Top 2024 Bounce-Back Candidates for Each Team in the AL East

Who could be the bounce-back stars of the AL East in 2024? Here's a look at a pair of candidates for all five teams in the division.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 22: Carlos Rodón of the New York Yankees walks around the stadium after a press conference at Yankee Stadium on December 22, 2022 in the Bronx, New York. (Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images)

After a fairly disastrous first full season in Toronto that saw him post a 5.23 ERA and 4.55 FIP over 172 innings pitched, José Berríos bounced back nicely for the Blue Jays in 2023, logging 189 2/3 innings pitched, while finishing with a 3.65 ERA, 3.99 FIP and 3.0 fWAR.

Beyond helping the Blue Jays to win 89 games and claim the final Wild Card spot in the American League, the righty’s resurgence was a welcome sign considering his seven-year, $131 million deal runs through the 2028 season.

Who will be a major bounce-back star in the AL East in 2024? Here’s a look at a pair of candidates for all five teams in the division.

Tampa Bay Rays Bounce-Back Candidate: Aaron Civale, RHP

2023 Stats: 23 GS, 122.1 IP, 3.46 ERA, 8.53 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, 2.5 fWAR

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The Rays would likely be thrilled if Civale finishes the 2024 season with the same 3.46 ERA he had in 2023. However, they need him to take a different path to that number in his first full campaign in Tampa Bay.

Civale was excellent in 13 starts for the Cleveland Guardians a season ago, going 5-2 with a 2.34 ERA. That made his July trade to the Rays — while the Guardians were still in playoff contention — rather jarring. Yet upon his move to Tampa Bay, Civale went 2-3 with a 5.36 ERA in 10 starts.

The good news for Civale is he’s had a whole offseason to prepare to pitch for the Rays, and the 3.63 FIP he had in 10 starts with Tampa Bay last year suggests that his back-of-the-baseball-card stats don’t paint the full picture of the second half of his 2023 campaign.

Shane McClanahan will miss the entirety of the 2024 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, while the statuses of Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs aren’t clear as they work their way back from major surgeries of their own. Tampa Bay will be counting quite a bit on the duo of Civale and Zach Eflin atop the rotation, particularly in the first half of the season.

Honorable Mention: Garrett Cleavinger, LHP

Cleavinger looked like an emerging star after he posted a 1.77 FIP in 10 appearances with the Rays in 2022. However, a right knee sprain limited him to just 15 appearances in 2023 in which he posted a 4.84 FIP.

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The 29-year-old lefty can throw both his four-seam fastball and sinker in the mid-90s, while also mixing in a slider. If healthy, he could become one of Kevin Cash’s most trustworthy options out of the bullpen.

Boston Red Sox Bounce-Back Candidate: Lucas Giolito, RHP

2023 Stats: 33 GS, 184.1 IP, 4.88 ERA, 9.96 K/9, 3.56 BB/9, 1.0 fWAR

Between 2019 and 2021, Giolito finished seventh among all pitchers in fWAR. With that in mind, you can understand why the Red Sox were willing to give him a two-year, $38.5 million deal this offseason, a pact that features a player opt-out after 2024 and a vesting option for 2026.

But over the last two seasons, Giolito HAS posted a 4.89 ERA across 63 starts. The 2023 campaign was particularly disastrous, seeing him pitch for three teams — the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels and Cleveland Guardians — while allowing a career-high 41 home runs.

Given that the remainder of the Red Sox rotation is filled with guys who profile more as No. 4 and No. 5 starters on contending teams, new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow has staked Boston’s ability to contend on Giolito having a bounce-back season.

The problem with that strategy is that if Giolito does bounce back, he’ll opt out of his contract and return to free agency next offseason in search of a more lucrative deal. If Giolito doesn’t rebound, the Red Sox won’t have any top-of-the-rotation type arms and will be left paying him $19 million in 2024. That’s a lot for a franchise that no longer appears interested in operating like they are, you know, the Boston Red Sox.

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Honorable Mention: Trevor Story, SS

Story’s six-year, $140 million deal with the Red Sox has gotten off to a brutal start, as he’s played in only 137 of a possible 324 games over the first two seasons of the contract.

However, his right elbow is fully healthy now, and he posted 8 DRS and 8 OAA in just 314 innings at shortstop a year ago. You do wonder, though, whether the wear-and-tear of playing a demanding position like shortstop will be conducive to keeping Story’s bat in the lineup consistently. Boston will hope the two-time Silver Slugger has an offensive resurgence in 2024.

Toronto Blue Jays Bounce-Back Candidate: Alek Manoah, RHP

2023 Stats: 19 GS, 87.1 IP, 5.87 ERA, 8.14 K/9, 6.08 BB/9, -0.4 fWAR

Manoah’s conditioning — or lack thereof — likely caused him to have trouble adjusting to the pitch clock and turn in an awful 2023 season. He posted a 5.87 ERA and 6.01 FIP in 19 starts a year ago.

Mind you, this was someone who entered 2023 looking like one of the best young pitchers in baseball. Manoah went 25-9 with a 2.60 ERA and 3.51 FIP between 2022 and ’23, culminating in a third-place finish in AL Cy Young voting in the second of those seasons.

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If the Blue Jays are able to get the good versions of both Manoah and Berríos in 2024, they’ll have one of the better rotations in baseball when you consider that they also employ two of the league’s most under-appreciated arms in Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt.

Honorable Mention: Alejandro Kirk, C

Kirk was a breakout star in 2022, winning a Silver Slugger Award after homering 14 times, driving in 63 runs and posting a .786 OPS.

However, Kirk fell off of Just Baseball’s top 10 catchers countdown entering this season. His offensive production dipped in 2023, as he finished with just a .692 OPS. He still posted 17 defensive runs saved a year ago, so he remained valuable, but the 2022 iteration of Kirk looked like he would be a perennial All-Star.

Baltimore Orioles Bounce-Back Candidate: John Means, LHP

2023 Stats: 4 GS, 23.2 IP, 2.66 ERA, 3.80 K/9, 1.52 BB/9, 0.2 fWAR

Tommy John surgery (and the inexact path back to the mound that comes with it) have limited Means to just six starts over the last two seasons. While a delay in beginning his offseason program might keep him from being ready for Opening Day, a healthy Means could be an exciting early-summer addition to an Orioles team that won 101 games largely without him a season ago.

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As a team, the Orioles were a disaster between 2019-21. Means was one of the few bright spots over that three-season stretch, posting a 3.73 ERA in 67 outings, 63 of which were starts. The idea of adding that pitcher back into the mix with Corbin Burnes and Grayson Rodriguez is enticing.

Means potentially returning to form will become that much more important if the PRP injection RHP Kyle Bradish recently received isn’t effective in treating the UCL tear in his right elbow. The 2.34 ERA that Bradish posted after the All-Star Break in 2023 was second in baseball only to eventual NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.

Honorable Mention: Cedric Mullins, CF

With seven defensive runs saved and six outs above average, Mullins still graded out very well in center field a year ago. However, after slashing .274/.339/.460 with a .799 OPS between 2021 and 2022, Mullins’ offensive production in 2023 — .233/.305/.416 with a .721 OPS — was underwhelming.

Whether Mullins’ long-term future is in Baltimore or not, the O’s need an offensive bounce-back from their center fielder in 2024.

New York Yankees Bounce-Back Candidate: Carlos Rodón, LHP

2023 Stats: 14 GS, 64.1 IP, 6.85 ERA, 8.95 K/9, 3.92 BB/9, -0.2 fWAR

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Between 2021 and 2022, the only pitchers who topped the 11.1 fWAR that Rodón posted were the aforementioned Burnes and Zack Wheeler. So, he certainly earned the six-year, $162 million investment the Yankees made in him prior to the 2023 season.

But after a disastrous first season in the Bronx, Rodón will need to rebound in 2024 to avoid being mentioned in the same breath as Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano and A.J. Burnett by Yankees fans.

A left forearm strain and left hamstring strain limited Rodón to just 14 starts a season ago, and the lefty was very ineffective when on the mound, pitching to a 6.85 ERA and 5.79 FIP.

The only real hope for the Yankees is that with an offseason to reset, Rodón can stay healthy and rediscover his Cy Young-caliber form in 2024. If not, they will have one of the worst contracts in baseball on their hands and no real No. 2 to pair with Gerrit Cole.

Honorable Mention: Anthony Rizzo, 1B

For as great of a “big three” as the Yankees have in Cole, Aaron Judge and Juan Soto, there are an alarming amount of players on the team that you could argue are on the decline. Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu are among them. So too is Rizzo, although now that he’s recovered from a concussion that essentially cost him the entire second half in 2023, the three-time All-Star is a bounce-back candidate.

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Peak Rizzo may not return, but the version of him that hit 11 home runs with a .753 OPS prior to the All-Star Break last season would suffice.