The Yankees made the biggest splash of the offseason by signing Gerrit Cole, but what did their AL East rivals do to improve their teams as well?
After two consecutive slow, boring offseasons in which teams were reluctant to shell out lucrative contracts to marquee free agents, this past offseason proved to be quite the opposite. Baseball seemed to be in the news constantly this offseason, with the Astros scandal being covered ad nauseum and with star players like Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Mookie Betts on the move in free agency and through trades. With the reeling in of Brian Cashman’s “white whale” in Cole, the Yankees pulled off arguably the most impactful move all offseason, giving the right-hander nine years and $324 million, the most ever given to a starting pitcher. While the Yankees look poised to repeat as AL East champions in 2020, the rest of the division didn’t stay quiet, as there was plenty of movement among other teams in the AL East as well.
Here’s a look at the most significant transactions made by the Yankees’ AL East counterparts this offseason, as they vie to take down the Bombers as division champs.
Tampa Bay Rays
Key Additions: LF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, LF Hunter Renfroe, 1B Jose Martinez, CF Manuel Margot, LF Randy Arozarena, SS Xavier Edwards, 1B Brian O’Grady
Key Subtractions: LF Tommy Pham, RF Avisail Garcia, C Travis d’Arnaud, 1B Jesus Aguilar, RHP Emilio Pagan, 3B Matt Duffy, CF Guillermo Heredia, 2B Eric Sogard, LHP Matthew Liberatore, SS Jake Cronenworth, RHP Jose De Leon
The Rays stayed busy this offseason out of all AL East teams, pulling off three separate significant trades, two with the Padres and one with the Cardinals. They completely shifted the look of their outfield, as Tommy Pham, Avisail Garcia and Guillermo Heredia appeared in 145, 125, and 89 games, respectively, for them last season, serving as three of the team’s main outfielders. The loss of Yankees killer Travis d’Arnaud in free agency figures to set Mike Zunino up to be the team’s starting catcher entering the season. The addition of defensive prowess Manuel Margot from San Diego gives the Rays quite possibly the strongest defensive outfield in baseball, as Margot and Kevin Kiermaier recorded the 5th and 9th most Outs Above Average among all outfielders in the past three seasons. Hunter Renfroe, who socked 33 homers in 2019, adds some pop to a lineup that finished 18th in the league in total homers last season, and Jose Martinez has the potential to be yet another lethal addition if the team can figure out a place for him to play.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is more of an unknown and a bit of a wild card since he was signed as an international free agent from Japan and has yet to play in the MLB, but the 139 homers he slugged in the past four seasons playing for the Yokohoma Bay Stars of the Japan Central League are definitely appealing to a team in need of some offensive power. The Rays drew some criticism for flipping Pagan to the Padres since he was so effective for them out of the bullpen last season, but their pitching staff is deep enough that they should be able to sustain losing him.
Tampa Bay is not a team to take lightly, as their new offensive pieces, a rotation headlined by Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell, and a bullpen that boasted the lowest ERA in the league last season will certainly make them a favorite to sneak into October again as a Wild Card team or even challenge the Yankees for the AL East.
Boston Red Sox
Key Additions: CF Alex Verdugo, SS Jeter Downs, CF Kevin Pillar, LHP Martin Perez, C Kevin Plawecki, LHP Jeffrey Springs, C Connor Wong
Key Subtractions: RF Mookie Betts, LHP David Price, RHP Rick Porcello, C Sandy Leon, RHP Jhoulys Chacin, RHP Steven Wright, 1B Sam Travis, RHP Travis Lakins
With the exception of DH J.D. Martinez opting in to his contract at the start of the offseason, the Red Sox were having a relatively quiet winter up until earlier this month, when they orchestrated the biggest trade of the offseason. They flipped star outfielder and 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts, as well as 2018 World Series MVP David Price, to the Dodgers in exchange for young studs Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs, as well as catching prospect Connor Wong. They had initially agreed to a deal that would have netted them flamethrowing prospect Brusdar Graterol from the Twins in addition to Verdugo, but Graterol’s physical raised concerns about his future as a starter, so the deal was reworked to send Graterol to Los Angeles instead, with Boston adding Downs and Wong in his place.
While the Red Sox still have pieces that could reasonably lead them to compete for a playoff spot, including Chris Sale, Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, it seems that the team is entering a brief rebuilding phase so that they can be perennial championship contenders again in just a few seasons. Another challenge facing the team is that they are entering their first season with new manager Ron Roenicke and general manager Chaim Bloom at the helm, as Alex Cora was let go this offseason amidst allegations regarding his role in the Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal, and Dave Dombrowski departed from the organization towards the end of last season. On the field, the Red Sox have plenty of question marks entering the season, most notably surrounding their rotation. Sale is arguably the best pitcher in baseball when he’s on, but he struggled with injuries at the end of 2019 and many have questioned how his elbow will hold up given his heavy workload. Beyond Sale, the Red Sox have Eduardo Rodriguez penciled in for a rotation spot, but the rest isn’t so clear cut. Nathan Eovaldi, who has had his own fair share of injury concerns, may be destined for the bullpen, and beyond Martin Perez, Boston’s roster is scarce of pitchers who have experience starting at the major league level. Downs isn’t expected to contribute at the major league level any time soon, but Verdugo should start the season with the big league club and will have a chance to showcase his skills, something he wasn’t given an opportunity to do in LA with the Dodgers’ crowded roster.
Kevin Pillar’s best days may be behind him, but he still put together a respectable 2019 season and should be at the very least a serviceable player for Boston. The bats could very well produce, but if the pitching isn’t up to par, it may not matter for the 2020 Red Sox.
Toronto Blue Jays
Key Additions: LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, RHP Tanner Roark, RHP Chase Anderson, RHP Shun Yamaguchi, 3B Travis Shaw, RHP Rafael Dolis, 2B Joe Panik
Key Subtractions: 1B Justin Smoak, 1B Chad Spanberger, SS Richard Urena, RHP Ryan Tepera, RHP Justin Shafer, 2B Breyvic Valera
We heard the same thing about the Blue Jays all season last year: their young bats are going to be dangerous for a long time, but they need to add rotation help, desperately. With their rotation depleted following Marcus Stroman’s trade to the Mets last season, the Blue Jays addressed their pitching concerns this offseason, inking star left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four year, $80 million deal. While Ryu was the flashy name Toronto picked up, they didn’t stop there, adding three other starting pitchers in workhorses Tanner Roark and Chase Anderson as well as Shun Yamaguchi, a veteran of the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) in Japan.
With Matt Shoemaker, Ryan Borucki and Trent Thorton also in the mix for rotation spots, the Blue Jays adequately addressed the most glaring hole on their team. Justin Smoak was a staple at first base for Toronto for five seasons, and they will miss his offensive production, but the team’s plethora of young stars should be able to shoulder the load in his absence. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Randal Grichuk and Rowdy Tellez proved to be a very talented offensive core, all putting together successful seasons with the bat in 2019. Travis Shaw’s bat, versatility and veteran presence will be a solid addition for the team both in the lineup and in the locker room.
Playing in a stacked division, the playoffs are likely still just out of the picture for the Jays, at least for the time being. But this team is just a few years and pieces away from being a serious force to be reckoned with, and the addition of Ryu to stabilize their rotation makes them a team worth keeping an eye on this season.
Key Additions: SS Jose Iglesias, LHP Easton Lucas, RHP Kohl Stewart, RHP Isaac Mattson, RHP Kyle Bradish, RHP Kyle Brnovich, RHP Zach Peek, SS Richard Urena, RHP Travis Lakins
Key Subtractions: 2B Jonathan Villar, RHP Dylan Bundy, CF Stevie Wilkerson
Coming off 47 and 54 win seasons in 2018 and 2019, the Orioles are about as far away from contention as a team could possibly be. The team traded off one of their few productive players from last season, shipping infielder Jonathan Villar to the Marlins in December in exchange for pitching prospect Easton Lucas. Just days later, Baltimore turned starting pitcher Dylan Bundy into four pitching prospects, sending Bundy to the Angels. With the Orioles not expected to be even a .500 team anytime in the near future, loading up on prospects is exactly what they should be doing. The O’s posted a 5.59 team ERA last season, the worst in all of baseball. Bundy and his 4.79 ERA didn’t do much to help matters, but he has still flashed potential at times, so the team made the right decision by flipping him for prospects before his impending free agency in 2022. Villar, who played in all 162 games for Baltimore in 2019, will be a free agent after the 2020 season, so Baltimore figured that he, like Bundy, should be flipped for young talent that can help them compete in the future in the AL East.
Jose Iglesias was brought in on a cheap one year deal with an option for 2021 to shore up the infield defense and provide some veteran leadership, but he’s never done much with the bat in his career so don’t count on him being a producer for Baltimore offensively. The O’s have a few more productive veterans, such as Alex Cobb and Miguel Castro, who they could look to flip for prospects as the season moves along.
Baltimore’s offseason as a whole was uneventful, and don’t expect their performance this season to be any more exciting than their winter was.