(Keith Allison / Flickr)
Welcome to M-SABR’s first off-season preview article! As the off-season starts to heat up, writers at M-SABR will be offering their insight into the strengths, needs, and possible moves for each team, one division at a time. Listed here in alphabetical order, here are the previews for the AL East:
by Conor Stemme
2017 Record: 75-87 (5th in AL East)
2017 Payroll: $182,523,427 (9th in MLB)
2018 Current Outlook:
The O’s are a very offensive-minded team with players like Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Adam Jones. However, the current pitching staff of the Orioles is lacking, to say the least. The team’s collective 4.97 ERA put them 27th in the league, in front of only the Mets, Reds, and Tigers. The Orioles bullpen, however, is very good with the likes of Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Mychal Givens. If the 2018 season started today, the results would be very similar to last year with many players returning with the same issues. However, the O’s are a team to watch in the off-season and it will show if the team is looking to challenge now or in a few years.
As stated above, the biggest issue for the Orioles is starting pitching. The team needs at least one starting pitcher to replace Ubaldo Jimenez in the rotation and could use one or two more after that. They should also sign another outfielder as Seth Smith will be a free agent. Currently, Craig Gentry and a few young players are the other outfielders on the O’s roster. Other than those additions the Orioles have a formidable team in the bullpen and in the lineup.
The best pitchers out there this off-season are Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn. Darvish and Arrieta would be amazing additions to the O’s staff but are most likely out of the price range as the Orioles do not have that much money to spend. Therefore, Lance Lynn would be the best option for the Orioles this off-season. He will be less expensive than other pitchers, but will still be a significant improvement to the O’s rotation. Other options for the O’s would be to sign Alex Cobb or CC Sabathia. Both players are from division rivals and would also improve the Orioles roster. The other issue for the Orioles is the outfield. J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain, and Jay Bruce are the best outfielder options on the market. However, these players are also most likely out of the price range because the Orioles need to get a starting pitcher first. The best options for the O’s would be Melky Cabrera, John Jay, Austin Jackson, among others. These players are improvements over Gentry and arguably over Seth Smith. The biggest issue is starting pitching, but do not be surprised if the Orioles sign an outfielder or two, as well.
Boston Red Sox
by Ambria Hopfe
2017 Record: 93-69 (1st in AL East, lost ALDS)
2017 Payroll: $222,552,008 (3rd in MLB)
Current 2018 Outlook:
The Red Sox finished 2017 much like they finished 2016: they ended the season with a 93-69 record, won the AL East, and were eliminated in the ALDS. Interestingly enough, though, they accomplished this with some major changes in their roster. Most notably, for the first time in 15 years, the Red Sox played without David Ortiz, who left huge shoes to fill in terms of power after a remarkable final season. While no one expected any single player to bridge this gap in 2017, the brunt of this responsibility seemed to fall to Hanley Ramirez, who trailed Big Papi only slightly in terms of slugging in 2016. Unfortunately, Hanley left much to be desired in 2017, with his OPS dropping over 100 points and actually posting a negative fWAR (-0.4). Needless to say, his younger teammates clearly compensated for his disappointing performance, but the Sox still have a ways to go to match their hitting in 2016.
Boston’s pitching staff was undoubtedly strong with Chris Sale at the helm; his 32 starts in 2017 were good enough to put him in the AL Cy Young Award race. Accompanying Sale’s talents were those of Craig Kimbrel, who showed substantial improvement from 2016 and proved himself as a lights-out closer. On the not-so-positive side, there were some glaring disappointments in the starting rotation, namely Rick Porcello and David Price. In M-SABR’s own 2017 AL East Preview article in March, Griffin Murphy predicted that the Red Sox’s success in 2017 would depend on the answers to two questions: “1) Which David Price are the Red Sox going to see in 2017, and 2) Is Porcello going to maintain his Cy Young-level performance?” The short answers to those are: 1) The injured one, and 2) No. This leaves the Sox in an interesting place in terms of pitching in 2018; they seem to have the men for the job, but the level at which each will perform is ambiguous at best.
The Red Sox will obviously prioritize filling vacancies this off-season, and the biggest hole in Boston’s field is at first base. With Mitch Moreland leaving due to free agency, the Red Sox will be looking to meet or exceed his offensive power with a new first baseman.
Other key departures due to free agency include Eduardo Nunez and Addison Reed, who provided necessary depth to the fielding and pitching areas.
Going back to the overall power deficiency, though; the fact that the Red Sox finished 27th in home runs and still pulled out the AL East convinces me that some added power in their lineup might very well put them over the edge in terms of postseason success.
On the pitching side, while some are confident in David Price returning to the rotation full-time by the beginning of 2018, and while Porcello might regress back to something like his 2016 form, adding something to the rotation wouldn’t hurt. It would be ridiculous to expect Sale to match his 2017 performance, and you simply can’t rely on Drew Pomeranz to sustain the critical role he ended up having.
- For first base/added power: While some rumors suggest the Red Sox will be going after Carlos Santana and Logan Morrison, the obvious first choice here is Eric Hosmer, who has the attention of several teams.
- For rotation depth: Some added consistency from the likes of a seasoned starter may prove useful for the Red Sox. A couple of top choices might include Jake Arrieta and Alex Cobb.
New York Yankees
by Patrick Awtrey
2017 Record: 91-71 (2nd in AL East, lost ALCS)
2017 Payroll: $224,458,752 (2nd in MLB)
Current 2018 Outlook: As you’ve probably heard, the Yankees are good and only getting better. They were expected to do well this past year, yet few expected them to make the run they did. 2018 and 2019 were supposed to be the Years of the Yankees—the team decreased its payroll heading into 2017 in order to splurge on the likes of Bryce Harper for 2019. Additionally, their young, unproven core likely needed more time to fully develop. No one could have reasonably foreseen that Judge, Sanchez, and Severino would have such tremendous seasons. Sadly, history tells us that these guys may regress next year, and so the Yankees should continue building. A change in their strategy might be to spend more this off-season than was anticipated a year ago, as the rise of Judge may complicate a future acquisition of Harper.
Biggest Needs: At first base in 2017, the Yankees were 24th in OPS (.761). The platooning of Greg Bird, Chris Carter, and Chase Headley didn’t deliver great results, and their performance lacked consistency with the team’s dominance in other departments. Although baseball’s recent era of star-studded first basemen has mostly passed, it’s hard to imagine the Yankees going long without a prominent hitter on the right side of the infield. This should be an easy problem to fix. The Yankees could also improve at DH, and it’s unlikely that Matt Holliday will return to fill the role. Jacoby Ellsbury remains an option there, yet it would not be optimal to keep him for that. Offense as whole was the Yankees’ biggest strength in 2017, so it’s understandable that more attention is being given to their pitching. The Yankees were fifth in starter ERA (3.98), and it’s hard for a team to win a World Series with a rotation that fails to crack the top four. The issue is complicated in that Severino, Gray, Tanaka, Montgomery, and Sabathia are all likely to return next year.
Suggested Moves: First base is the most obvious need facing the Yankees. The team has no up-and-comers at the position, and so they must look outside their organization. There will be no star first basemen on the free agent market next off-season, and so they are better off acting now. Enter Eric Hosmer. Coming off a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove season in which he played 162 games, Hosmer hits fewer home runs, strikes out less, and gets on base more than a typical Yankee star. The Yankees could benefit from this type of consistent hitting, as they finished second in runs per game (5.3) yet 8th in wins. Furthermore, he’s a young leader with World Series experience and a tremendous glove. Expect the Yankees to try at fending off the Red Sox for him.
Tampa Bay Rays
by Clayton Myers
2017 Record: 80-82 (3rd in AL East)
2017 Payroll: $92,516,605 (27th in MLB)
Current 2018 Outlook:
The 2017 Rays played exactly how their record showed with zero difference between their Pythagorean W-L and the actual result. Their offense again struggled to create runs, ranking 14th in the American League. In typical Tampa Bay fashion, it was the pitching staff that kept the Rays in contention, placing fourth in the AL in ERA. In 2018, the Rays will again have one of if not the lowest payrolls in baseball. The Rays are likely to lose a couple key free agents this year in Logan Morrison and Alex Cobb. A large class of arbitration-eligible players will also likely lead to a couple trades to keep costs controlled. Tampa expects to again be in contention for a wild card berth after falling five games back this year.
The likely losses of Logan Morrison and Lucas Duda leave the Rays with a need at first base. Don’t expect the Rays to spend much money on a veteran with highly rated prospect Jake Bauers looking to make the jump to the majors. The bullpen is the area that Tampa is most likely going to be in the market for with Tommy Hunter, Sergio Romo and Steve Cishek. Even with the loss of Alex Cobb, the starting rotation looks to be in decent shape with prospects such as Brett Honeywell waiting.
The biggest move the Rays could make this off-season is to find a resolution for a new stadium allowing them to bolster attendance. On the personnel side, retaining Sergio Romo, who posted a 1.47 ERA in 2017, will be a good move for the Rays. To help Jake Bauers adjust to the Majors, the Rays might want to bring in a right-handed, moderately-priced platoon mate. One option the Rays might look at is Mike Napoli. The biggest move the Rays could try for this off-season is to reel in Japanese sensation Shohei Otani. The Rays’ willingness to allow players to both pitch and hit, displayed by 2017 fourth overall pick Brendan McKay, along with their 5.25 million in international bonus pool money give them a good chance to be a major contender on the Otani front.
Toronto Blue Jays
by Jack Parker
2017 Record: 76-86 (4th in AL East)
2017 Payroll: $199,430,487 (4th in MLB)
Current 2018 Outlook:
The Blue Jays will have to grapple with the departure of long time RF and face of the franchise Jose Bautista, who turned in an extremely disappointing season on the 1-year contract he signed last off-season. All eyes are now on the future of Josh Donaldson, who will turn 32 this December (and is somehow is still in his arbitration years), and whether the team should work to sign him to what would be a massive extension through his late 30s, or try to trade him before he walks at the end of next year. The Jays have already made a deal this off-season: bringing back Marco Estrada on a 1-year, $13 million deal. The team expected to contend in 2017, but a swath of injuries, disappointing performances and a lack of depth derailed their chances from the very first month. Heading into 2018, the plan is to reload and aim for the playoffs, but the hints of a rebuild linger and chatter could increase if the Jays get off to a disappointing start and look to salvage some value from Donaldson.
The Jays currently have $87.4M committed to 7 players for 2018, 10 arbitration eligible players (most of which are expected to be retained) currently projected to total $52.6M, and 4 pre-arb players that bring the projected total to $142.7M with 4 open roster spots. Assuming payroll returns to near 2017 levels, the Jays could have $30-40M to work with this off-season. Last year the Jays struck early, landing Kendrys Morales, Lourdes Gurriel and Steve Pearce, so look for Mark Shapiro to make some early moves before the new year.
Biggest Needs: SP, OF, MIF, Depth
Even with the resigning of Marco Estrada and the expected return of Aaron Sanchez to the rotation, the Jays need starting pitching depth. Even signing an SP5 would help shore up a rotation that has some solid pieces but has been very thin over the last few years.
Suggestion: Tyler Chatwood (4 years, $45M)
The Blue Jays badly need MIF depth and versatility. Injury prone 2B Devon Travis has yet to prove he can stay on the field and 33-year-old Troy Tulowitzki only managed to play 66 games last year.
Suggestion: Eduardo Nunez (2 years, $20M)
The Jays would greatly benefit from depth at a corner OF position. The departure of Jose Bautista leaves a hole in RF. Internal options include perennially injured Dalton Pompey and Teoscar Hernandez, but an off-season acquisition could help tremendously.
Suggestion: Jarrod Dyson (2 years, 11M)
Finally, one position that the Jays badly need to address is backup catcher. Russell Martin is a good starter, but the drop off from him has been huge over the last few years (-1.5 fWAR from catchers other than Martin in 2017). Enticing a competent backup catcher has been hard for the Jays with Martin locking down the starting job. Even getting a slightly above replacement level backup would be a big boost for the club.
Suggestion: Chris Iannetta (1 year, 2.5M)
Be sure to stay tuned for our AL Central previews, coming later this week!