AL East Hot Stove Preview: Red Sox threatening to leave rivals behind
Targets: Starting pitching, second base, DH, leftfield
Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman give the Orioles have five starters under team control and they also have Zach Britton waiting in the wings. Even so, they’re apparently planning to target Feldman via a two-year deal, which would give Gausman more time to work his way into the rotation. As free agents go, they could certainly stand to aim higher if they intend to contend. Ervin Santana, who turned in 211 innings of 3.32 ERA work for the Royals and who has kept his ERA below 4.00 in three of the past four years, would be an upgrade, though he’d cost a draft pick — less of a consequence given GM Dan Duquette’s success in signing international talent.
Another alternative would be Tim Hudson. In a market where many of the top pitchers are flyballers, the 38-year-old groundballer stands out. This past season, he threw 131 1/3 innings with a 3.97 ERA (3.43 FIP) for the Braves before an ankle injury shut him down in late July.
If the team doesn’t think Schoop is ready to take over at second base, it may bring back Roberts, though it could also make a run at Robinson Cano if the Yankees aren’t willing to meet his demands. That would be a huge upgrade that would give Baltimore a leg up on the Yankees for years to come.
Designated hitter was a disaster area for the Orioles, as they received just a .234/.289/.415 performance in that slot. Ibanez or a healthier Morse would be a big improvement there. Morse could also fit in leftfield, a slot long the bane of the team’s existence; the last time the O’s got even 300 plate appearances with an OPS above .750 there was in 2009. Marlon Byrd, who bashed 24 homers for the Mets and Pirates while hitting .291/.336/.511 in his age-35 season, would be another option.
Bottom line: After breaking their run of losing, playoff-free seasons in 2012, the Orioles couldn’t get back to the postseason in 2013. They don’t need wholesale changes to contend, but they should be aggressive, as every additional win they can add exponentially increases their playoff chances.
New York Yankees
2013 Results: 85-77, tied for third in AL East
Run differential: −21, 17th in MLB
Pending Free Agents: 2B Robinson Cano, RHP Joba Chamberlain, CF Curtis Granderson, DH Travis Hafner, LHP David Huff, RHP Phil Hughes, RHP Hirok Kuroda, LHP Boone Logan, 1B Lyle Overbay, IF Mark Reynolds, SS Brendan Ryan IF Kevin Youkilis
There’s even more turnover for the Yankees than that list above implies given the retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, and while New York moved quickly to retain Derek Jeter, it is entering a new phase far removed from its dynasty days.
Despite blanching at Cano’s desire for a 10-year, $300 million contract, the Yankees’ roster lacks an alternative centerpiece, so they have little choice but to engage the 31-year-old second baseman, who’s coming off another fine season (.314/.383/.516 with 27 homers and 7.6 WAR). He received a qualifying offer, as did Kuroda, who ranked eighth in the league in ERA (3.32) and 10th in strikeout-to-walk rate (3.5) but wore down over the final third of the season. Kuroda’s 0-6, 6.56 ERA finish raised some concerns about the righty, who turns 39 in February.
New York also made a qualifying offer to Granderson, who suffered through a down year (.229/.317/.407 with seven homers) due to a pair of HBP-induced fractures; one cost him virtually all of the exhibition season and the other required midseason surgery. GM Brian Cashman wasn’t about to let his offense-impoverished team let a player with 40-homer potential walk away without at least getting a draft pick as compensation. If Granderson returns, he’d slot with Alfonso Soriano and Brett Gardner to give the Yankees what is probably the best outfield they could reasonably hope for.
As for the rest, Chamberlain and Hughes are as good as gone, leaving behind memories of half-met promise. Lefty specialist Logan could return, though he’ll be coming off surgery to remove a bone spur. Reynolds, who hit .236/.300/.455 with six homers in 120 PA after being picked off the scrap heap, makes some sense as a backup corner infielder/DH, particularly if Alex Rodriguez’s suspension is at least partially upheld. Likewise for the defensive whiz Ryan, who could play the field when Jeter spends time at DH.
Top Prospect on the Verge: RHP Jose A. Ramirez
The Yankees’ system is thin at the upper levels, but one pitcher who could help them at some point in 2014 is this 6-foot-3, 23-year-old native of the Dominican Republic. Splitting 2013 between Double-A and Triple-A but limited to 73 2/3 innings due to injuries — a continuing theme during his professional career — Ramirez posted a 3.67 ERA while whiffing 9.5 per nine. He can work low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and touch 98, accompanying that with a quality changeup and hard slider. Ultimately, he may wind up as a reliever, but the team’s lack of rotation depth suggests he’ll start at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and await the inevitable injury in the big club’s rotation.
Targets: Second base, third base, starting pitching, catching
Cashman has his work cut out for him this winter, particularly given that the fate of Rodriguez’s Biogenesis suspension may not be decided until after the Winter Meetings. As it is, the team has seven players signed for a luxury tax value of $97.7 million, a figure that falls to $70.2 million if A-Rod is suspended for the season. Retaining Cano will be costly, but losing him is almost unthinkable.
One player who makes some sense regardless of Rodriguez’s fate is 31-year-old Jhonny Peralta, who hit .303/.358/.457 with 11 homers around his own 50-game Biogenesis suspension. Defensive metrics support the idea that he’s still an adequate shortstop, but he’s better suited to third base, which he played regularly in 2009 and ’10. That versatility should be handy given that Jeter can’t be counted upon for a full season in the field.
The rotation is a mess. Not only is CC Sabathia coming off a career-worst 4.78 ERA and a season-ending hamstring strain but the three other starters under contract — Ivan Nova, David Phelps and Michael Pineda — combined for just 32 major league starts in 2013, none by the latter as he worked his way back from labrum surgery. New York will make a run at the aforementioned Tanaka, but he won’t come cheap; his posting fee could be somewhere between $75-100 million — notably, that money doesn’t count against the luxury tax — and other big-spending teams such as the Dodgers and Cubs have their checkbooks out as well. MLB and NPB are working toward changes to the posting process, but those have yet to be finalized, which could delay his signing. Even if the Yankees land him, odds are they’ll be dipping into the market for another starter, whether it’s Kuroda or a less consistent proposition such as Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza.
Expect the Yankees to make a run at McCann, who hit .256/.336/.461 with 20 homers in 402 PA after returning from offseason shoulder surgery, and who turns 30 in February. While holdovers Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli are decent at framing, the team’s catchers hit .213/.289/.298 with eight homers as a group. Given that anemic showing, you can expect the team to wave money at McCann.
Bottom line: The Yankees missed the playoffs in 2013 for just the second time since the 1994 strike, and they face a great deal of difficulty moving forward given their aging core. They have several holes that could be filled via pricey free agents, but they’re also eyeing the luxury tax threshold to reset their marginal tax rate. Meeting all their needs while toeing that line will be very difficult.
Toronto Blue Jays
2013 Results: 74-88, fifth in AL East
Run differential: −44, 18th in MLB
Pending Free Agents: C Henry Blanco, OF Rajai Davis, RHP Josh Johnson, IF Munenori Kawasaki, RHP Ramon Ortiz
Blue Jays fans spent a good portion of the year fretting over whether the team could keep Johnson around beyond 2013 as a co-ace alongside R.A. Dickey or at least make him a qualifying offer to receive a draft pick if he bolted. Given his 6.20 ERA while being limited to 16 starts due to a forearm strain, the team chose not to make him such as offer. Even if his October surgery to remove bone spurs cures what went wrong in 2013, he has had just one healthy year out of the last three, and is no kind of candidate for a long-term deal. That makes a $14 million bet on a rebound just to net a draft pick a year from now seem exorbitant.
Of the rest, Davis stole 45 bases but hit just .260/.312/.375 in 360 PA. He’s a useful as a fourth outfielder who can hit lefties and spot in centerfield, but his career-long woes against righties (.255/.297/.353) make a full-time job out of the question. Kawasaki was an entertaining fan favorite, which helped the team endure another sub-.500 season, but he hit just .229/.326/.308 and a return to Japan is possible.
Top Prospect on the Verge: RHP Marcus Stroman
An undersized (listed 5-foot-9 and said to be even shorter) 22-year-old who was the team’s first-round pick in 2012, Stroman spent 2013 at Double-A, whiffing 10.4 per nine and posting a 3.30 ERA in 111 2/3 innings. He has the potential to be an elite closer, but an arsenal to start as well, highlighted by one of the best sliders in the minors. His fastball can touch the high 90s but his size makes it harder to get a downhill plane, while his changeup is solid-average. Given the way the Jays have burned through starters in recent years — they’ve received only eight seasons of at least 30 starts in the past four years, with Ricky Romero the only repeater — Stroman could get a chance at the big league level in 2014.
Targets: Catcher, second base, starting pitching
It’s no secret that general manager Alex Anthopoulos is planning to go the trade route again this winter, just as he did last year, though it’s unlikely the team will pull off a pair of blockbusters on the level of those that netted R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and more.
With catcher J.P. Arencibia likely to be nontendered, a deal for either the Angels’ Hank Conger and Chris Iannetta could be an option. The former, who hit .249/.310/.403 with seven homers in 2013, is the better defender. He turns 26 in January and won’t be arbitration-eligible until after the 2015 season. The latter is the better hitter (.225/.358/.372 with 11 homers in 2013), though his defense is shaky and his pitch framing among the majors’ worst; he turns 31 in April and is owed $10.5 million over the next two years.
With Emilio Bonifacio traded and Kawasaki’s option declined, second base is open. Howie Kendrick, another Angel who hit .297/.335/.439 with 13 homers in 2013, is one option; the 30-year-old second baseman has $18.5 million remaining on his deal through 2015. The White Sox’ Gordon Beckham, a 27-year-old former first-round pick who hit .267/.322/.372 with five homers in 408 PA, could also be a possibility. He missed eight weeks due to a broken hamate that required surgery; but still posted his best OPS since 2010, and right at his career level. He still has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining.
If Toronto goes for Beckham, it could explore expanding the deal to include Hector Santiago or John Danks. Chicago is likely looking for a place to ditch the latter, who posted a 4.75 ERA in 22 starts in 2013 and is owed more than $42 million over the next three years. Any move would hinge on the Jays’ confidence that Danks could regain his 2008-2011 form (3.75 ERA in 31 starts per year), which came before he underwent surgery to repair a torn capsule and rotator cuff.
If the team doesn’t acquire Danks, it would appear to be in the market for a starter behind Dickey, Buehrle the oft-injured Brandon Morrow and a pool that includes Todd Redmond, J.A. Happ, Esmil Rogers and Romero (on the off chance he can ever rediscover his 2009-2011 form). Brett Anderson is another trade candidate whose name has been mentioned.
Bottom line: The Blue Jays remade their roster last winter, but the reversal of fortune expected by so many failed to materialize amid injuries, and the team improved by all of one win from 2012. That nucleus will get another chance in 2014, but even with some patches, there’s less reason to be optimistic Toronto can contend in this crowded division.