Aaron Judge, Yankees Sit Atop AL East Opening Day True-Talent Rankings

For the rest of March, I’ll be taking a look at the Opening Day true talent rankings of the 30 MLB clubs by division. While the rankings are based on actual 2022 batted ball data, offseason player movement and the potential impact of 2023 rookies will be addressed. Today, we kick it off with the AL East.

1 – New York Yankees – “Tru” Talent Record = 103-59 – Offense = 116.2 (2nd), Pitching Rating = 84.9 (3rd), Defensive Rating = 103.6 (24th) IN: LHP Carlos Rodon, RHP Tommy Kahnle; OUT: RHP Jameson Taillon, OF Andrew Benintendi, LHP Aroldis Chapman, RHP Chad Green, DH Matt Carpenter

Typically, high-performing, high-salary clubs tend to have relatively boring spring training. Not this bunch. Their 103-59 “Tru” Talent record was compiled largely on the strength of an incredible first half when their run prevention was clicking on all cylinders. This wasn’t a good team in the second half, as the back end of their bullpen had to be overhauled after Aroldis Chapman and Michael King were out of the equation. Aaron Judge was their only source of consistent excellence throughout the season, although Gerrit Cole himself wasn’t too bad.

The focus of this group right now is on children. Oswald Peraza is pushing Isiah Kiner-Falefa for the starting shortstop job, Oswaldo Cabrera is pushing Aaron Hicks in left field, and Anthony Volpe is just blowing everyone away as he tries to force his way into the mix somewhere. OF Jasson Dominguez has also impressed, but he also has 22 Double-A at-bats under his belt. While the fan base certainly wants the club to move past Kiner-Falefa, Hicks and 3B Josh Donaldson, it probably won’t be that simple.

Rodon is an upgrade over Taillon, but Frankie Montas will miss most or all of the season and Jordan Montgomery is now a Cardinal. Overall run prevention isn’t likely to be as good this time around.

The Yankees will try to pull off the difficult daily double of implementing a youth movement while vying for hardware in a tough division. They could possibly pull it off, but it will likely be a wild ride.

2 – Toronto Blue Jays – “Tru” Talent Record = 92-70 – Offense = 115.1 (4th), Pitching Rating = 100.9 (17th), Defensive Rating = 99.0 (14th) – IN: RHP Chris Bassitt , LF Daulton Varsho, DH Brandon Belt, CF Kevin Kiermaier, RHP Erik Swanson, RHP Chad Green; OUT: RF Teoscar Hernandez, RHP Ross Stripling, C Gabriel Moreno, LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

That’s an awful lot of high-quality turnover for a playoff team. The Jays appeared on track to be the best hitting club of this era not too long ago, but I don’t like the moves they’ve made on that front. Varsho is a versatile athlete who brings a lot to the table, but his batted ball data doesn’t suggest a consistent impact in the middle of the order. Think Cavan Biggio redux. The belt is always injured. Ditto Kiermaier. Considering the addition of Whit Merrifield in mid-2022, the Blue Jays have added plenty of outs in the bottom half of the batting order. The club dealt with their transfer crowd by moving Moreno, who had the highest rise of the group. The exchange of Hernandez, Gurriel and Moreno essentially with Varso, Kiermaier and Belt will prove to be a net negative.

I like their moves on the side of the court. While I love Stripling, Bassitt is one of the most underrated starters in the game and should prove to be an upgrade in both quality and quantity. The bullpen should be deeper with the additions of Swanson and the still-rehabbing Green.

The rookies are unlikely to contribute much early on for the Jays, but as the season progresses, LHP Ricky Tiedemann and 3B Orelvis Martinez could get the call. Tiedemann in particular could make some noise as he is a solid hitter and the bottom of the Jays rotation (Jose Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi) is pretty grim.

3 – Tampa Bay Rays – “Tru” Talent Record = 87-75 – Offense = 93.3 (21st), Pitching Rating = 90.3 (6th), Defensive Rating = 96.4 (6th) – IN: RHP Zach Eflin ; OUT: 1B Ji-Man Choi, LHP Brooks Raley, LHP Ryan Yarbrough; CF Kevin Kiermaier, RHP JP Feyereisen, RHP Corey Kluber, LF David Peralta

Typical Rays offseason. They are saying goodbye to a bunch of free agents who served them well but could not be accommodated by the club’s modest payroll. They say hello to an advanced statistical love of mine in Eflin that they valued more than the market. For the record, I think this investment will pay off. Overall, the bottom line should be Rays-esque as well, as the club should be in the mix for a playoff spot all season long.

They should get some low-cost, potentially high-reward additions to their farm system as the season unfolds. 1B Kyle Manzardo is a big bat whose production should translate to this level, and 3B Curtis Mead is another bat-first guy who still needs some polish at the hot corner. On the mound, RHP Taj Bradley could be a midseason rotation factor after dominating both upper secondary levels in 2022.

4 – Boston Red Sox – “Tru” Talent Record = 78-84 – Offense = 103.8 (10th), Pitching Rating = 109.3 (24th), Defensive Rating = 98.9 (12th) – IN: RHP Kenley Jansen , RHP Chris Martin, LF Masataka Yoshida, RHP Corey Kluber, 3B Justin Turner, CF Adam Duvall, SS Adalberto Mondesi; OUT: SS Xander Bogaerts, LHP Matt Strahm, 1B Eric Hosmer, RHP Nathan Eovaldi, LHP Rich Hill, DH JD Martinez, LF Tommy Pham, RHP Michael Wacha, RHP Matt Barnes

We’re talking turnover. Obviously, the big loss is Bogaerts, and while I don’t think he’s worth the Padres contract, it still hurts the Bosox. Stram, Eovaldi, Martinez and Watsa were also solid contributors to the 2022 club and are gone. They have been replaced by the stable but declining Turner and a bunch of high variance replacements. Jansen could be a closer or explode completely. Kluber is good when he’s healthy, but he hasn’t been healthy often. Duvall is a feast or famine that hits hard. And Mondesi is in a class all his own, among the injuries, hits, triples and stolen bases. Fun fact, Mondesi has only topped 291 plate appearances in a season once.

The most important addition both financially and on the field is Yoshida. One can never really be sure about a batsman coming from the Far East for the first time. Yes, there were Ohtanis and Matsuis, but there were also the Chutsugos. I doubt the new Sox lefty will go bust, as he’s a guy who preceded success with a pretty clean swing and sound plate discipline. But the Sox better be right, as they have largely replaced Bogaert’s dollars with Yoshida’s. Think more Kosuke Fukudome or Seiya Suzuki.

Rookie Triston Casas is expected to be the club’s everyday first baseman and perhaps the top hitter. He wouldn’t be a prototypical tight end as he lacks speed entirely, but his feel for the strike zone and hitting in general will serve him well. Ceddanne Rafaela has a quality glove that plays all over the field, particularly in the outfield, and has a chance to hit. Watch multi-position bat Emmanuel Valdez, acquired from the Astros last season. He’s not great with the glove anywhere, but he carries the bat. Lefty Brayan Bello has the makings to succeed as an MLB starter. He has been slowed by forearm tightness this spring, but should be a factor in time.

5 – Baltimore Orioles – “Tru” Record = 75-87 – Offense = 98.6 (17th), Pitching Rating = 105.0 (21st), Defensive Rating = 101.8 (22nd) – IN: RHP Kyle Gibson, 2B Adam Frazier, C McCann, LHP Cole Irvin; OUT: RHP Jordan Lyles

Not much turnover here. Let’s get this straight from the start – the O’s weren’t as good as their record last season. My ball-based method says it was eight worst games. That said, this team is clearly on the right track, with youngsters like C Adley Rutschman and 3B Gunnar Henderson poised for starring roles in their first full seasons in the league. Their major offseason acquisitions, Gibson and Irvin, at least give them stability and innings, though they match up very poorly with the other AL East #1-2 players.

It’s all about the kids here. Beyond Rachman and Henderson, Colton Cowher could be the next kid to break into the starting lineup, likely in a corner outfield position. It projects to have a combination of power and capable defense. Other bats to watch are 3B Jordan Westburg, 2B Connor Norby and UT Joey Ortiz. Westburg has shown more tools than skill at this point, but he has the arm and potential to be a quality starter. Norby and Ortiz are first-round guys who should at least develop into MLB contributors.

Grayson Rodriguez is one of the best starting pitchers in the game and is likely to start the season in the Oriole rotation. He’ll likely be a bit of a baby at first, but if all goes well, he’ll be the club’s Opening Day starter for 2024. Lefty DL Hall has a lot going for him, but some control issues, and the organization has been concerned about the role of late, mixing it up between the rotation and the pen. Here’s to hoping the club will be patient and groom him for a key role. Keep an eye on Drew Rom – he lacks the high octane of Rodriguez and Hall, but has a feel that will eventually land him a material role in the MLB.

Expect a slight step back from the O’s in 2023 before continuing their ascent in 2024.

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