The AL East has become a division of haves and have-nots
The American League East is looking like it could turn into a two-team race, and it appears to be losing its status as the premier division in Major League Baseball.
As one AL executive handicaps it at this moment, “The Yankees as currently constituted are a seven-game leader over the Red Sox. If the Red Sox should wind up with Manny Machado or J.D. Martinez, then they’d probably cut that by two or three games.”
Besides worrying about the Yankees, the Red Sox need to worry about their own market. Boston is a Patriots town, for sure, but it’s also becoming a huge Celtics town. The Red Sox need to create excitement to at least stay No. 2 in the market.
As for the Orioles, Blue Jays, and Rays? The offseason is far from over. There’s plenty of time left and plenty of players available who would help teams, as Sinatra once said, “to get back in the race.”
The Orioles may get the pitching help they seek should they deal Machado, but they’d be losing one of the premier talents in baseball. After a couple of weeks of soliciting teams’ best offers, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette hasn’t found a package to his liking.
Baltimore also lost a trade chip in closer Zach Britton, who last week ruptured his Achilles’ during a workout and needs six months to recover. His injury creates a bigger workload for relievers Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, and Darren O’Day and takes them off the trade market as well.
The Orioles are banking on better seasons from Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, and Adam Jones. Jones, like Machado and Britton, is a free agent at the end of the season, and that could lead to a better all-around season by the veteran center fielder.
The Rays traded the longtime face of their franchise, Evan Longoria, to the Giants. Longoria will be missed in the AL East, as he always brought his A-game against division rivals and made the Rays a compelling team. This is a big break for the Red Sox. Over the last three seasons, no one had as many extra-base hits against Boston as Longoria, who had 22 doubles and 10 home runs. The Rays may also deal away ace Chris Archer for prospects.
The Jays have been linked to free agent outfielder Jay Bruce, who would give them much-needed lefthanded power and a replacement for Jose Bautista in right field. The Jays need a big bat, and their rotation could use another arm to go with Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Joe Biagini, and Marco Estrada, with the possibility of moving Biagini back to the bullpen.
There has been talk of Toronto dealing Josh Donaldson, who can be a free agent after the season, as third baseman/outfielder Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is about a year away from a full-time job. The Jays have also received a lot of inquiries about closer Roberto Osuna.
The Red Sox re-signed first baseman Mitch Moreland to a two-year deal, but they still need a home run hitter and run producer to help them score enough runs to compete with the Yankees. The Red Sox may be looking to add a lefty reliever, but after they acquire a bopper they would appear to be done this offseason.
The Yankees re-signed CC Sabathia for a bargain deal of one year at $10 million, and they will add one more starting pitcher to the mix. The New York Post reported last week that the Yanks were closing in on Pirates righty Gerrit Cole, potentially offering up a package that includes third baseman Miguel Andujar and pitcher Chance Adams.
The Yankees already have a solid rotation, and they have perhaps the best bullpen in baseball. They would like to move Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract, even if they have to absorb a good chunk of the $68 million remaining. The Giants are seen as a possible suitor with their need for a center fielder and leadoff hitter. Ellsbury has a full no-trade clause, but he might waive it for the Giants to be closer to his home state of Oregon.
The Yankees could also be in talks on Machado. Imagine a lineup with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and Machado? Imagine Machado at third base with Didi Gregorius at shortstop? It would be a case of the rich getting richer, but the Yankees have what the Orioles want — young starting pitching.
League experts think the AL East may turn out similar to how it went last season, except for a possible flip-flop of the Yankees and Red Sox atop the standings. The Red Sox need to advance further than the Division Series after two straight first-round exits under John Farrell. But Alex Cora is expected to have more offensive firepower and a healthy David Price in the rotation, so he should have a jump-start on that goal.
The AL Central could also turn into a two-team race between the Indians and Twins. The Royals, Tigers, and White Sox are in various rebuilding stages.
The AL West, on the other hand, could be a deep division. While the World Series champion Astros are still the top team by far, the Angels made huge strides with the signings of Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani and third baseman Zack Cozart and the trade for second baseman Ian Kinsler. The Mariners may also compete for a playoff spot after adding Dee Gordon to play center field and Ryon Healy to play first base.
The Rangers, coming off a disappointing season, have added Mike Minor, Matt Moore, and Doug Fister to their pitching staff and are also discussing a possible reunion with free agent Yu Darvish.
The Astros have added to their bullpen with Hector Rondon and Joe Smith, but there’s talk about Houston pursuing an elite starting pitcher in free agency, such as Darvish or Jake Arrieta.
Apropos of nothing
1. Must be tough to go from receiving a career’s worth of adulation in New York to being booed every time he’s at an event in Miami. But that’s Derek Jeter’s world as part-owner and new man in charge of the Marlins. Jeter’s trade of Giancarlo Stanton has not gone over well in Miami. Nor have his trades of Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon. Looks like Christian Yelich could be the next to go. The Marlins have a long rebuild ahead.
2. The annual Boston Baseball Writers Dinner is Jan. 18 at the Boston Marriott Copley Place. Tim Wakefield is being honored with the prestigious Judge Emil Fuchs Award for long and meritorious service to baseball. The Astros’ George Springer (Cheshire, Conn.) is the New England Player of the Year, and Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis, who came back from treatment for testicular cancer, won the Tony Conigliaro Award. Much more to come on the honorees, including several Red Sox players and personnel.
3. It’s kind of a big deal that MLB and Beijing Enterprises Real-Estate Group announced a 10-year relationship to grow the game in China. The pact is designed to result in a significant increase in baseball facilities, meeting the country’s growing demand as participation in the sport continues to rise. The partnership will build nearly two dozen MLB-branded baseball facilities throughout China, providing world-class facilities for student-athletes in grades 7-12, combining a mainstream school curriculum with baseball skills development. The current development centers have already produced prospects Xu Guiyuan (Orioles), Hai-Cheng Gong (Pirates), and Justin Qiang (Red Sox).
4. It turns out that although the Red Sox were interested in Carlos Santana, they never made him an offer. They settled on re-signing Mitch Moreland at first base with the thinking they’d also pursue a home run threat.
5. One guy who deserves a merry Christmas — Jerry Remy. He’s about halfway through radiation treatment for lung cancer after a short respite from chemotherapy. Remy reports he’s doing well and hopes to be ready to go by spring training.
6. You’d think that DHs would be really good hitters. Then why is it that among DHs who had at least 200 plate appearances last season, only one hit over .300 — the Rays’ Corey Dickerson (.319). Nelson Cruz (38) and Edwin Encarnacion (31) were the only DHs with at least 30 home runs. Cruz (114) and Albert Pujols (100) were the only ones with at least 100 RBIs.
7. I think I like the Cardinals getting Ozuna from the Marlins more than I like the Yankees getting Stanton from the Marlins.
8. The Angels might be the most improved team of the offseason so far.
9. I was surprised on a couple of fronts with John Farrell, including that the Red Sox didn’t offer him an adviser role after he was fired.
10. This is interesting as it applies to a new hitting approach by the Red Sox. The Sox were at the bottom of the AL in average when swinging at the first pitch (.316). Alex Cora will attempt to change that philosophy in his first year of managing. He wants Sox hitters to be more aggressive. Often, that first offering is right down the middle of the plate. So swing!
11. Lefty Henry Owens was picked up by Arizona on waivers after the Red Sox took him off the 40-man roster, but then the Diamondbacks quickly dropped him when they signed Japanese reliever Yoshihisa Hirano. Owens was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers.
Updates on nine
1. Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles — The most substantive trade talks seem to be with the Cubs; Addison Russell, Albert Almora, and Mike Montgomery were reportedly discussed in a package. The Red Sox and Yankees have interest, but to this point nether team has discussed names that have moved the needle for Baltimore. One major league source said, “The Red Sox like Manny.”
2. Jay Bruce, OF, free agent — Toronto and San Francisco remain possible landing spots for the lefthanded hitter. Bruce would fit nicely with the Giants, who are looking for a lefthanded bat after trading for Evan Longoria. Jacoby Ellsbury also remains a possibility for the Giants, but there’s always the injury factor to consider, and the Giants really need to get younger, which is why they have interest in Jackie Bradley Jr.
3. Jason Kipnis, 2B/OF, Indians — Cleveland is looking to move Kipnis, but second base openings are drying up. The Mets could be a possible destination.
4. Mike Moustakas, 3B, free agent — Hard to see where the market for him is right now, but the Yankees, Mets, Indians, or Braves could bite. Moustakas is from Southern California, but the Angels filled their third base need by signing Zack Cozart and the Giants went with Longoria. Moustakas could fit with the Yankees, who are righthanded heavy.
5. Alex Avila, C, free agent — Avila should get some looks. The Nationals are likely to consider him for depth after Matt Wieters had a disappointing season.
6. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, free agent — The Braves designated him for assignment after acquiring him in the Matt Kemp trade and are on the hook for his $22.5 million salary. The Mets have shown interest in Gonzalez, and there’s talk of him retiring. But if his back holds up, he’ll likely play in 2018 and would only cost a team the major league minimum.
7. Dee Gordon, CF, Mariners — Many scouts are skeptical about Gordon’s ability to play center field. “From a speed point of view, absolutely he can track down balls, but as far as the nuances of the position, it’ll be a challenge,” said one longtime scout. Would the Mariners flip him? That’s a possibility. They certainly love his speed, his ability to steal bases, and his presence at the top of the lineup.
8. Tim Naehring, vice president of player personnel, Yankees — With general manager Brian Cashman reupping with a five-year deal, it won’t be long before Naehring also gets a multiyear deal. The former Red Sox infielder has been a big part of many decisions made by the Yankees front office the past few years.
9. Todd Frazier, 3B/1B, free agent — He still appears to be on the Yankees’ radar, but he could also be a fallback plan for teams such as the Red Sox, Braves, Mets, and Padres. Frazier was someone the Red Sox discussed at the trade deadline. He picked up his game later in the season with the Yankees, and he’d love a reunion being a Jersey boy.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Crunch-time duos: From Aug. 19 to the end of the regular season, Luis Severino (4-1, 2.28 ERA) and CC Sabathia (5-0, 2.91) went a combined 9-1 with a 2.61 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Drew Pomeranz (5-2, 3.35) and Doug Fister (3-3, 4.24) were Boston’s best in that period, a combined 8-5 with a 3.81 ERA and 1.25 WHIP.” . . . Also, “Last season, Jackie Bradley Jr. from the sixth inning on hit .217 in 256 plate appearances with 24 RBIs in 133 games. Leading off an inning he hit .213 (.260 OBP). With the bases empty he hit .206. He was plus-3 in Defensive Runs Saved; Mookie Betts was plus-27” . . . Happy birthday on Christmas Day to Hideki Okajima (42) and Rickey Henderson (59).