Photo credit:Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Five reasons why the American League East has been quiet this winter
26 days ago
It’s been an extremely boring offseason for most Major League teams.
Except for the Los Angeles Dodgers with their flashy free-agent additions (ever heard of Shohei Ohtani?) and the busy Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners in the trade department, not many teams have made interesting or inspiring moves thus far, even with pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training just around the corner.
One noticeable thing this offseason was the lack of bigger moves from the AL East teams. Usually, most AL East teams have been active during the offseason to make the team and division even more competitive. However, aside from the New York Yankees signing for Juan Soto, there haven’t been much blockbuster move in a hyper-competitive division. If you’re wondering why not many AL East teams have pushed the needle, here are five theories as to why these teams have been unusually inactive this offseason.
Poor Free Agent Market:
One obvious reason is that the free agent market this time around isn’t competitive enough. While there might be competent players available in the market, the overall market consists of average players to players who are prone to injuries, which is preventing many teams from bidding against each other. AL East, in particular, has demonstrated its hesitancy in making bets on any of the remaining players for this reason, while other teams in different divisions are taking chances or making creative trades to sign some free agents eventually.
The unspoken consensus is that AL East is trying to find its way to stay competitive without having to take too many risks on the free agents this offseason. In a way, most teams in AL East do have a relatively competitive roster and it will take a few touch-ups to strengthen their core, which allows them to play more “wait and see game” this offseason.
Not surprisingly, some teams have always been on spending austerity in AL East. Notably, the Tampa Bay Rays always find innovative ways to shed their payroll while adding sneaky good players to their list through trades and player development. This has been their trademark move for a while and it has served them well; there’s no reason for the Rays to turn away from this competitive strategy.
The Baltimore Orioles have also been a small market team that has stayed away from any bigger free-agent signings. With the Angelos family at the helm, they are most likely to stay put instead of taking a spending risk. However, Puck News reported recently that a group led by private equity billionaires David Rubenstein and Mike Arougheti is purchasing the Orioles for $1.725 billion, which could signal a new spending direction for the team in the long-term.
Another weird non-spender this offseason has been the Boston Red Sox. While the ownership of the Red Sox has repeatedly expressed their desire to build a more competitive team, the team hasn’t made a bigger splash this offseason other than signing starting pitcher Lucas Giolitio. If anything, the team has taken an adventurous route of trading starting pitcher Chris Sale for shortstop Vaughan Grissom.
With some teams with a spending restraint, it’s much more difficult for the AL East as a whole to make more aggressive moves throughout the offseason. And as of now, three teams are spending conservatively, which is leading to a much slower offseason for fans in the AL East.
The Scott Boras Four:
Scott Boras isn’t going away now or anytime soon. He has dominated the free agent market for a while and he has the fate of this offseason in his hands. Some of his clients, Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell, still haven’t signed any deals with a major league team yet. At this point, most teams are waiting for the signing prices to fall and won’t likely give into Boras unless they run out of options.
In short, teams playing the waiting game and Boras playing his game of Monopoly have essentially created a gridlock in off-season movements. As time goes by, one of these parties will have to give in before the season begins in March and only time will tell as to what Boras’ remaining free-agent signing looks like.
The AL East as a division, for now, is taking a backseat and keeping an eye out on these prime free-agent targets given that these are high-risk-high-reward players. Whether it’s signing these players or waiting for these players to sign outside of the division, AL East will most likely get some transactions done once Boras helps his clients to sign.
Sometimes, the answer to this question is just simple. Some teams are recalibrating and re-strategizing to find a new way forward. Granted, this does apply to many teams but this resonates with all AL East teams as they failed to make a deeper playoff run in the 2023 season.
We already know that the Rays, Orioles and Red Sox don’t have much intention to spend this offseason for now. But in the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays’ case, they seem to be in a recalibration mode to keep up with their sky-high expectations.
Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman has preferred to make selective signings and trades as opposed to making blockbuster moves every single second. Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins has opted to make under-the-radar moves over the past few years. Given these tendencies, it’s most likely that these two teams will stay the course with their strategies while making a few minor adjustments to enhance their rosters.
Some recalibrations result in drastic changes, but the current recalibration in AL East will likely magnify smaller and underrated moves this offseason.
The Value of Prospects:
While the lack of trades and free-agent signings can be puzzling, it could also signal that the teams are betting on their younger prospects to come up and make an impact. At least, that seems to be the case for the majority of AL East teams. To their credit, many AL East teams have developed their prospects well for years.
The Rays have been known for their scouting and player development, especially when it comes to their younger prospects such as Junior Caminero and Isaac Paredes. The Orioles have made savvy draft choices and have stacked up their farm system with numerous prospects like Jackson Holliday, Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser. The Red Sox have replenished their depleted farm system with promising young players, including Nick Yorke and Triston Casas, under former general manager Chaim Bloom. The Blue Jays have a few prospects like Addison Barger and Orelvis Martinez to look forward to even though their farm system isn’t as strong as the others. Last but not least, the Yankees still have some prospects to show off and are banking on players like Jasson Dominguez to take the team to the next level.
With a rather underwhelming and tighter free-agent market in the backdrop, this kind of offseason environment gives teams space to offer opportunities to younger players to earn their playing time. If the pace of this offseason remains sluggish for AL East teams, it’s evident that they will rely more on their prospects’ to prove their abilities or showcase their full potential.
The offseason isn’t over just yet even if it’s getting closer to the end. Things do tend to happen towards the tail end of winter and more teams, including those in the AL East, will likely explore more trades and signings as the spring training and the 2024 season approaches. Only time will tell.
Recent articles from Veronica Chung