AL East Division Preview

What can we expect from each team in the mighty AL East?

While most of the attention regarding recent rule changes has fallen on the pitch clock and the banishment of extreme shifts, the most dramatic change in the sport just may have been the schedule realignment. By having all teams play each other at least once a year and reducing intra-divisional games from 19 to 13, the gap between competitive divisions and the weaker ones has become even more pronounced. During the first iteration of this overhaul, the AL East was at the forefront, as its teams threatened to post the highest combined winning percentage by a division ever, standing at .556 as late as August 31.

After dominating the regular season and producing three playoff teams, the East had a shocking no-show in October, combining for three sweeps amid a 0-7 mark that once again saw no division representative reach the promised land. In fact, following the Yankees’ title in 2009, no AL East team outside Boston has raised the Commissioner’s Trophy (or piece of metal, as it can also be called) despite the division having some really iconic rosters during this span. While this matter of possible exhaustion following tough regular seasons is certainly something to consider, these teams are again staring at a dogfight for the East’s top spot.

With the added layer of its two resident rich kids missing the playoffs last season, the battle of different styles and roster construction should be fascinating to watch in 2024. In all earnestness, the East may be the only division in baseball that can give us a tight race to the top from beginning to end, as all its teams are projected to win at least 81 games and have the resources to improve during the season. Today, we take a look at where each franchise stands and what we can expect in this tightly-contested division.


#5 – Boston Red Sox – 2023 Record: 78-84 – 2024 Projection: 81-81


The dissonance between Boston’s recent success and its current situation is frankly remarkable. They won a championship in 2018 with arguably the best team in franchise history, and then came within a couple of games of another pennant in 2021, which included back-to-back defeats of AL East foes in the process. However, the reality of trading a franchise cornerstone and failing to sign impact players has been felt ever since, with two consecutive 78-84 seasons that felt way worse than that. The last straw for Boston fans came late last year, as the team collapsed with an 8-19 mark in September that left them well off playoff contention. The offseason produced yet another major front-office change, now with Craig Breslow in charge of shaping up the roster for this historic franchise. Early results appear promising, but it is hard to find a fanbase that is more pessimistic about 2024, even as the projections still see the Red Sox as a fringe contender.

The hope for Boston mostly relies on its high-variance lineup, which may be short on stars outside of Rafael Devers, but still has enough intriguing names to consider it dangerous. A healthy Trevor Story can finally start earning his contract following two injury-marred seasons with the Sox, but that may be too much to ask for a 31-year-old who last had an All-Star-caliber season in 2019. The addition of a solid outfielder in Tyler O’Neill was a positive development after losing Justin Turner, but he is also not a true anchor in any lineup, as is the case of Masataka Yoshida, who was more competent than a difference maker in his debut season.

Boston’s youth infusion includes an important number of contributors in the lineup and the rotation, and they could represent the make-or-break of this team. Vaughn Grissom’s acquisition from Atlanta has been overshadowed by his current injury status, but he should represent an upgrade in the infield, while Triston Casas and Jarren Duran can start becoming household names if they hit their top-percentile projections. On the pitching side, another developmental season for Brayan Bello and Kutter Crawford is in store, while the team replaced the oft-injured Chris Sale with Lucas Giolito to be its de facto ace.

With a thin bullpen and a rotation full of question marks, expect a lot of high-scoring games in Fenway Park, as the team navigates a rough season. It is hard to envision a scenario in which Boston does not finish last in the division, with 2024 probably serving as a growing-pains type of season for its young players and a building block for the new front office as it tries to regain trust from both the fanbase and potential free agents. It is telling that the Red Sox have not been a true contender for top free agents in the past two offseasons, and they will begin the season in the middle of payroll rankings, which seems shocking for one of the most valuable franchises in the league. With a manager like Alex Cora at the helm, the floor for respectability game in and game out remains high, but Boston still has a ways to go if they wish to bring back the glory days of the last decade.


#4 – Toronto Blue Jays – 2023 Record: 89-73 – 2024 Projection: 84-78


Remember when it looked like the Blue Jays were landing Shohei Ohtani? Those chaotic 24 hours were probably the highlight of the offseason for Toronto, as the team has had an underwhelming winter and must now rely on its core players to keep this window of contention open. Quietly, the Jays will start 2024 as the fifth-highest payroll in the sport, which still seems shocking for an ownership group that had made a reputation for penny-pinching and not maximizing its vast wealth. However, this is still a franchise that has not won a playoff game since 2016 and that has found disappointment in several ways, shapes, and forms since its José BautistaEdwin Encarnación glory days. How can the Blue Jays make 2024 different?

In terms of depth and quality, Toronto arguably owns the best rotation in the East, if not all the American League, especially as Kevin Gausman continues to prove his massive free-agent deal was a great investment. In a similar fashion, the underrated Chris Bassitt and José Berríos should provide high volume and smart pitching, and Yusei Kikuchi may well be the most miscast No. 4 starter in baseball. If the Blue Jays find a way to have steady production from its fifth starting pitcher, suddenly 84 wins become the worst-case scenario. Of course, this scenario is not a given, as Alek Manoah’s shocking fall from grace remains a question mark as he tries to regain his form. Despite the high payroll, the team is thin on potential options should Manoah be unable to earn back the front office’s trust, which could mean plenty of openers and long relievers covering innings every five days.

Just like with Manoah, the franchise is counting on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to finally tap into his potential and regain his prodigious power. Last year, he was only the 12th-most valuable Blue Jay on the roster, which is not ideal for a player who is considered the face of the franchise. His lack of production was mostly offset by the emergence of Bo Bichette as a dark-horse MVP candidate, while Toronto continues to employ a slew of steady and predictable hitters, such as Alejandro Kirk, George Springer, and Daulton Varsho. After missing out on prominent free agents and losing Matt Chapman, the team’s biggest signing was Daniel Vogelbach, while its best addition may have been Justin Turner, both of which sound underwhelming at best. Unless the Davis Schneider experience returns in full force, it is likely that Vladito and Bo will need to carry this offense in most games.

It will be interesting to see if Toronto goes all in as the season evolves. Having mentioned the playoff drought, the real issue for this team is that most of its young players will get expensive soon, and 2024 may represent the last best chance for the franchise to make a deep October run. Nevertheless, they must navigate the season with enough urgency and solve the Manoah conundrum as a priority or at least get creative to ensure that their pitching staff does not go to waste. If you want to follow a fun team in MLB.TV all year long, there may not be much better options than the Blue Jays.


#3 – Baltimore Orioles – 2023 Record: 101-61 – 2024 Projection: 85-77


After executing one of the most extreme rebuilds of the recent era, the Orioles went from 110 losses in 2021 to 101 wins and a division title in 2023, graduating some of the most exciting prospects in MLB seemingly every month. As those younglings start becoming solid contributors and MVP candidates, Baltimore has both one of the league’s brightest present and future. At the same time, projection systems are again underselling the Orioles, suggesting that significant regression is on the horizon despite all the positive developments around the franchise. The ugly truth is that even with its strong core, the front office has not been willing to add in free agency or make major trades, leaving a lot of uncertainty in key positions. This lack of depth and star power was made evident in Baltimore’s tough ALDS exit at the hands of Texas, a series in which they were outscored 21-11 en route to being swept.

Using a similar configuration to Toronto’s, the Orioles will rely on a couple of stars at the top of the lineup and complement them with plenty of above-average bats that present a challenge for any pitching staff. The emergence of Adley Rutschman as the face of the franchise is far from shocking, but the fact that the Orioles continue to see their top prospects reach the majors quickly speaks volumes of their farm system. Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg are clear examples of that, while the likes of Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser should get every opportunity to establish themselves. While young veterans like Cedric Mullins and his underrated skill set represent the balance needed in every contender, the big X factor for the Orioles is clearly Jackson Holliday, who continues to fight for an Opening Day start either at shortstop or second base. If he finds a way to become an impact player in 2024, which is admittedly a big ask for his age, the Orioles could become the clear best offense in the East.

Pitching-wise, the team addressed its most pressing need by adding Corbin Burnes via trade, but even this major move appears to be insufficient in a division like this one. The Orioles were never part of the conversation of big-ticket free-agent hurlers, and it is unlikely that they go and sign Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery, which means that Burnes will be the clear ace with the hope that Grayson Rodriguez’s second-half gains are real enough to make him the co-ace at the top. The uncertain health situations of John Means and Kyle Bradish represent a major blow for this staff, which already included the year-long absence of closer Félix Bautista. The signing of Craig Kimbrel was interesting in terms of having a brand-name veteran, but there is no denying that closing games has been a roller-coaster type of affair for Kimbrel and the fans of his teams.

Mixing this exciting offense with a high-variance staff makes the Orioles one of 2024’s most watchable teams, as they now have a target on their backs. Running a bottom-third payroll may come back to haunt them as their depth is challenged, and so it will be interesting to see if the front office takes a gamble on their embarrassment of prospect riches to add at the deadline, especially when it comes to starting pitchers that can shape a division race. While repeating 100 wins is highly unlikely, this team is certainly a contender.


#2 – Tampa Bay Rays – 2023 Record: 99-63 – 2024 Projection: 86-76


The typical Tampa Bay Rays season is simple and predictable: they let go any player that might become expensive, avoid signing top free agents, somehow develop a number of unheralded pitchers, and complement their roster with savvy trades and undervalued players…rinse and repeat. Despite this, how the Rays continue to be relevant and competitive has varied from season to season, always making them one of the most fascinating franchises in American sports. Previous iterations of the Rays, like the 2020 pennant winner, were mostly known for their pitching, while the 99-win version of last season featured a powerful offense that made up for many absences on the mound. In any case, the 2024 Rays promise to have a more balanced approach, even if many of their key contributors are still hard to predict.

Losing a pitcher like Tyler Glasnow always hurts, but the Rays are counting on their unmatched depth and alternative pitching strategies to make up for it. Zach Eflin lived up to his status as the highest free agent contract in team history during his first season and should step up as the clear ace of the staff, and then it would not be surprising to see Aaron Civale reviving his career after a rough exit in Cleveland. Ryan Pepiot, who arrived from Los Angeles in the Glasnow trade, may be on an innings limit due to his age, but he could be the next big thing in Tampa’s rotation along with young Taj Bradley, who had an uneven debut season in 2023. As usual, Tampa’s bullpen is counting on manager Kevin Cash for the most appropriate mix-and-match usage, including openers, long relievers, and a closer-by-committee approach.

Despite plenty of rumors, it all points to Randy Arozarena staying put as the team’s most recognizable player, but also likely its most important offensive contributor. Yandy Díaz finally made the leap in 2023, and he should be fine even if the regression bugs come calling. The biggest intrigue from a position player standpoint is certainly at shortstop, where the untimely Wander Franco scandal has left the franchise without the player they thought would be their cornerstone. The current positional battle includes veteran Amed Rosario and utility-type players like José Caballero and Junior Caminero, but if history is any indication, the Rays will probably figure it out. Their current projections list 14 hitters with at least 200 plate appearances, with nearly all of them providing some type of positive value.

Despite their many budgetary limitations and the new stadium dilemma that has placed the Rays as a potential relocation candidate, it is likely that they will remain a contender on the field. The biggest item for the franchise may be the fact that their most recent playoff appearances have been disappointments, going 1-7 in October after their 2020 run to the World Series. Considering that their quick exits have mostly been the product of punchless offenses, the Rays could be uncharacteristically aggressive during the season when it comes to adding bats.


#1 – New York Yankees – 2023 Record: 82-80 – 2024 Projection: 89-73


In Yankee years, their current 15-year World Series drought feels like 50, and considering their absence from the 2023 playoff absence has suddenly made this season a pivotal one for the franchise. Following calls for firing manager Aaron Boone and/or GM Brian Cashman, the team has remained steady on their quest for a championship, recurring to their long-standing tradition of spending money today and asking questions later. Entering the season with the highest projected payroll in the sport, luxury tax be damned, the Yankees appear to be a slight favorite in the East, even as returning to the playoffs is not a fait accompli for a roster that still has many question marks.

The addition of Juan Soto on a free-agent season looks almost like a match made in heaven for the Yankees, as they flexed their financial muscles when the Padres suddenly could not pay one of the best players in the sport. Pairing him with Aaron Judge at the top of the lineup seems almost unfair, but the drop-off at the rest of the lineup is noticeable. A collection of streaky and injury-prone hitters is headlined by the likes of Gleyber Torres, Anthony Volpe, DJ LeMahieu, and whatever is left of Giancarlo Stanton. The prolonged absence of top prospect Jasson Domínguez will be felt to start the season, as he appeared to infuse a new sense of speed and power for a team that will probably rely too much on the long ball to succeed. The addition of Alex Verdugo from the rival Red Sox was surprising, but he will probably be more solid than spectacular.

Even with the Soto acquisition, the erstwhile Bronx Bombers may depend on their pitching to be truly successful in 2024. Coming off a Cy Young award, Gerrit Cole continues to be one of the best hurlers in the sport, being worth every penny from his mega contract. His efforts could be complemented by year two of Carlos Rodón, who had the proverbial season from hell in his pinstripes debut, which overshadowed Nestor Cortes‘ awful year. If both mustachioed lefties return to career norms, suddenly New York can give Toronto a run for their money in terms of rotation depth. The unheralded signing of Marcus Stroman may prove to be a stroke of genius for Brian Cashman, while Clarke Schmidt may sound like a British scholar, but he is probably the best No. 5 starter in baseball. To round out the staff, the bullpen is bound to again be a strength for this team, with Clay Holmes emerging as a shutdown closer.

Returning to top-spender status does not guarantee anything to the Yankees in 2024, but money has given them a very high floor with wild-card contention as the likely worst-case scenario. With Soto aiming for a transcendent free agent contract, Aaron Judge and Carlos Rodón on a mission, and Aaron Boone managing for his job, this team has many storylines to either make them a juggernaut or a massive failure, with no in-between, at least for the New York tabloids. Regardless of the end result, it should be a fun season in the Bronx.

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.

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