Last year, the AL East was the most competitive division in baseball, with three of the AL’s six playoff teams coming out of that division, and the Orioles the best team to not make the postseason.
The best team in that best division, the New York Yankees went 99-63 in 2022, seven games ahead of top Wild Card seed Toronto (92-70) and thirteen ahead of the final playoff team, Tampa Bay, before getting swept in the ALCS by eventual World Series champs the Houston Astros. Although you could argue that each of these teams has gotten better this offseason, it’d be harder to argue that Toronto or Tampa Bay has done enough to close the gap with New York. That leaves the Dark Overlords as the presumptive AL East favorites.
Additions and Subtractions
The Yankees probably “added” more to their team this offseason by ponying up $360 million to extend reigning MVP Aaron Judge (10.6 WAR, 1.111 OPS last season) on a nine-year deal than any other move they could have conceivably made.
Their other big offseason move was to ink star pitcher Carlos Rodón to a six-year deal. Over the last two seasons, he’s fourth in ERA and first in FIP among starters with at least 300 innings.
The Yankees also brought back first baseman Anthony Rizzo (32 HR, .817 OPS) on a two-year deal worth $17 million per season. Gone, meanwhile, are outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who signed a five-year, $75 million deal with the White Sox, the age-defying Matt Carpenter, who elected free agency before signing a two-year deal with San Diego, starter Jameson Taillon (Cubs), and several former bullpen contributors: old Birdland friend Miguel Castro and seven-time All Star Aroldis Chapman, now on a one-year deal with Kansas City.
A starting rotation made up of Rodón, Gerrit Cole, Nester Cortes, Luis Severino and Frankie Montas, when healthy, is… really good.
It wasn’t like starting pitching was a weakness of this team. Last season, they finished with the fourth-best starter ERA in baseball (3.51), behind only Los Angeles, Houston and Tampa Bay. Instead of sitting on their laurels, they upgraded by signing Rodón, one of the best pitchers in the game right now. Unfortunately, the Yankees won’t get to take advantage of his talents until mid- to late-April, as he’s dealing with a forearm strain.
Still, Gerrit Cole remains one of MLB’s top starting pitchers, and one of the most durable: he’s second in innings among all starters since 2019, and was one of just eight starters to throw over 200 innings last year. Last season’s 3.47 FIP was a downer by his standards, but if Cole can stop serving up homers (1.5 HR/9) he’ll be more effective.
Luis Severino has ace-level stuff but has been injury-plagued. He’s thrown just 120 innings since 2019, 102 of which came in 2022, when he pitched to a 3.18 ERA. The question will be whether he can stay on the field over an entire season.
First-time All-Star in 2022 Nestor Cortes Jr. is doubly frustrating for the Orioles: first, because he put up a 7.71 ERA when he pitched for the team in 2018, and second, because last season the Orioles hit .156 against the crafty lefty. Last year was Cortes’ coming out party: he went 12-4 in 28 starts with a sparkling 2.44 ERA and a minuscule 0.922 WHIP. His sample size is still limited, but so far, there’s no evidence that hitters have figured him out.
After those four, the battle for the fifth spot is somewhat open. Frankie Montas, picked up from Oakland last season, is expected to miss most of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt are two other options making a case for inclusion in the rotation. Deivi Garcia is still underseasoned but could end up making an impact. Same with Will Warren, a 2021 draftee now considered the Yankees’ No. 9 prospect.
The Yankees didn’t do much to upgrade their bullpen this offseason, but then again, with an MLB third-best 2.97 ERA last season, this unit didn’t need much upgrading. Michael King, Wandy Peralta, Lou Trivino, Ron Marinaccio and Greg Weissert are all trusted arms. The Yankees may be short a left-hander or two, and possibly facing a “closer by committee” situation, with Aroldis Chapman no longer on the team (early frontrunners for the job: Clay Holmes and Jonathan Loaisiga).
Despite those questions, this remains one of the best bullpens in the game.
The Yankees’ projected lineup stands to feature only one change since last season: at shortstop, where newcomers Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe are doing battle for the job. Figure to see manager Aaron Boone pencil the following into a lineup card pretty often:
C – Jose Trevino
1B – Anthony Rizzo
2B – Gleyber Torres
3B – Josh Donaldson
SS – Oswald Peraza
LF – Aaron Hicks
CF – Harrison Bader
RF – Aaron Judge
DH – Giancarlo Stanton
Although this group looks fearsome, headlined by the $360 million dollar man himself, Aaron Judge, offense was one of the Yankees’ only real weaknesses in 2022. Catcher Jose Trevino is one of the best fielders in the game (a Robinson Chirinos mentee back in their Texas days, by the way), but he’s not a threat at the plate. Anthony Rizzo hit .224 last season, the lowest mark of his career. Aaron Hicks and Josh Donaldson both struggled, managing just a .642 and .682 OPS, respectively. DJ LeMahieu has been injury-prone. Harrison Bader will start the season on the IL with an oblique injury, and isn’t expected to be back in action until May.
In fact, the team managed only a .579 OPS in the postseason last year, part of the reason they exited early. They haven’t done much to upgrade in that sense, although a few of these guys—especially the lefties—stand to benefit from the shift ban.
No good news here for Orioles fans, either. According to Fangraphs, the Yankees were the best-fielding team in the majors in 2022, and they’ve basically brought back the whole gang. Top fielders include catcher Jose Trevino, CF Harrison Bader, and third baseman Josh Donaldson.
USA Today: 95-67
DraftKings Sportsbook: Over/Under 93.5 wins, +125 to win the AL East, +750 to win the World Series
No surprises here: the Yankees are the favorites to win the AL East for a reason. They’re coming off a 99-win season and only improved their starting rotation while bringing back two of their biggest contributors on offense (Judge and Rizzo). Their bullpen remains elite.
Last season, the Yankees captured the AL East, beat the Guardians in the ALDS, made it to the ALCS before getting swept by the Astros—so, by Yankees standards, that made the season a failure. The question remains the same as last year: Can they beat the Astros?
I’ll let Yankees fans fret about that one, noting only that DraftKings sees the Astros as the odds-on favorites to repeat. For the Orioles, one of the bright spots of 2023 is that a more balanced schedule means they’ll see the Yankees only 14, not 19 times. Still, considering these Birds went a decent 7-12 against a stacked Yankees last season, I think, with their new prospect-jammed lineup, that they could put up a fight.