MLB Power Rankings: Which AL East Team Had the Best Offseason?
The American League East is arguably the most talented and competitive division in all of baseball. This offseason was no different.
We saw a number of big name players—Adrian Gonzalez, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds—head East, as well as a few others—Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, Dan Wheeler, Kevin Gregg—switch allegiances while remaining in the division.
The 2011 season is shaping up to be a great one, and the AL East should again prove to be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball.
Now, a look at the offseason of each team in the division.
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Key Losses: Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Chad Qualls, Dioner Navarro, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza
Key Additions: Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, Adam Russell, Kyle Farnsworth
Offseason Goals: Find a way to account for all the personnel losses and still compete; open up a spot on the staff for Jeremy Hellickson.
When a team literally loses half of its 25-man roster in one season, it's kind of hard to put them anywhere but the bottom of a list ranking offseason productivity. It's even worse when the losses include Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and the entirety of what once was the best bullpen in the American League.
At least with the Rays, this was expected. Fans put the dots together very early on that 2010 would likely be the last chance for the Rays to seriously contend, or at least be favored to contend, for a while.
The Rays did what they had to in an attempt to fix their problems. While reuniting Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon in St. Pete might not be the most popular moves in the world, the pair are both on one-year deals and making just $7.25 million combined. If either wants to stay in the league much longer, production this season is a necessity.
Both are veterans and, assuming neither creates any locker room controversy, could help the rest of the gang come together in the absence of Crawford and Pena, both clubhouse leaders.
The trade of Matt Garza was the best move long-term for the Rays. He's due for arbitration during each of the next two seasons, and he would've likely gotten too expensive for the Rays to handle. The Rays are likely going into rebuilding mode, and his presence wouldn't have much of an impact. The move opened up a spot in the rotation for young phenom Jeremy Hellickson, while bringing in legitimate prospects such as Chris Archer, Hak-Ju Lee and Brandon Guyer.
The real question with the Rays has become when/if the Rays will again reach the level of play they've been operating on for the last few seasons. They still possess arguably the best pitching staff in the American League and a core group of talented young players like Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, Desmond Jennings and others.
However, in the AL East, it's no small task to climb to the top of the pile. It took the Rays 10 straight years of cellar-dwelling until they made their first postseason and World Series appearance in 2008. One must wonder that if the Rays aren't able to put together a legitimate chance at contention, guys like Longoria and Upton could find themselves on the trade market in the near future, lengthening the rebuilding process even further.
Key Losses: Marcus Thames, Kerry Wood, Javier Vazquez, Lance Berkman...Andy Pettitte?
Key Additions: Rafael Soriano, Pedro Feliciano, Russell Martin, Andruw Jones, Bartolo Colon, Mark Prior
Offseason Goals: Starting pitching; keep the Yankee legends (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera) in-house.
The Yankees have had one of the poorer offseasons of any team so far this year. After failing to land Cliff Lee, despite reportedly offering him more money and years than both the Phillies and Rangers, the Yankees seemed to lose their normal fizzle.
They did make some decent pickups with Martin and Jones. Both are low risk, high reward. Martin is a two-time All-Star and is still only 27. He might just need a change of scenery.
Jones is an improvement over the departed Thames; they had comparable numbers last season, but Jones had an OPS over .900 against left-handers, whereas Thames struggled against lefties more than righties. Jones is also a vast improvement over Thames defensively; he's a 10-time Gold Glove winner with a career 18.7 UZR/150, while Thames maintained an equally atrocious -33.0 UZR/150 and .947 fielding percentage in 2010.
The Rafael Soriano deal was a bit odd to me. He's a great pitcher, but he has yet to stay healthy for three consecutive seasons. Not to mention he's getting $35 million to be a setup man and can opt out of the deal after each of the first two years. It's possible that if he pitches well, he leaves to go close somewhere else for similar money, but if he pitches poorly or gets injured, the Yankees are burdened with one of the poorer contracts in baseball.
Even if Soriano does pitch well, it's not as if the Yankees have a poor bullpen by any standards (third best reliever ERA, 3.47, in AL last season). They improved on an area that didn't exactly need improving.
To top it off, the general manager of the organization had this to say about the signing: "I just didn't think it was an efficient way to allocate our remaining resources." Yankees GM Brian Cashman has distanced himself from many of the Yankees' moves so far this offseason, and he could potentially leave after his contract expires at the end of the year. After signing Soriano, a Type-A free agent, the Yankees lost their only first round draft pick, and they have just one pick (49) in the first 57 picks next season.
But there's no denying that with Andy Pettitte still hanging in limbo, the Yankees are hurting for starting pitching. Beyond CC Sabathia, they have a few question marks.
It seems unlikely that A.J. Burnett can repeat the performance that was his 2010 season, but he's never really been the pitcher the Yankees wanted him to be when they signed him. Phil Hughes has at times looked dominating but has struggled with consistency. Last year, he was an All-Star and had one of the better first halves in baseball, but he tailed off in the second part of the year.
Beyond that, Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Bartolo Colon and even Mark Prior are shots in the dark.
The Yankees are still one of the best teams in baseball, but they didn't really make the extra leap that many fans were hoping for. The Yankees always find a way to contend, and I don't doubt they'll be in the think of things in October, but they may have been leapfrogged by the Boston Red Sox this offseason, just as the Yankees did to them in 2009.
Key Losses: Ty Wigginton, David Hernandez, Corey Patterson
Key Additions: Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy, Kevin Gregg, Jeremy Accardo
Offseason Goals: Corner infield help; bullpen help; build on the success of Buck Showalter.
The Orioles were buyers rather than sellers this offseason. They acquired Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy via trade and Derrek Lee via free agency. All three should have an immediate impact on the team.
Yes, Reynolds will probably set a club record for most strikeouts in a season, but he adds some valuable right-handed pop that the O's desperately need (10th in the AL in homers last season, 133). Both Hardy and Lee bring a veteran presence to a fairly young team, and both are relatively inexpensive additions, as their contracts expire at the end of the season.
Despite all the additions the O's made this offseason, they aren't tied down to anyone long-term, which gives them some financial flexibility going forward.
The Orioles were able to land Kevin Gregg and retain Koji Uehara. If Mike Gonzalez can stay healthy, that gives the O's three guys with late inning and closer experience. The bullpen was certainly a trouble spot for the Orioles last season, as they posted the 13th worst reliever ERA in the AL (4.44), but they'll look to improve on that number in 2011.
The Orioles have put themselves in a position where if certain factors come together, like staying healthy and getting production from veterans as well as young players, they have the potential to raise a few eyebrows in 2011. Even if it doesn't work, they haven't committed themselves to any bad contracts, and they can continue to develop their young talent and look to the future.
The biggest question mark for the Orioles heading into 2011 is their starting rotation. It's one of the youngest in baseball, and 31-year-old Jeremy Guthrie is the only pitcher with more than a full season of major league experience to rely on. The rest of the crew—Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman—all have talent, but all have subpar records during their time in the majors thus far.
Given the strength of the division, it would be hard to see the Orioles contending at any point. They definitely have a chance to reach third place for the first time since 2004, but anything beyond that is a serious stretch.
Key Losses: Shaun Marcum, Vernon Wells, Scott Downs, Lyle Overbay, John Buck, Kevin Gregg
Key Additions: Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco, Rajai Davis, Corey Patterson
Offseason Goals: Maintaining last year's success (85-77, might have competed for a playoff spot in another division); improving financial flexibility; opening up spots for minor league talent to play now and in the future.
The Blue Jays and Alex Anthopoulos had quite a busy offseason. While the losses of quality players like Shaun Marcum, Vernon Wells and Scott Downs might make it seem like Blue Jays have regressed, that's far from the case.
The Blue Jays have one of the deepest pools of young pitching talent in baseball. Names like Ricky Romero and Kyle Drabek just scratch the surface. While they may have lost a legitimate front end starter in Marcum, they gained one of baseball's best young position player prospects in Brett Lawrie. Lawrie, just 21 years of age, was recently rated the 28th best prospect in baseball by MLB.com.
With the additions of Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco, the Blue Jays have arguably improved their bullpen (which was 10th in AL reliever ERA, 4.09) despite the losses of Downs and Kevin Gregg. The Jays were able to retain Jason Frasor through arbitration, and Rauch, Dotel and Francisco all have fairly reputable numbers as closers.
The Blue Jays were dead last in the American League in stolen bases last season (58). Speedster Rajai Davis (120 steals in last three seasons) should help change that, and veteran outfielder Corey Patterson could manage to work himself into a role as a solid pinch runner and defensive substitute off the bench.
Perhaps the most important move, however, was the trade of Vernon Wells. Wells was a solid player and a seemingly stand-up guy, but he also happens to be the bearer of one of the more questionable contracts in baseball. With Wells off the books, the Blue Jays have gained the financial flexibility that puts them in the running for one or two major free agent signings/trade acquisitions in the near future.
The team has about $14 million and $13 million in guaranteed contracts for 2012 and 2013 respectively, and beyond that the only guaranteed money left on the books is virtually Ricky Romero. The Blue Jays have an up-and-coming farm system and now the ability to surround that talent with a big name player or two. The Blue Jays are arguably the third best team in the division currently, and they are in a position to potentially leapfrog the Yankees somewhere down the road.
Key Losses: Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, Bill Hall
Key Additions: Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler.
Offseason Goals: Bullpen help; replacing the production of Beltre and Martinez.
The Red Sox had arguably the most momentous offseason of any team in baseball. They put themselves in a position to win not only now, but in the future as well.
With the additions of Adrian Gonzalez (28) and Carl Crawford (29), the Red Sox only have three everyday position players—Kevin Youkilis (31), J.D. Drew (35) and Marco Scutaro (35)—over the age of 30. Both Drew's and Scutaro's contracts expire at the end of the season, and neither factors into the team's plans long-term.
Perhaps the most important acquisitions, however, were those of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler. The Sox were 12th in the American League in terms of reliever ERA last season (4.24). They clearly struggled to nail down games in the later innings.
Now, they should be able to bridge the gap to Jonathan Papelbon without overworking Daniel Bard, who was tied for fourth in the AL in appearances (73) and innings pitched (74.2) and who seemed to fizzle out just a bit at the end of the season (second worst monthly ERA, 2.70; worst opponent BA, .255; worst WHIP, 1.50 in September/October). Also, the addition of Jenks gives the Red Sox some flexibility if Papelbon was to depart via free agency next year.
The Sox added two former Gold Glovers in Gonzalez and Crawford, and they stand to improve on one of the worst defenses in baseball. Much of their struggles last season can be attributed to the number of injuries that the Sox suffered, but they definitely improved on a defense that currently features four starters with Gold Gloves and two backups with the award.
It's also worth noting that the Red Sox have acquired a number of draft picks for the 2011 draft, which is projected to be one of the deeper pools in recent history. The Sox currently possess two first round draft picks, Nos. 19 and 26, compensation for the signings of Type-A free agents Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre. The Sox have the highest pick of any team in the AL East, and they have four total picks in the first 57.