Posted: Friday November 2, 2012 8:57PM ; Updated: Friday November 2, 2012 8:57PM
Joe Sheehan
Joe Sheehan>INSIDE BASEBALL

AL East Hot Stove preview (cont.)

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Toronto Blue Jays

Cody Ross
After a solid debut season in Boston, Cody Ross and the Red Sox would be wise to reach a new deal.
Damian Strohmeyer/SI

2012 Record: 73-89, fourth in AL East

Third-order record: 72-90

Pending Free Agents: Kelly Johnson, Brandon Lyon, Jason Frasor

There's not much being lost here. Johnson is an underrated player who can provide OBP, some basestealing and lineup balance. His strikeout rates, however, have eaten his value the last two years, and since he can't play shortstop, he's a poor option as an extra infielder. The Jays will look to fill second internally.

Top Prospect on the Verge: Travis D'Arnaud, C

The J.P. Arencibia era may be coming to an end, as D'Arnaud pushes for a job in spring training . . .assuming he can stay healthy enough to do so. D'Arnaud, an excellent hitter for average and power, has suffered injuries to his thumb and knee in a 12-month period -- the last of which cut his 2012 season short. D'Arnaud is often mentioned as a trade chip in a package for a star-type player. One way or another, he'll be a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2013. Also worth mentioning is that the Jays have a crop of pitching prospects. led by righty Aaron Sanchez, that is the best in the game.

Targets: Starting pitching, shortstop

The Jays had so many injuries in 2012 that evaluating them is a bit difficult. One thing to note is that they've had success creating middle-of-the-order hitters from other teams' leftovers, so were they to sign someone like Stephen Drew or James Loney or Grady Sizemore, it wouldn't be quite the head-scratcher it would be for another team. They're better off going that way than chasing after someone like Nick Swisher. Signing Drew would give them flexibility to trade incumbent shortstop Yunel Escobar or shift one of their infielders to second base.

Make no mistake about it: Toronto can spend money if it cares to, and adding a front-of-the-rotation starter like Zack Greinke would be a good medium- and long-term play as the team's young starters mature into a fully-formed rotation.

Bottom Line: The Jays are probably a year away, and with the staggering amount of pitching coming through their system, can afford to breathe deeply and wait a year before doing anything big. Signing Greinke would be an aggressive move by a GM who likes to be aggressive, but if Alex Anthopoulos can't get the No. 1 guy, he's better off keeping his powder dry for future years.

Boston Red Sox

2012 Record: 69-93, fifth in AL East

Third-order record: 77-85

Pending Free Agents: Cody Ross, Daisuke Matsuzaka

David Ortiz entered the offseason on this list but, not surprisingly, he will be back in Boston, having reportedly agreed to a two-year, $26 million deal on Friday. Ross could return as well for a team that is a bit short of outfielders at the moment. He's an excellent fit at Fenway Park and he can play as much or as little as the performance of Ryan Kalish warrants. Matsuzaka will not be back in Boston.

Top Prospect on the Verge: Jackie Bradley Jr.

The next Jacoby Ellsbury? Like the Red Sox' incumbent centerfielder, Bradley was a first-round pick out of college who has speed and on-base skills, perfect for the leadoff spot on any team. He's more likely to reach the roster late in the year; Boston, in fact, doesn't have much in the way of prospects set to have an impact when the year begins. Jose Iglesias has yet to prove he can hit enough to keep an MLB job, and Rubby de la Rosa -- acquired in the big Dodgers deal -- is still working his way back from injury. Bradley Jr. is the next impact prospect on the horizon.

Targets: Starting pitchers

After the megatrade with the Dodgers, the Red Sox have plenty of money to spend, but this is a market that could make that a dangerous trait. Zack Greinke would take Josh Beckett's place as Jon Lester's running partner atop the rotation, which is the one element they sorely need. If they can't sign Greinke they might be able to justify a three-year investment in someone on the next tier down, acknowledging the risks involved with signing any of the Anibal Sanchez/Edwin Jackson class. There will be a lot of Josh Hamilton rumors, but the Red Sox have Ellsbury, Kalish, Bradley, perhaps Ross, even Bryce Brentz. They don't need outfielders, they need pitchers.

Bottom Line: Whereas the Orioles go into 2013 not quite as good as their '12 record would suggest, the Red Sox are probably be better than their 69-93 record this past season indicated. That mark was the result of a brutal last two months. That said, unless they sign Greinke and find a star via trade, it's hard to see them closing the gap on the Yankees, Rays and other contenders in the AL in just one offseason.

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