As all of baseball convened in San Diego this past week, there were a lot of holes to fill. There are some teams that have been very active in free agency and trades over the past weeks and this article means to look at three teams in the American League that have enhanced their rosters over that span of time.
These teams did not make the playoffs in 2014 and they added players that may make them playoff caliber teams in 2014.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2014 Regular Season Record (73-89)
There has been a lot of pressure on the White Sox to build a winner as the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals have made the World Series in the past three years and the Cleveland Indians made the playoffs in 2013. The White Sox made a couple big splashes this offseason to boost their profile in the AL Central.
A bit before the Winter Meetings, they inked Adam LaRoche to bolster their weak lineup and provide left-handed power to match Jose Dariel Abreu’s right-handed power in the middle of the lineup. LaRoche has averaged 27 home runs per 162 games in his career and twice in the past three years has had an OPS over .800. LaRoche may not be an All-Star caliber player, but, other than an awful 2011, LaRoche has consistently been a strong performer with an OPS+ of 114 for his career.
The White Sox have an ace in Chris Sale, with a 9.8 K/9 and a 2.76 ERA since entering the league in 2010. He had a 2.17 ERA over 26 starts last season, but the Sox needed a second top pitcher to compliment Sale in the rotation. They did just that by moving prospect Marcus Semien, along with other minor league prospects, for Jeff Samardzija. The 29 year old veteran has struck out 200 or more batters in each of the past two years and posted a sub-3.00 ERA last season. His ERA went up and strikeouts went down as he went from the Cubs in the National League to the Athletics in the American League, but did see his WHIP drop strongly to beneath 1.00 and struck out 99 while walking only 12. The White Sox now have two top-25 starters coming into the 2015 season, as Sale will be top-5 starter and Samardzija will comfortably sit in the 22-24 range.
The White Sox needed some help in the bullpen as Zach Putnam or Jake Petricka were set to be the closer for 2015, so they dipped into their pockets, signing two former All-Stars to multi-year contracts. Zach Duke signed a bit before Winter Meetings and the former All-Star starter has a 2.20 ERA in his last 88 appearances and the White Sox needed a left-handed relief option as the entire bullpen was right handed before signing Duke. The big splash for the White Sox, though, was signing former Yankee All-Star closer David Robertson. Since 2011, Robertson has a 12.3 K/9 and from 2011-2013, had no higher than a 2.67 ERA. He only has 46 saves in his MLB career, as he was the setup man for Mariano Rivera coming into 2014. But Robertson had 39 saves last year, and has seen his BB/9 go from 4.7 in 2011 to a 2.8 average from 2012-2014. Duke will provide left-handed relief help that the White Sox were devoid of and Robertson will be the All-Star caliber closer that the White Sox have been without since Bobby Jenks left.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
2014 Regular Season Record (83-79)
The Blue Jays play in the most active division and have been active in the market. They signed a Gold Glove caliber catcher, an MVP candidate at third base, and freed up space on the roster for a top prospect.
Russell Martin is a highly underrated player who is very strong in intangibles, like his blocking of pitches and elite game calling skills, and will bring his veteran experience to Toronto. Martin’s game calling abilities are well known; his catching abilities will enhance the entire Blue Jays staff, as he led a Pirates staff to back-to-back playoffs with top five ERAs in each season. Martin may never steal double-digit bases again, as he did each season from 2006 to 2009, but he had a .832 OPS last year and hit 39 home runs in his two previous seasons in the AL East, both with the Yankees. His .402 OBP of 2014 may be a bit of a misnomer of his abilities; he had a .332 OBP in the previous five seasons, but he will have much more than 45 runs as a top of the lineup hitter in a lineup with three MVP candidates behind him. Martin may be in a lineup with MVP caliber talent, but could end up being the most vital piece of a playoff run for the Blue Jays.
Josh Donaldson is the newest MVP candidate in the Blue Jays lineup, adding to the already formidable combination of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays had to trade three prospects and starting third baseman Brett Lawrie to get Donaldson, but Donaldson is well worth the investment. He has been the starting third baseman for the Athletics for two years and over that time he hit 53 home runs and was a top-10 MVP finisher in both 2013 and 2014. Donaldson broke out in 2013 with a .883 OPS and 64 XBH and had a bit of a letdown in 2014; he still finished with 29 home runs and 98 RBI in 2014, even though he struck out 20 more times and saw his OPS drop to .798. There are not many power hitting third basemen in baseball and the Blue Jays are fortunate to have Donaldson, a top five 3B option.
The Blue Jays saw a couple needs in the offseason and two were filling a gap in the outfield left by free agents Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus, as well as finding a place in the rotation for top prospect Daniel Norris. By trading fifth starter J.A. Happ for Michael Saunders, and allowing Norris to slide into the rotation, both gaps were filled. Norris is the #25 ranked prospect according to MLB.com, with a 2.53 ERA last year and a 10.7 K/9 over his three minor league seasons. He may struggle a bit earlier in the season, but he could have a similar impact to 2014 rookie star Marcus Stroman with his power fastball and a strong slider/changeup combination. Norris may not have a huge impact to start the season, but could be an impact player later in the season.
Saunders was a bit undervalued in Seattle, but has a very interesting profile. He slots into the bottom of the projected Blue Jays lineup and has a little bit of a better profile than the man he is replacing, Colby Rasmus. Saunders is a very good defensive outfielder, but has had two seasons with more than 10 home runs and steals, while also posting three consecutive seasons with an OPS above league average. The only season where Saunders had 500 or more at bats, 2012, he posted 19 home runs and 21 steals; his OBP has risen from .306 in 2012 to .341 in 2014, so there is potential for Saunders to be even better with more opportunity in Toronto. Saunders was obtained for a very movable piece in Happ; if the Blue Jays are able to fill a major need in the outfield and only have to give up a fifth starter to do so, this would be a huge victory for the Blue Jays.
BOSTON RED SOX
2014 Regular Season Record (71-91)
The 2013 champion Red Sox bore no resemblance to the 2014 team that finished last in the AL East. As the Red Sox are a financial juggernaut, they were able to flex their muscles adding two former All-Stars and then traded for two All-Star pitchers in San Diego.
Pablo Sandoval has been an instrumental part of three Giants World Series and, after disappointment from Will Middlebrooks, will bring his talents to the Red Sox in 2o15. Much has been written about Sandoval’s streaky play and his free swinging ways, but Sandoval is a .294 hitter over his seven MLB seasons and averaged 44 extra base hits over the past four seasons. The switch hitting Sandoval will get a serious boost from the left side by hitting doubles off of the Green Monster; this is a needed boost as Sandoval has not had 30 or more doubles in a season since back-to-back 30 double seasons in 2009 and 2010. Only once in his career has Sandoval had more than 80 RBI and twice has he had 20 or more home runs; Sandoval’s value comes from his postseason experience and is a top 15 3B in a weak 3B crop.
Rick Porcello was a top prospect coming through the Tigers system, but really never broke through as a stable pitching option until his 15 win 2014 season where he had a 3.43 ERA. The Red Sox need a lot of pitching help, as they finished 10th in the AL in ERA, and Porcello’s ground ball tendencies may fit the Red Sox well. Xander Bogaerts will be more prepared at shortstop this season and Dustin Pedroia‘s defense up the middle will absolutely suit Porcello’s skills. Porcello is coming off of his first 200 inning season and has seen his WHIP go from 1.41 in his first four seasons to 1.25 in the last two seasons. He has seen his K:BB ratio rise over 3 as well and he is only 26 years old going into his seventh MLB season. That experience should be great for him coming into the grinder that is the AL East. Porcello has a career FIP that is 30 points less than his career ERA, showing that the talent is there for Porcello; look for him to breakthrough as an All-Star caliber pitcher this year.
Hanley Ramirez was the top hitter available and has been one of the most polarizing players over the past five seasons. Coming into 2010, he was the top fantasy baseball prospect, but saw his OPS go from .853 in 2010 to .742 combined in 2011 and 2012; he then posted a .907 OPS in 2013 and 2014, including a white hot 1.040 OPS in 88 games of 2013. Ramirez has twice before been a 50+ SB player and led the NL in BA in 2009, so the talent is there. But Ramirez has averaged only 121 games played since 2010 and has had two seasons where he played in less than 100 games.
Ramirez will also move to left field this season which should be a very interesting move for fantasy purposes; had Ramirez stayed at third, or even shortstop, he may have been a third round pick, but as an outfielder it is very questionable. There is a chance that Ramirez has less wear and tear in the outfield and becomes a top-10 hitter again, but a .282/.358/.467 slashline in the outfield is not worthy of a top-10 OF spot. A lot will be expected from Ramirez, but this may be the season that he is able to play 150 games of All-Star caliber play in the outfield, regaining his reputation as an MVP candidate.