AL East offseason preview

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After another season in which the AL East featured some of the best teams in baseball, the competition for divisional supremacy will continue throughout the offseason. Here is a preview of where each AL East organization stands heading into the winter months.

Baltimore Orioles

1. Offseason outlook: Even though they missed out on the playoffs, the Orioles were actually a better team in 2013 than they were the season before. The team’s offense is one of the best in the American League, but the biggest thing holding Baltimore back is the club's weak starting pitching. Upgrading the rotation will be a top priority for GM Dan Duquette, but don’t expect the Orioles to pay the exorbitant prices it will take to sign starters like Masahiro Tanaka or Ervin Santana.

2. Notable Free Agents: 1B/OF Mike Morse, OF Nate McLouth, 2B Brian Roberts, SP Scott Feldman, SP Jason Hammel, RP Francisco Rodriguez,

3. Team needs: Starting Pitching, Second Base, Outfield Depth, Relief Pitching

4. Predictions: The Orioles will do their best to address their starting pitching needs, re-signing Scott Feldman and making a run at another under-the-radar free agent (such as Dan Haren, Bartolo Colon, or Josh Johnson) if the price is right. If Baltimore does spend any significant money, expect it to be on a second baseman like Omar Infante or Mark Ellis since that position proved to be a black hole (Baltimore second baseman hit a combined .236/.299/.376 this season) for the Orioles in 2013. In the end, Baltimore may be stuck in limbo for one more year, as they try to piece together a group of starters that is good enough to push them back into contention, while waiting for their top pitching prospects in Kevin Gausman, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Dylan Bundy to continue developing.

Boston Red Sox

1. Offseason outlook: While the rest of Boston revels in the team’s World Series victory, GM Ben Cherington will be hard at work this offseason assessing how best to retool the squad for next season. Key contributors in Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are all free agents, meaning the Red Sox will have plenty of holes to fill this winter, even if much of their core remains.  A deep farm system gives Boston some flexibility, and may allow Cherington to let the likes of Ellsbury and Drew leave in free agency, but either way, the Red Sox have some additions to make in the months ahead.

2. Notable Free Agents: C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 1B Mike Napoli (received Qualifying Offer), SS Stephen Drew (received QO), CF Jacoby Ellsbury (received QO), RP Matt Thornton, RP Joel Hanrahan

3. Team needs: Catcher, First Base, Outfield Depth, Relief Pitching

4. Predictions: Like last winter, it would be a surprise if the Red Sox made any expensive or marquee signings on the free agent market. Given the team’s strong farm system, and near-ready players in Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., Cherington will let free agents Ellsbury and Drew leave rather than sign them to expensive, long-term contracts.  After staying healthy and impressing with his defense at first base, Mike Napoli will likely sign a two- or three-year deal to remain in Boston, and despite some early flirtations with Brian McCann, I’m betting the Red Sox also re-sign Saltalamacchia as well.  Adding some bullpen depth will be near the top of Cherington’s wish list, but overall, I expect the Red Sox to hold onto their core and top minor league prospects unless someone like Giancarlo Stanton is made available via trade.

New York Yankees

1. Offseason outlook: The Yankees face an offseason filled with question marks, as their best player, Robinson Cano, enters free agency while the team looks to save money.  A weak farm system that hasn’t developed many impact players recently has handicapped an aging roster, leaving the Yankees with multiple holes to fill.  Even if New York does re-sign Cano, will ownership spend enough money to address all the team’s needs despite its pledge to cut costs? And let’s not even start with Alex Rodriguez…

2. Notable Free Agents: 1B Mark Reynolds, 2B Robinson Cano (received QO), 3B Kevin Youkilis, OF Curtis Granderson (received QO), SP Hiroki Kuroda (received QO), SP Phil Hughes

3. Team needs: Catcher, Second Base, Shortstop, Outfield, Starting Pitching, Relief Pitching

4. Predictions: The Yankees will re-sign Cano, but beyond that, everything else is a question mark. New York is also said to be interested in Tanaka, but given how expensive that endeavor could get with the posting fee and long-term contract involved, I wouldn’t expect the Yankees to sign the Japanese import. I do think Kuroda will return for one more season, and the team will also look to add another starter (Matt Garza? Ervin Santana? Tim Hudson?), as New York finally bids farewell to Phil Hughes.  Adding depth to the infield and outfield will also be a priority, and if ownership is willing to spend money, I think Shin Soo-Choo and Stephen Drew are decent bets to be in pinstripes next season.

Tampa Bay Rays

1. Offseason outlook: The biggest question for the Rays heading into the offseason centers around the possibility that they trade ace left-hander David Price.  After re-signing David DeJesus and picking up team options for Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar, the Rays actually have much of their core returning for the 2014 season.  They’ll be in the market for a first baseman again with James Loney heading to free agency, and also could use some help at catcher and in the back-end of their rotation. But, of course, Tampa Bay isn’t suddenly going to start spending a bunch of money on free agents, so expect their additions to come from cheap, low-cost options and whatever young talent they may get in return for Price.

2. Notable Free Agents: 1B James Loney, 2B/OF Kelly Johnson, C Jose Molina, RP Fernando Rodney, RP Jesse Crain, SP Roberto Hernandez

3. Team needs: Catcher, First Base, Starting Pitching, Relief Pitching

4. Predictions: With two years of team control remaining in his contract, David Price is at the height of his value this offseason.  Being a smart organization, the Rays know this and will have little choice but to trade him before Spring Training, with the Rangers and Dodgers being Price’s two most likely destinations.  If the Rays do get Price, they will be getting a bundle of elite talent in return, something they could use to help shore up the back of their rotation and add another bat or two to their lineup.  Expect trading Price to be Tampa Bay’s biggest move in finding additions for next season, with a few smaller, under-the-radar free-agent signings rounding out the team’s offseason moves.

Toronto Blue Jays

1. Offseason outlook: After a disappointing season in 2013, the Blue Jays head into the offseason needing two things: pitching and more pitching. Toronto’s staff was among the worst in baseball, ranking 24th in the majors in team ERA and 28th in team FIP. Coupled with some significant injuries, the Blue Jays just were never able to find any consistency this past season. The biggest task on GM Alex Anthopoulos’ list will be adding some necessary depth to his squad after a year in which the division rival Red Sox rode a deep team to the World Series title, while every little weakness in the Blue Jays squad seemed to be exposed.

2. Notable Free Agents: OF Rajai Davis, SP Josh Johnson

3. Team needs: Catching depth, Second base, Outfield depth, Starting Pitching, Relief Pitching

4. Predictions: The Blue Jays have a talented, high-priced core on the offensive side, but the team needs to upgrade its rotation.  It will be interesting to see if Anthopoulos opens up his checkbook further and pursues any of the top starters on the market (like Ervin Santana or Matt Garza) to pair with R.A. Dickey.  The Jays might also try to sign a few low-cost, bounce-back options like Josh Johnson, Dan Haren, or Tim Hudson, although that strategy comes with the risk that Toronto may have another injury-plagued, mediocre rotation again in 2014.  Any notable trades involving minor leaguers seem unlikely given how many prospects the Blue Jays parted with last offseason.  Yet this remains a roster the Toronto organization has fully invested in to win now, and not being aggressive in trying to fix the team’s weaknesses would only serve to undermine that plan. I expect them to hand out a sizable contract to somebody, but just who that will be remains anybody’s guess.

. . .

All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com.

Alex Skillin is a Staff Writer for Beyond the Box Score, a contributor to CelticsBlog.com, and also a Staff Editor for SoxProspects.com. He writes, mostly about baseball and basketball, at a few other places across the Internet. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexSkillin.

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