AL East Hot Stove preview: Teams in stacked division want arms
The Yankees have several impact players who will be free agents this offseason
Toronto has the best young pitching, most of it in the eminors
Expect the Orioles and Red Sox to play closer to their norms in 2013
SI.com's breakdown of the offseason plans for all 30 major league teams continues today with Joe Sheehan's look at the AL East. Teams are presented in order of finish from 2012. For previously published division breakdowns, see below:
JAFFE: NL Central
JAFFE: AL West
CORCORAN: NL West
JAFFE: AL Central
LEMIRE: NL East
2012 Record: 95-67, first in AL East, lost in ALCS
Third-order record: 97-65
Pending Free Agents: Nick Swisher, Mariano Rivera, Hiroki Kuroda, Rafael Soriano, Russell Martin, Ichiro Suzuki, Andy Pettitte
This is in part by design, as the Yankees look to get under the luxury-tax threshold just once, which will save them millions in tax payments by resetting their status. Soriano's decision to opt out of the $14 million owed him in 2013 was perhaps the one benefit of the Mariano Rivera deal, as Soriano racked up the saves that gave him the incentive to hit the market. The team could use Kuroda and Martin back on short-term deals, and might take a shine to Ichiro after his late-season surge as a Yankee. Rivera seems unlikely to play anywhere but New York, but it may be a while before we're sure if he'll play at all.
Top Prospect on the Verge: Adam Warren, RHP
Warren is a right-handed starter who has held his own at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for two years running and could fill a spot if Kuroda and Pettitte leave. Warren is not one of the Yankees' top prospects; the fruit of a deep system is at high-A ball and below, led by catcher Gary Sanchez and centerfielder Mason Williams. If catcher Austin Romine, who missed most of the year with a back problem, gets healthy, he could be a part of the solution behind the plate.
Targets: Starting pitching, catcher, bullpen
The Yankees are again likely to stay out of the top of the market and focus on the next tier. Edwin Jackson fits for a team that could be missing a lot of starts and has substantial uncertainty about the health of its rotation next year. Jackson takes the ball 32 times a year and delivers average to above-average results. Mike Napoli would serve as a good patch for the catching spot until Sanchez is ready, while allowing Romine to break in as a part-time player. (A.J. Pierzynski could also do this, but might be more expensive off his career year.) Joakim Soria would be a low-cost bullpen play; when healthy, he'd been one of the best closers in the game through 2010, then had an off year followed by Tommy John surgery in '12.
Bottom Line: Set aside what happened in October. The Yankees remain an aging team with a bloated payroll and an inflexible roster. There's not going to be much in the way of trade options. New York's focus has to be retaining Robinson Cano, filling out the rotation and remembering that a four-game losing streak doesn't invalidate six good months of work. There's an injection of youth coming, and spending now will only complicate things when that youth is ready.
2012 Record: 93-69, second in AL East, lost in Division Series
Third-order record: 80-82
Pending Free Agents: Jim Thome, Joe Saunders, Ronny Paulino
The Orioles' roster largely consists of young veterans who are either short of free agency or signed to medium-term contacts. For a team desperately short of OBP, bringing Thome back would not be a bad idea, assuming he wants to play another season after back and neck problems nagged him all year long. Despite pitching reasonably well after coming over in a trade, Saunders does not have the kind of stuff that projects well in a full season of AL East baseball . . .
Top Prospect on the Verge: Dylan Bundy, RHP
. . .and besides, the Orioles need to make room for the best prospect in baseball. Bundy started the year making three-inning starts in the Sally League and ended it in the Orioles' bullpen. Just 20 when next season begins, it's unlikely that he will be in the Baltimore's rotation in April, or throw more than 150 innings at all levels combined. He is, however, a fantastic combination of power and polish who should be a fixture on their staff for years to come.
Targets: Starting pitching, outfield, third base
The Orioles are actually a great fit for Zack Greinke. They have the payroll room for him, with just $53 million in 2013 commitments plus a handful of expected arbitration raises. Only Adam Jones has a deal beyond 2014, so this isn't the Dodgers owing a hundred million bucks a year until the Rapture. While Baltimore's second-half rotation was stronger than what it had in the first half, it remains a collection of back-rotation starters. Greinke would front it while allowing Bundy to develop without the pressure of the team needing a front-line starter.
If the Orioles can't land Greinke -- who, given the market, could get up to Cole Hamels' six-year, $144 million contract -- they should stay out of the secondary pitching market and instead look to improve a team OBP that hindered the offense last season. With the caveat that price and deal length matter, they could use Nick Swisher in leftfield, Kevin Youkilis at third base (with Manny Machado, somewhat overmatched, starting the year at Triple-A) or perhaps Marco Scutaro at second base.
Bottom Line: The Orioles have to not buy into the hype. They weren't a 93-win team, but rather, a .500 team that got a bit lucky. Their focus has to be not on 2013, when they're likely to regress back below par, but on 2014 and beyond. Adding Greinke while not burning cash on middling starters, and taking shots to improve the offense, are workable plans.
2012 Record: 90-72, third in AL East
Third-order record: 97-65
Pending Free Agents: B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, Jeff Keppinger, Joel Peralta
The Rays are set to lose a significant chunk of the production from a mediocre offense, and they lack good internal options to make it better in the short term. If they lose all three of their free-agent hitters, they'll be left with Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce and a lot of question marks heading into 2012. Trading pitching for hitting is almost inevitable, as a lack of run scoring is what kept Tampa Bay out of the 2012 postseason.
Top Prospect on the Verge: Hak-Ju Lee, SS
Lee, acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade, has pushed aside former No. 1 overall pick Tim Beckham to become the shortstop of the Rays' future -- possibly as soon as Opening Day. He's a slap hitter with a reasonable approach, but his strikeout totals (102 last year in 475 AB) are high for a player with his lack of power. Michael Bourn has shown that you can succeed this way, but there's risk in the profile. Lee is a plus defender at shortstop, so even if the bat isn't ready, the overall package may well be
Targets: People who hit things. All of them.
The Rays, right now, have two players sure to be above-average hitters in Longoria and Ben Zobrist, with Matt Joyce probably a third. That means any free-agent capable of putting up an 800 OPS has to be on their radar -- with the caveat that the attendance-challenged Rays aren't going to break the bank to bring in anyone. Sometimes bargain-shopping works (Casey Kotchman in 2011) and sometimes it doesn't (Carlos Peña in 2012). Mike Napoli is a nice idea. Maybe Torii Hunter could be had on a short contract. Kevin Youkilis to play first base, perhaps.
Bottom Line: The Rays have had championship-caliber pitching for five years, but have just three postseason berths to show for it, and they haven't advanced since 2008. One of David Price, Matt Moore or Jeremy Hellickson will be traded this winter for a middle-of-the-order bat, or the team will once again scuffle to produce runs in '13.
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