A Review of the American League East, New York Yankees Poised to Make Big Leap Forward

2024 American League East

The American League East belonged to the Baltimore Orioles in 2023. They surprised Major League Baseball with a record of 101-61 by relying mainly on their superb young talent, like Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, and a largely unknown pitching staff that performed beyond their projections. By contrast, the New York Yankees had one of their worst seasons in recent memory and finished fourth in the division with an 82-80 record, above .500, but just that is. Here are the standings at the end of 2023:

  1. Baltimore Orioles 101-61
  2. Tampa Bay Rays 99-63
  3. Toronto Blue Jays 89-73
  4. New York Yankees 82-80
  5. Boston Red Sox 78-84

What are the expectations for each team going into the 2024 season now that we are two weeks out from spring training?

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays finished the 2023 season 12 games out of first place with an 89-73 record. If an MLB season could be summed up in a few words, then Keegan Matheson of MLB.com summed up the Blue Jays’ season when he said that despite one of the best pitching staffs and one of the best defenses in MLB, it too often got in its own way and failed to live up to expectations. “The clean, tight brand of baseball we’d heard about all season abandoned them in the moments that mattered most” (“What happened to the Blue Jays in 2023?” 10/4/23). That being said, what have the Blue Jays done this offseason to improve the club?

Aside from minor league depth signings, the Blue Jays have re-signed Kevin Kiermaier, the defensive specialist for them in center field, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a utility player from the 2023 Yankees, and Yariel Rodriguez, a right-handed pitcher originally from Cuba who most recently pitched in Japan in 2022. The offseason was unkind to Blue Jays fans as they were led early on to believe that Shohei Ohtani was possibly signing with the club. Of course, that turned out not to be the case, and the team has essentially run back the same roster of players as in 2023. Kiner-Falefa will likely play third base unless the Blue Jays reunite with free agent Matt Chapman. The Blue Jays had the best defensive outfield in the majors in 2023, and 2024 will see the same personnel: George Springer in right field, Kevin Kiermaier in center field, and Daulton Varsho in left field with Nathan Lukes coming off the bench.

Likewise, the projected starting five for the Blue Jays is the same as in 2023:

Kevin Gausman
Jose Berrios
Chris Bassitt
Yusei Kikuchi
Alex Manoah

Fans believe the fifth spot in the Blue Jays rotation is Manoah’s to lose, and he will likely be vying with Rodriguez for that spot. The top four starters for the Blue Jays all made 30 starts in 2023, and none landed on the Injured Reserve list. The rotation ranked fourth in ERA in MLB with 3.78, and the bullpen ranked fifth in the American League with a 3.68 ERA. While the bullpen will miss Jordan Hicks, who signed with the San Francisco Giants in the offseason, Chad Green has returned from Tommy John surgery and will take over his role.

The 2024 Blue Jays will be as formidable an opponent in the AL East in the coming year as they were in 2023. They profile an excellent pitching staff and superior defense, but will the offense have the firepower to improve on an offense that was firmly middle of the pack in 2023?

Baltimore Orioles

The defending AL East champions are returning 90-95% of the team from 2023, which may be bad news for the rest of the division, given their superb result in 2023. Aside from signing Craig Kimbrel for the bullpen, the Orioles haven’t done much this offseason. 2023 saw the Orioles win 101 games, the first time since 1980 that they won 100 or more games in a season. They had the fifth-best season in team history since 1954 and their best season since 1979 when they went 102-57. The team was led by the Orioles’ young talent, namely Gunnar Henderson, who was the team MVP, and Adley Rutschman, who caught a young and impressive staff of pitchers.

The Orioles starting pitchers for 2024 are slated to be:

Kyle Bradish
Dean Kremer
John Means
Grayson Rodriguez
Tyler Wells   

The 2023 staff was good for 11th in rotation ERA, 13th in FIP, and 16th in strikeout rate. Bradish, Rodriguez, and Kremer ranked in the top 20 starters after the All-Star Break, with Bradish (2.34) and Rodriguez (2.58) ranking in the top 5. Bradish and Rodriguez had strong second-half performances, and all five starters have average or above-average arms and solid potential to improve this season.

Oriole fans are looking forward to seeing Jackson Holliday, MLB’s top prospect, make his debut in 2024. Holliday has had a fast rise through the farm system, and this will be the first time he tries to win a major league job. Jackson hit .323/.442/.499 with 12 home runs, 75 RBI, and 24 stolen bases across all levels of minor league ball in 2023. Fans speculate that he might be a Rookie of the Year candidate should he win a job with the big club.

Tampa Bay Rays

The story of the Rays’ offseason has been one of trading high-dollar talent with less control for young pre-arbitration, less expensive talent. Most visibly, the Rays traded Tyler Glasnow, a perennial powerhouse, and centerfielder Manuel Margot to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two solid, promising young talents, pitcher Ryan Pepiot and outfielder Jonny Deluca. Pepiot and Deluca are coming off strong rookie performances. The Rays traded relief pitcher Andrew Kittredge to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Richie Palacios, a 26-year-old left-hander blocked by all the outfield talent in St. Louis. Finally, they traded outfielder Luke Raley to the Seattle Mariners for infielder Jose Caballero.

The Rays had an exceptional start to the 2023 season, going 13-0 and winning 30 of 39 games to start the season. Their starting pitching staff behind Shane McLanahan was once again formidable, sporting a team ERA of 3.86, good for 5th in MLB. The 2024 starting staff appears to include:

Zach Eflin
Zack Littell
Aaron Civale
Ryan Pepiot
Taj Bradley

McClanahan is lost to the Rays due to a second Tommy John surgery, and, as always, the Rays have mastered the next-man-up approach to success. The Rays pitching system is famous throughout the league for producing previously unknown arms that succeed in the big leagues.

Yandy Diaz won the AL batting title and returns to lead the offense, though the Rays are still figuring out how to deal with the loss of Wander Franco. Tampa Bay shed payroll, brought in long-term options, and gambled that they could move players in and out of the system and still find success in 2024.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have added minimal talent to their roster for 2024 for a team that finished last in the division in 2023, adding primarily minor-league depth. Chief Baseball Officer Craig Breslow is under pressure from ownership to reduce the payroll. The big signing for the Red Sox was free agent Lucas Giolito. The big news, however, was the trade of Chris Sale to the Atlanta Braves for infielder Vaughn Grissom, who will likely man second base for the Red Sox.

The starting rotation for the Red Sox would appear to be:

Brayan Bello
Lucas Giolito
Tanner Houck
Kutter Crawford
Garrett Whitlock

According to The Athletic, Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner stated at Winter Weekend that the lack of pitching depth caught up with the team in 2023 and made the pitching less competitive in the second half of the season. Last season, the Red Sox starters posted a combined 4.68 ERA, which was good for 22nd in the league, and threw 774 1/3 innings for 27th in the league (Jen McCaffrey 1/26/24)

The Red Sox finished 78-84 in last place in the AL East for the second year in a row in 2023. The team was beset by poor defense and was tied for the most errors in MLB with the Oakland Athletics (102). The former All-Star, Trevor Story, was out after elbow surgery until August and only appeared in 43 games. He had an impressive defensive performance in that time, but struggled offensively, hitting only .203 with three home runs and 14 RBI. Rafael Devers is one of the premier power-hitting third basemans in the league but has been described defensively as consistent only in bursts and as a “trainwreck” by Red Sox Insider John Tomase (“When it comes to $300 million deals, Devers simply hasn’t measured up” nbcsportsboston.com 11/10/23). Tomase claims Devers had an off-year offensively and “never found that otherworldly zone where he hammers everything and puts the club on his back.”

On the other hand, Triston Casas had a breakout year at first base for the Red Sox and was the team’s most consistent hitter with a .291/.385/.531 slash line with 21 homers and 57 RBI after May 1st, when he really caught fire (Justin Leger, “Red Sox first base outlook: can Casas reach All-Star level in 2024?” nbcsportsboston.com, 1/23/24). He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2023. Fans are eager to watch Casas develop in 2024, particularly defensively.

New York Yankees:

What have the fourth-place Yankees done to improve their standing in the division for 2024? The Yankees made the splash that other teams in the AL East shied away from this offseason when they traded for Juan Soto to fix a team that had been described as embarrassing and disastrous in 2023. Not only did the Yankees sign Soto, but they also made a solid push to sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto, losing out very painfully and publicly to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In addition to signing Soto, the Yankees traded with the Red Sox for Alex Verdugo and signed free agent Marcus Stroman. The Yankees also made an offer to AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, which was rejected. All in all, the Yankees have put together a solid offseason to address the worst problems of the 2023 season.

The starting rotation for the Yankees would appear to include:

Gerrit Cole
Carlos Rodon
Marcus Stroman
Nestor Cortes, Jr.
Clarke Schmidt

Joel Sherman of the New York Post said that if the Yankees get healthy upsides from their rotation, it will be a top 5.”  (“What are the odds Yankees’ high-upside rotation overcomes all risk?” 1/24/24) Certainly, the health of Rodon is of the utmost concern to fans because a series of injuries kept him out of the rotation until July 7th. His performance in the second half of the season was disappointing as his ERA became progressively bloated from a 5.75 in July to a 6.23 in August and an 8.10 ERA in September. Manager Aaron Boone believes that Rodon could not catch up after spring training injuries. Fast forward to January 2024, and fans are encouraged by reports that Rodon has voluntarily reported to Tampa early. Fangraphs projects Rodon for 114 innings with a 3.86 ERA and 132 strikeouts, and fans would happily sign up for these numbers. Many believe that the Yankees season may, in fact, hinge on Rodon’s performance, particularly in light of the fact that they were not able to land Yamamoto or Snell; however, fans are warming up to Stroman, who had an excellent first half of the season in 2023, though injuries in the second half plagued him.

The Yankee offense was offensive, to say the least, in 2023 and ranked 24th in the league. Yankee Captain Aaron Judge missed approximately one-third of the season with a toe injury suffered at Dodger Stadium in early June. Thus, Gleyber Torres led the team in most offensive categories. Soto was the result, and the Yankee offense projects to look very different in 2024 as Judge and Soto will lead the charge with what fans hope will be a healthy lineup behind them, including a healthy Anthony Rizzo, who was putting up career numbers before he was injured.

The Orioles, Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays have not made big splashes this offseason with either trades or with free agent signings, however, the Yankees have made a huge investment in improving the team with the addition of Soto, who is a free agent at season’s end. If key Yankees players stay healthy, there is every chance they could win the division. I see the projected AL East standings as follows:

  1. Yankees
  2. Orioles
  3. Blue Jays
  4. Rays
  5. Red Sox

In 2023, there were no pushover teams in the AL East to beat up. The AL East is a tough division every year, and 2024 will be no different and, in fact, may provide a tighter race for the division title than 2023 proved to be. Soto and Judge profile to give the biggest splashes in the pond in 2024. The Yankees are the most improved team in the division, and 2024 will be a bounce-back year for the humbled franchise.

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