AL East Preview: Richter, Yankees lead MLB’s deepest division

From 1998 to 2003, the five AL East teams finished each season in exactly the same order. Back then, the New York Yankees were dominant, the Boston Red Sox were contenders, and everyone else was chasing those teams—and that was the status quo for a while.

Think of this as a different era.

In the past nine seasons, every team in the division has won at least once. Boston has finished first three times, but the Red Sox have also finished last four times — including in 2022. Gone are the days when goal order was so easy to predict.

Last season ended with a familiar group at the top — the Yankees went 99-63 — but among them, racing was fascinating. Toronto and Tampa Bay both earned wild cards but had to fend off a Baltimore team that improved by 31 games from the previous season.

When asked what he would like to see from the division this year, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde caused laughs with the simplicity – and obviousness – of his answer.

“I think our department is pretty good. It’ll be good next year too,” Hyde quipped. “Listen, we’re in a tough league. These teams are going nowhere. It was nice that we took big steps last year, big steps to be able to keep up with them like we did. … We are not going to sneak up on her this year. They know we’re a talented group and we’re looking forward to the challenge of playing in a really, really tough league.”

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1. New York Yankees. Aaron Judge returns after hitting an American League record with 62 home runs last season, with a nine-year, $360 million contract and a new role as captain for the Bronx Bombers — the franchise’s first since Derek Jeter. The Yankees added two-time All-Star left Carlos Rodón to bolster the Gerrit Cole-led rotation, but otherwise bring back largely the same roster that won the division in 2022 before being swept by the Astros in the AL Championship Series became. New York has not been to the World Series since 2009, the second-longest pennant drought since the club won its first in 1921.

2. Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa Bay has made it four straight years in the postseason, and the Rays made it last season despite injuries to shortstop Wander Franco (limited to 83 games) and second baseman Brandon Lowe (65 games). Right-hander Tyler Glasnow was absent most of the season, and Shane McClanahan finished sixth in the Cy Young poll despite his own shoulder problems. Outfielder Kevin Kiermaier and catcher Mike Zunino both left last season’s team, but at this point the Rays have earned the benefit of the doubt that they can endure such losses and still win.

3.Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays started so slow they changed managers, and a 46-28 mark under John Schneider was enough to make them a wild card. Toronto’s line-up is certainly good enough to have Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer, Matt Chapman and Bo Bichette in contention for a pennant, although outfielder Teoscar Hernández has been traded to Seattle. The Blue Jays’ pitching staff was top-heavy last year. Alek Manoah was third in the Cy Young race and Kevin Gausman also had a good season but Hyun Jin Ryu had a forearm problem and only managed six starts.

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4.Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox lost shortstop Xander Bogaerts and slugger JD Martinez, and infielder Trevor Story had to have elbow surgery. However, Boston made some significant additions, adding closer Kenley Jansen, infielder Justin Turner and outfielder Masataka Yoshida. Perhaps most importantly, the Red Sox kept Rafael Devers and signed the third baseman in a massive deal. It was a big step for a fanbase still suffering from losses suffered by Mookie Betts and Bogaerts in recent years. Boston could use a healthy season from Chris Sale, who has only played 11 games over the past three years.

5. Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles could be fighting for a playoff spot and still finish last. They’ve had a pretty quiet offseason and it remains to be seen if they can afford that in this division. Rookie catcher Adleyrutschman led last year’s resurgence, and there are more top prospects along the way. Infielder Gunnar Henderson made it to the majors towards the end of last season, and pitcher Grayson Rodriguez could give the rotation a big boost. The area to watch in Baltimore this year is the bullpen that came out of nowhere to launch the 2022 team into competition. If there is a step backwards, the team will have a harder time duplicating this promising performance.


With a more balanced schedule this year, the AL East teams will face off 13 times a piece instead of 19. If they do well outside of the division, multiple wild cards could again come from this group of five.

Every AL East team had an out-of-division winning record last year. Even Boston, which was 26-50 against its division rivals, was 52-34 against everyone else.

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Excluding the 2020 extended postseason, the AL East has produced 10 wild cards in seven seasons since 2015. No other division had more than six.


Although the Orioles have received most of the attention lately for their minor league system — they have four top-50 prospects according to MLB Pipeline — the other AL East teams have some young players to look forward to.

Shortstop Anthony Volpe is the No. 5 and was a triple-A in the Yankees organization last year. Right-hander Taj Bradley (No. 20) went 7-4 in 2022 with a 2.57 ERA for Tampa Bay’s Double-A and Triple-A partners.

The Red Sox promoted infielder Triston Casas (No. 23) to the majors last September.

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