Friday, November 9, 2012
Updated: November 10, 10:23 AM ET
Offseason breakdown: AL East
By Tim Kurkjian
Editor's Note: This is part of a three-day series that assesses each of baseball's 30 teams in a division-by-division format. Teams are listed according to the order in which they finished the regular season in their division in 2012.
The Yankees are totally in flux, and they have so many questions.
Will Alex Rodriguez get traded? Will Derek Jeter (broken ankle) be ready for spring training? How effective will Mariano Rivera, soon to be 43, be after missing almost an entire season with a knee injury? With Nick Swisher and Ichiro Suzuki eligible for free agency, who will play the corner outfield spots? Will Andy Pettitte pitch another season, and even if he does, what will their rotation look like?
A left fielder and a right fielder if they don't re-sign Swisher and Ichiro. They will need a DH if Raul Ibanez leaves via free agency. If Pettitte doesn't return, and Hiroki Kuroda leaves via free agency, they will need two starting pitchers. They also will need another reliever for the back end of the bullpen if Rafael Soriano, who opted out of his contract, doesn't return, which is expected. Catcher Russell Martin is also a free agent.
• RF Nick Swisher
• OF Ichiro Suzuki
• LHP Andy Pettitte
• RHP Hiroki Kuroda
• RHP Rafael Soriano
• C Russell Martin
• OF Raul Ibanez
• RHP Freddy Garcia
• RHP Derek Lowe
• OF Andruw Jones
• 3B Eric Chavez
With Rivera's decision to return, Soriano will likely be gone. Everyone else of significance might still be in play; Pettitte, Kuroda and Martin are the most important pieces, but Swisher (other than in the postseason) has been a productive player for the Yankees.
If one of the outfielders leaves, there are helpful options in the free-agent market, including Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan and Melky Cabrera.
Mike Napoli could serve a dual role as a catcher/DH. And the Yankees are always in the market for starting pitching, including the top guy, Zack Greinke (who seems likely to sign with the Angels or Dodgers), and the second-tier guys such as Kyle Lohse.
They are a hard team to read given all that needs to be done. With the way the season ended, it is easy to look at the Yankees and see serious regression in 2013, but they did win 95 games last year, and they do have all the resources to get better in a hurry. But a lot of next year will come down to return to form of three crucial players, A-Rod, Jeter and Rivera, all aging, and coming off injuries. The Yankees had better not enter next season without major support for those guys just in case they don't produce like usual.
The Orioles have turned the corner in every way following a fabulous 2012, but they have a lot of work to do to stay a playoff contender for the next few years.
But the hardest part is over -- the 14 straight sub-.500 seasons ended with a playoff berth, bringing the pride back to an organization and a city that has been dying for something good to happen. As long as Buck Showalter is there running things, the Orioles will be OK, but they can't count on last year happening again: 16 straight victories in extra-inning games, a nearly .800 winning percentage in one-run games and no walk-off losses in the regular season.
They need a legitimate No. 1 starter, an ace. Last year, only one Orioles pitcher -- Wei-Yin Chen -- made more than 20 starts. They probably could use a second starting pitcher as well. They need a hitter at first base, especially given that the Orioles did not pick up Mark Reynolds' option. With Nate McLouth a free agent, and Nolan Reimold coming back from a serious injury, they might need a left fielder and leadoff guy.
• OF Nate McLouth
• INF Bill Hall
• LHP Joe Saunders
• LHP Randy Wolf
• 1B/DH Nick Johnson
• DH Jim Thome
Reynolds is gone to free agency, but could re-sign at a lesser salary. Saunders was very useful down the stretch and in the postseason, but he might be lost to free agency. Fortunately for the Orioles, the rest of the core is intact for a few years to come.
Greinke is the only true No. 1 starter in free agency, and he's going to be very costly, and he is probably going to end up with the Angels or the Dodgers.
There are other starting pitchers who could help, including Kyle Lohse and Anibal Sanchez, but the Orioles might have to work a trade for a No. 1, which won't be easy. And don't be shocked if right-hander Dylan Bundy makes the team out of spring training. As for first base, Adam LaRoche would be perfect: he hit the most home runs of any major league first baseman in 2012, his pull-swing would be ideal at Camden Yards and he won a Gold Glove award.
Things are looking up for the Orioles. Their core players, including center fielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters, continue to improve. They will have third baseman Manny Machado for a full season; everything we've seen about him suggests that he will be a terrific player, with great power, in the very near future. Bundy also has a chance to be a star, perhaps sooner rather than later. But the Orioles are going to have to add a couple of pieces if they are to make it back to the playoffs in a very difficult division.
Most teams would be in big trouble in this situation, but not the Rays.
They have learned, better than any team, how to handle the loss of players to free agency. And they can absorb such losses on the strength of their starting pitching, which should be better than ever in 2013. But the Rays missed the playoffs last year because they didn't score enough runs, and they likely will lose more offense to free agency. And, as always, the Rays aren't financially capable of filling those holes with expensive free agents.
Offense. Center fielder B.J. Upton, first baseman Carlos Pena, DH Luke Scott and utility man supreme Jeff Keppinger are all free agents, meaning four spots that might need to be filled. Relievers J.P. Howell and Kyle Farnsworth are also free agents, but the Rays did re-sign Joel Peralta for two years, $6 million. The Rays decided to pick up catcher Jose Molina's option, meaning another year of mixing and matching behind the plate.
• CF B.J. Upton
• 1B Carlos Pena
• INF Jeff Keppinger
• DH Luke Scott
• LHP J.P. Howell
• RHP Kyle Farnsworth
The Rays made a qualifying offer of $13.3 million to Upton, but chances are he'll get a multi-year deal from some team, and he is going to leave. Keppinger's value is very high after hitting .325 and playing multiple positions. Howell is a good reliever again after injury issues, but after signing Peralta, it will be hard to keep Howell. Pena and Scott likely won't be back. Even Pena's defense seemed to regress last season.
The Rays badly need a first baseman and an outfielder who can hit, but finding them on the free-agent market is unlikely given the cost. So it comes down to this again: do the Rays trade one of their terrific starting pitchers for a bat?
Teams constantly inquire about James Shields, especially after that spectacular performance (two hits, 14 strikeouts) he had against Baltimore during the final series of the season. The Rays are reluctant to deal any of their starting pitchers, but it might be their only chance to improve offensively. If they keep Shields, they have Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis to use in potential trades.
The Rays will contend in 2013 because they have the best starting pitching in the league. Matt Moore will get better Alex Cobb became a quality major league starter last year and there aren't many better 1-2, lefty-righty combinations than David Price and Shields. But making the playoffs will be a struggle with their lack of offense, and runs will be even harder to come by without Upton, and maybe without Keppinger.
This team needs a new ballpark more than any team, yet there is no definitive plan in place for that, meaning another few years of bringing in cheap pieces, and having manager Joe Maddon mold those pieces into a team. No one is better, but eventually, more help is going to be needed.
It's amazing how much things have changed in Toronto in the last eight months.
In spring training, the Blue Jays were the talk of Florida, a talented, vibrant young team with tremendous promise, the sleeper pick to make the playoffs. But the 2012 Jays were ravaged by injuries, especially on the pitching staff, and won only 73 games. Manager John Farrell, who was leading the way in the organization's resurgence, went to the Red Sox, leaving the Jays in a search for a manager. There is talent left in Toronto, but a lot of pitchers need to get healthy, and many questions remain about where the Jays go from here.
A return to health. Seemingly the entire rotation got hurt last season, including Dustin McGowan and Kyle Drabek. The Jays also had the highest bullpen ERA in the league (4.33; no other AL team was over 4.00) and the fewest saves (29), but Casey Janssen (22 saves) was very good in September, and the return of injured closer Sergio Santos will help. The Jays are also going to have to decide if they are going to keep or trade enigmatic shortstop Yunel Escobar, perhaps making room for Adeiny Hechavarria.
• RHP Jason Frasor
• RHP Brandon Lyon
• RHP Carlos Villanueva
• 2B Kelly Johnson
Johnson could be gone to free agency, and for the moment, will be replaced by Hechavarria. It is not a strong free-agent year, but there is plenty of bullpen help available, so the Jays should be able to fill some holes there if Frasor and Lyon leave.
Getting right fielder Jose Bautista (92 games played) back from injury will help immensely, but there is a real question about left field, and whether Colby Rasmus is the center fielder of the future. B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn are quality free-agent outfielders, but will the Jays be in that market?
It is pretty cloudy in Toronto these days. The direction of the team remains the same -- out-draft and out-scout everyone, find as many athletes as possible -- but some of the key figures have changed, leaving this organization in transition.
Maybe it will be as simple as getting Bautista back, getting some pitchers healthy, getting third baseman Brett Lawrie back on the fast track to stardom, figuring out what happened last year to Ricky Romero (5.77 ERA) and moving Escobar to another team. But even if all that happens, it's difficult to imagine this team being the sleeper to make the playoffs as it was last spring.
The Red Sox are in complete recovery mode.
The 2012 season, which was disastrous on so many levels, has left the Red Sox with a huge rebuilding job ahead, and not just with the roster, but with the fans, with public relations, with everything Red Sox. New manager John Farrell will help because at least he knows and understands the culture of the Red Sox, and Boston. But the Red Sox have so few players left after the tumultuous 2012 season. You can blame Bobby Valentine for all you want, but ownership and management should share the blame for all that happened last season -- on and off the field.
The blockbuster trade with the Dodgers last summer helped clear roughly $100 million in payroll, which will come in handy this winter, but it left the Red Sox without a first baseman, a left fielder and a top-of-the-rotation starter. They might also need a right fielder if they can't re-sign Cody Ross, but he is a priority. They will have to find another quality starting pitcher even if Jon Lester finds whatever he was missing most of last year.
• RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
• RHP Aaron Cook
• RHP Vicente Padilla
• OF Scott Podsednik
• OF Cody Ross
• 1B James Loney
Matsuzaka is gone, which is a good thing. The Red Sox are trying to re-sign Ross, but at this point, a three-year deal has not been offered. There isn't much to lose here because so much was sent away last year, including Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett.
The help at first base isn't particularly strong after Adam LaRoche. There is outfield help with B.J. Upton and Michael Bourn and Torii Hunter, but there is also a chance that the Red Sox trade center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. There isn't front-line starting pitching help after Zack Greinke, who would not be a good fit in Boston, but Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Lohse certainly would be upgrades in the Boston rotation. There is plenty of bullpen help, but if closer Andrew Bailey is healthy, that is a good start.
The Red Sox finished last in the East last year, and could finish last again if they play, and are run, as poorly as they were last year. Re-signing DH David Ortiz for two years at least got things going in the right direction, but so much more has to be done to rebuild the team, and the fans' confidence in the organization. With money to spend, the Red Sox should be able to put a competitive team on the field in 2013. But building this team back into a contender in 2013 after last year's debacle is going to be difficult to do.