AL East hot-stove primer

Baseball’s winter meetings begin Monday in Indianapolis. Yahoo! Sports will go division by division, providing a primer on each team’s needs and ability to satisfy them. (Teams listed in order of 2009 divisional finish.)

American League East

NEW YORK YANKEES

Holes to fill: In spite of their World Series championship, the Yankees could use help in places, but nothing they can’t throw a few dollars at. The obvious issues are in the rotation, in left field, in the bullpen ahead of Mariano Rivera(notes) (assuming Joba Chamberlain(notes) and Phil Hughes(notes) are going to the rotation) and at DH. Yankees problems, however, aren’t often like other people’s problems. They’ll have Andy Pettitte(notes) back, or jump in hard on John Lackey(notes) and/or Roy Halladay(notes) (or all of the above). They’ll have Johnny Damon(notes) back, and/or add Matt Holliday(notes) or Jason Bay(notes). They’ll have Hideki Matsui(notes) back, or run the DH at-bats through the guys they already have.

Trade winds: They’ll be in on Halladay. And they’ll talk to the Tigers about Edwin Jackson(notes) and Curtis Granderson(notes). They’ll talk to the Reds and Braves about pitching. In some cases, they’ll have to be prepared to part with Hughes or Chamberlain and outfielder Austin Jackson(notes).

Cash considerations: Seriously now …

By spring training … They’ll have picked out a nice spot for that 27th banner.

BOSTON RED SOX

Holes to fill: Shortstop was a concern, given they went through four of them in ’09. So they signed Marco Scutaro(notes), a nice player who should get on base a lot for the next couple years. But as David Ortiz(notes) and Mike Lowell(notes) begin their decline and Jason Bay tries out free agency, what GM Theo Epstein most needs is a run producer. Last year, the Red Sox lost out to the Yankees on Mark Teixeira(notes), and the division’s balance of power went with him. Bay or Holliday is the most likely addition. They almost have to get one of them. Epstein is also looking to add depth to his starting rotation.

Trade winds: The Red Sox have targeted Adrian Gonzalez(notes) for years, seemingly. They might have had a better chance when Kevin Towers was GM, however, as Towers had the standing in San Diego to take the PR hit that surely would follow such a trade. Jed Hoyer, who only weeks ago was Epstein’s assistant, would have to clearly win the trade to make it. The Red Sox are among the teams that could take on Miguel Cabrera’s(notes) salary if the Tigers were to make him available.

Cash considerations: Like the Yankees’, the Red Sox’s cash considerations are different than most. They’ve got six arbitration eligibles, Jonathan Papelbon(notes) among them.

By spring training … Dustin Pedroia(notes) will have agreed to play left field and pitch the eighth inning most nights.

TAMPA BAY RAYS

Holes to fill: The Rays lost 13 wins over the season before, not counting all those October wins. True to their history (before ’08), the bullpen was a culprit and that’s GM Andrew Friedman’s focus, picking through the market’s many back-end types. He’s looking for a closer and general depth and ought to come up with something in his price range. If he is healthy, J.J. Putz(notes) – a Troy Percival(notes) type in the clubhouse – is a possibility. Kevin Gregg(notes) seems to pitch well in Florida. The Rays also want to upgrade at catcher, where Dioner Navarro(notes) dropped a .583 OPS into an otherwise promising career. As a result, he’s a non-tender possibility.

Trade winds: Pat Burrell(notes) for Milton Bradley(notes) isn’t out of the possibility. The Rays, however, must be in a position where they could release Bradley without financial discomfort. The Cubs haven’t gotten there yet. If they find themselves on the periphery of contention again, the Rays could trade Carl Crawford(notes) for greater organizational health. Right-handed starter Andy Sonnanstine(notes) is believed to be available.

Cash considerations: The Rays generally do a nice job with what they have. It would help a lot if they could erase the Burrell mistake, along with the $9 million they owe him next year.

By spring training … everybody will be styling in their new Ed Hardy wear.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Holes to fill: There won’t be many more popular folks in Indy than rookie GM Alex Anthopoulos, who, if you don’t know him, will be the guy with the ace right-hander sticking out of his back pocket. A little health and many of the Blue Jays’ issues heal themselves. They still need help in the outfield and a catcher, and they feel like they covered themselves at shortstop with Alex Gonzalez and John McDonald(notes). Now they wait for Shaun Marcum(notes), Dustin McGowan(notes) and Jesse Litsch(notes).

Trade winds: Roy Halladay, Scott Downs(notes), Jason Frasor(notes) and Lyle Overbay(notes) are in their walk years. So, Anthopoulos gets to redecorate the organization to his taste. Halladay will be very popular, particularly with the high-end franchises, as he was in midsummer. And even though there’s been some front-office turnover, complaints the Jays are asking for too much haven’t subsided.

Cash considerations: The Jays were fortunate to have the White Sox take Alex Rios(notes) off their hands. They won’t be so lucky with Vernon Wells(notes), who’s owed another $107 million. Wells is coming off wrist surgery and turns 31 next week; maybe he can still turn this around.

By spring training … Halladay’s people insist they won’t approve a trade after Halladay reports. We have our doubts.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Holes to fill: Before becoming commissioner, Andy MacPhail has the more consuming job of turning the Orioles into something capable. They’re working on 12 consecutive losing seasons, the last 2½ under MacPhail. His immediate concerns are at first base and/or third base, depending on whether one likes Ty Wigginton(notes) at first, third or neither. Couldn’t you see Carlos Delgado(notes) here? Or Pedro Feliz(notes)? The O’s would like to feather a veteran starter or two alongside Chris Tillman(notes), Brian Matusz(notes), Jeremy Guthrie(notes) and Brad Bergesen(notes), perhaps going for the Ben Sheets(notes)/Rich Harden/Erik Bedard(notes) injury history types. MacPhail could also use a closer, seeing as he traded his – George Sherrill(notes) – to the Dodgers last summer.

Trade winds: They’ve still got some distance to cover, no matter what they do, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Guthrie become available, or Luke Scott(notes). Felix Pie(notes) could be had, as well.

Cash considerations: The Orioles are out from under Melvin Mora’s(notes) contract, along with a handful of others that will clear some payroll space for that first baseman and starting pitcher they’ve got their eye on.

By spring training … The Orioles have to do something to start winning back that town and inching back into AL East relevancy.

Tim Brown is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. He co-authored with Jim Abbott the memoir “Imperfect: an Improbable Life”.   Follow him on Twitter.   Send Tim a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Dec 4, 2009