Given the way last week went, one would be led to believe that the annual Baseball Winter Meetings had already begun. Well, as we all know, they haven’t. Sunday was a bit of a respite from transaction mania as team officials made their way to Orlando for the start of the meetings, so it’s a good time to recap what has been accomplished thus far and to discuss where some of the teams will go from here.
So far the Orioles have dealt away their closer of the past two years and added a few starting second base candidates in the forms of Jemile Weeks and Cord Phelps to battle Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty. It would not be surprising to see the team further address second base with a free agent signing and to address some power needs by adding a veteran to be their designated hitter.
Tommy Hunter is slated to close after his first entire season in relief. It was also his first with a 6-plus K/9 (7.1), but he pounded the strike zone with a 1.5 BB/9. They might just stick with him and spend their money elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, the Red Sox let Jacoby Ellsbury walk with the intention of installing Jackie Bradley in his place. Bradley has above average tools and a solid approach at the plate. He projects as a potential 10 to 15 HR/20-plus SB type player who could potentially hit for average and a good OBP.
More surprisingly, the Sox opted to retain Mike Napoli. When a hitter produces a .367 BABIP to hit .259, there’s a high regression risk (see 2012). The Red Sox went stop-gap with A.J. Pierzynski. Not noted for his OBP (Napoli hitting .220 will have a higher OBP), but even at age 37, a player with his contact skills and solid pop for his position are still worth $10-plus on AL-only draft day. Note, however, that the change in venue could push his HR power perhaps to the lower teens.
Xander Bogaerts will be taking over at SS with Drew departing, but they do remain interested in upgrading at 3B after Will Middlebrooks’ lost season. The right-hander’s undisciplined plate approach caught up with him and could have him back in the Minors full-time in 2014.
With a rotation that automatically places the Sox as challengers for the title, they focused on the bullpen by signing Eduardo Mujica to set up and as a backup plan for Koji Uehara. The 29-year-old is a strike-throwing, pitch to contact/ground-ball pitcher and has found success doing so for the past five straight seasons. Yet keep in mind he left over 86% of runners on base and still only produced a 2.78 ERA. For more traditional closers, this would have been closer to 2.0 if not under.
The Yankees would not cave to Robinson Cano’s demands and instead signed both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann while also bringing in Carlos Beltran and Kelly Johnson. Beltran, once the best centerfielder in the game, has become more of a liability due to his decreased range, and not surprisingly, he has not been a stolen base threat of any note since 2008. At 37, he’s a mid-twenties or better HR threat in Yankee Stadium.
Hiroki Kuroda has returned for another season while Phil Hughes has moved to Minnesota. Kuroda, notably, has essentially produced one of the most consistent five-year stretches of any pitcher around with K/9’s hovering around 7, walk rates around 2.0, BABIPs in the .280s, and ERAs around the 3.3 mark. It is hard to suggest much else different will occur. It is notable, though that his K/.9 has decreased each of the past four seasons (though to be fair so has his BB/9). Still a mid-teens AL-only buy at age 39 in 2014.
The upshot of all this activity is that the Yankees may still be one of the more active teams going forward. In the outfield, they have Brett Gardner/Ellsbury/Beltran with Alfonso Soriano at DH while Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells both sit on the bench. Gardner, 30, is arbitration eligible, but is coming off of a $2.85 M salary and is the most attractive trade candidate. Both Johnson and Eduardo Nunez are currently penciled in as starters, but are both more suited to bench roles, so these are the likely areas the Yanks will explore in the trade and free agent market. Nick Franklin of the Mariners, who was displaced by Cano, actually makes a lot of sense. Michael Pineda was never healthy enough to pitch in the Majors in 2013, so it is also possible the Yankees will add another arm to fill the fifth starter’s slot at some point this offseason.
The Rays have exercised contract options on Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar, re-signed David DeJesus and Jose Molina for two more years and more notably, acquired both Ryan Hanigan and Heath Bell via trade. Hanigan, 33, is coming off of a .198/.306/.261 campaign. At best, he’s an end-game catcher who might hit .260 to .270 for you over 300 or so plate appearances. Heath Bell comes into Tampa as the favorite to close on Opening Day. He regained his strikeout skils in Arizona as well as his control, but developed an acute case of gopheritis and has had back-to-back seasons of BABIPs around .340.
Zobrist is actually a fair candidate for a power bounce-back season in 2014 given almost no change in batting approach or where he hit the ball, just a fluctuation on HR/FB. A return to the upper teens or low twenties is quite possible. Yunel Escobar displays good contact and OBP skills and a bit of pop, but paltry fly-ball rate and high ground-ball rates continue to hold him back from the performances of his Atlanta days. A two-year deal, let alone a one-year non-minor league contract to a post-prime David DeJesus is a bit astonishing. The lefty has never had a standout tool and his ability to hit for average and get on base vanished after 2010.
The big elephant in the room is what, if anything, the Rays will do with David Price and what level of haul they might receive in return. The move would certainly have an impact on the Opening Day rotation (insert Odorizzi) but could also have substantial impacts on the starting lineup too as the Rays would benefit from shifting Zobrist back to 2B and adding a 1B and moving DeJesus out of the starting outfield. This could be the most interesting move of the week, so keep an eye out.
The Blue Jays are no strangers to making a big splash after revamping their entire roster last year only to suffer critical injuries and ineffectiveness. For now, the starting lineup is largely the same as last season with Adam Lind’s option exercised while J.P. Arencibia was non-tendered (now with Texas) and Dioner Navarro signed to replace him. Navarro, nearly 30, has always been a fairly disciplined hitter who made good contact, but never saw his power develop until last year with the Cubs when he hit .300/.365/.492 while making contact nearly 87% of the time. It should be noted that Navarro had to hit line drives a quarter of the time to hit .300 and is generally more of a ground-ball hitter than a fly-ball hitter, so while Navarro may be a solid start for the Jays in 2013, expect him to come back to earth especially as he receives more consistent exposure to MLB pitching.
Josh Johnson was allowed to depart, and now the Jays will apparently let pitchers such as Kyle Drabek (returning from TJS) audition for the fifth spot. With much of their prospect depth utilized last off-season and the roster pretty much intact and actually still having quite a bit of potential to push for a playoff spot, it would be surprising to see the Jays extremely active other than in small moves the rest of the off-season.