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July 5, 2012

What the Contenders Need

AL East

by R.J. Anderson, Jeff Euston and Kevin Goldstein

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With a little less than a month to go until the non-waiver trading deadline, talks between teams are heating up. In a seven-part series, several BP authors will be covering the needs, potential fits, and more for the contenders in each division, as well as a rundown of the top 10 player trade targets. Today, we take a look at the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles

Playoff Odds
Opening Day: 6 percent
High: 32 percent (5/20)
Low: 2 percent (4/15)
Current: 10 percent

Payroll picture
In his first year in charge in Baltimore, Dan Duquette kept payroll in the mid-$80 million range. He shored up the rotation by acquiring relatively inexpensive Jason Hammel ($4.75 million) and signing Wei-Yin Chen for less than $12 million for three years.

In May, the Orioles locked up Adam Jones with an $85 million extension through 2018, the largest deal in club history. Going forward, Baltimore has eight players under contract for 2013 at a cost of about $53 million. And the Orioles hold 2013 options on Mark Reynolds ($11 million), Kevin Gregg ($6 million), Matt Lindstrom ($4 million) and Luis Ayala ($1 million). —Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
This is Dan Duquette’s first rodeo in some time. If the Jim Thome trade is any indication, Duquette is already looking for upgrades. The interesting subplot is whether Peter Angelos will pressure Duquette into taking advantage of this run. Ultimately, it’s hard to see Baltimore sacrificing its top prospects for short-term fixes.

Biggest positional needs
With Thome providing some offensive help, the Orioles’ biggest need is starting pitching. Only two of their starters (Hammel and Chen) have ERAs better than league average. Their three other starters all have ERAs of more than five. Depending on how the Orioles feel about Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis’ injuries, they could be in the market to grab another corner outfielder, too.

Potential fits
Whenever Alfonso Soriano’s name comes up, someone invariably mentions Baltimore. The Orioles could use Soriano’s bat, but the Cubs would have to eat most of his remaining contract. Carlos Lee could be an option if the Orioles are not on his no-trade list. A lower-tier starter, like Jason Vargas, would provide an upgrade, as well. —R.J. Anderson

Top trade chips
The Orioles have two untouchables in right-hander Dylan Bundy and infielder Manny Machado, but the problem is that the system falls off a cliff from there. Like any team, they are capable of finding some guys for something like a Jim Thome deal, but it's hard to see them finding a way to compete for the big names. —Kevin Goldstein

Boston Red Sox

Playoff Odds
Opening Day: 44 percent
High: 52 percent (6/29)
Low: 15 percent (5/10)
Current: 51 percent

Payroll picture
Boston saved about $1.1 million in dealing Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox. That might sound like pocket change for a club with an Opening Day payroll of $175 million. But the trade was significant because it provided Boston with much-needed payroll flexibility under the Competitive Balance Tax.

For luxury tax purposes, Red Sox opened 2012 with a payroll approaching $190 million, putting them in line to be taxed at a 40-percent rate because they also exceeded the tax threshold in 2010 and 2011. Ben Cherington already has $106 million earmarked for nine players in 2013, with another $94 million due six players in 2014.

A number of the multi-year contracts on the Boston books are approaching dead-weight status: Daisuke Matsuzaka (about $4 million remaining), John Lackey (due $38 million through 2014), Josh Beckett (due $39 million through 2014) and Carl Crawford (due $111 million through 2017). In addition, David Ortiz hits the open market at age 37 this winter, and Jacoby Ellsbury will be eligible for arbitration one final time before becoming a free agent after the 2013 season. —Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
Ben Cherington may be entering his first trade deadline as general manager, but the offseason showed his willingness to make a big move. If Cherington’s winter moves are any indication, he will face the highest degree of scrutiny within the division.

Biggest positional needs
The Red Sox could most use a stabilizing force in the rotation. Whether the Red Sox opt for an impact starter above a depth piece could depend on their starters’ health, as well as how Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales fare going forward. The returns of Ellsbury and Crawford will boost the lineup, meaning no offensive additions are likely.

Potential fits
Expect to see the usual names tied to the Red Sox. Boston is in a bit of a roster pickle when it comes to 40-man roster spots, so it’s possible that they attempt to deal from their 25-man roster. —R.J. Anderson

Top trade chips:
Like the Yankees, the Red Sox have the majority of their minor-league assets at the lower levels, but they do have one interesting talent at Triple-A Pawtucket in Ryan Lavarnway. A team that believes he can catch can put him in the big leagues right away, and there's just no path for him to Boston. Bryce Brentz is one of those solid corner outfielders who tends to get traded, as while he's good, he might not be good enough for Boston. One name that will certainly be asked for often is Xander Bogaerts, but that would take a special player in return. —Kevin Goldstein

New York Yankees

Playoff Odds
Opening Day: 80 percent
High: 98 percent (7/1)
Low: 67 percent (5/29)
Current: 98 percent

Payroll picture
For most clubs, MLB’s Competitive Balance Tax acts as a curb on spending. Not in the Bronx. The Yankees paid “luxury tax” penalties in each year from 2003 to 2011, and they’re positioned to receive tax bills again this season and in 2013. The Yanks’ general tax strategy was immortalized in this satirical “Too Much Moneyball” trailer: “We’ll pay that, too.”

So we’re talking here about a matter of degree. For this season and 2013, the payroll threshold triggering the tax is $178 million. With an Opening Day payroll north of $200 million – and another $140 million likely committed for next season – the only question is how far beyond the threshold is the club willing to go?

And that actually could change in the wake of the new labor deal, which increases taxes on clubs exceeding the threshold in multiple seasons. After going over-budget to sign Hiroki Kuroda for $10 million in January, Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner suggested that within two years, he’d like payroll cut to $189 million, which will be the tax threshold in 2014. The Yankees will be taxed at a rate of 42.5 percent for every dollar they spend beyond $178 million in 2012. The rate jumps to 50 percent in 2013.

In addition to a tighter budget going forward, Brian Cashman faces a series of payroll and roster decisions. The club holds 2013 options on Robinson Cano ($15 million) and Curtis Granderson ($14 million). And Mariano Rivera, Nick Swisher, Andy Pettitte, Russell Martin and Kuroda all will be free agents this winter. —Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
Over Brian Cashman’s most recent three buying deadlines, he has added Kerry Wood, Austin Kearns, Lance Berkman, Jerry Hairston Jr., Eric Hinske, Ivan Rodriguez, Damaso Marte, and Xavier Nady. Cashman seems more focused on adding depth than stars, and that should be the plan once again this year. 

Biggest positional needs
The Yankees are dealing with a number of rotation injuries. First Michael Pineda and now Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia, leaving the Yankees thin in the rotation. The Mariano Rivera injury could open the door to New York acquiring another relief pitcher, too.

Potential fits
Like with the Red Sox, the Yankees will be tied to every available arm regardless of whether they hold genuine interest. New York seems most likely to pursue a short-term starter and right-handed reliever. —R.J. Anderson

Top trade chips
A combination of injuries and ineffectiveness from Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos has left the Yankees without big-league-ready trade chips, but they more than make up for it with a cornucopia of high-ceiling prospects at the lower levels. From outfielders Mason Williams and Tyler Austin to second baseman Angelo Gumbs to catcher Gary Sanchez, there are plenty of big-tools players to choose from, and a package could be enough to land a major target. —Kevin Goldstein

Tampa Bay Rays

Playoff Odds
Opening Day: 38 percent
High: 73 percent (5/25)
Low: 21 percent (7/1)
Current: 21 percent

Payroll picture
The Rays hiked spending by more than 50 percent this winter. But at $64 million, their payroll still ranks just 25th in baseball. With a limited budget and a chronic stadium problem—Rays’ attendance ranks 29th at 20,405 fans per game this season—acquiring high-priced help at the deadline is not usually a viable option for Andrew Friedman.

But Tampa Bay does enjoy significant payroll flexibility, with Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Wade Davis and Matt Moore under contract for 2013 at a total cost of just $15.5 million. David Price and Jeff Niemann lead a class of eight possible arbitration cases, and B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena and Kyle Farnsworth are among a group of potential free agents this winter. The Rays hold 2013 options on contracts for James Shields ($9 million), Fernando Rodney ($2.5 million) and Luke Scott ($6 million). —Jeff Euston

General manager’s track record
This deadline could mark Andrew Friedman’s fifth as a buyer, yet his biggest July addition in the previous four was Chad Qualls. Otherwise, Friedman’s work has come in August during the waiver-trade period.

Biggest positional needs
Tampa Bay is perpetually in need of a catcher and shortstop. The Rays do have Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton behind the plate right now, but both seem suited for backup work. Meanwhile, the Rays are still looking for a shortstop to bridge the Jason Bartlett-Tim Beckham eras. Friedman could look for an additional bench bat as well.

Potential fits
The Rockies' Marco Scutaro and Ramon Hernandez would fill both needs at once, but the Rays did not seem to show much interest in either this offseason. Amongst known targets, Kurt Suzuki, Nick Hundley, and Ryan Hannigan could be available for the right price. It’s also possible that the Rays decide to trade B.J. Upton (amongst others) if Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce are out for longer than anticipated. —R.J. Anderson

Top trade chips
The Rays are notoriously cautious when it comes to trading prospects, as they know their own system is the only way they can add impact talent. The good news is that they have some depth to deal from. It will take some creativity from both teams, as well as some willingness to accept risk, as the return of prospects will likely come from the lower levels. Righty Alex Colome and lefty Enny Romero have the ability to light up a radar gun, which always has its appeal, and most of the club's deep 2011 draft class has impressed and could be available in the right deal. —Kevin Goldstein

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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