This week, with the winter meetings approaching next Monday in Nashville, we planned to take a look at baseball’s five most interesting teams this offseason. The problem: the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays could all fall into that territory.
So we start with something of a twist: The American League East, the Most Interesting Division in Baseball.
There is, here, enough money to be involved with the most expensive free agents, but also questions about whether that money will be spent. A team-by-team look:
Biggest potential losses: 1B Chris Davis, RP Darren O’Day, SP Wei-Yin Chen
Biggest needs: Power hitter, reliever, starter
Biggest questions: Which way are the Orioles trending? How much are they committed to spending to make sure it’s the right way?
After their first non-winning season since 2011 (81-81) , there are legitimate reasons to wonder on both counts. With 217 homers in 2015, they trailed only Toronto and Houston in that category – but the Orioles could allow 47 of those bombs walk out the door with Davis, whose contract in free agency will certainly be nine figures. O’Day, too, will receive more annually ($6 million?) than the Orioles might be willing to pay, and Chen quietly leaves a hole in a rotation that posted the second-worst ERA in the American League. The core is still Adam Jones and Manny Machado. But even with catcher Matt Wieters returning for one more year and closer Zach Britton coming off another excellent season, that core isn’t deep enough to contend in this division without some additions.
Boston Red Sox
Biggest potential losses: None
Biggest needs: Starting pitcher
Biggest questions: What can they do with Hanley Ramirez? Who will serve as their ace?
New president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made one big move by trading for closer Craig Kimbrel, shoring up the back end of a bullpen that still features 40-year-old Koji Uehara. But the Ramirez issue is major, and is one of the primary reasons former general manager Ben Cherington is out and Dombrowski essentially has his job. The former shortstop struggled in left field, and there’s talk he could move to first base. His career marks coming into 2015: .300 average/.373 on-base percentage/.500 slugging percentage. His first year with the Red Sox: .249/.291/.426. Problem: He’s owed $68.25 million over the next three years. Perhaps more important: who will front a rotation that posted the AL’s third-worst ERA last year? David Price has to be in the conversation. But if their old Tampa Bay nemesis goes elsewhere, will the Red Sox try to use some of their young depth (Jackie Bradley Jr., Henry Owens, etc.) to trade for a workhorse starter?
New York Yankees
Biggest potential losses: IF Stephen Drew, OF Chris Young
Biggest needs: Starting pitcher
Biggest questions: Does major money have to come off the books before major money is added? Will Brett Gardner be traded?
After the 2016 season, the Yankees will be rid of the contracts of Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million), CC Sabathia ($30 million, assuming they buy him out of a 2017 option), Carlos Beltran ($15 million) and will be able to see the light at the end of the Alex Rodriguez tunnel ($40 million over 2016-17). But that doesn’t mean they’ll start dumping more money into payroll this winter – necessarily. They already made one shrewd move by trading a backup catcher for outfielder Aaron Hicks, a younger replacement with more upside than the outgoing Young. If they don’t wade into the deep water for Price, might they go after a less-expensive (and shorter-term) deal with a middle-of-the-rotation starter and then point themselves toward Stephen Strasburg next winter? And what will they do with Gardner? He is affordable ($37.5 million from 2016-18) but his trade value could be hindered by a horrible second half. Whatever the moves, the Yankees could be interesting this offseason in a most un-Yankee way: by not spending money.
Tampa Bay Rays
Biggest potential losses: IF Asdrubal Cabrera
Biggest needs: Run-producing bat
Biggest questions: Where will the runs come from? Will the rotation be healthy?
Take the second question first: If Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore, Jake Odorizzi and Erasmo Ramirez are healthy in 2016, they could form one of the best young rotations in the game. Last year, that group posted a collective 3.58 ERA – yet averaged only 135 innings, mostly because of Moore’s return from Tommy John surgery and Smyly’s labrum problem. Still, Tampa General Manager Matt Silverman thought enough of his organizational pitching depth to deal young starter (and former Nationals prospect) Nate Karns to Seattle to fill a major hole, landing shortstop Brad Miller. But only the White Sox scored fewer runs than the Rays in the AL last year. Can Silverman come up with another way to land a hitter?
Toronto Blue Jays
Biggest potential losses: SP David Price, SP Mark Buehrle, GM Alex Anthopolous
Biggest needs: Starting pitching – if anything
Biggest questions: Will Toronto spend to defend its division title? And who is calling the baseball shots?
One of the more surprising developments of the early part of the offseason was the departure of Anthopolous, the Canadian-born general manager who pulled off trades for Price, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, outfielder Ben Revere and others that helped clinch the Blue Jays’ first postseason berth in 22 years. But with new team president Mark Shapiro clearly wanting a hand in baseball decisions, Anthopolous declined an offer to stay – leaving Tony LaCava as interim GM. Blue Jays personnel expect a permanent GM to be in place this week, but the other question will be interesting: After landing Price in a trade-deadline deal with Detroit, the internal expectation will be that the Blue Jays will be much more low-key in their offseason pursuit of pitching. They already signed former Jay J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36-million deal, and they’ll have Marcus Stroman healthy for a full year. Given that they outscored the next most productive team by 87 runs, and the lineup fully returns, it’s possible Toronto’s team will be the least changed come spring.