With spring training in full force and the 2014 season set to kick-off in less than a week in Australia, lets evaluate the major, mid-level, and minor moves that shaped the offseason.
Just days after the Boston Red Sox hoisted their third World Series trophy in 10 years, General managers got to work on trying to fill the needs of their clubs so to better position themselves for success in 2014. In this two part series, we’ll first take a look at the American League.
American League East
New York: The Yankees showed glimpses of “the evil empire” again this offseason by shelling out approximately $422-million to four players. Although the big names of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, and Masahiro Tanaka will provide more excitement and hopefully more production than the team has experienced over the past couple of years, the bombers still have holes on their infield and in their bullpen. Despite the key arrivals mentioned above, the Yanks will still feel the losses of Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Boone Logan, and Joba Chamberlain, while holding their breath around injury risk players such as Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Brian Roberts, and the aforementioned Ellsbury. Grade: B+
Boston: The Sox didn’t make any “big” splashes this offseason, and let Jacoby Ellsbury walk in lieu of giving him an insane multi-year deal. I guess they learned their lesson with Carl Crawford. They did however add complimentary pieces to their team, which will remain mostly intact from its championship run. The additions of A.J. Pierzynski and Edward Mujica will offer stability to both the lineup and the bullpen, as Pierzynski will offer a nice compliment right-handed backstop David Ross, and Mujica gives the pen another solid arm and possible insurance policy if Koji Uehara has any trouble following up his stellar 2013 season. Grade B-
Baltimore: Buck’s O’s will once again prepare for battle against the stacked AL East, and added a couple of proven pieces to help in the quest for another postseason birth. After dealing closer Jim Johnson to Oakland and balking at deal with his potential replacement Grant Balfour, GM Dan Duquette rebounded nicely by bringing in starter Ubaldo Jimenez to sure up his rotation and add slugger Nelson Cruz to the already potent lineup. After declining a qualifying offer from the Rangers, and not being able to find a multi-year deal to his liking, the O’s are getting Cruz at presumable bargain at $8-million for the upcoming season. If Jimenez and Cruz produce like their capable off and Tommy Hunter can handle the 9th inning duties, this offseason would have to be considered a win for the Orioles. Grade: B+
Tampa Bay: Although the Rays didn’t make any “sexy” moves during the offseason, you have to stop and ask yourself one question…did you expect them to? The answer is no, because they didn’t really have to. Their offseason hinged on whether or not they were going to trade ace David Price. They didn’t, which prompted them to make upkeep type moves to their already solid team. Letting closer Fernando Rodney walk, and nabbing Grant Balfour to fill his spot at a cheaper rate is something the Rays thrive at. They could also resurrect the careers for players such as Heath Bell or Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) as they’ve done in years past with Kyle Farnsworth, Rafael Soriano, and Rodney. The only new starter in the Ray’s lineup opening day who will be different from the team that finished the season will be newly acquired catcher Ryan Hanigan, whom many believe to be a perfect fit for the team. Possibly the biggest move of the offseason by the team was one of the in-house variety, when the team re-signed first basemen James Loney to keep the one of the games best defensive infields in tact. Grade: B-
Toronto: The Jays didn’t really do a whole lot this offseason aside from bringing in catcher Dioner Navarro to replace the departed J.P. Arencibia. The team still has questions in the rotation and at second base, but the bullpen is solid with All-Stars Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar setting up closer Casey Janssen. Although they didn’t upgrade their needs much, the Jays should be commended for the classiest move of the offseason for the signing of Roy Halladay to a one-day contract so that he could retire a Blue Jay. Kudos. Grade: D
American League Central
Detroit: The Tigers will look a bit different in 2014 after shipping first baseman Prince Fielder to Texas for second baseman Ian Kinsler, and signing veteran closer Joe Nathan to secure the 9th inning. Although you can at least attempt to follow the logic of trading away Fielder’s enormous contract for more speed and defense, the trade of Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for unproven players has to be one of the biggest head-scratchers of the winter. While Kinsler will fill the void left by Omar Infante, and Miguel Cabrera will slide back over to first base, the Tigers still lost good players in Joaquin Beniot, Jose Veras, and Jhonny Peralta. Grade: C+
Kansas City: General manager Dayton Moore did a good job this offseason of realizing the team’s areas of weakness and filling the holes. Bringing in second baseman Omar Infante, and trading for right-fielder Norichika Aoki, were spot on moves to provide table setters for the top of the lineup, which if filled homegrown talent. Trading for 3B/DH Danny Valencia to platoon with lefty Mike Moustakas was a nice move as well. Although bringing lefty Jason Vargas will not fill the void left by Ervin Santana’s excellent 2013 campaign, it was still a decent move to help solidify the rotation. Grade: B+
Cleveland: The tribe didn’t do a lot to counter the losses of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir this offseason, but they did strike a deal with the Rockies to bring in Josh Outman for Drew Stubbs, and picked up David Murphy for outfield depth while also adding John Axford to close games. Although Axford seemed to resurrect his career late last year with St. Louis, his signing follows the losses of Matt Albers, Joe Smith, and Chris Perez. The team may lack depth in the rotation and bullpen, which could ultimately cause them to come up short in 2014. Grade: C+
Minnesota: Twins fans didn’t have a lot to get excited about in 2013, but you have to acknowledge the fact that the front office stepped up and brought in a couple of solid free agents to upgrade the rotation in Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, while also adding complimentary pieces to the lineup in catcher Kurt Suzuki and OF/DH Jason Kubel. They also made a wise decision in signing one of the games best closer, Glen Perkins to a long-term extension. While the moves might not be enough for the team to sniff the playoffs, the upgrades are probably substantial enough to warrant better than a last place finish in the division again. Grade B
Chicago: In offseasons past, the White Sox have made moves that have raised a few eyebrows, and this year it’s been more of the same. They acquired the centerfielder and third basemen they wanted in Adam Eaton and Matt Davidson, but did so by weakening their rotation and bullpen by including Hector Santiago and Addison Reed in said deals. They also signed Cuban star Jose Abreu to a $68-million contract, which now adds to their depth of three guys who are 1B/DHs along with Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko. The moves will look a lot better if Nate Jones is successfully able to fill Reed’s old spot as the teams new closer. Grade: C+
American League West
Oakland: Billy Beane has proven once again this offseason why he’s one of the best in the game at what he does. Not only does the team develop young pitchers better than almost anyone outside of the Cardinals and Braves, but also, Beane always picks up key pieces that will help his team flourish with the thought that he will almost certainly be able to flip them if the team were to fall out of contention during the season. The A’s have solidified their bullpen to provide a safety net for all their young starters by acquiring closer Jim Johnson from the O’s, Luke Gregorson from the Padres, Josh Lindblom from the Rangers, and Drew Pomeranz from the Rockies in the Brett Anderson deal. While the team dealt Jerry Blevins to D.C., they were able to bring in Eric O’Flaherty, to tandem with Sean Doolittle from the left side. The club also added to its rotation by adding Scott Kazmir to the already formidable mix. Although Grant Balfour, Bartolo Colon, Blevins and Anderson are gone, the A’s have stuck to their guns and assembled a rotation and bullpen top to bottom that matches up well against the rest of their division and league. They also still have their core lineup of quirky misfits intact Grade: A
Texas: Ordinarily, a team that loses players like Nelson Cruz, Matt Garza, Joe Nathan, and A.J. Pierzynski would be in for a world of trouble the following season. Not so for the Rangers, who countered those losses by bringing in a true everyday player in Prince Fielder, an on-base machine in Shin-Soo Choo, and creating a spot in the lineup for Jurikson Profar. Losing Joe Nathan will be a big blow to the bullpen, but they have guys with closer experience waiting to return toheir former glory in both Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria. The lineup will score enough runs to support its pitching staff, which could ultimately result in the club winning 90 or more games for the fifth consecutive season. Grade: B+
Los Angeles: The Halos addressed a lot of their needs this offseason, but had to do so by dealing away some of its young talent in Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo. In the Bourjos deal with the Cardinals, the team got back reliever Fernando Salas and third basemen David Freese, and likewise got back Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs back from the White Sox and Diamondbacks respectively. They also signed free agent Joe Smith to solidify the bullpen and added Raul Ibanez to its DH mix. Say what you want about the 41-year-old Ibanez…the dude just keeps hitting. If Skaggs and Santiago can team up with fellow youngster Garrett Richards to round out the rotation behind Jared Weaver and C.J. Wilson, and if the rest of the lineup can play up to snuff like Mike Trout does, the Angels could once again position themselves for a run at October. Grade B+
Houston: We knew going into the offseason that the Astros are still a couple of years away from being a threat in their division, but that didn’t stop the club from pulling off a couple of nice moves this winter. The acquisition of Dexter Fowler from the Rockies in exchange for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles could prove to be a big piece of the club’s future. The signing of Scott Feldman to lead the rotation was also a big leap, as was bringing in Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, and Jesse Crain to help solidify the bullpen. It’s going to be a little while before Kevin Correa, Mark Appel, and George Springer are ready to become household names and lockdown starting spots on the big club, however the front office is doing what it can to put together a good ball club as it awaits the arrival of its highest rated prospects. Grade: B
Seattle: Without a doubt, the biggest free agent of this year’s crop landed in the Pacific Northwest, which caught most of us off guard. Many people, myself included, thought it was a foregone conclusion that second baseman Robinson Cano would re-up with the Yankees and finish his career as a Bronx Bomber…sooo not the case. Seattle ponied up $240-million for Cano’s services, and also signed one of the games premiere closers in Fernando Rodney. They also brought in Logan Morrison and Corey Hart to split time in the outfield, first base, and DH, while adding utility man Willie Bloomquist. Although the moves look decent on paper, it’s uncertain whether or not Hart can return to form following knee injuries the past few years. While the team has nice young talent in Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino, and Brad Miller, the club’s success will hinder on the health of its pitching staff and whether or not guys like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero can finally figure it out and start playing up to their potential. While the Cano move was definitely this biggest splash of the offseason, it is diminished somewhat by the fact that the club didn’t surround their new superstar with a better supporting cast. Grade: A-
So now that we’ve looked at all the teams in the American League, who do we think made the best major, mid-level, and minor moves to help secure their club’s success in 2014?
Best Major Moves
Position player: The Texas Rangers’ acquisition of Prince Fielder. The club did exactly what they needed to do…they brought in a stud first baseman to fill a role that’d been a revolving door since Mark Teixeira was dealt, and did so at a time when their lineup, rotation, and bullpen are all built to win now. When an already good team adds a power bat like Fielder who almost never takes a day off, it’s a great move. Not only is Fielder destined to damage in such a hitter friendly park, he gets to hit in front of Adrian Beltre who has quietly become one of the games top-five best all-around position players over the past few years.
Pitcher: New York’s signing of Masahiro Tanaka. Trust me, I’m as skeptical as anyone on the planet, but signing unquestionably the best pitcher Japan had to offer to a 7-year deal while he’s only 25-year-old, is a great move. A lot of times, teams, especially the Yankees, pay that kind of money to pitchers based on the numbers on the back of their baseball card. The Bombers pulled the trigger at the right time with this move inking the guy with his prime ahead of him rather than the other way around. He may not put up the same kind of numbers Yu Darvish is compiling in Texas, but I doubt he’ll be a bust like Hideki Irabu.
Best Mid-level Moves
Position player: I have to say, the Yankees also struck gold in this level by signing veteran backstop and perennial All-Star Brian McCann to a long-term deal. I know that and $85-million contract might be a little extravagant for “mid-level” consideration, but it’s less than the $100-million benchmark that superstars are blowing past these days. While it kills me to say so being a Braves fan, McCann is a perfect fit for the Yankees. He gives them stability behind the dish, he offers above average offense for the position, and he’s a leader in the clubhouse. In my opinion he’s the heir-apparent to the voice of the Yankees when Jeter retires at the end of the year. After a year with “the captain.” I think it’ll be McCann’s team moving forward.
Pitcher: Honestly, I couldn’t make up my mind, so we’re going to have a tie here. Scott Kazmir to the Oakland A’s and Joe Nathan to the Tigers are two moves I really love. After Tim Hudson turned down Beane’s two-year $22-million offer, Kazmir accepted it, and found a perfect landing spot after resurrecting his career last year in Cleveland. Last year, Detroit may very well have been just a closer away from making a deeper run in October. Although he’s getting up there in years, Nathan is great fit for the veteran Tigers club who is once again poised to win the AL Central.
Position player: I absolutely love what the Kansas City Royals did in acquiring right-fielder Norichika Aoki from the Brewers. He’s the perfect fit for their lineup and it allows the club to hit Alex Gordon third while sliding everyone else down a spot in the lineup. A good defender, with good on-base numbers who rarely strikes out, Aoki will be a big difference maker in what the Royals are able to accomplish in 2014.
Pitcher: Oakland landing reliever Eric O’Flaherty after dealing Jerry Blevins to the Nationals was a stroke of genius in my opinion. I know EOF is coming off Tommy John Surgery, but when he’s right, he’s one of the best lefty relievers in the game…which is probably why he had a number of suitors even coming off an injury. The really luxury with this move is the fact that the A’s pen is already stocked full of arms, which means they can ease EOF back into things at the right pace early in the season, which will leave him nice and fresh for another run at the playoffs for the A’s.
Well, there’s our look at the American League offseason. We will have a similar story breaking down the National League moves tomorrow.