Monday, March 1, 2010

Which teams helped themselves most for 2010?

(1) Red Sox: Theo Epstein addressed both defense and pitching (summed up nicely here) this offseason without surrendering much in the way of offense. Sounds like a great recipe in theory, but the health/age concerns of some of the newly acquired talent should keep BoSox fans a bit cautious in their optimism.

John Lackey (5 years, $82.5m) has missed each of the last two Aprils with arm injuries. If he can remain healthy, though, he will slot in nicely as the number three starter in one of the game's best rotations.

When healthy, Mike Cameron (2 years, $15.5m) and Adrian Beltre (1 year, $10m) are defensive stalwarts. Cameron will be 37 on Opening Day and Beltre missed 50+ games last season with a potpourri of injuries.

Any defensive or offensive production the team receives from new SS Marco Scutaro (2 years, $12.5m) would be more than the team got from the position last season.

The team also rolled the dice on former prospect Jeremy Hermida, who had fallen out of favor and the budget in Florida, and Bill Hall (luxury tax reasons) while electing to let free agent LF Jason Bay and RP Billy Wagner walk away in exchange for draft pick compensation.

Grade for 2010: A-

(2) Yankees: The team as currently constructed needs to win now, and the moves that were made this offseason support that theory.

In simple terms, the Yankees swapped Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, Hideki Matsui, and a slew of prospects for Curtis Granderson, Javier Vazquez and Nick Johnson (1 year, $5.5m). I would venture to guess that fans in the Bronx are ecstatic as this gives their team an excellent chance to repeat as World Series champs.

On the flip side, the payroll figures to be in the $200m range yet the Yankees lack a fifth starter. (Then again, when you can score six runs per game, it might not matter who starts.) 2011 will be no better as New York has over $144m committed already and that does not include the inevitable re-signing of Derek Jeter.

Grade for 2010: A-

(3) 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.

Grade for 2010: B+

(4) Mariners: First the good. Seattle acquired Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee for three prospects. Then, the team locked up staff ace Felix Hernandez (5 years, $78m). Together, they give Seattle the most formidable 1-2 punch in baseball. They also signed free agent 3B Chone Figgins (4 years, $36m) and locked up Franklin Gutierrez (4 years, $20m) solidifying the team's defense.

[In a recent article, Buster Olney mentions the possibility of Ichiro and Figgins becoming the best 1-2 combo as well. Food for thought.]

Now the bad. The M's failed to address two key areas - the pitching depth (numbers 3 through 5 starters) and the offense. What are they going to do when Hernandez or Lee aren't getting the ball? The offense scored the fewest runs in the American League, and they lost two key contributors (Russell Branyan and Adrian Beltre).

The team also made three other trades over the winter. They traded for clubhouse cancer, Milton Bradley (in exchange for the uber-overpaid Carlos Silva), reliever Brandon League (in exchange for former top prospect Brandon Morrow), and 1B Casey Kotchman (for Util Bill Hall). I am not a huge fan of the first two deals but definitely support the third.

Overall, a solid offseason for the about-to-be-canonized-in-Seattle Jack Z. The team will be better than last season, but will it be enough to push them into the playoffs? I have my doubts as I cannot trust the likes of Doug Fister and Ryan Rowland-Smith to hold down the back end of the rotation.

Grade for 2010: B

(5) Rangers: Clearly, Rangers GM Jon Daniels thinks the AL West can be had in 2010. Blessed with one of the game's top farm systems, Daniels rolled the proverbial dice, signing a number of high-risk/high-reward free agents to short-term deals. Among them were Vlad Guerrero (1 year, $5.5m), Rich Harden (1 year, $6.5m), Colby Lewis (2 years, $5m), and Khalil Greene (1 year, $500k). If one or more of these deals pan out, great. If not, they will call up one of their top prospects.

I especially like the Harden deal as he has as much natural ability as any anyone in this year's free agent class. Because of his injury history, however, he came at a fraction of the cost of John Lackey with only a one-year commitment.

If the ownership mess can be sorted out by July, the team can also acquire some help before the trade deadline.

Grade for 2010: B

(6) Twins: By and large, general managers are not an unintelligent bunch (I speak in double-negative tongue on purpose). Why do I bring this up here? Orlando Hudson was signed by Minnesota (1 year, $5m) this offseason, pushing their payroll north of $100m. This was the second straight offseason Hudson garnered very little interest. He seems to be a player in decline (and the numbers back that). Sure, he is an upgrade from the putrid production the team received from its second basemen last year, but $5m seems exorbitant.

By my count, fans in Minnesota have two things to be happy for:

1- The highway robbery of a deal for JJ Hardy (traded Carlos Gomez straight up), and
2- Joe Mauer seems inclined to want a long term deal to stay in the Twin Cities for the rest of his career.

This offseason reminds me a lot of the Mariners. Several deals that look good on paper, but will they help enough to lead to the postseason?

Grade for 2010: B

(7) A's: Oakland was involved in all facets of the offseason. They were major players in the chase for a number of free agents, landing Ben Sheets (1 year, $10m), Coco Crisp ($1 year, $4.75m), and Gabe Gross (1 year, $750k). They were also involved in trades at the major league level (acquiring Kevin Kouzmanoff for Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham) and minor league levels (swapping Brett Wallace for Michael Taylor). A very busy winter indeed.

[Side note: In the end, Oakland, through all of its trading with San Diego (and Scott Hairston), dealt Sean Gallagher, Ryan Webb, Craig Italiano, and Aaron Cunningham for Kevin Kouzmanoff. Not cheap at all.]
Oakland may still be a hitter or two short, but the pitching staff, including newly re-signed Justin Duchscherer (1 year, $2m), has great potential and can carry the team.

Grade for 2010: B

(8) 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).

Grade for 2010: B

(9) 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.

Grade for 2010: B

(10) 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.

Grade for 2010: B

(11) 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).

Grade for 2010: B

(12) 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.

Grade for 2010: B

(13) 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.

Grade for 2010: B-

(14) 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.

Grade for 2010: C+

(15) Orioles: For a team that finds themselves at least two years from serious contention, Baltimore made a series of befuddling moves. Signing Garrett Atkins (1 year, $5m), Miguel Tejada (1 year, $6m), and Mike Gonzalez makes them a notch better in 2010, but at what cost?

The Mike Gonzalez (2 years, $12m) signing taken in a vacuum looks fine. However, when you factor in the fact that it cost Baltimore its second round pick in June, the deal looks a bit foolish. It would have made much more sense to allocate this money to the draft or to signing some young international prospect(s).

The team also dealt Chris Ray for Kevin Millwood, taking on more salary in 2010 without much hope of contending.

Grade for 2010: C+

(16) Angels: As the other three teams in the AL West improved, the Angels lost two key free agents - John Lackey and Chone Figgins - and two more solid contributors - Vlad Guerrero and Darren Oliver. To replace this group, the team signed Joel Pineiro (2 years, $16m), Fernando Rodney (2 years, $11m), and Hideki Matsui (1 year, $6m). Let's compare:

-(no one) vs Figgins = big loss

-Pineiro vs Lackey = loss

-Rodney vs Oliver = slight win

-Matsui vs Vlad = wash

I am not worried about the pitching as much as I am the offense (and the other three teams in the division). Los Angeles must now count on Jered Weaver to replace Lackey and 3B Brandon Wood to fill Figgins' shoes.

This could be the year someone catches the Angels for the first time since 2006.

Grade for 2010: C

(17) 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.

Grade for 2010: C

(18) 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.

Grade for 2010: C

(19) 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.

Grade for 2010: C-

(20) White Sox: Chicago used the trade as its weapon of choice this winter, acquiring OF Juan Pierre and 3B Mark Teahan. The Pierre trade makes sense monetarily as the Dodgers will eat most of the cost, but the Teahan deal leaves much to be desired. GM Kenny Williams traded two former top prospects for a guy that was on the verge of being non-tendered by the cellar-dwelling Royals and then signed him to a contract extension on top of that (3 years, $14m).

Williams also signed reclamation projects Omar Vizquel and Andruw Jones to one-year, incentive-laden deals.

Grade for 2010: C-

(21) 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.

Grade for 2010: C-

(22) Tigers: Detroit finds itself in the midst of a very confusing offseason. At the Winter Meetings in December, the team traded its most popular player (Curtis Granderson) and second-best pitcher (Edwin Jackson) in a three-team deal that netted them Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks and Phil Coke and Austin Jackson from the Yankees. At the time, it seemed like Detroit was in cost-cutting mode. Fine.

However, weeks later, the Tigers signed Jose Valverde (2 years, $14m), a Type A free agent, to be their closer.

Then, the Tigers signed Johnny Damon for $8m.

So, the team swapped two of its best players and its first round pick for a guy with questionable mechanics (Scherzer), Valverde, three mid-level prospects, and now Damon.

Maybe I am missing something, but the logic baffles me. The fans in Detroit deserve better.

Grade for 2010: C-

(23) Rays: I was critical of Tampa Bay last offseason and have no reason to ease off the gas here (insert lame Toyota joke here). The Rays - essentially - traded Akinori Iwamura for Rafael Soriano and his $7.25m salary. They also acquired C Kelly Shoppach from the Indians for a PTBNL... and that's about it.

Solidifying the back end of the bullpen will help (albeit at a hefty cost), but for a team on the cusp of competing, more could have and should have been done. Now, the Rays need to depend on their farm system to produce, and to produce quickly, if they have any hopes of playing deep into October.

Grade for 2010: D+

(24) 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.

Grade for 2010: D+

(25) Indians: As my pick to win the World Series last season, the 2009 Tribe turned out to be even bigger disappointments than Nicole Eggert (I really thought she would stand the test of time). They were never a contender and were forced to trade Cliff Lee before the July deadline with hopes of rebuilding.

Unfortunately, soon-to-be-former GM Mark Shapiro made very little effort to improve his team's chances in 2010 until Friday when they signed Russell Branyan. In fact, they made no discernable effort at all to do anything besides trade Kelly Shoppach to the Rays.

The Branyan deal was extremely team-friendly (1 year, $3m max) but can he have enough of an impact to lead Cleveland to the playoffs? Doubtful.

Shapiro's hits far outweigh his misses so he gets a bit of a pass from here, but this offseason leaves plenty to be desired.

Grade for 2010: D

(26) 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.

Grade for 2010: D

(27) 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.

Grade for 2010: D-

(28) Blue Jays: Rookie GM Alex Anthopoulos will forever be linked to Roy Halladay. In his first major move at the helm, AA dealt Roy for a trio of prospects - Michael Taylor, Kyle Drabek and Travis D'Arnaud. The move was shrewd on a number of levels.

First, the deal brought in two high-ceiling prospects in Taylor (who was flipped for another prospect, Brett Wallace) and Drabek who were desperately needed as the farm system was barren.

Second, the deal saved the team tens of millions of dollars. Of course, now they will have to pay other players a large chunk of this money, but in the short term while the team cannot be competitive, it makes sense to cut costs.

Now, AA needs to find a taker for Vernon Wells, no easy task.

Grade for 2010: D-

(29) 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.

Grade for 2010: F

(30) Royals: If not for Zach Greinke, this would be the worst team in baseball. It actually infuriates me how terrible they are.

They do not develop young talent properly (see Gordon, Alex). They sign terrible free agents to above market value deals - Jason Kendall (2 years, $6m), Rick Ankiel (1 year, $3.25m), and Scott Podsednik (1 year, $1.75m - at least she comes with him), and they lack creativity.

Grade for 2010: F

(Last article of series)

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