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Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on October 15, 2011
The collapse of Boston and the early exits of New York and Tampa will lead to wholesale changes in the AL East both in terms of rosters and in terms of management for those teams. Boston is the bellwether of change following its late-season collapse. But don't expect the Red Sox to be the only AL East team making some serious changes now that the offseason is upon every team in the division.
The time for free agent filings hasn't come yet, so aside from a handful of players who already know they won't be re-signed, the majority of movement has come in the management arena. The Red Sox have already parted ways with both manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein, whose experience will soon be used to try to dig the Cubs out of their century-long malaise.
The new Sox GM will have to decide if the team is going to negotiate with David Ortiz, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek or Tim Wakefield. Of the group David Ortiz is probably the most interesting, and potentially the most expensive. But the Sox with their deep pockets might get into the mix with Albert Pujols or even chase Prince Fielder and try to persuade him to be a designated hitter.
But for the Red Sox the question might well be just who else the team is really willing to part with. Stories coming out of Boston hint that chemistry and drive, especially down the stretch was lacking and that guys who should have been team leaders were distracted and indifferent. If true, it's likely that the roster will see some significant change over the offseason and that the Sox might jettison even some big name players as they revamp for 2012.
That could include at least one of their top pitchers, as Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey have been indicted by stories leaking from the clubhouse. If the Sox do deal one of those pitchers and shed the big time salary associated, they could be players in what seems likely to be the Yankees' biggest free agency issue.
CC Sabathia is not just the biggest Yankee, but the team's biggest headache going into the offseason. The big man is almost certain to opt out of his contract with the boys in pinstripes in order to solicit a long term deal worth plenty of dollars. For the Yankees this is a huge issue, because in a free agent market where there isn't a single free agent ace available the team will either has to cough up the money no matter the cost, and the unproductive years they'd have to pay for in a long term deal, or they'll have to swing a trade.
And while Joe Girardi gave the Yankees eulogy, or state of the Yankees address if you prefer, just a few days ago, you have to wonder if he'll be at the helm when the team takes to the field in 2012. He's been widely criticized for his management or lack thereof in critical moments during the playoffs.
While he wasn't the man swinging and missing when the Yankee bats vanished in October, he's the one most likely to be the fall guy. That's not to say that the Yankees won't make some on-the-field change, but saying goodbye to Jorge Posada, Freddy Garcia and/or Nick Swisher isn't going to greatly improve the team -- unless the team can afford to take on another huge contract and makes a play for Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols. But neither of those two would solve the team's pitching woes.
The Rays don't have a lot to lose this offseason. They actually had a remarkably good year and even made the playoffs despite being hoodwinked early in the season by Manny Ramirez who was supposed to provide a lot of power but instead ended up in what amounted to forced retirement. Still they do have to make some decisions about re-signing Johnny Damon or now established closer Kyle Farnsworth. It's likely that neither stays in Tampa as the Rays are still in cost cutting mode and both players will command at least slight premiums.
No matter what, don't expect the faces of any of the AL East contenders to look the same when the first pitch is thrown in 2012.