For now, we’re in the clear. The New York Yankees‘ AL East competitors aren’t any better than they were last year.
In fact, they’ve been legally barred from playing games or making moves. Looks like we all tie! Exhale.
When the veil of the MLB Lockout is lifted, though, there’s reason to believe that every single team in the division could be better-positioned for success than they were on Opening Day 2021 … except the Yankees.
Remember, a year ago, we thought the Red Sox were two years away before their offense, Nick Pivetta and Garrett Whitlock proved us wrong. A year ago, we thought the Jays had a punishing lineup and half the necessary pitching. We didn’t understand anything about the Rays’ rotation strategy (trading Blake Snell?!), which didn’t come back to bite them at all until the postseason arrived.
And last Opening Day, Cedric Mullins was a replacement player. Even at the bottom of the barrel, things changed fast.
While it seems like the scariest thing possible right now is the ongoing lockout, just remember how peaceful things feel right now when you could be watching an overworked Yankees bullpen surrender multi-run leads in Boston, Toronto or Tampa.
The 2022 season could result in a Yankees triumph. They have the financial flexibility to change this roster for the better during the free agency frenzy. There are a number of trade irons in their fire. Next year’s version of the Yanks isn’t good enough at the moment, but there are obvious paths to getting them up to speed.
However … at the moment, every one of the four other teams in the American League East profiles as more dangerous than they did 365 days ago, and could also reach a different level in the weeks to come.
How Yankees’ 4 AL East rivals could get even scarier in 2022. Yes, all 4 of them.
4. Yankees vs. Orioles: Promote Adley Rutschman for Opening Day
We’re not going to pretend the Orioles will vault directly into AL East contention, but an infusion of talent — yes, combined with the left-field wall moving back — will make them less of a pushover in 2022.
If you’re a Yankees fan, you already knew they were a uniquely dangerous matchup for the Bombers in 2021 (vomit). The O’s went 8-11 against the Yanks last season, securing 15% of their total wins on the season against a team that theoretically should’ve won the AL East. Cool. Just … so cool to be alive.
Whatever secret sauce Baltimore had last season will probably show up once again in 2022. After all, the pitching can only get better. Beyond John Means, there wasn’t a single qualified starter on this roster who should’ve had what it took to master the Yanks so consistently, and yet … here we are. If the O’s improve their pitching by even 5-10%, then add Adley Rutschman to their Opening Day roster, they could certainly look more like a classic last-place team rather than an historic bottom-feeder that only the Yankees can’t solve.
Rutschman, the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball, is now 24 years old. In other leagues, he would’ve been up directly out of Oregon State. At the MLB level, even calling for a tanking team to promote their shining beacon of light one year before he hits 25 feels like a difficult ask.
If the O’s do the wise thing and let Rutschman start the regular season behind the plate, they’ll be adding a tone-setting captain who hits tanks at the toughest position in baseball to lock down. It wouldn’t even take a fanciful offseason packed with Carlos Correa additions to level up the Orioles. Elevating Rutschman to his rightful position will make them a tougher out automatically.