Aaron Judge and Yankees Ready for Stacked AL East

TAMPA, Fla. – The strongest division in baseball history – one to four, however – seems intimidating again. Four American League East teams had more than 90 wins last season, a first for divisional play, beginning in 1969. Today the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto The Blue Jays are back for more.

“Whoa – pack and have lunch, baby,” Aaron Boone, the Yankees manager, said in his office at Steinbrenner Field the previous day. Then Boone became impish: “Well,” he added, “it looks like we’re all fighting for a second. It looks like the Blue Jays are—”

He backed away, but the point was clear: the Yankees noticed that Toronto – anecdotally, at least – didn’t have time to be crowned as a favorite. But didn’t the Blue Jays, who didn’t play in the playoffs last season, at 91-71, lose to Cy Young Award winner and record-setting infielder to free agency?

“Apparently not,” Boone said, smiling. “But they are good. I mean, this division is always good, but it feels good real good. ”

The Blue Jays played the Yankees here on Saturday, and the game went on as you’d expect, with seven combined homers and 19 total runs. Yankees Giancarlo Stanton smokes a 117-mile-per-hour laser over the left wall of the field. Josh Palacios, a Blue Jays reserve outfielder from Brooklyn, cleans the pavilion using the rocket on the right. Toronto won, 10-9.

“At the end of last year, no one wanted to play with us,” said Blue Jays infielder Cavan Biggio, who also returned on Saturday. “Our team form has finally come into the picture, and people have noticed, ‘Hey, this is a dangerous group.’ I think this year it’s like, ‘OK, now is the time, we have to watch the Blue Jays.’ And our mind-set is there. We feel like we’re the best, and we play with a lot of fun and energy.

Robbie Ray took home his Cy Young Award in Seattle. Marcus Semien – who set a record for second -baseman homers, with 45 – landed in Texas. Starter Steven Matz is parlaying a year into his career on a St. Louis deal.

But the Blue Jays moved on to strong substitutes: Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi for rotation, Matt Chapman for infield. With lineup fixtures like Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernández and George Springer, Toronto got the hype.

“The young guys they got there, especially Vlad and Bichette, those guys are going to keep getting better,” Yankees Judge Aaron said. “They have a good outfield, a good infield core. They’re going to be a tough opponent all year, so we’re looking forward to facing them a little bit.

How often will the Judge be allowed to deal with them? He dismissed direct questions about his vaccination status, but the Canadian government will not allow players in the country unless they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. The Yankees will play nine games in Toronto this season, three each in May, June and September.

Every win was valuable for the Yankees last season, when they defeated the Blue Jays for the wild-card spot by one game. As they prepare to offer the Judge a contract extension before the opening day on April 7, the Yankees may be wise to make the vaccine a condition of his signing. The Red Sox made infielder Trevor Story, according to ESPN, a logical request for a $ 140 million player in a team game.

The referee should rule and more from the Yankees than the Story got from the Red Sox. He has a few peers as a slugger: Since 2017, only Mike Trout and Juan Soto have a higher on-base plus slugging percentage than Judge’s .954 (minimum 2,000 plate appearances). To leave free agency, will Judge need a record average annual salary for a position player? The model is Trout, at a little over $ 35.5 million annually with the Los Angeles Angels.

“I want to be here,” said Judge, who will turn 30 next month. “Even if we can lock it in and get a chance to play here for a few years, that’s fine. But if it happens, it will happen. If not, no. I’m not too worried.”

The Judge and the Yankees still disagree on a 2022 salary: The Judge asked for $ 21 million in arbitration, and the Yankees objected to $ 17 million. That debate will end if the sides agree on a lengthy agreement, and General Manager Brian Cashman told reporters on Saturday that the extension talks will end before the opening.

The judge withheld a bit of that deadline – “We haven’t decided yet, but for now that’s what we have,” he said Saturday – but in any case, he has at least one more chance to comply. of the Yankees ’dream from December 2017. That’s when they traded for Stanton, hoping for a modern Mantle-and-Maris tandem to power them back into the World Series.

Could this finally happen in 2022? Right now, however, a healthy, well -laid line is not the problem. Pitching was Boone’s immediate concern, with the shortened exhibition schedule preventing beginners from their usual work. The expanded early roster, with 28 active players, will help.

“I think these are the beginners and where they need to be built – how do you fill the first couple of weeks?” Said Boone. “Our five starters can build up to 65, 75 pitches at that point, so having an extra pair of arms will help.”

The rotation wasn’t particularly impressive after Gerrit Cole, though all the AL East teams had questions. This is the division of the board, deep and full, where a factor like the vaccine mandate can make a big difference.

The Blue Jays said they were not worried about the impact of Canada’s rule on their own roster. As for a competition with unvaccinated opponents, they may not need it.

“I feel like our fans are the best at baseball, especially when we’re good and we’re packing at home,” Biggio said. “So really look at it from that point, we have an advantage. But from a vaccine standpoint, we don’t feel we need that advantage just because we know how good we are as a team.

Pack lunch, baby. It should be fun.

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