A look at the each American League team’s offseason needs and how to address them. The National League edition will be published tomorrow.
Baltimore’s biggest offseason addition in 2016 came in the form of a very under-the-radar trade. Mark Trumbo ended up leading the majors in home runs, after he was acquired from the Mariners as nothing more than a salary dump for a backup catcher. But now Trumbo is a free agent and the Orioles may not want to give out another long-term deal to a player who does little besides hit for power. The O’s do have a clear need in their outfield and starting rotation. It might make sense to go after a few less expensive options in order to fill in multiple areas of need on their roster.
Boston Red Sox
It just won’t feel right seeing the Red Sox next year without David Ortiz occupying his familiar DH spot. The good news is that Boston scored the most runs in all of baseball in 2016, and outside of Ortiz, most of their key contributors were very young. And despite seeing some of their more established pitchers have down years (David Price, Clay Buchholz), they actually tied for the third best team ERA in the AL. The Red Sox have a number of different options they can go to in order to fill the vacancy left by Ortiz’s retirement. Free agents like Carlos Beltran, Mike Napoli, or Jose Bautista that can be had on shorter-length deals could help, or they can pursue Edwin Encarnacion if they’re willing to spend enough.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are in an odd situation where they have plenty of marquee players, but have not been very successful over the past half-decade. Players like Chris Sale, Jose Abreu, Jose Quintana, and Adam Eaton would all bring back tremendous value to Chicago, but would the Sox really want to trade such talented players who all have affordable contracts and at least three years of team control remaining? I would advise that they retool rather than rebuild because there is just too much talent on the major league roster to tear it apart. Trading any of the aforementioned players would be the equivalent of telling their fan base that they don’t envision the team competing for another three or four years. Dealing a player like Todd Frazier, a free agent at season’s end, would make more sense. Otherwise, the White Sox should use this offseason to address some needs on their roster and complement guys like Sale, Abreu, Quintana, and Eaton.
Cleveland’s 2016 World Series run was one that nobody saw coming, especially in light of losing Michael Brantley for nearly the entire season and without having Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar available as postseason starters. The Indians have a strong core consisting of star power in the middle infield, starting rotation, and bullpen. While Cleveland has not usually been a team to outbid others in free agency, it’s possible they may be willing to step out of their comfort zone after falling short of a championship by such a small margin. Otherwise, they will look to bolster their depth around the roster and count on better health from some of their most important players.
The Tigers have made it known that they intend to shed payroll this offseason. Their biggest financial commitments belong to Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, but both players would be difficult to trade given the length of their contracts, and losing either would seriously damage Detroit’s chances of competing in 2017. The most likely Tigers players to be traded are J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler, and Francisco Rodriguez. Martinez or Kinsler would instantly become two of the most sought after position players available on the market, but trading either of them or K-Rod would also create holes on Detroit’s roster. Based on GM Al Avila’s words, it seems unlikely that Detroit would pursue any type of player who would require a large financial commitment, so the Tigers will need to find other ways to make upgrades if they want to remain competitive.
The Astros have already made it clear early in the offseason that they are going hard after big names. One of baseball’s bigger disappointments last year, the recent additions of Brian McCann and Josh Reddick bolster the roster, and word is they are still willing to hand out another big contract. The luxury of having a young team is that you don’t have to spend big on a lot of your core players, and that is exactly why Houston sees the present as the time to strike. The core of their team consists of young and talented players who should keep improving like Carlos Correa and George Springer, not to mention MVP candidate Jose Altuve. One area the Astros could use some more of is starting pitching. The Astros starters disappointed last year, which played a big role in missing the playoffs. As a big market team without many large contracts on the payroll, the Astros are a force to be reckoned with on the open market.
Kansas City Royals
After a disappointing season following a second World Series title, Kansas City will look to rebound in 2017. The window for contention may be closing, however, as a glut of key contributors will be free agents after the upcoming season. Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, Danny Duffy, and Wade Davis, are among those players, leaving the Royals with two options. They can trade some of those players and look to rebuild for the near future, or they can add to their major league roster and look to contend in a division that doesn’t figure to be too strong. Should they choose the latter, starting pitching is an area to prioritize, as well as a power hitting outfielder or DH. A reunion with Carlos Beltran would make sense.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Despite having one of the best, if not the best, players in baseball, the Angels have only made the playoffs once in Mike Trout’s career. The chances of their fortunes changing in 2017 are not good either, since there is almost no certainty in their pitching rotation, the lineup is very mediocre outside of Kole Calhoun, Trout, and Albert Pujols, and they have one of the worst farm systems in all of baseball. With the large contracts of Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson off the books, it certainly gives the Angels breathing room to make some upgrades around the diamond. They have big areas of need at catcher, second base, and left field.
Aside from their 83-win 2015 season, the Twins have been one of the worst teams in baseball of late, losing at least 92 games in every other year since 2011. Minnesota has had a number of highly touted prospects during that time, but few have yet to live up to the hype. It’s hard to believe the Twins will be a very good team in 2017 after finishing with the majors’ worst record a year ago. They won’t be signing any of the top free agents and may even trade Brian Dozier. The best thing the new front office can do is continue to develop their young players and work to rebuild the organization.
New York Yankees
For the first time in over two decades, the Yankees were sellers at the trade deadline. Although they still had a chance at a wild card spot at the time, it would have been unrealistic to expect the Bombers to make a deep playoff run with their lack of talent on the major league roster. However, the Yankees’ deadline moves seriously bolstered their farm system and with most of their long-term salary commitments off the books after 2017, they will have a ton of money available to spend. I don’t expect the Yankees to go crazy in free agency like they did before the 2014 season, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them add some quality players who can help over the next few years. The Yankees do have a shot to make a playoff run this year if things go right, but more important to fans should be that they suddenly have about as bright a future as any team in baseball. GM Brian Cashman deserves a ton of credit for that.
The A’s struggled badly last year, losing 93 games en route to a last place finish in the AL West. There were some bright spots, however, like Khris Davis’s 42 home run campaign and impressive performances from rookie pitchers Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton. They were also able to take advantage of Rich Hill’s renaissance and deal him for a package of prospects including Cotton. Unfortunately, the A’s were just a downright bad team in nearly every area last year, and with the organization’s reluctance to spend money and compete for impact free agents, it leaves a problem that will be very hard to solve. The A’s typically rely on their minor league system and on under-the-radar acquisitions, but it will be difficult for Oakland to be very good in 2017 with such a serious lack of major league talent.
Seattle came very close in 2016 to ending their long playoff drought. Mariners fans are hoping now that 2017 will be the year that they finally get to experience some postseason baseball again. The Mariners possess one of the most imposing middles of a lineup in all of baseball, with Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager. They just pulled off a big trade right before Thanksgiving, giving up Taijuan Walker, but adding a quality shortstop in Jean Segura, who is coming off a great season in Arizona. Seattle doesn’t need to break the bank on a free agent signing – rather, adding smaller pieces to an already good roster should place the Mariners right in the middle of the race for the AL West title.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays were a big disappointment last year, but this is a team that usually needs an influx of young talent to get back into contention. However, there is good news in that the Rays have reason to hope for big improvements from within. On the pitching side of things, Alex Cobb may be fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery by opening day, and there’s no reason Chris Archer can’t bounce back from a bad year. Archer has been the subject of trade speculation this winter, but that wouldn’t make sense for the Rays to sell low on him. Nor would it make sense to trade their most recognizable player, Evan Longoria, who is still under contract for seven more years, but is actually reasonably priced for a player of his level. The bullpen needs work, but the Rays should be able to find some quality veterans who are within the team’s price range. Two offensive additions from last year, Corey Dickerson and Matt Duffy, struggled at the plate, but are young and talented enough to turn things around. Another addition, Brad Miller, will look to build upon his breakout 2016 campaign. The Rays do have some good talent on their roster, but will need some more pieces to compete in a tough division. Maybe they should consider signing someone like Wilson Ramos, who likely won’t get a long-term deal but comes with plenty of potential for reward.
Although the Rangers finished the regular season with the best record in the AL in 2016, they did so with a run differential of just +8. A lot of that was due to an unsustainable 36-11 record in one-run games. Texas has work to do this offseason, with four of their regular position players from the end of 2016 hitting free agency (Carlos Beltran, Carlos Gomez, Ian Desmond, and Mitch Moreland). Add that to Prince Fielder’s sudden retirement and the fact that Texas finished third to last in the AL in ERA, and there are certainly a lot of needs to address. They will try to retain some of their free agent hitters, in addition to possibly adding an impact bat through a trade. J.D. Martinez, Andrew McCutchen, or Ryan Braun could be possibilities.
Toronto Blue Jays
I’ve written about the Blue Jays’ offseason in the past, and I still believe they need to re-sign either Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista. They’ve already signed Kendrys Morales, which lessens the blow of inevitably losing at least one of their long-tenured sluggers, but they are still without a starting outfielder on the roster outside of Kevin Pillar. Morales doesn’t preclude them from signing a first baseman either, since he is nearly incapable of playing any first base at all. If Toronto is not interested in a reunion with either Bautista or Encarnacion, they could look to other quality options like Dexter Fowler or Ian Desmond, or else try to make a trade. The Jays do have a pretty good pitching rotation, but will probably need to lean on it more than in the past. The bullpen could use some upgrades as well, especially with Brett Cecil leaving for St. Louis.