As Opening Day draws near, we take a look back at the off-season, breaking down each team's biggest additions, losses and injury concerns, division by division. As it often does, the AL East saw some of the biggest trades and signings go down, but it wasn't just the usual suspects making headlines this off-season.
The AL East has gone from a three team race to a full five team melee this season. The Blue Jays and Red Sox revamped their rosters, adding a wealth of new talent. Th Rays did what they do best, swapping pricey veterans for top young players on the verge of major league stardom and the Yankees and the Orioles put their trust in the core that helped them to 90+ wins last year. The result might be the most difficult division in baseball to predict.
Major Additions: Jair Jurrjens, Luis Ayala, Alexi Casilla
Key Departures: Mark Reynolds, Joe Saunders
Significant Injuries: Wilson Betemit, Jair Jurrjens
After surprising the American League and defying the laws of win probability, the Orioles had a very quiet off-season. Instead of adding, they brought back most of their key contributors like Nate McLouth and Wilson Betemit. They lost out on the bidding for Joe Saunders and had to watch the lefty head West for Seattle. With the emergence of Manny Machado and players like Chris Davis and Lew Ford around, they made little effort to bring back Mark Reynolds, who signed with the Cleveland Indians. As unlikely as their 2012 success was, Orioles fans may be disappointed that the team did not add anyone of real value this off-season, but the smartest move GM Dan Duquette made this winter was not dealing away top-tier talent like Dylan Bundy to that end. Still, when Jair Jurrijens and Luis Ayala are the biggest additions to your team, it is hard not to be disappointed.
Boston Red Sox
Major Additions: Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, Ryan Dempster, Joel Hanrahan, Koji Uehara
Key Departures: Cody Ross, James Loney, Mike Aviles, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Mark Melancon
Significant Injuries: David Ortiz, Stephen Drew, Franklin Morales
After the debacle that was the Red Sox 2012 season, Boston needed to make some dramatic changes and they did just that. Bobby Valentine was quickly replaced with former Sox pitching coach and recent Blue Jays manager John Farrell and GM Ben Cherington went to work rebuilding the club through a series of bets on undervalued free agents like David Ross, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew and Ryan Dempster. His top priority was filling the hole at first left by the mega-trade with the Dodgers that sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers. The team quickly reached a deal with their top choice, Mike Napoli, but the discovery of a hip condition dragged out the negotiation and
Napoli’s deal went from 3 years/$39M to 1 year/$5 with incentives up to $13M. Cherington also added closer Joel Hanrahan via trade and signed Koji Uehara to help sure up the bullpen. The Red Sox did an impressive job of retooling quickly after their August sell-off and they are certainly a better team now then they were when the 2012 season ended, but so much of their success in 2013 depends on bounce back seasons from players like Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Major Additions: Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, Brennan Boesch
Key Departures: Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Rafael Soriano
Significant Injuries: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes
Following another division title and another early exit from the playoffs, the Yankees were uncharacteristically cost-conscious this off-season. They let Russell Martin walk away rather than outbid the Pirates and chose to save money in right with a 39 year-old Ichiro rather than paying to keep Nick Swisher, breaking the bank on Josh Hamilton or selling off the farm for Justin Upton. Kevin Youkilis was brought in when it became apparent that Alex Rodriguez would need hip surgery and miss at least the first half of the season, but overall, the Yankees made few significant signings. With plenty of talent already on the roster and the goal landing under the $189M luxury tax threshold for 2014 in their sights, this strategy was understandable. Then spring hit and the Yankee core was decimated by injuries. New York will begin the season without Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira and Granderson and unlike so many times in the past, they have few backup options.
Tampa Bay Rays
Major Additions: Wil Myers, Kelly Johnson, James Loney, Yunel Escobar
Key Departures: B.J. Upton, James Shields, Wade Davis, Carlos Pena
Significant Injuries: None
In what could turn out to be the biggest steal of the off-season, Tampa Bay landed the number one hitting prospect in baseball, Wil Myers, and two solid pitching prospects in Jake Ordorizzi and Mike Montgomery in a trade with the Royals. Kansas City got ace James Shields and swing-man Wade Davis in return, two players who could certainly have helped the Rays win in 2013, but who were also becoming more expensive. That is the strategy that has built
TampaBay into a consistent competitor and for the foreseeable future, it appears to be their only real option. Apart from Shields, B.J. Upton was their biggest loss as he left via free agency to earned big bucks down in
Atlanta; the rays were braced for that inevitability with Desmond Jennings waiting to step in at center, however. The Rays added a few role players to the mix, signing free agent first baseman James Loney and second baseman Kelly Johnson and getting problem-child shortstop Yunel Escobar in trade from the Marlins. The Rays didn't make any major moves after theMyers trade but they continue to build through their excellent player development system and find role players to piece in around the players they bring along.
Toronto Blue Jays
Major Additions: Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Melky Cabrera, Maicer Izturis
Key Departures: Yunel Escobar, Carlos Villanueva, Kelly Johnson
Significant Injuries: None
Toronto is easily the most improved team in baseball after swinging not one, but two blockbuster deals this off-season. The Blue Jays took advantage of the Marlins near-total sell-off and landed Reyes, Bonifacio, Johnson, and Buerhle for Esocbar and a package of top prospects in early November. Then in December, they won the bidding for NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, giving the Mets top catching prospect Travis d’Arnuad as the centerpiece of the seven player deal. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has bet big here as he looks to win while star sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are still in their prime. On paper, the Blue Jays may be the best team in the division at this point, but in the wide open AL East, there will be little room for error. As impressive as their off-season was, the Blue Jays imports have to stay healthy and productive if this team is going to make a run for the division crown.
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