Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Baseball Preview: Reviewing the American League Off-Season Moves

With Opening Day almost upon us, it’s time to begin the Sports Matters preview of the 2006 Baseball season. Today and tomorrow I will be summarizing, reviewing, and grading the off-season transactions of each team. This post covers the American League, tomorrow’s will cover the National League. Starting next week, we will have division by division previews, culminating in predictions for the coming year. So sit back, enjoy, and get ready for the greatest season of the year, baseball season.

Note: Thanks to Yahoo! Sports for filling me in on a number of the moves that I had missed.

Baltimore Orioles
In: RHP LaTroy Hawkins, C Ramon Hernandez, OF Jeromy Burnitz, 1B Kevin Millar, OF Corey Patterson, RHP Kris Benson, 1B/OF Jeff Conine
Out: LHP Steve Kline, LHP BJ Ryan, OF Sammy Sosa, OF Eli Marerro, OF BJ Surhoff, 1B Rafael Palmeiro, RHP Sidney Ponson, RHP Jorge Julio, RHP John Maine, C Sal Fasano

Summary: They lost closer BJ Ryan, and cleared a lot of older bodies off the roster as well (Surhoff, Sammy, Raffy). In an earlier post, I advocated a full rebuilding process, since they’re not winning anything with their current roster, and I stand by that. Compounding problems is that this year, they seemed unable to attract top free agents (AJ Burnett, Johnny Damon) no matter how much money they throw at them.

Given the above, I see more mediocrity ahead. I can’t see them benefiting from the Hawkins-Kline swap, though Hernandez is a nice pickup, especially if Javy can thrive in the 1B/DH spot. Patterson’s never lived up his potential, and Burnitz and Millar are aging veterans who could end up being as big of busts as Sammy Sosa. On the other hand, I like the addition of Benson; he’s a workhorse in the rotation, and will be a good complement to emerging stars like Daniel Cabrera and Hayden Penn. They also get marks for not panicking and trading star Shortstop Miguel Tejada.

GradeD. Benson and Hernandez could be players, but they failed to add any impact players. They cleared a lot of dead weight off their roster, but appear to have made minimal gains at best. They weren’t a contender at the end of 2005, and I have no reason to believe that they will be at the beginning of 2006.

**EDIT**: Jeromy Burnitz actually signed in Pittsburgh, so ignore the bit about him here.

Boston Red Sox
In: RHP Josh Beckett, 3B Mike Lowell, 2B Mark Loretta, RHP Jermaine Van Buren, RHP David Riske, C Josh Bard, OF Coco Crisp, OF Wily Mo Pena, RHP Rudy Seanez, 1B J.T. Snow, RHP Julian Tavarez, SS Alex Gonzales
Out: C Doug Mirabelli, SS Edgar Renteria, SS Hanley Ramirez, 1B Kevin Millar, RHP Chad Harville, LHP Mike Myers, 1B John Olerud (retired), 3B Bill Mueller, OF Johnny Damon, LHP Mike Stanton, 3B Andy Marte, C Kelly Shoppach, RHP Guillermo Mota, RHP Bronson Arroyo, C John Flaherty

Summary: The Sox are in the process of a massive turnover on their roster. They’ll begin 2006 with an almost entirely new infield, a reworked bullpen, and a reworked outfield as well. I like the Beckett trade, and think his shoulder will hold up. He should be an All-Star and anchor the rotation. They added a number of arms to the bullpen, but Closer Keith Foulke is still a major question mark, and I’m not convinced that anyone else can close on a regular basis. So while the 6th-8th innings look solid, the 9th is still shaky.

Giving up Andy Marte for Coco Crisp was a steep price to pay, but Marte has yet to prove anything, and Crisp has proven to be a productive hitter. On the other hand, Mike Lowell looks to be past his best before date, and it’s unclear if he can still be an every-day player. I like Alex Gonzales and Mark Loretta as interim measures in the middle infield. Loretta especially should rebound and have a productive year hitting in front of Papi and Manny. As for First Base, Youkilis needs to prove that he can be an every day player, as J.T. Snow is a nice spot starter and defensive substitution at this point in his career, but nothing more. They will be in real trouble if either Youk or Lowell struggles.

The Pena trade adds depth to the Outfield. I’m still not sold on him, but between him and Adam Stern, there’s decent depth.

GradeC+. They managed to fill all their needs, except finding insurance in case Foulke can’t close. Still, they paid a heavy price to acquire many of their new players, and may soon have a glaring need for a corner infielder as well. The Sox could be really good, or could bust, so I can’t give them anything better than an average grade.

Chicago White Sox
In: 1B/DH Jim Thome, Util Ron Mackowiak, RHP Javier Vasquez, INF Alex Cintron, LHP Matt Thornton
Out: OF Aaron Rowand, LHP Damaso Marte, INF Geoff Blum, DH Frank Thomas, OF/DH Carl Everett, RHP Orlando Hernandez, RHP Luis Vizcaino, OF Chris Young (prospect), OF Joe Borchard

Summary: They swapped clubhouse favorite Rowand for Jim Thome, coming off an injury plagued year. If he can approach his numbers of old, he’ll be an improvement at the DH spot. Vasquez is a nice pickup, and becomes the best 5th starter in the majors. The best move they made was resigning Paul Konerko. They also signed Jon Garland to a three-year extension for just under $10 mil a year, which is a good move in the short-term. Things are looking up in the South Side with two of their best having agreed to short-term extensions.

This team looks ready to defend their title. The only thing they might want to look for is a 4th outfielder to provide some insurance in case Brian Anderson isn’t ready to take over Centerfield.

GradeA. They had a stellar off-season. They also have the organizational depth to make a trade for a Centerfielder or DH if necessary, so don’t bet against a repeat from the South Side squad.

In: RHP Paul Byrd, RHP Jason Johnson, RHP Danny Graves and RHP Steve Karsay (Minor League Contracts), OF Jason Michaels, RHP Guillermo Mota, C Kelly Shoppach, 3B Andy Marte, 1B Eduardo Perez
Out: RHP Bobby Howry, RHP Scott Elarton, RHP Kevin Millwood, LHP Arthur Rhodes, OF Coco Crisp, RHP David Riske, C Josh Bard

Summary: They resigned closer Bob Wickman after striking out in the Trevor Hoffman sweepstakes. Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson are workhorses who should respectively be an adequate replacement and an upgrade over Kevin Millwood and Scott Elarton.

I like the acquisition of Guillermo Mota. He was lights out before getting hurt last June, then struggled coming off his injury. With a winter to recover, I see him reverting to previous form, which will more than make up for Bobby Howry’s departure. Mota’s also proven that he can close if Wickman’s struggles.

I like the depth that Jason Michaels adds, and while they will miss Coco Crisp, Andy Marte could be an All-Star.

GradeB+. The Indians have a lot of great young talent, and they did a good job of building that core and adding supporting players this past off-season. They came close to winning the Wild Card last season, and I think they’ll be right in the thick of it again.

In: RHP Todd Jones, LHP Kenny Rogers, RHP Matt Mantei (Minor-League Contract)
Out: RHP Jason Johnson, 2B Fernando Vina, OF/DH Rondell White

Summary: They signed a closer and replaced Johnson in the rotation, though failed to make the big splash they have the past two years (Rodriguez and Ordonez). Do Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers bring them any closer to contention? I don’t think so. On the other hand, Jim Leyland’s a good addition as Manager.

GradeD+. Would have been a D-minus without Leyland. I don’t think this club will be any better this year than it was last year.

Kansas City
In: LHP Mark Redman, RHP Elmer Dessens, RHP Scott Elarton, 1B Doug Mientkiewicz, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, C Paul Bako, RHP Joe Mays, OF Reggie Sanders
Out: RHP Jose Lima, RHP Scott Sullivan

Summary: They added 2 4th starters (Elarton and Redman) and a mediocre reliever (Dessens) to a pitching staff that needs front-line talent. What more can I say? They’ve also upgraded their infield defense (Mientkiewicz and Grudzielanek), but with questionable offensive returns. Reggie Sanders is a great complimentary player, but can’t carry the offensive load on his own. I’d feel a lot better about these additions if they were closer to being a contender, but the good thing is that none of these deals are for the long-term.

GradeD+. Adding mediocre veterans to an already sub-par squad won’t get them anywhere. The Royals may make slight gains, but won’t come close to contending, especially in the deep AL Central.

Los Angeles Angels
In: RHP Hector Carrasco, LHP JC Romero, RHP Jeff Weaver, 2B/3B Edgardo Alfonzo
Out: RHP Paul Byrd, LHP Jarrod Washburn, C Benjie Molina, OF Steve Finley, OF Jeff DaVanon

Summary: They added a left-handed arm to the pen, and are counting on Jeff Weaver to pick up where Paul Byrd left off in the rotation. They’ll miss Benjie Molina in the short-term, too. If Jeff Mathes can’t step in as they every day catcher, they’ll see a steep drop-off in production with Jose Molina in the lineup.

The underachieving Alfonzo is a nice insurance pickup in case Dallas McPherson struggles, though their outfield depth took a hit with the loss of DaVanon and Finley. But on the pitching front, their already deep bullpen looks much stronger. Weaver was a nice addition, but if Ervin Santana doesn’t become more consistent, their rotation could struggle.

GradeC. This team has as many question marks now as it did last year.

In: 2B Luis Castillo, OF/DH Rondell White, 3B Tony Batista, OF Ruben Sierra (Minor-League Contract)
Out: RHP Joe Mays, LHP JC Romero, OF Jacque Jones, RHP Grant Balfour, C Matthew LeCroy

Summary: Castillo adds speed at the top of the order, while they’ll be depending on White to increase the power in the middle of their lineup. Batista could crack the starting lineup, but is on the downside of his career.

Grade: D+. They might have overpayed for Castillo, and there were better options than White available on the market. They also failed to replace Romero, the left-handed specialist, in their bullpen. I don’t think they’ve done enough to keep up with the Sox and Indians in this division.

NY Yankees
In: C Kelly Stinnet, RHP Kyle Farnsworth, LHP Mike Myers, OF Johnny Damon, 2B Miguel Cairo, RHP Octavio Dotel
Out: RHP Tom Gordon, 2B/OF Tony Womack, RHP Kevin Brown, LHP Alan Embree, C John Flaherty, 1B Tino Martinez, OF Matt Lawton, OF/DH Ruben Sierra, RHP Felix Rodriguez

Summary: They replaced Flaherty, Gordon, and Embree with Stinnet, Farnsworth, and Myers – respectively a wash, upgrade, and unknown. Johnny Damon can cover more ground than Bernie in Centerfield, but his arm is a liability. In any case, he has at least a couple of more productive offensive years left in him.

The bullpen looks better than it has been in years. Farnsworth is lights out, and Dotel is poised for a comeback. Whether Myers can face more than 1-2 batters at a time (and any Right-Handed hitters) remains to be seen. Damon should help the offense, and Miguel Cairo is nice insurance in the infield.

GradeA-. It remains to be seen if Damon can handle the New York pressure. The Yanks also failed to add any depth to their injury-prone rotation. Otherwise, I have to hand it to them for a strong off-season.

In: RHP Esteban Loaiza, INF Antonio Perez, OF Milton Bradley, 1B/DH Frank Thomas
Out: RHP Octavio Dotel, 1B/DH Scott Hatteberg, 1B/DH Erubiel Durazo, LHP Ricardo Rincon

Summary: The addition of Loaiza gives them a rotation that rivals that of the White Sox as best in the league. Milton Bradley is a talented player who’s been plagued by clubhouse and off-the-field conflicts; if he can get rid of those, he should thrive in Oakland. Frank Thomas still has some pop in his bat, but has struggled with injuries in recent years. He could still be an asset, if they can get at least 300 at bats out of him.

GradeB+. Loaiza and Bradley – assuming he stays sane – are great additions to a team that’s on the cusp of returning to the playoffs. If they stay healthy, they’ll be right in the thick of the playoff race, and could very well be the favorites to win the AL West. Billy Beane did a great job this off-season.

In: C Kenji Johjima, OF/DH Carl Everett, LHP Jarrod Washburn, OF Matt Lawton, OF Joe Borchard
Out: C Yorvit Torrealba, SS Pokey Reese, RHP Shigetoshi Hasegawa, LHP Matt Thornton, RHP Ryan Franklin, RHP Jeff Nelson

Summary: Johjima is a talented catcher who should excel – the M’s aren’t worried about communication problems with him and the staff. Having Ichiro as a teammate should help him transition as well. Carl Everett played well in Chicago last year, and could be a good complimentary player around Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson; as a switch-hitter he also provides a much needed left-handed presence in the middle of the order. On the pitching front, they resigned Jamie Moyer, who’s an excellent mentor for this staff, and added Jarrod Washburn, who could be an asset if he stays healthy.

Grade: B-. It would be higher, but 9 million and change a year for Washburn is too much.

Tampa Bay
In: RHP Chad Harville, 3B Sean Burroughs, RHP Edwin Jackson, C Josh Paul, INF Ty Wiggington, RHP Shinji Mori, RHP Dan Miceli, INF Russell Branyan (Minor-League Contract)
Out: RHP Dewon Brazelton, OF Danny Bautista, RHP Danys Baez, RHP Lance Carter, 1B Eduardo Perez, INF Alex S. Gonzales

Summary: Moving Danys Baez was the only notable move; the rest represent minor changes to the young roster. The Rays resigned Rocco Baldelli to a long-term deal, which is a good move. Edwin Jackson has potential as a starter, if he pans out it will make the Baez trade worthwhile.

GradeC. A few decent moves, but the Rays didn’t make dramatic upgrades to either their major league roster or their farm system. They didn’t make themselves appreciably worse, either, so an average grade seems in order.

In: OF Brad Wilkerson, OF Termell Sledge, RHP Vicente Padilla, RHP Adam Eaton, RHP Akinori Otsuka, RHP Kevin Millwood, DH Erubiel Durazo (Minor-League Contract)
Out: 2B Alfonso Soriano, OF Richard Hidalgo, RHP Steve Karsay, LHP Kenny Rogers, C Sandy Alomar Jr., RHP Chris Young, OF Termell Sledge, 1B Adrian Gonzales (Prospect)

Summary: They entered the off-season looking to upgrade their pitching, but instead began by adding 2 more bodies to an already crowded outfield in exchange for their all-star second basemen. Following up on that trade, they swapped a young starter, outfielder, and 1B prospect (who was very expendable because of Teixera), to add a more established starter (one who’s going into his free agent year) and a setup man for the bullpen. They followed that up by paying $60 million for an injury-prone Starter who has just passed the wrong side of 30.

GradeC. The Eaton swap was questionable, as he does not figure to be a great improvement over Young, but will nonetheless command a much higher salary – assuming he stays in Arlington past next fall. They don’t have a proven Second Baseman, and still need to sort out the crowded outfield. Additionally, there are serious questions about the durability of Millwood and Padilla. However, if these moves pan out, they should be right in the thick of the playoff race; but for now, there are too many question marks.

In: LHP BJ Ryan, RHP AJ Burnett, 1B Lyle Overbay, INF John McDonald, 3B Troy Glaus, C Benjie Molina, RHP Ben Weber and C Jason Phillips (Minor-League Contracts)
Out: RHP Dave Bush, OF Gabe Gross, 2B Orlando Hudson, RHP Miguel Batista, 3B Corey Koskie

Summary: They were the movers and shakers in the AL, spending $102 million to lock up a closer and 2nd Starter for the next five years. They also stole Lyle Overbay from Milwaukee for spare parts. Troy Glaus and Benjie Molina are solid pickups that add some more pop to the lineup. They will miss O-Dog’s defense at Second, but their offense should improve by leaps and bounds.

Grade A-. They made a lot of great moves, but I’m concerned about how Burnett will hold up, and how they’re going to find Molina at bats, since the pitching staff are big fans of keeping Gregg Zaun on the field. Great job by J.P. Ricciardi, his team is ready to compete for the championship.

To Summarize, the best off-seasons were had by:
1. Chicago
2. Toronto
3. New York
4. Oakland
5. Cleveland

2 of these teams were playoff teams last year, and the other 3 were right on the cusp. I don't think any of the non-contenders from last year did enough to bring themselves into the playoff race, while the aforementioned five are contenders who did the best job of improving their chances at a championship.

Will the same pattern hold for the National League off-season? Tune in tomorrow.


At 1:42 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Bah. Oakland had the best offseason.

I am too lazy to say more.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Alex said...

You're such a homer, Andy.

That is all.

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Great preview. For the first time I find myself agreeing with you. If Minnesota brings Liriano up into a regular starting role, I think they should be upgraded a notch.

Despite the competitiveness of the Sox, I think the Twins are just one bat away from contending for the division. Their pitching staff is so far under the league average for RA, it wouldn't take much to turn it into a decisive advantage (unfortunately for them, their runs scored were also depressingly low last year).

At 5:45 PM, Blogger Alex said...

For the first time I find myself agreeing with you.

Thanks. I'll take whatever complements I get.

As for the Twinkies, even if they add another bat (likely one who can play Right Field and/or DH), I think they still need a number of players to hit for average for them to compete with Chicago and Cleveland. Last year, Justin Morneau and Jason "President" Bartlett hit under .250, as did Tony Batista in 2004 - his last season in the majors. Shannon Stewart's average also declined by about 25 points last year from his normal range.

That being said, if their pitching plays to potential, and Morneau and Mauer take steps forward, that might be enough to keep them in the thick of things.


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