With the Blue Jays making few notable moves this off-season, it is a wonder how they will compete during the upcoming season. But everything needs to be put into perspective, particularly within their own AL East division.
With the year about to end, let’s look around the AL East and see where the competition is thus far.
New York Yankees
Despite not re-signing Robinson Cano to a contract this off-season, the Yankees have spent plenty on other players. The projected amount of spending for the Yankees was $300 million over the winter. While they saved $240 million that Cano accepted from the Mariners, and this may help them in the long run, his absence leaves a huge void for them to fill. To replace Cano they have tied-up $299 million in long-term deals with Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Hiroki Kuroda.
Beltran and Ellsbury certainly add some quality to the outfield. While Ellsbury offers terrific speed and hits for average, he has had only one season of double-digit homeruns, in 2011. Beltran is the opposite in some ways, offering power, but not speed. Ellsbury is 30 and Beltran is 36, and both have had their share of durability issues in the past. They have depth with Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells, and Brett Gardner, but will likely trade at least one of the three (probably Ichiro) before springtime.
As far as pitching is concerned, the Yankee rotation could be a bit of a mess. C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Hiroki Kuroda are locks for the front of the rotation, but after that there are some definite question marks. While Nova finally showed promise last season, Sabathia had an off year, posting a 4.78 ERA. Couple this with no longer having the most reliable closer in baseball due to retirement in Mariano Rivera, and the Yankees could have some high scoring games next year.
Former Jay Kelly Johnson, and former Oriole Brian Roberts will fill the gaps in the infield left by the departure of Cano and possible suspension of Alex Rodriguez. Roberts has not played over 100 games since 2009. Derek Jeter is also coming off a season of injury and will be 40 in June.
With all the money the Yankees have spent during the off-season, it still looks like there is much more to address before the season starts.
Tampa Bay Rays
While David Price seemed like a lock to be traded at the start of the off-season, now there are signs he may stay with the Rays, at least for the moment. All indications point to the Rays not receiving good enough offers for Price—which may have something to do with the still uncertain status of Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
Maybe the Rays are waiting for the right big move for Price. Otherwise, Tampa Bay has done little so far this off-season. At catcher they re-signed Jose Molina for $4.5 million. They added depth by trading for Ryan Hanigan, a defensive-minded man behind the plate.
In the same trade for Hanigan, the Rays picked up a bullpen arm by obtaining Heath Bell. Bell hasn’t had decent numbers since 2011, and unless there is a big turnaround, he can’t be expected to close out games. In fact, it’s uncertain who the Rays will have as a closer to start the season.
Their starting pitching looks solid, but anything can change if they do end up sending Price elsewhere. Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Helickson will head the rotation if the Rays do lose their ace. Chris Archer, who had a 3.22 ERA and 9 wins last season will find a spot near the back. And to round it out, possibly Jake Odorizzi who is still developing, but may be good enough for the fifth spot.
While their infield looks much the same, there are a few small changes to the outfield. Will Myers will have the opportunity to play a full season. The rookie hit for .293 with 13 homeruns in just 88 games last season. Sam Fuld is gone and possibly headed to Japan. The back-up at center should Myers falter might be Brandon Guyer, who hasn’t yet established himself at the major league level.
Like the Jays, the Rays are a team that has yet to make an off-season splash and still has many question marks remaining. Trading Price could solve a lot of their problems, and if their young arms to replace him do as well as they have in the past, they could be deadly next season.
The Orioles are still looking for a closer after backing out of a deal for Grant Balfour due to their concerns with his physical exam.
Baltimore has created their own bullpen woes. Last season they traded away Pedro Strop who now looks to be a possible closer for the Chicago Cubs. In the trade they acquired starting pitcher Scott Feldman who had a good 2013, but earlier this month signed with the Astros as a free agent. In the winter meetings, they traded away their recent closer, Jim Johnson, in exchange for minor league catcher David Freitas, and second basemen Jemile Weeks.
They recently traded Danny Valencia to get outfielder David Lough—a good young addition for them who hit .286 last year with the Royals. He’s a left-handed hitter who has actually hit better against lefty pitching. Lough will likely compete with Steve Pearce to start in left field, but is otherwise great depth on the bench, especially with the loss of Nate McLouth.
Baltimore’s infield will no longer have Brian Roberts up the middle. Star youngster Manny Machado hopes to be rehabbed and ready for opening day, but that can always change. And Chris Davis will try to repeat his incredible breakout season.
There are big time question marks with the O’s rotation. Currently they have: Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris, and Kevin Gausman. With this shaky core, they hope Dylan Bundy—just off Tommy John surgery—will at some point be their young saviour.
It seems as if the Orioles had certain goals for the off-season and have had a difficult time achieving them.
Boston Red Sox
I suppose it would be perfectly acceptable for the World Series champions of 2013 to do nothing but try and keep the club intact for next season. But the Red Sox have kept busy.
To replace Jarrod Saltalamaccia behind the plate, Boston added A.J. Pierzynski, the aging yet durable catcher. They also added some depth to the infield, acquiring Jonathan Herrera from the Rockies in exchange for left-hander Franklin Morales. Herrera had a career year, hitting .292 this past season.
The loss of Jacoby Ellsbury will put a lot of pressure on Jackie Bradley Jr. He certainly didn’t look ready for the big league last season, hitting just .189 over 37 games. The whole team strategy will also need to adjust with the loss of an irreplaceable guy like Ellsbury, who is a threat to steal every time he gets on base.
Pitching is still a huge strength for the Red Sox. In the bullpen they have Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller, Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop. They also recently added Japanese Submarine pitcher Shunsuke Watanabe to a minor league deal.
The Red Sox will look to have their pitching negate any deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. At the moment it may deep enough to do so.
So aside from the Red Sox, the other teams in the AL East still have a lot of work to do before next season begins. Maybe some of them are about done and just keeping their fingers crossed that everything will work out.
In any case, it helps with the frustration of the Jays having done very little so far. Maybe we can relax for now, at least until after the new year.