The Beasts of the East: How will the Yankees fare in a challenging division?

During the 2023 season, the American League East was often the best division in baseball, and the Yankees, posting a barely above .500 record, did not do enough to remain competitive. Finishing only above the Boston Red Sox in the division, it's clear that upping the ante against divisional opponents has been a goal for the offseason. According to the new data released by Baseball Prospectus for their PECOTA standings, the Yankees are projected to finish first in the AL East and have an 11.7% chance to win the World Series.

While some are arguing that maybe Brian Cashman is secretly behind the seemingly pro-Yanks PECOTA numbers, I think it's worth noting that this data is reflective of the new look of the 2024 team. Fresh faces Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo will bring offensive numbers that we didn't see last year. Additionally, we should see stronger showings from DJ LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, and Anthony Volpe this year, as they're all looking to rebound with solid offensive seasons. With a healthy Anthony Rizzo and, hopefully, regular lineup appearances from power hitting lefty Austin Wells, there's no reason for the Yankees to not post significantly better offensive numbers.

But will that be enough to win the division? The Baltimore Orioles have made a splash with the pickup of Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers. The pitcher brings his incredibly effective cutter and a history of success against AL East opponents. Additionally, the Orioles have a wealth of young talent, including the 2019 number one draft pick, catcher Adley Rutschman, who have the potential to create a solid group of players. The Toronto Blue Jays often get ignored as major players in the division, but it's of note that similar to the Yankees, the Jays have several players coming into the season with a chip on their shoulder looking to improve offensive numbers, including Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Offensive struggles plagued the Jays in 2023 and resulted in two losses in the Wild Card series against the Minnesota Twins. This season the team will want to prove that they're contenders, and if they put out consistent pitching and offense, won't be able to be easily ignored. The Tampa Bay Rays notably have the longest streak of consistent postseason appearances in the AL East with five consecutive years. This year they'll be without several former key players including Tyler Glasnow, Robert Stephenson, and Wander Franco for the foreseeable future. While it may seem sensible to assume the Rays won't be as much of a threat as they have previously been, one consistent thing about the Tampa organization is their ability to outperform data and projections. Time will tell if the 2024 team has what it takes to compete in their division. The Boston Red Sox were the only team to finish behind the Yankees in the AL East last year, and PECOTA has them projected as finishing last in the division once again. Boston hasn't been a big spender in the offseason, and it seems they're taking the approach of relying on their promising young prospects to move the team forward. In a division like the AL East, that seems like a risky plan, but a rebuilding phase is never pretty.

An offensive rebound sets the Yankees up for a better outlook against divisional opponents. But what will seal the deal is the strength and consistency of the pitching. The Yankees starting rotation has several question marks looming over it, including if Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes will have successful comeback seasons and how the signing of Marcus Stroman will pan out. A deal with Blake Snell hasn't materialized, so it seems Clarke Schmidt and Gerrit Cole round out the starting five. As far as bullpen members go, the addition of Caleb Ferguson bodes promising, especially in response to Wandy Peralta's departure. Tommy Kahnle, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Luke Weaver are several returning pieces. And closer Clay Holmes looks to continue putting out consistent performances. There still seems to be room for additions or improvements in the bullpen, and many Yankee fans have continued to question if any more moves will come from the front office.

All that being said, projections, are just that, projected data that may or may not hold up, so I don't think we need to assume the division is ours (or start planning the World Series champions parade yet). But I do think we're coming into spring training with a stronger roster, a motivation to improve, and an awareness that nothing is going to be given to us. Especially in a division as competitive as the AL East.

What are your thoughts and predictions on how the division will shape up?

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