AL East Hot Stove preview: Teams in stacked division want arms
This is in part by design, as the Yankees look to get under the luxury-tax threshold just once, which will save them millions in tax payments by resetting their status. Soriano's decision to opt out of the $14 million owed him in 2013 was perhaps the one benefit of the Mariano Rivera deal, as Soriano racked up the saves that gave him the incentive to hit the market. The team could use Kuroda and Martin back on short-term deals, and might take a shine to Ichiro after his late-season surge as a Yankee. Rivera seems unlikely to play anywhere but New York, but it may be a while before we're sure if he'll play at all.
Warren is a right-handed starter who has held his own at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for two years running and could fill a spot if Kuroda and Pettitte leave. Warren is not one of the Yankees' top prospects; the fruit of a deep system is at high-A ball and below, led by catcher Gary Sanchez and centerfielder Mason Williams. If catcher Austin Romine, who missed most of the year with a back problem, gets healthy, he could be a part of the solution behind the plate.
The Yankees are again likely to stay out of the top of the market and focus on the next tier. Edwin Jackson fits for a team that could be missing a lot of starts and has substantial uncertainty about the health of its rotation next year. Jackson takes the ball 32 times a year and delivers average to above-average results. Mike Napoli would serve as a good patch for the catching spot until Sanchez is ready, while allowing Romine to break in as a part-time player. (A.J. Pierzynski could also do this, but might be more expensive off his career year.) Joakim Soria would be a low-cost bullpen play; when healthy, he'd been one of the best closers in the game through 2010, then had an off year followed by Tommy John surgery in '12.
The Orioles' roster largely consists of young veterans who are either short of free agency or signed to medium-term contacts. For a team desperately short of OBP, bringing Thome back would not be a bad idea, assuming he wants to play another season after back and neck problems nagged him all year long. Despite pitching reasonably well after coming over in a trade, Saunders does not have the kind of stuff that projects well in a full season of AL East baseball . . .
. . .and besides, the Orioles need to make room for the best prospect in baseball. Bundy started the year making three-inning starts in the Sally League and ended it in the Orioles' bullpen. Just 20 when next season begins, it's unlikely that he will be in the Baltimore's rotation in April, or throw more than 150 innings at all levels combined. He is, however, a fantastic combination of power and polish who should be a fixture on their staff for years to come.
The Orioles are actually a great fit for Zack Greinke. They have the payroll room for him, with just $53 million in 2013 commitments plus a handful of expected arbitration raises. Only Adam Jones has a deal beyond 2014, so this isn't the Dodgers owing a hundred million bucks a year until the Rapture. While Baltimore's second-half rotation was stronger than what it had in the first half, it remains a collection of back-rotation starters. Greinke would front it while allowing Bundy to develop without the pressure of the team needing a front-line starter.
If the Orioles can't land Greinke -- who, given the market, could get up to Cole Hamels' six-year, $144 million contract -- they should stay out of the secondary pitching market and instead look to improve a team OBP that hindered the offense last season. With the caveat that price and deal length matter, they could use Nick Swisher in leftfield, Kevin Youkilis at third base (with Manny Machado, somewhat overmatched, starting the year at Triple-A) or perhaps Marco Scutaro at second base.
The Rays are set to lose a significant chunk of the production from a mediocre offense, and they lack good internal options to make it better in the short term. If they lose all three of their free-agent hitters, they'll be left with Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce and a lot of question marks heading into 2012. Trading pitching for hitting is almost inevitable, as a lack of run scoring is what kept Tampa Bay out of the 2012 postseason.
Lee, acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade, has pushed aside former No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham to become the shortstop of the Rays' future -- possibly as soon as Opening Day. He's a slap hitter with a reasonable approach, but his strikeout totals (102 last year in 475 AB) are high for a player with his lack of power. Michael Bourn has shown that you can succeed this way, but there's risk in the profile. Lee is a plus defender at shortstop, so even if the bat isn't ready, the overall package may well be
The Rays, right now, have two players sure to be above-average hitters in Longoria and Ben Zobrist, with Matt Joyce probably a third. That means any free-agent capable of putting up an 800 OPS has to be on their radar -- with the caveat that the attendance-challenged Rays aren't going to break the bank to bring in anyone. Sometimes bargain-shopping works (Casey Kotchman in 2011) and sometimes it doesn't (Carlos Peña in 2012). Mike Napoli is a nice idea. Maybe Torii Hunter could be had on a short contract. Kevin Youkilis to play first base, perhaps.
There's not much being lost here. Johnson is an underrated player who can provide OBP, some basestealing and lineup balance. His strikeout rates, however, have eaten his value the last two years, and since he can't play shortstop, he's a poor option as an extra infielder. The Jays will look to fill second internally.
The J.P. Arencibia era may be coming to an end, as D'Arnaud pushes for a job in spring training . . .assuming he can stay healthy enough to do so. D'Arnaud, an excellent hitter for average and power, has suffered injuries to his thumb and knee in a 12-month period -- the last of which cut his 2012 season short. D'Arnaud is often mentioned as a trade chip in a package for a star-type player. One way or another, he'll be a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2013. Also worth mentioning is that the Jays have a crop of pitching prospects. led by righty Aaron Sanchez, that is the best in the game.
The Jays had so many injuries in 2012 that evaluating them is a bit difficult. One thing to note is that they've had success creating middle-of-the-order hitters from other teams' leftovers, so were they to sign someone like Stephen Drew or James Loney or Grady Sizemore, it wouldn't be quite the head-scratcher it would be for another team. They're better off going that way than chasing after someone like Nick Swisher. Signing Drew would give them flexibility to trade incumbent shortstop Yunel Escobar or shift one of their infielders to second base.
Make no mistake about it: Toronto can spend money if it cares to, and adding a front-of-the-rotation starter like Zack Greinke would be a good medium- and long-term play as the team's young starters mature into a fully-formed rotation.
David Ortiz entered the offseason on this list but, not surprisingly, he will be back in Boston, having reportedly agreed to a two-year, $26 million deal on Friday. Ross could return as well for a team that is a bit short of outfielders at the moment. He's an excellent fit at Fenway Park and he can play as much or as little as the performance of Ryan Kalish warrants. Matsuzaka will not be back in Boston.
The next Jacoby Ellsbury? Like the Red Sox' incumbent centerfielder, Bradley was a first-round pick out of college who has speed and on-base skills, perfect for the leadoff spot on any team. He's more likely to reach the roster late in the year; Boston, in fact, doesn't have much in the way of prospects set to have an impact when the year begins. Jose Iglesias has yet to prove he can hit enough to keep an MLB job, and Rubby de la Rosa -- acquired in the big Dodgers deal -- is still working his way back from injury. Bradley Jr. is the next impact prospect on the horizon.
After the megatrade with the Dodgers, the Red Sox have plenty of money to spend, but this is a market that could make that a dangerous trait. Zack Greinke would take Josh Beckett's place as Jon Lester's running partner atop the rotation, which is the one element they sorely need. If they can't sign Greinke they might be able to justify a three-year investment in someone on the next tier down, acknowledging the risks involved with signing any of the Anibal Sanchez/Edwin Jackson class. There will be a lot of Josh Hamilton rumors, but the Red Sox have Ellsbury, Kalish, Bradley, perhaps Ross, even Bryce Brentz. They don't need outfielders, they need pitchers.