- The offseason has become one gigantic staring contest. Free agents have to start signing soon, so here is what every AL team should do.
It’s 2018, which means it’s time for folks all around the globe to take stock and make resolutions for how to do better in the year to come. The same can be said for all 30 MLB teams, even in an offseason that has seen frightfully little action. From the strongest contender to the dedicated rebuilder, every club has something to strive for over the rest of the winter. But what moves need to be made to make sure the 2018 season is the best it can possibly be? Here are my picks for what each American League team should do before the offseason is out so that, come Dec. 31, they’re not looking back at the year that was and wishing they’d taken a different course.
Baltimore Orioles: Trade Manny Machado
For a brief few weeks in December, the moribund Orioles were the center of the baseball world as the team’s front office weighed a question that could reshape the playoff race in either league: Should Baltimore deal away Manny Machado? The cons are stark. No Machado, who will be a free agent at season’s end, effectively means no chance of competing in the AL East for the O’s, and it will not be met well by the fans. But the hard choice here is the right one. Baltimore already has no shot in the division thanks to its horrible starting rotation and uneven lineup, and the team has equally little chance to bring Machado back as a free agent. Move him now and get the most you can for him in prospects. It’ll hurt, but that’s the pain of being pragmatic.
Boston Red Sox: Sign J.D. Martinez
At the risk of sounding like a broken record on this, there is no better match between team and player this winter than Boston and Martinez. The former desperately needs power in the lineup and at the designated hitter spot; the latter is a home run machine whose glove is best left at home. The Red Sox reportedly have a five-year offer on the table to Martinez, who is said to be looking for a seven-season commitment, but that feels like a gap that can be bridged—and one that should be in Boston’s case, as the team needs to try to close the enormous power deficit between it and the Yankees.
Chicago White Sox: Stay the course
As Machado’s name floated on the trade market, the White Sox—this time last year stripping their roster down to the screws—were frequently and surprisingly mentioned as a contender for his services. How real that interest was is unknown, as the Machado talk has died down in the last few weeks. But it’s a move that Chicago should avoid. Yes, Machado would provide a sorely needed big bat in the lineup, but even at his best, he takes the South Siders from rebuilding team to the fringes of contention. Is that worth the top prospects he would cost? Maybe general manager Rick Hahn figures he can flip Machado at the deadline if things go sour, but that’s a risky bet. Better to stay out of it and keep banking on internal improvement via a superb farm system, or use that prospect stash to improve a weak rotation or bullpen instead.
Cleveland Indians: Spend like a contender
The Indians’ biggest move of the winter has been to let Carlos Santana walk, as the burly first baseman signed a three-year, $60 million pact with the Phillies. That’s not exactly breaking the bank, and while Santana has his downsides (namely his age), it’s odd that a 102-win team wouldn’t shell out reasonable dollars to keep an important high-floor bat. Instead, Cleveland replaced him with a discount option, signing Yonder Alonso to a one-year deal. He’s a fine player, but for a team with real World Series hopes, it’s a disappointing choice. The Indians aren’t the Dodgers, but they’re still worlds away from the luxury tax limit and have barely any big long-term deals on the books. Now is the time to spend and bolster a championship-caliber core.
Detroit Tigers: Find a way to trade Miguel Cabrera
There’s just about no reason to tune in to Tigers baseball in 2018, as the team set about tearing down the roster in the second half as part of a long-delayed rebuild. But while Detroit has successfully dealt away J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander and Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera remains, sucking up a gigantic chunk of the Tigers’ payroll as a veteran bat on a team of nobodies. Given the money he’s owed (another $184 million guaranteed over the next six years) and age (35 in April), there’s zero chance the Tigers will get anything of value for him in a trade. But should that matter? There are no half-measures in rebuilds. Get what you can, eat what money you have to, and finish the job. And it would be a gift to Cabrera to let him play his sunset years for a team that won’t be bottoming out for the next few seasons.
Houston Astros: Start handing out extensions
As the defending World Series champions, there’s not a whole lot—if anything—the Astros need to do before next season begins; their roster is already strong and secure across the board. Instead, it would behoove Houston to take the windfall of cash that comes with winning a title and invest it into long-term deals for the team’s young core. In particular, buying out the arbitration years of Carlos Correa and George Springer would be a good start. The former won’t get expensive for some time, but it would be both economically prudent and a show of good faith to get him locked up to bigger dollars at the first chance.
Kansas City Royals: Resist the reunion temptation
The frozen free-agent market has left dozens of stars in the cold, including the Royals’ title-winning trio of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. They looked set to cash in this winter after strong 2017 seasons, but with teams refusing to open their checkbooks, each is looking at a weaker-than-expected market (except perhaps Hosmer, who reportedly has been offered a seven-year deal by the Padres). For the small-market Royals, who looked set to lose all three, the lack of interest elsewhere could be a chance to bring one or more of them back; rumors abound that they have a seven-year offer of their own out for Hosmer. But it seems smarter for Kansas City to make a clean break and get started on building the next great Royals team instead of investing lots of years and money in trying to recapture the past.
Los Angeles Angels: Keep adding to the haul
Few teams have been busier than the Angels, who have signed Shohei Ohtani and Zack Cozart and traded for Ian Kinsler, at once acquiring a new ace and improving a terrible infield. But Los Angeles can’t stop there. A team that was destroyed by pitcher injuries last year should keep building rotation depth, and the bullpen also needs attention. If the Angels are finally serious about building around Mike Trout, then they need to do everything they can to shore up their weak spots instead of hoping for the best from what they already have.
Minnesota Twins: Get an ace
Minnesota surprised everyone last year with its unlikely wild-card berth, and the team is poised for perhaps better in 2018 as its young stars develop. But what is currently separating the Twins from being real contenders is the state of their rotation, which is full of question marks and mediocre arms. Luckily for them, the market has plenty of good options who may be willing to sign below-market deals given the league-wide reluctance to spend. Minnesota should take its chance to make a real splash.
New York Yankees: Dump Jacoby Ellsbury
It’s been a magical offseason for Brian Cashman, who landed Giancarlo Stanton for a song, brought back CC Sabathia on a reasonable one-year pact, and got out from under the $13 million owed to the declining Chase Headley. Now, he has two months or so left to pull off his greatest trick yet: convincing an outfielder-needy team to take Ellsbury—and the $68 million still owed to him over the next four seasons—off his hands. That won’t be easy in a day and age when every franchise is tightening its belt, but getting rid of as much of Ellsbury’s salary as possible would be a huge boost to the Yankees in their quest to get under the luxury tax limit and set themselves up even better for next year’s free-agent spending spree. And while Ellsbury is a marginal hitter, his speed and defense can still help the right squad. If Cashman can make that move happen, his winter will have been a total success.
Oakland Athletics: Find a direction (?)
Squint hard enough at the Athletics’ roster, and you can see the faint outline of a .500 team with a small chance at being a dark horse contender. But that takes a lot of wishcasting and optimism, particularly with a rotation and bullpen that don’t have much high-upside talent. The A’s are a perpetual enigma, seemingly always rebuilding with an eye on a future that refuses to arrive, but the team as it exists now doesn’t seem to have any purpose. Not every franchise has to be either a contender or a bottom-feeder, but what Oakland has is amorphous at best. An 80-win team isn’t worth much these days, so why not make a move in either direction of that?
Seattle Mariners: Fix the rotation
A healthy James Paxton would go a long way toward making the Mariners a better bet for 2018, but Seattle should still aim for adding arms behind him if contention is what it seeks. The old Felix Hernandez is gone and likely never coming back, and the rest of the rotation is a fright. If Jerry Dipoto can tear himself away from trading a minor leaguer every hour, his attention should go toward one of the better pitchers still available in free agency, like Yu Darvish or Alex Cobb.
Tampa Bay Rays: Continue the rebuild
Evan Longoria is gone, but he shouldn’t be the only player the Rays send out of town this winter. Always at a disadvantage in the luxury neighborhood that is the AL East, Tampa isn’t a good bet to compete with either the Yankees or the Red Sox, or to make much noise in the wild-card race. Now is as good a time as any to look toward the future, and that begins with moving Alex Colome and Chris Archer.
Texas Rangers: Figure out the bullpen
The Rangers have plenty of issues still to address on the roster, from more rotation depth to whether or not top prospect Willie Calhoun is the answer in leftfield. But especially pressing is the relief corps, which was flat-out awful in 2017: a 4.76 ERA, third-worst in the majors, and only 29 saves converted in 50 opportunities. The current closer is soft-tossing lefty Alex Claudio, whose poor strikeout-per-nine ratio (6.1 last year) doesn’t inspire much confidence going forward. But with hard-throwing Matt Bush gearing up to be a starter, where is the heat in the late innings going to come from? With not much left in terms of bullpen help on the market, GM Jon Daniels would be better off keeping Bush in relief and seeing if any of his minor leaguers have what it takes to throw strikes in short bursts.
Toronto Blue Jays: Get realistic about 2018
There wasn’t a whole lot to like about the Blue Jays in 2017. Thanks to injuries and forgettable seasons across the roster, Toronto slumped to 76 wins and a fourth-place finish. And while there’s reason to be more optimistic this year, it’s hard to see where the big improvement needed to catch the Yankees and Red Sox comes from without some sizable changes. So is it time to throw in the towel? The future is bright, as the Jays’ farm system is full of excellent young talent; a small step back in the present might help make it even brighter. Dealing away free-agent-to-be Josh Donaldson, who would bring back a king’s ransom in prospects, would be the right way to go.