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Monday, August 15, 2022

Rival Watch: Evaluating the off-season for key threats to Blue Jays

Like it or lump it, Major League Baseball’s ongoing lockout provides a unique period of time for fans and pundits to catch their collective breath and take stock of the off-season landscape.

Wins and losses aren’t accrued in the wintertime, but it’s difficult not to hold one team’s transactions up against another to see where they stand. For their part, the Toronto Blue Jays have been busy, extending one front-end starter (José Berríos) and nabbing another in free agency (Kevin Gausman).

But what about everybody else? Before the off-season is back on, let’s take a look at the teams most likely to compete with the Blue Jays for a playoff spot in 2022.

(Note: the “Who they’ve lost” section lists traded players, current free agents and those who have already signed elsewhere. Also, the Chicago White Sox are not included given their status as strong AL Central favourites)

Tampa Bay Rays

Who they’ve lost: DH Nelson Cruz, INF Joey Wendle, RP Colin McHugh, SP Michael Wacha, SP Chris Archer

Who they’ve gained: SP Corey Kluber, RP Brooks Raley

Kluber hasn’t pitched much in the past three seasons (116 2/3 innings) due to injury, but he flashed some of his two-time Cy Young stuff last season by tossing a no-hitter for the New York Yankees in May. With the Rays’ unconventional pitcher usage, which relies far more on an army than a few workhorses, perhaps the stoic righty is a good fit.

With Wendle, one could argue this is an addition-by-subtraction situation. Wander Franco isn’t the only young infielder in Tampa Bay seeking more reps. There’s Taylor Walls, along with Vidal Brujan and Xavier Edwards (Brujan and Edwards are top-100 prospects at MLB Pipeline).

New York Yankees

Who they’ve lost: 1B Anthony Rizzo, SP Andrew Heaney, SP Corey Kluber, UTIL Tyler Wade, 2B Rougned Odor, OF Clint Frazier, RP Darren O’Day

Who they’ve gained: … (cricket noise)

The Yankees’ splashiest acquisition this off-season is reliever Joely Rodriguez, who was signed three days after he left the team for free agency.

It’s true that the Yankees made some sizable swings this past summer, acquiring multi-time all-stars Rizzo (since departed) and Joey Gallo. But with how many notable free agents have found homes already — 28 of the top 50, based on FanGraphs’ 2022 WAR projections — it’s stunning how silent the Bronx’s brass has been.

Their primary need is at shortstop, and the biggest fish, Carlos Correa, is still swimming freely. Signing Correa would make New York’s off-season an instant success.

Boston Red Sox

Who they’ve lost: SP Eduardo Rodriguez, OF/DH Kyle Schwarber, OF Hunter Renfroe, SS José Iglesias, SP Garrett Richards, SP Martín Pérez, RP Adam Ottavino

Who they’ve gained: SP James Paxton, SP Rich Hill, SP Michael Wacha, OF Jackie Bradley Jr.

After operating with a six-man rotation for parts of last year, Boston overhauled half of that group with newcomers that each haul their own baggage: Hill turns 42 in March and can only uphold his “ageless wonder” status for so long; Paxton underwent Tommy John surgery last April and has pitched just 21 2/3 innings since 2019; and Wacha has a 5.11 ERA while allowing 10.1 hits per nine innings over his past three seasons.

Offensively, the Red Sox have an enviable core of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Alex Verdugo, but another bat would be awfully helpful to lengthen their lineup.

Seattle Mariners

Who they’ve lost: 3B Kyle Seager, SP Yusei Kikuchi, SP Tyler Anderson, SP James Paxton, RP Joe Smith, RP Sean Doolittle,

Who they’ve gained: SP Robbie Ray, 2B Adam Frazier

The Mariners’ list of additions is short, but mighty.

Snagging the reigning AL Cy Young winner, plus an all-star infielder, is plenty for one off-season’s worth of work — let alone a three-day span. With so many contributors leaving the club, there’s still room for additional maneuvers, but the heavy lifting is likely done.

Another “addition” to the team is Julio Rodriguez, who was added to the 40-man roster. Baseball’s top outfield prospect, who turns 21 in two weeks, posted a 1.007 OPS in double-A last year. That’s the highest he’s climbed so far, but he could realistically be deployed at any time.

Houston Astros

Who they’ve lost: SS Carlos Correa, SP Zack Greinke, RP Kendall Graveman, RP Brooks Raley, RP Yimi Garcia, UTIL Marwin Gonzalez

Who they’ve gained: RP Héctor Neris

As is the case with the Yankees, the Astros are a team that has lost much more than it has gained so far. To be fair, though, you could argue the Astros “gained” Justin Verlander, despite the fact he hasn’t pitched elsewhere since mid 2017 (Houston signed Verlander back as a free agent; he’s been sidelined since July 2020 while recovering from Tommy John surgery).

Another similarity between the Astros and Yankees is that they both have Correa-sized holes to fill at shortstop. Whether or not Houston re-ups its first-overall draft choice from 2012, the team has more work to do following the work stoppage.

Oakland Athletics

Who they’ve lost: OF Starling Marte, OF Mark Canha, C Yan Gomes, UTIL Josh Harrison, RP Andrew Chafin, INF Jed Lowrie, RP Sergio Romo, RP Jake Diekman, 1B/DH Mitch Moreland

Who they’ve gained: SP/RP Brent Honeywell Jr.

What do the Athletics hope to be in 2022? Their ultra-deep rotation remains intact, but they’ve lost significant pieces elsewhere and have done very little in response.

With most of their top players heading toward arbitration hearings, Oakland is projected to have just under $72 million on the books next year, according to Spotrac. That’s 23rd in baseball, which means there’s plenty of room left to go for it — or to bottom out.

Then again, the Athletics’ primary focus right now might be to find a future home. As the team weighs potential destinations, they reportedly placed a bid on a piece of land on the Las Vegas Strip.

The Oakland Athletics have made an offer on the 35-acre site on the Las Vegas Strip where the Tropicana currently sits, according to CNBC. A’s president Dave Kaval has made at least six trips to Las Vegas looking at over 20 potential sites for a new $1 billion stadium. pic.twitter.com/F67E42LGnu

— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) December 2, 2021

Detroit Tigers

Who they’ve lost: SP Matthew Boyd, SP Wily Peralta SP/RP José Ureña, RP Derek Holland, INF Niko Goodrum

Who they’ve gained: SS Javier Báez, SP Eduardo Rodriguez

In the two previous off-seasons, the Tigers spent a grand total of $45.9 million to bring in 14 MLB free agents. This time around, they’ve spent $217 million to bring in two.

The rebuild is over, or at least that’s what the chequebook says. With three starters aged 25-or-younger in the rotation, and a couple of top-10 prospects (Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene) awaiting call-ups, this Detroit squad could be better than just “sneaky good” in 2022.

They haven’t had a winning season since 2016, but they went 37-34 after the all-star break last year. Beefing up the payroll and bringing up top prospects means one thing: It’s go time.

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