dark horses such as the White Sox and Athletics, but the raw power of Minnesota's potential starting nine is hard to ignore.

Here's a look at how the AL's best offenses stack up:

1. Twins

Minnesota hit an MLB-record 307 home runs in 2019, thanks in large part to being the first team to have five players reach the 30-homer mark. Each of those five -- Nelson Cruz (41), Max Kepler (36), Miguel Sanó (34), Eddie Rosario (32) and Mitch Garver (31) -- are returning for the reigning AL Central champs, and they will be joined by Donaldson, who hit 37 homers for the Braves last season. Donaldson has hit at least 30 home runs in four of the last five years, with the exception being his injury-riddled '18 campaign.

Needless to say, this Twins’ lineup will not only hit the ball far, but they'll hit it hard. With the addition of Donaldson, the Twins now have three of the top seven players in terms of average exit velocity from last season. Sanó ranked second with an average exit velocity of 94.4 mph, while Cruz was third at 93.7 mph and Donaldson checked in at seventh at 92.9 mph.

Potential lineup
1. Max Kepler, RF
2. Jorge Polanco, SS
3. Nelson Cruz, DH
4. Josh Donaldson, 3B
5. Eddie Rosario, LF
6. Mitch Garver, C
7. Luis Arraez, 2B
8. Miguel Sanó, 1B
9. Byron Buxton, CF

2. Yankees

Despite all their injuries to key players, the Yankees hit just one fewer homer than the record-setting Twins in 2019. In a season that Giancarlo Stanton was limited to three long balls while missing all but 18 games, the Bronx Bombers still hit a franchise-record 306 homers. And it wasn't just Stanton. Aaron Judge played only 102 games, Gary Sánchez was limited to 106 and Miguel Andújar appeared in only 12 games following his breakout '18 season.

So even without signing a major free-agent hitter -- and even with Didi Gregorius leaving to join the Phillies and Edwin Encarnación signing with the White Sox -- the Yankees would be adding a significant punch to their lineup simply by being healthy in 2020. Toss in the fact that DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres are both coming off stellar seasons in which they carried the bulk of the offensive load, and the top five hitters in the Yankees' order -- LeMahieu, Judge, Torres, Stanton and Sánchez -- could be the most dominant in the big leagues.

Oh, and as for hitting the ball hard, Stanton -- despite missing almost all of 2019 -- is still responsible for 11 of the 13 hardest-hit balls over the last two seasons. The players responsible for the other two? Sánchez and Judge.

Potential lineup
1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
2. Aaron Judge, RF
3. Gleyber Torres, SS
4. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
5. Gary Sánchez, C
6. Brett Gardner, CF
7. Gio Urshela, 3B
8. Mike Tauchman, LF
9. Luke Voit, 1B

3. Astros

An argument can be made that the Astros have the deepest lineup in the AL. After all, they have three legitimate MVP candidates near the top of the order in George Springer, José Altuve and Alex Bregman, as well as a pair of breakout stars from 2019 in Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Alvarez. That's already a solid foundation before even factoring in Carlos Correa, the '15 AL Rookie of the Year, and Michael Brantley, an All-Star in each of the last three seasons.

There are enough uncertainties, however, to keep Houston at No. 3 on this list for the time being. For starters, Correa was limited to 75 games last season -- and he hasn't played more than 110 games in any of the last three seasons. Elsewhere, can Brantley, who turns 33 in May, and Gurriel, who turns 36 in June, build off their impressive 2019 seasons? Gurriel had never hit more than 18 homers before clubbing 31 last year, while driving in 104 runs. And as phenomenal as Alvarez was on his way to earning unanimous AL Rookie of the Year honors last season, might the 22-year-old experience any type of sophomore slump in '20?

That said, if each of those situations plays out in Houston's favor, and Altuve, Springer and Bregman put up their typical MVP-caliber numbers, don't be surprised if the Astros finish the 2020 season as the top offense in baseball.

Potential lineup
1. George Springer, CF
2. José Altuve, 2B
3. Michael Brantley, LF
4. Alex Bregman, 3B
5. Yuli Gurriel, 1B
6. Yordan Alvarez, DH
7. Carlos Correa, SS
8. Josh Reddick, RF
9. Martín Maldonado, C

4. Red Sox

With J.D. Martinez electing not to opt out of his deal and Mookie Betts still in Boston despite months of swirling trade rumors, the Red Sox are poised to enter 2020 with a top of the order that is still as potent as any in the Majors. Betts will be looking to put up massive numbers before testing free agency next offseason, while Martinez has averaged 40 homers and 118 RBIs in his two seasons with the Red Sox.

Yet, as remarkable as those two have been for Boston, it was another duo -- the one on the left side of the infield -- that paced the AL in extra-base hits last season. Rafael Devers (90 extra-base hits) and Xander Bogaerts (85) finished first and second in the AL in that category, with both players putting together breakout seasons. Devers finished with 32 homers, 54 doubles and 115 RBIs, while Bogaerts racked up 33 home runs, 52 doubles and 117 RBIs.

The Red Sox have a few more questions beyond those top four. Andrew Benintendi will be looking for a bounceback season following a disappointing 2019, while 24-year-old Michael Chavis will be hoping to build off an encouraging debut in which he hit 18 homers in 95 games.

Potential lineup
1. Mookie Betts, RF
2. Rafael Devers, 3B
3. Xander Bogaerts, SS
4. J.D. Martinez, DH
5. Andrew Benintendi, LF
6. Michael Chavis, 1B
7. Jackie Bradley Jr. , CF
8. Christian Vázquez, C
9. José Peraza, 2B

Honorable mention (in alphabetical order)

Angels

The Angels certainly have some questions in their lineup, but they at least deserve a mention. After all, the team with the best player on the planet added the best available hitter in free agency this offseason. Along with Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, the Angels are hoping to benefit from the return of Shohei Ohtani. If they can find a way to get solid production of Justin Upton, Albert Pujols and Andrelton Simmons, the Angels could cause trouble for opposing pitchers.

Athletics

The A's have yet to experience any significant additions or subtractions to their lineup this offseason -- and that is by no means a bad thing. After all, Oakland is returning three 30-homer players in Matt Chapman (36), Matt Olson (36) and Marcus Semien (33) -- the last of whom finished third in AL MVP voting following a career year in 2019. That list doesn't include Khris Davis, who hit just 23 homers last season after three consecutive 40-homer campaigns, including an MLB-leading 48 in '18. If Davis rediscovers that form and a couple of other pieces fall into place for a young Oakland team, the A's could be a team to watch.

Rays

Tampa Bay's lineup may not jump off the page with any superstar names, but good luck finding a weak spot in the order. The Rays made improving their offense a priority this offseason, and did exactly that with the additions of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Hunter Renfroe.

White Sox

The new-look White Sox might have the best case among the teams to not make the initial list. Chicago started to turn the corner offensively in 2019, with Eloy Jiménez hitting 31 homers in an impressive rookie season, Tim Anderson winning the AL batting title, José Abreu continuing his consistent production and Yoán Moncada finally enjoying a breakout season. The White Sox, however, could be ready to take their offense to another level in '20 after signing both Yasmani Grandal (career-high 28 homers last season) and Edwin Encarnación (MLB-leading 297 homers since 2012) this offseason. As if that wasn't enough, Luis Robert -- No. 3 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects -- is expected to make his big league debut as the club's Opening Day center fielder.

Paul Casella is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.