By Matt Straub
It’s two weeks before Christmas, meaning people across the world are preparing their lists of presents, either to let others know what they want, or to find the perfect present for a loved one. Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings get started today, giving teams a chance to study their own lists and do some last-minute holiday shopping. Each of the area’s three teams has some things they would love to cross off their list this week, whether it’s adding something new or just regifting some old presents which turned out not to be worth much. Here’s a look at what each team should do this week and how each move would help the team come the spring.
New York Yankees
Take the fifth: The Yankees would like some stability at the back end of their rotation instead of the seemingly never-ending tinkering they do with the final spot or two. Those options, the Luis Cessas of the world, are important for depth purposes, as no staff will get through a whole season unscathed. But if New York can get one more pitcher who is capable of locking down the last spot in the rotation, New York will finally have total stability. Bringing back CC Sabathia at a reduced rate would be ideal for New York, which wouldn’t have to give anything up except some of their plentiful dollars.
Temporary infield fixes: Unless the Yankees can get Todd Frazier to take a one-year deal (which won’t happen), they’ll need a stop-gap at third base. Because New York worked the Giancarlo Stanton deal in a way which let them stay under the luxury tax for this season, it seems likely they’ll be the leading contenders for Manny Machado’s services next winter, meaning they don’t want a long-term third baseman for now. Chase Headley seems like the obvious answer, but he is getting older and New York might want him to get some days off and may need him to play some first base, since Greg Bird isn’t known for his durability. Adding a small piece to help on the corners would be a goal for the week, if not later in the offseason. At second, the Yankees have Gleyber Torres coming eventually. They won’t want to rush him back from his injury, and he’ll need time to adjust to the major leagues whenever he does arrive, so New York needs a second baseman in the meantime. Ronald Torreyes was a very underrated piece for the Yanks last year, but do they want to keep him knowing Torres is coming? He can be a great stop gap at multiple spots, though his batting average oddly plummeted when he played third last year, but he might also be best used as a trade chip for that fifth starter or another bullpen piece to provide insurance in case Dellin Betances loses his control again.
Dump Jacoby Ellsbury: It’s unlikely, but there isn’t much else to try to accomplish this week, unless you’re worried about finding a better situational lefty in the bullpen than Jason Shreve. So the Yankees will have plenty of time to try and survey the landscape in hopes of finding someone to take Ellsbury off their hands, as well as maybe half of the money still owed to him. Every dollar New York saves from his deal gets them further from the luxury tax, and is a dollar more to give Machado next winter. It also makes room for Clint Frazier, something the Yankees will need if they want to develop him at the major league level. The Yankees will need the DH spot for Judge or Stanton on a lot of days, so Ellsbury will be collecting dust behind Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks if they’re both healthy. New York is best served to pay someone half (or more) of his deal to take him.
New York Mets
Add rotation depth: Yes, the biggest problem for the Mets in 2017 was the incredible rash of injuries suffered by their starting pitchers. Just as important, however, was how poorly the fill-ins performed. Having Robert Gsellman finish second in games started was bad enough, but having him pitch to an ERA over five was a disaster. Rafael Montero and Seth Lugo weren’t much better. The big arms on the Mets are power pitchers who are going to get hurt a lot. They need to be ready for those injuries and have solid depth. No team can handle losing four starters like the Mets did, but they must be better prepared for a normal amount of injuries in 2018.
Trade Matt Harvey: This is counter intuitive based on the first item on the Mets’ list, but Harvey isn’t going to get his career back on track in Queens. He needs a fresh start mentally as much as physically, and the Mets could use their own new beginning considering the strange and troubled relationship they’ve had with their former star. You won’t get an ace for him, but you can start to rebuild your depleted farm system by getting a mid-level piece or two from one of the many teams desperate for arms.
Pick a direction: The Mets can’t afford to bring in big-ticket items like Stanton, but they have the chance to rebuild their infield with a couple of solid free agents if they choose. They could also commit to letting their young players use the season to try and get their feet wet. What they won’t be able to do is both. There isn’t enough offense around the young players for the Mets to let them develop and still win. The window, however, won’t stay open forever for this rotation, even if it’s healthy. The Mets have to go for it (within their resources) or aim to be ready for 2019. What they do this week should help them determine what 2018 should look like.
Boston Red Sox
Find some order: One of John Farrell’s biggest flaws was his constant tinkering with the lineup. They won’t be able to completely establish a set lineup until they get the big bat they need, but they should go into the winter meetings with a plan for how they want to use the bat they get. Is Mookie Betts back in the leadoff spot (where he belongs) or is he still in the middle, increasing the need for a lefty power-hitter to go with him and moving Andrew Benintendi up in the order? This can’t just be a case where you grab a big name or sign the first guy to take your money. Boston needs to find the right fit to compliment the vision they have for their current hitters and settle on a consistent way to deploy them.
Finally replace David Ortiz: I actually liked Boston’s thinking heading into last winter. If you can’t find the offense to replace your legendary slugger, just try and give up fewer runs to make up for the difference. For the most part, it worked. What numbers can’t account for, however, are the ancillary issues caused by a lack of a true slugger. Betts tried too hard to be a power guy and regressed, and some of the other young players seemed out of sorts. There were also off-the-field issues caused by the void in leadership left by Ortiz. The insanity with Baltimore, which hurt the team’s chemistry, wouldn’t have happened if Ortiz was around to reign things in. The infamous flight to Toronto wouldn’t have happened, or would have at least been handled better, as well. On the field, there were times in the playoffs when the Red Sox needed a big bat and had to settle for a few lesser ones. Boston was the type of team which needed three hits to score two runs last year. They don’t need more runs necessarily, but they do need to create those runs more efficiently. A few more three-run homers would take the heat off everyone.
Right the ship on the mound: Steven Wright’s arrest over the weekend complicates things dramatically. His potential return from two injury-plagued seasons was going to give Boston some more rotation depth and a badly-needed right-hander. Now, if his domestic abuse charge turns out to be legitimate, it seems unlikely he’ll be with the team at all. With everything going on in the world lately, a suspension won’t cut it if he is found guilty of any kind of physical abuse. If he is done, Boston would love to find another righty starter if possible. If not, at the very least they will need right-handed relievers to deal with the Yankees, who, you might have heard, added another big righty slugger this week. Addison Reed is probably gone to try and get a chance to close, so Boston needs a situational righty. They also need the lefty they’ve lacked for a while now. For the first time in years Boston can match up specifically with New York, knowing that’s who they’ll have to beat. To do so, the bullpen, currently full of potential if a couple of pitchers can get past previous injury, must be deep and versatile.