AL East Offseason Review (So Far): How do the Blue Jays stack up?
Photo credit:Toronto Star via Getty Images
By Evan Stack5 months ago
As the seconds passed through the 2022 Winter Meetings, Blue Jays fans were left watching many potential free agent additions choose other teams, only to see that the Blue Jays “were in on *insert name*”. Brandon Nimmo, Kodai Senga, Andrew Heaney, and many others found paydays of different amounts with their respective franchises, however, they weren’t with Toronto’s immediate competitors in the AL East.
Sure, Toronto isn’t only competing with those in their division. With the MLB schedule becoming more diverse, the Blue Jays will face every other team in the league at least once in 2023. However, looking solely at the division, the Blue Jays have had a relatively good offseason (so far) compared to their AL East counterparts, and they’re in a position to widen the gap of being the most improved team.
Although there is still a lot of time left, let’s take a look at where things stand as of now in the AL East…
Toronto Blue Jays
Key Losses: OF Teoscar Hernandez, SP Ross Stripling
Key Acquisitions/Signings: RP Erik Swanson, OF Kevin Kiermaier (supposedly), SP Chris Bassitt
Summary: With Ross Atkins hinting at money not being a problem this offseason, the Jays were expected to make a splash and potentially spend big. They haven’t extended any of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Alek Manoah, or Bo Bichette, nor have they made a $100 million+ signing, but there’s still a feeling that major moves have yet to be made.
Although they had to give up a long-time Blue Jay, the trade to acquire Erik Swanson made sense from many different angles. Chris Bassitt is a prototypical #3/#4 starter, hence he slots right into Ross Stripling’s spot in the rotation.
The details of Kevin Kiermaier’s signing have yet to be released, but if he is indeed a Blue Jay, his value is found in keeping George Springer out of CF, being a left-handed bat in a lineup full of rightys, and offering speed along the basepaths – all things Toronto needed heading into the offseason.
Areas of Need: The Blue Jays have added pieces to their starting rotation and bullpen without having to move one of their three major league catchers. Pair that with many catchers who have already moved this offseason, and Toronto is one of the few teams left with quality catchers to offer the trade market.
What to do with this trade chip is a question that has a few answers. Miami and Arizona are a couple of teams who are looking for a catcher, and both teams have luxuries that the Blue Jays need. However, Toronto may feel as if they have everything they need in free agency, and decide to keep all three catchers.
No matter how they do it, the rotation still needs one more piece, as Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White didn’t give the Blue Jays a lot of promise as starters last year. Nathan Eovaldi, Corey Kluber, and Noah Syndergaard still remain on the free agent market as viable starters to fill that final spot.
The Kiermaier acquisition makes up for the losses of Ramiel Tapia, Bradley Zimmer, and Jackie Bradley Jr., NOT Teoscar Hernandez. With that being said, another outfield bat is needed – whether by free agency or trade. The said outfielder will need to be involved in run production, free agents Michael Conforto and Michael Brantley have been floating names.
Toronto has a window to have a very successful offseason, but it appears as if it’s going to require a hefty trade or a pretty penny to make the big splash.
Sep 13, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge (99) hits a home run during the eighth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
New York Yankees
Key Losses: SP Jameson Taillon, RP Aroldis Chapman, RP Zack Britton
Key Acquisitions/Signings: RF Aaron Judge, 1B Anthony Rizzo, RP Tommy Kahnle
Summary: New York’s first priority was to re-sign Aaron Judge, and they did just that, inking him to a 9-year, $360 million deal. Anthony Rizzo coming back is also a plus, as his bat will continue to play to the short porch in Yankee Stadium.
They had several bullpen pieces elect free agency; Miguel Castro, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, and Chad Green could all be in new homes next year, just shortly after the Yankees had one of the more dominant relief crews in 2022.
In parallel, OF Andrew Benintendi also elected free agency, leaving a minor hole in the outfield.
Outside of signing Judge and Rizzo, it’s been nothing but rumors for New York, as they look to repeat as AL East champs in 2023.
Areas of Need: The Yankees are always looking to improve, meaning that their area(s) of need, if you ask Brian Cashman, simply acquiring a top-five talent at each position. They’ve been “in” on every big-name free agent, including Dansby Swanson and Carlos Rodon.
Considering what the Yankees would offer financially, nothing will be out of the question. A Rodon signing would solidify the rotation as one of the best in baseball, while a Swanson deal would also greatly improve the batting order and the defense.
The bullpen could use some revitalization, which could lead the Yankees to attack the trade market in a multitude of capacities. Some Yankees fans are begging the front office to move off of Josh Donaldson and/or Aaron Hicks, but it will be tough to find suitors who will offer a potent return for two aging veterans (who, together, carry hefty contracts). With the Yankees exercising their “win now” mentality, you can never rule out a blockbuster deal with top prospects, too.
While the Yankees opened up their pockets to re-sign Judge, this offseason would be a massive disappointment if that was the only signature move that they made, considering who all they have been making a run for. They’ve already struck out on Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, and Jacob deGrom. Bringing back Judge is great, but if that’s all, is the team better than last year? That’s a major no.
Aug 4, 2021; Yokohama, Japan; Team Japan outfielder Masataka Yoshida (34) hits a single against Korea in a baseball semifinal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Red Sox
Key Losses: SS Xander Bogaerts
Key Acquisitions/Signings: OF Masataka Yoshida, RP Kenley Jansen, RP Chris Martin
Summary: The Red Sox have been an interesting team during this offseason. They’ve been subtly active thus far, but they really messed up bringing back Xander Boagerts. Bogaerts joins Mookie Betts as beloved, homegrown Red Sox that the front office has failed to keep around in the past few seasons.
They bolstered their bullpen by handing two-year contracts to Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin. Jansen likely takes over the closer role, as former closer Matt Barnes struggled in 2022 with a 4.31 ERA and only 8 saves. Jansen, however, thrived in his first year not in a Dodgers uniform. Despite his ERA hanging in the mid 3.00’s, Jansen led the NL with 41 saves, as well as posing a 12.0 K/9.
Boston’s most recent signing was seen as a gamble to several, as they brought in OF Masataka Yoshida from Japan. Yoshida had elite contact numbers in Japan with the Orix Buffaloes, and he was one of the international free agents several teams had kept tabs on. On the downside, if his contact is lacking, he doesn’t offer much else to Boston, hence the risk with the five-year deal worth $90 million that the Red Sox claimed him for.
Areas of Need: The loss of Bogaerts hurts the offense, he created a niche in the top five of many American League statistics. JD Martinez is also a free agent, so an inability to bring him back, as well as Bogaerts’ departure puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of Yoshida, Rafael Devers, and Trevor Story.
The rotation still has several question marks, as well. Are Chris Sale, Garrett Whitlock, and Tanner Houck going to be healthy? Is Brayan Bello a legitimate major league starter? The Red Sox will likely need to add another starting pitcher and another proven major league bat to enhance their roster if they want to compete in this division.
Key Losses: SP Jordan Lyles, 2B Rougned Odor
Key Acquisitions/Signings: SP Kyle Gibson, OF Nomar Mazara, OF Franchy Cordero
Summary: The Orioles surprised a lot of people this year by staying in the Wild Card hunt well into September. Because of this, Baltimore suddenly became an attractive landing spot for select free agents looking to play with a bunch of young up-and-comers with legitimate talent.
They added Kyle Gibson in free agency, an experienced arm to plug into a rotation filled with younger pitchers who had stellar 2022 seasons. Gibson had a less-than-stellar 2022 with the Phillies, however, pitching to the tune of a 5.05 ERA. Gibson likely serves as the replacement for Jordan Lyles, who ate up 179 innings last season.
To this point, the Orioles have yet to land a big-name free agent (sorry, Gibson just doesn’t cut it). In fairness to Baltimore, they probably have enough young players and upcoming prospects to fill a 40-man roster. Especially with SP Grayson Rodriguez set to make his major league debut this year, the Orioles are still content on seeing how far their young guns can take them.
Areas of Need: Despite the above, I believe they would still benefit from inserting a couple of established major league players to their roster, whether that be in their batting lineup or pitching rotation. They took fliers on Nomar Mazara and Franchy Cordero, but those two don’t carry a wealth of expectations.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they were late competitors in the sweepstakes of names such as DH JD Martinez, INF Brandon Drury, or SP Michael Wacha.
Tampa Bay Rays
Key Losses: OF Kevin Kiermaier, 1B Ji-Man Choi, SP Ryan Yarbrough
Key Acquisitions/Signings: SP/RP Zach Eflin
Summary: Until upper management changes or the team relocates, the Rays aren’t going to jump off the page with their offseason signings.
At this point in the offseason, the Rays have attacked free agency much more differently than the other four teams in this division. First off, they’re “acquiring” guys by simply getting healthy. Tampa Bay’s 2022 was filled with injuries; Brandon Lowe, Andrew Kittredge, Wander Franco, and Tyler Glasnow were just a few of the names that found habitats on the IL for the majority of last year. Had they been at full strength, the Rays could’ve very easily contended for the AL East crown.
The Rays were able to combat those injuries by having a stable farm system, as well as finding underrated gems through trade and waiver claims. Plain and simple, that is what they’ve done thus far in the offseason.
The Rays have traded RP Brooks Raley, 2B Miles Mastrobuoni, RP JT Chargois, SS Xavier Edwards, and others in exchange for minor-league pitching depth. In other words, the major league team is getting healthy, so the minor leaguers are getting proper development in order to be ready for future potential injuries.
They did sign Zach Eflin, a former Phillies pitcher who found some success as a reliever last season, meaning Eflin will torment the Toronto offense for the next three years. Eflin returned from an IL stint on September 14th, finishing the season with a 1.17 ERA out of the bullpen.
Hilariously enough, the 3-year $40 million deal for Eflin is the largest that the Rays have given a free agent in franchise history.
Areas of Need: Ugh, this is such a challenge, because have the Rays ever “needed” anything? They’ve always made do with what they have. Be on the lookout for the Rays to acquire another under-the-radar arm for their rotation to round it out, maybe a type similar to Ryan Yarbrough.
What the Rays really need is to get healthy and stay healthy, which would be Toronto’s worst nightmare.
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