AL East post-lockout priorities: Rays looking for big bat; Yankees fans begging for any upgrades
Baseball’s labor fellowship has broken up, and any pursuit of rings will have to wait until the players and owners throw their differences into the lake of fire and reach an agreement.
But just because it’s going to be a while until the two sides hammer out some sort of resolution, that doesn’t mean we have to stop discussing what might/should happen when the sport eventually resumes.
Because when it does, and teams are allowed to sign free agents and make trades again, you’re going to see a flurry of activity. It will probably be a lot of fun, honestly, to see free agents ink contracts and to see teams make trade after trade. After all, what else are front office types going to do during the lockout other than plan their back-in-the-saddle strategy?
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So we’re taking a division-by-division look at what’s on the docket for all 30 teams. Today, it’s the AL East.
Tampa Bay Rays
Pre-lockout recap: The headline of the offseason — really doesn’t matter what happens next — will be inking Wander Franco to the massive extension that should benefit both the player and the team. He’s a building block piece who posted a 3.5 bWAR in just 70 games in his Age 20 season. They signed starter Corey Kluber and reliever Brooks Raley, too.
The very first thing to do: Add a bat. The Rays were pretty upfront about that being a priority this offseason. Does that mean Nelson Cruz comes back as the DH? We’ll see what the outfield looks like in 2022. Trading Kevin Kiermaier, the long-time center fielder, is an option. If he goes, that opens an outfield spot for an increase in offensive production.
Also on the list: Ace Tyler Glasnow is out for 2022 after Tommy John surgery and then is a free agent after the 2023 season. Knowing the Rays, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see them trade him now — and avoid paying his 2022 salary while he’s injured — in exchange for prospects. Glasnow’s good enough that teams would almost certainly feel the risk is worth acquiring a player of his ilk for a 2023 World Series push.
Boston Red Sox
Pre-lockout recap: The Sox traded Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers for old friend Jackie Bradley Jr. and a couple prospects. They also signed bounce-back candidate James Paxton, along with veterans Rich Hill and Michael Wacha for the rotation mix. All four of those acquisitions — JBJ, Paxton, Hill and Wacha — could become key contributors, or all four could be out of the equation by the All-Star break. Neither would be shocking. They also lost Eduardo Rodriguez, who signed a long-term deal with the Tigers; he had made at least 20 starts in every full season since 2015.
The very first thing to do: The JBJ-for-Renfroe swap is a HUGE hit to the Boston lineup; Renfroe hit 31 homers with a .816 OPS, while Bradley had just six homers with a .497 OPS. So, yeah, the Red Sox need to flex that budgetary muscle and land a thumper in the lineup. Nick Castellanos makes a lot of sense; he can play the outfield until J.D. Martinez’s contract runs out, then take his spot as an All-Star caliber DH.
Also on the list: Pitching, still. Rotation options and bullpen help. Second base, maybe?
POST-LOCKOUT PRIORITIES: NL East | NL Central | NL West
New York Yankees
Pre-lockout recap: Yankees fans are thrilled with the massive free-agent deal for Carlos Correa and aggressive trade for Matt Olson … oh, wait. The Yankees basically did nothing while lots of other teams got busy spending and trading and improving their rosters.
The very first thing to do: Something. Anything. Buehler? If the Yankees don’t announce a trade or make a big signing within the first few days after the lockout ends, you’re going to see lots of irate Yankee fans. And, no, signing Andrelton Simmons to play shortstop doesn’t count. Carlos Correa still makes sense, though he’ll be expensive. Trevor Story could join his pal and former Rockies teammate, D.J. LeMahieu, in the Bronx at shortstop, too.
Also on the list: Brian Cashman made it pretty clear he’s open to finding a center fielder. And it seems the club isn’t set on Luke Voit at first base; bringing back Anthony Rizzo is an option, and so is trading for Oakland’s Matt Olson.
Toronto Blue Jays
Pre-lockout recap: The Jays lost free agents Marcus Semien (third in AL MVP voting) and Robbie Ray (won AL Cy Young), but signed Kevin Gausman and signed Jose Berrios to a long-term extension. Reliever Yimi Garcia is a solid bullpen addition, too.
The very first thing to do: Replacing Semien’s bat seems pretty important, eh? They could sign Kris Bryant to play third base and slide Cavan Biggio back over to second, hoping for a bounce-back season out of the son of the Hall of Famer. They could try and swing a trade for third baseman Matt Chapman, a defensive stalwart who struggled at the plate in 2021. Some Jays fans want the team to trade for Jose Ramirez, but that might be a stretch. Maybe bring in Kyle Seager on a one-year deal?
Also on the list: The bullpen always needs arms. The rotation is solid at the moment — Gausman, Berrios, Alex Manoah, Hyun Jin Ryu and Nate Pearson — but starting depth is always necessary.
Pre-lockout recap: The first month of the offseason for the Orioles was a lot like their last three full 162-game seasons: Nothing much to get excited about.In those three years, the O’s have lost 110, 108 and 115 games. In the first month of the offseason, they signed a pitcher who gave up the most home runs in the majors last year (Jordan Lyles) and an infielder with a 78 OPS+ and a minus-0.5 bWAR over the past three years (Rougned Odor).
The very first thing to do: Maybe, and we’re just spitballing here, sign a couple players that will help the team not lose 110 games? At the moment, the O’s projected payroll for 2022 is $40.4 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. That’s lowest in the AL (Cleveland is next, at $46.6) ahead of only Pittsburgh ($34.4) and basically half of the Rays ($79.8).
Also on the list: And then, sign a few more.