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2012 MLB Predictions

American League East

1. Yankees
The Yankees opened the offseason with a very questionable starting rotation after CC Sabathia, but have since transformed it into a strength. After re-upping with Freddy Garcia early on, they traded for young right-hander Michael Pineda and signed former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda. With one of the league’s most potent offenses and a shutdown bullpen, the Yankees seem to be the best team in the East.

2. Rays
Like the Red Sox, the Rays’ season came down to the very last game. The Rays are all about run prevention, running out an excellent rotation and a shutdown bullpen that Joe Maddon manages very well. The reunion with Carlos Pena will add some pop to a lineup that desperately needs it, and a full season of Desmond Jennings should help as well.

3. Red Sox
The Red Sox undoubtedly have a ton of talent, and had they won one more game last year, their whole season could have turned out drastically different. They’ve replaced Jonathan Papelbon with some new bullpen arms after moving Daniel Bard to the rotation, and still possess arguably the league’s best offense. Unfortunately, they have two teams ahead of them in the division to jump.

4. Orioles
There’s some hope for the future here, but I think they’re still a season away from contending. The bats are there and Baltimore will certainly hit for some power with bats like Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds. The bullpen should be a strength but it’s the starting pitching that needs to improve for the O’s to climb out of the bottom of the division.

5. Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are an improving team that has a lot of potential, but fulfilling that potential will be challenging, especially in this division. Jose Bautista is probably at his peak performance and while guys like Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus have room for improvement, it’s not a given that they’ll translate their tools into production. After Ricky Romero, the starting rotation doesn’t have an arm that you can count on.

American League Central

1. Tigers
Detroit ran away with the division last season and went ahead and got better. They already had the best hitter (Miguel Cabrera) in the division and the best pitcher (MVP & Cy Young Justin Verlander) but decided that Prince Fielder would be an adequate replacement for Victor Martinez. If you asked me which team was most likely to win their division by 15+ games, I wouldn’t hesitate picking the Tigers.

2. White Sox
Thought long and hard about the rest of this division, and it’s pretty close who finishes in spots 2-5. Chicago has some intriguing arms in their rotation, mainly Jake Peavy (health) and Chris Sale (transition to rotation) and should have enough offense to stick around .500 for most of the season.

3. Royals
Their farm system is once again churning out very nice players, and this time they’re locking them up long-term early to try and stabilize some costs. Losing closer Joakim Soria hurt the back end of the bullpen, but if Jonathan Broxton can provide some stability at the end of the game, KC has a chance to put a nice little season together. Offensively, they’re probably the best of the bunch not named the Tigers. But the starting pitching is still an area in need of improvement.

4. Indians
They definitely over-achieved last season, and the offense still is not good. There are far too many regular at bats for guys that are well below league average. The Indians are going to need guys to stay healthy (already a problem) and play above their heads if they want to make any noise in a very weak division.

5. Twins
It’s a shame Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have fought injuries and ineffectiveness the past few seasons. The new ballpark should have been an exciting time for the Twins, but they’ve just kind of wallowed around the past few years. That Carl Pavano is starting Opening Day says a lot about the amount of work their rotation needs.

American League West

1. Rangers
They’re still the cream of the crop out here, with a potent offense, and a ton of pitching depth. Yu Darvish looks to replace the production of the departed CJ Wilson and even if Neftali Feliz doesn’t work out as a starter, they have guys like Alexi Ogando and Matt Harrison waiting fill in. After consecutive AL pennants, the Rangers are still the team to beat.

2. Angels
But if anyone’s going to give the Rangers a run for their money, it will be the Angels and their new big name free agent splashes. Joining the team are Albert Pujols who gives them the middle-of-the-order bat that they desperately needed and CJ Wilson who fills out the starting rotation and make the Angels front four one of the best in the game.

3. Athletics
Their big offseason acquisition was Yoenis Cespedes, who put together a fancy highlight video of himself, but still has zero MLB games under his belt. He could be a middle-of-the-lineup game changer or he could wind up hitting a buck-fifty on June 1 for a last place team. The A’s have a ton of young pitching and if those arms pitch up to their potential, they could hang around and make a run for that second wild card spot.

4. Mariners
Even with Jesus Montero, who has managed to stay among baseball’s top prospects despite not having a defined position, Seattle will struggle to score runs. Running the league’s worst offense out in the league’s most pitcher-friendly park is not any way to contend for division titles.

National League East

1. Phillies
Even with the flashy offseason moves by the rest of the division, Philadelphia is still the team to beat. They may not have Four Aces anymore, but the three they do have are still damn good. Halladay, Hamels and Lee will lead the way for a pitching staff that will have a little less to work with while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley recuperate from injuries.

2. Nationals
While the Marlins made most of the big name moves, I think Washington’s young talent taking a step forward does more good in the end. Reliable starting pitching has been Washington’s Achilles Heel the past few seasons, and bringing in veterans Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson to go with homegrown studs Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann should give them some semblance of consistency on the mound. The offense should get a bump from a more typical Jayson Werth season and a return of a healthy Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.

3. Braves
Like the Red Sox, the Braves were just a game away from extending their season past 162 games. But I think they over achieved a little and then didn’t do a whole lot to improve over the offseason. A full season from Michael Bourn will help, but if Jason Heyward and Martin Prado don’t rebound and Chipper Jones spends an extended period of time on the DL, the Braves could find themselves slipping further down the NL East standings than they are used to.

4. Marlins
A chic World Series pick, I just don’t see it. The rotation must have everyone stay healthy and effective, and that’s certainly not a lock given the injury history of Josh Johnson and the Jekyll and Hyde routine of Ricky Nolasco and Carlos Zambrano. The offense should be decent enough, but Jose Reyes isn’t a picture of perfect health and I still need to see more consistent effort and production from Hanley Ramirez. Regardless, they shouldn’t expect to be the worst team wearing orange in the NL East this season.

5. Mets
This is a troubled team with no real strength anywhere on the team. The team’s highest paid players are very injury prone and their performances have suffered because of it. The team moved the fences in and lowered them in hopes of jump-starting some of their key players, but more than likely it will hurt their pitchers more than benefit their hitters.

National League Central

1. Reds
The Reds lost their biggest free agent acquisition of the offseason when Ryan Madson went down with Tommy John surgery before ever throwing a regular season pitch for Cincinnati. But with Sean Marshall, acquired in a trade with the Cubs, and Aroldis Chapman, the back end of the bullpen should still be very strong. After Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos, the starting rotation lacks dependable depth and other than Joey Votto, the lineup isn’t all that menacing. However, if there is a division where a team can overlook it’s shortcomings, it’s the NL Central.

2. Cardinals
They’ll never replace Pujols’ production or the impact that he had on a game just by being in the stadium. But this is still the defending champion and they’re welcoming Adam Wainwright back into the rotation. Even if he’s not the same guy that finished in the top 3 in the Cy Young balloting in 2009 and 2010, he’ll improve the Cardinals rotation. They picked up Beltran on a very team-friendly deal to help fill the Pujols hole (hah!) but what they really need is for Lance Berkman to repeat his 2011 season and for David Freese to take another step forward and become a threat in the middle of the lineup.

3. Brewers
Ryan Braun should expect a hard time of it this season, with the positive drug test hanging over him and Prince Fielder no longer looming behind him in the lineup. Aramis Ramirez just isn’t the same guy that Fielder is. With Zack Grienke and Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers have the same deal as the Reds, two very good starters but not much after that. And unlike Cincinnati, Milwaukee doesn’t have the strong bullpen to back the rotation.

4. Cubs
Here by the sole virtue that they are not quite as bad as the Pirates and Astros. Apart from Starlin Castro, they don’t have a lot of enviable young talent, and the rotation is a mess behind Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster. With a new front office in place, the Cubs should start returning to relevancy, but not this year and not next year. But hey, $18 million outfielder Alfonso Soriano only has three years left on his contract!

5. Pirates
There are only a handful of teams in baseball that could lose AJ Burnett to an injury and have it be a bad thing. But Pittsburgh is one of them. Behind Burnett, the Pirates have a motley crew of reclamation projects (Erik Bedard) and guys that would be more at home in a Triple-A rotation (Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton) than a major league one.

6. Astros
The only reason I’d say they’ll be better than they were last season is because the 106 losses Houston suffered through in 2012 were the most in baseball since the Diamondbacks lost 111 games in 2004. To celebrate their continued disaster, Houston will move to the American League in 2013 where life certainly won’t be any easier.

National League West

1. Giants
The Giants will once again run out an impressive pitching staff and once again struggle to provide adequate run support. Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan will be counted upon to contribute power and speed to a lineup that desperately lacks both and Buster Posey will look to return healthy and productive from an unfortunate and severe ankle injury. They won’t score a whole lot, but with their pitching staff and their home ballpark, they won’t have to in order to win the division.

2. Dodgers
With Frank McCourt finally out of the picture, one of the games premiere franchises can get back on the right track. They have a Cy Young winning pitcher and an MVP caliber center-fielder to build around in Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp. The new ownership has to decide if Andre Ethier is worth building around, and if not, see what they can get for him in a July trade.

3. Diamondbacks
The NL West is considerably easier to pitch in than the American League, and Trever Cahill should find that out as Ian Kennedy did last year. Jason Kubel will help fill out the lineup, but I just don’t see them carrying their 2011 overachievements into 2012.

4. Rockies
Colorado is working San Francisco’s plan in reverse—the Rockies have more than enough offense to go around, but is counting on 49-year old Jamie Moyer, AL East washout Jeremy Guthrie and rookie Drew Pomeranz to flush out their starting rotation. Even with the humidor, there could be a lot of home runs flying over the wall at Coors Field—for both teams.

5. Padres
Other than the fact that the first names of San Diego’s first five hitter form a complete sentence—CAMERON WILL CHASE JESUS YONDER— I can’t think of a single thing that excites me about the Padres. Cory Luebke looked very good in limited time late last season and Yonder Alonso will finally get extended playing time after being blocked by MVP Joey Votto in Cincinnati for so long.

PLAYOFFS
AL East: Yankees
AL Central: Tigers
AL West: Rangers
AL Wild Card 1: Rays
AL Wild Card 2: Angels

NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Reds
NL West: Giants
NL Wild Card 1: Cardinals
NL Wild Card 2: Nationals

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Too Much Money-Ball

This video has been making its way around the internet since Brad Pitt’s Moneyball was released. It’s a fun few minutes, a trailer for the yet-to-be-produced Yankee version of Moneyball. Go ahead and give it a watch, it’s well done and a nice little video spoof.

"$100 bills don't hit home runs, players hit home runs!"

2011 AL Predictions

1. Boston Red Sox (94-68)
I don’t think Boston will be the ungodly superpower that many are projecting them to be. Sure, they picked up Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford, but the two of them were less productive than Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez were in 2010. Gonzalez and Crawford also play less premium positions, meaning the Red Sox will have to run someone like Jarrod Saltalamacchia out there on a regular basis, he of the 82 career OPS+. The back end of the pitching rotation remains questionable. Josh Beckett was not good last year and Dice-K is about as dicey as they come.

2. New York Yankees (93-69)
The Yankees failed to sign Cliff Lee, leaving them to scramble to fill the back two spots in their rotation. If Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia can be serviceable, the Yankees will be just fine. But if they all flame out early, it could be a long year in the Bronx. The offense will remain prodigious, and the bullpen should be among the league’s best. The Yankees led the league in offense in 2010, and did so with several key players contributing less-than-impressive seasons. A return to normal for guys like Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter could turn an already impressive offense into a run-producing powerhouse.

3. Tampa Bay Rays (85-77)
The Rays have won the AL East two of the past three years, but enter into another transition year in 2011. Gone is pretty much the entire bullpen as well as two of their most productive hitters, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. As usual, the farm system is stacked with plenty of talent ready to start replacing the departed stars, but this year may be too soon to expect full returns on investment. The homegrown rotation will keep the Rays in ballgames and in the division race, but ultimately will miss out on a third playoff berth in four years.

4. Baltimore Orioles (80-82)
The O’s are definitely headed in the right direction, but their touted young talent has failed to develop as well as expected. Matt Wieters has been more average than awesome, and the young outfield has been more ordinary than outstanding. There’s some hope on the way with some pitching prospects, but they’re in the wrong division to be learning on the job. A lot of one year stopgaps in place for the team, with guys like Derrek Lee, JJ Hardy and Vladimir Guerrero looking to rebuild their value off down years.

5. Toronto Blue Jays (76-86)
Trading Roy Halladay hurt, no doubt, but getting rid of Vernon Wells was a fantastic move by the Jays, regardless of how positive an influence he was. His ill-advised contract was a burden on a team playing in a division where every dollar counts if they want to compete. Shedding that salary allows them more financial flexibility going forward.

1. Detroit Tigers (90-72)
Despite his off-the-field antics, Miguel Cabrera remains one of the league’s most prolific offensive players and now has an adequate sidekick to help carry Detroit’s offense in Victor Martinez. The Tigers offense will be better, but they will still rely on their top heavy rotation and shut down bullpen to win ballgames. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello look to build onto their short major league resumes, and Joaquin Benoit will team with Jose Valverde to form an imposing late-inning tandem.

2. Minnesota Twins (85-77)
The Twins have long made a habit of developing their own talent and competing year in and year out with a limited payroll. But the Twins have churned out some rather impressive homegrown players the past few years, and with high attendance numbers and a new stadium generating record revenues, the Twins have raised their payroll into baseball’s top 10. Their park, while detrimental to and infuriating for the Twins home run hitters, is suited perfectly for their “pitch-to-contact” pitching philosophy.

3. Chicago White Sox (82-80)
The Sox are definitely going for it, having taken on a lot of payroll in recent years (Rios, Peavy and Dunn). They’re in the right division to make a run at another playoff berth, but will need their pitching to hold up all season in order to have that shot. They won the World Series because each of their pitchers had a career year and something similar will need to happen for them to be serious contenders again this year. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

4. Kansas City Royals (75-87)
No matter what transpires for the Royals this season, if their young talent continues to develop on schedule the season will be a success. They’ve got some veteran placeholders while that talent approaches the major leagues, and I feel comfortable in saying that the Royals will make the playoffs within the next five seasons. Dayton Moore said that his first priority was going to be rebuilding the Royals from within and he’s certainly accomplished the first step in that process by compiling vast amounts of young talent. The trick now is to develop it and transition it all to the majors.

5. Cleveland Indians (70-92)
In direct contrast to the Royals, the Indians have very few high-upside talents in the minors and look to be mired in a rebuilding stage for a few years. Trading off veterans like Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona makes all the sense in the world if by doing so, Cleveland can replenish their farm system. Although given the poor returns on their recent trades, even that may be too much of a challenge for the Tribe. When the best player you get back for CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez is Justin Masterson, it might be time to reconsider the scouting department.

1. Texas Rangers (89-73)
I can’t see them being that much better than they were last year, when they got a career year from Josh Hamilton, a pleasant surprise from CJ Wilson and a resurgence from Vladimir Guerrero. The starting rotation doesn’t look to be overly impressive so the Rangers will have to mash their way to a second consecutive division crown, which they are more than capable of doing.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (84-76)
In 2011, the Angels will pay over $50 million for three centerfielders—none of which will play centerfield for the Angels. Gary Matthews Jr is still owed $11 million this season despite being dumped last season, while Vernon Wells ($23 million) and Torii Hunter ($18 million) will play the corner outfield positions this year for the Halos. The Angels are a collection of a lot of overrated offensive and defensive players with a pitching staff that doesn’t have much depth beyond Dan Haren and Jered Weaver.

3. Oakland Athletics (80-82)
Perhaps one of the league’s best kept secrets is Oakland’s starting rotation, which is five deep and five strong. With a very good bullpen, even a passable offense could allow the A’s to make their first playoff run since 2006. But additions like Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui probably won’t help an offense that ranked eleventh in the American League last season enough to jump to the top of baseball’s smallest division.

4. Seattle Mariners (63-99)
Typically I don’t like to pick teams to lose 100 games, but the Mariners did it last season and very well may do it again in 2011. The offense was historically futile last season and doesn’t figure to be much better this time around. The pitching, apart from Felix Hernandez, isn’t very good and there’s not much minor league talent behind Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda. The forecast looks just as bad for the Mariners as it does for America’s dreariest city.

Nick Swisher: From Windy City Turmoil To New York City Gold

Nick Swisher arrived in New York rather unheralded, acquired from the White Sox after the 2008 season for seldom-used infielder Wilson Betemit and two throwaway prospects. He had allegedly worn out his welcome in Chicago after only one season, having alienated manager Ozzie Guillen and suffered through a career-worst .219/.332/.410 season.

But the surface numbers don’t adequately tell the tale of Swisher’s 2008 campaign.

2008 is the only season in Swisher’s career in which he posted an OPS+ of under 100. Despite the lesser numbers, many of Swisher’s peripheral stats remained within normal ranges. He still managed 24 home runs while keeping his walk and strikeout rates around his career average. His isolated power was still a very respectable .191 and his line drive rate of 20.9% was a career high.

The main detractor from his season was a career-low BABIP, or batting average of balls in play. Having enjoyed a BABIP of .280 his first four seasons in the league, Swisher saw that number drop to .249 during his only season with Chicago.

Using all of this information leads us to conclude that the best explanation for Swisher’s disappointing season was simple bad luck. He was consistently making solid contact and hitting for power, but his batting average dipped nearly 30 points below his established number. Add in the fact that Guillen played him out of position and shuffled him around the batting order and Swisher might having been begging to get out of Chicago.

Brian Cashman moved a few weeks before Thanksgiving 2008, sending Betemit along with minor league pitchers Jhonny Nunez and Jeff Marquez to Chicago for Swisher and relief prospect Kanekoa Texeira. This was over a month before the Yankees would go on their massive shopping spree, locking up CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. With the expiration of incumbent first baseman Jason Giambi’s mammoth contract, the Yankees needed to find a replacement, and Swisher was it for nearly two months.

Cashman traded for Swisher with full intentions of using him as the Yankees’ everyday first baseman. When Mark Teixeira fell into their laps two weeks after Christmas, Swisher was relegated to fourth outfielder status behind Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, and Xavier Nady. However, barely a week into the season, Nady suffered an elbow injury that he attempted to rehab but ultimately required season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Nady’s injury thrust Swisher into a starting role that he probably should have had all along. Swisher took off and carried the team early in 2009, posting a .312/.430/.714 line in April while Alex Rodriguez recovered from hip surgery and Mark Teixeira suffered through his annual slow start.

Swisher suffered through a brutal stretch in May before evening out over the course of the season. He enjoyed his best season to date in 2009, posting career highs in slugging, OPS, isolated power and wOBA (weighted on-base average). And unsurprisingly, saw his BABIP rebound to a more reasonable .272.

2010 has seen Swisher take his game to another level, and he is on pace for another career-best season. His walk rate is down 4 percent from his career average, but he’s made up for it by adding over 40 points in batting average. As much as his work with hitting instructor Kevin Long makes for a nice narrative, the results back up those stories.

So what can Yankee fans expect from Swisher moving forward? Most likely more of the same guy we’ve seen since the trade to New York. His high average in 2010 is fueled by a higher BABIP than normal, but his power continues to develop, which is not uncommon for players in their prime years. We may see his average regress a little in the future, but the power and patience remain strengths.

The trade that netted the Yankees their all-star outfielder was part salary dump and part “change of scenery” move by Chicago. There were rumors that he was unsettling in the clubhouse and his performance had dropped off throughout the season enough to warrant multiple concerns.

Cashman acquired him for three players who haven’t made much of an impact on the field for Chicago. Betemit accrued 45 at-bats in 2009 before Chicago designated him for assignment to make room for stud prospect Gordon Beckham. Marquez has posted a 5.77 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP in two seasons for Chicago’s Triple-A affiliate, while going 10-12. Nunez has spent a majority of his time shuttling between Double-A and Triple-A while experiencing varying degrees of success, and has a 9.53 ERA in seven games for the White Sox.

Nick Swisher the Yankee has been entertaining, highly productive and an absolute asset to the overall team environment. In those regards, he’s been almost the polar opposite of what he was perceived to be in Chicago. But as for most of his numbers, he’s been the same player this whole time, except with a little bit of luck.

Adam Dunn and The Yankees Would Be A Perfect Match

Dunn could fill New York's vacant DH spot

It’s become a rite of summer. If a major league team has an available player at the trade deadline, he’ll be connected to the Yankees somehow, whether he makes sense for New York or not.

So it comes as no surprise that the Yankees have been connected to just about every available player at this year’s trade deadline. They’ve made known offers for Cliff Lee and Dan Haren and have made inquiries about several other players they view as upgrades. One player that hasn’t been overwhelmingly rumored to be a Yankee target is Washington first baseman Adam Dunn. Aside from a few Buster Olney tweets, Dunn-to-New York rumors have been nearly nonexistent.

Dunn is in the last year of a two-year contract and will be a free agent at year’s end. The Nationals have expressed interest in resigning the prodigious slugger, but with less than three days before the trade deadline, they’ve yet to offer him an extension.

With each day, it looks less and less likely that the Nationals and Dunn will eventually come to terms on an extension. Because of this supposed impasse, it makes sense for Washington to get player value for him now rather than lose him for nothing but draft picks in the offseason.

Dunn’s bat would obviously play well in any Major League lineup, but the Yankees have the opening and opportunity to acquire the perennial 40-homer Dunn.

For all intents and purposes, Nick Johnson is gone for the season. In his absence, the Yankees have been using a combination of Juan Miranda and Marcus Thames in the DH spot, occasionally giving their regulars a half-day as the designated hitter.

Thames and Miranda are better suited as bench players at this point in their respective careers, and using Alex Rodriguez or Jorge Posada in the DH role means that Ramiro Pena and Francisco Cervelli are getting more at bats than they should.

Acquiring Adam Dunn would make the league’s best offense even more formidable and give the lineup a more consistent look. He’s hit 40 home runs in four of the past five seasons, and hasn’t hit less than 38 since 2003. He consistently posts high on-base percentages, and when kept out of the field, he becomes even more valuable to his team.

I’m not overly familiar with the Nationals farm system, so I can’t accurately assume what type of package they’d want in return for Dunn. Washington GM Mike Rizzo has said that it would take an overwhelming offer to pry Dunn away, but that was before his team fell 15 games back in the National League East.

The Yankees certainly have the pieces to make a deal for Dunn, and GM Brian Cashman has shown a willingness to include just about any prospect in the right deal. Dunn isn’t the type of player that would require the Yankees to part ways with uber-prospect Jesus Montero or even his second-fiddle Austin Romine.

The Yankees have a stable full of low-ceiling, high-probability arms sitting in Triple-A and Double-A and could start their offer with a pitcher along the lines of Ivan Nova, Zach McAllister or Hector Noesi.

The Yankees could continue to build a package around one of those pitchers by adding a hitter like someone along the lines of SS Eduardo Nunez (AAA) 3B Brandon Laird (AA) or 2B David Adams (AA), all of whom are enjoying nice seasons for their respective teams.

A package with one of those pitchers, one of those hitters and maybe another low-level prospect or two would be comparable to what Dunn was traded for the last time he found himself on the block.

Many Yankee fans find themselves overly attached to prospects within the farm system, but part of a prospect’s value is that he can be used to acquire a player that more readily impacts the major league team.

The Yankees have done a good job in the past five years developing depth at multiple positions so that they can deal for a player like Adam Dunn and not completely decimate the farm system.

Do the Yankees need Adam Dunn? Almost certainly not—they have the majors’ highest scoring offense, and that has carried them to the major’s best record over the first four months.

But adding a bat of Dunn’s caliber to an already potent lineup would undoubtedly add some serious pop and would limit the number of plate appearances that inferior hitters would otherwise see.

Temporary Roster Fixes For The Yankees

The Yankees have been forced to shuffle around their roster due to injuries this season. Their bullpen and designated hitter spot in their lineup. Players like Al Aceves, Sergio Mitre, Nick Johnson and Marcus Thames, who, while not bona fide stars, all do play a particular role on the 2010 Yankees.

The Yankees have had to make do with parts from other team’s scrap heap as well as from their own farm system. Players like Kevin Russo, Chad Huffman, Colin Curtis and Chad Gaudin have all come in some capacity to fill the voids.

But with most guys on the mend, the Yankees should look to make a few temporary changes before welcoming back all of their injured troops.

Juan Miranda could platoon at DH

With the return of Marcus Thames and minor injuries to guys like Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson, Kevin Russo has become expendable in New York. He’s had only one at-bat since June 20. It would be much more beneficial for the Yankees to option him back to Triple-A Scranton for regular at-bats and time at multiple positions to develop his skills as a utility player.

The Yankees could then call up Juan Miranda to take his place as the left-handed half of a DH platoon with Marcus Thames while they wait on Nick Johnson to recover from wrist surgery. Miranda has nothing left to prove at the Triple-A level and has demonstrated an ability to hit Major League pitching.

In regards to the bullpen, which apart from Mariano Rivera has been a glaring weakness for the Yankees, they now are carrying two longmen with the call-up of journeyman Dustin Moseley. His presence on the team enables the Yankees to part ways with Chad Gaudin for the second time this season and promote Jon Albaladejo from AAA.

Gaudin has been underwhelming since his return to the Bronx, pitching to an ERA near 5.00 in 16 innings. While we’ve seen the Jon Albaladejo in the majors before, he seems to have transformed himself this past year, moving away from his traditional two-seamer and relying more on a mid-90s four seamer with more offspeed pitches.

With Mark Melancon hitting a rough patch in Scranton, Albaladejo is a good choice to replace Gaudin. Albaladejo might be sent down when Sergio Mitre (who began a rehab assignment a few days ago) returns. If her performs well, the Yankees could opt to keep Albaladejo and part ways with the free agent dud Chan Ho Park instead.

Albaladejo could even stick around after Aceves returns. If the Yankees feel they have enough length in the bullpen with Aceves and Mitre and cut Moseley instead.

For the most part, the Yankees have avoided major injuries to key players this season. These are a few minor roster moves the Yankees could make to further improve what has been baseball’s best team over the first half of the season.

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.

Identifying 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.

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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 4-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 RBIs 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 twelve 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, owner’s 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 Guardado, 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 5-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 twelve 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 January 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 RBIs 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 5-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, Ben 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.

Yankee Fans Should Trust Brian Cashman

What should have been a rather minor free agent acquisition turned into a coup de grâce for many Yankee fans.

Brian Cashman signed former San Francisco outfielder Randy Winn to a small, one-year contract the other day and all hell broke loose in Yankeeland.

Budgetary restraints? Certainly not for the mighty Yankees, for whom money has never been a prohibitive issue. Certainly not for Brian Cashman who doled out $423.5 million last year for three players alone. Heaven forbid the ninth spot in the Yankee lineup be someone who is not a perennial All-Star.

Before we look at Randy Winn’s addition to this team, let’s take a moment and go back to about the same time last year, when Brian Cashman brought in a player coming off a down year, but had a track record of being a pretty good ballplayer.

Nick Swisher didn’t have a particularly great 2008 campaign. In his first year with Ozzie Guillen’s White Sox, he hit .219/.332/.410 while being shuffled all over the lineup and the ball field. It was Swisher’s first season being a below average (92 OPS+) offensive player.

Brian Cashman, in need of a first baseman following the departure of Jason Giambi, swapped a handful of spare parts for Swisher and penciled him into the everyday lineup as the starting first baseman.

The signing of Mark Teixeira pushed Swisher into a backup outfielder’s role until Xavier Nady was lost for the season early in the year. After that, Swisher proceeded to put up impressive numbers and acclimated himself almost seamlessly to New York.

Swisher hit .249/.371/.498 and had his best season to date. Brian Cashman bought low, and took the risk that 2008 was an outlier rather than the beginning of a trend.

Fast forward to now, when Randy Winn is the player with a track record of success coming off a down offensive season. True, Swisher was entering the prime of his career when Cashman bet on a rebound and Winn is decidedly exiting his, but the train remains similar.

Randy Winn hit a pedestrian .262/.318/.353 last season in the moribund San Francisco offense, but hit .303/.358/.435 in the two year stretch prior to 2008. In six of the past eight seasons, Winn has posted an above average OPS+.

So maybe his low BABIP numbers played into his down year as Swisher’s did in his. But even if Winn repeats last year’s offense, his defense and ability on the basepaths helps this Yankee team.

Many Yankee fans screamed for Johnny Damon to return, but Cashman, operating under a budget, couldn’t offer anything close enough to Damon’s liking. Whether or not someone else will is yet to be seen.

Even if they accepted Damon was not going to come back for pennies on the dollar, they continued to throw names out there that they thought would be a better fit for the Yankees than Winn.

Reed Johnson! Rocco Baldelli! Jonny Gomes!

Randy Winn does two things at an elite level—run the bases and defend. The other names floated out there don’t do anything at an elite level. Maybe Jonny Gomes runs into a fastball every once and a while. Maybe Reed Johnson makes Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays one a month.

But that’s not what the Yankees need.

The Yankees need flexibility, both financially and on the field. Randy Winn gives them both.

The Yankees’ general manager is coming off a year in which his team won a championship. I trust he knows what’s best for his team better than I do.

The Curious Case of Johnny Damon

No, he doesn’t age backwards, but Scott Boras might have you believe that he does.

Johnny Damon is coming off a spectacular season for the Yankees in which he posted a triple slash line of .282/.365/.489. He’s also coming off a 4-year/$52 million deal that he signed after the 2005 season.

The Yankees have expressed interest in retaining him, while Damon has said he’d love to return to the Yankees. However, that is where the similarities end. Damon is seeking not to take a pay cut, while the Yankees would prefer to pay market rate to retain him.

Damon’s over all numbers from 2009 indicate that he deserves another large contract, but it’s well known the new Yankee Stadium quickly became Damon’s personal playground.

Home stats: .279/.382/.533 – 17 home runs
Away stats: .284/.349/.446 – 7 home runs

As evidenced by his splits, he’s a much more dangerous hitter at Yankee Stadium than he is on the road. At Yankee Stadium, he’s the number two hitter with decent pop and great on-base skills. Away from there though, he’s the slap hitter he was in his early years. To the Yankees he may be worth upwards of $10 million a year, but is he worth that to a team without a cozy right field?

That’s a question Damon seems willing to gamble on. ESPN’sBuster Olney and The Times’ Tyler Kepner both accurately point out the lack of visible interest in Damon outside of New York.

If no other team is willing to gamble that Damon could duplicate his 2009 numbers away from Yankee Stadium, why should the Yankees be in any rush to throw additional dollars and years at him? This isn’t disrespect to what Damon’s done for the Yankees and for New York, but business acumen. You wouldn’t bid $200 on an eBay iPod when the highest bid is currently your own. And the Yankees wouldn’t bid against themselves either.

Damon and the Yankees remain a perfect fit for each other and I expect the two sides to come to some sort of compromise before we hit 2010. I expect Damon to realize he’s better off with the Yankees and the Yankees are better off with him.