Can the Yankees win the AL East heavyweight fight?
The Post’s Joel Sherman predicts the AL East.
1.Toronto Blue Jays
O/U wins: 92.5
key players: Jose Berrios. AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray went to Seattle as a free agent. Toronto replaced him by signing Kevin Gausman to a five-year, $110 million deal. But the Blue Jays also renewed Berrios (seven years, $131 million) rather than letting him go free after the 2022 season. Berrios is the pitcher in this rotation with what it takes to follow Ray as AL Cy Young and perhaps now, at the start of his season at the age of 28, he could be ready for the moment. While Toronto struggled to get into the postseason last year, Berrios had a 2.93 ERA and a .587 OPS against him in his last seven starts.
Player who needs to be promoted: Nate Pearson. Toronto has built a strong rotation, importing Berrios, Gausman, Yusei Kikuchi and Hyun Jin Ryu and watching Pearson’s Alek Manoah rocket as a homegrown piece. But the Blue Jays need depth and/or some bullpen help. Pearson, a first-round pick in 2017, has high-octane stuff but hasn’t been able to keep himself sane enough to show his stuff is fully translated.
Name you will meet: Gabriel Moreno. He had visa problems and did not play any spring training games. It didn’t matter much – with Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Reese McGuire, Toronto worked on how to handle three experienced catchers. But as early as this year, Moreno could push the others to the side.
Biggest question mark: The Bullpen lacks high-end depth. Jordan Romano, Adam Cimber and Tim Mayza offer quality and if Julian Merryweather stays healthy he can bring power. But that’s not a strength like lineup or rotation.
How it goes on: The lineup is heavily right-handed, losing out to Marcus Semien but adding Matt Chapman’s power and Gold Glove in third place. A healthy season for George Springer along with Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. should make this a top-four offense in the league. And the Blue Jays are in go-for-it mode – what they need at close, they will aggressively pursue.
2. New York Yankees
O/U wins: 91.5
key players: Luis Severino. After finishing third and ninth in the AL Cy Young vote in 2017-18, Severino signed a four-year, $40 million extension. In the first three seasons of that deal, the right-hander pitched 18 regular-season innings due to injury. The Yankees sure could use a high-end No. 2 starter to work behind Gerrit Cole and ahead of Nestor Cortes Jr., Jordan Montgomery and Jameson Taillon. Can Severino return to this form?
Player who needs to be promoted: Aaron Hicks. In the same offseason that Severino signed his renewal, Hicks landed a seven-year, $70 million contract. Since then, he has played just 145 of 384 regular-season games due to injury. There are many Yankees position players recovering from injuries and/or poor performances in 2021, including DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres. But the Americans have some infield coverage. Right now, Aaron Judge is the backup center fielder with Estevan Florial and Ender Inciarte also nearby. So the Yanks need Hicks healthy and productive for even 120-ish games.
Name you will meet: Oswaldo Cabrera. The anticipation is for Oswald Peraza and especially Anthony Volpe. They’re the touted shortstop prospects who, among other things, convinced the Yankees not to make a big play in the all-time best free-agent shortstop league. But the first call could be Cabrera, a switch-hitter who can play pretty much anywhere in the infield. A natural right-hander, he’s developed some pop from the left and continues to grow with the Yankees (and Scouts) as a player who can eventually become a regular.
Biggest question mark: Will the offensive hit back? From 2017 through 2020, the Yankees finished in the top two in runs per game in the AL every year. In 2021 they were 10. Only Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton did well. Will a potential full year of lineup diversity – with lefties like Hicks (a switch hitter), Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo – help? What’s left of Josh Donaldson?
How it goes on: The Yanks have the talent to win the AL East, but after beating expectations last year, will the rotation take a step or two back this year and will they look to land someone like Luis Castillo from Cincinnati in July?
3. Tampa Bay Rays
O/U wins: 89.5
key players: Wander Franco. The Rays developed in large part as a sum-of-the-parts roster — they’re able to utilize an entire roster to the best of their ability without necessarily having many full-time stars. Franco only played 70 games last year but finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year poll, and then the Rays – yes, the Rays – signed him to 11 years for $182 million. He’s a switch-hitting shortstop with strength and patience. It’s a rebuildable piece.
Player who needs to be promoted: Shane McClanahan. Tyler Glasnow is doubtful about setting up this season following Tommy John’s surgery last August and ankle surgery this spring. Shane Baz recently had loose bodies removed in his elbow and could be out for two months. The Rays are experts at using an entire team to deliver excellence. Still, high-end bulk innings have to come from someone, and unless Corey Kluber is ready for a healthy renaissance, McClanahan is the most likely to provide it.
Name you will meet: Josh Lowe. There were many reasons the Rays sold Austin Meadows to the Tigers, such as liking the yield and saving money. But as great as anything else was the chance to bring their top-position contender’s left batter into the major league roster.
Biggest question mark: Does the fairy dust ever run out? The Rays and the Dodgers are the only teams to have played at least .555 ball in each of the last four seasons. Despite salary restrictions, Tampa Bay chased Freddie Freeman in free agency and Matt Olson in trade during the offseason. The Rays couldn’t land either, but it showed their mindset – they believe they have plenty of talent but are willing to break their bank for a standout star.
How it goes on: Underestimate the rays at your peril. They excel at getting more from less than any other team in the majors. The star level they pursued in the offseason screamed they aspire to.
4.Boston Red Sox
O/U wins: 85.5
key players: Nathan Eovaldi. He’s coming off his best career season, which included an All-Star appearance and a fourth-place vote for AL Cy Young. Eovaldi is in the final season of a four-year, $68 million pact, so he’ll need to repeat an ace-like season to position well for the free hand. But Boston certainly needs it too. Eduardo Rodriguez signed with the Tigers. Chris Sale has sustained a stress fracture to his ribs that will cost him a few months. James Paxton (Tommy John OP) is perhaps a second-half gift. There were signs that Nick Pivetta could make a move towards a solid No. 3 starter. But for Boston to compete in this tough division, Eovaldi needs to be really good and healthy again.
Player who needs to be promoted: Trevor story. Many teams balked at free agency stories, concerned about his elbow’s health and, to a lesser extent, how well he would score without playing home games in Colorado. He agreed to play second base briefly with Xander Bogaerts so he has a lot of life changes and questions about that health.
Name you will meet: Triston Casas. The Red Sox didn’t bring back Kyle Schwarber or get Freddie Freeman or Matt Olson. This leaves first base open to Casas and his projectable left power. Is the call coming this year?
Biggest question mark: The Red Sox should score, but there are uncertainties about the pitching — the quality and depth in particular.
How it goes on: In the three seasons that Alex Cora has managed (he was suspended in 2020), Boston is 284-202. The team is playing well for him. It will have to. Four teams won at least 91 games in the AL East last year. That hadn’t happened since division play began in 1969. All four can claim to be the best in the division.
5. Baltimore Orioles
O/U wins: 62.5
key players: Adley traction man. The Orioles have played 198 games under .500 over the last four seasons, incredible considering one of those seasons only included 60 games (2020). All the bad is designed to allow Baltimore to rally elite young talent and make a sustained run. No one embodies that hope quite likerutschman. He was the top pick of the 2019 draft, and his time with the Minors only added to the positive sentiment about a switch-hitting two-way catcher. However, he sustained a tricep injury in the spring that slowed his rise to the majors. But he’s all but inevitable this year. Is he a cornerstone?
Player who needs to be promoted: John means. The left-hander is Baltimore’s ace and it’s hard to see who the No. 2 starter is. So means has to be excellent to lessen Baltimore’s humiliation this year and perhaps give the Orioles another trade piece to continue hoarding young talent.
Name you will meet: Grayson Rodriguez. Maybe the heir of Means. First-round pick in 2018, the right hand fireballer is on the radar for this season.
Biggest question mark: How long does refueling take? No AL East team has a losing record in any season against the Orioles from 2018-2021. In the last three full seasons (2018, 2019, 2021), the team that won the division title has played 51-6 against Baltimore.
How it goes on: Baltimore is in a four-heavyweight division — 76 games against the Blue Jays, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees. And the Orioles remain strictly feather-light.
https://nypost.com/2022/04/06/2022-mlb-predictions-can-yankees-win-heavyweight-al-east-battle/ Can the Yankees win the AL East heavyweight fight?