AL East Hot Stove forecasts (cont.)
If anyone was rooting against the Padres last season, it was the Red Sox, who would love to add a power-hitting first baseman and could untap the potential of the opposite-field swing of San Diego's Gonzalez. But the Padres were in playoff contention until the final day of the season, so Gonzalez likely won't be traded this offseason without setting off riots among Padres fans.
Still, Kevin Youkilis said he is preparing to play third base, rather than first base, this offseason. That likely signals what's been expected: Boston will let Beltre leave via free agency and pick from among a better class of available first basemen than third basemen. Among the other free-agent first baseman the team could pursue: Dunn, Konerko or Aubrey Huff. The option on Ortiz is more than the Red Sox want to spend, but they also know his value to that lineup and seem reticent to offer him a two-year contract, so expect them to exercise the option anyway.
It's a strange time for the Red Sox when only four players are locked into next year's lineup: their middle infielders, second baseman Dustin Pedroia and shortstop Marco Scutaro; outfielder J.D. Drew and Youkilis as a corner infielder. Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury will presumably be recovered from their rib injuries, though the former may be better suited to fourth outfielder duty and the latter will be a prized chip in all offseason trade talks.
Don't rule out a trade of a package of prospects and young players headlined by Ellsbury which could bring back a power bat, such as the Brewers' Fielder. It would also open an outfield spot for a free agent like Crawford or Werth.
Four of Boston's five starting pitchers (Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jon Lester) are under team control through 2014 and the fifth, Daisuke Matsuzaka, is signed through 2012. But it's no secret that Dice-K and the coaching staff have butted heads the past three seasons. Maybe the Red Sox' change in pitching coaches will make a difference, but it would not be surprising for the club to dangle Matsuzaka in trade offers -- presuming he waives his no-trade clause in search of a fresh start. That would open up a spot in the rotation for prospects Kelly or Junichi Tazawa, who will be returning from Tommy John surgery.
Though set-up man Daniel Bard outpitched closer Jonathan Papelbon down the stretch, it's unlikely the roles at the back of the bullpen will change. Papelbon is one year away from free agency and will likely remain the ninth-inning man for 2011.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is under contract for next season, but he doesn't seem ready for everyday duty. While the Red Sox have made faint efforts at re-signing Martinez, they may opt for a defensive-minded backstop to help cut down on opponents who ran rampant on the basepaths against them the past two seasons.
2010 Results: 85-77, 4th place
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 755/728
Pythagorean Record: 84-78
Pending Free Agents: LHP Scott Downs, RHP Jason Frasor, C John Buck, 1B Lyle Overbay
Players with Options: RHP Kevin Gregg (club option for one year at $4.5M or two years at $8.75M)
Prospects on the Verge: RHP Kyle Drabek, C J.P. Arencibia
Building For: Continued climb to playoff contention with ETA of 2012 or '13
Strengths: Young rotation; peak-age middle infielders; power-hitting outfielders
Biggest Holes: Bullpen to be decimated by free agency; key hitters need rebound season; corner outfielders
Targets: Lee, 1B Adam LaRoche, OF/DH Manny Ramirez
The most encouraging part of Toronto's 2010 season is that they won 85 games while two of their core players had dreadful seasons. In other words, the Blue Jays ought to improve a few wins simply if second baseman Aaron Hill and designated hitter Adam Lind return to their 2009 form. Toronto's strength is its young starting rotation, so the hiring of Red Sox pitching John Farrell as manager -- who groomed such arms as Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard -- seems inspired.
Because the Jays are probably still at least a year away from serious contention in the AL East, they'll likely let most of their free agents leave: relievers Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg and Jason Frasor, as well as first baseman Lyle Overbay and catcher John Buck. J.P. Arencibia, the Triple-A Pacific Coast League Player of the Year, will presumably start at catcher.
Manny Ramirez has already reportedly indicated an interest in playing in Toronto and could be an interesting fit at DH, if Lind continues to learn to play first base, where he played 11 games in 2010. But given Ramirez's recent track record of performance and behavior, he's not likely to receive more than a one-year deal, which would seem to run counter to Toronto's plans.
The other key question facing the Blue Jays is how to handle major-league home run champ Jose Bautista, who is likely to receive a hefty raise in arbitration this year and is eligible for free agency next year. What kind of an extension they offer him may suggest whether his own team believes his power surge will last or not. Either way, the Jays have at least one more year of Bautista playing alongside Vernon Wells and Travis Snider, a trio that hit 99 home runs last year and could do the same again -- though Bautista's total of 54 could fall back by 10 or so, Snider's 14 ought to increase by about that much.
The Blue Jays also have to decide whether to offer arbitration to third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who has power (21 homers) but a low on-base percentage (.305) and a ton of errors (18). He made nearly $5 million last year and would likely make more through arbitration. Though Bautista can play third base, he seems to be more valuable as a rightfielder and has expressed a preference for staying in the outfield.
2010 Results: 66-96, 5th place
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 613/785
Pythagorean Record: 63-99
Pending Free Agents: RHP Kevin Millwood, RHP Koji Uehara, IF Ty Wigginton, SS Cesar Izturis, SS Julio Lugo, LHP Mark Hendrickson (option declined), OF Corey Patterson
Players with Options: None remaining
Prospects on the Verge: LHP Zach Britton, 3B Josh Bell
Building For: Respectability and any kind of improvement
Strengths: Good second half under new manager; young, still developing position players; future co-aces
Biggest Holes: Power hitter; most of infield; back half of rotation; bullpen
Targets: Lee, Konerko, Dunn, Berkman, LaRoche, Peņa, RHP Jon Garland, RHP Brandon Webb, RHP Chris Young
The Orioles were a new team under manager Buck Showalter, who inspired his players to play above-.500 ball (34-23) in the final two months after starting the year 32-73. Baltimore's true talent is probably somewhere in between, especially in the AL East while playing an unbalanced schedule. But most of the season was a disappointment as the club took a step backward.
The young core of catcher Matt Wieters, centerfielder Adam Jones and rightfielder Nick Markakis all had seasons that were a little underwhelming or at least a little below expectations, but those three, along with second baseman Brian Roberts and DH Luke Scott, represent a strong first half of a lineup.
The question becomes what to do with the rest of the infield. The Orioles need a consistent power bat and preferably one that plays a corner infield position. This is why they heavily pursued Mark Teixeira before the 2009 season and why they'll at least feel out the first basemen's market. If Dunn continues to insist on playing first base rather than DH, the Orioles are a team that could be willing to take that chance on his subpar fielding. Maybe they'd take on a reclamation project like Peņa, who'd come relatively cheaply.
The Millwoord experiment was a disaster, but Brian Matusz showed flashes of someday being a No. 1 or No. 2 starter. Jeremy Gurthrie is a serviceable starter, and other young arms like Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman also demonstrated rotation potential. The Orioles will still kick the tires this offseason to find a veteran starter who'll fill in the middle of the rotation, eat some innings and take some pressure off the kids.
Again, because Baltimore is a couple years away from contending, it's in a position where it might as well take a chance on a few low-risk, high-reward guys. That could mean offering incentive-laden contracts to pitchers returning from injury (Brandon Webb, Chris Young) or from disappointing seasons (Vazquez). It'll probably hold off on exploring much by way of bullpen arms, especially with Mike Gonzalez still under contract.