Winter meetings primer: American League teams
Three free agents are expected to receive deals worth $100 million – all will land in the American League. Three free agents are slam dunks for the Hall of Fame – all will land in the American League.
The NL might have won its first All-Star game in a generation, but the AL is likely to gain Jayson Werth(notes) as well as hold on to fellow $100 million men Cliff Lee(notes) and Carl Crawford(notes), and to future Cooperstown locks Derek Jeter(notes), Mariano Rivera(notes) and Jim Thome(notes).
Teams with the most money enjoy the winter meetings most. With traditional NL big spenders either fairly well set (Phillies), in turmoil (Dodgers) or disarray (Cubs, Mets), the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Tigers, White Sox and Rangers ought to hog the fun in Orlando.
And on the heels of Tim Brown’s primer on every NL team, here’s the same for the league with the wherewithal:
Needs: Kendry Morales(notes) slipped, Brandon Wood(notes) fell and enough other Angels froze for the team on-base percentage to plummet from .350 to .311 in 2010, their first losing season since 2003. Morales will return, presumably healthy, leaving the most prominent offensive needs at third base and left field. Somebody needs to bat high in the order, reach base and cause havoc. Oh, and a closer would fit in nicely, too.
Eye on: Crawford is the ideal fit, and he’s gotten an earful about it from Angels outfielder/lobbyist/ambassador Torii Hunter(notes). Third baseman Adrian Beltre(notes) and closer Rafael Soriano(notes) would complete the wish list, although the Angels have been frustrated in recent years making pitches to Scott Boras clients. Left-handed Hisanori Takahashi(notes) was signed, and his 2.04 ERA as a reliever with the Mets last year bodes well. But he’s not a closer, and neither is incumbent Fernando Rodney(notes).
Wherewithal: The Angels are ready to spend on Crawford. The only question is whether they would sign a second top-dollar free agent as well or try to fill third base and the back of the bullpen from the second tier.
Needs: Rarely does a day go by that GM Billy Beane isn’t making a deal, almost making a deal or infuriating an agent. All the activity hasn’t produced a power bat, which the A’s desperately need after finishing 26th in slugging percentage and 23rd in runs. Left field and every infield spot could use an upgrade. Acquiring outfielder David DeJesus(notes) for two pitchers, then trading outfielder Rajai Davis(notes) to the Blue Jays for two minor league relievers seems like a wash.
Eye on: Reaching an agreement with Japanese starter Hisashi Iwakuma by the Dec. 8 deadline after paying $19.1 million for the right to negotiate with him is paramount, although the fee is returned if he doesn’t sign. So far the two sides are an ocean apart and Iwakuma’s agent Don Nomura let off steam via Twitter when he said the A’s pursuit of Beltre is a PR move. Nomura was probably right; it’s hard to imagine Beltre being happy – or productive – in cavernous Oakland Coliseum. Beane is genuine in his interest in a one-year deal for Lance Berkman(notes). Hideki Matsui(notes) is a fallback. The A’s non-tendered Edwin Encarnacion(notes) and Jack Cust(notes), although both could be re-signed.
Wherewithal: The A’s were next to last in AL attendance, play in a hellhole and rank last in payroll in their division. Until Bud Selig rules on the neighboring San Francisco Giants territorial rights in San Jose, a new stadium is on hold and Beane has mostly empty pockets.
Needs: A year ago the Mariners were the toast of the winter meetings. New GM Jack Zduriencik was the newest MLB genius and his rebuilding efforts were widely lauded. Turns out relying on Ken Griffey Jr.(notes) and Milton Bradley(notes) to anchor the lineup was pure folly. Now it’s back to the drawing board. The Mariners need hitters after scoring fewer than any team since the DH was adopted. Another starter would be nice, too, and the star-crossed Erik Bedard(notes) probably isn’t that guy.
Eye on: Russell Branyan(notes) wants to come back, and the Mariners should welcome him since not many other free agents want anything to do with Seattle. Otherwise, expect retreads and prospects to fill in the many blanks. Dustin Ackley(notes) was MVP of the Arizona Fall League after batting .424 and might be ready to step in at second base or left field. Justin Smoak(notes), acquired for Cliff Lee, will get ample opportunity to show he’s more than a .210 hitter with occasional power.
Wherewithal: The Mariners have money to spend but they are becoming a West Coast version of the Orioles, a place top-tier free agents avoid because the stench of losing is overwhelming.
Needs: Cliff Lee, Cliff Lee and Cliff Lee. The bullpen is in decent shape because Frank Francisco(notes) accepted arbitration and the Rangers signed Japanese free agent right-hander Yoshinori Tateyama(notes). Replacing the offensive production and Josh Hamilton(notes) protection of Vladimir Guerrero(notes) shouldn’t be underestimated. Of course, the replacement well could be Vladimir Guerrero, low-balled to a nub.
Eye on: Nolan Ryan’s full-court press on Lee might yet reel him in; a second meeting with the left-hander Thursday reportedly went well. The long shot default position is convincing Andy Pettitte(notes) to pitch his truly last final one more year (really) in his home state of Texas, not New York. The more realistic default position is packaging prospects and trading for Zack Greinke(notes). The Rangers are aggressively pursuing Paul Konerko(notes) and are in the Crawford sweepstakes as well. Yorvit Torrealba(notes) replaces Bengie Molina(notes) as the sage catcher.
Wherewithal: Until Lee makes up his mind, the Rangers are on hold. The sweet taste of the World Series is still on everybody’s tongue and new ownership isn’t shy about spending.
Needs: The left-handed power bat manager Ozzie Guillen has been pining for arrived in the hulking form of Adam Dunn(notes) at a relatively reasonable cost of $56 million over four years. Relief pitching, especially after cutting ties with closer Bobby Jenks(notes), is a priority.
Eye on: Will Dunn merely replace Paul Konerko’s(notes) production, or will the White Sox re-sign their right-handed power source as well? Filling Jenks’ ample void might be more difficult than it seems given his problems last season. Sure, Matt Thornton(notes) and Chris Sale(notes) have explosive left-handed arms, and the White Sox could re-sign J.J. Putz(notes). But especially after trading Scott Linebrink(notes), adding a right-handed reliever makes sense.
Wherewithal: It’s a give-and-take world, so plowing so much cash into the offense can only mean the pitching staff might suffer. Mark Buehrle(notes), who will make $14 million in the last year of his contract, could be dealt but would be tough to unload because a $15 million option for 2012 kicks in if he’s traded.
Needs: The Indians’ best chance at semi-redemption is for center fielder Grady Sizemore(notes) and catcher Carlos Santana(notes) to recover from surgeries on their left knees and produce. Sizemore, not so long ago considered one of the game’s elite players, now is an enigma. Santana might become a top-drawer offensive threat; whether his work behind the plate measures up as well is to be determined. Cleveland also needs a third baseman and a starting pitcher.
Eye on: Edwin Encarnacion, nontendered by the A’s, is a bargain-basement possibility at third. Same with Nick Punto(notes), Andy LaRoche(notes) and others who are free agents because their previous team didn’t want them. Such is the dubious talent that gravitates toward Cleveland these days. The good news is that Shin-Soo Choo(notes), the first player in Indians history to hit .300 with 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in consecutive seasons, isn’t being outfitted in South Korean military fatigues.
Wherewithal: CC Sabathia(notes) and Cliff Lee will be under contracts worth in the neighborhood of $300 million. That’s former Indians Sabathia and Lee, and that’s a different neighborhood than the Indians currently reside. Fans won’t show up until they start winning, and winning will continue to be a challenge until fans show up or prospects pan out.
Needs: The Tigers struck early, re-signing shortstop Jhonny Peralta(notes) and landing catcher/slugger Victor Martinez(notes) and premier setup reliever Joaquin Benoit(notes). An outfielder to replace Magglio Ordonez(notes) and Johnny Damon(notes) is next on the to-do list, and another starting pitcher always helps.
Eye on: Ordonez could be back at a drastically reduced price, but the Tigers are in discussions for Werth, the top right-handed bat on the free-agent market. Boras represents both players.
Wherewithal: The Tigers still have money to spend, even after overpaying for Benoit and giving Martinez a healthy contract. Whether it’s enough to land Werth, who wants a six- or seven-year deal, remains to be seen.
Needs: The Royals’ needs are almost beside the point. They can’t fill them with free agents. They are more likely to trade their best player (Greinke) than acquire immediate help. Here’s what they really need: for their top minor leaguers to progress and make a major league impact. A decent outfielder to replace DeJesus would be helpful. And if either became a right-handed run producer, that’d be extra peachy. Catcher Jason Kendall(notes) is out until June recovering from shoulder surgery, so the Royals might need a stopgap.
Eye on: When GM Dayton Moore is feeling Royal blue, all he’ll need for a pick-me-up is a drive to his Double-A affiliate in Northwest Arkansas. There he’ll see a starting rotation of prospects: Mike Montgomery(notes), Danny Duffy, John Lamb and Chris Dwyer from the left side; Aaron Crow(notes) from the right. First baseman Eric Hosmer, catcher-outfielder Wil Myers and shortstop Christian Colon will be there, too. Third baseman Mike Moustakas(notes) will start the season in Triple-A if he doesn’t break camp with the Royals. Admit it, we’re having more fun talking prospects than examining Vin Mazzaro’s(notes) chances of replacing Bruce Chen(notes) in the rotation.
Wherewithal: Although the Royals have a limited amount of cash to spend because the salaries of several underachieving veterans are off the books, scraping the bottom of the free-agent barrel for more of the likes of Jose Guillen(notes), Rick Ankiel(notes), Kyle Farnsworth(notes) and Scott Podsednik(notes) makes little sense. Greinke is their greatest currency. He’ll fetch more prospects to complement the homegrown talent that should make the Royals a far more interesting team next September, in 2012 and beyond.
Needs: A healthy Justin Morneau(notes) would be a great start. A starter to replace Carl Pavano(notes) would be prudent, although that starter could be Pavano himself. And some bullpen help after losing relievers Jon Rauch(notes), Jesse Crain(notes), Matt Guerrier(notes) and Brian Fuentes(notes).
Eye on: The Twins like their guys. They’ll try to re-sign DH Jim Thome, who had a renaissance year with them in 2010 and is closing in on 600 home runs. They’ll bring back Pavano unless he’s too expensive. The Twins won bidding rights to Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a young switch-hitter who was the Japanese batting champion last season, and if he signs he’d play second base. J.J. Hardy(notes) will return at shortstop.
Wherewithal: With $72 million committed to eight players in 2011 – thanks in large part to Joe Mauer’s(notes) new contract kicking in – the Twins are back to pinching pennies. Hardy, Matt Capps(notes), Francisco Liriano(notes) and Delmon Young(notes) are due arbitration raises. The Royals say they won’t trade Greinke to a Central Division rival, so that scenario has vanished. If Pavano can’t be signed, Minnesota might just wait for top prospect Kyle Gibson to break into the rotation in early June.
Needs: A public relations makeover is necessary, and maybe the presence of the credible Buck Showalter in the dugout is a start. Top free agents won’t sign with the Orioles because they’d be sentencing themselves to last place. Not to mention facing top AL East competition day in and day out. So good luck landing that big bat in the middle of the lineup. Victor Martinez and Dunn turned down the Orioles, and Konerko likely will be the next to spurn them.
Eye on: Koji Uehara(notes) wasn’t tendered a contract, but the Orioles want him back as their closer at a reduced price. They need to backfill their bullpen as well, and are looking at veteran free-agent relievers. A trade for Mark Reynolds(notes) is a possibility to fill the power role, but the Orioles would need to give up value in return.
Wherewithal: The money is there. The Orioles are open for business. Now they just need to become cool again.
Needs: Replacing the production of departed right-handed sluggers Martinez and Beltre is a priority even after acquiring Adrian Gonzalez(notes), from the Padres. A left-handed reliever to replace Hideki Okajima(notes) is a secondary concern. Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes) is recovering well from thumb surgery and is expected to be handed the job as starting catcher. Jason Varitek(notes) was re-signed to back him up.
Eye on: Beltre has expressed a desire to return to Boston rather than sign with the A’s, but doing so would mean Kevin Youkilis(notes) must remain at first base rather than moving to third. And that isn’t happening with Gonzalez in the fold. The right-handed hitting Werth would seem a good fit in right field and the No. 5 spot in the batting order, although the Red Sox appear more interested in Crawford.
Wherewithal: As always, the Red Sox have money, although they are spending quite a bit of it on an extension for Gonzalez. They also have a sense of urgency after missing the playoffs. The Gonzalez deal won’t be their last splash of the offseason.
Needs: A starting pitcher is the need and only Cliff Lee will do. The Yankees will make the biggest offer and the only reason Lee would re-sign with the Rangers is if he prefers to stay close to his Arkansas home. Eventually the Yankees will need a shortstop, a third baseman and a catcher, but for now those spots are filled by aging icons. Discussion over.
Eye on: Closer Mariano Rivera and shortstop Derek Jeter are back in the fold. If Lee opts to stay in Texas, the Yankees will draw a breath and perhaps take a run at Greinke, who has indicated he would drop his no-trade clause and consider New York. Whether the Yankees believe he could thrive in the New York pressure cooker is a separate issue. Losing out on Lee also could put the Yankees belatedly but squarely in the Crawford or Werth sweepstakes. In fact, they might be there already.
Wherewithal: As much as it takes. Wherewithal, thy definition is cloaked in pinstripes. Although one must wonder whether the Yankees would sign either Werth or Crawford in addition to Lee.
Needs: Relievers, and lots of them. The Rays lost seven off last season’s roster, including closer Rafael Soriano. “We’re in a fairly unique position having to fill an entire bullpen,” GM Andrew Friedman commented dryly a few days ago. Replacing the offensive production of Crawford and Carlos Pena is another, potentially more expensive, challenge.
Eye on: Shortstop Jason Bartlett(notes) is on the trading block because Reid Brignac(notes) is deemed ready for every day service, and relief pitchers are expected in return. The market, however, is drying up because the Giants signed Miguel Tejada(notes) and the Cardinals traded for Ryan Theriot(notes), enabling them to shop Brendan Ryan(notes). Left-handed reliever J.P. Howell(notes) will be re-signed after being non-tendered.
Wherewithal: The Rays, with their attendance woes, are in cost-cutting mode. They have a ton of excellent young players and prospects, so they might again keep up win for win with the Red Sox and Yankees.
Needs: Relief pitchers are coming and going all over, and that includes border crossings. The Blue Jays lost Scott Downs(notes) and Kevin Gregg(notes), so they are in the market for replacements. Jason Frasor(notes) accepted arbitration and the Blue Jays traded for Carlos Villanueva(notes) , stabilizing the bullpen picture somewhat. Toronto could use a third baseman and certainly could boost its overall on-base percentage. A catcher is also a priority.
Eye on: The trade for Rajai Davis brought an outfielder with speed and, hopefully, the ability to reach base consistently. Top prospect Kyle Drabek(notes) could make the starting rotation out of spring training. The Blue Jays lost out on A.J. Pierzynski(notes) but several catchers remain on the free-agent market. Hard-throwing free agent Jesse Crain, a Toronto native, is a possibility for the bullpen.
Wherewithal: The Blue Jays aren’t the Yankees, but they aren’t the Rays, either. They can spend – even overspend – for free agents, but a fresh emphasis on player development is beginning to pay dividends.