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The baseball season is just days away, and it’s time to take a couple of last looks into the futures market to try and derive some value before the season kicks off. We’ll be taking a look at the AL East in this one and picking out the eventual winner.
Before diving into the odds, take a quick look at your favorite team's schedule. Notice some teams you’re not used to seeing? Major League Baseball introduced a new “balanced schedule,” which reduced the number of divisional games from 76 to 52.
MLB has also increased the number of interleague games from 20 to 46. I think the AL East will be affected by this change as one of the historically competitive divisions in the league.
Take a quick look at the odds…
Latest Odds from DraftKings SportsBook
|New York Yankees||+130|
|Toronto Blue Jays||+200|
|Tampa Bay Rays||+340|
|Boston Red Sox||+1500|
Coming off a division win in 2022, the Yankees made one of the biggest free agent splashes, bringing in Carlos Rodon from the Giants on a massive six-year deal. In other big news, the Yankees' #1 prospect Anthony Volpe will start the season on the major league club and is expected to start at short after a hot Spring Training.
The Yankees lineup will produce, we know, but are they deep enough to sustain success over 162 games in 2023? A hallmark of the Yankees' success over the past few years has been their depth on both sides of the ball and especially in the bullpen. With all the early injuries in Spring Training, I’m not so sure the Yankees have the same luxury.
Frankie Montas, Carlos Rodon, and Luis Severino are all starting the year on the injured list, although Rodon and Severino aren’t expected to miss too much time. Aside from Gerrit Cole, this Yankees rotation has too many question marks. The Yankees are asking a lot of Nestor Cortes as their #2 starter, despite his success in 2022.
I’m not sure that Domingo German has the chops to make it a starter in general. The Yankees are going to rely heavily on Clarke Schmidt in the early part of the season. What was once a feared bullpen in the Bronx won’t be the same as in previous years.
While I do think Clay Holmes is deserving of the closer role and will produce in 2023, there isn’t too much to be excited about past Ron Marinaccio and Michael King. Tommy Kahnle and Lou Trivino will also start the year on the IL.
I have to imagine the Yankees are regretting the trade for Harrison Bader, despite his talents. He’ll also start the year on the IL, while the Yankees could desperately use Jordan Montgomery. The one saving grace for the Yankees is that they’re always buying.
As the season progresses, the Yankees will look to add more talent at the deadline, whether that be trading for a starter, reliever, or more depth on offense. (Knowing the Yankees, it’ll be all three). I don’t see any value in the Yankees as the short shot in the East, and I think the wrong team is favored right now.
It feels like the Blue Jays were quietly forgotten over the offseason, with their only big acquisition being Dalton Varsho in a trade with Arizona. While I do think Gerson Moreno was a huge piece to give up in order to acquire Varsho, I do love the fit for this lineup in need of some left-handed pop and defensive versatility. The Jays also moved Teoscar Hernandez, likely to make room for Varsho in the lineup and acquire more pitching depth.
I’m not sure I would call that move necessary, but I still think there’s plenty of talent in this Toronto lineup to contend for the AL East crown. If you’ve read our American League MVP preview this offseason, you’ll know I’m banking on a big season from Vladamir Guerrero Jr. It seems like the league has forgotten his triple-crown run in 2021 and isn’t giving the Jays lineup the respect it deserves.
Another key change in the favor of the Jays' offense is the new ballpark dimensions. The Blue Jays have done extensive renovations to their fan experiences in the ballpark, and part of this included bringing in the fences in both left and right-center field. Right-Center will be especially short at just 359 feet.
This will help Gurrero’s power numbers, and it’s positive to see the Blue Jays construct their roster around some of the changes to MLB that we’ll see in 2022. They’ve added Varsho and Brandon Belt to provide left-handed power to take advantage of the shorter right-field dimensions. Further, with pitch clocks and the shift ban, there are going to be more balls in play, and the Jays have taken steps to improve their defense.
Varsho will be a major upgrade over Hernandez/Lourdes Gurriel. They’ve also signed Kevin Kiermeier to play center field, which pushes the capable George Springer into right. Kiermeier will have the task of manning what might be a unique outfield with the new center field dimensions, but the three-time gold glove winner was one of the best options on the market for this team.
Looking further than the offense, I think the Blue Jays' pitching staff will be top three in the American League when it’s all said and done. There are indeed concerns over Alek Manoah’s declining velocity after his first full season as a starter. It was encouraging to see a young arm throw almost 200 innings in 2022, although he was slightly less effective than his shorter sample size in 2021.
We’d like to see Manoah return to his previous strikeout numbers while maintaining the low walk rate he showed in 2023. Manoah has four elite pitches and has proven himself durable enough to handle a full season as a starter. If you don’t view Manoah as a true ace, look no further than Kevin Gausman.
Gausman’s first season in Toronto went under the radar as he didn’t post as low of an ERA as he did in his breakout 2021 campaign with the Giants. However, He posted an even lower xERA and FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), maintained his 28% K-rate, and lowered his walk rate to under 4%. Gausman retains an elite CSW%, and his splitter is one of the best in the game at the moment.
Behind Gausman and Manoah is the quiet addition of Chris Bassitt. Bassitt might not get the recognition he deserves after pitching in Oakland and then pitching behind big names like Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer in Queens. Many teams would love to have Bassitt as their one or two starters, but Toronto has the luxury of having a star in the middle of the rotation.
Since 2021, Bassitt has had an 18+% K-BB% and posted a double-digit swinging strike rate. Toss in his 30% CSW, and you have a quiet star in the rotation. Having such strong options at the top of the rotation should take pressure off the often erratic Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi.
I’m not sold on Berrios as an ace, but he is certainly capable of pitching out of the back of a good rotation. The Jays also have good depth in this rotation, with Zach Thompson, Thomas Hatch, and former first-rounder Nate Pearson waiting in the wings.
Best Bet: Toronto Blue Jays +200 (FanDuel)
As you can probably tell from our above thoughts, we think the AL East will be a two-horse race between the Yankees and Blue Jays. Nevertheless, baseball is a funny game, and each of the three remaining teams is capable of making a run. Here's a look at each one of them.
I think the Orioles continue their resurgence and youth movement. I love their young offense but have concerns over their pitching.
They understandably didn’t put Grayson Rodriguez on the major league roster to help with his arbitration years, but this will hurt the club. With a win total of around 76, I don’t think the Orioles compete for the division, despite being a better than average ballclub.
The Rays always find a way to be competitive. With a win total of 89, I expect the Rays to be a thorn in the side of the top teams all season long. Despite this, I’m not sure this roster has the talent to compete with the Blue Jays.
The Rays will once again ask a lot out of Shane McClanahan, with Tyler Glasnow already starting 2023 on the IL. You can always count on the pitching depth of the Rays, but I need to see it before I can believe it. This offense could struggle as well, as the Rays will strike out a ton despite boasting a strong team OBP.
The Red Sox could end up in the cellar of the AL East this year with their pitching. Brian Bello, James Paxton, and Garrett Whitlock will all start the year on the IL. The Sox will rely too much on starters and relievers on the wrong side of 35 and have little to no pitching depth outside of Brian Mata.
I do believe this offense will be good and will keep the Red Sox competitive. Masataka Yoshida could be in for a big year, along with fellow rookie Triston Casas.
I like the construction of the Red Sox lineup a lot if Justin Turner can be serviceable out of the 3-spot. The Red Sox could be competitive if their pitching holds up long enough for Trevor Story and Adalberto Mondesi to get healthy.