AL East Hot Stove Preview: Red Sox threatening to leave rivals behind
This week, SI.com is breaking down the offseason plans for all 30 teams. Teams are presented in order of finish from 2013:
Boston Red Sox
2013 Results: 97-65, first in AL East, won World Series
Run differential: +197, first in MLB
Pending Free Agents: SS Stephen Drew, CF Jacoby Ellsbury, RHP Joel Hanrahan, SS John McDonald, 1B Mike Napoli, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, LHP Matt Thornton
The champagne has barely dried, but the World Series champions are poised to scatter to the four winds. Most likely not to be retained are Drew and Ellsbury, thanks to the presence of blue-chip prospects waiting behind them, namely Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. The 30-year-old Ellsbury hits the market with a representative season under his belt (134 games with a .298/.355/.426 line, nine homers, an AL-best 52 steals in 56 attempts and 5.8 WAR) that should garner him a hefty contract in a thin market. The 30-year-old Drew struggled in the postseason but otherwise returned to form, hitting .253/.333/.443 with more or less average defense en route to 3.1 WAR, numbers that should put him in line for a multiyear deal.
Both received qualifying offers, as did the 32-year-old Napoli, who hit .259/.360/.482 with 23 homers and impressive defense in his first year as a full-time first baseman. He’s unlikely to accept that, and instead work toward something along the lines of the three-year, $39 million deal to which he originally agreed last offseason before his degenerative hip condition was discovered. The 28-year-old Saltalamacchia, who set several career bests while hitting .273/.338/.466 with 14 homers, did not receive a qualifying offer; Boston will explore retaining him to pair with backup David Ross, given that Ryan Lavarnway and its other catching prospects aren’t ready yet.
Hanrahan underwent Tommy John and flexor tendon surgery in mid-May; given his 76 saves from 2011-12, he’ll get a deal somewhere with an eye toward a midseason return. The Sox turned down Thornton’s $6 million option in favor of a $1 million buyout, which was no surprise after he was left off the playoff roster. The 37-year-old lefty managed just 43 1/3 innings and 6.2 strikeouts per nine between the White Sox and Red Sox; once a top setup man, he’s now merely a complementary bullpen piece.
Top Prospect on the Verge: SS/3B Xander Bogaerts
If you watched the postseason, you’ve at least got a passing familiarity with this 21-year-old Aruba native, who after playing 18 regular season games for the Sox hit .296/.412/.481 in 34 postseason plate appearances, gaining more playing time as October progressed; he started the last two games of the ALCS and all six World Series games. Prior to his late August callup and a crash course at the hot corner, Bogaerts hit .297/.388/.477 with 15 homers split between Double-A and Triple-A.
Easily a top-five prospect heading into 2014, he offers near-elite bat speed and an advanced approach at the plate, projecting to hit for both average and power, eventually in the middle of the order. With a strong arm but somewhat limited range, he’s likely to be the team’s Opening Day shortstop, but third base could be his eventual destination. He’ll remain flexible if the right deal allowing Boston to strengthen itself at either position lands in general manager Ben Cherington’s lap.
Targets: Catcher, first base, third base
Much of what the Red Sox will do depends on how far they’re willing to go to retain Saltalamacchia and/or Napoli. The team doesn’t view any of its catching prospects as ready to start at the major league level yet. Lavarnway’s receiving doesn’t appear satisfactory, and Christian Vazquez, who spent 2013 at Double-A Portland, is probably a couple years away from regular major league duty.
If the Sox can’t retain Saltalamacchia via a two- or three-year deal, they could make a run at free agent Brian McCann or explore a shorter-term deal with an older catcher such as A.J. Pierzynski or Carlos Ruiz, both entering the market in their mid-30s after down seasons; the 37-year-old Pierzynski hit .272/.297/.425 with 17 homers in 134 games, while the going-on-35-year-old Ruiz hit .268/.320/.368 with five homers in 94 games. If they’re willing to punt offense, pitch framer par excellence Jose Molina is another option, though he’ll be 39 in June.
Napoli has repeatedly stated a preference to stay in Boston, and the bet here is that he does given the weakness of the free agent alternatives. But if he does depart, Kendrys Morales (.277/.336/.449 with 23 homers for Seattle) wouldn’t be a bad fit. Nor would longtime Brewers slugger Corey Hart, though he missed all of 2013 after knee surgery.
The Sox could also look to cobble together a solution involving Mike Carp and Daniel Nava, who combined to start 31 games at the position in 2013, and spend their money elsewhere. If they need a catcher or first baseman from outside the organization, it’s possible they could deal displaced third baseman Will Middlebrooks and look to a veteran free agent such as Jhonny Peralta or Juan Uribe. That said, Middlebrooks’ solid play after being recalled in August (.276/.329/.476 in 158 PA) may have salvaged his job.
With the pickup of Jon Lester’s $13 million option, Boston has six starters under control (John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster being the others). Even so, it’s been reported that the team could have interest in 25-year-old Japanese righty Masahiro Tanaka, who’s coming off a 24-0, 1.27 ERA regular season. His posting fee could be somewhere between $75-100 million, and that’s without considering salary. For a team like the Yankees, who are certain to pursue him to bolster a decimated rotation, he’s almost a necessity; for the Sox, he’d be a luxury, a place to spend some of their post-blockbuster savings — all while sticking it to their division rivals.
Bottom line: The newly-crowned world champions will no doubt experience some turnover between now and Opening Day, but having cleared considerable salary space amid last year’s disaster, they have money to spend. They’re set up to get younger with Bogaerts and Bradley, and have some moving parts that grant Cherington flexibility in assembling next year’s roster.
Tampa Bay Rays
2013 Results: 92-71, won second AL wild card, lost Division Series to Red Sox
Run differential: +54, 11th in MLB
Pending Free Agents: RHP Jesse Crain, RHP Roberto Hernandez, 2B/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 face a whole lot of turnover in 2014. Among the pitchers, the only ones likely to be missed are Rodney and Wright. Rodney, who turns 37 in March, saved 37 games but his ERA and walk rate regressed considerably from 2012 to 2013. He has hinted he would grant the team a hometown discount to stay, though if another team throws silly money at him, Tampa Bay isn’t likely to counter. Wright, who turns 39 in December, was once again handy and durable in lower-leverage duty, making 66 appearances with a 3.09 ERA and strong peripherals. He’s riding a string of making good on eight straight minor league deals, and won’t cost much to retain.
If Rodney does depart, the Rays could consider bringing back Oviedo, whose option they declined. He could compete with Joel Peralta for the closer role. Playing under the name Leo Nunez, Oviedo saved 92 games for the Marlins from 2009-2011 but missed all of 2012 with legal difficulties and a UCL sprain that led to Tommy John surgery, and he also didn’t pitch in 2013.
Molina, whose receiving ability is highly valued, could be back if the price is right. So could Loney, who tailed off after a hot start but still provided 2.7 WAR via .299/.348/.430 hitting and above-average defense, all for the low price of $2 million. That said, he may seek more money and security after having rejuvenated his career. Scott has hit just .231/.303/.421 while averaging 84 games over the past three years and is probably done with the organization. Prodigal son Young, miscast as a regular in Philadelphia, could return in a part-time role after a strong finish that saw him hit .258/.329/.452 with three homers in 70 PA. Johnson, who hit .235/.305/.410 with 16 homers, is versatile but expendable, particularly with the combination of the Rays picking up David DeJesus’ $6.5 million option and the possibility of incorporating 2008 overall number one pick Tim Beckham into their second base picture.
Top Prospect on the Verge: RHP Jake Odorizzi
A former Brewers supplementary first-round pick who’s already been part of two blockbuster trades — one involving Zack Greinke and the other James Shields — Odorizzi has appeared on the past three Baseball America Top 100 Prospect lists, peaking at number 68 in 2012. He has pitched in just nine major league games, making two starts for the Royals in 2012 and seven appearances (four of them starts) for the Rays in ’13.
Odorizzi spent most of this past season at Triple-A Durham, putting up a 3.33 ERA while striking out 9.0 per nine in 124 1/3 innings. He’s not overpowering, offering a low-90s fastball that can reach 95 mph, a plus curve and average slider and changeup. He’s a fourth or fifth starter who’s probably next in line if David Price is traded, Jeremy Hellickson can’t rediscover his mojo or somebody else gets hurt.
Targets: Designated hitter, first base, catcher
Overshadowing everything else on the Rays’ to-do list this winter is the question of whether they’ll trade Price, who won’t be a free agent until after the 2015 season but whose salary is set to rise via arbitration from this year’s $10.1 million. To maximize their return, they’ll likely deal him this winter, and much of what else they do depends upon what they get back in terms of MLB-ready talent. The team knows it has enough options for its rotation (Odorizzi, Alex Colome and Jeff Niemann, as he work his way back from April shoulder surgery, are all worth considering) so acquiring a starter isn’t a requirement.
Beyond that, Tampa Bay has several holes to fill, and as usual, it will face significant financial constraints. That means bargains are a must and marquee names are out. The team received just a .214/.307/.373 line from its designated hitters, and while it could retain the lefty-mashing Young, he’ll need a platoonmate. Raul Ibanez, who bashed 29 homers for the Mariners while hitting .242/.306/.487, could fit the bill even though he turns 42 in June; he made just $2.75 million last year.
Even with DeJesus onboard, the Rays could use another outfield bat, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them seek a rebound candidate such as Mike Morse, Chris Young or Franklin Gutierrez. Likewise, if Loney departs, they’ll look to somebody else willing to work for cheap in hopes of a turnaround; Morse, Justin Morneau, Mark Reynolds or Corey Hart make sense.
If Molina leaves, they’ll look for a complement to Jose Lobaton. Geovany Soto, who hit .245/.328/.466 with nine homers in 184 PA for the Rangers, has historically done well in the pitch-framing metrics that brought Molina to town. Wil Nieves, who has always been well-regarded defensively and who had a career year with the stick (.297/.320/.369 in 206 PA), could be their speed as well.
Bottom line: Tampa Bay continues to shed name-brand players such as Shields and B.J. Upton while remaining contenders thanks to astute management and a deep minor league system. Even if the Rays trade Price, there’s no reason that they can’t continue to stay in playoff contention despite their low payroll.
2013 Results: 85-77, tied for third in AL East
Run differential: +36, 13th in MLB
Pending Free Agents: IF Alexi Casilla, RHP Scott Feldman, 1B Dan Johnson, RHP Jason Hammel, OF Nate McLouth, OF/1B Mike Morse, 2B Brian Roberts, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, C Chris Snyder
The 36-year-old Roberts is the biggest name here, but he’s a shadow of his former self, having played just 192 games over the last four years due to numerous injuries while being paid $40 million. In 2013, he played 77 games, his highest total since 2009, but hit just .249/.312/.392 and was below average in the field. McLouth rejuvenated his career in Baltimore, but that only goes so far when you hit .258/.329/.399 with 12 homers as an everyday leftfielder. Morse is coming off a terrible year (.215/.270/.381 with 13 homers, none after being acquired from Seattle in late August) during which he was hampered by a quad strain.
Hammel and Feldman were both part of Baltimore’s rotating cast of starters in 2013. The former wasn’t nearly as effective as in 2012, posting a 4.97 ERA and yielding 1.4 homers per nine in 139 1/3 innings while missing five weeks due to an elbow strain. The latter, who was acquired from the Cubs in early July, put up a 3.86 ERA and 6.5 strikeouts per nine in 181 2/3 innings between the two teams, and rates as the higher priority of the two when it comes to being retained. Rodriguez, who pitched reasonably well in a setup role (2.70 ERA and 10.4 strikeouts per nine in 46 2/3 innings, offset by 1.4 HR/9), won’t be brought back.
Top Prospect on the Verge: 2B/3B Jonathan Schoop
With Kevin Gausman having exhausted his rookie status and Dylan Bundy likely to move slowly after June 2013 Tommy John surgery, Schoop gets the nod here. Ranked number 82 on BA’s Top 100 Prospects list coming into the year, and showcased alongside Bogaerts and Andrelton Simmons on the Netherlands’ World Baseball Classic team, the 22-year-old Curaçao native endured a rough year. Schoop hit just .256/.301/.396 in 289 PA at Triple-A — still not bad for a 21-year-old playing against older players — and missed two months due to a stress fracture in his back. He destroyed lower-level pitching while rehabbing, pumping up his minor league line to .278/.330/.460 and playing four games for the big club during the final week of the season.
Offensively, Schoop is an aggressive hitter with some pop but a fair bit of swing-and-miss in his game due to a long swing. Defensively, he’s got a plus arm and a good glove but needs to improve his footwork. Roberts’ departure could clear a path for him at second base, while Manny Machado’s knee surgery may allow him an early season look at third, where he may be more suited. Ultimately, he could wind up in an outfield corner, with leftfield the easier path given the O’s current roster.
NEXT: Orioles’ targets and breakdowns of the Yankees and Blue Jays
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.