The AL East is over-represented with play-off contenders, including many of the same ol’ same ol’ faces. You can count the Red Sox out this year. You can count the Yankees in, as usual. The Yankees’ rotation lost Taillon and now Montes to injury, but with that huge addition of lefty Rodon, the starting rotation with Cole, Cortes, Severino, and German or Schmidt looks formidable. There has been a mass exodus of relief pitchers this year including Green, Castro and Chapman, but the Yankee’s seemingly endless supply of quality bullpen arms and with the risky addition of Kahnle, should form a solid relief corps. They could use some left-handed relief.
On offense, The big signings, or re-signings, were Judge and Rizzo, otherwise it was stand pat so far. Many of the Yankees stars are of the aging and injury-prone variety, eg. Stanton, essentially a part-timer, LeMahieu, and Donaldson. Volpe and Peraza are potential fine additions in the middle infield. They lost Matt Carpenter, who showed well last year. Bader was a fine pickup in center field but left field is a question mark unless Hicks shapes up. All eyes will be on Judge but a regression is almost certain. The pitching may have to carry the Yankees this year. The one change that wasn’t made was firing Aaron Boone. Big mistake.
Staying in the AL East, the Rays are the perennial small market success story and always seem to be a contender. The 2022 Rays suffered a massive power outage, much of it due to injury, struggling down the stretch and making a premature exit from the playoffs. Their biggest addition this year is in starting pitching. The Rays pushed out a ton of cash (for them) to sign Zack Eflin. He is no ace, but I have learned not to question the Rays’ strategy when it comes to pitching. They lost Kluber and Yarbrough, but the Rays’ starting rotation surrounding ace McLanahan could rival the Yankees’, especially if Glasnow returns to form. They extended Springs, have break-out contender Rasmussen, Chirinos, an exciting prospect in Bradley, plus Luis Patiño and Fleming, for formidable depth. They also extended Fairbanks, a terrific reliever, and will likely have another deep pen with a ton of young talent in waiting.
Offense and outfield defense could be a different story. There have been no major additions but they have lost a defensive stalwart in Kiermaier, and a dependable first baseman in Choi. The Rays will look for power from a healthier infield with rebound seasons from Lowe and Wander Franco especially, and another fine year from Diaz. There doesn’t appear to be enough offensive pop from the outfield other than Arozarena, and the Rays haven’t added any to date. The Rays farm system is a prolific producer of young talent, so the team bears watching during spring training. There is also that tenth man in Kevin Cash, the best manager in the AL East.
Moving to the AL Central, there is to date one true contender in the Guardians, a “surprise” playoff performer in 2022, looking to return this season. The Guardians had plenty of pitching, with phenomenal success in last year’s playoffs and are well positioned again this year. Facing and losing to the Yankees, it was clear that the Guardians needed the additions of some bigger boppers. Enter Josh Bell at first, and Zunino at catcher. Bell has mile-high potential as a slugger. Zunino is a bit of a gamble, but one with some pop in his bat. These two will protect 3rd baseman Ramirez, a potential MVP.
The Guardians are very very young. Josh Naylor is considered a vet and he is only 25. He could be completely recovered and will likely move back into the outfield. Cleveland has at least a couple of young phenoms in the line-up. Kwan is off a tremendous season, and Giminez is rated as high as top three among all MLB 2nd basemen. Another Naylor, Bo, is waiting in the wings as the Guardians’ future catcher.
Any contender needs a high-end rotation and Cleveland’s does not disappoint. Bieber is the ace, followed or possibly surpassed by McKenzie, who had some remarkable stretches last year. Quantrill, Civale and Plesac round out the rotation, but there are others in the mix. The pen was excellent last year behind Clase, but there are many solid arms in that bullpen.
The Guardians played with poise and character for such a young team. Chalk that up to their manager Terry (Tito) Francona, the absolute best in the business. Does anyone else get more out of players?
I am bullish on the Guardians this year. They are the superbly managed class of the AL Central. In the third section, we’ll look at the AL West, and possibly one more contender.