AL East Hot Stove forecast: Can Rays keep up with Yanks, BoSox?
Tampa Bay will be cutting payroll and should lose at least three key free agents
The Yankees will be making Cliff Lee their overhwelming first priority this winter
The Red Sox have only four positions set in stone and will make several changes
This week, SI.com will analyze the offseason plans for the teams in each of MLB's six divisions. Teams are listed in order of 2010 finish.
2010 Results: 96-66, first place in AL East, lost ALDS to Rangers
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 802/649
Pythagorean Record: 96-66
Pending Free Agents: LF Carl Crawford, RP Rafael Soriano, 1B Carlos Peņa, OF Rocco Baldelli, RHP Grant Balfour, RHP Joaquin Benoit, LHP Randy Choate, OF Brad Hawpe, RHP Dan Wheeler (declined option), RHP Chad Qualls and OF Gabe Kapler
Players with Options: None remaining
Prospects on the Verge: OF Desmond Jennings, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, LHP Jake McGee, LHP Matt Moore
Building For: Remain annual contender with an even smaller payroll.
Strengths: Young starting rotation returning intact; young positional talent; intelligent, forward-thinking front office
Biggest Holes: Reduced payroll; consistent power threat in lineup; replacing key free agents, especially at closer
Targets: Second- or third-tier first baseman (Peņa, Adam LaRoche, Russell Branyan, Ty Wigginton)
The Rays will have to learn to do more with less. To give them proper credit, they saw the possible closure of a window of opportunity and stretched their payroll to unchartered territory for them (over $70 million) but will now have to deal with a payroll as low as perhaps about $50 million.
But it may not be as bleak as it could be. Essentially what that means is they will lose three players to free agency -- leftfielder and face of the franchise Carl Crawford, first baseman Carlos Peņa and closer Rafael Soriano, a trio that collectively made $27.5 million last year -- and simply have to replace them from within their stocked farm system. Desmond Jennings will take over in left; Dan Johnson can play first base; and for an additional savings, they could trade starter James Shields, who's due to make $4.25 million, and fill his rotation spot with wunderkind Jeremy Hellickson.
Closer, however, will remain an issue, as the bullpen struggled in 2009 without a strong ninth-inning presence. Perhaps the Rays will try one of their top prospects arms that won't crack this year's rotation -- McGee or Moore -- in that role.
That still leaves the Rays looking for an additional power bat, an area that was lacking last season when Pat Burrell failed and Brad Hawpe wasn't a satisfactory replacement. It's not impossible that Peņa's poor 2010 cost him enough market value that he could return to Tampa Bay on the cheap, but more likely they will seek a more cost-effective option.
2010 Results: 95-67, 2nd place, wild card winner, lost ALCS to Rangers
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 859/693
Pythagorean Record: 97-65
Pending Free Agents: RP Mariano Rivera, SS Derek Jeter, LHP Andy Pettitte, RHP Kerry Wood (option declined), 1B Lance Berkman (option declined), DH Nick Johnson (option declined), RHP Javier Vazquez, OF Marcus Thames, OF Austin Kearns, RHP Chad Gaudin (declined minor-league assignment)
Players with Options: None remaining
Prospects on the Verge: C Jesus Montero, C Austin Romine
Building For: Resume role as titans of the AL, per usual
Strengths: True ace; affordable, talented outfield; superstar corner infielders; huge payroll; MVP candidate at second base
Biggest Holes: Rotation depth; defense on left side of infield; defense from catcher position
Targets: LHP Cliff Lee, Rivera, Jeter, Pettitte, OF Jayson Werth, OF Carl Crawford, LHP Scott Downs, 1B/DH Adam Dunn
Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will be back. Managing partner Hal Steinbrenner's comments on New York radio Tuesday, reminding fans that they are running a "business" is merely an opening statement lobbed toward the Jeter camp that they won't be handing him a blank check and they won't be appeasing his rumored request for a six-year deal to match the expiration of Alex Rodriguez's contract.
The Yankees' emphasis, of course, will be on Cliff Lee, Cliff Lee and then some more Cliff Lee. If that doesn't work, they may make one more offer to Cliff Lee. But the rotation needs more than just Lee, a bonafide New York killer. General manager Brian Cashman will work hard to lure back Andy Pettitte who, when healthy, was excellent this past year. With Royals' ace Zack Greinke indicating he likely wouldn't accept a trade to New York, there is increased importance for the Yankees for add another arm via free agency -- unless they trade prized prospect Jesus Montero for some sort of elite arm. The Yankees nearly dealt him for Lee last summer and with other promising catchers in the pipeline (Austin Romine chief among them) could do so this winter.
Other longshot options to remake their lineup would be to find a taker to trade either Curtis Granderson or Nick Swisher and then replace him with either Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford. Though last year's emergence of Brett Gardner makes it unlikely the Yankees sign either of the top outfielders in free agency, anything's possible with this team. Or New York could pay Dunn enough money to play DH that he'll forget he ever owned a glove -- another unlikely scenario, though, given the need for the Yankees to rest aging veterans like Jeter and Alex Rodriguez at the DH spot occasionally.
2010 Results: 89-73, 3rd place
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 818/744
Pythagorean Record: 88-74
Pending Free Agents: 3B Adrian Beltre (declined player option), C/1B Victor Martinez, 1B Mike Lowell (retiring), C Jason Varitek
Players with Options: DH David Oritz ($12.5M club, no buyout), IF/OF Bill Hall ($9.25M club, $500K buyout), IF Felipe Lopez (terms of option not disclosed)
Prospects on the Verge: 1B Lars Anderson, RHP Casey Kelly
Building For: Return to playoffs and annual contention
Strengths: Rotation, eighth- and ninth-inning relievers, returning injured stars
Biggest Holes: Catcher; sixth- and seventh-inning bullpen; outfielders not named J.D. Drew
Targets: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford, Werth, Martinez, Downs, Dunn, 1B Paul Konerko, 1B Derrek Lee, 1B Prince Fielder