Winter Meetings Preview: AL East Team Needs & Potential Targets

Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Call to the Bullpen gets you set for this year’s winter meetings with division by division previews; team needs, potential targets and predictions.

AL East | AL Central | AL West

NL East | NL Central | NL West

By Matt Mirro

The Hot Stove is finally heating up the baseball offseason creeps towards the always exciting Winter Meetings. Jordan Zimmerman is the biggest free agent off the board as the starting pitcher signed a multi-year contract with the Detroit Tigers. Craig Kimbrel, Cameron Maybin, Francisco Rodriguez, Leoynis Martin and Brad Miller are just some of the players who have already been dealt to new teams so far. As always, every team has their main goal, their top priority. In the American League East, each team has a multitude of really interesting options. But what, exactly, is each of their biggest needs? What needs to be addressed before pitchers and catchers report in the Spring?

Toronto Blue Jays

93-69, First Place in the American League East

The Toronto Blue Jays had one heck of a 2015 campaign. After acquiring superstar ace David Price and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki before the July 31st Trade Deadline the club went on an absolute tear, catapulting themselves into first place in the American League East and their first playoff appearance in over a decade. But they were eliminated in the American League Championship Series by the Kansas City Royals who had their own date with destiny, eventually winning the World Series. Undoubtedly, the Blue Jays are getting reading to try to repeat their success from last year in 2016.

With the Winter Meetings Approaching it’s easy to see the Blue Jays being active players in both the free agent market and in trade talks. However, it is hard to envision them making any significant trades due their sapped farm system. With a ton of money wrapped up in Tulowitzki and Russell Martin among others I’m not sure exactly what they’ll be able to do in free agency. I’d look for Toronto to be more involved in trade talks than anything else during the Winter Meetings.

– Build Up the Bullpen

The Blue Jays just can’t seem to figure out this whole pesky bullpen thing? The team seemed to find a gem in rookie hurler Miguel Osuna who, at just 20 years old, pitched to the tune of a 2.58 ERA while notching 20 saves during his rookie campaign. But, the team is expected to transition him back into the starting rotation in the long run and that will leave a sizeable hole in the ninth inning. Recently, they have been connected with free agent reliever Ryan Madson who is coming off a banner year (2.13 ERA with 58 strikeouts) with the Kansas City Royals that culminated with a World Series Championship.

Other options including star submariner Darren O’Day could be a possibility as well as free agents like Mark Lowe, Shawn Kelley, Joakim Soria and Tyler Clippard. Of course, we all know that Aroldis Chapman is expected to be traded this offseason. He’ll likely cost a significant package in return but for someone of his pedigree it may just be worth it. Whether it’s via the trade market or free agency the Jays need to address the bullpen above all else this winter.

Top Targets: Ryan Madson, Aroldis Chapman and Tyler Clippard

– Find a Veteran to Replace David Price

Earlier this week Toronto’s hired gun, David Price, signed a multi-year megadeal with the division rival Boston Red Sox. It is now imperative that the Jays make replacing him one of their top priorities. The team has the makings of a talented rotation centered around youngsters like Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and possibly Roberto Osuna. Veterans like Marco Estrada and R.A. Dickey are set to return and help fill out the staff. But with no clear veteran workhorse to lead the team could experience some issues within the staff.

There is a real need for someone who can be counted on day in and day out. Estrada and Dickey have proven to be less than reliable during their careers, although Estrade had a career year in 2015. The youngsters are talented beyond doubt but there’s little experience in that bunch and no one is certain Osuna is ready to transition from the bullpen just yet. While the likes of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija may be too pricey (Samardzija is reported to have multiple large contracts on the table) there aren’t a ton of free agent options left with Grienke, Price and Zimmerman off the board. Someone like Mike Leake or Doug Fister could certainly appeal to them. Scott Kazmir and Henderson Alvarez could also be fits.

Top Targets: Mike Leake, Doug Fister and Scott Kazmir

Winter Meetings Predictions:

Realistically, I see the Toronto bolstering the bullpen before the end of the Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee. I don’t see Aroldis Chapman as a viable option for them due to the tremendous price tag the Jays no longer have the assets to hand over. Gone are top prospects Daniel Norris (Tigers) and Miguel Castro (Rockies) and what assets they do have left are more or less untouchable like that of second baseman Devon Travis and their young crop of hurlers. Tyler Clippard is probably the most consistent addition they could make at their current price range and he would be a very viable closer option with Osuna either shifting to the rotation or into the setup role. Ryan Madson is a decent option but I would think the Jays want more of a sure thing before pouring money into another veteran’s pockets.

New York Yankees

(87-75) Second in the American League East

The Yankees were overachievers in 2015, holding first place in the division for most of the first half before being eclipsed by the bulked up Jays in the second half. Veterans Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann led the way offensively while Dellin Betances and Andrew proved to be a lethal two-headed monster at the back-end of the bullpen. The Yankees did make the playoffs as one of the Wildcard teams but saw their bats silenced by American League Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel of the Houston Astros.

With no significant free agents coming off the books the Yankees’ roster is pretty much set going into 2015. Financially they’ll find themselves to be heavily restricted for at least one more year before Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran’s contracts are officially off the books following the 2016 season. More than likely we’ll see the Yankees as active players on the trade circuit but, knowing Brian Cashman’s typical MO, do not expect to hear many rumblings before a deal is actually made. The Bronx’s front office inner circle tends to be notoriously tight-lipped in regards to business.

– Add Starting Pitching Depth

The New York Yankees have the makings of a promising rotation with Masahiro Tanaka, Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda still well in their prime and Luis Severino making good on the Yankees’ gamble not to trade him at the deadline. But there is a need for depth and a big one at that. Only Eovaldi and Severino are guaranteed to be on the roster following the 2017 campaign and the team has set getting younger as a priority for the future. Ivan Nova, Adam Warren and C.C. Sabathia represent options for 2016 as well but none of them have proven they could be consistently productive at this point in their respective careers.

Whether they trade Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller or sign a free agent hurler the Yankees need to bulk up their options for the coming season and beyond. Someone like recently non-tendered starter Henderson Alavrez could be someone Cashman and his brass fall all over as they’ve recently put an emphasis on acquiring young, cheap options for the future. Alvarez has proven to be supremely talented but suffered a severe shoulder injury that ended his promising season early in 2015. The Yankees have previously shown a willingness to sign low/risk high reward reclamation projects and try to develop them into assets. Just look at what they did with Nathan Eovaldi and Brandon McCarthy and tried to do with Esmil Rogers. Alvarez would fit perfectly in that capacity even if he has to start his Yankee career in the minors.

Mike Leake would be someone they could put directly into the rotation., pushing another player out. By default that deepens the team even further. Swingmen like Yusmeiro Petit or Alfredo Simon provide plenty of options for an organization that really loves versatile players. In large, I’d expect them to stay away from Samrdzija and Wei-Yin Chen despite previous connections. The club does not want to surrender their first round draft picks. I also cannot see them bid for Japanese ace Kenta Maeda as his price tag is going to be astronomically high for a truly unproven commodity.

Top Targets: Henderson Alvarez, Mike Leake and Yusmeiro Petit

– Be Patient and Get Younger

Overall, there may not be much the Yankees can do this winter but sit and wait. Wait for a deal that shifts in their favor to come their way. Wait for the trade market to develop. Above all, wait for the big contracts to run their course. Believe it or not the Yankees are getting younger and their getting younger quick. With the majority of their starting rotation under the age of 30 and the bullpen being comprised of mostly home-grown talent (Miller, Wilson and Shreve excluded) the Yankees are getting ready to see a new core take shape.

Shortstop Didi Gregorius took over for the now retired Derek Jeter and, after struggling in the early going, put up an above average season on both sides of the ball. Second base is expected to be represented by a platoon of Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley who are both under 30 years of age. Youngster Aaron Hicks was recently acquired from the Minnesota Twins to replace the free agent 32-year old Chris Young who later signed a two-year contract with the Red Sox and top prospect Gary Sanchez is set to serve as backup catcher after being a premier farm hand for what seems like ages. With Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran going into their last year the Yankees are expected to bring up Aaron Judge and Greg Bird to replace them come 2017. So it’s simply a matter of waiting.

Top Targets: Just lock the checkbook and the drawer and bury the key, please and thank you!

Winter Meetings Predictions:

I don’t think the Yankees will be making a whole lot of noise come the Winter Meetings but hey, you never know? I could, however, see them dealing free agent to be Ivan Nova wh0 they’ve been rumored to have been shopping quite aggressively. After a disappointing first season back from Tommy John Surgery I don’t know what the Yankees could get in exchange for the still young arm. At the very least they’ll be able to clear a roster spot for someone like Mike Leake or any kind of later pitching acquisition that would represent an upgrade over Nova.

Baltimore Orioles

(81-81) Third in the American League East

The Orioles were one of the most disappointing teams of 2015. After a fantastic 2014 that rolled into a deep playoff run the Orioles failed to make much noise at all in 2015. The fact they were able to finish at .500 was a miracle considering how poor the team appeared at times. But, hope springs eternal and all the lovely sayings of the kind. 2016 is a new year and the Orioles have a chance to regain some of their 2014 magic.

The team has already acquired slugger Mark Trumbo from the Seattle Mariners but it is yet to be seen what role the subpar yet versatile defender will play. In truth, he’s a designated hitter and there’s a spot on the Orioles just for that. But if Chris Davis leaves, and he likely will, Trumbo could fit at first base. He’s also a potential outfield piece although that’s never been a pretty sight. That falls on Buck Showalter’s hands. Now, the team is off the Nashville for the Winter Meetings and they need to be as active as possible.

– Get Adam Jones Some Outfield Help

Again, Trumbo has played both right field and leftfield but I don’t think the team should be banking on him patrolling the caverns of Camden Yards anytime soon. There is a real need for the team to add an everyday outfielder because the likes of L.J. Hoes, Junior Lake and Nolan Reimold simply won’t cut it. Adam Jones is the centerpiece of the franchise and their only reliable outfielder. That is a real problem for this team. Even if Trumbo is used in the outfield he has a reputation as a streaky “all or nothing” type of player.

Luckily for the Birds there are quite a number of options out there. While Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Yoenis Cespedes may not fit their usual price range they should be expected to be active on the trade market. The Orioles have been in talks with the Cincinnati Reds for star right fielder Jay Bruce but talks have failed to gain traction. Someone like Alex Rios or Gerardo Parra could be interesting options going forward. There’s no shortage of potential fits. If the Orioles choose to pull the right string they’ll find what they’re looking for.

Top Targets: Jay Bruce, Gerardo Parra and Justin Upton

-Replace Chris Davis

Chris Davis is leaving. That much is all but certain. While Mark Trumbo has experience at first base he’d be better served as a designated hitter and that’s just find and dandy. Luckily, there are two recent free agents that could be of real interest to the O’s. Pedro “El Toro” Alvarez was recently non-tendered by the Pittsburgh Pirates and his massive power would be downright scary at Camden Yards. The only problem is he’s a notoriously poor fielder, worse than Trumbo. But a makeshift mix of the two  could work if that’s something Baltimore sees as beneficial.

Then of course there’s Chris Carter who became a free agent after he was non-tendered by the Houston Astros. You know exactly what you’re getting with Chris Carter; Big power, subpar defense and a ton of strikeouts. The Orioles can deal with the ton of strikeouts as long as the power keeps coming. That’s exactly what Chris Davis supplied them for the last few years. Whatever the case, they need to find someone who can fill that particular role now that Davis is almost certainly on his way out.

Top Targets: Chris Davis, Pedro Alvarez, Chris Carter

Winter Meetings Prediction:

I’d have to believe the Orioles will add a piece to the first base mix before the end of the Winter Meetings. My best guess would be that they strike a deal with Pedro Alvarez before they depart Nashville. Nothing big, just a two-year deal for decent money perhaps. It’d be a low risk/high reward type of acquisition and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a move they need to make. A necessity in no such hyperbolic words.

Tampa Bay Rays

(80-82) Forth in the American League East

This will be a simple one. The Rays have only one goal and it’s the same goal they always have. After a tough 2014 season the Rays sold off some key parts and added others. That’s been their MO for as long as they’ve been a franchise. It was yet another rough season for Tampa in 2015 but luckily for their fans they didn’t end up selling off any key pieces. Now, it’s time for them to focus on adding instead of subtracting. Come on Tampa!

Continue To Develop the Young Core

By now we all get it. The Rays are only going to compete if they can develop or trade for young talent. They’re never going to be free agent spenders, not enough to make a significant difference. But, they can continue to do what they’ve always done; develop from within. Chris Archer is the new Floridian Ace, Evan Longoria is still the biggest bat in town, Steven Souza Jr. is the new Wil Myers. Great! That’s awesome. Top notch start. But it’s only a start. They Rays have to keep building!

Now, they finally have an everyday shortstop in recently acquired Brad Miller as well as first base depth (and youth) in Logan Morrison. Youngsters like Mikie Mahtook and Erasmo Ramirez could be real solid pieces for the future while Kevin Kiermaier has emerged as one 0f the best centerfielders in baseball. Logan Forsythe has started to resemble Ben Zobrist and could be Rays everyday second baseman going forward. 29-year old Joey Butler could potentially be a consistent producer while serving as the designated hitter. All that’s left is to continue to build up that core. Someone like 26-year old Henderson Alvarez could definitely be of interest to Tampa. Others like Trevor Cahill or Brandon Beachy should also be on their shortlist.

Top Targets: Henderson Alvarez, Trevor Cahill and Brandon Beachy

Winter Meetings Prediction:

To be fair, there’s never much buzz surrounding the Rays during the offseason unless it involves them trading their key parts. I do not expect the Rays to do much of anything during the Winter Meetings. Maybe some minor moves here and there but as usual anything they do would have to come via trade and I cannot see them carving up their new core. That eliminates much of anything big at all. I think it’s likely the Rays will have a quiet vacation in Nashville, relaxing poolside and renting movies in the hotel room.

Boston Red Sox

(78-84) Last in the American League East

It was a downright abysmal year in Beantown and the Red Sox have so far done a great job of rectifying that. New front office admiral Dave Dombrowski has made two moves this offseason and they were huge. First he shipped off four top prospects to the San Diego Padres for top closer Craig Kimbrel and then topped it off by signing David Price to a 7-year $210 million dollar contract. Dombrowski has said that he expects major moves to be wrapped up at this point but I don’t think any of us can believe that as we approach the Winter Meetings.

-Trade Hanley Ramirez
Hanley Ramirez is a man without a position and that’s never good. It’s worse considering the Red Sox don’t have a designated hitter’s position open with David Ortiz getting ready to bask in his swan song before riding off into the sunset. The team is expected to try Hanley out at first base after a failed experiment with left field. However, Hanley has always been a poor fielder. Whether he was playing shortstop or leftfield it was never a pretty sight. Also, the team seems to have a potential mainstay at first base in 25-year old Travis Shaw who hit 13 home runs and drove in 36 runs in just 65 games. He also displayed solid defense which Hanley has not and never will.
 It’s imperative that the Red Sox make a conscious effort to trade him. He has no place on the team for at least another year when the DH role is vacated. But his massive contract presents a problem in trade negotiations. Unless they’re willing to eat a chunk of the money they won’t get anywhere. But, I think Dombrowski would be willing to eat the money to make up for his predecessor’s mistakes. Whoever decides to take Ramirez should only do so viewing him as a designated hitter going forward.
Top Potential Trade Partners: Los Angeles Angels, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros
Winter Meetings Predictions:
While I view dealing Hanley Ramirez as completely necessary I do not believe a move will be done before the end of the Winter Meetings. His contract is too bloated and his history too shaky to deal smoothly. If anything the Red Sox can lay the groundwork or gauge the market but if anything gets done I’d expect it to happen after the Meetings have concluded.

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