AL East preview: Can the Yankees deliver? Will Jays, Rays break through? What’s next for Red Sox, Orioles?

Baseball season is just around the corner, which means it’s time for the division preview! From now until MLB Opening Day on March 30, Sportzshala Sports will be sharing their thoughts on each division, including a sneak peek of the offseason and best and worst scenarios for each team.

Let’s start with the American League East.

New York Yankees

Projected record (according to PECOTA): 97-65

Off-Season Headlines:

Best Screenplay: Few teams can have more pompous dreams than the Yankees. And most of them start with Aaron Judge, a $360 million fund. As you may have heard, last season he won 62 homers, had the best offensive line since Barry Bonds, and became the AL MVP. Judge, who now wears the captain’s “C” on his uniform, doesn’t need to repeat this to run a dream campaign. His career numbers from 2017 to 2021 are .280 AVG with 39 homers in 600 record appearances. third best hitter in baseball after Mike Trout and wRC+’s Juan Soto would do just fine, but at best he’ll post another 53 homers and play hard on the right.

What really triggers the dream is the appearance of the long-awaited answer (or answers) on the short stop. Oswald Peraza, who debuted in late 2022 and eventually edged out frustrating interim Isaiah Keener-Falefa in the playoffs, wins the job after spring training and by the end of June is getting healthy competition from top prospect Anthony Volpe. Volpe’s well-rounded bat goes straight to the big leagues, giving the Yankees plenty of young talent in the infield and creating a sense of new dawn.

They also get an offensive breakout from center fielder Harrison Bader and enough utility prodigy Oswaldo Cabrera in left field to allow them to keep Giancarlo Stanton healthy in the DH and then make a major trade for Pirates star Brian Reynolds on the deadline to round off. a thunderous line-up behind twin aces Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodon.

Speaking of these aces, they stay healthy and Rodon maintains his great form of the last two years, even with a tougher division and home park. Nestor Cortez’s hilarious, funky breakout doesn’t let up to give the Yankees a dynamite top three. Once again facing the Astros in October, the Yankees are finally overcoming the odds with their newfound depth.

At worst: Judge’s re-signing was necessary, of course, but it didn’t solve the Yankees’ glaring problem since 2022: the complete lack of reliable strikes around him. By the middle of the season, it’s clear that Peraza and Volpe aren’t ready for prime time on offense, despite promises for future seasons. Combined with the ongoing injuries of Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMaye, the regression monster comes to Rodon, Cortez and catcher Jose Trevino.

GM Brian Cashman is once again facing difficult decisions on how to balance a win now with a better prospect being declared. He uses the tactics of the past two seasons and uses smaller, short-term gap fillers in left field and infield – without much success. The Yankees cling to the wildcard behind a strong pitcher, but are eliminated in early October due to a superior roster.

Alternatively, Judge’s re-signing was certainly necessary, but it didn’t change the fact that at 30 he’s a giant striker – an injury-prone and backsliding group. Judge struggles to stay on the field, and a chaotic season sinks into long-term anxiety.

Regardless of the record, what will success look like in 2023? Yankees fans will divide their attention between two poles: big-money superstars in the middle of their careers and up-and-coming rookies they hope to see in the future.

Are Judge, Cole, and Rawdon healthy and at least mostly aping their recent selves? Stanton on the field?

Volpe and Perasa are on the case? The young middle players were simultaneously put on a pedestal and buried under intense pressure from the franchise. If they manage their defensive roles, whatever they may be, and at least one of them proves to be a Rookie of the Year contender, the Bronx will applaud unconditionally. Ultimately, the acclimatization of Volpe and Peraza to the big leagues will set the emotional tone for the Yankees’ season and retroactively color the wave of recent front office decisions. — Kreiser

Toronto Blue Jays

Projected record: 89-73

Off-Season Headlines:

Best Screenplay: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (who will still be just 24 this season) is repeating his amazing 2021, with another Blue Jays star joining him up a level in the MVP race, and Toronto claiming its first AL East crown since 2015.

The cavalcade for Guerrero starts with Beau Bichette, who continues to roll after hitting .337/.378/.553 in the second half of 2022. Bichette, one of the weakest starting shortstops in defense, performs a glow in the glove, a la former teammate Markus Semien – perhaps through some sort of delayed osmosis. Matt Chapman regains his power and takes back his Golden Glove. Alejandro Kirk, a fire hydrant with superb hand-eye coordination, is vying for the batting title from his catcher seat. George Springer continues to feature George Springer’s offense and remains healthier as his defensive burden eases with the move to right field.

The addition of Dalton Warshaw and Kevin Kiermayer transforms a lackluster long-range defensive squad into one of the best in the league. Varshaot, acquired in the deal that brought Gabriel Moreno to Arizona, is proof that his bizarre journey from catcher to outfield got him to the right place. He is once again among the elite fieldbacks in the game and hits 30 homers. Backing up starting pitcher Kevin Gausman after the defense robbed him of a great 2022 season, Chris Bassitt lengthens the rotation with another solid hand, and the Blue Jays secure a more consistent fifth position by helping Nate Pearson or Yusei Kikuchi find the plate. .

But the real story is Alec Manoa as the young ace steps into the spotlight to win AL Cy Young in his first 200-inning campaign and goes toe-to-toe with the rest of the league’s top players to assert his dominance. a run that brought the Blue Jays back to the World Series.

At worst: The powerful 2021 Guerrero is starting to look more like an exception as he struggles to consistently pick up the ball. Bishet’s cold streaks continue to weigh on his overall line, and the ripple effects of infield change restrictions are raising serious questions about his future (and present) at shortstop.

Young players like Kirk and Warshaw are taking immediate steps back, while durability issues haunt Springer, Kiermayer and other veterans like Brandon Belt, forcing less-tested players into the heat of competition in an intimidating division.

Hard contact again limits Gausman’s potential, and the more dubious members of the rotation – Kikuchi, José Berrios – prove to be a burden. Minor additions to the bullpen don’t put Toronto in the same class as the varied supporting offenses the Yankees and Rays (or even Orioles) wield, and frustrating division losses pile up. The Blue Jays fell below the 90-win line and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years.

Regardless of the record, what will success look like in 2023? This list is complex enough that the record really dictates success, but beyond winning, success matters more to Guerrero, Bichetta and Manoa than to anyone else. Three young rods could stay ahead of competing teams in Toronto for years.

But for this they must be in Toronto. President Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins came from the Cleveland thrift organization, and while they’ve spent funds on Springer, Gausman and Bassit, they haven’t yet struck the type of long-term deal it would take to keep Guerrero or Bichette – a stark contrast to Alex Anthopoulos, the winner. World Series, the main grandmaster, whom the Blue Jays ousted by hiring Shapiro.

Winning aside, the best thing that can happen to the Blue Jays is if one or both hitters demand a big deal for their game and reciprocate that urgency from the front office. — Kreiser


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