Who’s got the most rebuilding to do this offseason? That’s in the eye of the beholder. What we do know is that teams are looking for a 2013 Red Sox-like miracle cure to get back into contention, including the Red Sox themselves.
There are six teams we should watch closely this offseason. Some have further to go than others, but all need a quick fix. They are not the Cubs, who are building in stages to a possible crescendo two years from now, or the Astros, who are building with prospects and on the cheap, or the Twins, who have excellent young players coming along and are still two years away.
These are teams that need to step things up immediately.
Atlanta Braves — The Braves should have been better than they were, but some personnel decisions haven’t gone their way. The five-year, $75 million deal for B.J. Upton two years ago has really handcuffed them from making other moves.
General manager Frank Wren will likely field the brunt of the blame. Would the Braves make a change in the front office? Is manager Fredi Gonzalez also in peril? It doesn’t stop with Upton, there was the failed experiment with Dan Uggla, and past contracts to Kenshin Kawakami and Derek Lowe also set the team back. Losing Brian McCann also was a poor decision.
All in all, the offense was a disaster. The Braves started the weekend 29th in runs (550), 23d in batting average and OPS, and 27th in slugging.
The Braves need an offensive overhaul to support decent pitching, which has produced a major league-high 106 quality starts. The Braves have lost 28 games in which the pitcher produced a quality start, another sign of their inept offense.
Where do they turn for a bat?
Texas Rangers — We know the obvious maladies, such as Ron Washington resigning as manager and a plethora of injuries, including to Prince Fielder, Jurickson Profar, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Shin-Soo Choo, who had a poor first year with the Rangers.
Even with all of the injuries, the Rangers will need two starting pitchers, a righthanded power bat, and possibly a catcher. The Rangers are certainly a big-market team and they’ll likely be in the hunt for top free agent starters Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields, but they will also take a look at the catching market, with Russell Martin and Geovany Soto possible targets.
The Rangers have prospects, so they could give some up for pitching, with the Phillies’ Cole Hamels or the Reds’ Johnny Cueto an attractive choice. Teams will ask for third baseman Joey Gallo (42 homers this season in the minors), but even with Adrian Beltre signed for another two seasons, it doesn’t appear the Rangers would make Gallo available.
Philadelphia Phillies — Jonathan Papelbon’s recent lewd gesture and accompanying seven-game suspension probably make it tough to sell him this offseason, but the Phillies need to do something to rid themselves of older players and bad contracts and attempt to start fresh.
The one true player of value they have is Hamels. They hem and haw that he’s not available, yet they scout a majority of Red Sox games and those of other teams with good farm systems (such as the Rangers and Cubs).
The Phillies have to swallow hard on major contracts. Ryan Howard has $60 million left, but he could be pawned off to an American League team to DH. Chase Utley would be welcome elsewhere. At some point when Cliff Lee shows he’s healthy again from a sore elbow he’ll be moved. The Phillies got a good year out of Ben Revere and a terrible one out of Domonic Brown.
This remains the toughest fix.
New York Yankees — With all of the emphasis on retooling the offense last offseason by adding Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran, it remained stagnant. Mark Teixeira’s career has been reduced to a .217 average, and Derek Jeter showed at the end he was done.
The Yankees lost four-fifths of their starting rotation for much of the season. CC Sabathia’s future remains in limbo. The Yankees have no idea if Hiroki Kuroda, who pitched well, will return, and trading deadline pickup Brandon McCarthy is a free agent.
The Yankees will have to decide whether to devote big dollars to closer David Robertson or let him walk, make Dellin Betances the closer, and devote the money to a couple of starting pitchers.
The Yankees will have Alex Rodriguez returning from suspension, but they still will be in the market for a righthanded power bat (Nelson Cruz?) and a shortstop (J.J. Hardy?) to replace Jeter.
Boston Red Sox — Acquiring replacements for Lester and John Lackey is the top priority. They can achieve that by trade or free agency. Lester, Shields, Justin Masterson, and Francisco Liriano appear to be on their wish list. If Hamels or Cueto become available, the Red Sox would have the package to make it happen.
A secondary need would be a lefthanded-hitting third baseman. As we’ve written the past few weeks, switch-hitting free agent third basemen Chase Headley and Pablo Sandoval seem to fit the profile.
And then there’s the sorting out of rookie pitchers and position players. Who will they commit to on the major league roster? Too many rookies is not a good thing, as the Red Sox found out in 2014.
Toronto Blue Jays — GM Alex Anthopoulos was bold two years ago when he made a blockbuster deal with the Marlins. Now he needs to be bold again. Will that mean dealing a mainstay such as Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion to bring back a haul and to perhaps change the culture of the clubhouse?
Decisions, decisions. Anthopoulos will likely have to make a call on manager John Gibbons and the coaching staff. If Anthopoulos tries to deal Mark Buehrle, he’ll need two starting pitchers to go with Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez, and R.A. Dickey.
HE SAW IT COMING
Trembley impressed by Martinez, Altuve
The find of the year (the Tigers’ J.D. Martinez) and the performer of the year (the Astros’ Jose Altuve) both went through Houston, and former Astros bench coach Dave Trembley had a front-row seat.
Trembley, who was fired along with manager Bo Porter earlier this month, called Martinez a “baseball rat, obsessed with hitting.”
“He said at the end of last year that he had a new stance and he wanted to try it out in winter ball in Venezuela,” said Trembley. “When he came back he didn’t have a good spring training. The decision was made at first to send him back to Triple A so he could use the new stance, but all of a sudden the plans changed and they decided they didn’t have room for him because they wanted to play L.J. Hoes and Robbie Grossman. He was also going to make $250,000 at Triple A. So they released him.”
Dave Clark, who was on the Houston coaching staff and is now in Detroit with manager Brad Ausmus, recommended the Tigers sign Martinez. At 6 feet 3 inches, 220 pounds, Martinez, who played parts of three years with the Astros, entered Saturday with a .319 average, 23 homers, 76 RBIs, and a .937 OPS.
“The great thing about J.D., too, is that he had better splits against righthanded pitchers (.327 to .297), so he’s an effective hitter,” Trembley said. “He’s really figured it out and the Tigers did a great job with it.”
As for Altuve, Trembley said of the 5-6 second baseman, “He’s a lot like [Dustin] Pedroia. He gets everything he has out of himself. He loves to play baseball. I think what happened is he came into camp in tremendous shape. He really took his offseason workouts seriously. He lost some weight, came in lean and strong. He doesn’t give in on any at-bat. He has tremendous focus and like Pedroia his heart is bigger than his body.”
Altuve will win the American League batting title, entering Saturday with a .343 average, 54 steals, and 216 hits, the only player in baseball with at least 200. He’s also played an excellent second base.
Apropos of nothing
1. It’s an exercise you can do with every team, but these are players the Red Sox drafted but were unable to sign since 2000: C — Yan Gomes (Indians), Yasmani Grandal (Padres), and Jason Castro (Astros); 1B — Brandon Belt (Giants), Matt LaPorta (out of baseball); 3B — Pedro Alvarez (Pirates); OF — Charlie Blackmon (Rockies), Logan Schafer (Brewers), Mike Yastrzemski (Orioles’ farm system), Steve Pearce (Orioles); Chris Duffy (retired); P — Ricky Romero (Blue Jays), Brian Bannister (retired), Nick Tepesch (Rangers), Anthony DeSclafani (Marlins).
2. The Cubs and Athletics have blown seven saves in games pitched by Jeff Samardzija, most in the majors. Trailing him is Scott Feldman with six, while Chris Tillman, Max Scherzer, Jared Weaver, Tom Koehler, and Vidal Nuno each have five.
3. Jon Lester has had a garden view of two September swoons, the 2011 Red Sox, who went 7-20, and now the A’s, who had won six games in September heading into Saturday.
4. Major League Baseball is trying to put together a domestic-violence policy with the players’ union. Talks started on Friday. “Domestic violence is one of the one worst forms of societal conduct,” said commissioner Bud Selig. “We understand the responsibility of baseball to quickly and firmly address off-field conduct by our players, even potentially in situations in which the criminal justice system does not do so.”
5. Classy guy Paul Konerko raps up a great career with the White Sox next weekend. Konerko has 439 home runs and 1,412 RBIs in 18 seasons.
6. The Tigers have Justin Verlander and Scherzer lined up to pitch a divisional tiebreaker vs. Kansas City or a wild-card game. The preference would be Scherzer.
7. If they can’t get Giancarlo Stanton, the Red Sox would be wise to pile up a bunch of prospects for lefthander Chris Sale. The answer would likely be a big fat no from the White Sox. But he’s worth fighting for.
8. On Friday night in Baltimore, scouts timed Xander Bogaerts at 4.0 seconds (a little better than average) down the first base line and Rusney Castillo at 4.2 (average). Bogaerts was trying to beat out a chopper for a hit, Castillo was running out a routine ground ball.
Updates on nine
1. A.J. Hinch — Hinch is considered a factor in the early stages of Houston’s managerial search. He had problems with people skills in his first attempt at managing with the Diamondbacks, but Hinch, who is big on analytics, has done a good job running the Padres’ scouting department. The Astros will likely blow through a bunch of candidates, Torey Lovullo, Brian Butterfield, Manny Acta, Dave Martinez, Tim Wallach, and Tony Pena to name a few.
2. Allard Baird, vice president of player personnel, Red Sox — A major league source indicated that Baird had a very good interview in Arizona for the vacant GM job, but that chief of baseball operations Tony La Russa was still leaning toward former A’s pitcher Dave Stewart, who is now an agent, or Cardinals personnel man Gary LaRocque, who worked with La Russa in St. Louis. Baird was the GM of the Royals from 2000-06. His evaluations and scouting on Rusney Castillo resulted in the seven-year, $72.5 million deal.
3. Brian Butterfield, third base coach, Red Sox — Butterfield is beginning to receive more interest as a managerial candidate. He has the reputation of being one of the best infield coaches in baseball, but executives are beginning to understand the rapport Butterfield has with players and how he gets the most out of them. Don’t be surprised to see his name mentioned more often for openings.
4. Jordan Betts, 3B, Red Sox — Yes, the Red Sox have a second Betts (no relation to Mookie), who played at Single A Lowell this season. The 6--foot-3-inch, 222-pound power hitter had 10 homers and drove in 40 runs in 242 at-bats for the Spinners and has begun to open some eyes as an 18th-round draft pick out of Duke.
5. Ron Gardenhire, manager, Twins — It looks more and more like Gardenhire will return next season. A Twins executive said he would be “surprised” if Gardenhire didn’t come back based on his young team playing hard and having fun playing the spoiler role down the stretch. The Twins will need to continue to revamp their pitching staff, but they have young, talented players joining the team over the next two years.
6. David Price, LHP, Tigers — Price has pitched 232⅓ innings and scouts feel he may finally be wearing down. Some are noticing less depth on his offspeed pitches and a less late life on his fastball. But nobody thinks Price can’t overcome it and use a little adrenaline to get through the rest of the season.
7. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP, Rays — As teams start putting together lists of pitchers who could be had in trade this offseason, Hellickson’s name has been surfacing. The Rays may be thinking otherwise, but one AL team believes that the Rays could make another Wil Myers-Jake Odorizzi for James Shields-Wade Davis type of deal centering around Hellickson, who is still just 27 and inexpensive. Hellickson has been limited to 12 starts after returning from offseason elbow surgery on July 8. He is arbitration eligible and won’t be a free agent until after the 2016 season, so his situation is far different than Shields or Price, but he could solve an offensive need for the Rays.
8. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Dodgers — Who will add this middle-of-the-order bat if the Dodgers decide not to pony up for Ramirez and shift him to third? The Yankees would always be a possibility, even with Alex Rodriguez coming back. The Dodgers have been hush-hush when it comes to Ramirez’s future. It’s not easy to let a significant righthanded infield bat go.
9. David Ross, C, Red Sox — The Red Sox have not committed to bringing Ross back next season. It doesn’t appear he will have to worry about a job, as a few teams have privately discussed Ross as a backup/mentor. But Ross would like to stay in Boston as Christian Vazquez’s backup. Ross said he’d like to play at least another year but that reality is setting in that it may not be in Boston. Whom would the Red Sox have in mind if not Ross? There aren’t many options out there for a good backup in free agency, and it doesn’t appear the Sox would spend their money on a front-line guy like Russell Martin.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Definition of warning-track power: The Cardinals have the fewest homers in the NL with 99, but their average fly ball distance of 275 feet is the longest in baseball.” . . . Happy birthday, Che-Hsuan Lin (26).