Late last season and into the winter, the American League East saw perhaps the most roster turmoil in baseball. In August, the Boston Red Sox completed the deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the Dodgers. In November, the Toronto Blue Jays sent a package of prospects to Miami for basically every major league player the Marlins had, other than Giancarlo Stanton. And of course, the Red Sox spent their winter signing a variety of mid-level free agents that helped get them back to the World Series.
There probably won't be quite so much turnover in the East this offseason. The Red Sox are happy with their current team, while the Yankees are pinching pennies. The Blue Jays saw their huge trade blow up in their faces, and the Orioles and Rays simply aren't big free-agent spenders. That said, here's what you should look for going into the winter signings.
(Note: A position is listed as a "need" if the current starter either needs to be replaced with a better player or is not under contract for 2014.)
Boston Red Sox
Needs: C, 1B, SS or 3B, CF, SP, RP
Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew are both finishing one-year deals, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Joel Hanrahan and Jacoby Ellsbury are all headed for free agency, too. Yet the 2014 Red Sox probably will look a lot like the 2013 Red Sox did. Napoli showed this year that the hip problem that derailed his three-year deal last winter isn't hampering him moving forward, and he may get a multi-year deal to remain in Boston. Ellsbury will be the highest-profile departure, assuming the Red Sox don't pay to keep him. With Jackie Bradley, Jr., waiting in Pawtucket and Ellsbury poised to command a long, expensive deal, that seems unlikely. Joel Hanrahan lost his job when he got hurt and will probably be back on the market again, looking to get a fat one-year deal from a team that wants to spend on a closer.
The big question mark of the expiring contracts is Drew, who was a very good all-around shortstop for the Red Sox this year. He's also going to be 31 next year and looking for his last big, long contract -- something in the four- to five-year range if he's lucky, but more likely a three- or four-year deal. The Red Sox can afford to keep him so long as the price stays reasonable, because while Drew may not be Jose Reyes or Troy Tulowitzki, three years at $13-15 million average annual value with a fourth-year option seems reasonable, considering the dearth of shortstops who can both hit and field. But Boston does have young Xander Bogaerts waiting in the wings to step into a position on the left side of the infield, so the Sox's effort to retain Drew depends on how they feel about 3B Will Middlebrooks, who is coming off a disappointing 2013. If the Sox are willing to stick with Middlebrooks next year, then Drew will depart, and Bogaerts will step in at short. If not, Bogaerts will slide over to third base, while Drew (or someone else) handles shortstop. Bogaerts profiles as a guy who may need to move over to the hot corner at some point anyway.
The rotation remains locked down. Jon Lester's club option will be picked up, Clay Buchholz is under contract until 2017, and neither Jake Peavy nor John Lackey will be free agents until after the 2015 season. The bullpen is full of guys still going through their arbitration years, plus closer Koji Uehara, who is under contract until the end of next season. The Red Sox have some room to tinker on the bench, but this team made it to the World Series, and Boston has the luxury of not having to make many changes at all.
There is one high-profile signing the Sox could make which would both improve the talent on the roster and satisfy the "good clubhouse guy" requirement of the post-Valentine Red Sox, and that's Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann. McCann might cost more than he's strictly worth on the open market -- the Sox would be contending with the Braves, Yankees, Rangers and perhaps the Dodgers and Phillies for his services -- but McCann and Boston seem tailor-made for each other, especially if the Sox free up some money by letting Drew walk.
Tampa Bay Rays
Needs: 1B, DH, RP
The Rays' needs have been the same for each of the past few offseasons, so we already sort of know how this is going to go. They'll sign a scrap-heap first baseman to replace free agent James Loney, and said first baseman will spend 2014 playing ludicrously over his head. Then they'll sign a scrap-heap DH to replace often-injured Luke Scott, and he won't work out nearly as well. Designated hitter could be filled with a cheap one-year deal for Delmon Young, who ended the year back with the Rays after originally coming up in the organization. Other possibilities include signing Mark Reynolds to DH and Jeff Baker, recently of the Texas Rangers, to platoon with someone (perhaps Matt Joyce) at first.
The catcher situation also is in flux. The team might love to have Jose Molina's framing back behind the plate, but Molina is almost 40 years old and can't really hit. If Molina doesn't retire, the Rays might sign him back to back up Jose Lobaton, who really should be the clear starter going forward. Assuming the team picks up relatively cheap options on 2B/OF Ben Zobrist and SS Yunel Escobar, there are no other holes to fill in the infield, since Evan Longoria remains one of the best third basemen in the game.
In the outfield, the big question mark is whether the team will exercise David DeJesus's $6.5 million team option for 2014 or let him walk. DeJesus is a league-average hitter with good corner outfield defense who can spell Desmond Jennings in center field for a couple games here and there over the course of the season, and it will cost the team $1.5 million to decline his services, so I'd expect to see him back. If the Rays don't want to hand DeJesus the starting LF job and don't have faith in Sean Rodriguez to hold onto it full-time, they could test the market on Marlon Byrd -- but they're likely to be priced out of that market fairly quickly.
As for pitching, the Rays need some help in the bullpen. Fernando Rodney likely will not be re-signed, and Jamey Wright and Joel Peralta had decent-but-not-elite seasons, though Peralta probably has his $2.5 million option picked up. They'll do it in their usual way, which is prying guys off the scrap heap. Jesse Crain is an obvious target, considering both how great he was when he pitched in 2013 and how much his shoulder injury should limit his market; since the Rays acquired him from the White Sox at the end of the year, they'll have a window to negotiate with him. Joel Hanrahan could end up here, as could Carlos Marmol or perhaps Brandon Lyon, if he's not completely done. It'll depend on which relievers both stay cheap and have upside.
Like the Red Sox, this is another team that doesn't need much other than fine-tuning, but that could all change in a big way. David Price is only two years from free agency, and if this is the winter the Rays decide to move him, the return could have a huge impact on their team in 2014 and beyond.
New York Yankees
Needs: C, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, CF, RF, DH, SP, RP
Yeah, that about sums it up. The 2013 New York Yankees were a disaster by that team's standards, and the reasons for that were mainly self-inflicted. Yes, there were the injuries that took out Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter for most of the season, but this club let Eric Chavez depart to Arizona on a cheap $3 million deal, while signing Kevin Youkilis (who'd spent most the prior season on the DL) for far more. They also let Russell Martin walk, with no succession plan at catcher, and traded for the contracts of Vernon Wells and Alfonso Soriano, both of whom are under contract next year and not getting younger. It was a weird, weird season in the Bronx.
The Yankees probably are not keen on repeating last year's mistakes, even if they are now being frugal (but only in very bizarre, specific ways centering around free agency). A front office as good as the one Brian Cashman has put together should be able to find a happy medium between handing out ridiculous contracts like it's still late in the George Steinbrenner era, and going into 2014 with a Chris Stewart/Austin Romine catching tandem again. The priority, of course, is re-signing 2B Robinson Cano. He will be the most sought-after free agent of the offseason -- and his deal will be very expensive for a very long time, when everything's said and done -- but this is a place where the Yankees should leverage their financial advantage. Even better for New York, the Dodgers are publically making noise that they won't be in the market for Cano, especially after having just signed Alexander Guerrero from Cuba. If that's actually the case, then the Yankees don't really have any other major competitor for Cano's services at the dollar amount he'll be requesting, except perhaps the Tigers, if owner Mike Ilitch authorizes another big free agent deal in pursuit of a World Series win.
Options are limited around the rest of the infield. There's no reason to believe Jeter won't pick up his player option, but his health is far from guaranteed, and the Yankees will need a backup they can live with getting serious playing time, if it comes to that. Clint Barmes and Rafael Furcal probably are the best veterans available to fill that niche, though both are in their mid-thirties, but the Pirates could re-sign Barmes in the afterglow of the team's 2013 success, and Furcal is just as fragile as Jeter. The Alex Rodriguez saga is still ongoing, but even if he does play in New York again, Rodriguez primarily should DH, not play third base. Jhonny Peralta, therefore, might be the best option here, since he can play third while Jeter's healthy and slide over to short when he isn't.
Unlikely to return in 2014 is outfielder Curtis Granderson, who is probably looking for a multi-year deal at a high dollar value, befitting a three-time All Star in his early thirties. With the Yankees looking to sign Cano, while also staying under $189 million in total payroll commitments for 2014, Granderson may be the odd man out. Brett Gardner proved to be a valuable center fielder, but the outfield corners are eaten up by an unholy mix of Wells, Suzuki and Soriano.
These are positions of need in that the Yankees must upgrade in at least one of them -- preferably right field -- and the Angels and Cubs are paying enough of Wells and Soriano's 2014 salaries, respectively, that having to DFA one or both of them would be merely embarrassing instead of crippling. There are a couple big-ticket options that would make sense -- Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, and Carlos Beltran jump out -- but it might be wisest to go after Marlon Byrd on a short, transitional deal, or to take a flyer on Jason Kubel after a horrible 2013.
Behind the plate, Brian McCann has been rumored to be a target the team has heavy interest in, since the Yankees had abysmal production from the catcher position last year. They'll upgrade there even if McCann ends up signing somewhere else. Carlos Ruiz would be a solid backup plan, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia a distant third on the wishlist.
On the mound, the Yankees will be letting just about all of their departing pitchers do precisely that. The bullpen, one of the team's few strengths for the past couple years, should be fine. David Robertson will step into the closer's role following Rivera's retirement, and the holes potentially left by Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan's departures can be filled from within. If the Yankees want proven, successful, late-inning relief work and are willing to pay for it, Joe Smith and Javier Lopez will be available, though the Indians and Giants would probably very much like to retain their respective services. If injury flyers fit their budget better, Ryan Madsen could be worth a couple looks.
About the only certain thing when it comes to the rotation is that it will be led by CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. With Andy Pettitte retiring and Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes free to go, there's a whole lot of room for new faces in the Bronx. The Yankees should extend Kuroda a qualifying offer -- which he'll reject, scaring the rest of the league away from signing him lest they give the Yankees a draft pick -- giving New York room to negotiate a one-year deal at a higher dollar amount. That is, unless there's no room for him in the budget, but after Cano, one would think Kuroda would be the highest-priority player to re-sign. Michael Pineda, the Seattle starter who came to New York in the Jesus Montero deal, might be ready finally to join the Yankees rotation next year, after rehabbing a shoulder injury. Even then, the Yankees still have room for a free agent starter or two.
The best way to use their money would be outbidding everyone else for the phenomenal young Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The clear, best option in the domestic free agent market is Matt Garza, and the Yankees should be able to afford his demands. Otherwise, the options range from middle-rotation starters with injury or effectiveness question marks, like Colby Lewis or Gavin Floyd, to reclamation projects like Josh Johnson or (assuming the Mets buy out his $25 million club option) Johan Santana. Ervin Santana would be a possibility, if Kansas City appeared willing to let Santana hit the market without a qualifying offer; New York can afford to spend money at the moment, not draft picks.
Needs: LF, 2B, DH, SP, RP
The Orioles got a serious question mark for 2014 in the very last days of the season, as 3B Manny Machado injured his knee in what was essentially a meaningless game against the Rays. He has had surgery on that knee and likely will not be back at the beginning of next season, meaning the Orioles have to plan for some length of time where someone else is playing third. Assuming Eric Chavez returns for another season, he'd be nice to have here, and he might improve the DH situation after Machado's return as well. A guy like Chavez probably marks the ceiling on how much Orioles VP of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette is willing to spend on that role, however; on his watch, Baltimore has become even more frugal about the deals they hand out to free agents.
There's no reason that should change this offseason, and the two most pressing needs, left field and second base, might be addressed just by re-signing the guys who played there in 2013. Nate McLouth has been a league-average bat with acceptable defense in left for the past two seasons, and if he remains cheap, the Orioles might bring him back on yet another one-year deal. Similarly, assuming Baltimore will stay out of the Cano sweepstakes, the only clear upgrade over Brian Roberts on the market is Omar Infante -- so there's no real reason not to bring Roberts back, either, unless you really like Mark Ellis. Jonathan Schoop, the best middle-infield prospect in the system, had a very underwhelming year at Triple A Norfolk, so at best, he'll likely need at least another season down there to figure things out.
The ideal DH would be Nelson Cruz, but not only is Cruz likely to remain a Ranger, he's young enough that a DH-only job likely doesn't appeal to him very much. Given the lack of other appealing options, the Orioles' best shot might be to inquire about a trade for Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals, who is rumored to be available for the right price.
Eighty percent of the Baltimore rotation is set going into the offseason; Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris are all under contract for next year. But the Orioles still do not have the top-of-the-rotation starting pitching they need to be a true contender. Baltimore is hoping that will come from either Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy, but Gausman was ineffective in his rookie campaign, and Bundy is recovering from Tommy John surgery, so the Orioles will have to look elsewhere. The clear, best option would be Masahiro Tanaka, the young Japanese ace. However, Baltimore has shown little to no interest in getting involved in bidding wars so far under Duquette -- the year Yu Darvish signed, Baltimore opted to pursue Chen instead -- so Tanaka likely is out. The Orioles could go after Garza, but that would also represent a substantial financial commitment Baltimore isn't likely to make. The only pitcher the Orioles have been connected to so far this October is their own departing Scott Feldman, a perfectly serviceable, back-of-the-rotation starter, who adds nothing that Baltimore doesn't already have.
The bullpen will be addressed the way it has been the last few years, with waiver claims and cheap signings. That's not a mark against it; as long as they're the right waiver claims and cheap signings, this is the perfect way to build a pen, and so far Duquette has shown he knows when to cut bait on relievers.
Toronto Blue Jays
Needs: C, 2B, 3B, LF, SP, RP
The Blue Jays went all-in last offseason, and it blew up in their faces. It's unlikely they go back for a second round of that, but anything's possible. The first thing they need to do is address the catching situation. J.P. Arencibia would have played his way off the Toronto roster already, if the Blue Jays hadn't traded their best catching prospect as part of the package for R.A. Dickey, and traded their second-best catching prospect for reliever Esmil Rogers. Brian McCann seems unlikely for the Blue Jays, considering the other suitors in the market and the amount of money the Jays have tied up elsewhere. Honestly, the best place to address this might be the trade market -- seeing if the Houston Astros are willing to part with Jason Castro, for example, or if the Reds no longer believe in Devin Mesoraco. The free agent catching options are just poor for a team in the Jays' position.
The Jays can live with Adam Lind at first base for the time being, and Jose Reyes is still a great shortstop when he's healthy. Second and third bases, however, demand attention. Brett Lawrie may not be the long term solution at third no matter how good his defense is, and Maicer Izturis is not a legitimate starting MLB second baseman in 2014. Whether or not there's any action on finding a third baseman is a referendum on Lawrie, and the Jays will probably give him one more year. There's no question that something needs to be done about the hole at second, however, and if the Tigers do somehow sign Robinson Cano, then the Jays should go after Omar Infante hard.
I loved the rotation going into last year, but I'm a bit more cautious about it now. Dickey needs to be healthy to be effective, and it's unclear whether this year's injuries are going to be the new normal going forward. Brandon Morrow labored through his innings all year, when he wasn't on the disabled list, and Mark Buehrle is reaching an age where a bad season is no longer an off-year but a decline. Brett Cecil finally seemed to have figured things out in relief at the end of 2013, so perhaps he can translate that into the rotation next spring. Meanwhile, the Jays should go after mid-tier starters who have a reasonable chance of staying healthy enough to give them innings. A.J. Burnett would be ideal, Colby Lewis would be a decent second choice, and Scott Feldman and Paul Maholm would bring up the rear of that group.