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AL East Offseason in Review: The 2022 Wild Cards

How did the Yankees’ top AL East competitors fare this offseason?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees enter the 2023 season as the odds-on favorites to win the AL East crown for a second consecutive year, but despite the significant improvements this team has made, this division remains one of the strongest, if not the best in the sport. It features two other playoff participants from last year, and with Baltimore leaving their punching bag status, it is strong one-through-five.

If we’re being honest, the goal for the 2023 Yankees is far beyond just simply winning the division, but on the path to greater things, securing the AL East title is the first step, and should not be taken lightly. With that in mind, we’ll review the offseasons of the four other teams in this division in a two-part series, starting with the biggest threats to the Yanks: the powerful Toronto Blue Jays, and the always-resourceful Tampa Bay Rays.

Toronto Blue Jays

2022 Regular Season Record: 92-70

For a team that felt like it underachieved for much of the season, including a managerial change in the middle of it, the Blue Jays’ 92-win season is rather impressive and illustrative of the high expectations placed upon this ball club ahead of the 2022 season.

Heading into 2023, one of the first orders of business was to upgrade the depth of its pitching staff, both in the rotation and the bullpen. Even if you ignore José Berrios’ atrocious first full season in Toronto, expecting some sort of a bounce-back, with Ross Stripling gone, Yusei Kikuchi as a volatile option, and Hyun Jin Ryu still recovering from TJ, this rotation needed some additions.

The front office went out and acquired Chris Bassitt, the former Athletics starter who flourished in his sole season with the Mets, struck a multi-year deal with Toronto to add much-needed depth behind Manoah and Gausman. On the prospect side of things, Ricky Tiedemann is coming off a huge year in 2022, soaring through the ranks, and could get a shot to come out of the ‘pen or even start if Kikuchi doesn’t lock down that fifth-starter spot, in the first half.

Looking to upgrade a shaky bridge between the starters and closer Jordan Romano, the front office acquired long-time Yankee Chad Green, as a stable setup man on a relatively risk-free deal following his injury-filled 2022. They also made a splashy move early in the offseason, trading Teoscar Hernández on the last year of his deal for breakout reliever Erik Swanson from the Mariners.

The Blue Jays lineup has enough thump to be fine without Hernández’s presence, and the trade signals the organization didn’t plan on bringing him back, but still, it was a bit of a questionable move. Since 2020, Hernández has earned multiple Silver Slugger awards with his .519 SLG in 324 games during that period.

Looking at the offensive side of the ball, the organization brought in Kevin Kiermaier on a one-year deal to upgrade its outfield defense. This most likely moves George Springer over to right field to free up center, while over in left the Jays swung a big deal to bring in Daulton Varsho. He was acquired in a true challenge trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks that sent top prospect Gabriel Moreno and the versatile Lourdes Gurriel Jr. out to the desert. Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen are both coming off strong seasons, and the catcher position was blocked for Moreno, which was one of the main reasons they could be comfortable making that move.

The longtime Giant, Brandon Belt, was brought in to be the DH, a position that should also field reps for both of the team’s above-average hitting catchers. Toronto didn’t necessarily break the bank, but the organization made intriguing moves, increasing the depth of its squad, and if this roster plays up to it potential, the Blue Jays can most certainly challenge for the AL East crown.

Tampa Bay Rays

2022 Regular Season Record: 86-76

Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodón may be the duo getting all the hype in this division, but down in Florida, a pair of starters also combine for one of the filthiest combos in the sport. Shane McClanahan and Tyler Glasnow headline an always-imposing Tampa Bay Rays’ pitching staff, with the former emerging onto the scene as a legitimate Cy Young contender and the latter returning late in the year from Tommy John surgery.

Tampa’s biggest addition came in the form of their largest free agent signing in franchise history (which isn’t saying much, realistically) when they inked Zach Eflin to a three-year, $40 million deal. Eflin is a bit of a kitchen-sink kind of guy with some interesting features, though perhaps Tampa sees some optimization in narrowing his repertoire a bit. This is just a hunch, but considering his cutter was considerably his worst performing pitch of the bunch, they could work to maximize his ability to get more swing and miss action elsewhere.

The rotation is rounded out by a couple of arms that may not have the name brand of other starters in this division, but are coming off very intriguing 2023 campaigns, in Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs. Both performed above average for the Rays last year, and have quickly developed since coming over from the Brewers and Red Sox, respectively.

The bullpen didn’t get any major acquisitions, but keep an eye out for Garrett Cleavinger, the left-hander who came over from the Dodgers during last season’s deadline. He had a near 35-percent K-rate in 23 innings last year and has a filthy slider-fastball combo.

Outside of Eflin, Tampa wasn’t very active on the trade market, but the simple fact of running it back after a terribly unlucky year on the injury front is reason enough for optimism. Glasnow hopefully gets a full year, Wander Franco is back as an anchor for this lineup, and Brandon Lowe is another important hitter who wasn’t available for the majority of 2022. Kiermaier is gone to Toronto, but Jose Siri replaces him as a very strong defender and carries a bit of power-speed upside.

The Rays’ pitching staff is deep one through five, and the bullpen has multiple shutdown arms. This team is built around pitching, and if the lineup scores enough runs, they’ll definitely be a threat in the American League.

Check back tomorrow for our offseason review of the Orioles and Red Sox.