Early Hot Stove feast in AL East, but room left for dessert
Busy offseason so far for Sox, Jays, but Yanks, O's could jump in soon; Rays nearing manager choice
The first few weeks of the Hot Stove season have been busy, but there is still plenty more action to come.
In the American League East, the Red Sox have been the biggest movers thus far, signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to deals that will total almost $200 million, while the Blue Jays made noise by signing a countryman and trading another. The Rays have also seen an overhaul, but of the management variety, with team president Andrew Friedman leaving for the Dodgers and manager Joe Maddon taking over as the Cubs' skipper.
The Yankees and Orioles have been relatively quiet, but this is a wide open division, and we should expect action from all of them, particularly the Yanks, who will likely be in the mix for one of the remaining big-name starting pitchers.
As we recover from our collective turkey coma, here's a look at where every team in the AL East stands right now as the Winter Meetings slowly become visible above the horizon.
What the Orioles have done: The O's have made a few Minor League signings, but they have been fairly quiet in filling any major holes. The club continues to have discussions with free-agent outfielder Nick Markakis.
What the Orioles need to address: Markakis is an important player to watch, and with Cruz leaving for a four-year deal with Seattle, the O's are in the market for a power-hitting outfielder. But they would also like to add another starting pitcher and fill the hole vacated by lefty reliever Andrew Miller, who will be too costly for Baltimore to retain.
-- Brittany Ghiroli
BOSTON RED SOX
What the Red Sox have done: The Sox have made two impact signings to upgrade an offense that was among the worst in the Majors in 2014, adding Ramirez and Sandoval. It is a reunion for Ramirez, who came up through Boston's farm system before being dealt to the Marlins for Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett nine years ago. Ramirez has one of the most well-rounded bats in the game when he stays healthy. His presence in left field could spell the end of Yoenis Cespedes in Boston.
Sandoval is a switch-hitter and stronger from the left side. This is a good thing because the Sox were in desperate need of another productive lefty bat. He gives the club production at third base. In the latter years of the contract, Sandoval could transition to designated hitter when David Ortiz retires.
What the Red Sox need to address: The offense looks far better than it did last year, but the pitching staff needs some attention. Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly are the only current members of the roster who are sure things for the 2015 rotation. General manager Ben Cherington still needs to plug the holes that were created with the trades of Jon Lester and John Lackey last July. Lester could actually replace himself, given Boston's interest in bringing the lefty back to town as a free agent. A trade with the Phillies for Cole Hamels is another intriguing possibility. In fact, the Sox have quite a few trade chips, particularly in the outfield, to address their pitching needs. They also remain on the hunt for a lefty reliever.
-- Ian Browne
NEW YORK YANKEES
What the Yankees have done: Following Alex Rodriguez's reinstatement to the active roster at the conclusion of the World Series, the Yankees have made a series of smaller moves. In November, New York re-signed outfielder Chris Young to an incentive-laden $2.5 million deal, acquired left-handed reliever Justin Wilson from the Pirates in exchange for catcher Francisco Cervelli, and signed right-hander Andrew Bailey to a Minor League deal. They also sold the rights for infielder Zelous Wheeler to Japan's Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in exchange for $350,000.
What the Yankees need to address: General manager Brian Cashman has stated that he intends to upgrade the left side of the infield, unwilling to count on A-Rod as an everyday third baseman and hoping to find a better option than Brendan Ryan at shortstop. Chase Headley is thought to be New York's top target at third base, while the trade market is the preferred avenue to find Derek Jeter's successor. The Yankees also have interest in adding at least one starting pitcher, hoping to bring Brandon McCarthy back while waiting to hear word on Hiroki Kuroda's plans. Thus far, New York has stayed away from top free agents like Lester and Max Scherzer. The club also has maintained talks with closer David Robertson, who declined its $15.3 million qualifying offer in favor of seeking a longer commitment.
-- Bryan Hoch
TAMPA BAY RAYS
What the Rays have done: They have traded starter Jeremy Hellickson and relievers Joel Peralta and Cesar Ramos for prospects. In addition, they signed veteran reliever Ernesto Frieri and designated for assignment veteran catcher Jose Molina and infielder Sean Rodriguez. The Rays will have to eat Molina's $2.75 million contract for 2015, but they dodged the issue of tendering Rodriguez a contract (he made $1.475 million this past season) by the Dec. 2 deadline. Finally, the Rays have spent the bulk of the offseason re-shuffling their front office and looking for a replacement for Maddon, who exercised an opt-out clause in his contract and will now manage the Cubs. Team president Matt Silverman took over as president of baseball operations after Friedman left to take a new position with the Dodgers. They narrowed their initial manager search to 10 candidates, all of whom were interviewed. That list has since been whittled down to three: Kevin Cash, Don Wakamatsu and Raul Ibanez.
What the Rays need to address: They will begin their interviews with the final three managerial candidates on Dec. 1, and they could have a manager in place by the Winter Meetings, which begin Dec. 8 in San Diego. The team's starting rotation, bullpen and infield seem to be in order, but there are many options remaining in the outfield, including: Matt Joyce, Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings, Brandon Guyer, David DeJesus, Kevin Kiermaier and Mikie Mahtook. With Molina's departure, the Rays again look thin at catcher, with just Ryan Hanigan and Curt Casali currently in the mix. So don't be surprised if they sign or trade for catching help.
The non-tender date could bring some interesting results, particularly where Joyce is concerned, since he made $3.7 million in 2014. Even if he is tendered a contract, he could still be traded before Spring Training. The Rays must also figure out some way to generate more runs in 2015 after having lackluster results on offense in '14. In order to do this, they must assess which players will return to form and which ones will not. Once they have a better idea about that question, they can try to address how to improve their offense. As usual, expect the Rays to sign one or two veteran starters and relievers to help with depth.
-- Bill Chastain
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
What the Blue Jays have done: The Jays made a tremendous splash in the middle of November when they signed Canadian catcher Russell Martin to a five-year contract worth $82 million. It was the largest free-agent deal handed out in the organization's history. They followed that by trading for All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson, who finished fourth in MVP voting in 2013, and sending another Canadian, Brett Lawrie, to the A's in addition to two pitchers, Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin, and shortstop Franklin Barreto.
The Jays have traded outfielder Anthony Gose to the Tigers for second-base prospect Devon Travis, and sent designated hitter Adam Lind to the Brewers for right-hander Marco Estrada. They also parted ways with Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan and Colby Rasmus.
What the Blue Jays need to address: Toronto's already had a busy offseason, but there may be more work left to be done. The Blue Jays have noticeable holes to fill in the bullpen and left field. General manager Alex Anthopoulos appears to have at least $20 million at his disposal, but that number could be increased further by trading former starting catcher Dioner Navarro, left-hander J.A. Happ and to a lesser extent R.A. Dickey or Mark Buehrle. Free agent Melky Cabrera remains a possible option in left, but the two sides have yet to find common ground in their contract negotiations.
-- Gregor Chisholm