Offseason breakdown: AL East
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 2013.
Boston took the monies saved and invested in shorter-term assets who provided immediate returns in helping to take the team from worst to first in the division.
League-champion teams tend to have few needs, but Boston has several situations to address. Four regulars -- Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- are all free agents.
• SS Stephen Drew
• CF Jacoby Ellsbury
• RHP Joel Hanrahan
• INF John McDonald
• 1B Mike Napoli
• C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Drew is unlikely to return as Xander Bogaerts demonstrated he was ready to be a major league regular in the postseason, displaying skills that belied his young age. Hanrahan and McDonald seem as unlikely to return for different reasons. Andrew Bailey and Franklin Morales are third-year arbitration candidates who are unlikely to receive those offers from the team.
Simply put, Boston's strategy should be about retention. Ellsbury will parlay a strong season and a thin free-agent market at his position into a huge payday. Boston may not want to give another large contract to a player, but it may not have a choice in this situation.
Napoli quieted concerns about his degenerative hip with a strong season at the plate and surprisingly good defense in the field. If Saltamacchia is not retained, Carlos Ruiz would be an interesting addition to the club coming off a down season.
The offseason spotlight typically shines brightly on Boston, and this offseason will be no different as the Red Sox will be the defending World Series champions. They will enter the market with a relatively low $104M in committed payroll, allowing themselves the flexibility to be players on both the free-agent market and the trade market.
Boston will return its entire starting rotation as well as key members of its bullpen that helped the Red Sox post a plus-197 run differential in 2013. The Red Sox seemingly can focus their offseason efforts on retaining or rebuilding their offense while looking for opportunities to add bullpen depth.
Uehara has an odd career trend in that he has been unable to pitch more than 50 innings in any season after which he threw more than 60 innings, so the team may look to add an insurance policy. Other than that, there are few concerns with this team. It is good to be king.
Each offseason is rather similar for the Rays: Find a new first baseman, a new designated hitter and add bullpen depth.
DeJesus is strictly a platoon player who has shown no ability to hit left-handed pitching, much like Matt Joyce. Joyce would be the cheaper option, but he is also an inferior defender to DeJesus and has struggled mightily in the second half of the past few seasons. The team must decide if it wishes to continue to carry Jose Molina's superior pitch-framing skills while accepting his offensive limitations. Lastly, Fernando Rodney became the first closer to lead the team in saves for consecutive seasons since Danys Baez, but he is now a free agent.
• RHP Jesse Crain
• RHP Roberto Hernandez
• INF/OF Kelly Johnson
• 1B James Loney
• C Jose Molina
• RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo
• RHP Fernando Rodney
• DH/OF Luke Scott
• RHP Jamey Wright
• DH/OF Delmon Young
The Rays tend to treat free agents as fungible commodities. Two seasons ago, they recycled most of the bullpen and watched it become one of the best in baseball. They have picked up the likes of Loney and Casey Kotchman to replace Carlos Pena and watched each exceed popular expectations. That may change this offseason as they could work to retain Crain and Oviedo, who would have that ever-coveted discount on the open market coming off injuries.
Many expect David Price to get traded this offseason, but with the low committed payroll, it is not necessarily a given. Jeff Niemann has had trouble staying healthy for most of his Rays career and could be a non-tender candidate after seeing his innings total decrease for a fourth consecutive season.
The frugal ways of the Rays make it somewhat easier to select potential targets on the market. If they are unable to retain Wright, they will find another ground-ball specialist such as Luis Ayala or Matt Lindstrom as the team has had that type of pitcher on its roster each season. Given their success in reclamation projects, Joba Chamberlain, Ryan Madson or Carlos Marmol would not be terribly surprising signings.
Offensively, Michael Morse could be an option for the designated hitter role and Kendrys Morales would give the Rays some needed thump in the middle of the lineup. GM Andrew Friedman has also expressed a desire to add more team speed, which would make Nate McLouth or even Rajai Davis a fit for left field.
Tampa Bay enjoyed more offensive success in 2013 than it had in recent seasons and won at least 90 games for the fourth consecutive season, but its normally healthy starting pitching staff betrayed the team as Alex Cobb, Matt Moore and David Price each spent time on the disabled list. Tampa Bay leaned heavily on run prevention in the absence of those pitchers, with an infield that had four Gold Glove finalists, and relied heavily on the bullpen.
Ownership has already hinted at trimming the payroll as the club continues to struggle with attendance at the turnstile despite strong television and radio ratings. There are few internal options for promotion that will help fill the gaps left by free agency, so look for the team to look for more players willing to sign team-friendly deals with the promise of playing time. Given the financial limitations the team plays under, it continues to rely on its creative accounting acumen that includes offering incentive-based contracts and deferred payments as it awaits a new television deal in 2016 and one day, a new stadium. The organization markets itself as having pitching and defense in its DNA, and that is not likely to change much in 2014.
Better health. The Fountain of Youth. The Yankees' roster was tied with Boston's for the oldest average age, but saw several of its key players miss significant time on the disabled list.
Their needs are many as they have several players leaving via free agency and now have to experience life without Mariano Rivera for the first time since Bill Clinton's first term in the Oval Office. The never-ending Alex Rodriguez saga will be a distraction this offseason and the Yankees would obviously want some closure on it as they reconstruct their roster and finalize their budget.
Despite all of the injuries and distractions, the Yankees remained in the playoff hunt into the final two weeks of the regular season, although most were writing the team off earlier in the summer. Alfonso Soriano infused life into the team at the perfect time and surprised most evaluators in baseball who passed on him. Rather than relying on catching that kind of lightning in a bottle twice, the goal is to build depth to avoid the pitfalls of a top-heavy roster that was exposed last season.
• 2B Robinson Cano
• RHP Joba Chamberlain
• CF Curtis Granderson
• DH Travis Hafner
• RHP Phil Hughes
• RHP Hiroki Kuroda
• LHP Boone Logan
• 1B Lyle Overbay
• LHP Andy Pettitte
• RHP Mariano Rivera
• SS Brendan Ryan
• 3B Kevin Youkilis
Pettitte and Rivera have already announced their retirements. Kuroda has hinted at possibly returning to Japan to finish his career. The maligned duo of Chamberlain and Hughes will find new teams this offseason and try to get their careers back on track, while the likes of Hafner, Overbay and Youkilis try to latch on elsewhere.
Like Boston, the Yankees' primary target will be retaining their best free agents. It is tough to imagine a Yankees roster without Cano in a ballpark that is tailor-made for him. Granderson also is an ideal fit for the park and had been the durable type of player the club needed until two pitches put him on the disabled list for extended periods of time in 2013.
Brian McCann would seemingly be a great fit for the Yankees as their 2013 catchers combined to hit a woeful .213/.289/.298. The team has already been mentioned in Shin-Soo Choo rumors as Choo would give the Yankees a formidable on-base threat to put at the top of their lineup.
The Yankees will have a two-front battle. On one side, they will try to retain their franchise player, while on the other they will try to bring closure to a very large and expensive distraction. The quicker they can end the Cano talks, the better, so they can still be players for other key free agents.
There is some heavy lifting to be done by general manager Brian Cashman in the coming months as he has to rebuild part of his rotation, his bullpen and infuse some more youth into the roster. There is little question the Yankees will be better in 2014 based purely on the fact no team could have players miss so much time for two consecutive seasons.
The good news is the Yankees have only $94M in committed payroll for 2014. The bad news lies in the fact it covers just seven players, two of whom are the rather aged Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki, and 70 percent of that payroll is tied up into Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia.
The extra-inning and one-run magic that helped the Orioles surprise the baseball world with 93 wins in 2012 disappeared in 2013. The efforts from MVP candidate Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Chris Tillman and another productive season from Adam Jones were negated by late-inning failures in the bullpen that were seemingly nonexistent in 2012.
Baltimore retains a relatively young nucleus of players and just two players -- Jones and Nick Markakis -- will make more than $10 million next season. Back-to-back winning seasons after 14 consecutive losing seasons is a sign of progress, but there is still work to be done with this roster to keep it moving in the right direction.
Baltimore may not be an offensive powerhouse, but the Orioles score enough runs to be competitive in their division. The issue has been their pitching staff that has allowed at least 700 runs for a 16th consecutive season. That issue is exacerbated in a division that has had at least two teams allow fewer than 700 runs each of the previous four seasons. Just two of Baltimore's projected starters made more than 25 starts and the pitching staff allowed the most home runs in all of baseball. The team must also decide whether its current roster options can handle second base and the designated hitter role.
McLouth has a decent chance to return as the left-field situation does not appear to have a suitable answer within the organizational depth chart. Roberts, as valuable as he has been to the franchise, has had extreme difficulty staying healthy the past four seasons and that is unlikely to change at age 36. Neither Feldman nor Hammel fits the role of the dependable workhorse that the Orioles' rotation needs. Morse is two years removed from his career season, with his production trending in an adverse direction.
Baltimore has a few options if it decides to go after a workhorse pitcher.
Maryland native A.J. Burnett would be an ideal target as he has made at least 30 starts in six consecutive seasons, but his price tag could be above what Baltimore is willing to spend. Ricky Nolasco has also demonstrated durability, and has demonstrated the ability to keep the ball in the ballpark.
Kelly Johnson would be an intriguing sign as someone who is both familiar with the division and has hit rather well at Camden Yards. Marlon Byrd would be a right-handed bat to help balance the lineup and not be a DH-only roster spot.
In order to be successful in the American League East, run prevention is as critical as run creation. Baltimore has improved its team defense in recent years, but still has room to improve. Eighty-five wins was good enough for only a share of third place in the division and the 93 wins of 2012 is a best-case scenario for the team with its current construction.
Baltimore has a strong nucleus of offensive talent and manager Buck Showalter has helped turn things around in a positive direction.
There is a bright pitching future with the likes of Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, once he returns from his injury. Baltimore cannot wait for the future and needs to make the necessary additions to be a serious contender in a division where other teams do not hesitate to do so.
As with the Yankees, a return to health is necessary for the Blue Jays. Toronto continues to have issues keeping its players healthy and a rash of injuries took what some projected as the best team in the division to last place in the division for the first time in nine seasons.
Unlike the Yankees, the Blue Jays don't have the payroll flexibility to reload as they have just over $116M of committed payroll for the upcoming season. That total does not include team options on Mark DeRosa, Casey Janssen and Adam Lind.
The 2013 injuries highlighted a need for more depth on the pitching staff and on the roster. Toronto could also stand to add more outfield depth if Rajai Davis departs and if Melky Cabrera is slow to recover from his 2013 injury and medical issues.
It is very possible that Toronto reaches back to its past and stands pat as former general manager Pat Gillick did near the end of his tenure with the Blue Jays, which did not sit well with fans.
Expected lossesOliver is retiring after a 20-year career in the major leagues. Davis is likely to find a new home in 2014 that can promise him more playing time and wants to take advantage of his stolen base skills.
There appears to be a lot of mutual interest in Josh Johnson returning for the 2014 season. There may not be enough to tender him a qualifying offer to keep him off the free-agent market, but there seems to be enough to allow both sides to work out a mutually beneficial deal.
Scott Kazmir presents an interesting option to give the club some more options with the starting rotation. Nate McLouth would be an intriguing replacement for Davis' skill set and David Murphy presents a nice buy-low option who can play all three spots in the outfield.
Once Toronto exercises Lind's option, the team will have nine players making at least $7 million in 2014 led by the $18M being paid to Mark Buehrle. Given the current capital outlays, it seems unlikely Toronto will be a big player on the free-agent market, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it is essentially the same team on paper many picked to be in the 2013 postseason before health issues derailed the club.
The core offensive players are still relatively young and the roster, when healthy, is very formidable and absolutely a contender to unseat Boston as the division champs. The Blue Jays must avoid the same injury pitfalls that have disrupted them in recent seasons and addressing the overall roster depth in the coming months should be the first priority.
Jason Collette writes for The Process Report.
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