Hello all and welcome to the 2022 Division Previews: AL East edition! I’ll be taking you through each team in reverse order of standings from last season. We’ll highlight each team’s strengths and weaknesses as well as go over projected lineups, benches, rotations, and bullpens. We’ll also be talking about any storylines to follow and prospects who will be making an impact this season. A few quick notes before diving in:
- I’ve based the information in the tables heavily on Roster Resource. While they may not look exactly the same, I have included extra players in some spots where I think they might be applicable.
- Players who are currently on the IL will either be listed at the bottom of their respective table or in the paragraphs that follow them. I tried to only do this with projected starters who are guaranteed to start the season on the IL
- If I didn’t touch on your favorite prospect, don’t worry — we have an entire hub of top prospects lists for your enjoyment and research purposes.
2021 Record: 52-110 (.321 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
- Additions: Jordan Lyles, Robinson Chirinos, Chris Owings, Rougned Odor,
- Subtractions: Tanner Scott, Cole Sulser, Hunter Harvey, Pat Valaika, Matt Harvey
The grueling rebuild continues for the O’s in 2021, where a 52-110 finish landed them with the worst record in the AL and tied for the worst in baseball alongside the Diamondbacks. 659 runs scored (4.1 per game) put only the Mets, Rangers, Marlins, and Pirates behind them in terms of offensive production.
While all eyes were on Trey Mancini’s triumphant return after his battle with cancer, it was actually center fielder Cedric Mullins who stole the show with his excellent breakout season. After giving up switch hitting, Mullins put all of his focus into the left side of the plate – and it showed. Mullins hit .291/.360/.518 (136 wRC+) and was right on the nose for a 30/30 season. His combination of speed and pop landed him 7th among AL outfielders by fWAR. He also nabbed an All Star nod, a Silver Slugger Award, and finished 9th in AL MVP voting. Mullins, now 27 years old, has emerged as a major factor for the O’s. Whether or not Mullins will be a piece to build around or a trade chip remains to be seen, but for now Orioles fans can sit back and enjoy the show.
Among the other full time regulars, Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle both contributed well to the lineup. Hays put up a .256/.308/.461 (106 wRC+) line with 22 homers while splitting time between left and right field. He figures to return as a fixture in the Baltimore outfield along with Mullins and Anthony Santander. Mountcasle, whose position was a bit unclear going into the season, primarily handled first base and DH while making a handful of appearances in left. It makes sense the O’s wanted to get his bat into the lineup as much as possible, as his 33 home runs led the team. If Trey Mancini remains in a Baltimore uniform, he and Mountcastle seem to be the duo to split first base/DH duties.
Speaking of Mancini, it was wonderful to see the fan favorite return in 2021. After his excellent 2019 and absence from 2020, Mancini’s return to a full season was highly anticipated. While his .255/.326/.432 (105 wRC+) wasn’t what we expected, he still won AL Comeback Player of the Year for his resilience. Given the fact that most of his hard contact numbers are still there, I think Mancini can really return to his pre-2020 levels this season.
And it wouldn’t be an Orioles write up if we didn’t talk about the 6’2″, 220lb hitting machine in the room. MLB top prospect Adley Rutschman has been steamrolling towards the bigs since he was taken 1st overall in the 2019 draft. He’s a switch hitter with power and an excellent defenseman. He absolutely crushed the competition in AA and AAA last season and his arrival to the majors is imminent. Rutschman truly is the crown jewel of this system and his promotion should have all O’s fans insanely excited. He suffered a triceps injury in mid March, but hopefully should be back to work in no time.
Nottingham will help spell Chirinos behind the dish, but just as the Chance Sisco/Pedro Severino days of old, these 2 will only be temporary until Rutschman arrives. DJ Stewart was relegated to the bench with the Mullins breakout, as the Hays/Mullins/Santander trio will handle most of the grass duties.
Projected Starting Rotation
The Baltimore rotation will once again be anchored by John Means, whose 26 starts last year was 2nd only to the 28 of, you guessed it, Matt Harvey. Just as we all expected. While Means wasn’t as effective aas he had been in 2019, it was still a marked improvement from the truncated 2020 and even improved upon his strikeout and walk numbers from the 2019 breakout. All told, Means through 146.2 innings of 3.62 ERA (4.63 FIP/4.36 xFIP) ball with a 22.7 K% and a 4.4 BB%. As he is not hitting free agency until 2025, the O’s can either hold onto him to help lead the rotation or flip him to a contender for more ammo.
With Harvey’s departure, the team signed Jordan Lyles to a 1 yr deal with a team option for 2023. Lyles has bounces around the league as a journeyman but the 31 year old can eat innings and the team option gives them a nice backup plan in case Lyles improves. This is exactly the type of deal a team like the Orioles should be making at this point in their rebuild.
The Orioles also have a slew of arms they can deplot in the mid to back end of the rotation. Keegan Akin made 21 starts and posted a 4.91 ERA (5.10 FIP/5.18 xFIP), while Zac Lowther made 18 of his own with a 4.97 ERA (5.50 FIP/4.77 xFIP). Akin’s command issues have led to an inability to translate his strikeout potential into major league success, while Lowther may find himself back in AAA given the pitching talent the O’s have in the minors. The same goes for Dean Kremer, who despite making 13 starts last year was unable to reliably produce.
The most intriguing names in this rotation belong to prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall. Because having 1 top 10 prospect isn’t enough, Rodriguez gives the Orioles probably the best MLB-ready pitching prospect in baseball right now. He throws hard, regularly hitting 99 and his 6’5″ frame helps even more. His 4-pitch mix doesn’t have much of a weak point, and he figures to be in the majors sooner than later. I had the pleasure of watching Rodriguez from behind the plate in Bowie last Summer, and while I am no scout, he truly did look like a big leaguer out there. I’d gladly go all in on betting that Rodriguez is the Opening Day starter in 2023 for the team.
DL Hall could very well be right behind Rodriguez. Hall excelled in his 7 AA starts last year, flashing a 43.8 K% in those games. Like Rodriguez, he sports 4 different pitches and can sit in the high 90s. While he doesn’t possess the polish on his pitches that Rodriguez does, he could still very well end up a #2 or #3 starter with the possibility for more.
With Hunter Harvey, Cesar Valdez, Tanner Scott , and Cole Sulser all gone, the closer role seems wide open in Baltimore. With very limited save situations available to the O’s, I could see both Dillon Tate and Jorge Lopez ending the year with 6-10 saves each.
Jorge Lopez actually made 25 starts for Baltimore last season, but his penchant for giving up the long ball (1.55 HR/9) seems to have relegated him to the bullpen. 2021 was Lopez’s 3rd straight season posting an ERA north of 6.00, so it’s probably best to not have him out there for multiple turns of the lineup. Dillon Tate and Paul Fry are certainly in for a lot of work after their combined 114 appearances last year.
Storylines to Follow
After an absolutely monster breakout in 2021, I am very interested to see if Cedric Mullins can maintain the pace he set last year. Mullins has excelled at nearly every aspect of the game, and watching another 30/30 (or better?) season would be a sight to behold. I’d be watching very closely to see if the O’s continue to trade off valuable players like Mullins or if they finally start gathering force to compete in a powerhouse division.
We’re gonna bend the rules a tiny bit because I just can’t make up my mind between Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez. The sheet value that these two can bring to Baltimore has such a high ceiling it’s hard to imagine. They are both progressing very well towards the majors and the payoff of watching these two succeed after years of languishing in a rebuild will be a major breath of fresh air for this team.
2021 Record: 91-71 (.562 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
- Additions: Matt Chapman, Kevin Gausman, Raimel Tapia, Greg Bird, Yusei Kikuchi, Yimi Garcia
- Subtractions: Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray, Reese McGuire, Randal Grichuk, Corey Dickerson
|2||Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||1B||R|
|6||Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||LF||R|
No, you’re not reading that incorrectly, the Blue Jays broke the 90-win barrier last year and still only managed 4th place in the AL East. The Jays were an absolute force on offense, scoring 846 runs (5.2 per game) which was less than only the Astros and Rays. Their 262 home runs were far and away the best in baseball and they managed the 2nd best wRC+ with a 113 mark. So, in short, really really good.
Whlile not the only major players, they were led in bulk by the duo of Vlad Jr and Marcus Semien. The former tied Salvador Perez with a league-leading 48 home runs while also sporting a .311/.401/.601 (166 wRC+) line. Oh and he was only 22 years old. Since being promoted, Vlad has done nothing but deliver on his hype, and the Jays have themselves a very special player. Semien, who hit 45 homers himself, was amply rewarded for his excellent 2021 with a 7 year, $175MM contract by the Rangers.
Shorstop Bo Bichette also continues to deliver on his prospect status, posting a .298/343/.484 (122 wRC+) line with 29 homers and 25 steals. He’ll slot in the 2,3, or 4 lineup spot behind George Springer, one of the Jays’ big acquisitions from last offseason. Springer’s inaugural season in Toronto didn’t quite go as planned as he only managed 78 games due to injury. When he did play, however, he was quite good, hitting 22 homers and a .264/.353/.555 (140 wRC+). If Springer can stay on the field for a full season, it will certainly help offset the loss of Semien’s bat.
But the Jays weren’t satisfied with just a healthy Springer. In mid March they acquired third baseman Matt Chapman in exchange for a package of prospects headlined by Gunnar Hoglund and Kevin Smith. Chapman was well known to be on the block, and the Jays added one of if not the best defensive third baseman in the game. While he hasn’t produced as much at the plate the last 2 seasons, Chapman was quite good in 2018-19.
On the bench, the recently acquired will help bring some lefty-righty balance to the lineup. Tapia was brought over from Colorado in exchange for Randal Grichuk, who was looking rather expensive given the fact he would probably struggle for playing time now that Springer is healthy.
Projected Starting Rotation
|3||Hyun Jin Ryu||L|
Toronto signed righty Kevin Gausman to a 5 year deal after Gausman experienced a career renaissance in San Francisco the past 2 seasons. Gausman threw 192 innings on 2.81 ERA ball (3.00 FIP/3.28 xFIP) last year and sported an excellent 29.3 K% and 6.5 BB%. He will slot in right ahead of Toronto’s big 2020 addition of Hyun Jin Ryu, who was excellent in the short season but regressed some in 2021, seeing his strikeout numbers drop 6% and his ERA jump to 4.37 from the much nicer 2.69 mark he had in 2020.The Blue Jays were once again busy in the offseason, and the bat of Marcus Semien wasn’t the only thing they had to replace. Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray hit free agency and like Semien, was rewarded a 9-figure deal with a different team. The Jays started to address this last year by acquiring Jose Berrios from the Twins at the deadline, but they didn’t stop there.
The Jays also have Alek Manoah coming off an excellent rookie year – 111.2 IP across 20 starts with a 3.22 ERA (3.80 FIP/4.17 xFIP). Entering the season at 24 years old, Manoah will look to build on an impressive debut.
The Jays also have Nate Pearson as a rotation option, although it remains to be seen what their plan is with him. After 18 rocky innings in 2020, Pearson battles injuries all last season operating primarily out of the bullpen. With the long relief role most likely being held by Ross Stripling, Pearson could find himself in a middle relief role or simply as a spot starter being stashed at AAA.
The Jays will once again turn to Jordan Romano for closing duties in 2022. Romano stepped into the role last year and excelled after the injury to Kirby Yates. All told, he notched 23 saves with a 2.14 ERA, 33.6 K%, and a 12.7 BB% while maintaining a 98 mph average velocity on his fastball. While the walk numbers aren’t brilliant, it’s hard to complain with the results Romano has provided, and I’m sure he’ll be handed plenty of leads to protect this season.
Trailing only Romano in relief appearances was Tim Mayza, who limited walks well (5.7 BB%) and did a good job of keeping the ball on the ground (60.1 GB%) which more than enough made up for his lack of elite strikeout potential. Mayza pitches in the 7th or 8th inning in 49 of his 61 appearances, so it stands to reason he’ll be dispatched as a setup man once again.
Adam Cimber was excellent after coming over along with Corey Dickerson in a trade from Miami. The sidearmer made 39 total appearances for the Blue Jays for 37.1 IP with a 1.69 ERA. Like Mayza, Cimber does not generate many striekouts but limits both hard contact and free passes very well.
The Jays also have Trevor Richards at their disposal for mid to late game duty. Richards was actually involved in 2 trades last season, going to Milwaukee in the Willy Adames deal only to be dealt to Toronto for Rowdy Tellez a few weeks later. Richards relies heavily on a 4-seamer and a changeup, the latter of which he uses to generate a ton of swing and misses (25.2 SwStr%)
Storylines to Follow
It’s no secret the Jays have been loading up on talent both from within and without the last few seasons. They are now well established as an elite level offense, with excellent rotations and bullpens to boot. But, can this past offseason put them over the edge? The AL East is hyper competitive, and it’s nearly impossible to say how this division will shake out right now. For what it’s worth, FanGraphs has the Jays as the favorite to win the division, with a very good playoff appearance %.
The Jays top prospect, catcher Gabriel Moreno, is definitely the name to watch for. In the last 10 seasons, the Jays have had some pretty bad catching. Aside from Kirk, only Russell Martin managed a wRC+ of 100 or more (minimum 100 PA). And he just barely made the cut at 103 over 447 games. Kirk has looked good in his 69 games played so far – .259/.336/.455 (106 wRC+) but will he stick behind the plate?
Moreno has been great since his 2017 debut, and was on fire last year before a thumb injury effectively ended his year. Originally an infielder, Moreno is athletic behind the plate and has been adding power to his swing. He could very well make his way to the majors this year if the duo of Danny Jansen and Kirk leave the Jays wanting.
2021 Record: 92-70 (.568 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
- Additions: Trevor Story, Jackie Bradley Jr., Travis Shaw, Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, Jake Diekman, Matt Strahm, James Paxton
- Subtractions: Kyle Schwarber, Eduardo Rodríguez, Marwin Gonzalez, Hunter Renfroe, Adam Ottavino, Brandon Workman,
|9||Jackie Bradley Jr.||RF||L|
The Red Sox boasted the fifth most runs in baseball last year, scoring 829 and trailing only division mate Toronto with a .449 SLG as a team. Individually, the trio of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and JD Martinez anchored the lineup.
Devers was arguably the Sox best hitter, leading the team with 38 homers and a .279/.370/493 (134 wRC+) triple slash. Devers is the youngest of the three and is still due 1 year of arbitration in 2023. The Red Sox would be wise to work out a deal with the third baseman and he is one of the best young hitters in the game.
Bogaerts, who will supposedly remain at shortstop with Trevor Story now on board, could be considered the “1a” of hitting talent from last season. The X Man hit 23 homers with a .295/.370/.493 (130 wRC+) line while maintaining above average strikeout and walk numbers. While his defense at short leaves a lot to be desired, new addition Trevor Story isn’t much if at all better, so they will stick with their current setup and slide Story over to the keystone.
Speaking of Story, the Sox swept in on the sweepstakes and signed the longtime Rockie to a six-year, $140MM contract. Story brings another very capable presence to the Boston lineup which contributes both power and speed. 2020 notwithstanding, Story has never had a season with fewer than 24 home runs and since 2018 he has started swiping way more bags, topping out at 27 in 2018 and a still respectable 20 last season. His swing and miss tendencies have never been wonderful, but Story can more than make up for it.
JD Martinez will return for his 5th season in Boston. In an effort to conserve his health and hide hid glove, the Sox will continue deploying Martinez at DH for the majority of games. And honestly, it’s working. Martinez absolutely mashed his first 2 seasons with the Sox, and after last year’s .286/.349/.518 (128 wRC+), 28 homer effort it’s clear that 2020 was a blip on the radar. JDM will play the majority of the season at 34 and has shown little sign of slowing down.
After an excellent 1st season with Boston in 2020 after coming over from LA, Alex Verdugo continued to show promise in 2021. Verdugo couldn’t quite match his rate stats of 2020, but a .289/.351/.426 (107 wRC+) is nothing to sneeze at. Dugie’s calling card is his ability to limit swinging strikes, sporting a very good 17.4 Whiff% last season.
Bobby Dalbec will start the season as the club’s first baseman. After a roaring introduction in 2020, Dalbec still struggles with strikeouts, but possesses excellent power potential. He’ll have to deal with the specter of top prospect Triston Casas breathing down his neck all season.
Projected Starting Rotation
With ace Chris Sale not due to return until May or June, Nathan Eovaldi wil lanchor the rotation for time being. Eovaldi turned in a productive 2021 for Boston, starting 32 games for 182.1 IP on 3.75 ball (2.79 FIP/3.48 xFIP). While the ERA may not look flashy, Eovaldi is excellent at limiting walks (4.6 BB%) and can still generate strikeouts at an above average rate (25.5 K%). More importantly, Eovaldi showed he was able to stay on the ifeld, throwing his most innings in a season since 2014. He led AL starters in fWAR last year (5.6) and will look to be a rock for the Sox once again.
After coming over from the Phillies and being made into a starter again, Nick Pivetta started 30 games last year and looked like his 2018 self. While Pivetta’s numbers have never jumped off the page, he’s turned in solid mid-to-back of the rotation numbers more often than not. His 4.53 ERA across 155 IP last season was fine, but his walk (9.8 BB%) numbers have always been a bit out of whack. Pivetta is a fine 4th or 5th starter option, but if some of the younger arms dont continue to step up, he’ll be caled upon a bit too often for some to feel comfortable with this rotation.
Tanner Houck sshowed a lot of promise in 2021, making 18 appearances and 13 starts, totally 69 IP and a 3.52 ERA (2.58 FIP/3.20 xFIP)/ Houck’s 4 seam/slider/sinker combo generates a ton of swing and misses, and he even slightly brought down his already pretty decent walk numbers (7.4 BB%). Houck’s continued development is huge for the Sox who will be without their best pitcher in Chris Sale for at least a couple of months.
With the rotation in an obvious need for depth, the Sox picked up 2 jounreyman starters in Michael Wacha and Rich Hill to help eat some innings. After 7 years with St. Louis Wacha has landed 2 separate 1 year deals with the Mets and Rays and the results have been less than stellar. In those 2 seasons, Wacha has thrown 158.2 inning across 37 appearances (30 starts) for a 5.39 ERA. He does limit free passes well (5.9 BB%) but will primarily be soaking up innings. Hill will embark on his 4th stint in Boston, and was actually quite effective for the Rays and Mets last year – 158.2 IP and a 3.86 ERA (4.34 FIP/4.70 xFIP). At 42 years old, Hill has essentially become a Jamie Moyer-lite.
The Sox late game option will once again be Matt Barnes. Barnes was quite effective last year, netting 24 saves and continued to exhibit his excellent strikeout numbers (37.8 K%). While he improved it in 2021, Barnes still struggles with free passes (9.0 BB%)
Boston also picked up Jake Diekman on the free agent market. Diekman was solid last year, making 67 appearances for Oakland and ending the year with a 3.86 ERA (4.46 FIP/4.09 xFIP). His 31.7 K% is very good, but like Barnes issues quite a few walks (13.0 BB%)
Garrett Whitlock had an excellent rookie season after Boston nabbed him from the Yankees, tossing 73.1 inning with a 1.96 ERA (2.84 FIP/3.22 xFIP). He led all of Boston relievers in IP and expects to be called upon often by Alex Cora.
Storylines to Follow
With their offense clearly elite, the Sox will have a tougher time on the other side of the ball. Their rotation has a nice 1-2 combo of Nathan Eovaldi and Tanner Houck, but with Chris Sale once again injured and the likes of Nick Pivetta and Michael Wacha in line for a ton of starts, will Boston have what it takes to survive in the stacked AL East? The lineups of Toronto, New York, and Tampa all loom large, and Boston could find itself in a similar position as Toronto ended up in last year.
I had a tough time deciding between first baseman Triston Casas and outfielder Jarren Duran as both are poised to make an imminent and hopefully meaningful impact. After much delibration I believe the bigger pull here will be Casas. Duran has more MLB experience, but his tendency to lose his contact so far has cost him. Do I think he’ll correct it? Definitely. However, Casas brings a more polished bat to an area I think Boston will be looking to upgrade sooner. He brings a huge amount of power potential but combines it with an improving plate discipline that doesn’t lead to selling out. Inserting Casas’ bat into an already stacked lineup is a truly terrifying thought.
2021 Record: 92-70 (.568 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
- Additions: Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Miguel Castro, Ben Rortvedt, Jose Trevino, Shelby Miller, Tim Locastro, Marwin Gonzalez
- Subtractions: Gary Sánchez, Gio Urshela, Joely Rodríguez, Albert Abreu, Luke Voit
The Yankees offense was the least potent of the non-Orioles AL East members, scoring 711 runs (4.4 per game) and collectively hitting .237/.322/.407 (101 wRC+). They made multiple in-season moves in order to bolster the offense, most notably acquiring Joey Gallo from the Rangers and Anthony Rizzo from the Cubs. But it was all for naught as the Yankees were bounced from the playoffs in the Wild Card round by Boston.
The offense was led by Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who finally had their “healthy” season together, combining for 287 of a possible 324 games played. Judge has arguably his best season since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2017, hitting .287/.373/.544 (148 wRC+) with 39 homers and 6 steals. A SwStr% of 11.3 was the best mark of his career and he also posted a career-low 25.0 K% – but also managed a career-low 11.8 BB% (no including his 28 game 2020 season). Judge will play the majority of this season at age 30 and is set to become a free agent at the end of the year. Talks of an extension will be a major plot point this season.
After playing just 41 games between 2019-2020, Stanton had his best season in New York. His .273/.354/.516 (137 wRC+) with 35 home runs across 139 games may be enough to get some New York fans off his back, but I’ll believe that when I see it. The Yankees also allowed Stanton to once again roam the outfield after doing so only 13 times since 2018. Stanton saw action in both left and right field and he personally endorses it as helping him stay in a rhythm.
Gallo hit 13 gomers in 58 games after the trade but hit a dismal .160/.303/.404 with 88 strikeouts. His defense in left field looked good, but his approach at the plate at times seemed hollow. Like Judge, he’ll be hitting free agency at the end of the season. Rizzo fared a bit better in pinstripes, posting .249/340/.428 with 8 home runs. He also faced a bout with COVID-19 in early August that he admitted to hampering him a bit physically. The Yankees re-signed Rizzo to a 2-year deal prior to shipping off incumbent first baseman Luke Voit to San Diego.
In an unforeseen move, New York partnered up with the Twins to acquire Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa in exchange for Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez. The hope is that Donaldson will provide a more stable bat at third base while Kiner-Falefa can act as a stopgap shortstop while the team waits for Anthony Volpe to be ready. Donaldson knocked 26 home runs last season with a respectable .247/.352/.457 (124 wRC+) line. Kiner-Falefa’s .271/.312/.357 (85 wRC+) is probably the best-case scenario they can hope for in 2022. They also acquired Ben Rortvedt in the deal, who will most likely split time with Kyle Higashioka and Jose Trevino behind the plate.
Two major question marks the team has are Aaron Hicks and Gleyber Torres. Hicks is penciled in at CF and has played a grand total of 145 games over the last 3 seasons. When he was on the field, he was a far cry from his 2018 27-homer campaign. Similarly, Torres has looked like a completely different player than the up-and-coming player of 2018-19. The team hopes that moving Torres back to second base will allow him to focus more on his approach at the plate.
On the bench, DJ LeMahieu will serve as a backup option for third, second, and first, which will allow Aaron Boone to utilize him more often than not. LeMahieu is also looking to get back to past form as his 2021, while still productive, was nowhere close to his power surge in 2019 and .368 batting average in 2020. Tim Locastro was acquired last year but almost immediately tore his ACL and ended up being claimed by Boston on waivers. He re-signed with New York this winter and will serve as the 4th outfielder.
Projected Starting Rotation
The Yankees slotted in at #10 in starting pitcher ERA last year with a 3.91 mark, and that rotation relied heavily upon Gerrit Cole. Cole had somewhat of a “down” year by his standards but was still elite, trailing only Nathan Eovaldi in fWAR among AL starters (5.3). His ability to generate strikeouts (33.5 K%) remains top-notch, a testament to his excellent 4-seam/slider combo – the former of which averages 97.7 mph and the latter posted a 3.45 CSW%. Cole’s last performance of the year, his 2.0 IP, 3-ER crumble in the Wild Card game left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths, but Cole will once again anchor this rotation as a premier pitcher in baseball.
Left-hander Jordan Montgomery will get the nod at #2 after making 30 starts for 157.1 IP and 3.83 ERA (3.69 FIP/3.93 xFIP) last season. 2021 looks on paper much like improvements the team hoped he’d make on his solid debut in 2017. He upped his strikeouts a tick (24.5 K%) and kept the walks in check (7.7 BB%) and kept the ball on the ground at an above-average rate (44.7 GB%) He’ll remain a constant in helping Cole hold down an oft-shuffling, sometimes injury-prone rotation.
Luis Severino expects to make his return to a full-time starter after constant injuries allowed him to make only 7 appearances since 2018. Severino seemed like a name on the rise in his first legit chance at starting back in 2017, but the injury bug hit hard and he was only able to fully return in late September out of the pen. It’s a big question mark to have as your scheduled #3 starter, but the Yanks are hoping Severino’s physical issues are behind him.
Nestor Cortes was a pleasant surprise for New York, moving to the rotation full time in July and running with it. In 14 starts, Cortes posted a 2.90 ERA (4.21 FIP/4.50 xFIP) over 90 IP with respectable strikeout (27.5 K%) and walk (6.7 BB%) numbers. It seems he impressed enough for the Yankees to give him a shot at opening the year in the rotation.
Jameson Taillon will most likely round out the starting 5, seemingly finished mending from his torn ankle ligament suffered late last year. Taillon’s 1st year in New York wasn’t what they were hoping for when they sent 4 prospects to the Pirates for him, posting a 4.30 ERA with average peripherals. He’ll hit free agency after this season, so the Yankees are hoping his good spin rates and close relationship with Cole will generate positive results.
With Domingo German injured, Luis Gil will probably have the 1st crack at an open rotation spot. Gil looked promising, albeit in just 6 starts – a 3.07 ERA (4.40 FIP/4.85 xFIP) and 29.5 K% are nice – but a 14.7 BB% is a major issue. Deivi Garcia will be in the mix as he tries to fix his mechanics, along with Clarke Schmidt and Luis Medina. Schmidt probably possesses the most upside of the 3 currently, but don’t expect any to make an immediate impact.
Chapman is entering his 6th season as a Yankee and will once again serve as the main 9th inning option. In his time in New York, Chapman has 272 appearances and netted 144 saves. While he’s no longer the undisputed velocity king, Chapman’s 4-seamer averaged 98.3 MPH and garnered a 29.3 Whiff%.
Should Chapman go down for any reason the Yankees will most likely turn to the duo of Jonathan Loaisiga and Chad Green for closing time. That designation was typically Zack Britton’s, but after Tommy John surgery in September he won’t be an option this season. Green secured 6 saves last year, posting a 3.12 ERA (3.59 FIP/3.63 xFIP) with a 31.4 K% and a 5.4 BB%. He seems to be the 2nd in line to close, but his propensity to give up the long ball may lead the team to lean on Loaisiga.
“Johnny Lasagna” as he’s affectionately known found success in 2021 working strictly out of the bullpen and staying healthy. He was 2nd only to Green in IP for relievers and while the strikeouts aren’t eye-popping (24.4 K%) he keeps the walks down (5.7 BB%) and induces a ton of ground balls (60.9 GB%).
An under-the-radar trade at the deadline, the Yankees picked up Clay Holmes from Pittsburgh which at the time looked like a head-scratcher due to Holmes’ 4.93 ERA across 41 IP so far that season. In New York he looked like a completely different pitcher, posting a 1.61 ERA (2.10 FIP/2.18 xFIP) over 28 IP. His sinker/slider combo induces a ton of weak contact and an excellent 61.5 GB%. Wandy Peralta, another in-season trade, doesn’t possess the flashiest peripherals but was solid when called upon – 3.35 ERA (4.31 FIP/3.99 xFIP).
Lucas Luetge was quite a success story last year after not pitching in the MLB since 2015 (!) for Seattle. Luetge threw 72.1 innings across 57 appearances with an effective 2.74 ERA (2.84 FIP/3.66 xFIP). He held left-handed hitters to a .196/.204/.315 batting line.
Storylines to Follow
The biggest story looming large (literally) over the Yankees is the possibility of an Aaron Judge extension. Reports have come out claiming the Yankees floated an offer in the 7-year range with a roughly $30MM AAV, but the validity of that is up for debate.
Judge has been the Yankees’ best hitter when healthy, and is effectively the current face of the franchise. However, it’s no secret that Judge’s durability has come into question multiple times, and the fact that he is turning 30 this month may spook the team into not wanting to commit long term. The Yankees are also faced with a ton of money and talent coming off the books after 2022, most notable Joey Gallo, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Jameson Taillon, Chad Green, and a player option on Anthony Rizzo’s deal. The Yankees roster could look radically different on Opening Day 2023, and whether or not the team wants that roster to be centered around Aaron Judge will certainly be a tense topic until there’s an answer.
While Yankee fans are salivating over new hotness Anthony Volpe taking the minor leagues by storm, I am resisting making him my impact prospect. The Yankees have another shortstop in their system, one who may not have the upside Volpe possesses, but it is most likely closer to making an impact in the bigs.
Oswald Peraza’s stock may have been surpassed by Volpe’s, but he has consistently been praised for his defensive prowess and has developed some power in his bat. Last season across 3 levels, Peraza hit a combined .297/356/477 with 18 homers and 38 steals. Peraza also ended the year at AAA, while Volpe only managed to get into High-A ball. Both of these shortstops have tremendous upside, but Peraza could very well be league-ready sooner than later. Both names will certainly be tossed around in the trade rumor mill as well.
2021 Record: 100-62 (.617 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
- Additions: Corey Kluber, Brooks Raley
- Subtractions: Joey Wendle, Mike Brosseau, Nelson Cruz, Chris Archer, Chaz Roe, Ryan Sherriff
The Rays were 7 runs shy of the best in baseball, scoring 857 (5.3 per game) to go along with a .243/.321/.429 (109 wRC+). Their potent offense was part of the equation that led to them winning 100 games in the hyper-competitive AL East. Of the regulars, Brandon Lowe led the team with a 137 wRC+. Lowe finally got a full season under his belt and it paid major dividends – 39 homers, 7 steals, and a .247/340/.523 triple slash. Lowe’s home is at second base and makes the odd appearance in the outfield, but he’ll be the everyday leadoff man for the versatile Rays.
Randy Arozarena continued to deliver on the hype he delivered in the 2020 playoffs, securing himself a 20/20 season while hitting .274/,356/.459 (128 wRC+). He does have the tendency to swing and miss but can take walks at an average clip and his speed makes him a major threat on the bases. Arozarena just turned 27, but he’s under contract through 2026.
Catcher Mike Zunino had probably the best season of his 9 year career in 2021, mashing a career-high 34 homers to go along with a .216/.301/.559 (134 wRC+) line. Zunino has used the same blueprint since his debut, swinging and missing a ton but when he does connect the ball doesn’t tend to stay in the park. You’ll regularly find Zunino’s name near or at the top of K% for qualified hitters, but his homer happy approach has kept him a relevant and productive hitter.
Austin Meadows seemed ready to break into stardom after the 2019 season, but the last 2 years have revealed a major platoon split for Meadows, hitting just .198/.270/.171 against lefties last year. Meadows is still a productive hitter – a .234/315/458 (113 wRC+) with 27 home runs last year is no easy feat. But Meadows was looking like a lock for an extension 2 seasons ago and has now become the subject of trade rumors and will most likely be platooned this season to some extent.
Yandy Diaz will split time between first and third bade, allowing Kevin Cash to get Diaz’s skillset into the lineup as often as possible. Diaz doesn’t possess a ton of power, but has incredible plate discipline, putting up a 15.7 K% and a 12.8 BB% last season, the latter in the top 10th percentile of the league. What Diaz’s problem continues to be is his launch angle. Since his 2017 debut, Diaz hasn’t had an average launch angle over 6.6, beating the ball into the ground and effectively wasting his above-average exit velocity numbers. If Diaz could gain some loft, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Shortstop Wander Franco will look to build on his encouraging rookie year. Essentially the top prospect in baseball going into 2021, Franco played 70 games for the big league team and hit .288/347/.463 (127 wRC+) with 7 homers and 2 steals. A full season of Franco in the 2-hole will be a welcome sight for the Rays.
Projected Starting Rotation
The Rays were a middle of the pack starting rotation last season, totaling a 4.08 ERA (3.98 FIP/3.96 xFIP) which was #17 among MLB rotations. This season they are once again dealing with a litany of injuries as they will be without Yonny Chirinos for the season and most likely won’t see Tyler Glasnow return either. Chirinos missed all of 2021 recovering from Tommy John surgery before fracturing his elbow in late September during BP. Glasnow underwent Tommy John himself in August. The team will also start the season without star prospect Shane Baz due to an arthroscopic procedure on his elbow. Luckily Baz doesn’t expect to be out for long as he looks to build on his brief 13.1 IP, 2.03 ERA (4.07 FIP/2.87 xFIP) debut last year.
Sophomore Shane McClanahan will get the Opening Day nod for Tampa. McClanahan led the team with 25 starts last year, showing excellent strikeout (27.3 K%) and walk (7.2 BB%) numbers to go along with a nice 3.43 ERA (3.31 FIP/3.23 xFIP). The Rays will lean heavily on McClanahan to guide this rotation through the storm of injuries it’s sustained.
Drew Rasmussen moved into the rotation full time in August and was quite effective, throwing 42 inning across 10 starts with a 1.93 ERA and held batters to a .171/.209/.267 clip. He came over from Milwaukee alongside JP Feyereisen in the Willy Adames trade, a swap that seems to be so far working out nicely for both sides. Rasmussen relies heavily on his 4-seamer/slider combo, the former of which averages 97.1 mph with excellent spin.
Tampa brought in veteran Corey Kluber on a one year deal to bolster the middle of the rotation much as the Yankees did in 2021. Kluber only managed 16 starts last year due to missing roughly 3 months with a shoulder strain, but the Klubot was fairly effective when healthy. He threw 80 total innings with a 3.83 ERA (3.85 FIP/4.38 xFIP) with roughly average strikeout numbers. Kluber will be 36 this month with 1422.2 IP on his arm, and the Rays will hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
Ryan Yarbrough will help round out the back end of the starting 5. The Fratty Pirate was used in both starting and relief roles last year, serving as sort of a “piggyback” starter, tossing multiple innings every time he came out of the bullpen. He won’t wow you with punchouts but is elite at keeping walks down (4.1 BB%). Luis Patino will also factor in after getting his first extended look as a starter in 2021. The results were ok, with a 4.31 ERA (4.51 FIP/5.03 xFIP) with middling peripherals. But the Rays hope some adjustments to his arsenal will help unlock more of his potential.
The rotation isn’t the only part of the Rays’ pitching staff that’s plagued with injuries as the bullpen has its fair share of hurting arms too. Both Pete Fairbanks and Nick Anderson were candidates for closer and now find themselves facing extended time on the shelf. Anderson has UCL surgery in October and isn’t expected back until at least August, while Fairbanks sustained a strained lat last week and will be out for a few months.
Luckily for Tampa, they have one of the deepest bullpens in the league. In lieu of Anderson and Fairbanks, the Rays will turn to Andrew Kittredge in the 9th. Kittredge had the best season of his career in 2021, throwing a career-high 71.2 inning with a minuscule 1.88 ERA (3.04 FIP/3.05 xFIP). He relies on a slider/sinker combo and is among the league’s best in limiting walks (5.3 BB%).
JT Chargois came over from Seattle at the trade deadline and will factor into the late game. Chargois upped his K’s a bit after coming to the East coast, but his free passes skyrocketed from 5.1% for the Mariners to a whopping 14.3% in Tampa. His 1.90 as a ray looks nice but a 4.69 FIP/4.98 xFIP gives me some pause.
Matt Wisler figures to get some middle relief work after he basically switched to the pen for good in 2020. Wisler enjoyed a change of scenery last season after coming over from San Francisco in June, tossing 29.1 IP with a 2.15 ERA (2.22 FIP/3.49 xFIP) with great strikeout (31.9 K%) and walk (4.4 BB%) numbers. It was a small sample size, and Wisler’s track record is very up and down, but Tampa seems to have a way with pitchers and perhaps they can get Wisler on track.
Storylines to Follow
After making the World Series in 2020, the Rays won the AL East in 2021 but lost in the divisional round to Boston. While the rest of the division was very active in upgrading their rosters, the Rays seemed to be comfortable enough to mostly stand pat with their current roster. With injuries piling up and not many major moves to be spoken of, are the Rays still the team to beat in the AL East? 100 wins were enough to take home the division title last year, but that may no longer be the case. Out of the four contenders in this division, I may have the least confidence in projecting where the Rays factor in at the end of the year. Look for them to possibly make some big moves at the deadline.
I think Shane Baz will be a major X-factor for the Rays. After coming over from Pittsburgh as a player to be named later in the Glasnow trade, Baz has developed into one of the best pitching prospects in the game. His MLB debut was very short, only 3 starts for 13.1 IP, but what we saw was quite encouraging. His 2.03 ERA (4.07 FIP/2.87 xFIP) with a 36.7 K% and 6.1 BB% were all excellent. If Baz can get healthy, he and Shane McClanahan will be well on their way to continuing the tradition of Tampa’s quality pitching development.
So how is this wild division going to shake out? Your guess is as good as mine. With so much talent, it’s definitely a toss-up to see who will have the AL East crown at the end of the year. So let’s do some wild speculation!
|1||Toronto Blue Jays||99-63|
|2||Tampa Bay Rays||95-67|
|3||New York Yankees||93-69|
|4||Boston Red Sox||89-73|
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)