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Where the AL East stands heading into Thanksgiving

The Yankees’ division rivals have been actively preparing for the hot stove to ignite after the Thanksgiving weekend.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

In many ways, the Thanksgiving holiday represents the first major milestone in the offseason. Last year, with teams trying to get their business done trying to the institution of the lockout in early December, it represented a warning bell that transactions were about to be frozen, so get those trades processed and contracts signed while you still can. In a more normal year, such as we are currently in, it is the starting bell. Up until this point, only a couple of transactions have been made, primarily trades to free up money and players re-signing with their current club — when we return from break, the winter meetings will be upon us, and with it, the off-season will truly begin.

With that in mind, now is a perfect opportunity to take stock of the Yankees’ divisional rivals, to see what holes they need to fill this winter and, more intriguingly, what rumors current swirl around them.

Baltimore Orioles

The 2022 Baltimore Orioles were the darlings of the baseball world, following up a 52-110 campaign with an 83-win season and announcing that the years-long rebuild is nearing an end. With that in mind, for the first time in several years, expect Baltimore to go big-game hunting in free agency this year. To date, they’ve been linked primarily to left-handed bats and starting pitchers — not a surprise, given the fact that they specifically moved the left field wall back to make the stadium a better fit for free agent pitchers and to combat the proliferation of righty power bats currently in the league. Additionally, expect them to get involved in the catcher market, as at the moment, they lack a second major league catcher on the roster to pair with Rookie of the Year runner-up Adley Rutschman.

Perhaps more so than any other team, the Orioles are a major wild card this winter. They have major league caliber players at most spots on the diamond and top prospects capable of playing pretty much every position. Nobody, however, is irreplaceable in the lineup, several of their players can play multiple positions, and they have a low payroll that they’re looking to expand. Taken together, these facts put the O’s in position where pretty much every top free agent makes sense for them — and like the Padres did by landing Manny Machado right before they started to contend, a major splash could be just what the organization needs.

Boston Red Sox

Who are the Boston Red Sox? Are they the 78-win team that finished in the basement of the American League East and played historically bad outfield defense during the summer? Are they the 92-win team that made it to the American League Championship Series in 2021? The 24-win team who opened the 2020 spring with a 6-18 record? The 2019 squad that at times looked like the best team in the league and at times like the worst? The 2018 juggernaut that rolled over every other team in the league?

The last few years in Boston has been the definition of a rollercoaster, and unfortunately for Red Sox fans, that rollercoaster looks to continue. This winter, the offseason is dominated by the left side of the infield, with shortstop Xander Bogaerts opting out of his contract and third baseman Rafael Devers in the middle of tense contract negotiations before he hits free agency next year.

While how these two contracts play out will go a long way towards determining how the Red Sox look in 2023 and beyond, what is likely more impactful to Yankees fans is Boston’s focus on the pitching market. While Boston’s interest in retaining Nathan Eovaldi and signing Corey Kluber are noteworthy, of particular interest is the fact that both the Yankees and Red Sox have reached out to international free agent Kodai Senga, who is considered to be among the second tier of starting pitchers available this winter.

Tampa Bay Rays

Not surprisingly, Tampa Bay has been the most active team in the early goings of the winter, trading Ji-Man Choi, Javy Guerra, JT Chargois, and Miles Mastrobuoni, waiving Nick Anderson, Brendan McKay, Roman Quinn and Jimmy Yacabonis, and non-tendering a number of players, including pitcher Ryan Yarbrough. Additionally, they have declined the team option on Kevin Kiermaier, allowing him to become a free agent.

With a large portion of the team still under contract — only Corey Kluber, David Peralta, and Mike Zunino are eligible for free agency — the Rays have a lot of flexibility in how to approach the winter, as they don’t have a clear need that they can’t fill internally to at least an extent. While I don’t expect them to dive into the top of the market (although that can’t be ruled out, as they did make a run at Freddie Freeman last year), expect them to seek out some veteran rotation depth to fill in for the losses of Kluber and Yarbrough. Other than that, the Rays being who they are, unexpected trades out of their deep farm system will likely continue to be their modus operandi as they look to bounce back from a down year in which they finished in third place in the AL East.

Toronto Blue Jays

Much like the Rays, the Blue Jays have gotten an early jump on the winter, flipping outfielder Teoscar Hernández to the Seattle Mariners for relief help. This appears to have been a bit of a salary dump designed to open up room in the outfield, as recent reports suggest that Toronto is looking to add either Cody Bellinger or Brandon Nimmo to their outfield, perhaps with an eye towards shifting George Springer to right field in order to help keep him on the field.

No matter how they approach that outfield spot, however, the real concern with the Blue Jays this winter will be their rotation. Despite investing big money into the pitching staff — Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi, and Hyun Jin Ryu are owed a combined $247 million — the Blue Jays rotation was a disappointment. Although Alek Manoah and Gausman were one of the league’s best 1-2 punches, the rest of the staff failed to pull their weight. Because of this, expect Toronto to look to add a starter; with their excess of starting-caliber catchers on the 40-man roster, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them moved in a deal to land a mid-rotation starter with some upside.