The General Managers Meetings start Monday in Phoenix. It’s the unofficial start of the hot stove season.
Traditionally, it’s a time for investigating what is possible on the trade market. But with so many teams in a position to contend, deals could come sooner than what is usually the case.
Executives are wary, if not weary, about the idea of free agency stretching into January and February.
That Scott Boras represents so many prominent free agents — Nicholas Castellanos, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Mike Moustakas, Anthony Rendon, Hyn-Jin Ryu, and Stephen Strasburg — makes that likely.
Here’s a look at the needs of all 30 teams as the offseason gets going:
Blue Jays: Now that Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio are in the majors, Toronto can’t waste their talent. The Jays need two reliable starters and some better defensive outfielders. With three contending teams in the division, sitting back won’t work for them any more.
Orioles: Don’t expect much. General manager Mike Elias will take another 108 losses as he improves the staff and infrastructure of the organization. This is a long-term project. But Baltimore needs a starting pitcher or two to maintain some degree of competitiveness.
Rays: Tampa Bay won 96 games last season, one off the franchise record. They need subtle improvements, like a better catcher and some righthanded power. Their nature is not to stand pat.
Red Sox: The overall need for new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is to trim the payroll. The on-field needs are a No. 5 starter and a lefthanded-hitting utility player to replace Brock Holt, unless they feel Marco Hernandez can handle it. A backup catcher also could be on the list.
Yankees: Brian Cashman couldn’t sign Cole as a draft pick then missed out on him in the trade market. Now Cole is a free agent and the Yankees need rotation help.
Indians: The door isn’t closing on Cleveland quite yet. They need outfield help with Yasiel Puig going to free agency. Their rotation depth could present a good trade match with the Red Sox.
Royals: New ownership and a new manager in Mike Matheny suggest 2020 will be a season in which Kansas City stays in its rebuild. Their rotation was dreadful and the bullpen needs help. If Alex Gordon retires, a corner outfielder also will be a priority.
Tigers: Detroit needs everything after losing 114 games and getting outscored by an astonishing 333 runs. As one rival executive said, it feels hopeless there.
Twins: A first-round knockout after 101 wins was a disappointment. But virtually the entire lineup returns. Starting pitching is the issue with Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, and Michael Pineda all free agents. They started 85 games. The Twins need starters. How about David Price or Chris Sale?
White Sox: Chicago needs lineup thump, even if free agent Jose Abreu returns. They were 13th in the league in runs and home runs last season. There’s money to spend in free agency and other teams feel Chicago could leap up and sign a premier player such as Castellanos.
Angels: They didn’t hire 65-year-old Joe Maddon to manage more rebuilding. The Angels need to make some splashy moves. Shohei Ohtani is set to return to the rotation after Tommy John surgery. But they’ll be chasing Cole, who grew up a few miles away. Strasburg also fits. It’s all about the rotation.
Astros: Houston is too disciplined to come up with the money it would take to retain Cole, so a starter will be needed. Their lineup and bullpen seems set.
Athletics: Oakland could do little more than tweak its bullpen and be set for 2020. There’s a deep group of starters and the lineup is locked down. Their biggest issue is managing the 40-man roster.
Mariners: The rotation needs patching and forever-rebuilding general manager Jerry DiPoto will look for trades that make sense. Seattle has not played a postseason game since 2001. You’d think there’d be more urgency.
Rangers: A new ballpark and payroll space suggests Texas will be active in free agency. They need pitching, outfielders, and a third baseman. Other teams believe they will be after Josh Donaldson.
Braves: Atlanta is positioned to win the division again. If Donaldson leaves as a free agent, they’ll need a third baseman. They’ve been tied to free agent lefthander Madison Bumgarner, who is from North Carolina
Marlins: They have traded for a lot of young talent but are still sorting out the major league roster. Miami scored only 615 runs last season and will lose Starlin Castro (22 homers, 86 RBIs) to free agency. This is one team that would welcome older free agents with some power.
Mets: The bullpen requires a lot of work with closer Edwin Diaz proving untrustworthy. The Mets also need outfield help. There are so many connections with the Red Sox that a trade between the teams could make sense for both sides.
Nationals: The defending champions want to retain free agents Rendon and Strasburg. GM Mike Rizzo could address the bullpen now instead of waiting to July. Early indications are that Strasburg is amenable to a deal.
Phillies: Joe Girardi will be the fifth manager in eight seasons and the franchise hasn’t had a winning record since 2011. Signing Bryce Harper for $330 million doesn’t make much sense unless you get him some help. The Phillies need a better rotation and Zack Wheeler would be a good fit.
Brewers: Milwaukee needs corner infielders. Moustakas is a free agent and Travis Shaw could be non-tendered rather than be paid $4.7 million through arbitration. The rotation needs a boost. Milwaukee also needs a catcher with Yasmani Grandal choosing free agency and shortstop is a hole.
Cardinals: St. Louis will return a solid lineup. Even if Adam Wainwright returns, they’ll need a starter. Left fielder Marcell Ozuna is a free agent and has said he wants to return. But the Cardinals could upgrade there.
Cubs: Chicago stayed with the same players and will try a new manager in David Ross. They primarily need a center fielder, but other teams feel Theo Epstein is open to shaking up the core group.
Pirates: Pittsburgh will arrive at the GM Meetings without a GM or a manager. Their new team president, Travis Williams, comes from an NHL background. The Pirates need rotation help and a new closer with Felipe Vazquez in jail facing sexual assault charges. More than anything else, they need somebody to set the right course.
Reds: Cincinnati has been actively changing its roster since last winter seeking a contender. The Reds have a solid rotation but need a boost offensively. Jackie Bradley Jr., who feels like a better fit in the NL, is a possibility.
Diamondbacks: GM Mike Hazen has set Arizona up for long-term success. Some added bullpen depth would make sense along with an upgrade in right field with Adam Jones going back into free agency.
Giants: President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is prioritizing hiring a new manager and adding a GM to his staff. As for the roster, San Francisco will likely need to replace free agent Madison Bumgarner. They also need a corner outfielder.
Dodgers: Los Angeles won 106 games and returns all of its key lineup pieces. Ryu is a free agent, but is comfortable with the Dodgers. They could seek rotation help even if Ryu returns. Beyond that, the bullpen is a need.
Padres: San Diego added Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado the last two seasons and remained one of the worst teams in the game. GM A.J. Preller fired manager Andy Green and hired Jayce Tingler, a player development executive from the Rangers. They need a rotation piece and a new center fielder. A better sense of direction would help, too.
Rockies: Colorado is an unbalanced team, one loaded with good hitters and desperate for pitching. Their payroll issues do not suggest any high-profile free agents coming in. Their best venue could be the trade market.
Opportunity for Red Sox prospects
Red Sox prospects C.J. Chatham, Bobby Dalbec, Tanner Houck, and Noah Song are in Japan with Team USA for the second round of the Premier12 tournament.
Dalbec was 4 for 11 with two home runs and six RBIs in the first round. Chatham was 2 for 7. Song pitched two scoreless innings in relief and struck out three while Houck made one start and allowed two earned runs over 4⅓ innings with six strikeouts.
Team USA has games scheduled against South Korea (Monday), Japan (Tuesday), Australia (Wednesday), and Taiwan (Friday).
The guess here is that the Team USA experience will be a launching pad for Dalbec in spring training.
Two spots in the Olympics are up for grabs in the tournament. That excludes Japan, which has always qualified as the host team. Because Olympic berths are based on geography, the US needs only to finish higher than Mexico to qualify.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
■ Alex Cora traveled to England this weekend to see two Premier League matches, Chelsea-Crystal Palace on Saturday and Liverpool-Manchester City on Sunday.
It’s a bit of a working trip for Cora, who is an admirer of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp and City manager Pep Guardiola. In different ways, both are known for getting the most out of their rosters and Cora hopes to spend time talking to them. Premier League teams are innovators in sports science and there’s much to be gained for baseball teams given the scheduling demands of both sports.
■ The Bill James Handbook arrived Thursday and was full of thought-provoking revelations. Among them was that Xander Bogaerts was the worst shortstop in the majors last season in terms of defensive runs saved. He graded out at minus-21 under the adjusted formula.
Data is incontrovertible. But as somebody who has watched 85 percent of the major league games Bogaerts has played in person, he’s unquestionably better defensively than he was a few years ago and, at worst, is a reliable shortstop.
Bogaerts was hurt last season by the Sox using eight second basemen for at least one start, none for more than 56. He also had occasional issues, especially in the second half, with Rafael Devers getting a little too rambunctious with his range to the left.
On the plus side, Bogaerts hit .374 in close and late situations, second in the American League to Tim Anderson of the White Sox (.385).
The Handbook also showed the Rays used a four-man outfield 48 times in 2019. The Red Sox never did that once. Bet that changes under Chaim Bloom. The Sox also were among the 12 teams who didn’t use an opener.
The Sox had bullpen games, to be certain. But they never used a reliever to open before bringing in a starter.
Also of note: Mookie Betts had 96 “long-ball outs” of at least 330 feet. Only Arizona’s Eduardo Escobar, with 121, had more. The Sox led the majors with 767 unproductive outs. Those come when a batter fails to advance a runner on base, excluding the final out of an inning.
Cora made 632 pitching changes, the most in the majors and 97 fewer than the previous season. Cora also issued 22 intentional walks (up from eight in 2018). Of the 22, 14 worked but six led to multiple runs scoring.
Andrew Benintendi had a 1.476 OPS against curveballs.
The projections have David Price (10-7, 3.99, 27 starts) and Chris Sale (12-6, 3.12 in 28 starts) bouncing back. But not Nate Eovaldi (6-7, 4.58 in 22 starts).
The projections are not too high on Eduardo Rodriguez (12-10 4.00).
The Handbook is highly recommended and you’ll refer to it for months. You can find it online easily enough or go right to actasports.com.
■ Raquel Ferreira, Eddie Romero, and Zack Scott will join Bloom and Brian O’Halloran at the GM Meetings.
Pitching coaches change with times
There used to be one model for pitching coaches. They were middle-aged former pitchers who had at least some taste of professional ball and could get along with the manager.
Now? Throw that all out.
The Red Sox named 39-year-old Dave Bush as their pitching coach this offseason. He indeed played parts of nine seasons in the majors but then he veered off to coach at Bridgton Academy in Maine and work with the Chinese and South African national teams before joining the Sox as a pitching development analyst, a post that incorporated biomechanics and analytics as teaching and development tools.
The Yankees dropped Larry Rothschild after nine seasons and hired 33-year-old Matt Blake as their pitching coach. He has no professional playing experience but got into baseball after playing at Holy Cross then becoming a pitching coach at Lincoln-Sudbury High and the Cape Cod League. He also worked with Eric Cressey, a player development and conditioning guru.
Blake joined the Indians in 2016 assistant director of player development with a focus on pitching. The Yankees will be his first job that requires a uniform. The Yankees also considered four college pitching coaches for the job along with David Cone, one of their broadcasters. Teams recognize that for hitting and pitching coaches, the primary skill is the ability to translate all the information available into something that can help a particular player. Not to relate back to his experiences in the game.
The Twins promoted Milton native Alex Hassan to director of player development. Hassan, 31, was drafted by the Red Sox in 2009 and made it to the majors for three games in 2014 before bouncing around to five other organizations. He retired from playing in 2016 and joined the Twins the following season . . . Twenty-two of the 30 teams in the majors have been to the postseason over the last five seasons. The outliers are the Angels, Mariners, Marlins, Padres, Phillies, Reds, Tigers, and White Sox . . . Happy birthday to Bob Stanley, who is 65. The Steamer was 15-2 with a 2.60 ERA over 52 games and 141⅔ innings as a 23-year-old for the Red Sox in 1978. He started three of those games and was 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA and went 21 innings. Then in 1982 he pitched a team record 168⅓ innings in relief. If a manager tried that now with a reliever he’d get arrested. Birthday wishes as well to Butch Huskey (48) and Larry Parrish (66). Parrish hit 256 career home runs, 17 against Hall of Famers, including four off Tom Seaver.