Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ranking the Offseasons - NL

Continuing from Monday's "Ranking the Offseasons - AL" article, here is my take on the National League.

A few general thoughts:

*It was much harder to decide who should be on the bottom of this list than the top.
*The AL vs. NL gap widens with each passing day.
*There are some really terrible General Managers running teams in the NL.

1) Reds: Cincinnati was relatively quiet but made two solid deals, one for now and one for later.

In early January, the team signed the top prize of the international market, LHP Aroldis Chapman (6 years, $30.25m). He throws gas but could use some work on his command. Overall, this is a worthwhile risk to take on a 21-year old wrong-hander.

Then, the team signed Orlando Cabrera (1 year, $4m) to play shortstop this season at a fair price. He should slot into the 2-hole of an underrated lineup.

With a payroll of only $70m and a very solid core (Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce), they can afford to be aggressive at the deadline.

I think they will surprise.

Best move: Signing Chapman
Grade for 2010: B
Grade for the future: A-

2) Padres: Like the Reds, the Pads had a sneaky good offseason. First, they hired a solid general manager (innocent until proven guilty) in Jed Hoyer.

Then, they re-signed Kevin Correia (1 year, $3.6m) after weeks of speculation that he would be non-tendered.

Next, they signed Jon Garland (1 year, $4.7m), Yorvit Torrealba (1 year, $1.25m), and Jerry Hairston, Jr. (1 year, $2.125m), all more than capable of contributing positively to the club especially at these prices.

They followed this with a great trade where they dealt Kevin Kouzmanoff for Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham. (I love this deal.)

Most importantly, they kept Adrian Gonzalez, their best player who might have the most team-friendly contract in baseball).

Best move: Trading Kouz
Grade for 2010: B+
Grade for the future: B+

3) Brewers: If Milwaukee can sign Jarrod Washburn, they will have officially cornered the left-handed starting pitching market as the team has already signed southpaws Randy Wolf (3 years, $29.75m) and Doug Davis (1 year, $5.25m). Although I am not enamored with either (Wolf on the basis of cost and Davis on talent), I have to credit GM Doug Melvin for being decisive. His team lacked starting pitching behind ace Yovani Gallardo, and he addressed the need.

Melvin also signed C Gregg - [bad joke alert] add the extra "g" for gotta be better than Jason Kendall - Zaun (1 year, $2.15m) to a very team-friendly deal. They also brought back Trevor Hoffman (1 year, $7.5m) and signed LaTroy Hawkins (2 years, $7.5m) to anchor the 'pen.

The team also dealt former shortstop-of-the-future JJ Hardy to Minnesota in exchange for all-glove, no-hit Carlos Gomez. After deciding rookie Alcides Escobar would be their shortstop, only getting Gomez was disappointing, but at least they saved some money.

Side note: Jeff Suppan will make nearly 10-times more this year in salary than Ryan Braun. (12.75m vs 1.28m).

Best move: Signing Zaun
Grade for 2010: B
Grade for the future: B-

4) Cardinals: St. Louis made two noteworthy deals this winter. They re-signed Matt Holliday (7 years, $120m) and signed Brad Penny (1 year, $7.5m). However, they watched Joel Pineiro (Angels), Rick Ankiel (Royals), and Mark DeRosa (Giants) flee for greener pastures.

In all, it's a net loss in talent. So, the Cardinals will come back to the pack a bit, but losing Holliday would have been especially devastating.

Best move: Re-signing Holliday
Grade for 2010: B
Grade for the future: B-

5) Diamondbacks: The front office in Arizona clearly sees an opportunity in front of them. They think they can win the NL West despite finishing last season 22 games under .500. As crazy as it may sound, I agree with them.

They acquired Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy from the Tigers for the steep price of Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth, the thinking being Jackson will be able to help sooner than Scherzer despite the fact Scherzer is widely regarded as the superior talent. I was very opposed to this deal (from Arizona's perspective) when it was announced, but now at least I can see what the end goal. For what it's worth, I am not nearly as high on Kennedy as the Arizona staff is.

Pairing Jackson with Brandon Webb, coming off a season that saw him start only one game, and Dan Haren gives Arizona a top three that can match up with anyone in baseball.

The team also addressed some hitting needs by signing Kelly Johnson (1 year, 2.35m) and Adam Laroche (1 year, $6m) and its bullpen vacancy by signing Bobby Howry (1 year, $2.25m) to short-term deals.

Best move: Signing Laroche
Grade for 2010: B+
Grade for the future: C-

6) Astros: This winter, GM Ed Wade made some puzzling decisions. Many would argue that guaranteeing Brandon Lyon (3 years, $15m) the amount of money they did constituted the worst deal of the winter. I'm not sure I would go that far, but it certainly was not a wise move.

Wade then watched LaTroy Hawkins (Milwaukee) and Jose Valverde (Detroit) flee weakening his bullpen once again. On the bright side, Valverde was a Type A free agent so they get a first round pick out of the deal. With the farm system in shambles, this was probably the best thing to happen to the team during the offseason.

Wade, then began picking Phillies' castaways off the scrap heap. 3B Pedro Feliz (1 year, $4.5) was brought in to replace Miguel Tejada (Baltimore), and SP Brett Myers was signed (1 year, $5.1m) with the hopes that he could revitalize his career in hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park. Coughcough, not happening, coughcough.

Really an amazing offseason - they made no great moves, but because of the lack of / misguided movement by others (specifically Detroit), they find themselves much closer to the top of this list than they should.

Best move: Letting Valverde leave
Grade for 2010: C
Grade for the future: B- (they get the Tigers' first round pick in 2010, but they signed Wade to an unwarranted extension; the two are a wash so they get an average grade)

7) Giants: If GM Brian Sabean didn't inherit Barry Bonds, what would his legacy be? As it stands, he is often credited with a franchise turnaround in the late 90's ultimately leading to an appearance in the 2002 World Series. However, his style (read: willingness to overpay veterans) seems to be wearing thin as the team has not made the postseason since 2003.

Behind the dynamic duo of Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, the Giants finished 2009 14 games over .500. Sabean added vets Mark DeRosa (2 years, $12m) and Aubrey Huff (1 year, $3m) and re-signed Bengie Molina (1 year, $4.5m) instead of handing the keys to top prospect Buster Posey.

Future be damned, we are going for it now.

Best move: Signing DeRosa
Grade for 2010: B-
Grade for the future: D

8) Nationals: Another delusional team making moves as if they are ready to compete today, Washington fans have been set up for disappointment. The Nats signed Jason Marquis (2 years, $15m), Adam Kennedy (1 year, $1.25m), Pudge Rodriguez (2 years, $6m), Chien-Ming Wang (1 year, $2m) and Matt Capps (1 year, $3.5m) and traded for Brian Bruney (in exchange for first pick of Rule 5 Draft - Jamie Hoffmann).

Will they win more games in 2010? Sure. Will they win enough games to sniff the playoffs? No chance, which makes all of the offseason activity much ado about nothing. If management is willing to spend money, try the draft or international prospects, not short-term stopgaps.

Interestingly, if the team thinks it can win now, Stephen Strasburg might find himself in the Opening Day rotation.

Worst move: Signing Rodriguez (almost as bad as the Jason Kendall deal)
Grade for 2010: B
Grade for the future: F

9) Braves: Atlanta made a series of uncharacteristically big moves this winter.

The team offered arbitration to closer Rafael Soriano. While waiting to see if he would accept, they signed closer Billy Wagner (1 year, $7m) for which they were forced to surrender their 2010 first round pick. Six days later, Soriano accepted arbitration so they traded him to the Tampa Bay Rays, who signed him to a 1 year, $7.25m deal. Essentially, they chose a package of Wagner + $250k (difference in salary between Soriano and Wagner) over Soriano + first round pick. I would choose the later package 100 times out of 100.

They also signed injury-prone RP Takashi Saito (1 year, $3.2m) and 3B Troy Glaus (1 year, $1.75m).

In an effort to further cut payroll, Atlanta dealt last year's ace Javier Vazquez to the Yankees for OF Melky Cabrera and prospects. If they were so concerned about payroll, though, why sign Wagner?

A very weird offseason, much like that of the Detroit Tigers.

Worst move: Signing Wagner
Grade for 2010: C-
Grade for the future: C+ (only because the prospects obtained from the Yankees - Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino - could turn out to be pretty good)

10) Phillies: Out- Cliff Lee, Pedro Feliz, Chan Ho Park, Pedro Martinez; In- Roy Halladay, Placido Polanco (3 years, $18m).

I don't think you can make the argument that this year's team is better than last. Halladay might be a minor upgrade from Lee, but I see little improvement elsewhere.

As for the future, in the Lee and Halladay deals, the team basically traded Kyle Drabek, Travis D'Arnaud, and Michael Taylor for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and Juan Ramirez. A clear downgrade in talent.

For the life of me, I cannot understand the Cliff Lee deal. A rotation of Halladay-Lee-Hamels would make the Phillies the favorites to win the NL pennant.

Worst move: Trading Lee
Grade for 2010: C+
Grade for the future: D

11) Cubs: It's been 91 years and counting for the North Siders since their last World Series crown. Unfortunately, the 2010 roster does not have the look of a team that can end the schneid.

Chicago watched Rich Harden bolt via free agency and failed to sign any arms to replace him. Counting on Randy Wells and Tom Gorzelanny to provide 300+ innings seems like a recipe for disaster, although both did pitch reasonably well for the team last year.

They did sign Marlon Byrd (3 years, $15m) and Xavier Nady (1 year, $3.3m) in an attempt to corner the fungible, right-handed corner outfield market. The Cubs also signed John Grabow (2 years, $7.5m), a reliever that can get righties and lefties out regularly.

Best move: Signing Grabow
Grade for 2010: C-
Grade for the future: C-

12) Mets: Los Mets, led by one-foot-out-the-door GM Omar Minaya, seem to be clueless about two things:

1- injury prevention/treatment, and
2- constructing a roster.

New York was devastated by the injury bug last year. Jose Reyes (137), David Wright (15), Carlos Delgado (147), Carlos Beltran (78), Johan Santana (45), and John Maine (98) spent a combined 520 days on the DL. Naturally, they decided to entrust the 8th inning to a guy, Kelvim Escobar (1 year, $1.25m), who finds himself atop the wrong kind of at least one offseason top-10 list because of all the time he has missed with arm problems.

The team has over $123m committed in salary but lacks a dependable first baseman, second baseman, catcher, and back end of the rotation. Sure, they signed Jason Bay away from the Red Sox, but it cost them their second round draft pick and $66m over the next four years. Awesome.

I won't even get started with the Rod Barajas (1 year, $1m) signing or the Alex Cora deal (1 year, $2m) or the whole Carlos Beltran saga because I might flip a lid.

To make matters worse, Billy Wagner, a player the Mets dealt to Boston last season to save some money, was signed by Atlanta after being deemed a Type A free agent. This gave Boston Atlanta's first rounder, a pick that could/should have gone to the Mets.

Bottom line: This team is a mess from top to bottom.

Worst move: Signing Cora for $2m
Grade for 2010: C
Grade for the future: D (Bay cost the team their second round pick in 2010)

13) Rockies: It really bothers me when teams that can take the next step (as in playoff contenders to World Series contenders) decide to stand pat. Colorado failed to add a single starter, either position player or pitcher, and downgraded their bench - Melvin Mora (1 year, $1.3m) from Garrett Atkins (Baltimore) and Miguel Olivo (1 year, $2.5m) from Yorvit Torrealba (Padres).

The team did make moves to keep their bullpen intact by locking up (3 years, $22.5m) and Rafael Betancourt (2 years, $7.55m), but by watching Jason Marquis leave via free agency (Washington), the staff got weaker overall.

Worst move: Signing Betancourt (too many years)
Grade for 2010: D
Grade for the future: C-

14) Pirates: Being a fan of his team must be incredibly frustrating.

Their two big ticket acquisitions were Akinori Iwamura, a slightly above average second baseman, and Octavio Dotel (1 year, $3.5m), signed to be the closer despite the fact he has not filled that role since 2004 [side note: let's hope this doesn't become an issue either for Dotel].

They also signed Ryan Church (1 year, $1.5m), Brendan Donnelly (1 year, $1.3m) and Bobby Crosby (1 year, $1m).

Not much to be excited about this year, yet again.

Best move: Acquiring Iwamura
Grade for 2010: D+
Grade for the future: F (short-term deals to old, average players won't help now or later)

15) Dodgers: In an utterly shocking move, the Dodgers declined to offer SP Randy Wolf arbitration. Had he accepted - which there is almost no evidence he would have - Wolf would cost about $10m. Had he declined and signed elsewhere the Dodgers would receive a first or second round pick plus a supplemental first rounder because of Wolf's Type A free agent status.

Predictably, Wolf signed elsewhere (Milwaukee), and the Dodgers were left with nothing. To top things off, they signed Vicente Padilla (1 year, 5.025m) to an ungodly deal. Why not take the chance of offering Wolf arbitration? Makes no sense.

Jon Garland (San Diego) Orlando Hudson (Minnesota), two more players the team could have offered arbitration, also left. They were replaced with no one.

I understand the financial situation of the club is in question pending the divorce of the McCourts, but this performance by the front office was wretched for a team that has hopes of competing.

Worst move: Failing to offer arbitration to Wolf
Grade for 2010: D-
Grade for the future: D-

16) Marlins: When discussing disappointing offseasons, Florida has to head the list. The Marlins did nothing to improve a team that finished 87-75 and remained competitive throughout the year.

Sure, they re-signed staff ace Josh Johnson (after the MLBPA forced their hand), but he was under team control anyway. For a team begging for a new stadium, they better hope a collapse is not in store. Very disappointing for all 17 Marlins fans.

Best, err, Only move: Re-signing Johnson
Grade for 2010: F
Grade for the future: C-

Up next: Ranking all of MLB (Thursday)

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