No matter what your favorite team did or didn’t do last week in Nashville, don’t overreact. That’s my first caveat when reviewing the Winter Meetings. If you went on last winter, remember, we should have spent October watching a World Series between the Padres and White Sox.
So there’s your first indication of how every general manager starts the season thinking he’s hit a home run and many simply whiff. Right now, you’ll hear plenty of talk that the Red Sox will be back on top playing deep into October in David Ortiz’s final season. We’ll see about that.
Starting pitchers are now breaking the bank (save for the unsigned Johnny Cueto) but it remains to be seem what the market is going to be for guys like Yoenis Cespedes and Chris Davis. And what do teams like the Blue Jays and Pirates do as the time to pay the piper draws ominously closer with players like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Andrew McCutchen?
Here are a few offseason thoughts on some clubs in the wake of the meetings:
Red Sox: It’s not just David Price, but adding a premier closer in Craig Kimbrel that makes folks bullish on Boston again. And there will be plenty of added emotion for Big Papi’s swan song. But are Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez going to show up this season? And get back to me when Price actually beats someone in the postseason like top-paid aces are expected to do.
Cubs: You would have thought the Joe Maddon connection made them a natural for Price, and Price even said he’d like to go to the National League and be able to hit. Of course, the Red Sox gave him 217 million reasons to not worry about the bat. That said, it’s far from a loss for the Cubbies.
They weakened the Cardinals and got better in the rotation themselves by luring away John Lackey, a saavy veteran with multiple World Series on his résumé. Then they add Jason Heyward, too? So now they’ve taken two key parts from their main rival, added postseason experience, outfield defense and bat discipline to cut down on their NL-high strikeout total.
And the Tampa connection did work as well in the signing of Ben Zobrist, who was the apple of the Mets’ eye before jumping to the other side of the NLCS. If you’re picking the NL today, Maddon’s men might be the favorites to finally get to that first World Series since 1945.
Diamondbacks: Signing Zack Greinke sure came out of nowhere but it causes a seismic shift in the NL West. Then they added Shelby Miller to the staff in a trade with Atlanta, but that one is raising plenty of eyebrows because they dealt 2015 No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson to the Braves among others. Swanson is a shortstop from Vanderbilt and a suburban Atlanta native. They’re trying to win now and it might happen for a year or two as long as they can keep Paul Goldschmidt. But at what price?
Tigers: Jordan Zimmermann, and not Price, was the guy I wanted to see the Blue Jays get in on. After all the money they took in the final three months of the season, they should have been able to get in that $100 million range and not take the easy way out with $36 million for J.A. Happ. Now Zimmermann is in Motown with a rebuilt bullpen that includes Mark Lowe, one of Toronto’s trade acquisitions, and Francisco Rodriguez. The Tigers’ dive in the AL Central may have been a one-year blip.
Mets: They didn’t get Zobrist but full marks to them for not fretting about it. They remade their middle infield in a flash by getting Neil Walker from Pittsburgh in a trade for Jon Niese and signing Asdrubal Cabrera. They were right to not spend big bucks on Daniel Murphy and not overreact to his NLDS/NLCS outburst at the plate, especially with his defensive issues. They’re in New York. They’re a World Series team. How do they not make a play for Cespedes?
Yankees: Save for adding Starlin Castro from the Cubs at second base, they were quiet. They still look good on paper. But you’ve got so many potential health issues (Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda). You have to wonder how CC Sabathia bounces back from alcohol rehab. Alex Rodriguez will be 41. Standing pat seems a little odd. I still expect them to do something.
Giants/Dodgers: They both have to react to the Greinke signing now. The Giants did by landing Jeff Samardzija, who may be more comfortable back in the NL than he was with the White Sox. And the Dodgers would seem to be a good landing spot for Cueto, who initially turned down six years and $120 million from Arizona. The Dodgers need to replace Greinke and to erase the stain of their aborted trade for Aroldis Chapman, which was just about done when news of his alleged domestic violence issues cropped up.
Pirates: With Saturday’s trade of Charlie Morton to the Phillies, the Walker deal and the non-tender of Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates dropped nearly $26 million in salary for next year. Niese makes $9 million but that’s still a savings of $17 million. They have to be setting up to make the big play to keep McCutchen, whose deal runs through 2017 with a club option for 2018.
Jays need arms
The pitching dilemma in Toronto is something to watch closely all winter, into the spring and the start of the season. Talk about paper-thin.
The Blue Jays will enter the season with Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, Happ and R.A. Dickey locked into four spots. As it stands now, Drew Hutchison or newly acquired Jesse Chavez would take the No. 5 slot. Who starts in Buffalo? Major issue. Don’t get caught up in October, where you can basically get by with three arms. You need depth starts to get you through 162 games.
“Not many teams survive a season with five starters,” Dickey told the Toronto Sun as he strolled the lobby of Opryland with the meetings in his hometown. “You usually need seven or eight. I don’t know if we have a physical body left at Buffalo.”
Indeed, new club president Mark Shapiro told reporters last week building a rotation in Buffalo is a priority. In the last two seasons, trades have sent young prospects Sean Nolin, Kendall Graveman, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd packing. Since October, Scott Copeland has declared free agency, Todd Redmond has signed with Baltimore and most every other starter the Bisons used last season remains unsigned.
The Blue Jays have to work hard on minor-league free agents, guys like Liam Hendriks, who can anchor a rotation here and be on call for Toronto.
The Jays have a ton of issues for a team just coming a three-month whirlwind that energized a fan base from coast to coast like nothing we’ve seen since 1993. There’s grave skepticism about the bred-in-Cleveland tandem of Shapiro and new GM Ross Atkins in the wake of Alex Anthopoulos’ bizarre departure. Encarnacion is sending signals he won’t negotiate a new deal past spring training – and sure seems to be the perfect fit for the Red Sox to replace Ortiz as the fulltime DH in 2017.
And how committed are Shapiro and Co. to manager John Gibbons, especially with persistent chatter that former Indians manager and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Eric Wedge may join the organization in some unspecified capacity?
• The Mets are quickly trotting Walker out in public to attend their annual holiday party for schoolchildren Tuesday at Citi Field. Pitcher Steven Matz is playing the role of Santa Claus. His elf? Manager Terry Collins.
• Speaking of Citi Field, the Pepsi Porch in right field is no more. The popular seating area that’s one of the most known elements of the park and is often referred to on SNY broadcasts isn’t going anywhere, it just needs a new name. That’s because the team announced last week it’s signed a long-term agreement with Coca-Cola for pouring rights and a variety of promotional initiatives. They will include a Coke-themed seating area in right.
• The Indians posted their lowest season attendance total ever in Progressive Field in 2015, just 1,388,905 tickets sold over 78 dates (averaging an MLB-low 17,806) The hope is that better play on the field with continued renovations at their 22-year-old park will bring more fans through the turnstiles.
They announced plans for a new main scoreboard last week, a 59 by 221 foot colossus, and will also add new message boards around the park for more statistics and out-of-town information. Major work is also taking place behind home plate, with a new club section for fans and a concourse that’s being opened up to more views of the field. Buffalo-based Delaware North is incorporating more local restaurants into the park’s concession menu.