Spring Notes: Rising From The Bottom?

In 2023 the American League East was the best division in all of baseball. In fact, it was such a tough division to win in that for the first time in my life the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox both missed the playoffs. Both were quite busy in the winter with the hopes of finding their way back to the playoffs. Let’s take a look at where all these teams are after a slow off season around the league that has many free agents still looking for a home a few days before opening day.

Baltimore Orioles

Expectations are very high for the Orioles to make the playoffs again after winning the division last year even after sad news came out of Baltimore yesterday. Peter Angelos who was the majority owner since 1993 became the second owner in baseball to pass away since the since the World Series ended on November 1, 2023. He was 94. Chances are that will not change much on the field. However, it would be a wonderful story to see then continue to build on their great season last year winning 101 games and being the division champions.

After running out of steam in the AL Wild Card Series last year the Orioles made a few moves to stay atop the division and make another playoff run. They started their off season dealings with signing Closer Craig Kimbrel to a deal. Then made a deal with the Kansas City Royals sending them minor leaguer Cesar Espinal for Jonathon Heasley.

This trade was unclear from the day it was made because the Orioles were in need of a starter after having one of the strongest bullpens in the AL least year behind only the Yankees and Seattle Mariners. However, as Spring Training comes to a close it is now clear that he will be pitching out of the ‘pen after the Milwaukee Brewers traded Corbin Burnes to Baltimore a couple weeks before spring training. This means Heasley will likely be used mostly in long relief to keep him stretched out in case of an injury to one of the starters.

Also, in January they made a trade with the Detroit Tigers bringing Tyler Nevin back. It appears they made this move because they think he will fit in as a utility player since he can play first, third, left and right.

Tampa Bay Rays

Not much to say here because aside from signing one free agent in December and making a few trades during the offseason to improve their batting lineup the Rays also stood pat until Spring Training when they signed Shortstop Amed Rosario as a backup and Pitcher Phil Maton who is expected to pitch in a swing role out of their bullpen mostly as a long reliever.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays winter started with nearly their entire infield, their Center Fielder, and two of their pitchers electing free agency. The also traded the Brandon Little to the Cubs for cash in November after free agency opened and were able to resign Center Fielder Kevin Kiermaier in December. Other than that in February they signed Pitcher Yariel Rodriguez, out of Cuba, who is expected to be in their rotation. Losing three-fifths of their infield including Matt Chapman looks to send them back to being basement dwellers for at least a couple years.

New York Yankees

The Yankees saw a lot of turnover with their roster when the 2023 season ended as a result of nearly half of their 26 man roster electing free agency. As a result they had to do a lot of retooling through trades and free agency. Of course, they were anticipating having a chance at signing Shohei Ohtani. However, we all know at this point that he was staying in Los Angeles… it was just a question of if the Angels would step up to the plate and match the offer from the Dodgers.

Since that did not happen they made a number of trades to fill in their 26 man roster and also signed a couple of free agents. The difference makers from the roster moves the Yankees ended up making in the winter are likely to be Left Fielder Juan Soto who they received in a trade from San Diego and free agent Starting Pitcher Marcus Stroman. The other trades and signs they made were all stop gap types of moves to fill in the.

All of the turnover they saw with their roster following last season could mean it will be a couple more years before they find their way back to the top of the AL East. Especially considering they have a lot of guys who are making the team this year that were non-roster invites to spring training and signed on Minor League deals.

Boston Red Sox

As basement dwellers in 2023 the Red Sox had a lot to do in the winter to improve their team. They did make a lot of roster moves specifically through trades. Unfortunately, though, most of the moves they made seem like stop gap moves to me. The trade that sent Vaughn Grissom to Boston from Atlanta is the only move they made that involved a player who’s name I recognized.

Here’s the thing folks: The AL East has always been known to be the toughest division in the league. The Red Sox and Yankees have been towards the top of the division year after year for most of the last 35 years. However, they finished 2023 constantly trading places as basement dwellers in September and it is looking like Boston will stay in the basement again this year with the Yankees finding there way back to the top.

With that…. we are only six days away from opening day!

If you cannot play with them, then root for them.

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