AL East season preview: What’s in store for the Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles and Red Sox in 2024?


Where better to begin than the behemoth?

The years race by, the game evolves, we grow old, the Dodgers spend the GDP of a small Pacific island nation in free agency … and still, the AL East remains baseball’s most competitive division, the SEC of MLB. And now that the Baltimore Orioles, long a hapless punching bag, have transitioned from joke to juggernaut, this has become an even more imposing and intriguing assortment of teams.

Besides the Red Sox, whose stinginess has left the pitching staff thinner than phyllo dough, this division appears wide open. Coming off their worst season since 1992, the Yankees have something to prove, but more importantly, they also have Juan Soto. Toronto missed out on Shohei Ohtani over the winter but returns a deep rotation and a potentially potent top of the lineup. The Rays have made the playoffs for five straight years and have one of the sport’s most underrated sluggers in Yandy Díaz. And while the defending AL East champion Orioles have already seen their pitching staff besieged by injuries, Baltimore’s seemingly endless cadre of young impact hitters will keep the Birds in the mix for another trip to October.

With Opening Day less than three weeks away, let’s break down the state of things in the American League East.

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Projected record (per FanGraphs, as of March 11): 89-73

Best-case scenario: Gerrit Cole repeats his 2023 Cy Young season. Aaron Judge doesn’t run into a wall, rips 60 homers and wins MVP. Juan Soto draws 300 walks, loves being a Yankee and signs a 10-year extension. Anthony Volpe’s new, contact-oriented approach carries him to the All-Star Game. Clarke Schmidt blossoms into a real frontline arm, while Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes stay healthy and rediscover their best selves. Austin Wells is Jorge Posada with more power and a better ‘stache. The Yankees win 105 games before taking down the Astros in an epic ALCS behind a heroic Game 7 relief appearance from Cole. The World Series is a joyous epilogue, with the Yanks sweeping their way to ring No. 28.

Worst-case scenario: The non-Judge/Soto hitters underperform, and the lineup runs dry for extended stretches, like it has in recent years when Judge is out. Injuries wreck the rotation again, except the Yankees are even more ill-prepared this time after sending all that upper-level depth to San Diego for Soto. Speaking of Soto, he’s an offensive force and a defensive catastrophe, and he hates everything about playing in New York. In fact, the Yankees are such a mess that he leaves in free agency come winter — and he’s not the only one. Gerrit Cole exercises his opt-out and jets for a team he believes can give him a real shot to win. The whole thing turns into a circus by mid-July, and both Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman are working for the St. Louis Cardinals by this time next year.

Make-or-break player: Anthony Rizzo. The veteran first baseman wasn’t the same hitter last year after a late-May collision with Fernando Tatis Jr. left him with an undiagnosed concussion and vertigo symptoms. From that incident until the premature end to his season on Aug. 1, Rizzo had an uncharacteristically disastrous .496 OPS. But he looks healthy this spring, with a pair of bombs already sent a-flying, and whether or not he returns to being a legitimate third offensive option could make or break the 2024 Yankees.

Season prediction: Injuries in the rotation expose the lack of pitching depth for stretches of the summer, but Soto, Judge and Cole are so good that the Yankees weather the storm. The lineup’s supporting cast, guys such as Volpe, Anthony Rizzo, Alex Verdugo, Austin Wells, DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres, perform admirably, if unspectacularly. When the dust settles, the steadiness in the bullpen and the starpower atop the lineup give the Yankees enough juice to carry them past 90 wins and into October.

Projected record: 86-76

Best-case scenario: Randy Arozarena, Yandy Díaz, two unrelated guys named Lowe and 22 ballplayers you’ve barely heard of win 101 games. The underrated supporting cast — Josh Lowe, Brandon Lowe, Isaac Paredes, José Siri and Harold Ramirez were all above-average hitters last year — keeps smashing until top prospect Junior Caminero arrives like a free-swinging lightning bolt. In the rotation, none of Zach Eflin, Aaron Civale, Zack Littell, Ryan Pepiot or Taj Bradley comes with the dependability and upside of a Shane McClanahan or Tyler Glasnow (hurt/on the Dodgers), but all have a shot to be well-above-average starters. Bradley, in particular, could leap forward and become the next in a long line of magnificent, homegrown Rays starters. Arozarena and Díaz get hot in October, and Tampa wins a bunch of low-scoring postseason games en route to bringing the Trop its first World Series title.

Worst-case scenario: Arozarena, Díaz, two unrelated guys named Lowe and 22 ballplayers you’ve barely heard of win 77 games. An injury to one or more of the big bats leaves the offense lacking, and the pitching can’t make up the difference. The absences of McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs (all recovering from elbow surgery of some sort) leave too big a void atop the rotation. Eflin, Civale, Littell, Pepiot and Bradley are all closer to solid than spectacular, and Tampa feels the loss of Glasnow in a big way. The inexperienced catching tandem of René Pinto and Alex Jackson — who have only 101 MLB starts combined — flat-out isn’t good enough. Toronto, Baltimore and the Yankees are all a tier above the Rays, who finish double digits back of a playoff spot.

Make-or-break player: Here are the hitters who posted a higher wRC+ than Yandy Díaz last year: Shohei Ohtani, Ronald Acuña Jr., Corey Seager and Mookie Betts. The man with leg-sized arms was also fourth in MLB in batting average, fourth in on-base percentage and seventh in average exit velocity. This is, full stop, one of the best hitters in the world. Only if Díaz keeps it going can the Rays challenge for a division title in a loaded AL East.

Season prediction: Arozarena, Díaz, two unrelated guys named Lowe and 22 ballplayers you’ve barely heard of win 92 games. That’s what the Tampa Rays do: Anonymous excellence. But that approach hasn’t worked in recent postseasons, with the lineup scoring just two runs total across its past four October games. Small sample size aside, this bottom of Tampa’s lineup is a real underbelly that wasn’t meaningfully improved over the winter. The run prevention in Tampa is always going to be great — a Bradley breakout could make it truly elite — but unless Caminero comes up and shines, the Rays don’t appear to have the bats.

Projected record: 85-77

Best-case scenario: This tantalizing lineup lives up to its full potential, with MLB The Show cover star Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leading the way. Vladdy reasserts himself as a true upper-echelon hitter by elevating the baseball with authority more often. Bo Bichette — who has been a better all-around player than Vlad since 2021 — becomes an even more impactful hitter by cutting down on his yikes-inducingly-high chase rate. The rest of the lineup, which simply did not hit enough in 2023, discovers another gear. Meanwhile, the rotation, led by Kevin Gausman, José Berrios and Chris Bassitt, continues carving as Alek Manoah unleashes a comeback for the ages. The Blue Jays, current owners of MLB’s longest postseason losing streak (0-6 since 2015), break the schneid and make a deep October run.

Worst-case scenario: Another year of Vlad and Bo being great instead of supersonic isn’t enough when the rest of the lineup turns into a pumpkin. George Springer confirms that his mediocre 2023 (102 OPS+) was, unfortunately, the beginning of the end, and the rest of the supporting cast (Justin Turner, Kevin Kiermaier, Alejandro Kirk, Daulton Varsho, etc.) underwhelms. The pitching battles through injuries and doesn’t have enough depth to fend off the AL East stampede. Toronto spends October on vacation as this once-inspiring Blue Jays window inches one year closer to closing.

Make-or-break player: George Springer. In Year 3 with Toronto, the now-34-year-old started to show signs of decline. His range, sprint speed and exit velocity all dwindled in 2023, an understandable development considering he’s creeping toward 40, which is 80 in baseball years. An uptick in Springer’s contact rate kept the overall profile afloat, but there’s a chance the former Astro is too far past his physical prime to be the third musketeer this offense so desperately needs. Whether Springer can (1) stay healthy and (2) deliver more juice will be a huge key to Toronto’s season.

Season prediction: The Jays’ overall roster quality on both sides of the ball enables them to stay afloat in the relentless fracas that is the American League East. The hitters not named Bichette or Guerrero bop enough to secure another trip to the wild-card round. The rotation quartet of Gausman, Berrios, Bassitt and Kikuchi provides sufficient coverage over the grueling summer months until a late-season call-up of top pitching prospect Ricky Tiedemann provides a much-needed jolt. Even so, as currently constructed, this team doesn’t have quite enough high-end talent to journey deep into autumn. Ohtani would’ve helped; at least they tried.

Who will come out on top in baseball's most competitive division? (Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)Who will come out on top in baseball's most competitive division? (Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)

Who will come out on top in baseball’s most competitive division? (Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Projected record: 85-77

Best-case scenario: Everything that happened in 2023 happens again in 2024, except everybody is a year older and better and gets to share a roster with Corbin Burnes. Adley Rutschman taps into the raw power he showcased in last summer’s Home Run Derby and doubles his home run total from 20 to 40. Gunnar Henderson makes his first of 15 All-Star Games. The Kyle Bradish and John Means injuries turn out to be insignificant, and both are starting games by May. Grayson Rodriguez hones his scintillating raw stuff and becomes a real third horse. Jackson Holliday, the consensus top prospect in all of baseball, debuts in late April and wins Rookie of the Year. And, of course, the impending ownership turnover happens before the trade deadline so GM Mike Elias can pull off some wacky, uncharacteristic trade for an expensive pitcher on a bad team.

Worst-case scenario: The injuries to Bradish and Means are lasting, leaving the rotation undermanned and overmatched. Rodriguez doesn’t take the leap forward, and the Felix-Bautista-less bullpen fumbles the chili in the later innings. The next wave of young O’s hitters — Heston Kjerstad, Colton Cowser, Jackson Holliday and Jordan Westburg — doesn’t adjust to big-league pitching, and the the old guard — Anthony Santander, Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays — doesn’t pick up the slack. Baltimore is left out of the postseason picture, wondering what could’ve been had they traded for another top-level arm to pair with Burnes. Worst of all, despised owner John Angelos changes his mind and decides not to sell the team to David Rubenstein.

Make-or-break player: Grayson Rodriguez. If the Bradish and Means injuries linger, that will put unforeseen responsibility on G-Rod’s young shoulders. In last year’s ALDS against Texas, the Nacogdoches Rocket looked overwhelmed by the moment, finishing his outing with more runs allowed (5) than outs recorded (4). For the Orioles to withstand this spring’s pitching injuries, Rodriguez will need to prove himself as a frontline difference-maker, especially come October.

Season prediction: The lack of high-end pitching — in the rotation and in the ‘pen — prevents the Birds from capturing another AL East crown, but the offense bops enough to secure a wild card. Not having Bautista for the entire season completely reshapes the way manager Brandon Hyde navigates lineups, which could leave the bullpen in a tough spot. Baltimore won so many close games in 2023 thanks to Bautista and Yennier Cano, so it’s reasonable to expect the win total to slide a bit. But there’s too much talent in the lineup for this team to be bad; there should be October baseball at Camden Yards in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1996-97.

BOSTON RED SOX

Projected record: 81-81

Best-case scenario: Sox owner John Henry stumbles upon a lost city of gold and decides to spend some of his newfound riches on Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery. Those two, along with Brayan Bello and a hopefully-not-injured Lucas Giolito, form one of the best rotations (surprise!) in the American League, thanks to the pitching genius of new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow. A ticked off, running-on-all-cylinders Rafael Devers improves on defense and challenges for the MVP. So does Tristan Casas, who becomes one of the game’s best slugging first basemen. A healthy Trevor Story plays 150 games while providing leadership and stability up the middle. The rest of the team falls into place, and Boston secures a wild-card berth in a storybook season as every moment is captured by Netflix cameras.

Worst-case scenario: It’s already happening? Boston’s razor-thin rotation can’t rebound from Giolito’s recent elbow issues. The pitching staff gets pummeled by the rest of the division and finishes the year with an ERA around six. Alex Cora, in the final year of his contract, kinda checks out. Disenchanted by it all, Devers sleepwalks through what should be his offensive peak. Every moment is captured by Netflix cameras, with the result a messy, can’t-look-away docuseries for the ages, and to really stick it to Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool doesn’t win the Premier League.

Make-or-break player: Brayan Bello. Even before Giolito was in danger of missing significant time, the Red Sox were planning to lean on the soon-to-be 25-year-old right-hander, who has just 39 career MLB starts. Bello was essentially a league-average pitcher in his sophomore campaign last year, but he was a highly touted prospect coming up the chain, and he has showcased an elite sinker/changeup combo since debuting in 2022. For the Red Sox to finish anywhere but fifth in the AL East, Bello needs to develop into more of a force.

Season prediction: The Red Sox are worse than bad; they are forgettable and irrelevant. Their unwillingness to spend predictably backfires, and the pivot from former head honcho Chaim Bloom to Breslow doesn’t change all that much. The lack of superstardom beyond Devers (and Casas) leads to dwindling interest in the team, and by August, the city of Boston is watching preseason football. Very few people watch the Netflix doc, which, given the circumstances of the season, paints the Red Sox as a disorganized jambalaya of chaos.



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