In slightly less than a month, Tampa Bay players will begin making their way to Port Charlotte for Spring Training. 2017 figures to be a different kind of year for the Rays after hitting rock bottom last season; they rebuffed offers for their ace, Chris Archer, despite clamoring from pundits for a rebuild, and instead focused on adding pieces that primed the team to compete in 2017 while even (reportedly) engaging in a bidding war for Jose Bautista.
Joey Bats will once again don a Blue Jays jersey, but it hasn’t stopped Erik Neander & company from building a roster that could live up to its lofty playoff aspirations. They’ll need their pitching and defense to return to their former glory (as well as some things to go their way); however, it’s bound to be a more interesting season than last (or perhaps that’s the naïve optimism of February rolling in).
Perhaps, the greatest roadblock to success for Tampa Bay will be their American League counterparts, who have almost all been busy at work this off-season. It begs to ask, how does the Rays offseason measure up to the rest of the division?
Well, we’ve got you covered as we examine the key departures and acquisitions from across the division and grade each AL East team’s offseason this far.
Baltimore Orioles’ Offseason Grade: D
Off-season Needs: Catcher, Corner Outfield, Upgrade Rotation
Key Departures: RF Mark Trumbo, C Matt Wieters, DH Pedro Alvarez, UT Steve Pearce, OF Michael Bourn, OF Nolan Reimold, RP Brian Duensing, RP Tommy Hunter, RP Vance Worley, SP Yovani Gallardo
Key Acquisitions: C Welington Castillo, RP Logan Verrett, SP Tomo Ohka, RP Logan Ondrusek, OF Seth Smith
Fresh off a defeat in the postseason, the Orioles entered the off-season with a laundry list of needs that, for the most part, they have failed to address.
In fact, the loudest noise coming out of Baltimore all winter has been Dan Duquette’s commentary about the Orioles lack of interest in Bautista due to Baltimore fans’ hatred for the player.
The highlight of their offseason was the addition of C Wellington Castillo for a 2-year, $13 million deal after paying Wieters over $15 million last season. He’s a small step back defensively, but his .264/.322/.423 slash line is a step up from Wieters last season (.243/.302/.409); he’ll be a more than adequate stopgap option until Chance Sisco is ready.
On the negative side of things, a third of Orioles’ 2016 starting lineup (Trumbo, Wieters, Alvarez) remain unsigned, and while they’ve flirted with signing Trumbo and Alvarez, both players still sit on the free agent market.
They shipped out the disappointing Yovani Gallardo for Seth Smith who’s 15-18 homer power leaves much to be desired when you consider they lost 86 homers between the three aforementioned regulars; Smith’s left-handed bat will be a welcome addition to right heavy lineup, and he’s an upgrade defensively even if he’s slightly below average, so it’s not all bad news.
After their starting rotation put up a horrendous 4.72 ERA (24th in the league), you think it’d be a priority to upgrade the rotation; however, the Orioles will enter 2017 with a rotation of Gausman, Tillman, Bundy, Jimenez, Miley that probably resembles more of last years production.
Both Jimenez and Miley had ERA’s north of 5 last season, and even though Dylan Bundy showed flashes of the potential he displayed before Tommy John, the durability questions persist, so it’s bound to be a rough season for the Baltimore staff barring a move.
If the Orioles want to replicate last season’s surprising results, they’ll need to resolve the Mark Trumbo issues and seek to shore up their rotation, but for now, they have had the weakest offseason in the division.
New York Yankees’ Offseason Grade: C
Off-season Needs: DH, Closer, Starting rotation
Key Departures: C Brian McCann, 1B Mark Teixeira, RP Nick Goody, SP Nathan Eovaldi, DH Billy Butler, Util Dustin Ackley, RP Jacob Lindgren
Key Acquisitions: RP Aroldis Chapman, DH Matt Holliday, IF Ruben Tejada
The New York Yankees finally began the rebuild this past trade deadline, but the incredible production of their young guns has them looking like an interesting team moving into the 2017 year. As such, they’ve seemingly prepared to compete this season without going all in.
For starters, they managed to move on from Brian McCann, and despite having to eat $5.5 million of $17 million the next two years, they acquired an intriguing young arm in Albert Abreu.
The Bronx Bombers also added a grizzled veteran in Matt Holliday to provide stability and leadership to the young Yankees’ squad. Holliday saw his BB% drop by 4 points last season, but he still managed a 109 wRC+. Considering, he had a .253 BABIP and an impressive 95.6 MPH average exit velocity, he’s going to be a candidate for some positive regression. Maybe he would have come cheaper as the market presented, but it’s hard to fault New York for locking him up.
There’s no denying that Aroldis Chapman is an unparalleled closer in all of baseball, but it’s an incredible gamble to give a reliever who relies so heavily on Velocity to a mega deal stretching into his early 30’s. It’s one thing to make him the highest paid closer, but is he really worth $41 million the next two seasons for the Yankees when the next highest paid closer will only earn $13 million this year?
It’s feasible that the Yankees could find there way into the playoffs in the near future with the solid roster and system they’ve built, but this offseason has been the typical “throw an outrageous amount of money at a player” type of winter that has so often been the practice of the Yankees.
Tampa Bay Rays’ Offseason Grade: B-
Off-season Needs: Catcher, Outfield depth (Right Handed Hitter), Bullpen, and to trade one starting pitcher
Key Departures: RHP Kevin Jepsen, 1B Logan Morrison, SS Alexei Ramirez, LHP Drew Smyly, OF Mikie Mahtook
Key Acquisitions: C Wilson Ramos, OF Colby Rasmus, OF Mallex Smith, RHP Shawn Tolleson, OF Jason Coats
After two straight losing seasons, the Rays hit rock bottom last year with only 68 wins. The team lacks the payroll flexibility of its AL East counterparts, so it's not as easy to nail their offseason, but they’ve had a respectable but not flashy winter.
They kicked things off with a deal for the most promising catcher in Rays history, Wilson Ramos. His wRC+ of 124 last was tops in the majors last season for catchers, so if it weren’t for an acl injury last season, the Rays would have had little chance of signing Ramos for the sensational bargain of $4 million this season $8 million in 2018. Ramos will likely work his way back slowly with some DH work initially, but it’s the perfect low risk/high reward move for Erik Neander and company.
Additionally, the team inked OF Colby Rasmus to a one year $5 million salary (to be finalized, at posting), which seems interesting given that he’s struggled hitting lefties, which is a glaring weakness for the team; yet, he provides plus defense with some upside in his bat. If he looks like last season's “barely better than the Mendoza line” Rasmus, it's not going to hurt the team to much on a one year deal; and if he excels and the team doesn’t, he might bring back something at the deadline.
They missed out on some key free agent relievers like Daniel Hudson due to a lack of closing opportunities with All-Star Alex Colome in town, but Tolleson (whose deal is also still to be finalized) is an interesting bounceback candidate. He got lit up last season in Texas, but with no dip in velocity and poor luck in both BABIP and Strand Rate, he could bounce back to resemble the player who saved 35 games in 2015.
The Drew Smyly deal brought back an intriguing and speedy young player in Mallex Smith to go along with a couple of prospects and the boon of salary reduction.
Tampa still lacks a right handed bat, so if they fail to make an addition, it could hold the team back all year. Overall, it’s been a fine offseason full of bargain bouncebacks.
Toronto Blue Jays’ Offseason Grade: B
Off-season Needs: DH, Corner Outfield, Bullpen
Key Departures: 1B Edwin Encarnacion, LF Michael Saunders, SP R.A. Dickey, RP Joaquin Benoit, RP Brett Cecil, SP Scott Feldman, SP Gavin Floyd, 1B/OF Chris Colabello, C Dioner Navarro
Key Acquisitions: DH Kendrys Morales, UT Steve Pearce, SP Brett Oberholtzer, SP T.J. House, RP Jason Grilli, RP Leonel Campos, RP Dominic Leone, RP Jeff Beliveau, RP Glenn Sparkman, RF Jose Bautista, UT Lourdes Gurriel
What was shaping up to be a disastrous offseason was salvaged as the Blue Jays moved and resigned Jose Bautista. The deal is a bit higher than the qualifying offer they initially gave him, but it has a mutual option in 2018 and a vesting option in 2019. Although it’s a gamble given his age and durability concerns, it’s a much more promising situation than starting Carrera and Melvin Upton every day.
No one is going to mistake Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce for Edwin Encarnacion, but the duo will bring quality production to the offense and give them a stronger lineup against southpaws. They reportedly offered EE 3 years and $80 million, so if they hadn’t jumped the gun on Morales, they might have seen him return.
Regardless, with Rowdy Tellez set to arrive in Toronto soon, its understandable they considered cheaper options. Since Benoit and Cecil departed, they’ll need to bolster the bullpen before the season begins, but they’ve got time. Is Jason Grilli the only answer after losing both high leverage arms? Likely not.
Starting Pitching was their strength last season, and with the formidable rotation returning and Joey Bats on a less risky deal, they simultaneously held onto financial flexibility and the ability to compete. The same can be said of Cuban prospect Lourdes Gurriel, who may or may not contribute in 2017.
Boston Red Sox’s Offseason Grade: A-
Off-Season Needs: DH, Bullpen
Key Departures: DH David Ortiz, 2B Yoan Moncada, SP Michael Kopech, SP Clay Buchholz, RP Brad Ziegler, RP Koji Uehara, RP Junichi Tazawa, C Ryan Hanigan, IF Aaron Hill, IF Travis Shaw
Key Acquisitions: SP Chris Sale, RP Tyler Thornburg, 1B Mitch Moreland, IF Matt Dominguez, OF Junior Lake, IF Josh Rutledge
It didn’t take long for the story of Red Sox’s offseason go from the retirement of Big Papi to a blockbuster deal that saw them land one of best pitchers in all of baseball, Chris Sale. Although it’s a bold move to part with Yoan Moncada, the Red Sox are all in the next couple of seasons and now have a fearsome rotation headlined by Sale, Price and Porcello.
Signing Mitch Moreland to a 1 year, $5 million deal is respectable since it allows Hanley Ramirez to primarily DH, but there were better names on the market that the team presumably missed out on signing. If they’d waited, they might of landed a guy like Napoli, but they prioritized avoiding the luxury tax, which was aided when they managed to clear north of $13 million by shipping Clay Buchholz to Philadelphia.
After losing Brad Ziegler, Tazawa, and Uehara, they needed some bullpen help, which they landed in converted starting pitcher Tyler Thornburg. The 28 year old has 3 years of affordable team control and a 2.15 ERA with 12.1 K/9 last season. He’ll serve as the primary setup man for Craig Kimbrel.
While the Sox could use another bullpen arm, it’s been a competitive offseason for the AL East favorites.