One Free Agent Target For Each AL East Team
The American League East saw quite a shakeup in 2023. The Baltimore Orioles ran away with the division with an incredible turnaround that revolved around a group of young stars. The Tampa Bay Rays continued their excellence despite losing players to injury and other circumstances. The Toronto Blue Jays continued to stay in the middle of the pack despite underperformance while the Boston Red Sox haven’t quite figured out their identity on both sides of the baseball. Then, the once mighty New York Yankees were a monumental flop in the 2023 season and are stuck with trying to buy their way out of a problem. The division is always up for grabs and always competitive, so here is one free agent for each team to consider.
Baltimore Orioles: Sonny Gray
The Orioles cruised to a 100+ win season thanks to an incredible group of young position players and a dominant bullpen. Additionally, the team had a fairly solid starting rotation thanks to breakout years from Dean Kramer and Kyle Bradish, but they could still use a boost in the rotation and a legitimate ace to call their own.
Sonny Gray had a great year with the Minnesota Twins. He made 32 starts and pitched to the tune of a 2.79 ERA in 189 innings of work. His 24.3% strikeout rate was still above league-average while his walk rate remained consistent with the rest of the league. He regularly gets ground balls while limiting hard contact and in 2023 posted a 0.4 HR/9, the lowest of his career. He enters his age 34 season and would likely cost a pretty penny, more than the Orioles may be used to in recent years, but he is the most attainable top-of-the-line starter of the free agent class. The Orioles relied on Kyle Gibson last season and while he performed quite well for them, the team has to make an effort to build upon their great season and add someone who can lead and set the tone for the rotation. Gray has that ability for a few years more.
Tampa Bay Rays: Tom Murphy
The Rays are in a bit of a weird place at the moment. Despite a successful 2023 campaign, their offense once again disappeared in the postseason and they are left to figure out a path in 2024. The team has a number of arms recovering from injury and they are also in the promise of shuffling the roster as they typically do each offseason. They are always busy on the trade and waiver market and not as active on the free agent market. While they will go about addressing needs in a variety of ways, one area of focus could be the addition at the catcher’s position.
Over the past five seasons, Murphy has grown into one of the better catchers in the American League with the Seattle Mariners. In 2023, he slashed .290/.335/.538 with eight home runs in an injury-shortened campaign where he played in just 47 games. He provides plenty of offense for a catcher and holds his own defensively. The Rays are a haven for most players, usually pitchers, to find some sort of resurgence. The Rays are in need of a catcher since they currently have just one main option in René Pinto. Pinto batted .252/.267/.456 in 38 games last season but doesn’t quite appear ready to take on the bulk of work as a catcher. Adding Murphy gives them a cheap veteran to work with, much like Mike Zunino a few years ago, who can work in tandem with another catcher to navigate a season while also providing some plus offense.
Toronto Blue Jays: Carlos Santana
The Blue Jays have said they are looking to add multiple position players after losing a number of players. They will surely be focused on trying to retain Matt Chapman or others, but one area of focus could help a two-fold problem. The Blue Jays enjoyed the services of Brandon Belt as their primary DH last season but was often shielded from left-handed pitching. They also have Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who had a down season and has continued to struggle on the defensive side of things. Any player that could help in both those areas would be a decent pick-up for them.
Carlos Santana may not be the perfect answer but he fits the vibe of the mold I’m talking about. In time split between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers Santana slashed .240/.318/.429 with 23 home runs and 86 RBI in 146 games. At the age of 37, he proved he could still be a reliable player for any team with his bat. Then there is the fact that he was a Gold Glove finalist in 2023 at first base. By adding Santana the Blue Jays would get a switch-hitting veteran that can help mentor a player like Gurrero Jr. while splitting time at first base and the DH spot. There are other options that fit the mold, but Santana fits the bill of someone the Blue Jays could really benefit from in 2024.
Boston Red Sox: Jack Flaherty
The Red Sox are trying to build their way back to contention and took some tremendous steps forward in 2023, but there are still areas of concern. There are a couple of holes in the lineup and on the field, but the rotation will also need a bit more stability. The team is attached to the Ohtani sweepstakes and is likely to be involved in the Yoshinobu Yamamoto market, but a veteran is needed nonetheless to stabilize a shaky bullpen.
It’s a bit risky, but Jack Flaherty seems a perfect candidate for the Red Sox. The last few years haven’t gone well for Flaherty. Since 2020, Flaherty has pitched just 299 innings due to the COVID-19 pandemic and his own injuries. 2023 was Flaherty’s first mainly full season since 2019 as he posted a 4.99 ERA over 144 1/3 innings between the Cardinals and the Baltimore Orioles. Flaherty wasn’t the ace-level pitcher this season but was solid in St. Louis before struggling with the Orioles down the stretch. His fastball isn’t what it used to be, but he has found success with his slider. He could benefit from the change in scenery as the Red Sox have just hired Andrew Bailey to be their pitching coach. Bailey is well regarded as one of the better pitching minds in baseball and if anyone could get Flaherty back on track, it could be Bailey.
New York Yankees: Cody Bellinger
The Yankees are almost in panic mode. So far the offseason has been filled with snarky comments from their general manager and owner concerning players, analytics, and a myriad of other excuses. The Yankees are focused on spending big to boost their roster while almost refusing to acknowledge they need to change their roster philosophy. But alas, that’s not the Yankee way so they will once again dip into the top lists of free agents.
If the Yankees want to spend big to try and plug their holes, then Cody Bellinger may be an option that makes the most sense for them. While it would be nice to have Shohei Ohtani, Bellinger is going to come cheaper than that and actually fill a couple of needs in the lineup. After signing with the Chicago Cubs on a prove-it deal, he returned to his 2019 MVP form by batting .307./356/.525 with 26 home runs and 97 RBI in 130 games. He won his second Silver Slugger in the utility category in 2023 thanks to his offensive efforts while providing quality defense in center field and at first base.
The Yankees need more offense, especially in the outfield. Currently, only Aaron Judge has a locked-in spot, leaving the team with holes to fill in the other two spots. Jasson Dominguez showed promise but underwent Tommy John surgery and has to recover from that. Bellinger gives them another useful left-handed bat that can take advantage of Yankee Stadium, pairing him nicely with Anthony Rizzo.
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