In the first of 6 editions; one for every division in the MLB, this will be a brief overview of their off season and what expectations to have for teams as well as what tier I see them in. I have 5 tiers; Favorites, Contenders, Playoff Teams, In the Hunt, Mediocre, and Bottom Feeders.
Baltimore Orioles – In the Hunt
The O’s were the surprise team of the 2022 season and ended up being in the playoff race all the way into September. After a season where they overachieved and smashed the expectations, I had thought they would be looking to buy in to win and have a big off season. They did the opposite, making some small insignificant signings bringing in Adam Frazier who had a down year slashing just .238/.301/.311 after being an All Star for the Pirates in 2021, Kyle Gibson who finished the season with an ERA above 5, and a reunion with reliever Mychal Givens. The more significant moves came via trade, adding Cole Irvin and former All Star James McCann. Irvin will slot in as the teams #2 until John Means returns and McCann will look to spell Rutchsman with spot starts and maybe some first base reps. Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez will be the guys to pay attention to in their first real taste of MLB baseball as they start up with the team. DL Hall is a guy I’m watching as whenever he gets called up, he could provide an instant spark for a pitching staff that lacks talent. I’m expecting the Orioles to play very similarly as they did last year, offensively they’ll be good, however the pitching; or lack thereof, will be what holds them back from being one of those upper echelon of teams.
Boston Red Sox – Mediocre
As a Yankees fan, I’m excited to say that this will be another year where the Red Sox don’t perform well and miss the playoffs. The Sox dealt with a year long injury from Chris Sale, who when he came back from TJ, broke his finger in his 2nd start back and missed the rest of the season. Down years from JD Martinez, Enrique Hernandez, and free agent acquisition Trevor Story, along with one of the worst pitching staffs in the AL, played into the Sox finishing at the bottom of the AL East. Unfortunately for Sox fans, the upcoming season looks bleak; the team failed to retain fan favorites in Xander Bogaerts (SDP), JD Martinez (LAD), and Nathan Eovaldi (TEX), and didn’t bring in any stellar options to replace these guys. The highlight of the teams off season was bringing in Japanese star Masataka Yoshida who’s been tearing up the JPPL since 2018, most recently slashing .336/.449/.559 with an over 1.000 OPS along with 21 HR and 89 RBI. They paired Yoshida along with a 38 year old Justin Turner who had a down year in everything except doubles offensively, and Adam Duvall; a guy who fell back down to earth last season after his monster year in 2021. While the Sox failed to improve offensively, they improved tremendously in the bullpen; bringing in 2x Relief Pitcher of the Year Kenley Jansen alongside Chris Martin, Joely Rodriguez, and trading for Richard Bleier. To replace Eovaldi, they added former Cy-Young Award Winner, Corey Kluber who will slot in as the teams #2. This is a very different team from last year with the clear strong suit of the team being in the lineup, but since they lost 2 of their largest contributors, it makes the gap a lot tighter. The lack of bullpen last year really hurt them and they went out and addressed that, however on the same hand the offense got significantly worse which leads me to believe that they will be about the same as last year, if not a little worse.
New York Yankees – WS Contenders
The Yankees are coming off a season where they were 4 games away from going to the World Series, but faced much criticism from fans about how they went out; being swept by the Astros, many people forget how close they were from gunning for number 28. The main goal of the Yankees off season was to bring back reigning AL MVP Aaron Judge, which they managed to do. Next up was to bring in another ace to the staff. Carlos Rodon, boom, done. Pair those two along with bringing back Rizzo and the Yanks had themselves a pretty good off season; despite the losses of Carpenter, Green, and Tallion. There should be a very nice infusion of youth being brought up into the team this year; returning Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza along with top ranked prospect Anthony Volpe potentially being brought up with the team as well this year. When healthy, a rotation of Cole/Rodon/Cortes/Severino/German may very well be the best in the league. Aaron Judge will lead the offense along with Rizzo and Torres. If just one of Stanton, Donaldson, and Hicks can bounce back and return to form, the Yanks offense will also improve. I expect the Yankees to win the AL East; they have the best rotation on paper in the division as well as a top 2 lineup – all around I think they have the most talent in the division and should be able to win it for the 2nd straight season.
Tampa Bay Rays – In the Hunt
For Tampa to find themselves in the playoffs again they’ll again need to rely on their pitching ; led by Shane McClanahan who might’ve beat out Verlander for ALCY last season had he not been injured to end the year. However, as I’m making this Tyler Glasnow got hit with an oblique injury and will miss the next 6-8 weeks, after pitching just 6.2 innings last year after returning from Tommy John. The club will also be without Shane Baz for the entire 2023 campaign as he also has undergone Tommy John surgery. Even with those injuries, the Rays will boast one of the better team ERA and have a top bullpen. The team didn’t do much this off season to try and improve offensively, not resigning Kiermaier or Zunino, but added another starting pitcher in Zach Eflin, who’s been just about the same average pitcher the past 3 seasons. Tampa’s middle infield will have to carry a big load offensively between Lowe and Franco, both who missed significant time last season due to injury. I don’t have much expectations for the Rays this upcoming season, the offense is average at best, the pitching lab they have going can only do so much without run support. However, this team will be in the playoff hunt all the way to the end of the season and can very much sneak into a wildcard spot, provided there’s some breakouts offensively.
Toronto Blue Jays – Playoff Team
Toronto went out this off season and improved in the areas they needed. They brought in a left handed power bat in Brandon Belt to be the DH against RHP, a guy who’s just a year removed from hitting 29 HR. One of the bigger moves of the entire offseason came when they traded top prospect Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in exchange for Daulton Varsho, who’s just 25 years old coming off a season where he hit 27 HR while being one of the best defensive outfielders in the league being in the 99th percentile in OAA (Outs above average) and the 97th percentile in outfielder jump. A 2nd trade came along in the off season where they moved on from Teoscar Hernandez to acquire Erik Swanson from the Mariners. Hernandez had been one of the big bats in the lineup, with 4/5 of his full seasons he hit over 20 HR (only one he didn’t was COVID 2020), and posted a WRC+ above 125 the last 3 seasons. Swanson has put together 2 solid years back to back, with the 2022 season being one of the best relievers in the league for Seattle, posting a 1.7 WAR paired with a 1.68 ERA and just a 6% barrel rate against opposing hitters. Along with the trades for Varsho and Swanson, they added some pitching help in free agency in the forms of Chris Bassitt to be a mid to back end of the rotation guy, as well as Chad Green to be a long reliever when he returns from TJ surgery. The Jays are a very talented group however I’m very hesitant to throw them into the contender category simply due to the lack of belief I have with their pitching staff after Manoah and Gausman. Berrios was horrible in his first full season in Toronto, Kikuchi has been nothing short of terrible since he came over, posting 3 seasons with an above 5 ERA, including last season where he posted a -1.1 WAR. I don’t hate the bullpen, having a Setup/Closer duo of Swanson and Romano should play very well when the Jays find themselves in tight games in the later stages of games. The offense should be killer and be able to keep them in just about every game. I like them being the 2nd place finisher in the AL East however if Berrios bounces back to how he was before Toronto and Bassitt hangs on to what he’s been doing, they very well could steal the division from NY.
That wraps up part one of my Divisional Preview, next up will be the AL Central. Feel free to comment at the end and let me know your own thoughts about any of the teams of the AL East!