After reviewing what the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays did to close the gap and challenge the Yankees for the AL East crown, now we take a look at the two other teams that might find themselves behind the pack ahead of the 2023 campaign but also carry significantly more talent than your average bottom two of a division.
The Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox didn’t do much in terms of splashy acquisitions. In fact, Boston’s offseason was marked more by its departures rather than its arrivals, but these are still two dangerous teams, and likely to be tough outs in divisional matchups.
2022 campaign: 83-79
Coming off five consecutive losing seasons, including three of the four 162-game campaigns in which it crossed the 100-loss threshold, the Orioles entered 2022 still firmly entrenched in a prolonged rebuild. But finally, there were legitimate signs of life.
Outstanding prospect Adley Rutschman made his MLB debut and was every bit the advertised talent, one who would’ve won Rookie of the Year honors had it not been for the superhuman efforts of Julio Rodriguez. Consensus No. 1 overall prospect in 2023 Gunnar Henderson joined Rutschman in the Baltimore lineup at the end of August, and the 21-year-old had a 125 wRC+ in 34 games down the stretch, boding well for this year. The duo figures to headline the team’s lineup in 2023, alongside the likes of Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, and Ryan Mountcastle.
In fact, the only new face in that Orioles’ lineup figures to be Adam Frazier, acquired as a free agent in December. Catcher James McCann also came over from the Mets in a salary dump, but with Rutschman in tow, don’t expect to see him too much. The big improvement for 2023 lies in full seasons out of Rutschman and Henderson, not to mention names like Colton Cowser, who may find himself with an everyday role in the near future.
On the pitching side of things, the rotation will have some new faces. Kyle Gibson signed as a free agent from the Phillies to provide veteran leadership in the pitching staff. Mike Elias also went shopping in Oakland and brought in the left-hander Cole Irvin via trade. However, the name everyone is waiting to see is Grayson Rodriguez.
Long seen as one of the premier pitching prospects in the sport, Rodriguez would have probably made his debut sometime in the second half of last year had it not been for a pretty serious lat strain that cut his season short. Whether we see him in the Opening Day rotation or not, Grayson will be a part of the Orioles staff in 2023.
The bullpen returns a lot of the same faces for Baltimore, as the team traded away Jorge López last season, and managed to improve its closer situation, with Félix Bautista now taking care of the ninth. Andrew Politi came over from Boston in the Rule 5 Draft, and the team also picked up old friend Mychal Givens in free agency.
It’s probably still a year too early for Baltimore to be making real noise. Still, this was an 83-win team last year and will now get a full season, or close to it, out of its core of top prospects as they start to establish themselves in the big leagues.
Boston Red Sox
2022 campaign: 78-84
A team in flux, that’s the statement that comes to mind when I think about the Boston Red Sox. Ownership seems content in playing a rather passive role, and the front office has to adjust accordingly.
The Rafael Devers extension seems less like a statement of commitment to the team, and more like the bare minimum to prevent riots around Fenway Park, as the Boston faithful saw Xander Bogaerts, JD Martinez, and Nathan Eovaldi all leave the ballclub. Steady starters Michael Wacha and Rich Hill also went out the door.
To replace those departures, the team brought in Justin Turner, who figures to be the primary DH, while also taking some reps at first base. Perhaps the big acquisition is Masataka Yoshida, the NPB addition who signed a five-year deal and is lauded for his hit tool and plate discipline. Right now, he’s the odds-on favorite to take over the leadoff role in this team.
Center fielder Adam Duvall will also be looked at to provide some thump into an otherwise very light-hitting outfield, and the double-play combo is going to look a lot different than it looked a year back. Bogaerts is now gone, and Trevor Story, his heir apparent at shortstop, is also out for a significant portion of the year, as the former Colorado Rockie underwent elbow surgery in the offseason. His timetable isn’t very clear, but at least for the first few months of the year, Red Sox fans will see a lot of Kiké Hernández and Christian Arroyo up the middle — and perhaps some Adalberto Mondesi (late of the Royals), if he manages to stay healthy, following his trade to Boston.
Another exciting name who wasn’t acquire, but will get his first full season in Boston is first baseman Triston Casas. This left-handed bat will be relied on to fill a hole that’s plagued this team for a few years now, with putrid production at first from the likes of Bobby Dalbec and Franchy Cordero.
Looking over to the pitching side of things, Chris Sale cannot possibly have a more unlucky year than he did in 2022, and the expectation is that he headlines this rotation with highly-touted prospect Bryan Bello beginning his first full season in the major leagues.
Corey Kluber was brought in on a one-year deal to eat some innings, and the front office really splashed out to upgrade the bullpen, signing Kenley Jansen to a two-year deal and also acquiring Chris Martin (a Yankee in 2015) after he had a very good second half with the Dodgers. A longtime member of this bullpen, Matt Barnes, got shipped off to Miami for southpaw Richard Bleier, who is joined by free agent pickup and former Yankee Joely Rodríguez, as the two left-handers in this relief corps.
Boston seems to be trending in the wrong direction, but this is still a talented bunch, with some high-end prospects graduating. If names like Bello and Casas truly fulfill their potential, and Yoshida manages to make a smooth transition to the big leagues, the Red Sox can threaten.
For a team coming off a last-place finish, the talent here is absolutely above average.