After a long, cold winter of wheeling, dealing (and some of those wheels breaking in the process), all 30 Major League Baseball clubs are (FINALLY) back at work in Florida and Arizona, and gearing up for a new run to this November. Despite there being one high-profile contract signing looming still in St. Louis (which is already the biggest story of NEXT offseason), each team is taking a new look to field for Spring Training right now. With pitchers and catchers reported already, and the rest of their teammates getting into camp at some point this week, the complete new shapes of each roster will be on display, as the run towards March exhibition games, and April Opening Day, gets under way.
There are a ton of moves made almost constantly across the spectrum of the MLB, and while some of the high profile deals are widely known, there are many more small moves and trades that are made that can make just as big of a difference in the end. The reigning World Champion San Francisco Giants are clear proof of this strategy working.
Here today in the CHEAP SEATS I’ll be debriefing some on many of these moves, while ranking who made the biggest splash, and who flamed out. It’s not just about the quantity of the moves, rather about the quality of it. When your club can achieve success in both of these fields, it’s a win/win for all involved. However, if your club seems to have sat still and not made big changes, sometimes that just means there wasn’t much needed to be done. And sometimes it means they just didn’t do anything, and you’re in for more yelling, throwing and channel changing as well. All of these scenarios and a few more are below. So Red Sox & Yankee fans, unite even with Royals and Pirates fans under the hope of a brighter new year, even if for the last time this year.
- Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox were aggressive on both the trade and free agency front, and fixed a subpar offense while taking a solid defense to an excellent level, with two of the most high profile acquisitions of the winter, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. They traded away most of their premium prospects for Gonzalez, but it was worth it to bring in one of the game’s best left handed bats to take aim at the short right field fence in Fenway. Crawford gives them one of the fastest outfields in the game, and brings helps give the Bo Sox the most flexible lineup in baseball. Speaking of flexibility, the addition of ex-White Sox closer Bobby Jenks gives them one of the best 8-9th inning combinations in baseball with Jonathan Papelbon, and a potential future closer if Papelbon is moved or doesn’t resign after the year.
- Philadelphia Phillies: They added one player, but he is more than enough to put them in this spot. They pulled of the surprise move of the offseason bringing Cliff Lee, who pushed the Phils to the 2009 World Series; back to town they formed the best rotation in baseball, perhaps since the mid-90’s Braves. They also lost All-Star outfielder Jayson Werth, but the usage of those funds to land Lee make losing him a plus actually.
With Lee back in a Phillie uniform, an already impressive Phils rotation becomes a potentially historic group.
3. Oakland Athletics: Few teams were more active, and made more changes to their roster, than the A’s. They made multiple low cost, yet high talent moves this winter, adding Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham to their everyday roster. They also boosted their bullpen by bringing Brian Fuentes, Grant Balfour and Rich Harden in to support baseball’s most underrated starting rotation and boosting an already solid bullpen. Could prove to be a threat to Texas for the AL West Title
4. Milwaukee Brewers: Hitting has never been an issue in Beer Town, but pitching has been a one man show for a few years left to Yovani Gallardo. That’s an issue of the past now, since the Brewers made landed the best available pitcher on the winter trade market in 2009 AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke to their staff. They also added Shawn Marcum from Toronto to round out a pitching staff that could make the Brewers a threat in NL Central at least 3 days a week now.
5. Baltimore Orioles: The AL East is the finest division in the game, but the Orioles have been the whipping boy in it for years. However they made a surge at the end of the year under new manager Buck Showalter’s guidance, and where aggressive in the second tier player market this year. Their additions of Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee and Mark Reynolds instantly make this an offense that can hit with any other team in not only the East, but the AL at larger.
6. Chicago Cubs: Baseball’s perpetual underdogs made few moves this year, as they are still limited by several bad contracts. However, the moves they made were smart ones, in landing Matt Garza, who pitched at the top of one of the AL’s best rotations for years in Tampa Bay. They also landed another former Ray in Carlos Pena, who could be a steal if he bounces back for a sub .200 batting average year and keeps his power. Also, the return of former phenom Kerry Wood makes this one of the best backend bullpens in the NL.
7. Chicago White Sox: The other Chicago club made their biggest impact by resigning the core of their club in new contracts Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski and extending shortstop Alexei Ramirez. They also landed the biggest slugger available in Adam Dunn, who they were close to trading for last August. With him in the mix now, they’ll provide a viable threat to the Twins.
Getting Dunn on the Southside could move the Sox to the north of the AL Central.
8. Detroit Tigers: Victor Martinez is the big name head to the D, where he’ll join Miguel Cabrera and the resigned Magglio Ordonez to form one of the best hearts of the lineup pairings in baseball. They spent a lot on Joaquin Benoit, but if he eases the gap to Jose Valverde, it’s worth it.
9. Florida Marlins: They traded their biggest power source in Dan Uggla, but made some understated moves to really improve the club. Javier Vazquez joins one of the best young rotations anywhere, and he has been at his best in the NL. The additions of two 2010 All-Stars, in John Buck and Omar Infante, will help this young team have some consistent vets in the everyday mix as well.
10. Los Angeles Dodgers: Financial problems prevented them from making a run at Crawford, Werth or Adrian Beltre, but they made several smaller moves to provide depth to their overall unit, with Jon Garland and Matt Guerrier boosting the pitching staff, and pulled Juan Uribe from their division rival Giants to improve their entire infield.
11. Texas Rangers: The AL champs came in at the last second to grab Adrian Beltre to yet again better their impressive offense. Despite losing one former Cy Young winner in Cliff Lee, they took a leap of faith on another one, by signing Brandon Webb in hopes of him regaining his pre-surgery shoulder’s effectiveness.
12. Toronto Blue Jays: They lost much of their bullpen this winter, which was their strength. So they remade the entire unit, and potentially bettered it. Octavio Dotel, Carlos Villanueva, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco provide a plethora of lively arms to call on. The move of the winter, however, may be trading Vernon Wells to the Angels and somehow finding someone to take on the tremendous burden of his contract.
13. St. Louis Cardinals: In 2010, the Cards were tremendously thin on offense and in the infield. They acquired Lance Berkman and Ryan Theriot to handle these respective issues this winter. Re-signing Jake Westbrook was essential to securing one of the deepest rotations in the game for the Birds as well. With this winter out the way, the Cardinals have the biggest offseason, and potentially biggest contract, in franchise history awaiting them next winter already.
With this winter's business done, Cards GM John Mozeliak has his greatest free agent hurdle ever still in front of him.
14. San Diego Padres: They traded away their cornerstone in Adrian Gonzalez, but were handsomely rewarded in minor league talent, especially in pitcher Casey Kelly, who should join the club next year. To help fend against a free fall with Gonzo gone, they added many veterans to steady the way, including Orlando Hudson, Jason Bartlett and hope to finally pull the best out of young and promising Cameron Maybin, who the Pads pulled from Florida.
15. Washington Nationals: After the Nats lost Adam Dunn, they were looking like they were woefully thin once again. However, they broke the bank (and probably overpaid) to get Jayson Werth to come to D.C. and later added Adam LaRoche to try to continue their long-time rebuilding project.
16. Colorado Rockies: Colorado didn’t bring anybody new to town of great consequence, however their resigning of Jorge De La Rosa keep intact a good rotation and their high dollar contract extensions of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez helped them lock up two of the best young players in the game long term and well before they had a chance to smell the market waiting on them. Preventative maintenance gets a high score in the CHEAP SEATS.
17. Atlanta Braves: The Braves made the first big move of the offseason in bringing in the biggest slugging second baseman in the game, Dan Uggla, to town. His presence will boost the lineup in general and give them two of the biggest power bats in the league, when paired with All-Star Jason Heyward and his continued development.
18. San Francisco Giants: The World Champs decided to stick with the method that worked for them last year, and didn’t make many moves, but the ones they did were based on resigning their core players (Aubrey Huff, Cody Ross and Pat Burrell), and bringing in another vet (Miguel Tejada) to round out their lineup. The only mark against them is that they overpaid for a career year and strong World Series from Huff.
19. Tampa Bay Rays: No team lost more than the Rays. Their entire bullpen left town and they lost the first great player in their brief franchise history, Carl Crawford. However, due to the incredible depth of their minor leagues, they were able to replenish from within. They also added Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez to what could still prove to be a very competitive club.
20. New York Yankees: The Yanks were left higher and dryer than any team that lost out in the Cliff Lee race. Instead of grabbing one of the top 5 arms in the game, they had to scramble to land two guys who saw their primes on the other half of the last decade in Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. The retirement of Andy Pettitte makes this miss hurt even more, as they are dangerously thin in starting pitching. They still hold some respectability by making a desperation signing in Rafeal Soriano, who will move from closer to setup man in his new town, and will give a bullpen that may be used frequently some more depth. They resigned legends Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, after some heated and public negotiations in the former’s case, but both moves were expected and basically formalities.
After strikeout in their pursuit of Cliff Lee, both Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman have work to do to iron out the Yanks lack of pitching depth.
21. Kansas City Royals: The Royals are about a year away from fully unleashing the best group of prospects in the game, so in the mean time it was about finding bridge pieces that can make some contributions as well. The acquisition Alcides Escobar for Zack Greinke gives them their shortstop of the future now, and Melky Cabrera could stand to be a versatile outfield piece. Could be a dark summer in the K, but it’s always darkest before the dawn. Royals fans are praying for this saying to be true.
22. Cincinnati Reds: The Reds didn’t have much need to address that prospects couldn’t fix. They added World Series MVP Edgar Renteria to be in the mix at shortstop, but made their most significant moves in extensions signed by MVP Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Bronson Arroyo.
23. Minnesota Twins: The Twins were another club that lost much of their pitching depth in the bullpen, and almost lost the most important part of their rotation as well in Carl Pavano. However, they resigned Pavano, and keep intact an underrated rotation that will need to be at its best against improved Tiger and White Sox lineups.
24. Houston Astros: In the midst of a youth movement, the Astros didn’t reach out to make many signings, but did acquire veterans Bill Hall and Clint Barmes to steady their middle infield. Other than this moves they are running all changes through their minor leagues and existing players.
25. Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates lost out on several pitchers they pursued, but still landed Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen to bring needed experience to the young Bucs pitching staff. Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay will help the depth of a team that needs more help than any other in baseball.
26. Arizona Diamondbacks: Underneath new GM Kevin Towers, the D’Backs were more about moving out what was in house already than bringing a lot in. They flirted with moving Justin Upton, but backed off that and sent Mark Reynolds, Adam LaRoche and Brandon Webb out of town instead. J.J. Putz will take over the closer responsibilities and the talented, yet inconsistent, arms of Zach Duke and Armando Galarraga will be deployed in their rotation.
27. Los Angeles Angels: Expected to be big players in the free agent market, instead the Angels lost out on big on Carl Crawford and couldn’t come to terms with Adrian Beltre. They didn’t add anything to the mix that can play a big role in turnaround their fortunes, which dropped them below .500 since 2003. Their perplexing addition of Vernon Wells, and his massive contract, shows the level of desperation they came to by the end of the offseason to find some way to better the roster.
If Wells produces close to his price tag, then maybe the Angels offseason won't be a total wash.
28. New York Mets: The Mets are in the middle of an ownership transition perhaps, and did very little to change their roster. They signed Chris Capuano and Chris Young to short deals, but with both coming off of arm injuries, nothing is certain with either. They are basically the same team with the same issue they had a year ago, especially a very shallow group of starting pitchers.
29. Seattle Mariners: Another team that basically stood still instead of making any changes to their core; save for landing Miguel Olivo and Brendan Ryan. Both are solid compliment players, but neither is going to make much of a difference in changing the Mariners from the team that lost 101 games last year.
30. Cleveland Indians: It’s been a rough year for sports in Cleveland, and the Indians did nothing to step up and try to lift the spirits of the city. Seriously, nothing. Unless signing Orlando Cabrera to compete for the second base job is considered something. I’m not going for that though. For the third consecutive year, they will pin their hopes on a Grady Sizemore return and a Travis Hafner turnaround. Whatever sports god the city of Cleveland pissed off, they should start offering sacrifices to immediately, but don’t ask the Indian front office to make a financial one, because that’s not happening.