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Catching up with the AL East (Part I): Baltimore and Boston

The Red Sox and Orioles are in two very different places this spring, although both have questions in their rotation.

Boston Red Sox Spring Training Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

At not-so-long last, spring training is over. The last three and a half weeks have been an absolute whirlwind, as front offices throughout the league had half an offseason while their teams began having workouts and playing games in Florida and Arizona. Needless to say, with the flurry of activity over the latter half of March and early days of April — oftentimes late in the night — we have barely had enough time here to keep up with what’s going on with the Yankees, let alone with other teams.

As the Opening Day roster is all but set and we have a little time to breathe before the anticipation of regular season baseball hits its peak, let’s take a moment to saunter through the rest of the AL East and see what storylines have defined their spring trainings. Today, we’ll take a trip to Sarasota and Fort Myers and visit the Orioles and Red Sox.

Baltimore Orioles

For the fifth season in a row, the Baltimore Orioles are in rebuild mode. The good news for them, however, is that it finally looks like some of the losing is starting to pay off. Catcher Adley Rutschman, the first overall pick of the 2019 draft, is currently the second overall prospect in the game according to MLB.com, and while a right triceps strain ruined his chance at securing a spot on the Opening Day roster, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in the big leagues by the time summer rolls around. Likely to follow him to the big leagues are pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and Kyle Bradish.

When it comes to the starting lineup, the Orioles have largely spent this spring shuffling deck chairs around in order to maximize the trade value of their veterans and see which of the youngsters might have a role with the team long-term. In this light, Ryan Mountcastle has been named the team’s primary first baseman. Longtime fan favorite Trey Mancini has been taking reps in the corner outfield positions again, and while the O’s claim it is being done to keep him ready to play the position if needed, demonstrating his ability to play the outfield again does improve his trade value. At this point, it’s a foregone conclusion that he will be traded by the deadline.

In news that might be of interest here, a pair of former Yankees, Jorge Mateo and Rougned Odor, look to be the team’s middle infielders, at least at the start of the season. Mateo in particular has had a fantastic spring, slashing .350/.409/.800 with a pair of homers in 22 plate appearances.

On the mound, the Orioles are in dire straights. Outside John Means and Jordan Lyles, the rotation is filled with question marks. If that sounds bad ... well, it’s worse than that: Lyles led the majors in earned runs in both 2020 and 2021, and has an ERA of 5.60 (5.49 FIP) in that span. The rotation is so barebones, they are considering a reunion with Matt Harvey and his 6.27 ERA, and still that would somehow be an upgrade simply because he is a starting pitcher.

Needless to say, it’s going to get worse in Baltimore before it gets better. At least they have Cedric Mullins to watch to pass the time (for now).

Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox made one of the biggest splashes in the AL East this March when they signed Trevor Story to a six-year, $140 million contract to shore up the second base position. Because of this move, Boston should once again have one of the best lineups in the league, containing only one real hole — first base, likely to be manned primarily by Bobby Dalbec. Even there, Dalbec has played well this spring, posting a .333/.389/.697 slash line with three homers in 36 plate appearances.

The biggest narrative around position players has been the competition for bench spots. Most of the candidates, such as Travis Shaw, Roberto Ramos, and Rob Refsnyder have struggled at the plate, and the only one who is hitting, Franchy Cordero, is not on the 40-man roster. That last part turned out to be a dealbreaker, as the Red Sox have a 40-man roster crunch and opted to reassign him to the minor leagues on Monday rather than open up a spot. After most of camp was spent trying to decide who would serve as the fourth outfielder, it appears that the Red Sox will be content with J.D. Martinez filling that role, with veteran infielder Christian Arroyo also getting some outfield reps.

The real concern in Boston right now, however, is the pitching staff. Two veteran lefties, Chris Sale and James Paxton, will start the season on the 60-day injured list. As such, the ever-inconsistent Nathan Eovaldi profiles as the team’s top pitcher for the time being, and while the former Yankee had a superb season last year that left him fourth in the AL Cy Young voting, he has battled injuries throughout much of his career. He has not thrown more than 70 innings in two consecutive seasons since 2015-2016. Unfortunately for Boston, he is also the most reliable healthy starter in a rotation that includes Nick Pivetta and his career 5.16 ERA, Michael Wacha, who had an ERA above 5 with the Tampa Bay Rays last season, and a 42-year-old Rich Hill.

On the other hand, their bullpen has looked good, anchored by Matt Barnes and (sigh) Garrett Whitlock. Former 16th-round pick Kutter Crawford has also been a pleasant surprise, clawing his way to a roster spot with a strong spring.