MLB clubs are far from finalizing their rosters for the 2022 season: as outrageous as it may sound, there may not be a campaign next year if owners and players can’t agree on a new CBA deal. The expectation, however, is that they will come to terms at some point, and the lockout currently in place will be lifted so organizations can resume trying to improve their human resources on the field.
At this moment in time, several divisions project to be very interesting, or “close”. Most of them will likely have two or three teams realistically vying for the top spot. However, there is one division looking particularly nasty as the year comes to a close: the AL East.
It’s not really a surprise, since the AL East has had a representative in the Championship Series since 2012 (every team has made it at least once). It’s shocking how competitive the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays were in 2021. With a portion of the offseason still to be completed, they could all be even better in 2022.
Last season, the division was so good the Blue Jays were left out of the playoffs with a rock-solid 91-71 record. And we are talking about an up-and-coming team that secured a rock-solid pitcher in Kevin Gausman (2.81 ERA in 192 innings with the San Francisco Giants) as a Robbie Ray replacement and also extended José Berríos, making the rotation a strength considering exciting youngsters Alek Manoah and Nate Pearson, plus veterans Hyun-Jin Ryu and Ross Stripling are expected to pitch important frames.
Their main weakness is the bullpen, and they added Yimi García as a free agent and could still be players once the lockout ends. Perhaps more exciting is the fact that they are expected to be involved in the Kris Bryant sweepstakes or at least bring in an upgrade at third base. Their lineup is loaded with stars such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernández, Bo Bichette, George Springer, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Randal Grichuk, among others.
The Tampa Bay Rays just won 100 games, mostly without Tyler Glasnow. They have perhaps the finest collection of upper-minors prospects in the game, with Vidal Brujan and Josh Lowe waiting in the wings after the graduation of Wander Franco, who is expected to take a huge leap forward in 2022.
Franco hit .288/.347/.463, had a 127 wRC+, and was worth 2.5 WAR in just 70 games as a 20-year-old rookie in 2021. The sky is the limit for him. The team still has a strong offensive core, with him, Brandon Lowe, Mike Zunino, Randy Arozarena, and others; while the pitching is elite and produces at least a couple of impact contributors every year. They are, once again, expected to compete for the AL East top spot.
The Boston Red Sox were set for a transition year in 2021. And what a transition year they had, finishing with a 92-70 record, knocking the Yankees out in the AL Wild Card game, and then defeating the Rays in the Division Series. Only some inspired play by the Houston Astros sent the Sox home in the ALCS.
Boston has one of the very best managers in MLB in Alex Cora and could add one of the major free agent shortstops (Carlos Correa or Trevor Story) when things get started again. If not, they have a solid core consisting of JD Martínez, Xander Bogaerts, Alex Verdugo, Rafael Devers, Bobby Dalbec, and Jarren Duran, who struggled as a rookie in 2021 but had a 132 wRC+ in Triple-A.
They signed a couple of high-upside gambles in Michael Wacha and James Paxton and will have Chris Sale for the entire season barring injury. With a manager that maximizes the talent on the roster, the Red Sox should be very competitive once again in 2022.
The division is so strong that there is a legitimate chance the almighty Yankees finish fourth. Yes, that’s right. After losing Corey Kluber to the Rays, they haven’t made any major additions yet, sleeping through the pre-lockout free agency frenzy.
The Yankees are entering 2022 with the injury-prone Aaron Hicks as their starting center fielder and with no shortstop since they committed to playing Gleyber Torres at second base. Their odds of securing one between Correa and Story are high, but if they don’t, they will be in big trouble. Getting Torres (.366 slugging percentage in 2021), DJ LeMahieu (.362 slugging percentage), Joey Gallo (.160/.303/.404 line), and (.204/.307/.423 line) going is a major priority. Luis Severino will return to the rotation, but the team needs a starter or two for depth.
Even the Baltimore Orioles should be very improved, but even in a best-case scenario, they still are two or three years away from contention. The potential debuts of Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodríguez, and DL Hall, plus the evolution of Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays, and Ryan Mountcastle remain the storylines to follow.
The AL East is a four-team race, perhaps the only division in baseball with that many competitive, playoff-caliber teams. And frankly, each and every one of them, except for the Orioles, can finish anywhere from first to fourth. It should be a fascinating season, if there is one, of course.
Andrés Chávez loves the game of baseball and writes about it at Beyond the Box Score, Pinstripe Alley, and other sites. He is on Twitter as @andres_chavez13