The American League East seemingly wasn’t as dominant in 2014 as it had been in prior years, but that was largely because the Baltimore Orioles beat the crap out of everyone in their way. Can the O’s repeat in 2015 by retooling this winter?
Free agents: Alexi Casilla, Nelson Cruz, Kelly Johnson, Nick Markakis, Andrew Miller, Joe Saunders, Delmon Young
Needs: Corner outfield, DH
After locking up J.J. Hardy, Baltimore’s attention towards the outfield and bringing back the duo of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. Markakis bounced back a bit in 2014 after a disappointing 2013, but wasn’t going to be worth the $17.5 million club option the Orioles had on him for 2015. The team is going to try to bring the nine-year veteran back on a cheaper deal, and I think it’ll happen. As for Cruz, he was *the* free agent bargain of last winter, and he’ll be in line for a huge raise this winter. Both parties are reportedly interested in continuing their relationship, but he could cost more money than Baltimore is willing to spend.
Aside from those two positions, the Orioles are pretty well set for next season. Their entire infield, along with the hopefully healthy Manny Machado and Matt Wieters, returns, and their entire pitching staff (except trade deadline acquisition Andrew Miller) will all be back as well. If the team can’t bring back Markakis and/or Cruz, they could go into 2015 with Alejandro de Aza and David Lough getting more playing time in the outfield, and perhaps 2014 breakout player Steve Pearce getting more playing time at DH.
When it comes to possible trade bair, one name immediately jumps out at me – first baseman Chris Davis, who has an eight figure salary and struggled terribly in 2014 after a fantastic 2013.
Boston Red Sox
Free agents: Burke Badenhop, Craig Breslow, David Ross
Needs: Starting pitching
After blowing up their 2013 World Championship team after an awful start to the 2014 season, the Red Sox won’t lose much of significance this winter. Badenhop and Breslow are decent middle relievers but nothing to write home about, and Ross is a good backup catcher at his peak. Those players can be replaced internally, especially considering Boston’s depth when it comes to young catchers and their plethora of young starting pitchers who don’t look like they can handle a lineup two or three times through.
If the Red Sox are going to be players on the free agent market this winter, I’d expect them to target starting pitching and really, nothing else. There were rumblings about a potential return for Jon Lester, but Theo Epstein and the Cubs will likely drive the price up to the point where the Red Sox will stay away. Someone like James Shields could also be an option in Boston. There’s also the thorny Yoenis Cespedes issue – he’s apparently driving Boston’s coaches nuts, and they’re considering moving him, just months after acquiring him from the Athletics. I think the bounty he’ll bring is overestimated, given his salary and one year of control, but Boston should at least be able to get good value.
New York Yankees
Free agents: Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Young
Needs: SS, 3B, starting pitching
Oh boy, this is going to be a mess because of the contracts the Yankees already have on the books. They’ve got three outfielders making eight figures each, so a return for Suzuki or Young looks slim. Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Alex Rodriguez are all locked in for at least $17 million each, so the team doesn’t need to worry about DH, first base, and maybe catcher and third base. Martin Prado can play second, third, or the outfield. So…the only offensive place the Yankees definitely have to upgrade is at shortstop, a position Chase Headley can’t play. Awesome. Of course the shortstop market this winter is terrible, aside from Hanley Ramirez. So, pay Hanley something like $20 million a year to replace Derek Jeter, or go with a less sexy option like Stephen Drew or Jed Lowrie?
New York’s pitching staff is also in tatters. Masahiro Tanaka obviously returns for 2015, but the health of his elbow is a question mark. Michael Pineda will also be back, but his health has been a mess over the last three years. Past those two, the Yankees rotation is a mess. C.C. Sabathia made just eight starts and looks shot. Ivan Nova blew his elbow out. Chris Capuano and Brandon McCarthy are free agents. If the Yankees want to compete in 2015, they’re going to need to upgrade that starting five. McCarthy will likely be a popular target this winter, and New York could set their sights higher because of their massive budget – namely, to the Scherzer/Lester/Shields class of starters. Avoiding the luxury tax seems like a pipe dream at this point for the Yankees – either spend money and compete, or don’t spent money, *still* go over the luxury tax threshold, and cross your fingers about the health of the guys you’ve already got in-house.
Tampa Bay Rays
Free agents: absolutely no one of significance
Needs: Manager, stadium
The Rays aren’t really ever big players in the free agent market, and this winter will be no exception. Their entire starting offseason is under control through 2015. Their ten top pitchers (after David Price, dealt at midseason) from 2014 all return for 2015. Matt Moore is working his way back from Tommy John surgery.
Of course, the Rays are still going to be active this winter. They still haven’t replaced Joe Maddon as manager. Their stadium situation is still precarious. A new television deal appears to be on the horizon, but hasn’t been agreed to yet. The club could also look to trade 2015 free agent Ben Zobrist or outfielder Matt Joyce, in the final year of arbitration, in order to clear some salary and improve their team. Tampa Bay’s offseason is going to be interesting as the club transitions into the post-Price/Maddon/Friedman era.
Toronto Blue Jays
Free agents: Melky Cabrera, Casey Janssen, Dustin McGowan, Brandon Morrow, Colby Rasmus, Sergio Santos
Huh, this is strange. The Blue Jays pitching staff actually looks good heading into 2015. I’m not used to that happening in Toronto. While their starting quintet had an unimpressive overall ERA, they weren’t actively bad – and in Toronto, that’s a good thing. The team also has a plethora of young pitching ready to contribute in either the rotation or bullpen, so the Jays will likely be hands off with their pitching staff this year.
The offense is a bit of a different story. Both Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus are free agents, and Cabrera is the key player Toronto wants to bring back. Rasmus lost playing time this winter and will more than likely find a new home, but if the Jays can’t re-sign Cabrera, they’re going to be left scrambling for a replacement. Someone like the aforementioned Nick Markakis or Chris Young may be a good option for Toronto if the Melkman goes elsewhere.
Second base has been a disaster zone for the Jays for awhile, but this winter isn’t the best time to upgrade at the position. You’re essentially looking at a free agent market that consists of mediocre veterans without much upside. Hell, two of the better options are former Jays – Kelly Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio. It’s looking like another year of the Ryan Goins/Maicier Izturis/Steve Tolleson slog is the best thing for Toronto.