With spring training in full force and the 2014 season set to kick off in a couple of days 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 ten years, general managers got to work trying to fill the needs of their clubs so to better position themselves for success in 2014. In the second part of this two-part series, we’ll follow up with a look at the National League.
National League East
Washington: The Nationals struck a great deal with the Tigers for the services of starting pitcher Doug Fister, who now gives the Nats one of the deepest rotations in all of baseball. The club also acquired lefty reliever Jerry Blevins from Oakland, and signed Nate McClouth to be its fourth outfielder. Blevins will help the team in the late innings against the likes of division foes Freddie Freeman, Chase Utley, and Curtis Granderson, while McClouth could be in line for extended playing time depending on the health of Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth throughout the course of the season. Grade: A
Philadelphia: The fighting Phils added to their team and their age this offseason bringing in journeyman outfielder Marlon Byrd and prying former Pirates’ ace A.J. Burnett our of possible retirement. While both are in their late 30’s, they both showed last season that they could still contribute at a high level. They also brought in Roberto Hernandez (the former Fausto Carmona) and Brad Lincoln to round out their pitching staff. While the starting lineup is definitely getting a little long in the tooth, the team should be able to make a little noise in the NL East if they’re able to stay healthy. Grade: B-
Atlanta: The Braves’ rotation, which was thought to be the team’s strength at the beginning of spring training, has now become its biggest question mark following a season-ending elbow injury to ace Kris Medlen, and the same fate awaiting fellow starter Brandon Beachy. The recent events fueled general manager Frank Wren to pull the trigger on signing starter Ervin Santana to a one-year deal. Earlier in the offseason, Wren took low-risk, high-reward gambles on pitcher Gavin Floyd and first basemen Mat Gamel; two moves that could payoff huge down the stretch. The team also rounded out its roster and bolstered its bench by adding switch-hitting C/1B/OF Ryan Doumit in a swap with the Twins. The team’s success in 2014 will hinder on the consistency of its lineup, and whether or not the new faces can step up in needed areas. Grade: C+
New York: While the Mets are still a couple of years away from being a serious threat in the division, they did make a couple of moves this offseason that should provide a little stability to the team as it looks to perform better in the coming year. The biggest acquisition was the signing of outfielder Curtis Granderson, while also bringing in rebound candidate Chris Young, and the ageless wonder Bartolo Colon. Granderson probably won’t put up the same numbers he did in Yankee Stadium, but he will provide a solid bat, some protection for David Wright, and additional leadership to the young club. Young is another low-risk, high-reward guy, and Colon if nothing else will provide innings for rotation that looks to be very formidably in the years to come with the likes of Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, Dillon Gee, and Jon Neise in the mix. Grade: B-
Miami: The fish didn’t bring in a lot of high quality talent during the offseason, but they didn’t bring a little name recognition to the club so that fans will at least have a better idea of who they’re watching. The club brought in catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, third baseman Casey McGehee, 1B/OF Garrett Jones, and 2B/SS Rafael Furcal to solidify it’s infield alongside youngster Adeiny Hechavarria. The team will still be waiting on its young players to develop this season, but at least it can do so knowing that it has capable veterans as a safety net. If nothing else, Giancarlo Stanton at least has some experienced bats around him now. Grade: C+
National League Central
Chicago: Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein made a few mid-level moves this offseason, but nothing that really jumps out at you. The Cubbies brought in starter Jason Hammel along with relievers Jose Veras and Wesley Wright via free agency, and traded for the likes of outfielder Justin Ruggiano and catcher George Kottaras. The serviceable moves might payoff during the season if new manager Rick Renteria can get SS Starlin Castro back on track and if all the talent in the minors can somehow trickle its way up to the big club. The farm system is loaded with talent, which is probably why the Cub’s brass didn’t bring a lot of pieces in to block the way for said talent. Grade: C
Cincinnati: The Reds lost more than they gained this offseason after letting Bronson Arroyo leave for the desert and watching Shin-Soo Choo sign in the lone star state. They also traded away Ryan Hanigan to make room for Devin Mesoraco, and counters said losses by bringing journeyman catcher Bryan Pena and utility man Skip Shumaker. The club’s best offseason move was an internal one, in which they signed starter Homer Bailey to long-term extension. With a solid rotation one through five, and a good lineup playing half its games in a run-happy ballpark, the Reds will once again push for a playoff spot in 2014. The biggest question for the club is whether or not new center fielder and leadoff man Billy Hamilton can hit enough to be a catalyst for the lineup. Grade: C-
Pittsburgh: The club lost ace A.J. Burnett, first baseman Justin Morneau, 1B/OF Garrett Jones this offseason, and only countered by signing Edison Volquez. Although Volquez has shown flashes of greatness in his career, his inconsistency is by far his biggest downfall. The only upside here is that the Pirates have been successful over the past few years in helping pitchers find the success of their former selves. Burnett got lit up repeatedly in the Bronx, and became a new guy after arriving in Pittsburgh. Francisco Liriano was another guy they picked up off the scrap heap last offseason, and he turned out to be a steal for the club pitching in big game after big game down the stretch. The club will take a step back from its 94-win season of a year ago, but it still has a lot of talent to be reckoned with. Grade: D+
St. Louis: The Cards said goodbye to Carlos Beltran, Edward Mujica, and David Freese, but got a little younger by trading for outfielder Peter Bourjos, and transitioning Matt Carpenter to third base to clear a path at second for Kolten Wong. The club also fixed its shortstop woes by signing Jhonny Peralta to a four-year deal. The signing of the ultimate professional Mark Ellis provides security behind Wong, and adds to the team’s bench depth. While the team didn’t make any blockbuster moves, it simply didn’t have to. The rotation is stacked one through five, and the bullpen is loaded with power arms. The only thing that could derail the club’s quest for another postseason birth is injury, but knowing the way the organization develops talent year after year, I’m sure they’d have someone ready to step in and shine if one of its key pieces got hurt. Grade: B+
Milwaukee: The Brewers traded away Norichika Aoki, and watched Corey Hart leave via free agency, but did make a bold move in signing free agent starter Matt Garza to a four-year deal. The club also brought in veteran Mark Reynolds to complete for its first base job, and moved Ryan Braun to right field to open up a spot for Khris Davis in left. While the team has a strong top of the lineup and a nice threesome at the top of the rotation, the back end of both are huge questions for the club as is its bullpen. The club has talent, and could surprise some people this season, but I don’t see much more than a middle of the pack finish for the “brew crew” again this season. Grade: B-
National League West
Los Angeles: The Dodgers lost nearly a dozen players from last year’s squad to free agency, however, most of them were role players such as Skip Shumaker, Nick Punto, Jerry Hairston, and others. The losses of Ricky Nolasco, Chris Capuano, and Michael Young will mean a little more to the team, but the club did shore up the back end of its rotation with the signing of Dan Haren, addressed its second base vacancy with Cuban star Alexander Guerrero, and secured the odd factor in its bullpen by re-signing “The Beard” Brian Wilson. While Guerrero looks like he needs a little more time, it appears more and more like Dee Gordon will get the first crack at second base. The offseason moves might not of been too flashy, but they filled the scarce needs the club had. Grade: B.
San Francisco: The Giants didn’t make a lot of offseason moves this year, but the ones they did make should have a nice impact on the 2014 club. The team re-upped with long-time star Tim Lincecum, who had an up-and-down year last year, and then went out and brought in bulldog veteran Tim Hudson to round out its rotation. Hudson gives the Giants a solid 1-5 joining the likes of Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and the aforementioned “freak.” The addition of Michael Morse to the club’s outfield will hopefully provide a little more thump to the lineup. Grade: B+
San Diego: The Friars had a nice offseason, which consisted of what I thought to be two great moves followed by one that was a little bit of a head-scratcher. The club signed free-agent reliever Joaquin Beniot to a nice multi-year deal, and took a flier on starter Josh Johnson, who will be looking to get his career back on track in the spacious confines of Petco Park. At first, the trade of proven setup man Luke Gregorson to the A’s for outfielder Seth Smith raised a little bit of an eyebrow for me, but now that centerfielder Cameron Maybin will be on the shelf for the foreseeable future, the move could pan out well for the club. The Padres have a lot of talent on their club, could be a nice sleeper pick in the NL West this season. Grade: B
Colorado: The Rox remained an enigma for me this offseason making a series of what could be called lateral moves. The weakened their outfield and possibly their pitching staff by trading Dexter Fowler, Drew Pomeranz, and Josh Outman in deals that ultimately netted them Brandon Barnes, Jordan Lyles, Drew Stubbs, and the often injured Brett Anderson. The club did however add proven relievers Boone Logan and the ageless one LaTroy Hawkins to the bullpen. Anderson or Lyles will fill out the rotation, which gained a lot of momentum in 2013 with great seasons from Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, and Tyler Chatwood. As always, the Rockies success in 2014 will hinder on the health of stars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. Grade: C
Arizona: The Snakes made a couple of big trades at the winter meetings when they acquired Mark Trumbo from the Angels and Addison Reed from the White Sox. The club had to deal pitcher Tyler Skaggs, outfielder Adam Eaton, and third basemen Matt Davidson to do so, but Trumbo and Reed could play big parts for the club in 2014. Trumbo will hopefully provide some protection for MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt, and Reed will add to a bullpen that already has nice pieces with Putz, Ziegler, Hernandez, Collmenter, and Thatcher. Another acquisition for the team was as a guy who often gets overlooked…yes, Bronson Arroyo. Guys who give you 200-plus innings every single year are had to find, so the signing should prove profitable for the Diamondbacks now that Patrick Corbin will miss the 2014 season. Grade: B+
Now lets evaluate the best “major,” “mid-level,” and “minor” moves of the offseason.
Best “major” moves:
Position player: The New York Mets signing of outfielder Curtis Granderson did a lot for the franchise in my opinion. The guy had a down year plagued by injuries in 2013, but turned in two consecutive 40 HR, 100 RBI seasons before that with the Yankees. I know a lot of those numbers can be attributed to hitting in Yankee Stadium, but Granderson was a must sign for a rebuilding team trying to keep its fans in the seats. Granderson is still a good, productive player, who will help David Wright lead the franchise in its new direction.
Pitcher: It’s only a one-year deal, but I like the gamble by the Philadelphia Phillies in bringing in A.J. Burnett. Burnett had two really good years with the Pirates and helped that franchise finally get things turned around. With Roy Halladay now gone, Burnett helps re-create a nice 1-2-3 punch for the Phils along side Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. The team is getting older, sure, but nobody will want to face the Phils in a short series if the club manages to make it to October.
Best “mid-level” moves:
Position player: Although, I thought the money was a little high for a guy coming off of a suspension for performance enhancing drugs, the Jhonny Peralta sign for the Cardinals looks to be a great fit. He won’t provide the same defensives skills as Pete Kozma, but he’ll definitely add offense to a team who lost Carlos Beltran and David Freese. If he learns from his mistakes, and performs like he has in years past, the Cardinals could be set at SS for the next four years.
Pitcher(s): I really hate ties, but I couldn’t help myself here. I absolutely love the trade for Doug Fister by the Nationals and the signing of Tim Hudson by the Giants. The Nats basically stole a workhorse starter from the Tigers to give the team a solid if not stellar 1-4 in their rotation; while the Giants did what they do best…they added one of the most consistent starters of the past decade and a half to their already steady starting staff. Big wins for both clubs here.
Best “minor” moves:
Position player: It was a little under the radar, but the Braves’ acquisition for C/1B/OF Ryan Doumit I think will help the club a lot in 2014. While Evan Gattis is expected to handle the majority of the catching duties, Doumit is a nice switch-hitting bench player with power to have in the event that Gattis suffers a sophomore slump, Freddie Freeman needs a day off, or injuries once again catch up to Jason Heyward or the inconsistent B.J. Upton.
Pitcher: Given his potential, I never thought would be calling starter Josh Johnson a minor move, but that’s exactly what he is nowadays. Injuries have taken their toll on the now 30-year-old right-hander, but in a big ballpark and with a former pitcher as a manager, maybe Johnson can resurrect his career and finally live up to the potential we kept waiting for all those years with the Marlins. The beautiful irony here as that Johnson will look to turn his career around throwing behind a guy who possesses the same size, velocity, and promise that he once did in Andrew Cashner.
Well, there’s our NL Offseason review…now that all the talking is done, it’s time to finally kick-off the season tomorrow down under. G’day mates!