The American League East is full of baseball history and royalty, with the likes of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees often reigning from on high. Last year, the Tampa Bay Rays stole that crown, winning the division in a shortened season by a commanding seven games. The Red Sox, contrastingly, finished dead last, with a record of 24-36 in their first season of the post-Mookie Betts era.
Heading into this season, there’s a lot to like about three of the five teams, and a lot not to like about the other two.
The Rays will look to get back to the postseason and build around young playoff-dominating phenom Randy Arozarena. They seem to find production from unsuspecting places and seemingly have come out of nowhere to compete in recent years, but they might struggle to maintain their success after losing former Cy Young-winning starter Blake Snell and Charlie Morton this offseason. They’ll be counting on Tyler Glasnow and Rich Hill at the top of their rotation, which is risky. Looking at the farm system, however, the Rays have baseball’s top prospect in shortstop Wander Franco, and as soon as they get done manipulating his service time, we’ll see him on the big roster.
The Yankees, on the other hand, look incredibly good on paper, like they always do. LeMahieu, Judge, Stanton, Voit, Torres, Sanchez… it just keeps going. They’ll have a great chance to lead the league in home runs, while also being able to throw Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, and Jameson Taillon out to toe the rubber. That is, if they stay healthy. In 2019, the Yankees set a Major League record — and not the good kind — by having a whopping 30 players serve 39 stints on the injured list. It didn’t go much better in 2020, the Yankees had some of their biggest stars on the injury list again, including Judge, Stanton, LeMahieu, and Torres. If those guys can stay healthy, then the Yankees arguably have the best lineup in baseball. In their pitching rotation, the Yankees decided to bring in two starting pitchers in Kluber and Taillon that have also had extensive injury histories.
North of the border, the Toronto Blue Jays have a phenomenal youth movement happening with Bo Bichette and Valdimir Guerrero Jr., and decided to go all in this offseason in acquiring stud outfielder George Springer and veteran shortstop Marcus Semien, while adding Tyler Chatwood in free agency and trading for Steven Matz to bolster their starting rotation. Vlad Jr. has shown flashes of the upside that many believe him to have, but it hasn’t fully clicked for the young power bat yet. He hit .272/.339/.433 in 2019 with 15 home runs and 69 RBIs in 123 games. In 2020, he was basically the same — .262/.329/.462, with 9 home runs and 33 RBIs in 60 games. Bringing in a veteran bat like Springer could be a huge step in the development of Vlad Jr., as it could take some pressure off of him and give him someone to learn from. Guerrero reported to camp noticeably slimmer, and if he can put together a true breakout campaign, the Jays could be a real threat in the AL East.
And that’s about it for any potential contenders out of the AL East. The Red Sox inexplicably traded away Betts, a homegrown talent, in a move that is arguably the most idiotic trade in MLB history, and have been floundering since. They still have talented players — Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez are great, but losing Gold Glove center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. hurts, and the starting rotation is essentially all coming off of injuries. They have unproven talents in Alex Verdugo, Franchy Cordero, and Bobby Dalbec, and their bullpen sucks. The Sox should be a little better than last year and good enough to maybe be annoying to the top teams, but that’s about it. The Orioles also have a long way to go before they’re ready to make any kind of noise, including the No. 2 MLB prospect, catcher Adley Rutschman, who we will likely see this year.
To me, this division is going to be between the Yankees and the Blue Jays, with health playing a huge role in the outcome. If the Yankees stay healthy, they should win the division and have a roster capable of making serious noise in the playoffs.