MLB 2023 Season Preview: American League East – By Joshua Hertz

March is here, which means MLB’s spring training is underway! Although these games don’t count to the final standings, this is when battles for roster spots happen, and many crazy things happen on the fields in Arizona and Florida. In past spring trainings, iconic moments such as Randy Johnson obliterating a bird (trust me, look it up), swarms of bees, and in-game interviews via mic’d up players have helped set this preseason apart as the best in American sports, and this year, we already saw a half inning without umps, as well as the implementation of the new pitch clock to speed up games and the growing pains players have had adjusting to it.

With MLB opening day on March 30th, WBRS will have you posted with posts previewing each division. These previews are purely speculation, and may not end up being accurate, as baseball is a chaotic sport.  To start things off, we will head to one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, and home of the closest team to Waltham, the American League East.

Baltimore Orioles

For O’s fans, last season was a welcome surprise, even though Baltimore did not make the postseason. The Orioles seemed to have finally turned the corner in their rebuild, posting their first winning record since they made the postseason as a wildcard back in 2016. With the emergence of rookie catcher Adley Rutschman last season, the Orioles have started to build a solid hitting core, with continued improvement and success from Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle and Anthony Santander, while the signing of Adam Frazier provides a veteran hitter in their middle infield. Late season call-up Gunnar Henderson projects to take over at third-base, and if he lives up to his projection as a Rookie of the Year candidate, the Orioles bats may be able to keep up with the high powered offenses of their division rivals. On the pitching side, the Orioles replaced free agent Jordan Lyles with veteran Kyle Gibson, but have not made any major additions to bolster the bullpen or gain a true ace for the rotation. The team hopes to see the return of lefty John Means, who missed almost all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, who if healthy could provide the O’s with a top level arm. While top prospect Grayson Rodriguez projects to join the rotation this season, it is going to be a tough year for this Baltimore pitching staff facing off against loaded lineups in the AL, and unless enough goes right, it seems they are still a year or two away from a real shot at the playoffs.

Predicted Finish: 4th Place(No Playoffs)

Boston Red Sox

For the local team over at Fenway, it is difficult to be optimistic about this season. While the Red Sox made some good moves this offseason, including signing a potentially elite leadoff hitter in Japanese import Masataka Yoshida, adding veteran Corey Kluber to the rotation, and resigning star third baseman Rafael Devers long-term, the major losses suffered in free agency will likely hurt the teams chances at being relevant. Losing much of their rotation and bullpen from last season, the biggest blow to the Sox was the loss of longtime shortstop Xander Bogaerts in free agency, which leaves a huge hole in the middle of the lineup and the infield. While the Red Sox may have hoped Trevor Story could step up to fill his spot, Story is expected to miss most of the season with injury, only furthering the woes for Boston fans. While Boston will likely lag behind its tough opposition, local fans have told me of one potential bright spot, rookie first baseman Triston Casas, who could be a key piece in the future of Boston

Predicted Finish: 5th Place(No Playoffs)

New York Yankees

Much to the dismay of Bostoners, Bay Area natives, and to be honest anyone in the American League, the Yankees brought back hulking superstar Aaron Judge. The megadeal may keep Judge in New York into his decline, but after hitting 62 home runs, it is hard to disagree with the signing. The Yankees chose to do what they always do every offseason: spend loads of money. They made sure to re-sign Anthony Rizzo and Isiah Kiner-Falefa to keep their infield intact from last season, and signed the top pitcher under the age of 35 available, lefty Carlos Rodón, to join ace Gerrit Cole in one of the top rotations in the MLB. While trade deadline rental Andrew Benintendi left in free agency for the South Side of Chicago, the Yankees have rookies Oswaldo Cabrera and Anthony Volpe ready to make their ways to the big league to bolster their position player depth and break into an already impressive lineup. The Yankees have not had a losing record since 1992, have not missed the playoffs since 2016, and have a great shot of repeating as champs in the competitive AL East.

Predicted Finish: 1st Place(Playoff Berth as Division Champ)

Tampa Bay Rays

If you like the film Moneyball, check out this team. Despite the worst attendance in MLB and an extremely low payroll, the Rays have not only stayed competitive in the AL East, but have made the playoffs the past 5 seasons in a row, including winning the division title in 2020 and 2021. The team was as quiet as always this offseason in terms of signings, bringing in Zach Eflin for the rotation, and resigning lefty Jeffrey Springs. The team has built a solid hitting core around young star shortstop Wander Franco, with hitters such as Brandon Lowe, Randy Arozarena, Harold Ramirez and Yandy Diaz all on relatively cheap contracts, and boast Cy Young Award finalist Shane McClanahan as their new ace in only his second season. The team did suffer some regression this offseason, losing Kevin Kiermaier, David Peralta, Corey Kluber, Nick Anderson and Mike Zunino to free agency and trading away Ji-Man Choi for new prospects to mold. The team was able to snag a wildcard last season despite dealing with a lot of injuries, and they have already seen pitcher Tyler Glasnow, who missed most of last season, get injured again this spring training. Overall, expect this team to make a crazy amount of weird trades, and somehow sneak their way into the playoffs behind elite pitching and strategic coaching.

Predicted Finish: 3rd Place(Playoffs as a Wild Card)

Toronto Blue Jays

North of the border, the Blue Jays have put together quite a solid young team. With a lineup anchored by young second generation star athletes Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, the Blue Jays made further moves to bolster their roster this offseason. The team traded outfielders Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel away this offseason, opting to replace them with the younger Dalton Varsho and a bullpen arm in Erik Swanson. In free agency, they added former Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, allowing them to move veterans George Springer and Whit Merrifield to less demanding positions, and added Chris Bassitt to add to an already elite rotation featuring the likes of Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios and Alek Manoah. This team should be fun to watch, and will be looking for redemption after getting swept at home last postseason, which included a huge blown lead. Look for them to pressure New York and Tampa in what will likely be a photo finish for the division title.

Predicted Finish: 2nd Place(Playoffs as the top Wild Card) 

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