Predicting the AL East with 10 key questions

February 15th, 2023

Spring Training has begun, which means Opening Day is fast approaching. Every year, we preview a different division every two weeks leading up to the start of the season, which means we are now on our third division preview.

Today we continue with the perpetual drama that is the American League East, a division that had three playoff teams last year, four teams over .500 and also the Red Sox. While we’re not quite in the arms race era of the early aughts, this division is still historically stacked, with heavy spenders, teams loaded with young prospects, and, again, also the Red Sox.

Still, when it comes to the Sox, it’s worth noting that they are the only AL East team that has won a World Series in the last 13 years. The Rays are the only other club in the division to have even made one in that time. That’s hard, because at this point, the World Series has to be considered the goal for each and every team in AL East.

So, let’s continue our previews with the AL East. Teams are listed in alphabetical order by nickname up top, with my standings prediction below.


1) Will the transformed outfield be better?

In 2022, the Jays had a big-hitting outfield of , Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernández -- three men who hit a ton of balls into and over the outfield but, when they visited the same area with their gloves, had a tendency to let nearly as many balls drop. The Jays made the bet this offseason that they had enough hitting, thank you, and switched to upgrading the outfield defense, trading Gurriel to Arizona, trading Hernández to Seattle, moving Springer to right and bringing in defensive whiz and the ever-fascinating . The plan makes sense, especially if Varsho can keep hitting in addition to his defense, but are we sure they’re not going to miss the offense Gurriel and Hernández have provided? There’s suddenly a lot less depth out there, too. The Jays are top-heavy with stars, but they better stay healthy.

2) Will there be more fire in the belly?

The Blue Jays made the playoffs last year, and jeez, a team with as much talent as they possess better have. But the vibes just felt off for the Jays a little bit, didn’t they? They got off to a slow-ish start, the Yankees pulled away from them a lot earlier than anyone could have thought, wasn’t quite what he was in 2021, the team just never quite went on the run we all expected. Again, they still made the playoffs, and they’re still loaded with talent. But now is supposed to be the time the Blue Jays are flooring it -- this is their prime. Will the team play like it knows it? Will there be more urgency than in 2022?


1) Do they have enough pitching?

On the surface, you can understand why the Orioles didn’t go out and spend a massive amount of money on pitching this offseason. It didn’t necessarily make sense to bring in a Justin Verlander or Jacob deGrom; the Orioles don’t look quite ready for that yet (and it’s far from clear either would have gone to Baltimore, anyway). And it’s not like throwing all your free agent dollars at middling veteran starters just to say you did is a particularly efficient strategy. But the Orioles finally had their breakthrough last year, and their fans, quite reasonably, expected the team to build on that. Instead, Baltimore will still be counting heavily on , and, especially, super-phenom , who is going to be great but is still just getting started and is recovering from an injury. The Orioles are coming. But do they actually have enough pitching to get them anywhere they want to go?

2) Are they ready to make the leap?

You really can’t bring out this fact enough: When the Orioles called up on May 21, they were 15-24. Between then and Sept. 3, they went 56-37, one of the best records in baseball over that stretch. The Orioles ran out of gas a little down the stretch, but it’s undeniable that Rustchman has already become one of the inner-tier MLB stars and the beating heart of this team. He’s got more talent around him this year, and more is on its way -- the days of the Orioles being the soft spot of every team’s schedule are long over. But still, this division is really good, and more to the point, it’s not going to sit around and wait for the Orioles. If Baltimore is going to be the serious contender it plainly wants to be -- and the fans reasonably expect it to be -- it best get going right now, yes? If it all falls perfectly for the Orioles, they’ve got enough talent to make the playoffs this year. But will that really happen?


1) What can they expect from Glasnow?

Is one of your last pre-pandemic memories thinking, “ is about to be the best pitcher in the world”? It looked that way for a while, didn’t it? He’s massive, with a body that sorta looks like it was specifically constructed to be a dominant pitcher. But no one seems to have told Glasnow’s body that, because it keeps breaking down. Glasnow threw nearly seven innings last year, a year after throwing 88, a year after throwing 57, a year after throwing 60. He’s going to turn 30 in August! The Rays believe he can be their No. 2 starter this year, and if he’s healthy, he gives their rotation a ceiling that rivals that of any team in the Majors. But maybe we should get to, you know, 100 innings first. The Rays have a solid, deep rotation without Glasnow. But with him, they’re a terror in a short series.

2) Is Wander going to become an MVP candidate?

The expectations placed on have been totally unfair, burdening him with becoming the biggest Rays homegrown superstar since Evan Longoria (or, perhaps, ever). He’s only 21 and being asked to be the linchpin of a whole franchise. Franco was still an above-average player last year -- a remarkable feat for a player that young -- but he was plagued by injuries and did not ascend to the MVP stratosphere as Rays fans might have hoped. But, again, he’s only 21. The Rays usually have a roster populated with solid players but lacking a superstar in the middle. Wander could be that guy. He probably will be that guy. But can he be that guy now?


1) How is this rotation going to produce innings?

Red Sox fans are frustrated about all sorts of things going on with this team right now, and it’s still a little confusing that Xander Bogaerts doesn’t play here anymore, but if you’re looking for the lights that are flashing red the most urgently, it has to be the rotation. They’re old like the Mets rotation but not as good as the Mets rotation. There are four guys over 30 here, headed by , who has thrown fewer than 50 innings since you first started using Zoom. has thrown one full season since 2018; makes starts but not very good ones; has been hurt so many times it’s legitimately impressive that his arm is still attached to his body. What happens if (when) these guys start getting hurt? The Red Sox might run out of pitchers by May.

2) How are they going to make people believe again?

Red Sox fans were demoralized after Bogaerts left, and 's injury was another gut punch. The offense is potentially intriguing, at least. Keep an eye on that addition, while the and combo will keep any pitcher on his toes. But this team feels several yards short just about everywhere, particularly in this gauntlet of a division. You can see this season getting away from them, disturbingly early. What can they do to turn things around?


1) Can they keep Judge healthy?

This might seem like a disturbing thing to say about a guy you just re-signed to a nine-year, $360 million contract, but … man, I hope nothing happens to . He is, after all, a 6-foot-7 guy who will turn 31 in April and has only played more than 148 games or more three times in his career. (That’s less than half the seasons of his career.) As you could tell from the Yankees’ desperation not to lose Judge in the offseason, their offense completely collapses without him. There may be no team in baseball more reliant on one player than the Yankees are on Judge. So yeah, Aaron, please go out and hit 62 homers again and everything here should be fine.

2) Is this … a run prevention team now?

Remember the days when Judge and and company were going to lead an offense that could score 1,000 runs? The Yankees look for all the world like a team whose pitching carries its offense rather than vice versa. The addition of gives the Yankees another ace with and Nestor Cortes, and you can have high expectations for and if you want -- but is set to undergo surgery on his right shoulder. The bullpen isn’t as stout as it has been in the past, but there’s still plenty there, and you should probably expect them to add as well. And Yankees fans are going to very much enjoy having Harrison Bader patrolling center field behind this staff as well. These aren’t the Bronx Bombers anymore … and that might be OK.


Blue Jays: 95-67
Yankees: 90-72
Orioles: 87-75
Rays: 82-80
Red Sox: 68-94

Seriously, any team other than the Red Sox could win this division, and your prediction as to who will do so may just depend on your particular whims and preconceived notions. Do you think Judge will stay healthy enough to carry that Yankees offense? Do you think the Orioles can keep their surge going? Do you think the Rays are stepping forward or going backward? (I’m probably too low on the Rays, now that I look at it.) I tend to think the Blue Jays are due for a consolidation year when everything finally goes right for them all at once. But your mileage may vary.