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 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.