With the Winter Meetings just one week away, the SI MLB staff will continue previewing every division and its respective rosters to consider what every team can do to improve on its performance in 2019. Up next, the AL East, where the defending world champion Red Sox are looking to reload in order to stave off the Yankees, who are expected to make big offseason splashes.
Other offseason previews: AL West
Boston Red Sox
How They Finished: 108–54; won World Series
What They Need: Honestly, not all that much. The world champions’ core is mostly intact, and they’ve already returned one notable free-agent piece in Fall Classic MVP Steve Pearce. But Boston still has holes to fill in the bullpen and rotation following the departure of All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel and postseason hero Nate Eovaldi. Adding relief help—along with Kimbrel, Joe Kelly has taken his great stuff to free agency—and a starter to slot behind Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello is at the top of Dave Dombrowski’s offseason wish list. Additionally, upgrades at second base and catcher, both weak spots in last year’s lineup, wouldn’t be a bad idea.
How To Get It: Bullpen-wise, the Red Sox can re-unite with Kimbrel, though it won’t be cheap, or invest in setup men like Andrew Miller or Adam Ottavino while handing the closer gig to Matt Barnes. Conversely, they could gamble on an older and perhaps cheaper arm like Joakim Soria or David Robertson to handle the ninth inning. Either way, the market has options. In terms of the rotation, sticking with what they know in Eovaldi may be the best choice. Carrying the biggest payroll in the game, Boston likely can’t afford someone like Patrick Corbin or Dallas Keuchel. Other intriguing middle-tier options include Charlie Morton, J.A. Happ, and Japanese import Yusei Kikuchi. A trade for an established starter anywhere on the diamond is unrealistic, though, given the thin state of Boston’s farm system.
New York Yankees
How They Finished: 100–62; lost ALDS to Red Sox
What They Need: Pitching, pitching and pitching. Brian Cashman already addressed New York’s rotation deficit by swinging a trade for Mariners ace James Paxton, but another arm behind him, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and venerable lefty CC Sabathia (re-signed in November) is a must. With Robertson and Zach Britton both free agents, adding a bullpen arm is necessary as well. Offensively, this lineup needs little help, though with Didi Gregorius down for at least half the year due to Tommy John surgery, there’s an opening at shortstop that the Yankees have to address either internally or with outside help. Otherwise, the only other position that could use a boost is first base, depending on how much the team believes in Luke Voit’s second-half surge and whether Greg Bird can finally put it together.
How To Get It: Corbin is the ideal target for the rotation and would give New York arguably the best starting five in the AL. But if his price is too high, bringing back Happ after his excellent post-deadline work in the Bronx would be a fine fallback, as would another former Yankee in Eovaldi. Assuming neither Robertson nor Britton returns, meanwhile, Ottavino, a Brooklyn native, is a likely target as the top setup man available; Miller and Soria also fit New York’s bill as high-strikeout arms. Ever since Gregorius went down, Manny Machado became the obvious replacement, though his cost will be enormous (but when has that ever stopped the Yankees?). And if Cashman isn’t content with the Voit/Bird combo at first, maybe he can wink the Diamondbacks out of Paul Goldschmidt to put together one of the most absurd lineups the game’s ever seen. It’s good to be rich.
Tampa Bay Rays
How They Finished: 90–72
What They Need: Tampa is pretty well set offensively, minus the hole the team itself created by jettisoning C.J. Cron and his 30 home runs from the designated hitter spot. Assuming those at-bats don’t go to some combo of Ji-man Choi, Jake Bauers and others, the Rays will have to find a power bat somewhere else. Other than that, more pitching wouldn’t hurt. Tampa got surprisingly far last season with its opener gambit and only one true starting pitcher for most of the year in AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell. Counting on things to play out that well again in 2019 seems foolish; at the very least, a veteran behind Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Jake Faria would be a prudent investment.
How To Get It: The free-agent market doesn’t lack for big bats. Nelson Cruz would be an ideal replacement for Cron, but this being the Rays, it’s hard to see them spending what it would take to get him. Expect a more bargain bin veteran option like Matt Adams or Curtis Granderson, or maybe someone with positional flexibility like Derek Dietrich, recently late of the Marlins. The same will probably be the case with the rotation, where Tampa could roll the dice like it did on Eovaldi with oft-injured yet talented arms like Brett Anderson or Drew Pomeranz.
Toronto Blue Jays
How They Finished: 73–89
What They Need: The Blue Jays’ winter shopping list depends on whether or not they plan on contending next season. If they want to make a run at the wild card, then they desperately need to add starters, reliable relievers, and some bats for the corner outfield spots. Even if next year is going to be the first step of a soft rebuild, though, Toronto still should get some pitching. The rotation behind Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez—neither the picture of good health—is unproven and weak, and the bullpen beyond erratic closer Ken Giles is woeful.
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How To Get It: The good news for Toronto is that the free-agent market is full of cheap veteran starters. The bad news is that most of won’t solve the team’s underlying problems. Still, you could do worse than adding someone like Trevor Cahill, Ervin Santana or James Shields to eat some innings instead of throwing rookies to the wolves. That holds for the bullpen, too, where Soria, Kelvin Herrera or Jeurys Familia would be good insurance for Giles and help leads stick. Corner outfield is a little trickier. Michael Brantley is a solid bat, but 81 games on turf will reduce the oft-injured outfielder to splinters. Andrew McCutchen may be out of the Jays’ price range, but he’d be an excellent choice. Or, in order to help fill in around a shaky infield, Marwin Gonzalez would make for a smart addition.
How They Finished: 47–115
What They Need: Just about everything. Baltimore’s roster is a toxic mess, below average across the board. As always, the Orioles need pitching, both rotation and relief. At least two outfielders would help this lineup go from pathetic to mediocre, as would an infusion of talent around the infield. There’s almost no spot at which the Orioles couldn’t use or find an upgrade.
How To Get It: Well, that’s the hard part. There’s no way on earth to turn a 115-loss team into anything resembling a contender, and Baltimore is clearly in for a long rebuild no matter what its new front office does this winter. Previous Orioles teams have settled for stupidly giving money to unsustainable starters or burned-out wrecks. Aiming for upside is the better play: Cahill, Clay Buchholz, Gio Gonzalez and Pomeranz make for far more interesting signings than leftovers like Martin Perez or Jaime Garcia. But the O’s are going to have to settle for whatever ends up being left, as no free agent but the most desperate is going to make the Charm City his first destination.