Monthly Archives: March 2010

2010 MLB Predictions

In light of the 2010 March Madness brackets, I’ve gone ahead and worked out for you guys what all will transpire once college basketball ends, and baseball begins.

AL EAST

1. Yankees (99-63)
Postseason heroes Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui may have left town, but new additions Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson step in to replace them. Their additions lengthen an already potent lineup and that, paired with Javier Vazquez providing rotation depth should be plenty to help the Yankees repeat as division champs and make another deep postseason run.

2. Red Sox (95-67)
When Boston let Jason Bay walk and were outbid for Matt Holliday’s services, Theo Epstein turned his attention to pitching and defense. John Lackey gives Boston one of the best front three starters in baseball, and while there are plenty of options for the back of the rotation, each comes with looming questions. Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron all solidify Boston’s defense, while sacrificing some offense.

3. Rays (88-74)
In 2008, the Rays proved that they can compete with the AL powerhouses if everything broke in their favor. In 2009, they missed some breaks and instead of a pennant-winning club, they were simply a pretty decent one. They enter 2010 hoping for some more of the 2008 magic, and if they can’t find it again, they may look to move some of their veterans before the trade deadline. With Rafael Soriano brought in to help stabilize a questionable relief unit, the Rays are very much in position to make another postseason run.

4. Orioles (76-86)
After years of no direction, Baltimore is finally headed up. 2010 won’t be the year they finally make their long awaited return to the playoffs, but there’s enough young talent in the pipeline to believe that the Orioles can make some noise in the near future. They’ll certainly have one of the best young outfields in the game, with Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold patrolling the outfield grass at Camden Yards.

5. Blue Jays (66-96)
Times couldn’t be much tougher in Toronto for Blue Jay fans. Rookie GM Alex Anthopoulous did the best he could dealing away ace Roy Halladay, but for arguably best pitcher in baseball, he didn’t get a whole lot back. A decent return, but not a blow-your-mind type of one. Much like Baltimore, there’s going to be a lot of youth in Toronto this year, unlike Baltimore however, that talent isn’t going to be as impressive, which will ultimate lead to a long year north of the border.

AL CENTRAL

1. Twins (92-70)
The loss of Joe Nathan certainly hurts the reigning AL Central champs, but if there’s a division where you can whether that type of injury, it’s this one. The offense is definitely improved and the pitching should be at least passable. But regardless of what the team does on the field, the bigger stories are going to be about the field. Minnesota bids farewell to comfortable indoor baseball and takes on Minnesota’s unpredictable weather. However, this new ballpark will hopefully bring in enough revenue for the Twins that they can easily work out a long-term extension for homegrown prodigy Joe Mauer.

2. Tigers (88-76)
Detroit started their offseason apparently concerned about their finances, trading away outfielder Curtis Granderson and starter Edwin Jackson, but quickly changed direction and signed Johnny Damon and closer Jose Valverde. The offense should be respectable enough and Valverde is certainly an upgrade over Fernando Rodney, if the former if fully healthy. But the starting pitching consists of the newly extended Justin Verlander and then a handful of question marks. WIll Rick Porcello build on his strong rookie campaign? Can Jeremy Bonderman get back to the form that helped him win 14 games in back-to-back seasons? Will Dontrelle Willis overcome injuries and psychological problems to be a passable Major League option?

3. White Sox (84-78)
The White Sox enter the season with an impressive front four in their rotation. But they also enter the season with severe problems on the other side of the ball. Gordon Beckham was intriguing once he was called up midseason, but the White Sox lack an impact bat in the middle of the lineup. Carlos Quentin could be that guy, but injuries may have sapped some of his power. At least Ozzie Guillen should be as “entertaining” as he always is.

4. Royals (69-93)
Zack Greinke’s back to defend his Cy Young award and the Royals are back to defend their position in the AL cellar. Fortunately for the former, Greinke doesn’t seem to be slowing down any from what has turned into an incredible career turnaround. Unfortunately for the latter, the 2010 Royals look a little better than the 2010 Indians. The Royals won’t be winning the division just yet, but they just may escape the basement for the second time since 2004.

5. Indians (67-95)
The Indians have cleaned house the past two years and while a couple of decent pieces remain (Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo), the cupboard’s pretty bare in Cleveland. A lot of the players they received for Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, and Victor Martinez will get a chance to play for the Tribe this season.

AL WEST

1. Mariners (91-71)
I always hate falling for teams that improved themselves after a seemingly good season. Seattle won 85 games last season, but seriously outperformed their expected record. So even though I love the moves they made this offseason, I think their improvement will be offset a little by the team as a whole coming back to earth. Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez is an outstanding 1-2 punch at the front of the rotation, but if Milton Bradley doesn’t rebound, the Mariners may not have a regular that hits 20 home runs.

3. Rangers (89-73)
The Rangers have the most impressive young talent in the division, but they may still be a year or two away from translating that talent into a division crown. The offense will continue to slug away, with Vladimir Guerrero replacing the departed Marlon Byrd, but the pitching may still be lagging behind. Rich Harden will have to step up and remain healthy, especially after Texas shipped workhorse Kevin Millwood off to Baltimore. With outfielder Josh Hamilton and manager Ron Washington in the clubhouse, new owner Nolan Ryan has to be relieved the Yankees opted to deal Phil Coke to Detroit, rather than Arlington.

3. Angels (87-75)
The Angels have long been able to replace departed production from within their own system, but the rest of their division has typically made repeating as division champs easier. They’ve lost talent on both sides of the ball this offseason, seeing John Lackey sign with the Red Sox, and Chone Figgins with division rival Seattle. The loss of talent has inevitably caught up with the Angels, and while their deep rotation will keep them hanging around, I believe they’ve been passed in the AL West race.

4. Athletics (76-86)
Oakland is one of the more enigmatic teams in the American League. They have a lot of promising young arms in their rotation, that if they perform well, the A’s could make a serious run this summer. Brett Anderson may develop into a sleeper Cy Young candidate, but the A’s may end up lacking enough offensive pop to contend deep into the season.

NL EAST

1. Phillies (94-68)
With a championship and two pennants in the last two seasons, Philadelphia has clearly been the class of the National League the past two years. By trading for Roy Halladay, the Phillies ensured they’d stay on top in 2010. There are still questions about the reliability of the bullpen and back end of the rotation, but the Phillies are the team to beat not only in the division, but in the league as well.

2. Braves (92-70)
After a good-but-not-great campaign in 2009, the Braves went about bettering themselves this offseason by taking on some risk-reward type players in addition to shedding payroll. The backend of the bullpen is completely remodeled, featuring Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito rather than Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano. Troy Glaus and Melky Cabrera help out the offense, but the potentially biggest addition might end up being stud prospect Jason Heyward, who’s living up to his billing early in spring training. I see the Braves sending Bobby Cox off with an appearance in the playoffs.

3. Marlins (88-74)
The Marlins have some top-flight talent leading their team, but budgetary constraints leaves them scraping the bottom of the barrel to fill out the roster. Much like the Athletics in the American League, the Marlins could make some serious strides in 2010 if their crop of young starters continues to develop and get better. The offense, led by Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla and Chris Coughlan will be there, it’s simply a matter of the pitching performing up to, or exceeding expectations. Isn’t it about time the Marlins won a wild card berth, and subsequently a championship?

4. Mets (81-81)
Just about anybody with a name succumbed to the Queens injury bug in 2009. It appears to be much of the same for the Amanzin’s in 2010 as Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes appear primed to open the seadon on the DL. Other than Johan Santana, who is recovering from offseason surgery himself, the Mets are one enormous enigma. Can anyone step up behind Santana in the rotation and contribute? Will lowering the centerfield wall eight feet cure David Wright’s power outage?

5. Nationals (67-95)
Very slowly, the Nationals are becoming watchable. First overall pick Stephen Strasburg should find himself up in the majors by June when the Nationals will make the first overall pick again in the amateur draft. Their offense is more than respectable, anchored by Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman and they’ve added some nice pieces to patch together and workable bullpen. If Chien-Ming Wang returns to some sort of semblance to his pre-injury days, the Nationals have the makings of a solid front three with John Lannen and Jason Marquis holding down the fort until Strasburg arrives.

NL CENTRAL

1. Cardinals (91-71)
As much as it pains me to admit, I’ve quietly become a Redbird fan. Being nearly 800 miles away from their fans has helped quite a bit. Baseball wise, the Cardinals and head and shoulders above anyone else in the NL Central and should remain that way should they lock up Albert Pujols. They’ve got the best pitcher in the division and the best hitter. Add that to a solid-if-not-spectacular supporting cast and the Cards should be flying into October once again. Let’s just hope that not too many routine fly balls come flying at Matt Holliday.

2. Reds (83-79)
It feels like every year, I sense some hope coming for Cincinnati, but never quite enough to get them over the hump. With the arrival of Aroldis Chapman and a potential midseason return from Edinson Volquez, coupled with the continued development of Johnny Cueto, the Reds have a chance to have a decent starting rotation and because of this, I like them more than Milwaukee and Chicago.

3. Cubs (81-81)
The Milton Bradley disaster is finally taken care of, but the Soriano contract is more hinder-some than Milton Bradley ever could be. The Cubs have some talent, but it’s aging and/or fading. They’ve got pieces to contend in a weak division, but for them to have a chance, they’ll need some miraculous bounceback years combined with a key injury or two from their division rivals.

4. Brewers (80-82)
Yovani Gallardo is a stud. But beyond that, the rest of the rotation is up in the air. Randy Wolf had a nice season for the Dodgers, but they might have overpaid for his services. Much like the did with Jeff Suppan after his short run of good seasons, the Brewers may end up getting the backend of a career again. Some of their problems will be masked by the best 3-4 middle of the order combination in baseball. Ryan Braun teams up again with Prince Fielder, maybe for the last time to continued to destroy NL pitching. But ultimately, they won’t have enough pitching to last the season.

5. Astros (67-95)
If I may quote Paul Simon for a moment:

Where have you gone Bagwell and Biggio?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.
What’s that you say Drayton McLane,
the talent has all up and gone away?

I feel sorry for Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman. Two immensely talented ballplayers stuck in a train-wreck of an organization. Their organizational philosophy for the past few years has been questionable at best and detrimental at worst.

6. Pirates (59-103)
As bad as the Astros are, the Pirates are worse. They haven’t had a winning season since Barry Bonds’ hat size was 7 1/8. For a team that’s perennially terrible, they have surprisingly few hot young prospects. They may have something in Pedro Alvarez, and Andrew McCutchen showed some star potential last year, but their entire rotation is filled by guys that would struggle to crack some Triple-A rotations across baseball. Rarely do I predict a team to lose 100 games, but the Pirates seem to be a lock.

NL WEST

1. Giantes (92-70)
Their rotation is great and has been for several years. But the offense has been downright pedestrian since Barry Bonds retired. Collusioned, whatever. Pablo Sandoval emerged as a middle-of-the-lineup threat and they filled the lineup around him with the likes of Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff. Who, while not Barry Bonds, may provide just enough pop to grab the division while the Dodgers are somewhat vulnerable.

2. Dodgers (91-71)
Because of the uncertainty of their ownership situation (shoulda had a better pre-nup, Frank!) the Dodgers return basically the same team as last year. They lost starter Randy Wolf, but improvements from Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw should help offset that loss. Continued developments from young players Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and James Loney could result in the Dodgers winning the division again. But I think San Francisco has passed them for the time being.

3. Rockies (86-76)
It’s been a nice couple of years for Colorado since “Rocktober” hit back in 2007. But they’ll be turning some young talent loose in 2010 and counting on some question marks in their rotation. Both Jeff Francis and Aaron Cook are coming off injuries and Jorge De la Rosa must show that 2009 wasn’t a fluke year and continue to improve on his success.

4. Diamondbacks (79-83)
Brandon Webb is the wild card in Arizona. If he’s healthy and pitching well for most of the year, then this team, along with holdover Dan Haren and newcomer Edwin Jackson come close to matching up arm for arm with the Giants. And with the young, powerful bats like Justin Upton and Mark Reynolds locked up for the next few years, this team could regain an edge in the NL West. But if Webb misses a significant amount of time and no one steps up at the back of the rotation, the Diamondbacks could fall hard.

5. Padres (63-99)
Forget about the boxscores coming out of San Diego and focus more on the trade rumors. The Padres could have a major impact on several different playoff races come July, but only because they could move first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell to a contender for an enormous haul. Clearly, the off-field activity is going to be more interesting than the on-field activity.

AL Playoff Teams: Yankees, Twins, Mariners, Red Sox (wc)
NL Playoff Teams: Phillies, Cardinals, Giants, Braves (wc)

Restructuring The MLB Playoffs: Making A Good Postseason Even Better

There’s been some chatter recently about realigning the teams of Major League Baseball. Perhaps it’s because the collective bargaining agreement is about up for re-negotiating or maybe it’s simply due to the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of substance to write about the first week of Spring Training.

Nevertheless, it’s an interesting topic to debate, but I find myself on the side that believes baseball’s six-division structure works well just the way it is.

So if I have no qualms with the current layout of the leagues, the next logical area for me to focus on is the playoffs.

I think most of us can agree with the fact that the games start too late at night or that the number of off days is getting ridiculous. But I’m more interested in two particular adjustments—expanding the playoff field and properly rewarding regular season success.

Major League Baseball currently allows the lowest percentage of its teams into the playoffs at 26.7 percent (eight of 30 teams). The NFL checks in at 37.5 (12 of 32) percent followed by the NHL and NBA, both at 53.3 percent (16 of 30).

I do not like the NBA or NHL playoff arrangements. They’re too long, include too many mediocre teams and don’t adequately reward the best regular season teams.

I’ve always liked the low percentage MLB has—I believe it makes the regular season more meaningful. So my proposal ups the number of teams in the MLB playoffs, but still keeps its percentage lower than that of the NFL, NBA and NHL.

Second, while I believe the regular season means more in Major League Baseball, I believe the teams that do the best in that time frame aren’t adequately rewarded come playoff time.

In the NFL, the top two teams in each league are awarded a bye, which is certainly a huge advantage to landing one of those top spots—you make the second round without having to win in the first.

In MLB, the top two teams simply earn themselves one extra home game, which they may not even end up using. I think a more advantageous reward is appropriate for the top teams in the league.

Many people may say that everyone starts over in the postseason, which is true to an extent, but I believe that the regular season should count for more than just an invitation to the party. The better you do, the better advantage you should have. Give the teams that deserve it a pass to the VIP room.

So, acknowledging that I feel the top teams are not adequately advantaged and that the field is too limited, here’s what I propose.

In each league, the divisions remain in the same format as they are now. The playoff field is expanded from four to five teams simply by adding a second wild card berth.

The two wild card teams play a short best-of-three series to determine which team advances on in the playoffs. As a reward, the wild card team with the better record will host this series.

After the Wild Card Series, the remaining four teams are then seeded based solely on their records, regardless of division. Meaning that any two teams from the same division could potentially meet in the Division Series.

If the Phillies are the top overall seed in the National League, and the Braves win the Wild Card Series and are the fourth seed, they will meet in the Division Series, regardless of the fact that they both play in the NL East.

Additionally, if the Wild Card Series winner owns a better record than any of the division winners, they will be seeded accordingly.

If we’re starting over in the postseason, why does it matter?

The LDS will remain an unchanged best-of-five series, save for one minor adjustment.

The top overall seed will receive four home games in the series instead of three. It’s one more advantage for being the best team in the league. The second seed will maintain the current home-field advantage arrangement.

The Championship Series would remain the same, with the better seed gaining a one-game home-field advantage.

The 2009 National League standings work out well for me to use them as an example. So here’s what the playoffs would have looked like had the system I’m proposing been used.

The three division winners were Los Angeles (95-67), Philadelphia (93-69) and St. Louis (91-71). The two wild card teams would have been Colorado (92-70) and San Francisco (88-74).

Colorado would host a three game series against San Francisco (no off days) to determine who moves into the final field of four NL teams.

If Colorado wins, then they gain the third seed based on record and match up against the second-seeded Philadelphia. If San Francisco wins then based on their record, they would receive the fourth seed and match up against the Dodgers in the first round.

I believe the current MLB playoff setup is pretty darn good, especially when compared to the playoff setups of its peers. However, I do believe that every good thing can be improved upon, and the system I’ve outlined above would slightly expand the amount of teams with a chance at a championship, while more adequately rewarding regular season success.

Adding a three game Wild Card Series into the playoffs could be offset by eliminating unnecessary off days throughout the rest of the playoffs.

Hopefully, I’ve given you guys some food for thought as we head into another MLB season full of excitement and debate!

Each Team’s Best Offseason Move

The completion of the World Series each year brings a time of reflection and planning for MLB front offices. They must assess the state of their team and determine a course of action to follow.

What follows is a compilation of what I believe to be each team’s best move of the offseason thus far. This list may be somewhat premature with players like Johnny Damon, Orlando Hudson, Erik Bedard, and Felipe Lopez still unsigned.

Atlanta Braves—Reconfiguring Their Bullpen

The two pitchers that shut down the last two innings for the Braves in 2009 were quickly gone from Atlanta: Mike Gonzalez as a free agent to Baltimore and Rafael Soriano traded to Tampa Bay. Naturally, the Braves needed to reload the back end of their bullpen to continue their attempts to return to October baseball.

Both Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito are coming off impressive returns from injury with Boston and will handle the eighth and ninth innings for Atlanta after serving as more of middle relief options in 2009.

Florida Marlins—Locking Up SP Josh Johnson

Two weeks after the new year, the Marlins quieted any and all trade rumors about their young ace by locking him up to a four-year, $39 million deal.

Following Tommy John surgery in 2007, Johnson has established himself in the same class as fellow young hurlers Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez, and Zack Greinke. With the Marlins loaded with young talent and Johnson leading the way, the Marlins should be considered as serious playoff contenders.

New York Mets—Signing LF Jason Bay

For a team that ranked dead last in home runs in 2009 and bottom five in slugging percentage, adding a big bat was the Mets’ number one priority this offseason. Bay is coming off a big season with the Red Sox in which he put up 24 more homers and 47 more RBI than the Mets leaders.

New York’s pitching must perform well for the Mets to make a run at the playoffs in 2010, but Bay must also spark a moribund offense that just replaced their best hitter (Carlos Beltran) with the league’s most overpaid fourth outfielder (Gary Matthews Jr.).

Philadelphia Phillies—Trading for SP Roy Halladay

The Phillies traded the ace they rented for six months and eventually turned that into arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Regardless of what else you do in any given offseason, if you can obtain the one of the game’s five best pitchers without surrendering your top prospect, that’s your best move.

Halladay moves from a division that contained three of the top seven offenses in baseball, to one that had only one in the top 12 offenses—and that one is the one that now supports him. Expect Halladay to tear through the National League and expect the Phillies to once again be a title contender.

Washington Nationals—Signing RP Matt Capps

The Nationals, owners’ of the game’s worst record in 2009, had a lot of problem areas to address, and the bullpen was arguably the most glaring. They signed relievers Eddie Guardadoa and Tyler Walker, and traded for Brian Bruney early in the offseason but saved their best acquisition for last.

After the Pirates surprisingly didn’t tender Matt Capps a contract, the Nationals swooped in and handed the reliever a one-year deal in which he’ll be the favorite for saves in the nation’s capital.

Chicago Cubs—Signing OF Xavier Nady

Signing Nady, who’s coming off a second Tommy John surgery, carries with it a good deal of risk but, being only a one-year deal for low money alleviates some of that risk.

When healthy, Nady has proven to be a more than adequate bat and his power should play well in Wrigley Field, although to be fair, Rafael Belliard’s power would have played well in Wrigley with the wind blowing out.

Cincinnati Reds—Signing LHP Aroldis Chapman

While the risk with the Cuban phenom may have been too high for a big spender, the middle-market Reds needed to take a chance on Chapman.

Talent like his doesn’t grow on trees, and usually it has to go through the amateur draft.

Free to negotiate with whichever team he chose, Chapman landed himself a pretty impressive deal for a player who’s never thrown a pitch for an American team at any level.

Houston Astros—Trading for RP Matt Lindstrom

Realizing that stud closer Jose Valverde was most likely on his way out of Houston, the Astros addressed their vacancy at closer by trading for Marlin reliever Matt Lindstrom.

Lindstrom, who’s production has never quite matched up with his talent, is an excellent project for the Astros to experiment with. They should overlook the ridiculous deal that they gave to Brandon Lyon and let Lindstrom close out their games.

Milwaukee Brewers—Signing SP Randy Wolf

Milwaukee needed pitching, and Randy Wold was one of the better options on the open market for the Brewers to go get. They might have slightly overpaid, in dollars and years, but with Los Angeles declining to offer the hurler arbitration, the Brewers were able to keep their first round pick.

The Brewers have lost some high-end pitching talent in the last few years, and outside of Yovani Gallardo, haven’t been able to adequately replace it using their own farm system. Wolf provides a veteran presence and a strong arm to a young Milwaukee rotation.

Pittsburgh Pirates—Trading for 2B Akinori Iwamura

Iwamura was an inadvertent casualty of Ben Zobrist’s breakout campaign in 2009, but finds himself with an opportunity for playing time in Pittsburgh. All the Pirates forfeited to gain Iwamura was Jesse Chavez, who wasn’t anything more than bullpen fodder.
Iwamura gives the Pirates an able bat that can handle just about any spot in the batting order in addition to a very quality glove at second base.

St. Louis Cardinals—Resigning Matt Holliday

The Cardinals bid against themselves to keep their postseason goat, but Matt Holliday is a good fit for this team. He provides the Cardinals with a dangerous bat not named Albert Pujols.

He lengthens a lineup that without him, doesn’t seem all that imposing. He’s a smart ballplayer and seemed to fit in well in his few months in St. Louis. One fielding gaffe does not a player make, and Matt Holliday’s first 63 games with St. Louis are more indicative of his talent level than his second to last.

Arizona Diamondbacks—Three Way Trade With Tigers, Yankees

Arizona certainly gave up some promising young talent, but got back enough to validate the trade. Edwin Jackson remains under team control for two more years and is coming off quite an impressive season with Detroit.

Ian Kennedy never really found his niche in New York, battling injuries and unfair expectations. But he’ll be given an opportunity to compete for a regular starting job in Arizona and he should lock that job up and perform well at the back end of what promises to be an impressive Diamondback rotation.

Colorado Rockies—Extending RP Huston Street

Huston Street performed well for Colorado after being obtained from Oakland, converting 35-of-37 save opportunities in the regular season. A Division Series meltdown did little to dissuade Colorado from locking up their stud bullpen arm.

Street gives Colorado some stability at the back of the bullpen, something they’ve lacked in recent years. He should provide quality value over the course of the deal if he stays healthy.

Los Angeles Dodgers—Trading OF Juan Pierre

The Dodgers had been looking to unload Juan Pierre almost immediately after they signed him to that ill-advised year-year, $44 million contract back before the 2007 season.

Shipping off to the White Sox, who seem perfectly content taking on big money, freed up some cash for the Dodgers to extend some of their younger players, like Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton.

San Diego Padres—Collecting Hairstons

The Padres brought back Scott Hairston in a trade that saw Kevin Kouzmanoff head north to Oakland and then signed brother Jerry to come in and play jack-of-all-trades.

Both Hairston brothers are solid, fundamental ballplayers that play hard and produce. They’ll offer versatility and flexibility for San Diego as the Padres try and turn their franchise back around.

San Francisco Giants—Signing UT Mark DeRosa

The Giants have some of the more impressive pitching in the National League, but the offense needed several upgrades to become respectable. DeRosa doesn’t solve the entire problem, but it’s a start.

But the DeRosa signing is trumped for this type of list if the Giants are able to come to a long-term agreement with double Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum.

Baltimore Orioles—Trading for SP Kevin Millwood

In a classic salary dump, the Orioles brought in Millwood from Texas for disappointing reliever Chris Ray. Millwood will front a young rotation and eat innings.

For a team that’s loaded with some impressive young positional talent, but short on Major League-ready pitchers, Millwood makes for a nice stopgap until young guns like Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman are ready to take on larger roles.

Boston Red Sox—Replacing Jason Varitek

Boston has had a very impressive offseason, making a handful of smart moves to improve their already impressive club. But their biggest improvement and offseason decision is internal. Moving on from Jason Varitek will do wonders for the offense.

Victor Martinez is an elite offensive player who plays an premium defensive position. While the additions of Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro, and John Lackey will undoubtedly improve the club, replacing Jason Varitek with Victor Martinez is the biggest upgrade and smartest move.

 

New York Yankees—Trading for SP Javier Vazquez

Replacing Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui with Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson was an important focus this offseason, but the addition of Javier Vazquez is the biggest reason that the 2010 Yankees might be better than the 2009 Yankees.

Vazquez strengthens a rotation that didn’t have a fourth member that Joe Girardi trusted enough to start a playoff game. Vazquez gives them that arm and allows the Yankees to continue to carefully monitor young guns Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain.

Tampa Bay Rays—Trading for Rafael Soriano

Tampa Bay had an unsettled closer situation in 2009, with 12 different pitchers receiving save opportunities, tops in the league. Using Jesse Chavez, the pitcher they received from Pittsburgh for Iwamura, the Rays brought Rafael Soriano south from Atlanta.

Soriano was lights-out for the Braves saving games in 2009 and should receive the majority of opportunities in Tampa Bay. He’ll be joined by former Atlanta teammate and new Baltimore closer Mike Gonzalez in the AL East.

Toronto Blue Jays—Trading for SP Brandon Morrow

The Blue Jays swapped proven reliever Brandon League for the potentially great Brandon Morrow. Pitchers of League’s quality are fairly easy to find, but Brandon Morrow has the potential to be something special.

Mishandled in Seattle, Morrow was shuffled back and forth between the starting rotation and the bullpen, and was never given an opportunity to properly develop. If the Blue Jays give Morrow the chance to develop as a starter, this deal could end up becoming highway robbery.

Chicago White Sox—TBD

The White Sox made most of their moves during the 2009 season, bringing aboard Alex Rios from Toronto and Jake Peavy from San Diego. Those two players will earn just a shade under $25 million between them in 2010, which has somewhat hindered the White Sox ability to make any major moves this offseason.

They made some minor moves, trading for KC’s Mark Teahen and signing outfielder Andruw Jones, but nothing that I’d label as a great move for them. But they’re certainly in the right division to withstand the inability to make great moves.

Cleveland Indians—Signing Shelley Duncan

Much like the White Sox, the Indians have avoided making any major moves this offseason, but the Jan. 5 signing of former Yankee farmhand Shelley Duncan is a smart move. Duncan has shown immense minor league talent, amassing 55 home runs and 178 RBI over the past two minor league seasons.

He’s flashed some power in his brief stint with the Yankees in 2007, slugging .554 in 36 games. For a Cleveland team that has a wide-open outfield position alongside Grady Sizemore and Shin Soo Choo, Duncan makes sense as a low-cost, high-reward option.

Detroit Tigers—Signing Jose Valverde

Valverde was excellent as Houston’s closer last season, and with the departure of Fernando Rodney and the unreliability of Joel Zumaya, Detroit had to upgrade. Rodney was shaky but serviceable during his tenure as Detroit’s closer, so Valverde will represent a considerable upgrade for the end of games.

They cut some costs by trading Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson but also used those savings to bring in some good replacement talent. The Tigers have been hamstrung by some poor financial and personnel decisions but have made some smart decisions regarding the future of the club.

Kansas City Royals—Trading Mark Teahen

Mark Teahen was what he was. An versatile fielder who brings a little bit of pop to the table, but not much else. Moving him for the more promising Josh Fields and useful Chris Getz was a sensible move for a franchise not known for recent sense-making.

The move is somewhat canceled out by the questionable signings of Rick Ankiel, Brian Anderson, and Jason Kendall. The Royals are going to have an uphill battle, but Fields and Getz should help.

 

Minnesota Twins—Trading for SS J.J. Hardy

The Twins swapped underachieving outfielder Carlos Gomez straight up for the underachieving JJ Hardy. I like this move for the Twins because I believe the probability of Hardy bouncing back is greater than that of Gomez.

Both are outstanding defensive players, but Hardy offers more upside with the bat than Gomez.

Los Angeles Angels—Trading Gary Matthews Jr

GMJ2 parlayed his one good season and one fantastic catch into a five-year, $50 million jackpot following the 2006 season. When the Angels learned that he wasn’t a very good player, they quickly replaced him with better talent, and he went largely unused on the LA bench.

They were able to move him when the Mets lost Carlos Beltran, and the Angels agreed to pay a large chunk of his remaining salary. Moving Matthews Jr. allows the Angels to move forward playing their best players and not worry about a cumbersome contract.

 

Oakland Athletics—Signing SP Ben Sheets

The Athletics have been historically good at determining pitching talent, and the year off may very well have done Sheets a world of good. On his A-game he’s a dominating ace, but there is the huge injury risk still at play.

Best case scenario, Sheets heads a promising rotation and the team rides that momentum into competing for a division crown. Worst case, Sheets injures himself early and becomes a non-factor. Somewhere in the middle lies the scenario where Sheets pitches decently, but Billy Beane spins him for prospects when the A’s fall too far out of the race.

Seattle Mariners—Extending SP Felix Hernandez

Not much trumps trading for a Cy Young winner and playoff hero. Extending a better and younger pitcher on a team-friendly contract is one of them. Felix Hernandez has established himself as one of the premiere arms in all of Major League Baseball and he’s still just 23.

He’ll make just $6.5 million this year and $10 million the next and is coming off a Cy Young-caliber year. In each season since his first full season in the majors (at age 20), he’s started at least 30 games and significantly lowered his ERA each year.

Hernandez is already one of the game’s best, and he’s yet to enter his prime.

 

Texas Rangers—Signing SP Colby Lewis

Lewis may be an unfamiliar name to even some of the more die-hard baseball fans, and that’s certainly understandable. Lewis was drafter 38th overall in the 1999 draft and eventually made his MLB debut with the Rangers in 2002.

He moved to Japan in 2008 after dealing with obscurity, mediocrity, and injuries on his way to playing for five different MLB teams. He posted two extremely successful seasons in the land of the rising sun and signed back on with the Rangers.

For two years and around $5 million, it’s a pretty decent risk for Texas to take.