Moves the Yankees and Red Sox Must Make to Compete with the New-Look Blue Jays
There's no arms race going on in the AL East, as there's really only one team stockpiling weapons.
Shoot, the Toronto Blue Jays are acting like an action movie star that just walked into an armory. And after adding R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and Melky Cabrera to their roster, there's no question whatsoever that they're the team to beat in the AL East in 2013.
It doesn't feel right, but the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees both look like second-tier punks on paper (and I stress on paper) next to the Blue Jays. Both have been busy this winter, but neither of them have a star-studded roster quite like the one the Blue Jays have arranged.
Nor does either club seem totally willing to match wits with the Blue Jays: The Yankees are playing it safe, and the Red Sox are merely trying to reshape a horrid team into a respectable team.
But let's go ahead and stray into an alternate reality where the Yankees are willing to abandon their plans for a tighter payroll and the Red Sox are willing to abandon their apparent three-year plan. In this reality, there are a few moves each of them can make to put themselves on the same level as the Blue Jays.
With the right amount of cunning and a few Christmas miracles along the way, here's how the Yankees and Red Sox can make themselves into super-teams again.
Red Sox: Sign Rafael Soriano
With Andrew Bailey locked into the closer's role and Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Daniel Bard, Andrew Miller and others locked into setup roles, the Red Sox have a nifty bullpen lined up for 2013.
Nonetheless, Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com says that the Red Sox are always on the lookout for ways to improve their bullpen. If they want to make a splash big enough to get the attention of the Blue Jays, they'll go out and sign the best reliever the free-agent market has to offer:
There don't seem to be a lot of suitors for Soriano out there, and that presumably has something to do with his rumored asking price. Earlier this winter, Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com floated the notion that it's going to take four years and $60 million to sign Soriano.
That's an absurd amount of money for a closer, much less one with only two 40-save seasons on his resume. But with about $112 million in salaries committed for 2013, it's an amount that the Red Sox can afford to pay.
Soriano isn't Craig Kimbrel, but he would be an upgrade over Bailey in the ninth inning. Bailey doesn't compare to Soriano in terms of durability or experience, and he boasts a lower career strikeout rate. For his career, Bailey has performed slightly better in non-save situations anyway.
If the Red Sox give in and sign Soriano, they'll have one of the deepest bullpens in either league. While they're at it, they can turn around and sign another former Yankee to bolster their offense...
Red Sox: Sign Nick Swisher
Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe has reported that Nick Swisher has never seen the Red Sox as a "likely landing spot," and that would seem to be especially true now with Boston's outfield all set for 2013.
But maybe not. Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reported that the Red Sox were still in contact with Swisher even after signing Shane Victorino to play right field. There may still be a place for him in Boston, and there certainly will be a place for him in Boston if Mike Napoli's deal falls through.
Swisher is not a star, but he'd be a nice addition to Boston's offense. He's a switch-hitter who can bat anywhere, and he's typically good for an OPS over .825 and about 25 home runs every year.
The Red Sox may have to lure Swisher away from the Cleveland Indians, who Jordan Bastian of MLB.com says have made him an offer. But since Jim Bowden of ESPN and SiriusXM has suggested that Swisher could command a four-year deal worth $60 million in this market, he may be too expensive for the Tribe.
But not too expensive for the Red Sox if that is indeed Swisher's price. Even if they give Soriano a deal worth $15 million per year, they'll still have payroll space to play with before they hit the $175 million mark their payroll was at on Opening Day in 2012.
If the Red Sox were to sign Swisher and then finalize Napoli's deal, they'd find themselves with a surplus of outfielders. They could clear that problem up with a trade.
And I think you all know where this is going...
Red Sox: Swap Jacoby Ellsbury for Tim Lincecum
This trade is not rumored to be in the works. I doubt it ever will be in the works either, as the gallery of baseball voices has strongly suggested that neither Jacoby Ellsbury nor Tim Lincecum will be moved this winter.
But allow me to explain why this trade could happen anyway.
The Red Sox are in a tough spot with Ellsbury. His trade value is low after a lost season in 2012, and he's also a free-agent-to-be with an agent in Scott Boras who doesn't do extensions. His future with the Red Sox is likely very brief.
Meanwhile, Lincecum is in a similar situation in San Francisco. His trade value is very low after a brutal 2012 season that saw him compile the worst ERA in the National League, and he is also a free-agent-to-be.
With Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner already locked up to extensions and an extension due to Buster Posey very soon, there may be no room for Lincecum in San Francisco beyond 2013.
The Red Sox have upgraded their pitching this winter, but they could use an ace-caliber starter. The Giants have kept their offense intact, but they could use a potential impact bat to put their lineup on the same level as that of the Dodgers.
The idea of this trade is simple—Ellsbury's contract year for Lincecum's contract year—and the potential payoff for both teams would be huge. If Lincecum were to turn back the clock, the Red Sox would have a much-needed ace. If Ellsbury were to turn back the clock, the Giants would have one of the deepest lineups in baseball.
To make this deal more even for both sides, the Red Sox could send Felix Doubront to San Francisco and the Giants could send Gregor Blanco to Boston. Both sides would thus get a starter and an outfielder.
If the Red Sox manage to pull off this trade, the next step would be for them to aim even higher.
Red Sox: Trade Top Prospects for Giancarlo Stanton
Giancarlo Stanton is about as available in a trade as Tim Lincecum, but Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe has reported that the Red Sox have called the Miami Marlins about him anyway.
So has pretty much every other team in the majors, according to Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com. And while the Marlins have turned everyone away, Knobler says they've bothered to put a price on Stanton's head anyway.
It's going to take three "very top-level" prospects and a couple other players to get the Marlins to budge. Basically, any team that wants him better have a strong farm system and a willingness to empty it.
The first part applies to the Red Sox. Their farm system has gotten significantly stronger over the last year, and they boast a handful of players with legit All-Star potential in shortstop Xander Bogaerts, outfielders Jackie Bradley and Bryce Brentz and right-hander Matt Barnes.
It would likely take all four of them to land Stanton in a trade, and it's likely that the Red Sox would have to cough up a couple other young players as well. The Marlins would surely look to rob the Red Sox blind, and rightfully so.
Stanton would be worth it. He's compiled 93 home runs in only 1,498 plate appearances, and he has a higher HR/FB rate than any player in the majors since 2010 (see FanGraphs). He's also an underrated defensive player in right field.
Best of all, he's only 23 years old and still several years away from free agency.
Stanton is one of maybe three or four players worth selling the farm for, and Boston's farm is just deep enough to entice the Marlins.
What the Red Sox Would Look Like
1. Shane Victorino, CF
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. David Ortiz, DH
4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF/LF
5. Nick Swisher, LF/RF/1B
6. Mike Napoli, 1B/C
7. Will Middlebrooks, 3B
8. Stephen Drew, SS
9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
1. Jon Lester (L)
2. Tim Lincecum (R)
3. Clay Buchholz (R)
4. Ryan Dempster (R)
5. John Lackey (R)
Closer: Rafael Soriano (R)
Andrew Bailey (R)
Koji Uehara (R)
Junichi Tazawa (R)
Daniel Bard (R)
Andrew Miller (L)
Craig Breslow (L)
Yankees: Trade for Joel Hanrahan
The Yankees don't need to go out and acquire a closer after re-signing Mariano Rivera to a one-year deal, but they could use a plan B in case he falters or gets hurt again. They could also stand to shore up their depth for the late innings.
Brian Wilson is a possibility, but he wouldn't offer much insurance due to his being less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees are more likely to take to the trade market for relief help, and one guy who stands out as a possibility is Joel Hanrahan.
The word from Danny Knobler is that the Pittsburgh Pirates are trying hard to move their closer:
People who have talked to the Pirates say they're pushing to move Hanrahan. Dodgers are one possibility.— DKnobler (@DKnobler) December 17, 2012
Hanrahan has saved 76 games over the last two seasons, compiling a 2.24 ERA in the process. His ERA jumped up quite a bit in 2012, but the bright side is that his strikeout rate did as well.
Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com floated the idea of the Pirates trading Hanrahan for a starting pitcher, which makes sense given the shortage of options the Pirates currently have in their rotation.
The Yankees have two pitchers who may interest the Pirates in Ivan Nova and David Phelps. Nova is the more enticing of the two due to his experience, and he could benefit from a move to PNC Park much like A.J. Burnett did.
If the Yankees get Hanrahan, their bullpen will be all set. They can then focus on improving their lineup.
Yankees: Sign Michael Bourn
Nick Cafardo of the Globe casually mentioned this weekend that the Yankees may be "quietly interested" in Michael Bourn.
If he didn't expect that rumor to blow up, then he clearly underestimated the Internet. With a shortage of big-name free agents on the market now, Bourn to the Yankees is too intriguing not to talk about.
It's also an idea that makes a bit of sense. As I outlined in a piece posted on Monday, Bourn would give the Yankees a true leadoff man, and he'd be a huge defensive upgrade in center field.
Richard Justice of MLB.com says that Bourn's asking price is between $12 and $15 million per year, and it's likely going to take a five-year deal to land him after both Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton managed to land five-year deals.
The Yankees are trying to avoid long-term commitments like these this winter, but they could make a deal for Bourn work in the long run. They could just wave goodbye to Curtis Granderson and his $15 million salary after 2013.
In addition, the Yankees will have another $50 million coming off the books when the contracts of Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Kevin Youkilis and Mariano Rivera are up. They could save themselves even more money by letting Robinson Cano go.
In the short-term, the Yankees would have a lineup with Bourn at the top, Derek Jeter below him and then an assorted collection of power hitters. They'd also have a spare outfielder who they could deal to make their team even better.
Yankees: Swap Brett Gardner for James Paxton
If the Yankees sign Michael Bourn, either Curtis Granderson or Brett Gardner would have to go.
The Yankees would have a ton of speed and an insane defensive outfield if they were to keep Gardner and trade Granderson, but they'd be lacking in power. Besides which, Gardner may be the more valuable trade chip due to his cheap salary and controllability through 2014.
The Yankees could market Gardner to the clubs that missed out on Bourn, among whom would be the Seattle Mariners. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has said that the Mariners like Bourn "very much," and they could view Gardner as a plan B if they're intent on acquiring a stolen base threat with an excellent glove.
That's precisely what Gardner is, and he really should be a center fielder with his speed and instincts in the outfield. On the Mariners, he could be both a starting center fielder and a leadoff man, roles that Bourn would have filled.
Doing business with the Mariners would be a way for the Yankees to add some youth to a starting rotation that needs some. They wouldn't be able to trade Gardner for Taijuan Walker or Danny Hultzen, but they could be able to swing a deal for James Paxton.
Paxton is a hard-throwing lefty who Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times has said looks to be more major league-ready than Walker or Hultzen. He could step in and be the No. 5 hurler in the Yankees' rotation, but he could prove himself to be a No. 3- or even a No. 2-caliber pitcher.
The Yankees would probably have to sweeten the deal a little bit to get Paxton for Gardner, and they could do that by offering a reclamation project like Dellin Betances. If that fails, they could offer Nova or Phelps depending on which one of them is still in town.
This trade done, the Yankees can then make like the Red Sox and aim for a big tamale.
Yankees: Trade for Joe Mauer
Joe Mauer is probably even less available than Tim Lincecum and Giancarlo Stanton.
Both ESPN's Jayson Stark and MLB Network's Peter Gammons have heard that the Twins are absolutely committed to keeping their franchise catcher in Minnesota. His contract may be high and they may be in the middle of a rebuild, but they aim to hold on to him.
If ever there was a time to trade him, though, it's now.
Mauer's trade value is back up again after he hit .319 with an AL-best .416 on-base percentage in 2012. If the Twins move him now, they could conceivably get young talent and dump the $138 million still owed to him.
There's little chance of the Yankees agreeing to take on what's left on Mauer's contract while they're committed to getting their payroll under $189 million in 2014, especially if they go out and sign Bourn.
But as you'll recall, one of the conditions of this piece was the idea that the Yankees could abandon their plans for 2014 out of a desire to put a championship-caliber roster together. They don't want to do it, but it's something they certainly can afford to do if they change their minds.
The Yankees are the most valuable franchise in MLB, and the recent deal involving News Corp. and the YES Network is going to make them even richer. They'll make more money per year from their TV rights, and they're going to get a cash payment of $400-500 million just for allowing the deal to happen.
So if they want to, the Yankees can bring Mauer aboard without crippling themselves financially. They may have just the guy to build a trade around too, as they have an elite catcher prospect in Gary Sanchez who could take Mauer's place in Minnesota a few years down the line.
Hey, it could happen.
What the Yankees Would Look Like
1. Michael Bourn, CF
2. Derek Jeter, SS
3. Joe Mauer, C
4. Robinson Cano, 2B
5. Mark Teixeira, 1B
6. Curtis Granderson, LF
7. Alex Rodriguez/Kevin Youkilis, 3B
8. Jeter/Rodriguez/Youkilis/Mauer, DH
9. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
1. CC Sabathia (L)
2. Hiroki Kuroda (R)
3. Andy Pettitte (L)
4. Phil Hughes (R)
5. James Paxton (L)
Closer: Mariano Rivera (R)
Joel Hanrahan (R)
David Robertson (R)
Boone Logan (L)
Joba Chamberlain (R)
Clay Rapada (L)
David Aardsma (R)
If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.