NASHVILLE — The Blue Jays will enter the 2016 season as defending AL East Division champions, but while the Jays have filled two starting pitcher roles — re-signing right-hander Marco Estrada and inking free agent lefthander J.A. Happ — the Red Sox and Yankees have moved forward making key acquisitions designed to make it at least a three-team race in the division.
On Tuesday, a flurry of activity late in the day produced moves that involved 15 players—four free agent signings and 11 players dealt in trades.
The Cubs signed free-agent second baseman Ben Zobrist for four seasons and $56 million, then dealt their incumbent second baseman, Starlin Castro, to the Yankees filling an area of need for the Bronx Bombers and continuing them on the road to getting younger, more athletic.
“We have some really good athletes,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, pointing to outfielders Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury and shortstop Didi Gregorius.
“We added (outfielder Aaron) Hicks who I think is a great athlete. He will help that. But we won a lot of games with the guys that we had last year. And we had our share of injuries.”
The 25-year-old Castro will add significantly to the Yankees’ youth and athleticism and is under contract for five more years at a cost of $56-million that includes a 2020 option. The Yanks still have the dynamic duo of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances at the back end of the bullpen. They discovered two young starters last season, Luis Severino and Nate Eovaldi, who will continue to improve.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox made their signature move on Monday, adding free-agent David Price for a huge deal at seven years and $217-million. Price will lead a rotation that includes lefthander Eduardo Rodriguez, plus righties Clay Buchholz and Rick Porcello. By the end of last season, the Sox were playing their best baseball and feel they can carry that momentum into 2016.
“I think we’re always confident that we’re going to perform well,” manager John Farrell said, sounding and looking healthy as he continues his recovery from cancer.
“When we talk about the young players making the step forward that they did, that’s probably as big a reason as any going into this off-season that we had a chance to make up sizeable gains in the division. When we’ve been able to address the pitching staff, that’s certainly going to go a long way into accomplishing that, but this is a balanced roster, as we stand today.”
Earlier in the off-season the Sox had acquired flame-throwing closer Craig Kimbrel from the Padres, joining incumbent Koji Uehara, who has already been one of the best ninth-inning relievers over the past few seasons. The Red Sox have a rebuilt, young outfield in Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley, Jr. That trio will do much over a full season to revitalize a lineup that includes veterans David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and first-baseman Hanley Ramirez.
Meanwhile, yes the Jays can count on scoring a plethora of runs once again, but have taken a step backwards on the mound, losing starters Price and lefty Mark Buehrle, plus relievers Mark Lowe, LaTroy Hawkins and Liam Hendriks. If the season was to start with the current roster in place, an eight-man pen would likely include Bo Schultz, Steve Delabar, Jesse Chavez, Ryan Tepera and Aaron Loup. Heading home from Nashville on Thursday, that remains the Jays’ true Achilles’ heel.