Baseball is back! A frosty, tense, and acrimonious lockout thankfully ended last week, and Spring Training is well underway. Pre-season games start on March 17th, with Opening Day scheduled for April 7th. Subsequently, it is the perfect time to look forward, not back, and preview the new campaign — starting with the AL East.
The division features four teams potentially good enough to win the division, possibly good enough to represent the AL in the World Series. Last season, the chase for the final playoff place went down to the wire; with more playoff spots up for grabs, the competition in the east promises to be incredibly close.
2022 AL East Preview
Tampa Bay Rays
2021 record: 100-62, AL East 1st place
We kick off our AL East preview with the reigning champs. The Tampa Bay Rays won the division last year with 100 wins and grabbed the AL’s number one seed. The Rays were the best team in the AL last season before the swashbuckling Boston Red Sox bested them in the ALDS. The Rays have kept their core group of players that took them to the World Series in 2020, and they will have their eyes fixed on another postseason run in 2022.
Biggest offseason move: re-signing Wander Franco
The Rays wasted no time in locking down superstar shortstop Wander Franco. Franco only arrived in the majors last season, and he immediately shone. The all-world prospect slashed .288/.347/.463 and OPS of .810. It shocked no one that the Rays handed Franco an 11-year deal worth an initial $182 million.
Player to watch: Tyler Glasnow
Injury and eventual Tommy John surgery destroyed Tyler Glasnow’s 2021 season. A young Rays rotation battled hard in his absence, but they faltered in the postseason. The Rays signed veteran former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to bolster the rotation. Nonetheless, Glasnow will need to come back to his best. His electric stuff is elite, and he is a proven October pitcher. There is no ETA on his comeback, and the Rays won’t want to rush him back. When he does return, the Rays might find another level.
Season projection: AL East winners
The Rays are the most proven team in the division. They understand their formula; they are a settled squad with solid positional players, good starters, and a strong bullpen. Their analytical, data-driven approach is one that manager Kevin Cash knows inside out. While stiff divisional competition may hinder the Rays’ chances of repeating a 100-win season, they are the team to beat.
Boston Red Sox
2021 record: 92-70, AL Wildcard
Expectations were low for the Boston Red Sox in 2021. Nevertheless, this is a club used to winning. In Alex Cora, they have one of the most astute managerial minds in the game. The return of Cora as manager, allied with a ferocious batting lineup helped the Red Sox reach the ALCS. Expectations changed instantly, and now Red Sox nation expects more of the same in 2022.
The ‘Sox open their campaign on the road in New York, and they will have to weather storms from Tampa Bay and Toronto. Boston is a squad full of powerful batters that will win plenty of games. Rafael Devers, JD Martinez, Alex Verdugo, Kike Hernandez, and others should keep the Red Sox in contention.
Biggest offseason move: Jackie Bradley Jr
The Red Sox needed depth in the outfield, and they filled it with a trade that gave them Jackie Bradley, Jr. Bradley is a solid outfielder with good speed and awareness. Bradley replaces Kyle Schwarber. The acquisition provided the Red Sox with a bit more roster flexibility.
Player to watch: Rafael Devers
Rafael Devers stepped up for the Red Sox last season. A Silver-Slugger award and All-Star appearance highlighted his season as he smashed 38 home runs and 113 RBIs. Devers’ lefty power perfectly suits Fenway Park’s unique dimensions.
Per Baseball Savant, Devers’ percentage rates for exit velocity, slugging, and hard-hit rates are elite. Mix that with a good understanding of the strike zone, and Devers should have another good season with the bat. Where Devers must improve is in the field. The AL East now features some star third basemen. Devers must handle the hot corner better than ever.
Season projection: Wildcard team
The expanded playoff format provides the Red Sox with comfort. Even in such a tough division, they should have enough. The significant concerns are on the pitching side. Chris Sale is dealing with a rib injury that will see him miss the opening series in New York. Veteran free-agent acquisition James Paxton is another pitcher on the 60-day injury list.
The ‘Sox did add a few veteran arms, but they will run it back with primarily the same group from 2021. Their team ERA of 4.26 ranked 7th in the AL. It can’t get any lower than that for the Sox to have any hope. The big sluggers will surely need to shoulder the burden for the Red Sox.
New York Yankees
2021 record: 92-70, AL Wildcard
The New York Yankees experienced a turbulent, erratic 2021 season that ultimately ended at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. The defeat extended the Yankees’ World Series drought. 2022 is a massive year for Aaron Boone and GM Brian Cashman. The Bleacher Creatures are restless.
Biggest offseason move: Trading for Josh Donaldson
The Yanks needed to improve on defense. Therefore, it surprised no one that they struck a trade for former MVP Josh Donaldson. The veteran is an experienced player, and he is an automatic improvement on Gio Urshela. Moreover, Donaldson’s power and consistent fielding prowess should add more predictability to the Yankees’ infield. Mix in 26 homers, an OPS of .872, and the Yanks have a proven commodity.
Player to watch: Gerrit Cole
The abiding image of 2021 Gerrit Cole is the one of him getting heckled at Fenway Park as he looked at Xander Bogaerts’ monster home run. Cole crumbled in the most significant moment of the season. Moreover, Cole struggled with fitness late in the season, and there were murmurs that the ban on sticky stuff hurt him more than other pitchers. The rotation behind Cole is shaky; the $324 million man must step up and have a Cy Young caliber season.
Season projection: Wildcard team
The Yankees’ lack of starting pitching depth and an inconsistent batting lineup too reliant on the long ball will keep them from winning the division. Nonetheless, the AL is weak, and the Yanks will still win many games. Their limitations are apparent, but they still boast too much firepower. Boone’s team will make the postseason.
Toronto Blue Jays
2021 record: 91-71, 4th place
The Toronto Blue Jays finally emerged from their long hibernation as they stormed to a 91-win season. The young talent within the Blue Jays’ system started to make their mark in the majors. Another year of development, experience, and an expanded playoff format should help the Blue Jays take another step forward. Add in an exciting offseason, and they should be in the mix.
Biggest offseason move: trading for Matt Chapman
The acquisition of Matt Chapman completes the Blue Jays’ star-studded infield. Chapman’s plus power and a career slugging percentage of .478 make him a significant plate threat. Chapman adds Platinum Glove-quality to Toronto’s infield — already boasting Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. It is perhaps the best infield in the AL East.
Player to watch: Bo Bichette
Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager are some of the premier shortstops in baseball. Young Bo Bichette is capable of jumping into that elite category. Bichette is a career .300 hitter with a solid OPS of .850. The Floridian-born star is the embodiment of a five-tool player. Last year, Bichette enjoyed a solid year with the glove. If he can find another level in the field, Bichette is ready to break out hugely.
Season projection: 90-plus wins, wildcard place
The Blue Jays are the team best positioned to challenge the Tampa Bay Rays. The ‘Jays have the depth and skill to last 162 games. The top of the pitching rotation has high-caliber talent, and the batting lineup is deep with potential MVP, Silver Slugger, and All-Star talents.
Toronto added vital pieces such as Kevin Gausman, and they extended ace Jose Berrios. Adding their grit and experience to a young team could be an inspired decision.
2021 season: 52-110
We finish our AL East preview in Baltimore. It was another miserable season for the Baltimore Orioles in 2021. The O’s won 52 games as their painful rebuild passed by another year. The promise of Adley Rutchsman was the sole thing that kept the Baltimore faithful placated.
Biggest offseason move: Robinson Chirinos
Veteran Robinson Chirinos signed a one-year deal, and his experience of winning organizations should help engender a healthy culture within the Orioles’ clubhouse. Moreover, his knowledge of the catcher position could help accelerate Adley Rutschman’s development.
Player to watch: Adley Rutschman
The number two ranked prospect per MLB.com is the silver lining for Orioles fans. The 2019 draft pick has the pedigree and the raw tools to excel at the big league level. However, luck dealt the Orioles a tough blow as Rutschman picked up a tricep injury to sideline him for 2-3 weeks. Nonetheless, it will be must-watch TV when Rutschman returns to the bigs. He is one of the game’s brightest young stars.
Season projection: AL East last place finish
Orioles fans should brace themselves for another difficult season. In a loaded division, the Orioles are sure to finish last. Bright sparks will occur as prospects maneuver through the pipeline, but many losses are in store for the Baltimore Orioles.
That’s it for the AL East preview! Come back at the end of the season to see how these predictions played out, and tune in to Around the Block to catch previews of each of the remaining divisions.