Being home to one of the better known and somewhat hostile rivalries in baseball, if not all major sports leagues, the AL East has some of the heaviest spending teams in MLB. This usually means that a blockbuster trade will occur every offseason from one of these teams. Since 2000, the Yankees and Red Sox have had one of the top 10 largest payrolls in MLB. Let’s be honest, it’s probably easier to count the number of seasons when the Yankees didn’t have the largest payroll in the league than when they did. However, championships can’t simply be bought. You can probably argue that a big payroll is a contributing factor towards winning a championship but that’s a discussion for another day.
To say the Boston Red Sox had pitching headaches last season is like saying that President Obama gets annoyed by Congressional standoffs. Clay Buchholz doesn’t quite have the stuff to be the ace in the rotation but he’s definitely a viable 2-3 man when he can stay healthy. So in classic AL East fashion, the Red Sox smashed the piggy bank to pick up David Price, as solid an ace as you can find. There might be mixed reactions about the third year opt-out clause but it seems like a good incentive to get the best out of Price in the next few years.
David Price is the biggest signing in the AL East this offseason, will he have a major impact at Fenway in 2016? (Fred Thornhill-Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports)
This move really overshadows the acquisition of some bullpen help in Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith to support Koji Uehara. David Ortiz’s impending retirement leaves questions about how they’re going to hit next season but this might be one of the better off-season pitching overhauls. Maybe we’ll see some of Boston’s speedsters go for more stolen bases knowing that their pitching staff will keep the pressure on the other side.
The Yankees are the best known team in MLB for throwing down money to get hot free agents or make monumental trades. Since acquiring the services of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, big money moves started slowing down since it didn’t seem like the money was making the Yankees any more competitive than they had been.
With that said, the acquisitions of Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman are fairly conservative moves by a team that stumbled into the playoffs and handily defeated by a dominant Dallas Keuchel leading the surging Houston Astros. Castro actually addresses a problem issue for the Yankees in their struggles to make contact and generate runs. Didi Gregorius is a fine defensive SS but the Yankees have been accustomed to a productive hitter at SS for so long that they just weren’t built for this. Maybe, similar to A-Rod moving to 3B when joining, Castro will make a transition and play 2B. The Yankees should try to keep Gregorius on the field though.
Starlin Castro should help produce the hits and score the runs the Yankees need. (www.articles.chicagotribune.com)
Aroldis Chapman may seem like damaged goods but the Yankees run a pretty tight ship. So we’ll see if Chapman is deserving of a the benefit of the doubt/second chance because if he can’t keep his personal life under control as a Yankee then there’s no place that will be able to do it. This pick up seems more like taking advantage of an opportunity than addressing a problem. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances already made up one of the toughest bullpens to get through. Bringing in Chapman means that the Yankees now have all of the closers that racked up more than 100 Ks in the 2015 season into one bullpen. At the very least, the Yankees have trade fodder to address other issues next season if they need to do some gut-check work during the trade windows.
Toronto Blue Jays
BL – The Blue Jays have heavy hitting and practically lapped the rest of the league in run differential for the season. There’s a lot of infield position play by coalition and David Price’s departure from the rotation leaves a hole for a genuine elite ace. Something Toronto needs to be a serious playoff contender. Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison are young and either may develop into a solid ace but it’s too early to tell. Troy Tulowitzki probably isn’t the answer at shortstop but maybe Toronto’s trainers can find a way to keep from needing so many days off.
Marcus Stroman could be the ace the Blue Jays need to complement their offense. (www.forums.prosportsdaily.com)
DJ – Toronto was a machine in 2015, but, run hard enough, all machines eventually break down. The Blue Jays did not make it to the World Series, but should be a contender again in 2016. Starting pitching needs to be the focus this offseason. Toronto did get 28 or more starts out of four starters in 2015, however Drew Hutchison struggled. He only pitched 148 innings with a 5.47 ERA. Mark Buehrle was his usual workhorse making 32 starts and pitching 198.2 innings, however he is now a free agent contemplating retirement. David Price only made 11 starts for the Blue Jays, but he was dominant in those starts. R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada are the foundation for this rotation and the return of Marcus Stroman from injury gives them three solid pitchers. Hutchison could be in the mix for the fifth starter, but this still leaves the Blue Jays short of an ace. Toronto would be smart to look at signing a pitcher like Yovani Gallardo or Justin Masterson. An ace like David Price is tough to come by, but a Dickey, Estrada, and potentially Stroman could be the de facto ace for the Blue Jays.
BL – At the start of the 2015 season, I really thought the Orioles would win the AL East. I can’t explain the early or late season losing streaks. Perhaps Baltimore entered the season a little too cocky and expected things to simply fall into place. Inconsistency at catcher between Caleb Joseph and Matt Wieters could not have been easy for the rotation to deal with. If the Orioles can steady that position up and get some team psychologists to keep the team on an even keel, next season could be a great one for Baltimore.
Matt Weiters needs to return to his All Star and Gold Glove ways to help the Orioles compete in the AL East. (Photo by: Todd Olszewski)
DJ – The Orioles starting pitching ate up plenty of innings in 2015. Ubaldo Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, and Chris Tillman all made at least 31 starts and pitched at least 173 innings. However with a combined 4.12 ERA the trio were 34-29. Jimenez led the team with 12 wins with Chen and Tillman contributing 11 wins each. If Baltimore is going to compete for the AL East in 2016, their starters need to find ways to win more games. Any easy way to win more games is for the starters to pitch deeper into games. Jimenez, Chen, and Tillman averaged less than 6 innings per start. The Orioles need the majority of their rotation to pitch at least 6 innings per start in order preserve the bullpen and save those arms for close games and late in the season.
Tampa Bay Rays
BL – They’re not the Miami Marlins, but the Tampa Bay Rays haven’t been really great to their fan base over the years by consistently trading away some great pitching and fielding talent. I’m continually surprised that Evan Longoria is still there. It’s not in quite as dramatic a fashion as the Marlins’ fire sales after every World Series win but the Rays are consistently bleeding themselves into talent anemia. Chris Archer can anchor a rotation and a bullpen boasting a scrappy closer like Brad Boxberger means there’s development potential here. Manager Kevin Cash needs to pick a direction for the batting lineup then adjust the rest of the team accordingly.
Kevin Kiermaier’s Gold Glove defense is just as vital as his bat for the Rays to be successful. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/ Getty Images)
DJ – Tampa Bay needs a leadoff hitter. The Rays had 22 different players bat leadoff in 2015. Combined these players hit .258. Only Brandon Guyer played at least 50 games batting leadoff, and he hit .274 with a .379 OBP. The logical choice for the Rays would be to move Guyer or Kevin Kiermaier there permanently. Guyer hit .265 overall in 2015 with a .359 OBP, 10 SB, and only 61 SO in 332 AB. Kiermaier hit .263, with a .298 OBP, 18 SB, and 95 SO in 505 AB. The stability at the top of the lineup could trickle down the order. Tampa Bay has to manufacture runs to support the pitching staff. Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe provide the power. If Guyer and/or Kiermaier can get on ahead of them, the offense could combine with the pitching staff to balance the Rays overall team approach.
BL & DJ
The New York Yankees signed Chase Headley to a 4 year contract worth $52 million. This solidifies the Yankees at third through 2018. When the deal was announced, ESPN’s Buster Olney made the observation that this meant the Yankees did not have an everyday role for Alex Rodriguez. The 2015 Yankees would have a lineup of CF Jacoby Ellsbury, LF Brett Gardner, 2B Martin Prado, 3B Chase Headley, DH Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, RF Chris Young, SS Didi Gregorius.
Notice anyone missing from the Yankee lineup? What about Alex Rodriguez? Where will Rodriguez fit into the Yankees plans for 2015 and beyond? At this point in his career, Rodriguez has three options as far as playing. He can continue at third, move to first, or be the DH.
At third, Rodriguez will most likely serve as the backup for Headley. As a switch hitter, Headley will not yield at bats to Rodriguez based upon match ups. However, even if Headley were to get hurt or needs a day off, the Yankees could have moved Prado from second to third to keep the defense in the infield solid and give some time at second to young Jose Pirela. Prado’s trade to the Marlins means Pirela or Brendan Ryan will be at second. I believe the Yankees should put Pirela at second and have Ryan as the infield back up. The Yankees need some sort of youth movement if they are to continue playing competitively moving forward. Honestly, as Rodriguez approaches his 40-year-old season, after a year away from the game, and the preceding year cut short by yet another hip injury, it is doubtful Rodriguez still has the range to play an average third base defensively. Third seems does not look like a home, even temporarily, for Rodriguez.
At first base, Rodriguez would either be the backup to Mark Teixeira or platoon with him. I would vote to avoid the platoon. When healthy, Teixeira is a major asset to the Yankees and their success. A potential hindrance for Rodriguez at first could be if the Yankees try to begin transitioning Brian McCann from behind the plate to first, which they should. Teixeira only has two years remaining on his contract, so the Yankees will have to begin the process of finding his replacement either from their system, through trade or free agency, or from their roster. The Yankees need the most from their investment in McCann and continuing to catch will reduce his playing time and effectiveness. As a lefty, McCann’s power to the right field porch should give him an edge over Rodriguez. Again, Rodriguez’s hips and age, plus the move to a new position could greatly hinder his ability to play an average first base defensively.
As the DH, Rodriguez is facing some stiff competition. Carlos Beltran seems to be the preferred DH for the Yankees. Beltran is a switch hitter, this he will not be pinch hit for due to matchups late in games. Even when Beltran plays the outfield to give Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Chris Young a day off this does not mean there is an opening at DH. Any of these outfielders could be the DH instead of Beltran. Additionally, when Beltran needs a day off, McCann could DH, so could Teixeira, and Headley. Rodriguez has to six players to jump over to claim at bats as the DH. Strangely, this is his best option for at bats.
These three positions do not leave Rodriguez many opportunities to play every day. At this point in his career the likelihood of Rodriguez’s health allows him to play every day are growing smaller and smaller. He has essentially missed the past two seasons; it may be difficult for Rodriguez to rebound. He played 44 games in 2013 due to injury and served a suspension for all of the 2014 season. In addition to the aches and pains of entering his 40-year-old season, Rodriguez has undergone multiple hip surgeries. This has hampered his speed, range, and his ability to stay on the field. Rodriguez is showing his age and the impact of 20 seasons in Major League Baseball.
Rodriguez is not the same player he once was before his troubles with his hip, a PED suspension, and his popularity taking a nosedive. He has not hit above .276 since 2009. Rodriguez has played an average of 110 games a season since 2008, without playing more than 138 in any season, excluding his suspension for all of 2014. During his last three seasons played (2011-2013), Rodriguez has no more than 18 home runs and 62 RBIs in a season. His Offensive WAR has gone down every year since 2007, from a high of 9.5 to 0.8. Only once since 2005 has Rodriguez been above a 1.0 Defensive WAR, with four of those seasons being in the negative. He has only been over a 2.0 Defensive WAR once, in 2000 at 2.3. Clearly, his skills have deteriorated.
Alex Rodriguez was once one of the best players in all of Major League Baseball. However, growing older, injuries, PED use and suspension, and becoming the face of what is wrong with the game have left Rodriguez as a tired act. He is in the swan song of his career, and he has becoming the most polarizing figure in the game. Rodriguez is approaching some of the most hallowed numbers in the sport, which should create a buzz about the 2015 season. Instead, his march into history pains those who love this game. He sits 61 hits shy of 3,000. He is 6 home runs away from tying Willie Mays, 60 away from Babe Ruth, and 101 away from Hank Aaron. He currently has a career batting average of .299, if he has one more good year at the plate he could assure himself a .300 career batting average. He is 81 runs short of scoring 2,000 for his career. He is 31 RBI short of 2,000 for his career. All of these statistics place Rodriguez in the upper echelon of baseball history, but primarily through his own doing, many in baseball simply want him to go away.
Alex Rodriguez has served his time. Regardless if you think he should have gotten more or less time, or wish he had received a permanent ban from the game, Rodriguez will not be the last player to cut corners to gain an advantage over his competition. Hopefully, Rodriguez will be the final chapter of the Steroid era on the field. Rodriguez is a sad figure, much in the same way Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have become. These players had Hall of Fame caliber talent, but they tried to hang on to their skills through various forms of cheating, and in so doing so they have ruined their legacies. Alex Rodriguez has earned more than $356 million, and unless he and the Yankees can reach an agreement to part ways, his earnings will surpass $400 million, which is the most career earnings in baseball history. Derek Jeter earned $265 million, the second highest career earnings in baseball history, the difference in the legacies of Rodriguez and Jeter are night and day. Will the extra $100 to $150 million Rodriguez will earn be worth it?
The return of Alex Rodriguez will soon be upon us, whether we like it or not. There does not seem to be many at bats awaiting him with the Yankees as he attempts to chase down some of the biggest names in baseball history. Does Rodriguez belong in the same conversation as the greats like Mays, Ruth, Aaron, Clemente, Gehrig, Williams? Statistically yes. On the field he has proven for 20 seasons he has Hall of Fame caliber skills and can do it all with the bat. No player ever accidentally amasses the sort of numbers he has collected.
Does Rodriguez belong alongside these Hall of Famers in terms of class? Not even close. He has cheated multiple times, and continues to play the victim. You can argue he is no better than Mays and his reported use of amphetamines, but what makes Rodriguez different is the amphetamines do not alter your abilities, steroids do. He admitted to using PEDs from 2001 through 2003. While we can debate whether one believes that after 2003 Rodriguez discontinued his use of PEDs, what is not up for debate is his admission to using them during these three seasons. These also, consequently were the most prolific three year span of his career. In 2010, Rodriguez was connected to Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who at best has a checkered past with the law enforcement for providing and administering PEDs to elite athletes. The latest run in for Rodriguez has been through his association with Biogenesis and Anthony Bosch. While Rodriguez never failed a drug test, Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Rodriguez for 211 games, later reduced to the 2014 season. Major League Baseball suspended Rodriguez:
“for use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances…over the course of multiple years” and “for attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.”
The crime gets you in trouble; the cover up is what tears you down. Rodriguez later admitted to the Drug Enforcement Administration that he had indeed used PEDs. Rodriguez has a pattern of cheating, even after the installation of the Major League Baseball Drug Policy. Everyone makes mistakes, however Rodriguez does not seem to have learned from his mistakes.
It seems three strikes does not mean Alex Rodriguez is out. He has three seasons remaining on his contract with the Yankees. He has become so toxic within baseball, and outside of baseball, that after the 2017 season his career with baseball as a whole is almost certainly over. Unless the Yankees can work out a deal with Rodriguez to buy out the remainder of his contract, or his hips force his retirement, it is unlikely he will leave before his contract is up. Alex Rodriguez is a survivor, through it all he continues to come back for more. What a shame that this sort of resiliency is wasted on Rodriguez. There are so many great people in and around baseball; unfortunately, Rodriguez has the ability to survive regardless of the damage he does to the game. He takes the headline away from the people and events, which make baseball the great sport it is.
The New York Yankees are at it again. Instead of building their team up through the draft, through trades involving minor leaguers or non-super star major league players, along with the occasional signing of a top tier player, they are just buying high priced talent. The New York Yankees are trying to buy their 28th World Series title and it is ruining baseball. They tried to blind us with a smoke screen that they were going to get below the luxury tax limit of $189 million. We did not fall for it because the Yankees never change. Or have they?
The New York Yankees were able to contain themselves and allowed the Seattle Mariners to sign Robinson Cano to a 10 year $240 million contract. Instead of maintaining their status quo with an excellent second baseman while not addressing the other holes they have on their roster. They were able to address their need at catcher, starting pitching, and in the outfield. Yes they will take a step back at second base, but overall the team will be improved, which is necessary to stay competitive in the American League East.
Brian Cashman signed Brian McCann 5 year, $85 million. While he will be an improvement at catcher, I unfortunately do not believe McCann is a long term solution at catcher. He has already caught 8820 1/3 inning in his nine year career. He should eventually transition to be a full time DH or first baseman. Even this transition will allow the Yankees to address another need they will have once Mark Teixeira’s contract ends.
The Yankees made Carlos Beltran’s dream come true by signing him to a 3 year $45 million contract. He will be a major upgrade in the outfield for the Bronx Bombers and in their lineup. However, the major concerns regarding Beltran is where time will finally catch up to him. Every time baseball is ready to write him off he comes roaring back, eventually he will not be able to come back at the level he and the Yankees expect. Beltran’s injury history should also make coming back from the injuries that occur throughout the season more and more difficult as the contract goes on. Beltran’s contract could go either way; he could be a steal for the Yankees or his contract could be a short term disaster.
Speed never goes into a slump, however those legs can get hurt. The Yankees are hoping Jacoby Ellsbury and his 7 year, $153 million contract rack up stolen bases and not doctors visits. An outfield of Ellsbury, Alfonso Soriano, and Ichiro could be a deadly trio if it was five years ago. Soriano has steadily dropped at the plate and hit fielding abilities have never spectacular. Ichiro is on the back half of his legendary career, though I would still ant him on my team even though he will be 40 this coming year. Ellsbury can chase down balls that Soriano and Ichiro can no longer reach and can turn a single into a double or more, plus steal at least 50 bases when he is healthy. Ellsbury is a tremendous upgrade in the outfield, but if he is hampered by leg injuries his greatest weapon and most valuable asset could be compromised.
Masahiro Tanaka and I have something in common. Neither of us has played a single inning in Major League Baseball. However Tanaka has 7 years, $155 million to prove he has more potential between the base lines than I do. Tanaka will face the same pressures that every highly touted rookie faces, can he do it against the best players in the world. The Nippon Professional Baseball is arguable the second best baseball league in the world, even better than AAA in the United States or any domestic league in the Caribbean. Despite dominating in Japan, Tanaka still has doubters concerning his abilities on the mound. Tanaka has plenty to prove and if he can successfully transition to the Bronx the Yankees will have potentially dominate pitchers one through three in their rotation. They can mix and match to get by with a struggling back end of the rotation. However if Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and/ or Hiroki Kuroda struggle the bullpen could be exhausted before the All Star Break and the Bronx faithful could be in for a long summer.
The Yankees are back to being the Yankees, so of. They went out and paid premium players above premium prices to fill in the holes on their roster. They avoided going after the single biggest catch, Robinson Cano, so they could build a team which could and should at minimum remain in the playoff picture until September. The Yankees are aging and without much exceptional talent in their farm system, when compared to their expectations, the Yankees are pushed into paying top dollar for free agents. The Bronx is a destination but eventually the Yankees must begin developing their own talent and at cheaper prices. Signing the best in the game works, but eventually those players age and you are left with a team that cannot spend its way out of aging. The Yankees must begin a youth movement, and that push needs to begin now in earnest both in the Bronx and in their minor league system.
The week that was saw the off season moves which involved bigger named players begin to heat up. Every team is working to fill the holes that prevented them from winning the World Series in 2013. Baseball is an inexact science, thus what are seen as smart moves can become disasters, and unnoticed moves can make a General Manager into a genius.
Here are my top three moves of the week:
The Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler trade caught many people by surprise, including me. Aside from moving the giant contract Fielder signed in early 2012 for 9 years and $214 million, the Detroit Tigers improved their team. Removing Fielder from the team opens up First base again for Miguel Cabrera. This should keep the best hitter in the game healthier over the course of the season as he is only sharing DH at bats with Victor Martinez, instead of with Martinez and Fielder. Keeping Cabrera healthy must be Detroit’s top priority. The addition of Kinsler means the Tigers have replaced free agent Second baseman Omar Infante, and upgraded the position. Also do not forget all the more saved by not having to pay Fielder, even with the $30 million sent to Texas the Tigers will save roughly $70 million. They can use that money to address Third base and Matt Scherzer. The Rangers dramatically improve their roster with the addition of Prince Fielder. They now have a legitimate First baseman who can hit for major power in the Texas heat which carries baseballs to the Oklahoma border. Also Jurickson Profar will get the chance to play every day at Second. Fielder has been durable to this point in his career, what will the back half of his contract look like on the field? How will his 275 lbs body hold up to the Texas heat through the dog days of summer? While I think this is a good trade for both teams who are seeking to get over the hump and win a World Series, I think Detroit will be the biggest winner in this trade.
Free Agent Catcher Brian McCann signed a 5 year $85 million deal with the New York Yankees. The Yankees over paid, in my opinion, for McCann, however signing him is still a smart move. Clearly the platoon attempt by the Yankees in 2013 was unsuccessful, thus the need for a Catcher who can be an asset to the pitching staff and one who can be an offensive threat; both of which McCann will do. The deal solidifies the Yankees at Catcher until Gary Sanchez is ready for the Major League, probably around 2015. At that point McCann can transition to First base and take over for Mark Teixeira, who will become a free agent after the 2016 season. Whether he is Catching, playing First, or DHing McCann will add some pop to the Yankee line up and should feast with the short porch in Right at Yankee Stadium.
General Manager Brian Sabean will have the San Francisco Giants thinking of another World Series parade or they will be watching from home as the play offs begin. Sabean has taken two major gambles with his pitching staff this off season with the signing of Tim Lincecum and now Tim Hudson. Lincecum got a 2 year $35 million deal and now Hudson has signed a 2 year $23 million deal. The Giants are betting that both pitchers are able to find the stuff that has made them among the top pitchers in the past. Lincecum’s career has been a bit of a roller coaster in recent years, whereas Hudson is coming off a horrific injury to his leg. One of these contract could have been risky but two I the same off season has the Giants on the edge of a deep playoff run and looking up at the Dodgers for at least the next two seasons, if not beyond. San Francisco is a class organization and Tim Hudson is among the classiest players in all of baseball, so I wish them the best.