As we approach the opening of the new season, there are few divisions in Major League Baseball that are as compelling as that of the American League East. Three 2022 playoff teams, another one on the come-up, and the Boston Red Sox make it a rich one among the league’s six divisions. While the New York Yankees represent the class of the AL East, the incremental improvement of the squads chasing them only adds to what should be a fun group in ’23.
Each team is not without major questions. The Yankees improved their pitching with the signing of Carlos Rodón, but is their staff deep enough given recent health concerns? Is their lineup? Can the Toronto Blue Jays take the next step? How far can the … unique model of the Tampa Bay Rays take them? Will the Baltimore Orioles regret not getting more involved in matters of the hot stove? What exactly are the Boston Red Sox hoping to accomplish here?
In any case, there are exactly 162 regular season games before questions become answers. For the most part, at least. And there are a lot of words from this point until the end of our AL East rundown. So here, we’ll break down the five teams that comprise the AL East in alphabetical order, recapping offseason moves and projecting the regular season roster as best we can. The goal here is an overview with intentional shades of gray. Fewer sweeping declarations. It is only March, after all. So much can happen between now and the season opener. Position battles, injuries, etc. That’s the first caveat.
- Projected lineups & rotations were primarily derived from Roster Resource, but were supplemented with help from Baseball Prospectus’ depth charts. These are projected Opening Day rosters. Injured players need not apply. Naturally, once this ends up published things will change.
- Pitchers with an asterisk in the starting rotation are likely to be in the starting five but are currently not projected to start the season on time. Starters who underwent Tommy John mid-season, at the latest, are likely on there, as we may see them somewhere in the second half. If it was late in the year, they are not.
- Benches and bullpens featured a sampling of names that are likely locks for, at least, a bench spot, if not regular starts. Players in spring training on minor league deals were largely left off unless their chances are better than not of making the squad out of camp. Some have more than others due to the uncertainty of their roster. A team with only three or so bench guys still has some sorting to do. Inversely, a bench with more than four or five listed here does as well.
With that out of the way, let’s talk AL East.
2022 Record: 83-79 (.512 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
- Additions: James McCann, Adam Frazier, Ryan O’Hearn, Nomar Mazara, Franchy Cordero, Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Mychal Givens
- Subtractions: Rougned Odor, Jesús Aguilar, Robinson Chirinos, Jordan Lyles
You can’t skip lunch. You also probably shouldn’t skip the hot stove if you’re an up-and-coming squad. The O’s certainly dipped out on the latter, as they chose Adam Frazier and his 81 wrC+ to be their lone new addition to the lineup. Other than that, Baltimore is hoping that continuity, and the arrival of additional blue-chip prospects, help them in their quest to inspire imagination once again in ’23. Projections range all over the board depending on who you read this spring. Some have the Orioles finishing as high as second or third. Others are predicting a (coffin) flop with closer to 75 (or fewer) wins.
Who the first of those prospects to arrive will remain to be seen. It could be Colton Cowser if someone in the outfielder corners falters, as Cedric Mullins is an established star at this point. It could also be Jordan Westburg or Joey Ortiz if Adam Frazier is as bad as his second-half-of-2021-through-all-of-2022 indicates. A third top-tier prospect would give the O’s three of their budding stars in the lineup along with Adley Rutschman entrenched behind the plate and Gunnar Henderson likely at third. One might call that triples. Triples makes it safe. Triples is best.
Jokes aside, this is a fun lineup. Mullins at the top, with Rutschman and Henderson to anchor it. None of the supplementary bats are outright bad, this side of Frazier. It doesn’t quite stack up against the other squads in the division from a purely offensive standpoint, but they showed last year that they can hold their own. And they’re solid defensively. There’s just too much variability in their projections to genuinely trust them quite yet.
At least the O’s are in line for a City Connect jersey this year. I heard the guy at the store said Adley Rutschman is the only guy he’s seen pull it off.
In 2022, the O’s ranked 17th in ERA (3.97), 18th in FIP (4.03), 25th in K/9 (7.62), ninth in BB/9 (2.78), and 19th in collective fWAR (11.9). It’s not a bad group, but it’s not a particularly exciting one, either. Things get decidedly less inspiring when you isolate it to the starting pitching alone. This is why it borders on stunning that the front office did very little to upgrade the rotation over the course of the winter. Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin will eat up some innings. But it’s not as if they add a lot to the rotation that Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish, or Tyler Wells don’t already bring. The bullpen is virtually the same level of fine. Akin & Tate are fun, though. An above-average defense should help an otherwise average staff.
Much like the lineup, the most fun we’re going to get out of this staff comes from the younger arms. Grayson Rodriguez is absolutely going to be at the top of this rotation, whether in March or otherwise. DL Hall might be bound for the bullpen after some health setbacks this spring, but we’ll get another run from him in 2023 after experiencing each side of the staff in ’22.
This is kind of that phase of the rebuild where much of your staff are just stopgaps until the prospects emerge and/or the front office moves on to more impactful additions. We’re on the cusp of the first half. Perhaps we’ll get the second if this team proves they’re here to stay come the summer. Not doing so would be pretty indefensible given last year’s success and the lack of movement this winter.
Storylines to Follow
It’s going to come back to whether Baltimore did enough to upgrade their roster. They have, of course, more big hype types on the way, namely Colton Cowser & Jordan Westburg. With the lineup already sporting Rutschman & Henderson, it’s going to be a fun group regardless. It’s not a particularly deep group beyond the youngsters, though. The question becomes even louder with respect to the pitching staff. When your top acquisitions on the bump were Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin, it doesn’t really lend itself to improvement off a starting group that was bottom five by several measures. Perhaps a strong run to prove their legitimacy from the outset makes them more aggressive come July.
In a shocking turn, it’s Grayson Rodriguez. Wild stuff, right? A consensus top two pitching prospect is the one to watch? But this links directly with the above point about the O’s not necessarily doing enough to boost their starting staff. Perhaps they’re leaning on Rodriguez to make an immediate impact. He likely would have last year had it not been for a lat injury. But a 6’5″ 23-year-old with a four-pitch mix can make us forget about their lack of movement this winter real quick.
Boston Red Sox
2022 Record: 78-84 (.481 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
- Additions: Adalberto Mondesi, Masataka Yoshida, Justin Turner, Adam Duvall, Jorge Alfaro, Yu Chang, Corey Kluber, Kenley Jansen, Chris Martin, Richard Bleier, Joely Rodríguez
- Subtractions: Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Tommy Pham, Franchy Cordero, Nathan Eovaldi, Rich Hill, Matt Strahm, Michael Wacha, Matt Barnes
It’s anybody’s guess as to what the 2023 iteration of the Red Sox could produce on offense. Top prospect Triston Casas is an on-base machine. Rafael Devers is one of the game’s very elite bats. Alex Verdugo is at least above average (107 & 103 wRC+ the last two seasons, respectively). It’ll be very interesting to see how Masataka Yoshida‘s elite approach transfers over to his first season in Major League Baseball.
Beyond that, it’s a lot of questions. Justin Turner is 38 and could be out for a stretch after taking a pitch to the face on Monday. None of Kiké Hernández, Christian Arroyo, or Adam Duvall are game changers. They can keep you afloat on a given night, at least. But following the departure of Xander Bogaerts and the injury to Trevor Story? Those aren’t guys you want to have to lean on, offensively.
Given how much still needs to be sorted out between the lineup and the bench (hence the abnormal amount of names listed), it’s pretty clear that this is going to be a group cobbled together for as long as Story and the somewhat-recently-acquired Adalberto Mondesi are out. Their return will at least make the middle infield more interesting, but when you look up and down this division, it’s really difficult to see a path for this team for either side of the ball.
The question of “Who is going to eat up innings for the Boston Red Sox?” might be the single most looming question for any team in Major League Baseball entering 2023. You’ve got Chris Sale and Corey Kluber, who are both going on five years clear of their prime and not exactly representing a fixture of health. There is also Nick Pivetta and his career ERA which sits over five.
Tanner Houck now figures to slot into the rotation, at least to start the year. While the sample was much smaller (16.2 IP), he did have a better track record in 40+ relief innings (2.70 ERA vs. 4.32 as a starter). But injuries to all of James Paxton, Garrett Whitlock (recovering from a 2022 hip situation), and Brayan Bello have pushed him into the starting group indefinitely. Prospects Kutter Crawford and Brandon Walter could be candidates to take over depending on the health of the three injured starting arms.
On the relief side, the Sox actually did a lot to compensate for their lack of starting depth. Kenley Jansen will handle the ninth. Chris Martin, Richard Bleier, and Joely Rodríguez all have some degree of success as now journeyman relievers. That group, in conjunction with holdovers Ryan Brasier and John Schreiber, will be pressed into service quite a bit. Given the way the rest of the division is positioned, it’ll likely be a showcase for teams in need of bullpen depth come July.
Storylines to Follow
Honestly, at this rate, it might be what a sell-off could look like. It’s going to be extremely tough for Boston to compete in this division. After the departure of Bogaerts, they largely supplemented their roster with several stopgap types on both sides of the ball. All on short-term deals. As the Red Sox fall farther out of the race, which seems inevitable given the other four teams in the AL East, many of them could be flipped by July. You know the routine. The Red Sox have pulled off quick rebuilds a couple of types in the last decade, too. With a farm system on the weaker end, could they use this down year to their advantage again?
Triston Casas is the easy answer, but he’s barely hanging on to prospect status. Nick Yorke is interesting, to me, given the bounceback potential, but he’s still a ways away from “impact” status. This is the case with a handful of recognizable names in the system, as their top guys are still a couple of years away from appearing at Fenway. For that reason, I’m going with Brandon Walter. At 26, Walter is on the older end of the game’s exciting starting pitching prospects. But a deceptive delivery and intriguing slider/changeup combination in his secondary arsenal could make him really fun to watch. His velocity sits primarily low-90s, but he’s demonstrated great command throughout his minor league career. Given the dearth of starting options in Boston, Walter could be a mainstay in the rotation much sooner rather than later.
New York Yankees
2022 Record: 99-63 (.611 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
- Additions: Carlos Rodón, Tommy Kahnle
- Subtractions: Andrew Benintendi, Matt Carpenter, Jameson Taillon, Aroldis Chapman, Lucas Luetge, Zack Britton
It’s the New York Yankees. There’s no shortage of intrigue. From 1-9, the lineup could be as dangerous as any in the game. If they can stay healthy. Giancarlo Stanton has a lengthy record of stints on the IL. Aaron Judge has spent his own share of time there, and he’s 31. Anthony Rizzo has a bad back. Whether you’re looking at DJ LeMahieu, Josh Donaldson, or even Harrison Bader, the long and short of it is that this lineup has to remain intact in order to fend off the increasing bevy of challengers in the AL East. Oswald Peraza and the imminent call-up of Anthony Volpe could be a boon to that objective, but there’s also a lot to sort out even after they’ve knelt in prayer for health.
There are a lot of infielders here. Rizzo, Donaldson, LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Volpe, Peraza, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa are not all going to fit on the same roster. While there’s a potential for some flexibility on the infield, from a positional standpoint, it’s not a particularly versatile group overall. It leans heavily right-handed and Rizzo/Donaldson are entrenched at the corners, save for a day off. How Aaron Boone deploys this lineup, especially on the infield, is going to be really interesting.
Regardless of the configuration, they’re going to hit as long as they’re healthy.
|3||Nestor Cortes Jr.||L|
As much thump as the lineup features, the real fun of watching the 2023 Yankees will instead come on the … mound. Gerrit Cole is still among the very elite pitchers in the game. If healthy, Carlos Rodón is, too — and he’s reaching a point where we can stop adding that disclaimer given the past two seasons. Nestor Cortes is one of the best personalities in the game. He did have to drop out of the World Baseball Classic with a hamstring issue, but is projected to start the year on time.
While Frankie Montas is out for a longer term with a shoulder injury, the group of Luis Severino, Domingo Germán, and Clarke Schmidt (currently slated for a relief role) should more than help to compensate. The bullpen is dynamic, as well. Clay Holmes is projected to close, with the return of Michael King welcoming a dominant arm back to the late innings. Plus, is there anyone that has ever been created with the specific purpose of being a Yankee pitcher besides Ron Marinaccio? The man just looks the part, both in the pinstripes and in his name.
Storylines to Follow
Movement. The Yankees didn’t do a whole lot to sort their lineup over the winter. They have likely too many infielders, are short one outfielder (by most accounts), and have a glut of right-handed bats. Who in the group of Donaldson, Torres, Kiner-Falefa, and LeMahieu will be here long-term? The return for any of those names could be a mixed bag, at best (and virtually zero for a Donaldson or an IKF). But you’ve got to do something to sort it. It’s crowded. On the flip side, how long can the team hold off before moving in on someone like a Bryan Reynolds or a Max Kepler? The Yanks will be heavily featured in trade rumors, and it likely won’t take long.
It’s Anthony Volpe. It was always going to be Anthony Volpe. Even if Oswald Peraza grabs the starting job at the six to start the year — he is the superior fielder between the two — eyes are going to be fixed on Volpe’s bat and what he can bring to a position that has been an offensive void the last couple of years for New York. Either would be an upgrade over last year’s situation, but Volpe finding a spot on this roster in the short-term would surely do a lot to quell the concerns over the Yankees essentially sitting out the shortstop market entirely the last few years.
Tampa Bay Rays
2022 Record: 86-76 (.531 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
- Additions: Zach Eflin
- Subtractions: Mike Zunino, Kevin Kiermaier, David Peralta, Ji-Man Choi, Corey Kluber, Ryan Yarbrough, J.P. Feyereisen, Brooks Raley
They’ll need a “bounce back” from Wander Franco as his .140 ISO wasn’t quite where they wanted in the power game, and his 116 wRC+ left him more on the above-average side as opposed to the elite one. There’s not a lot of concern there. He only appeared in 83 games with a variety of nagging injuries. With health, he’ll likely be fine.
Brandon Lowe and Isaac Paredes supply additional power, and Randy Arozarena is coming off consecutive 20/20 seasons. There’s decent enough power in the top half of this group, talent-wise. It’s a versatile lineup, too, with an ability to move players around the infield in particular. The question is can this group do enough to keep pace with the likes of New York and Toronto when you consider the entire offensive package? Top-to-bottom, probably not.
An additional concern for the Rays likely comes on the defensive end. The Rays were merely middle-of-the-pack, ranking 16th by order of FanGraphs’ Def metric. The Rays do mitigate that concern by maintaining a low contact rate as a staff, but the elimination of the shift could make things interesting for a club that isn’t in the top half of things defensively.
The Tampa Bay Rays feature one of the more upsetting storylines heading into the year as after waiting for almost all of 2022 to see Tyler Glasnow, we now have to wait several weeks while his oblique heals up. Nonetheless, this is the Tampa Bay Rays. Their pitching will be fine.
I could really just end it there.
While we won’t get Shane Baz in ’23, the Rays churned out Shane McClanahan as an ace last season. Jeffrey Springs pitched to a 2.43 ERA in his first year as a starter (second year in Tampa). After some control issues in the two previous years, Drew Rasmussen walked just 1.91 per nine and kept his ERA at 2.84. That’s a wild top three even without Glasnow. Zach Eflin provides an additional reliable option in the starting five. Taj Bradley is on the way, too.
The bullpen features a host of names familiar only to those in Tampa Bay, but are elite nonetheless. Pete Fairbanks, Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, Shawn Armstrong, Colin Poche, etc. They are relief pitchers for the Tampa Bay Rays who are extremely good and in the event that they struggle or end up in the IL, the organization has arms at the ready to replace them. This is as solid a positional group as any in the division.
Storylines to Follow
Can the Rays still hang in the evolving AL East? Toronto and New York each boast elite offensive lineups. Baltimore can hang now, too, and their stock appears to be pointing up. With the Rays representing a middle-of-the-road offensive squad, can they drum up enough with the bats to continue their recent string of playoff pushes? Probably. Pitching is still king in this league, after all. And the Rays’ line of arms is seemingly infinite. That idea is going to be tested this year, though, given the changing structure of the division.
Taj Bradley is an easy choice, but it would be too obvious to pick out an arm here for Tampa. So we’ll roll with the consensus no. 2 prospect in the Rays’ system in Curtis Mead. A former Philly prospect, Mead is sort of positionless at this point, as his arm is an issue. His range is, too, depending on who you talk to. But the Rays are going to need to hit in order to keep pace with the rest of the division, and Mead is a top-40 prospect for just that reason. The Rays are extremely comfortable moving people around. With the exception of Wander Franco, they’ll find a spot for Mead, especially if he hits them into a playoff spot again.
Toronto Blue Jays
2022 Record: 92-70 (.568 W%)
Notable Roster Changes
- Additions: Daulton Varsho, Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Belt, Chris Bassitt, Erik Swanson, Chad Green, Adam Macko, Zach Thompson
- Subtractions: Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Gabriel Moreno, Jackie Bradley Jr., Raimel Tapia, Bradley Zimmer, Ross Stripling, Anthony Kay
|3||Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||1B||R|
While it still leans a little righty-heavy, this Toronto lineup has the chops to continue its reign as one of the premier offensive teams in baseball. The Jays’ collective 117 wRC+ in 2022 trailed only the Yankees, while their .168 ISO was tied for the fifth-highest in the league last year. They also reached base at the league’s third-best clip (.329). There aren’t any real concerns about the offense outside of health.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is already on the mend this spring and has had to drop out of the World Baseball Classic (but appears to be available for the second round?). Ideally, the signing of Brandon Belt helps to compensate for any potential time missed there. George Springer has also had his bouts with injuries over the last couple of years. Those are two key bats. Especially when the offensive depth appears to have taken a slight dip with a new approach to the outfield. Kevin Kiermaier is past his prime, but Toronto still hopes for some of his famous defensive prowess. Daulton Varsho‘s 27 homers last year far exceeded any prior projection in terms of power.
At the end of the day, this is still a group that features Bo Bichette, Alejandro Kirk, and said Vladito. Matt Chapman isn’t a consistent on-base presence, but he compensates with power and defense. Santiago Espinal, Danny Jansen, and Cavan Biggio make up a really reliable bench, especially if the latter can turn some of his approach into impact. Unless they get some unfortunate turns on the injury report, this group figures to be among the game’s very best once again.
|6||Hyun Jin Ryu*||L|
Like the lineup, the pitching staff leans a little to the right. The starting rotation can hang with top-tier teams. Manoah & Gausman are an exceptional 1-2 punch. Chris Bassitt will reliably eat innings in a way that the Jays have had trouble covering in recent seasons. Berríos is the true wild card of the group. His strikeouts were down and he gave up a good deal more contact inside of the strike zone in ’22 than he had in years past. Not much of anything changed in terms of his usage or performance, though, so one imagines a positive regression to the mean could be on the way.
Overall, that starting group should help to cover more innings than the Blue Jays of more recent vintage. And the core group of Romano, Cimber, Garcia, Bass, Mayza, and Zach Pop help to form a reliable set of relief arms. The addition of Erik Swanson, acquired from Seattle, provides a reliable back-end arm. Yosver Zulueta (featured below) and his big fastball could make an appearance. While the starting pitching isn’t terribly deep, it’s a solid group with a steady track record. The bullpen is deeper than it was. They don’t sport the top-to-bottom excitement of New York or Tampa, but with the explosiveness on the other side of the ball, this staff could very well be enough to get the job done.
Storylines to Follow
Will sacrificing some offense for defense pay off for Toronto? The departures of Hernández and Gurriel, Jr. leave gaps in the lineup. Maybe in the clubhouse, too, from a chemistry standpoint. But the Jays are hoping they’ll be better served with a duo of Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho to supplement George Springer in the outfield. Kiermaier is, historically, as reliable as they come with the glove even if he has lost a step. A former catcher at this point, Varsho’s prowess with the glove on the outfield grass drove him out from behind the plate posthaste. Toronto is, no doubt, better defensively, but will the step back on offense hurt them? Especially if cats like Vlad Jr. and Springer can’t stay healthy?
The Jays don’t have a ton of prospects that will clearly make the jump in ’23, but Yosver Zulueta is a really intriguing name in the system. There’s some uncertainty as to whether he projects as a starter or reliever long-term, but the nearer term definitely lends itself to the latter. His fastball touches triple digits, and he brings a slider, change, and curveball to the table as well. It’s an intriguing mix for someone who might project to be more of a bullpen arm, but as the Jays look for pitching depth anywhere and everywhere, he could be a dynamite addition to their staff at some point during the year.
Projecting this division, from a standings perspective, is no easy task. The Yankees could win it. Toronto could, too. The Rays are always lurking. Can Baltimore? Eh. Maybe. The bottom line is that a lot of things have to go right for all of these teams. New York has to stay healthy. Toronto needs the offense to compensate for lacking the pitching depth of their AL East counterparts. Tampa needs the inverse. And Baltimore probably needs things to go wrong ahead of them to have a real shot at a division crown. So, for now, we’ll go:
- New York Yankees (They’re the best until they’re not.)
- Toronto Blue Jays (One of the most fun teams in the game, if things break right.)
- Baltimore Orioles (I’m an optimist.)
- Tampa Bay Rays (This isn’t not a wild card spot.)
- Boston Red Sox (No chance.)
Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Nick Wosika, Joe Robbins, Keith Gillett, Douglas Stringer & Mark LoMoglio / Icon Sportswire