As we've seen in our review of the top remaining hitters and pitchers earlier this week, there's still a lot cooking on the Hot Stove this December. With just a dozen shopping days left until Christmas, here are five teams to watch in the coming fortnight.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have been plenty active already this offseason, re-signing David Ortiz and adding Koji Uehara, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes and David Ross in addition to trading for manager John Farrell. However, having stripped their team to the bone late last season, they still have plenty of work to do.
Their biggest need is a starting pitcher, who could arrive via free agency or a trade of centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Boston continues to court Ryan Dempster, who turned down a two-year, $25 million offer from the club last week. Dempster's agent has said that his client would prefer to sign for three years with a National League team that holds spring training in Arizona. The Red Sox fulfill none of those requirements, and Dempster was roughed up in his brief stint with the Rangers, like the Red Sox an American League team in a hitter-friendly ballpark, at the end of the 2012 season. As such, he's an odd pitcher for Boston to target, though it could be that the Sox are simply being frugal, preferring not to make a longer commitment to someone like their former prospect Anibal Sanchez.
An Ellsbury trade is far less likely, in part because of the team's inflated sense of his value. The Red Sox reportedly offered him to the Phillies for Cliff Lee and were swiftly rebuffed. Still, Boston continues to keep tabs on Nick Swisher, who could be its next target if Ellsbury is traded and Victorino, currently slotted for a corner pasture, replaces him in center.
Then again, Swisher also would fit on the team as currently constructed. Gomes, a righthanded outfielder/designated hitter currently slated to platoon with Daniel Nava or Ryan Kalish in the other outfield corner, would still have plenty of opportunities to spell the switch-hitting Swisher and lefties Ortiz and Ellsbury (Victorino, a switch-hitter who is better against lefties, would move to center) against southpaws. Swisher would add consistency, solid defense and the ability to play first base on days that Napoli catches.
Los Angeles Dodgers
After acquiring Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu since last July, all of which has pushed their 2013 payroll past a record-breaking $210 million, it would seem the Dodgers are done. Yet, one thing seems clear about the Guggenheim Partners-owned Dodgers: they're never done.
Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles tweeted on Tuesday that general manager Ned Colletti said that the team is "probably" finished spending "more or less." However, Ramirez is the only clear everyday player they have on the left side of the infield, and their rotation appears a bit overstuffed. The Dodgers could flip Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano for help at third base or shortstop or, per one recent rumor, to the Pirates for closer Joel Hanrahan.
That said, Los Angeles' rotation surplus, as is often the case, could evaporate rather quickly even without a trade. Ryu, who is coming over from the Korea Baseball Organization, is utterly unproven in the majors. Chad Billingsley is spending the winter rehabbing a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament and flexor tendon in his pitching elbow in the hope of avoiding Tommy John surgery. Ted Lilly had labrum surgery in September and is likely to spend much of the coming season rehabbing. The Dodgers are currently counting Ryu and Billingsley as two-fifths of their 2013 rotation, with Capuano and Harang on the outside looking in, but it wouldn't be shocking to see either or even both make 20-plus starts for the Dodgers in the coming season. Still, this team bears constant watching at this point. I'll believe they're done for the offseason when I see Clayton Kershaw take the mound on Opening Day.
New York Yankees
Having landed Kevin Youkilis to play third base, the Yankees were reportedly close to re-signing Ichiro Suzuki on Wednesday night, but the terms of the deal have yet to be set, and the Phillies are reportedly keeping things interesting. The New York Times' David Waldstein tweeted that Philadelphia's interest could "compel the Yankees" to increase their offer from one year to two, though that could be a dealbreaker for New York given its luxury tax concerns for 2014. Remember, the Yankees have not given out a multi-year contract this offseason. They even lost catcher Russell Martin to the Pirates via a two-year, $17 million deal, a significant misstep over a contract that seems like a pittance in terms of traditional organizational outlays.
Without Suzuki, the Yankees lack both a rightfielder and a designated hitter (though Alex Rodriguez could DH after his return from hip surgery), and without Martin they lack a legitimate major league-quality starting catcher as well. With regard to the latter, they could get in on A.J. Pierzynski, whose combination of age (he'll turn 36 before the end of the month) and position would make him a candidate for a one-year deal. A bidding war with a team like the Rangers could force the Yankees to offer a multi-year contract comparable to Martin's for Pierzynski, or suffer through a season of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart behind the plate.
For the first time since CBS owned the team 40 years ago, the Yankees are prioritizing financial concerns over on-field performance. The next few weeks will test just how much they are willing to sacrifice in the latter category in the name of the former.
Last week it seemed like everyone in baseball was waiting for the Rangers to make a move, but they apparently grew tired of waiting. Greinke chose Los Angeles over Arlington. The Diamondbacks got a shortstop in a three-way deal that didn't pass through Texas. Meanwhile, the Rangers' top addition this offseason remains former Royals closer Joakim Soria, a pitcher who will open the season on the disabled list while completing his rehabilitation from March 2012 Tommy John surgery.
The Rangers did make one deal, sending veteran Michael Young to the Phillies for righthanded relievers Josh Lindblom and minor leaguer Lisalverto Bonilla. Deleting Young, who was two and a half wins below replacement level in 2012 per Baseball-Reference, actually improves Texas' outlook for 2013 in terms of production through some addition by subtraction, but it did nothing to buttress a lineup that currently has several holes.
At the moment, the best options for first base and designated hitter are a combination of Mitch Moreland and Mike Olt, though the Rangers would likely prefer to add another bat and make those two battle for a single lineup spot. Likewise, they could pursue a catcher, which would allow them to bump Geovany Soto -- whom they non-tendered before re-signing -- to the bench. If they can't re-sign Josh Hamilton, their choice in centerfield would be Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin, or a platoon of those two. They also need to find a home for rookie Jurickson Profar, a natural shortstop blocked by Elvis Andrus. Profar could take over at second base, where incumbent Ian Kinsler has said he's willing to move. Kinsler could then settle at first base and Profar would take the lineup spot of either Moreland or Olt.
Given the youth and talent of rookies Profar, Olt and Martin, that might be an encouraging state of affairs for a team looking to climb into contention in the next few years, but Texas is a now an annual contender that is still chasing the last strike of the 2011 World Series. Breaking in three rookies alongside Soto, who hit .198/.270/.343 last year, isn't what the Rangers had in mind coming into this offseason.
Given that, and the fact that the Diamondbacks are no longer inclined to trade Justin Upton, a player the Rangers had been targeting, a reunion with Hamilton now seems like a given, particularly given Hamilton's preference to remain a Ranger. Texas might also go after Pierzynski, who is not just the only significant free agent catcher remaining but is a lefthanded hitter who would fit well in a platoon with Soto, whose bat still has life against lefthanded pitching.
The Rangers' bullpen could use further reinforcement with Uehara in Boston, Mike Adams a free agent coming off surgery to correct Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and Alexi Ogando currently ticketed for the rotation. They're also looking to add another starting pitcher, a move which would keep Ogando in the bullpen and Martin Perez in Triple-A. Texas was the runner-up in the Greinke bidding and has since expressed a willingness to trade Olt to the Mets for R.A. Dickey, though it is far more likely to find an arm via free agency.
The Nationals had the best record in baseball this past season but have been busy trying to get even better for next year. They inked Dan Haren to replace free agent starter Edwin Jackson and traded for centerfielder Denard Span to upgrade their outfield defense. With incumbent Adam LaRoche a free agent, they could simply move Mike Morse to first base and be done. However, they very much want to bring back LaRoche, who led the team with 33 home runs, 100 RBIs, a 128 OPS+ and a .303 True Average in 2012. That seems to stand a very good chance of happening, and if it does that could lead to the team trading Morse.
Morse owns a career 126 OPS+, but he'll turn 31 in March, has only once played in more than 102 games in a major league season and is owed $6.75 million for the coming season. That salary is a bargain if he's your starting first baseman or leftfielder and stays healthy enough to replicate his breakout 2011 season (.303/.360/.550, 31 HR, 95 RBIs), but makes him an expensive pinch-hitter and insurance policy, not to mention a likely disgruntled one given that 2013 is his walk year.