'Tis the season to get holiday gifts for AL clubs
In the spirit of the holiday season, we are passing out presents to every Major League club, addressing remaining needs in what has already been a wild winter.
We started with the National League, and we continue now with the American League.
Baltimore Orioles: In the wake of the Grant Balfour mess, I suppose we could grant the O's their initial wish for a "proven" closer. But it is a lot like buying a kid an expensive toy that is likely to be lost, broken or otherwise unused in a year. I would rather just put shiny new wrapping paper on Tommy Hunter, thrust him into the ninth and see how that 4.13 relief strikeout-to-walk ratio translates to the job.
Boston Red Sox: Let's just cut to what seems like the inevitable and give them back Stephen Drew. Their $14.1 million qualifying offer to Drew attached him to Draft-pick compensation and obviously hurt his free-agent market, so let's pair them back up to provide the Red Sox with a little more depth and certainty on the left side of their infield.
Chicago White Sox: This is an admittedly vague concept, but if I could grant the White Sox anything, it would be more widespread appreciation for just how much general manager Rick Hahn has moved the needle the past five months. In 2013, the White Sox were at best miserable and at worst unwatchable, but with the additions of Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson to the lineup, the Sox will be a fundamentally different and more interesting team in 2014. Here's hoping the fans buy in.
Cleveland Indians: A frontline starting pitcher would be nice, but the best gift the Indians could reasonably ask for is a satisfying result to the Carlos Santana-as-third-baseman experiment in Dominican winter ball. Having the option of using Santana consistently at the hot corner would free up the DH spot for the rotations that Terry Francona employed so effectively in 2013 and prevent the Tribe from relying too heavily on Lonnie Chisenhall to materialize. Plus, it would keep Santana happy, a definite bonus.
Detroit Tigers: It is amazing how much of a makeover the Tigers have taken on the past two months, from a team built on plodding power to one decidedly more focused on speed and defense. Still, Miguel Cabrera provides the pulse of this club, so let's wish, for him, a speedy and uncomplicated recovery from surgery. Though the Tigers have been careful to label it otherwise, Cabrera essentially had the equivalent of sports hernia surgery. Torii Hunter had the procedure at the end of the '09 season and once told me it was the toughest thing he had ever come back from because it took a year for him to feel like his old, athletic self. Hunter and Cabrera are players who derive their value in much different ways, obviously, but suffice it to say the Tigers need Cabrera at the peak of his powers again in 2014.
Houston Astros: The Astros have made some positive steps forward this winter, most notably with the Dexter Fowler acquisition. They have beefed up a bullpen that was abominably bad, and they improved the rotation with Scott Feldman, albeit at a steep cost. In the end, though, Jeff Luhnow's patient plan is all about building from within, so let's grant the Astros a strong spring from George Springer, who has an outside chance of landing with the big league club after hitting 37 homers and stealing 45 bases between Double-A and Triple-A last year. He would certainly increase interest in a team that lost 111 games last year.
Kansas City Royals: Let's give them one more year with Ervin Santana. It is not completely inconceivable, given that Santana's market has been crushed by the Draft-pick compensation attached to his name, as well as the abundantly more affordable options in the free-agent and trade markets. Santana's hunger to rebuild his value and the Royals' defense proved to be a good pairing in 2013. Let's keep the good times rolling, because the Royals do have a real shot of becoming the feel-good story of 2014.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: A Hot Tub Time Machine to vault them back to Spring Training 2012. They could give an Opening Day roster spot and a reasonable contract extension offer to Mike Trout, who, in real life, nearly salvaged their '12 season after his late-April arrival and, just two seasons into his career, is looking like he will break all conceivable standards for arbitration and free-agent paydays. More realistically, let's just give the Angels a full season of health and career-appropriate production from Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. They have certainly paid enough for the privilege.
Minnesota Twins: For most, a $73 million outside investment into two starting pitchers would constitute the full extent of a winter's starting shopping. For the Twins, who had a 5.26 staff ERA last year, it is merely a start. Even with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes brought aboard and Mike Pelfrey re-signed, let's give them one more eater of innings in Bronson Arroyo. If it takes a three-year contract to make it happen, so be it. Arroyo, after all, will be pitching until he is in his early 80s, anyway.
New York Yankees: You would think a team that's already committed more than $315 million to its future payrolls this winter would have addressed all its needs, but the Yankees are, as usual, a special case. They still need help on the left side of the infield and, most prominently, also need at least one dependable rotation option. The greatest gift the Yanks could ask for, at this point, is a successful wooing of Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka, who will reportedly be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles. If the "Super Terrific Happy Hour" episode of "Seinfeld" is to be believed, perhaps the Yanks can win him over with a basket of oranges.
Oakland Athletics: Thanks to Billy Beane making five trades in nine days and signing Scott Kazmir, the A's seem adequately set up for another season of platoon-employing, payroll-maximizing prowess in the AL West. So let's give them what they have long wanted and long deserved and come to a merciful conclusion to the stadium issue. The latest proposals submitted by City of Oakland business and political leaders for a waterfront ballpark at the Port of Oakland are intriguing, but it is hard to say how realistic they are, given the ownership's desire to shift to San Jose and the zoning and environmental complications that would be involved with the construction site.
Seattle Mariners: A No. 3 starter to slot in behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Forget David Price. Jeff Samardzija would be the better fit, and perhaps Seattle could land him with a package built around Nick Franklin. Samardzija or not, let's grant the M's any mid-rotation upgrade that does not involve parting with Taijuan Walker. Because with the money they are going to be paying Robinson Cano over the next decade, they need as much controllable upside as possible.
Tampa Bay Rays: One last go-around with Price. Interest in him has, to date, been tamer than anticipated. If teams are scared off by the price in prospects and arbitration dollars it will take to land and keep Price -- especially given his velocity decline, first DL stint in 2013 and the home-park factors that have assisted him to date -- it's understandable. Tanaka's availability only hurts the Price market all the more. So let's give the win-now Rays one more full season of Cy Young-like performance from their ace, driving up his value before his free-agent walk year.
Texas Rangers: Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo are already taking up a lot of room under the tree, and the Rangers are loaded with depth on the farm that should assist them in addressing any in-season needs as they arise. All we can reasonably wish for Texas, then, is health for a rotation loaded with talent but also injury-related question marks. And maybe a plate of nachos for Fielder so he can stop stealing them from fans.
Toronto Blue Jays: In terms of news and noise, this winter has been the polar opposite of last for the Blue Jays, probably by design. But given that so much of their 2014 outlook rests on the continued AL acclimation of R.A. Dickey, the health of Brandon Morrow and Drew Hutchison and the progress of Marcus Stroman, it is not outlandish to suggest they need another starter. Let's put Ubaldo Jimenez in Toronto and hope his second half was not a mirage and that the Blue Jays' 2013 season, at large, was.