Giving Thanks: The American League East

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I don’t have a ton of Thanksgiving traditions, but there are a few: I tend to start drinking right around the time the Macy’s Parade ends. I force myself to watch part of the Detroit Lions game because it almost, but not quite, reminds that there was a time in my life when I cared about what happened to the Detroit Lions. I turn the Lions game off ten minutes later and tell someone in my family what I really think about them. And since 2007 I think about what baseball teams have to be thankful for this holiday season and package it all up in a few posts so that the shut-ins and loners in Greater HardballTalkistan have something to read on a day when every other blog goes dark.

So, without further ado, the first of six installments you’ll read today about those things for which teams have to give thanks:

Tampa Bay Rays: The spring, which was very, very good to them, particularly on the road, allowing the Rays to jump out to a decent lead in the AL East. When the weather got hotter and the bats began to wilt, that cushion was nice to have.

New York Yankees: The little guys. At least relatively speaking. If I told you before the season that Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, Burnett and Posada were all going to have off years you wouldn’t have guessed that the Yankees would be playing in October. But they did thanks to Robinson Cano — probably too big to be a little guy, but compared to the other infielders, he is — Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher and Phil Hughes. Big contributions from so many guys who were thought of as bit players saved this team in 2010.

Boston Red Sox: Kevin Youkilis. Right now we don’t know if Adrian Beltre will come back. We don’t know if they can land Jayson Werth. But with Youkilis around we do know that they’ll still have an All-Star bat in the lineup and, more importantly, the flexibility to pursue both third base and first base options out on the market to fill the holes. Am I too optimistic about Youkilis’ prospects at third base? Maybe, but I really do think he can handle it alright if Beltre bolts and the Sox find themselves a first baseman.

Toronto Blue Jays: Shaun Marcum, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil and whatever motivation was gained by everyone and their brother picking the Jays to finish in the cellar. The young rotation took a big step forward, Jose Bautista was insane, and even Vernon Wells stepped into the juvenation machine to help Toronto play some damn fine baseball all year. The sort of which, if it had occurred in other divisions, would have had them snagging more headlines than they ultimately did.

Baltimore Orioles: Buck Showalter. I’m still not convinced that Showalter isn’t really just a sophisticated version of Annie Savoy’s garters, convincing the Orioles that their downright respectable second half was all his doing as opposed to chance, metaphysics and regression to the mean. But it probably doesn’t matter either, because the Orioles seem to believe in it. Their fans seem to believe in it. And if the O’s can avoid another awful start in 2011, maybe it doesn’t matter if it was Buck or the fates that put them on the right track late last year.

Colby Rasmus could start 2017 on the disabled list

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Colby Rasmus isn’t ready to take outfield reps just yet. According to Rays’ manager Kevin Cash, that’s a red flag, one that could potentially postpone Rasmus’ debut as the club’s designated hitter and outfielder in 2017. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Rasmus will need to prove he can play a defensive position before getting cleared for the active roster, something which the veteran outfielder has yet to do this spring.

Rasmus, 30, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Rays following his two-year run with the Astros. He batted a meager .206/.286/.355 with 15 home runs and a .641 OPS in 2016 and was shut down in late September with an unspecified hip/groin issue. Entering the 2017 season, he’s expected to work his way back to a full-time role after undergoing surgery to repair his core muscle and left hip labrum last October.

The Rays also finalized their one-year, $1.2 million deal with catcher Derek Norris on Saturday and will need to clear room for him on the 40-man roster. Topkin speculates that the move could send Rasmus to the 60-day disabled list, though the outfielder is not projected to miss more than a couple weeks of the regular season.

Report: Rangers agree to six-year extension with Rougned Odor

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The Rangers have reportedly agreed to a six-year, $49.5 million extension for second baseman Rougned Odor, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The extension comes with a club option for a seventh year, Heyman adds.

It’s close to the six-year, $52.5 million extension Jason Kipnis netted with the Indians in 2014, a sum Odor was rumored to be seeking during contract negotiations over the last two years. Granted, the circumstances are a little different this time around. Both players signed extensions on the cusp of their fourth year in the major leagues, but at 27 years old, Kipnis was coming off of an All-Star campaign and a career-high 4.5 fWAR performance. Odor, meanwhile, saw mixed results in 2016, batting 33 home runs and putting up 2.0 fWAR while struggling to stay consistent at the plate and exhibiting poor defense.

According to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, Odor previously agreed to a $563,180 salary for 2017. Depending on when the extension kicks in, it should cover all three of Odor’s arbitration-eligible seasons and two seasons of potential free agency. The team has yet to confirm the extension.