2023-24 Offseason Preview: AL East

The AL East features top talent, but will it matter in the playoffs?

The World Series is over and the winter meetings are coming up, which means big trades and even bigger free-agent signings. Front offices have already been churning through the data and making plans that will impact the product each team puts on the field. Here at Pitcher List, we take a look at each division as teams get ready for the 2024 season.

The AL East had three playoff teams in 2023, just like it did in 2021 and 2022, as the division has become the standard of fierce competition and loaded rosters. However, just like it happened in years prior, it failed to produce a pennant winner, as the last AL East representative to play in the World Series was Tampa Bay in the shortened 2020 campaign.

Taking it even further, the East’s performance in the playoffs was truly dismal, as the Rays, Blue Jays, and Orioles went a combined 0-for-7 in October, suffering unceremonious sweeps. This came in true contrast to the regular season, in which most of the East beat up on the rest of baseball, producing a 101-game winner in Baltimore and a 99-game winner in Tampa. Elsewhere in the AL, the Central division was won with 87 games and the West only required 90 wins to crown a winner. Does this mean that the AL East is so tough that its teams reach the final stretch already exhausted? Is it just random variance? In any case, the only East team that has won a title in the last decade is Boston, while many other representatives have faltered in the playoffs.

Heading into 2024, the AL East is probably the only division in baseball that can go five-deep in potential contenders, either by financial might or well-rounded rosters, creating a lot of intrigue towards the potential transactions that each team will make. The deep-pocketed Yankees and Red Sox were left out of the dance in 2023, adding a layer of urgency to their actions, while the three playoff participants will probably rely more on depth and savvy roster construction. It is bound to be a really interesting winter.


Baltimore Orioles


2023 record: 101-61 (first place)

Overview: In terms of a pure turn-around, the 2022-23 Orioles have been the best story in baseball. While their tanking was not as highly publicized as previous cases like the Astros and Cubs, Baltimore followed that blueprint masterfully, bottoming out at with three straight full seasons of at least 108 losses. However, there was not even a middling 70-win campaign in between, as the Orioles were Wild Card contenders in 2022 and posted a winning season, culminating with a shocking 101-win finish and the top seed in the AL. Losing quickly in the ALDS was certainly disappointing, but that is usually part of the growing pains of a young team trying to ascend.

They achieved this with the third-lowest payroll in the sport, and now have one of the most enviable situations in MLB. Baltimore’s payroll flexibility is virtually unmatched for a contender, and they still boast one of the best (if not the best) farm systems in baseball, despite already graduating many of their top prospects. The Orioles now have a smorgasbord of options, which include strengthening via free agency, trading from their surplus of starters for established veterans, or simply riding their wave of youth and trying all over again…maybe even a combination of all these options. In any case, staying put is probably a fool’s errand in the East, and so the Orioles are set to be one of the offseason’s most interesting teams.

Free agents: RHP Jack Flaherty, RHP Kyle Gibson, 2B Adam Frazier, RHP Shintaro Fujinami, RHP Kyle Gibson, OF Aaron Hicks, RHP Austin Voth

Position player outlook: In 2023, 10 batters had at least 350 plate appearances for the Orioles — only one of them (Adam Frazier) was at least 30 years old. This speaks volumes of Baltimore’s wealth of young players, as six of these youngsters posted above-average batting lines. The situation for 2024 would appear to favor the status quo, especially when you can pencil in Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson as sleeper MVP picks. However, there are still a few potential issues for a lineup that could go through sophomore slumps and adjustments from the league.

The mid-season addition of veteran Aaron Hicks, who posted the offense’s highest OBP, is proof that even a dynamic team can always use a steady presence. While Hicks could be a natural candidate to return, the Orioles are probably best suited for a higher-impact free agent, even if they are not shopping at the high-end store. The development of Colton Cowser and Keston Kjerstad are the long-term goals, but adding an outfielder or two should be on the team’s priority list, considering Cedric Mullins’ constant injuries and Anthony Santander’s eroding defense.

Over in the infield, the inevitable promotion of #1 prospect Jackson Holliday will be a boost and will likely turn Jorge Mateo and Frazier into super utility players. If Ryan Mountcastle’s power numbers take a dip, there is a chance for prospect Coby Mayo to be called up, though he could also be a blue-chip trade piece if the team chooses to be aggressive.

Starting rotation outlook: While the front office could justify not making any big changes in the lineup, the same cannot be said about the rotation. The lack of a true impact starter was evident in the postseason, and now the Orioles must recognize starting pitching as a huge need. Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer are young and effective but may have limited upside. The return of John Means has value from an organizational standpoint, but it may be too much to ask for him to return to his early-career form.

The best hope for acehood in Baltimore is breakout pitcher Kyle Bradish, who posted a 2.83 ERA/3.17 FIP season, becoming one of the league’s most valuable pitchers. Adding a premium pitcher makes a lot of sense for this team, even if it means opening up the checkbook.

Bullpen outlook: The loss of closer Felix Bautista for the whole season is painful, but it should be mostly offset by the emergence of Yennier Cano, who somehow held a sub-1 ERA for most of 2023. While most of the save opportunities should go to Cano, manager Brandon Hyde has also shown the ability to maximize matchups and create a true bullpen committee, which should also provide chances to the likes of Tyler Wells and Danny Coulombe. Even as there is no immediate need for a Josh Hader-type arm, bringing in some reinforcements should help the Orioles.


Boston Red Sox


2023 record: 78-84 (last place, 23 games behind)

Overview: The Boston Red Sox have become an increasingly confounding entity. Since their 2013 championship, they have had 4 playoff appearances (including one more title), 5 last-place finishes, and just one “boring” season. In the midst of all that, they have alienated part of their fanbase, shied away from most top free agents, and made some curious decisions along the way. The move that essentially gave away Mookie Betts continues to haunt the historic franchise, and now they enter 2024 as the clear worst team in the AL East.

Having said that, they still had a mostly competent 2023, playing above-.500 ball for most of the season, and ending with a run differential that suggests that maybe they were a few breaks away from wild card contention. Boston could become one of the highest-variance teams in baseball, with the potential of bottoming out or somehow fighting for the playoffs, with no in-between. With Craig Breslow coming in as head of baseball operations, the front office will try again to return the franchise to its glory days.

Free agents: OF Adam Duvall, RHP Corey Kluber, RHP Wyatt Mills, SS Adalberto Mondesi, LHP James Paxton, LHP Joely Rodríguez, 1B/DH Justin Turner

Position player outlook: Unless the team re-signs wily veterans Adam Duvall and Justin Turner, it would be losing 40+ homers and 150+ RBI from their 2023 roster. This speaks to the current configuration of Boston, as they boast one bona-fide franchise player, Rafael Devers, but little else to provide confidence. The emergence of Triston Casas (24 homers, .856 OPS) provides some hope, but he is still a first baseman who needs to hit for a lot of power in order to provide value.

Elsewhere, the roster is full of solid but unspectacular players, such as Masataka Yoshida, Jarren Duran, and Trevor Story, the latter of which has been a bust since signing a huge deal. The team’s embodiment of okayness, outfielder Alex Verdugo, has been mentioned in several trade rumors but is unlikely to yield the kind of impact player Boston needs. Even as the franchise’s riches and mysticism have been mentioned as potential reasons for a Shohei Ohtani courtship, it seems improbable that the reigning MVP would choose Fenway Park as his next home stadium.

With such a shallow free agent class in terms of hitters, it seems more palatable that Boston will ride out another mediocre season, trying to give more at-bats to Casas and other youngsters.

Starting rotation outlook: Boston’s rotation is projected to have a handful of 2-WAR types, but no true difference-makers in a division that is merciless when it comes to offense. The plan sounds really painful, especially as the Red Sox had a bottom-10 rotation in 2023 and the same pitchers are mostly projected to return next season.

The days of Chris Sale as an ace are long gone, even as the team will pay him $27.5 million in what should be the last year of his contract. With the team being a long shot for the division, the best hope seems like Sale having a renaissance and becoming trade fodder, as the team tries to develop internal projects. The trio of Brayan Bello, Tanner Houck, and Kutter Crawford delivered mixed results as starters in 2023, though they managed to stay healthy and show flashes of their potential, which is exactly what Boston needs.

Nick Pivetta (10 wins, 3.96 FIP) should finally have a full season as a starter and is bound to be the rotation’s balancing point between the youth and Sale’s high-variance act. Even as the Red Sox have been tied to several free agent rumors, the most likely scenario gives them a #3 starter and a couple of bounce-back candidates to complement their rotation.

Bullpen outlook: Kenley Jansen, who pitched 44.2 mostly-effective innings in 2023, sits atop the depth chart to close out games, even as he looks like an unnecessary luxury for a team that would benefit from giving innings to younger arms. Veteran Chris Martin should be prominent as an eighth-inning bridge to Jansen, while the rest of the bullpen is full of intriguing names that could give Boston a sneaky-good pen, like Garrett Whitlock and Josh Winckowski. If the front office stays put with this staff, at least this unit will not be a liability.


New York Yankees


2023 record: 82-80 (fourth place, 19 games behind)

Overview: In a year full of high-profile failures, the Yankees were certainly one of the most entertaining. The calls for Aaron Boone and/or Brian Cashman to be fired were constant, especially as the team faded down the stretch. Losing Aaron Judge for a long period ended up being the nail in the proverbial coffin, even as the team salvaged a winning season to extend their remarkable record of 31 straight. While having Judge and Gerrit Cole as two elite players, the drop-off from there was steep, and the Yankees now face a pivotal offseason.

Lost in all the noise, the franchise at least took a couple of positive steps in 2023, especially when it comes to creating a younger base. The early-season debut of Anthony Volpe and the late-season call-up of Jasson Dominguez were the highlights, even if the roster still has more than a few holes. With the wealthy franchise already linked to all kinds of free agents and trade rumors for the likes of Ohtani and Juan Soto, it seems a foregone conclusion that New York will make some kind of splash, but will that be enough?

The fourth-place finish was the franchise’s worst since 2016, and the current projections show that unless something drastic happens, they will enter 2024 as the presumed fourth-best team in the East.

Free agents: RHP Albert Abreu, UTIL Isiah Kiner-Falefa, RHP Keynan Middleton, LHP Anthony Misiewicz, RHP Frankie Montas, LHP Wandy Peralta, RHP Luis Severino, RHP Lou Trivino, RHP Luke Weaver

Position player outlook: After Aaron Judge signed his mega free-agent deal to keep him in pinstripes, he delivered another star-level season (1.019 OPS), even as injuries reared their ugly head. While the toe injury he suffered can be blamed on a freak incident, it is important to remember that Judge has only played over 115 games in half of his six seasons in MLB. With the Yankees full of fragile veterans like Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, and Anthony Rizzo, it looks hard to project an immediate future in which they can compete with Toronto and Tampa, let alone Baltimore.

At the same time, their top players in terms of plate appearances were Anthony Volpe and Gleyber Torres, suggesting that the Yankees are still a team with a high floor on offense. While Dominguez missed the last part of the season with injuries, he was electric in his short stint (4 homers in 8 games) and could be the X factor for a team that looks far removed from their Bronx Bombers moniker.

As the roster stands today, manager Aaron Boone could be giving significant at-bats to utility types and light-hitting batters, such as Estevan Florial and Oswald Peraza. With the lack of impact hitters on the market, the Yankees may not have enough choices to patch up their lineup and instead focus on a pitching-and-defense approach to winning (unless they make a Soto trade work).

Starting rotation outlook: The contrast between Gerrit Cole and the Yankees rotation was stark in 2023. Giving flashes of Steve Carlton in 1972, Cole won 15 games with a 2.63 ERA for a rotation that ended 18th in baseball with a 4.44 ERA. The biggest disappointment for a need that needed a lot of pitching was free agent Carlos Rodon, who started the season on the IL and then was awful when he actually pitched. While the Yankees hope for some regression from his 6.85 ERA (!!!), his inauspicious start should give pause to Yankee fans who hope the team signs a big-ticket-free agent again.

Rodon’s struggles eclipsed the fall back to earth from Nestor Cortes, who was limited to 12 ineffective starts. Adding Michael King and Clarke Schmidt full-time to the rotation should be enough to have a competent starter each day, but that depends on returns to form from Rodon and Cortes, who can be the difference between a top-10 staff or another fourth place finish.

Giving Cole a reliable co-ace at the top should be a priority, even if it seems counter-intuitive for New York to double down on pitching while their offense is full of question marks.

Bullpen outlook: If there is one area of the roster that Brian Cashman can leave alone, the bullpen can boast of being the best in baseball last season. While 10 different pitchers earned at least one save, the full-time job belongs to closer Clay Holmes, who continues to be one of the team’s best trade additions in recent memory. Complementary arms like Wandy Peralta and Albert Abreu could be re-signed to add continuity, but other power arms like Jonathan Loaisiga and Tommy Kahnle should provide enough talent to again give the Yankees a top-5 bullpen.


Tampa Bay Rays


2023 record: 99-63 (second place, 2 games behind)

Overview: The Rays had literally the best start ever, with a 13-0 mark to begin the season that saw them slug their way into the record books. It was mostly downhill from there, even as the team ended with a 99-win season, they could not close out the division and ultimately exited the postseason in the first round for the third straight season. As usual, payroll constraints are an issue in Tampa, and so the offseason will likely feature a number of money-saving moves without hurting the competitiveness of the big-league roster.

Even with the optimism that comes with the announcement of a new stadium that will keep the team in Tampa long-term, this is still a franchise that operates with maximum efficiency in their minds. The lowlight that came from the sparsely-attended playoff series against Texas serves as a reminder that Tampa’s struggles to attract fans will not be magically solved by a new building, even if the front office continues to present a viable product on the field.

While there are not any notorious free agents leaving the team, the list of potential trades to be made includes some big names, starting with Tyler Glasnow and now even including Randy Arozarena, who could be considered the face of the franchise. Dealing from strength is part of Tampa’s identity, and this offseason will be business as usual.

Free agents: RHP Cooper Criswell, RHP Chris Devenski, LHP Jake Diekman, RHP Robert Stephenson

Position player outlook: In terms of depth on offense, the Rays have what looks to be one of the best rosters on paper. However, it all comes with a massive caveat, as the projections show Wander Franco as the team’s top position player (4.9 WAR) even as he continues to be in limbo. All indications point to Franco being out for a significant part of 2024, if not out of organized baseball altogether, which creates a lot of issues for Tampa on and off the field.

While the team can plug Taylor Walls as a serviceable replacement, the lack of upside is massive. A core of Yandy Diaz, Isaac Paredes, and Arozarena creates a dynamic top of the order with enough speed and power, even as it sacrifices defense for a team that needs to extract value in any way it can. As it stands today, it may be a fool’s errand to project the rest of the order, as veterans like Manuel Margot, Brandon Lowe, and Harold Ramirez are probably in the trading block.

However Tampa shakes things up, especially if they insist on receiving MLB-ready hitters, should be okay to remain in contention for at least a wild card spot. The team’s ceiling has been highly reduced due to the Franco situation, even if the front office has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to savvy trades and roster construction.

Starting rotation outlook: Zach Eflin became the unlikely recipient of the highest free agent contract in Rays history and then backed it up with a solid 16-win season. While his 3.50 ERA was stellar, his 3.01 FIP suggests he was a bit unlucky and could even benefit from positive regression in 2024. His status as the de-facto ace, if Glasnow departs, is a solid starting point, even if Eflin flies under the radar of pitching conversations. Full seasons from Shane Baz and Taj Bradley should give them enough development under Tampa Bay’s pitching lab, which bodes well for the franchise. Aaron Civale will also benefit from a full offseason with the team and could become a surprising contributor.

Outside the aforementioned full-time starters, Tampa will undoubtedly continue to use openers as a core strategy. Tampa led the league with 17 pitchers making at least one start, as what used to be a gimmick has evolved into an embraced part of Rays baseball. With capable arms like Zack Littell and Drew Rasmussen leading the way, there is no reason to stop trying to win in unconventional ways.

Bullpen outlook: The use of openers has blurred the division between rotation and bullpen many times in Tampa, but when it comes strictly to protecting leads, the team should continue to be among the very best. Despite a down year that saw the Rays fall to 12th in bullpen ERA (following two straight top-10 finishes), the high end of the pen should be okay with the likes of Pete Fairbanks and Jason Adam handling high-leverage situations. Manager Kevin Cash has always favored matchups and closer-by-committee, and that should continue in Tampa, where 10 different pitchers earned at least one save in 2023.


Toronto Blue Jays


2023 record: 89-73 (third place, 12 games behind)

Overview: For a few seasons, it looked like the Blue Jays would become the top team in the AL East. The reasoning was that they would surround their young core with enough talent to justify their status as a big-market team. In many ways, the plan has been successful, with Toronto evolving from their mid-2010s squads to become a perennial contender, now with four straight winning seasons and three combined playoff appearances. On the other hand, the Blue Jays last had a division title in 2015, with their last playoff win coming all the way back in 2016.

After a disappointing playoff exit against the Twins, the urgency in Toronto has been raised to unprecedented levels. The plan of building around youth has worked to an extent, but players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Alejandro Kirk lack the consistency to be considered stars, creating a team that has been more frustrating than exciting. To wit, their largest winning streak in 2023 was 6 games, while Toronto never was a threat atop the division. Toronto’s record was masked by a 30-16 record against the National League, as they had losing marks against their AL East foes.

The Blue Jays have emerged as a serious contender for Shohei Ohtani, suggesting that the front office is willing to add payroll and maximize this window of contention, which can be hard in such a tight division. Taken as a whole, Toronto’s roster already possesses a high floor, but finally playing to their potential may be the difference between a deep playoff run and their current status as also-rans.

Free agents: 1B Brandon Belt, 3B Matt Chapman, RHP Adam Cimber, RHP Jordan Hicks, OF Kevin Kiermaier, 2B/OF Whit Merrifield, LHP Hyun Jin Ryu

Position player outlook: For all of Guerrero’s detractors, he will still be 25 years old on Opening Day, and the projections trust that he has the ability to tap into his massive power. Last season’s raw numbers (26 homers, .788 OPS) are far from what we have already seen from the slugger, and if he can find a way to return to his 2021 form, it will go a long way for Toronto. Around the infield, Kirk and Bichette are also young enough to still have room for improvement, and their status as OBP machines is also essential to consider Toronto a top offensive team.

The almost inevitable losses of veterans Matt Chapman, Brandon Belt, and Kevin Kiermaier will be felt in some ways, but they can be considered expendable if the front office is able to make a splash in free agency. The possibility of having phenom Davis Schneider for a full season is exciting, even as he cooled off after his torrid MLB start, and year 2 of the Daulton Varsho experience has to be better than year 1.

Having George Springer at the top of the lineup, even at age 34, still gives the Blue Jays a steady presence, and navigating this offense should still be a challenge for opposing pitchers. However, much of it will depend on how Guerrero and Bichette deliver upon their pedigree.

Starting rotation outlook: The shocking fall from grace of Alek Manoah was lost in the shuffle of MLB storylines in 2023, but it is still one of the biggest developments in recent Toronto history. Manoah, who came close to a Cy Young award in 2022, finished 2023 with a 3-9 record, 5.87 ERA, and a number of attitude incidents that do not bode well for his future. However, the team has backed him up and expects him to bounce back in a major way. He could be the biggest wild card for a team that needs pitching, as he will enter his age-26 season with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

In terms of depth, Toronto may have the best rotation in the East. Having a true ace in Kevin Gausman makes everything easier, but also being backed up by the underrated Chris Bassitt (16-8, 3.60 ERA) and the steady Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi. These four hurlers had each at least 30 starts for the Blue Jays. Counting on excellent health from pitchers is usually a high-wire act, so it may behoove the front office to acquire at least one starter, especially if Manoah fails to return to form.

Bullpen outlook: Jordan Romano can be considered one of the best closers in the AL, despite his sudden fights with control. In general, the Toronto bullpen had walk issues in 2023, and that should be addressed to make sure that most leads hold. While the offense has proven explosive and keeps the team in most contests, the bullpen was also responsible for 35 blown leads. Having high-leverage arms like Yimi Garcia and Tim Mayza is a solid plan, but Toronto could benefit from having more options, especially for long relief.

Pablo Figueroa

Pablo Figueroa is a Baseball Writer here at Pitcher List, with experience as a writer since 2013. He lives in Aguascalientes, Mexico - proud home of Los Rieleros. When he´s not thinking about baseball , he's a husband, owns two dogs, watches random episodes of The Sopranos , plays padel, and works on his day job to pay the bills.

One response to “2023-24 Offseason Preview: AL East”

  1. Babbo B says:

    I suspect a lot of teams would like to have a young pitcher with the “limited upside” of Grayson Rodriguez (#14 on the early version of The List for 2024).

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