The 89-win Mariners and the 91-win Indians are starting to dismantle their teams. So what’s going to be left for true contenders in the American League?
Is it just a three-team race among Boston, New York, and Houston?
Tampa Bay and Oakland won 90 and 97 games respectively, but they have become up-and-down franchises. Some years they’re really good and some years they’re not. The Rays signed veteran righthander Charlie Morton to a two-year, $30 million contract, which shows a willingness to compete. Oakland has rotation issues and has yet to re-sign their heart and soul player, Jed Lowrie.
It’s not a stretch to say the American League has gotten worse. Maybe there are opportunities for teams such as the Twins and White Sox to improve and have a better chance of unseating the Indians in the Central. But now there are as many teams dismantling than building up. How far are the teams building up — such as the Twins, White Sox, Rangers, and Angels — going to go?
And there are teams such as the Orioles, Royals, and Tigers who make no pretenses about rebuilding.
So the Red Sox have a great opportunity to repeat. The competition wasn’t great last season, which is why the Sox were able to win 108 regular-season games. They just demolished the non-competitive teams. No wonder attendance was down. Who wants to watch the Red Sox play the Orioles or the Tigers or anyone in the AL Central other than the Indians?
Something has to be done to address this. There’s simply too much tanking. The Seattle situation is ridiculous. You can’t win 89 games and not think if you make the right moves you could improve and make the postseason.
Related: Dave Dombrowski believes lack of activity at Winter Meetings hurts baseball
When so-called experts declare the 2018 Red Sox one of the great teams of all time, or the greatest Red Sox team, you really have to look deeper and consider who they were playing. Yes, the 108 wins was extraordinary. Yes, they were a great team, but . . . The Yankees and Astros were two very good teams last season and either could have won the World Series, but when you have two teams winning 100-plus games in the same division, a third winning 90 and the rest falling off the shelf, what’s that say about the competition?
Baseball really needs to get its act together. There’s too much tanking going on. The Indians have been a solid organization for a long time. To suddenly start peeling off pieces, and talking to teams about trading a great pitcher such as Corey Kluber, who is relatively inexpensive compared with pitchers of his success, is mind-boggling.
And it’s not just happening in the American League. The Arizona Diamondbacks, such a competitive team in the NL West, have now traded All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals and allowed Patrick Corbin to become a free agent and sign with the Washington Nationals.
Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen’s reality is he couldn’t afford to sign Goldschmidt or Corbin long term, leaving two gaping holes. The team also will lose center fielder A.J. Pollock. All of which has left manager Torey Lovullo having to piece things together.
“We believed that this could have been a possibility where we lost Paul. But I don’t think we’re in a rebuild or reload,” Lovullo said. “I think we still have some capable players that are going to help us win some baseball games. Where that lands, I’m not sure. I was attached to Paul, and it’s a once-in-a-generation player. I asked [Hazen] are you sure this is something that needs to be done? He would walk me through the steps and educated me and taught me as to why this had to happen for the organization. As I got more educated, I saw his point of view.”
Scott Servais also is dealing with managing a Seattle lineup and pitching staff that won’t look nearly the same as in 2018.
“We’ve given up a lot of great players,” Servais said about the losses of Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and James Paxton. “If we were to line up today with this club, I like our lineup. Maybe it’s not as potent as last year. But we’re not done in the offseason yet. But we’re looking long term, here. What’s best for the organization and how do we put ourselves in that upper echelon. You look at the American League right now, and what the Red Sox were able to do, we see Houston a lot, where the Yankees are at, what Oakland has done. Us taking a step back helps us catch up.”
Indians manager Terry Francona has predictably shrugged off comments that the team is tearing things down.
The Indians will lose free agent outfielder Michael Brantley and relievers Cody Allen and Andrew Miller. They traded All-Star catcher Yan Gomes to the Nationals and slugger Edwin Encarnacion to the Mariners. Kluber and Trevor Bauer are available in deals.
“I know I have faith,” Francona said about the Indians’ front office. ”I know like we’re sitting up there and I’m listening to all these conversations that they’re having, and it kind of made me think about like when a game’s over how they respond with me, through maybe some difficult times or frustrating nights. They’re always so supportive. So I kind of just try to be supportive because this is their area and they’re good at it. And they’ve proven they’re good at it. And at times under some challenging circumstances, they’re trying to keep us healthy, competitive for the future. For next year, for the year after that, for the year after that.
“And in my opinion they’ve done an outstanding job the last six years. But that doesn’t mean you stop. You don’t rest on your laurels. You don’t — but at least in my opinion I’ve got a lot of confidence in how they do things.
“I mean, I’ve seen the rumors. I would say so far 99.9 are not correct. I mean, [Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff] talk to every team. They do their due diligence, but I think that some of this stuff just — it’s the Winter Meetings. It gets a life of its own; that’s just the way it is,” he said.
The Indians obtained Carlos Santana from the Mariners in a swap for Encarnacion. Santana had been traded by Philadelphia to Seattle. Now there’s speculation the Mariners will flip Encarnacion to a contender who needs a slugger — such as Tampa Bay or Houston.
All of this activity is in the name of reducing payroll and long-term commitments. These teams make a ton of money and it’s a shame there’s this urgent need to dismantle and then rebuild. Some of the matchups and games are getting so lopsided they’re not worth watching.
Boston, New York, and Houston will dominate. Tampa Bay and Oakland will be competitive. Who knows now about the Indians and Mariners. Who knows about anything in this league anymore.
Apropos of nothing
1. Who was the J.D. Martinez of the Oakland A’s — the guy that offered intangibles and helped the rest of the offense as well as performing on his own? “I think Jed [Lowrie] was our guy last year for us,’’ A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “And the most experienced guy, switch-hitter, understands mechanics both sides, understands what he needs to do to be successful. But also understands the analytics, too. He understands launch angles and exit velocities and was a nice kind of player-coach for us to help [hitting coach Darren Bush] out with some of our younger guys, too. Yet to be determined whether or not we’ll have him back, but I would say if you’re picking a guy that was like that, it would be Jed for us.”
2. There’s a belief in Chicago that Joe Maddon could be managing his last season with the Cubs unless the team has major success in 2019. But Maddon doesn’t see it that way. “The concept that Theo [Epstein] and I have any kind of a disengagement or a lack of philosophical sameness is untrue,’’ Maddon said. “We have great conversations. And we’re definitely almost a hundred percent on the same page all the time. Philosophically we’re really aligned well. So when I have to answer those questions to my mom, that makes it more difficult. That’s what bums me out a little bit.”
3. New Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo was given the keys to a brand new car that has occupants such as the best prospect in baseball in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and other top prospects, such as Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette, who are likely to play in the big leagues during next season. “What this team reminds me a little bit of is Boston five years ago when Mookie Betts was there, and finished last, and look where they are now,’’ Montoyo said. “So that’s my hope. Boston, the team they have now, that all these kids become players like that. That’s my hope and I think that’s what’s going to happen.”
4. Colorado manager Bud Black was asked about this possibly being Bruce Bochy’s final year with the Giants after three World Series championships. “Well, I hope it’s not his last year,” Black said. “I truly mean that, because Bruce is great for the game. I think historically, what he’s done in his entire career, and more recently with the Giants, winning three world championships, that’s fantastic work. But my relationship with Bruce, especially the last number of years, has become a little closer. His impact has been a big one. I think a lot of other managers have looked at Bruce to see how he’s done things. And for me there’s been no better in-game manager strategically than Bruce. I always felt as though when the game started, there was never going to be a mistake on his side.”
5. Aaron Boone showed his respect for scouts when he attended the Scout of the Year award dinner at the Winter Meetings. Boone’s grandfather, Ray, was a longtime Red Sox scout. Boone, who won 100 games as the first-year Yankee manager, hopes to catch the Red Sox. “Obviously they were an unbelievable team this year, a monster,” Boone said. “But we also understand that we feel like we’re very much on level ground with them. We’ve obviously got areas that we need to improve to kind of close that gap but we feel like when we’re at our best we’re as good as any team in the world. What they did really well, I think from a lineup standpoint they were just so dynamic. Really balanced. MVP caliber seasons in what Mookie [Betts] and J.D. [Martinez] were able to do. You saw it manifest itself in the postseason with their ability to just get big hits in tough spots. The ability to also get the ball out of the ballpark. The ability to steal bases. Athletic group. It was a real dynamic offense. And I think it proved to be the best offense in the game throughout the year.”
Updates on nine
1. Joe Kelly, RHP, Dodgers – No question Kelly got a great deal from the Dodgers at three years, $25 million. His stuff will play even better in the National League, according to one American League executive who feels the weaker lineups will give Kelly a huge advantage. Kelly had 15 teams interested in his services. One problem: Kelly will disappear at times and has a history of hitting ruts.
2. Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations, Red Sox — Dombrowski isn’t alone in his recommendation to have the league impose free agent signing deadlines and trade deadlines in the offseason so the process doesn’t drag on. The lack of activity at the Winter Meetings is ridiculous. The league is getting bad publicity because the sport’s biggest winter showcase is resulting in minimal transactions. The free agent signing deadline should be the last day of the Winter Meetings. And if a player is not signed by then, then not until the beginning of spring training. Teams and agents have plenty of time between the end of the World Series until mid-December to figure out what they want to do.
3. A.J. Pollock, CF, free agent — Pollock leads a list of available outfielders after Andrew McCutchen was signed by the Phillies. Pollock makes sense for the Giants or Braves. The Giants need outfielders and offense and the Braves need to replace free agent Nick Markakis.
4. Nelson Cruz, DH, free agent — There’s a lot of speculation about where Cruz may end up. Two strong possibilities are Houston or Tampa Bay. The Astros always are looking for that veteran presence, which they got with Carlos Beltran in 2017 and Brian McCann last season. The Rays could use a power bat. Cruz hit 37 home runs last season with Seattle.
5. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, free agent — Nobody knows if Tulowitzki can resume his career after two heel surgeries. As one AL executive said, “We’d have to see him work out. I haven’t heard of any plans like that so far but for teams to feel comfortable that he can play any infield position, we’d have to see how he moves.” With Didi Gregorius out, the Yankees will monitor the Tulowitzki situation. The A’s, perhaps out of the Lowrie bidding, will also consider it. Tulowitzki recently was released by the Blue Jays after missing all of 2018. The Jays ate the remaining $38 million of his contract.
6. Craig Kimbrel, RHP, free agent — It only takes one team to dish out a five- or six-year deal for Kimbrel at $18 million per year, but teams are still deciding whether that type of commitment is prudent. The Cardinals, Phillies, and Braves have been mentioned most often. , but the market may take a while to develop for Kimbrel, who is the high-end reliever on the market.
7. J.T. Realmuto, catcher, Marlins — It appears the Marlins have somewhat lowered the asking price on their star catcher. The Mets, Reds, Rays, Braves, Yankees, and Padres are trying to piece together a package that makes sense. The Mets will give up one of their young players (Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo or Adam Rosario), but no more, according to a major league source. The Yankees would have to give up third baseman Miguel Andujar, which they seem willing to do, but right now the Mets seem to be the team that could get this done.
8. Wil Myers, OF, Padres — Myers may be one of the more attractive outfield trade bait guys out there. The Padres have made him available, but want a decent return. Again, the Giants and Braves may make the most sense. The Padres need a third baseman and if they can land one via trade, Myers would be the bait. Don’t be surprised if free agent Mike Moustakas is on San Diego’s radar.
9. Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, Yankees — Yankees boss Brian Cashman said last week that Ellsbury had drawn trade interest from at least one team. It appears the Yankees would eat a solid amount of the remaining $48 million on his deal.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Since 2006, Ian Kinsler has stolen 10-plus bases every season, the only player with 13 straight double-figure steal seasons since he became a major leaguer that year.” Also, “In the first 1,065 games of his career, the great Hall of Famer Frank Robinson hit .308 with 244 HR, 230 doubles, and had a .960 OPS. In the first 1,065 games of his career, the great future Hall of Fame candidate Mike Trout has hit .307 with 240 HR, 224 doubles, and has a .990 OPS.” Happy birthday, Mo Vaughn (51).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.