AL East free agency primer: How will the Orioles' rivals operate this offseason?

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
The Orioles' have a simple set of goals this offseason. Can the same be said for their AL East rivals?

A quick peek at the landscape of the American League East, one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, indicates that it might be a quiet offseason for the Orioles’ peers during free agency.

Depending on how you view competitive balance, that could be a good thing or a bad thing.

The Orioles, as we’ve established, are hoping to upgrade their outfield, especially defensively, and possibly add a catcher to mitigate the loss of All-Star Matt Wieters. But with the pitching staff set for 2017, those two additions could be accomplished without a major move for the Orioles.

As for the rest of the division, here’s a rundown of what they are in the market for ahead of the 2017 season.

Boston Red Sox

Last year: 93-69, 1st place.

Major losses: Designated hitter David Ortiz (retired), reliever Koji Uehara, reliever Junichi Tazawa, reliever Brad Ziegler.

Between their exciting young core led by outfielder Mookie Betts, who could win the MVP award tonight, and a reliable pitching staff fronted by Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, the Red Sox have plenty of reason to sit out most of the big business this offseason.

The only big loss they have to make up for is the retirement of Ortiz. Luckily for them, the likes of Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo on the free agent market mean that if they’re willing to spend for it, they could easily get a like-for-like replacement. Their only other real priority is the bullpen, which got terribly thin down the stretch and will be without Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, both of whom are free agents, next year.

New York Yankees

Last year: 84-78, fourth place.

Major losses: 1B Mark Teixiera (retired), C Brian McCann (traded).

With the emergence of young, talented position players such as catcher Gary Sanchez, outfielder Aaron Judge, and the slew of top prospects their trades brought in last summer, the Yankees are in the enviable position of having a cost-controlled core to build around.

Granted, they already have more than $125 million committed to eight players, but could stomach more salary in the name of filling their largest apparent need — the bullpen. A reunion with hard-throwing left-hander Aroldis Chapman is possible. If there’s any team that won’t blink in handing out a record deal to a reliever, be it Chapman or Kenley Jansen, it’s probably the Yankees.

Tampa Bay Rays

Last year: 68-94, fifth place.

Major losses: none

Skinny: The Rays’ season didn’t go as planned last year — they were picked by some to win the division, and instead finished last — and that has led to some hand-wringing about how to go forward. With the payroll constrictions they face and the core of an underwhelming team set to return, the big moves in Tampa Bay this winter might be with big names heading out the door.

Trading any of their top pitchers, including Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, or Drew Smyly, would bring quite a return for the Rays. This is how they restock and continue to stay competitive: turn one star major leaguer into a few good prospects, and keep the cycle going.

Toronto Blue Jays

Last year: 89-73, second place.

Major losses: First baseman Edwin Encarnacion, right fielder Jose Bautista, outfielder Michael Saunders.

Skinny: The gains Toronto made in its pitching staff, with J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, and Marco Estrada helping to form one of the league’s best rotations, would have accomplished more if their big-name offense was more consistent.

With several of those names, including Encarnacion and Bautista, now free agents, it stands to wonder what kind of player they’ll be replaced with. The Jays have already signed designated hitter Kendrys Morales to a three-year deal, and he could platoon with Justin Smoak to replace some of that production.

If anyone has a big signing or two in them, it’s the Blue Jays, who will be able to put the money that came off the books with their big free agents back into the team.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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