Saturday, December 10, 2005

Hot Stove Cooking

The baseball winter meetings have ended, and as usual, all anyone is talking about is the absurd contracts handed out to pitchers. The Blue Jays emerged as the freest spenders, signing starter A.J. Burnett and closer B.J. Ryan to 5 year deals. Toronto was roundly criticized for the length of the deals, given that Burnett has a long history of injuries and Ryan only has two good seasons on his resume. It’s true, the Jays probably will not be getting too much out of these guys in the 4th and 5th years of these deals. But it’s also true that Toronto now has the strongest pitching staff in the AL East. Add in their deal to get first baseman Lyle Overbay, and you have a team that has a good chance to win 90 games and finally usurp the New York/Boston dominance of the division.

Here are some of the other teams whom I felt improved the most:

New York Mets: The biggest hole in the Mets lineup was at first base, and GM Omar Minaya addressed that need in a big way, dealing another farm system jewel, Yusmeiro Petit, and other minor leaguers to Florida for Carlos Delgado. The Mets also shored up their bullpen with Billy Wagner, although at his age (34) and with his history, the Mets could regret the length of his 4 year deal even more than the Blue Jays do with Ryan and his 5 years. They acquired Paul Lo Duca in a separate trade with Florida, and they now field a lineup with very few holes. These moves make the Mets the prohibitive favorites in the NL East

Boston Red Sox: I love the sense of urgency here. The Red Sox sacrificed some farm system depth and their backup catcher, but they wound up with power pitcher Josh Beckett, who could develop into a true ace and three solid players in relief pitcher Guillermo Mota, 3B Mike Lowell, and 2B Mark Loretta. Both had down years last season, but playing in the fens should revive both of their bats. Lowell won a Gold Glove last season, and should help whomever is playing shortstop a great deal. I say “whomever” because Boston dealt last year’s starter, the overpaid Edgar Renteria, to the Braves for 3B superprospect Andy Marte. Rumor had it that Boston was going to flip Marte on to Tampa for SS Julio Lugo, but Boston decided to hang on to Marte. It’s a curious decision, but not a bad one. The decision shows Boston’s hydra GM is not going to allow the team to become the new Yankees.

Chicago White Sox: The Champs get even better. Not only did they retain Paul Konerko, they finally acquired some protection for him in the form of Jim Thome. Thome should be able to thrive in the DH role and avoid the health problems that have hampered him for the past year and half. I really admire GM Ken Williams’s determination to improve the offense of this team; he knows that his pitching staff is more likely to regress than improve, and he compensated for this by improving the offense. I also love it when GM’s look to internal options to fill holes. In this case, farm system star Brian Anderson will step into the outfield role vacated by Aaron Rowand (who went to Philly). Anderson will likely provide the same offensive production as Rowand, and at a fraction of the cost. To top things off, Williams then traded “last man in the bullpen” Damaso Marte to Pittsburgh for Rob Mackowiack, who immediately improves Chicago’s bench.

Now for some quick hit analysis on the other deals:

Alfonso Soriano to Washington: Washington got hosed. Wilkerson plus Sledge will outproduce Soriano any day of the week, especially when you put Soriano in cavernous RFK. Major coup for the Rangers.

Bob Wickman re-signs with Cleveland: This is a “settling for” deal for Cleveland after they missed out on Trevor Hoffman. Fortunately, it’s just a one-year deal. Hoffman would have been better though.

Trevor Hoffman and Brian Giles re-sign with San Diego: Hometown discount! *clap clap clap clap clap* San Diego treads water and will stay competitive, especially since....

Mike Cameron traded to San Diego for Xavier Nady: Great deal for the Padres. They don’t give up much in Nady, and they gain one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball. Cameron has thrived in hitters parks (Safeco, Shea) his whole career, and I expect his success to continue. Don’t know why the Mets couldn’t have gotten more for him.

Juan Pierre traded to Cubs: I don’t like this deal at all. Pierre doesn’t walk, and is entirely reliant on his batting average to get on base at an acceptable rate. His average could turn around in ‘06, but if it doesn’t, Derrek Lee will once again have no one to drive home. Pierre is also below average defensively. He’s a classic case of steals and batting average inflating perceived value.

Sean Casey traded to Pirates: A classic addition by subtraction deal for the Reds. It’s much better to have both Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena in the lineup, and Casey’s departure means Adam Dunn shifts over to first base. The Reds will also save a good deal of money. This is a P.R. move for the Pirates, but Casey won’t turn the team around by any means. Below-average pitcher Dave Williams goes the other way, where he will compete with Eric Milton for “worst lefty starter in the divison”.

Tony Womack traded to Reds: Why God, why?

Rafael Furcal signs with Los Angeles Dodgers: 3 years $39m? Color me impressed. Furcal’s OBP and defense justify the money, and I like the three years even better. This assures Los Angeles of his peak years, and they won’t be on the hook when he starts to decline. This move could precipitate Jeff Kent’s shift to first base, which will improve the defense as well.

Kyle Farnsworth signs with New York Yankees: Too many years, too much money, league average performance. Sounds like every single other member of the New York pitching staff. He’ll fit right in!

Tom Gordon signs with Philadelphia: Way too many years, way too much money. He might not take kindly to being named the closer again, either.

Luis Castillo traded to Minnesota: Fantastic deal for the Twins, who didn’t give up much, and get a guy with a great glove and an .394 OBP last year. He is an immense improvement, and could help the offense enough for the Twins to contend again. Probably my favorite trade of the offseason.

$7m per year contracts: That is the going rate for a league average starting pitcher these days. Cases in point: Paul Byrd to Cleveland and Esteban Loaiza to Oakland. We now live in a world where Kris Benson is a bargain! Imagine that!

There are still plenty of big names that could move, including Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon, Nomar Garciaparra, Mike Piazza, Kevin Millwood, and Matt Morris. Stay tuned.

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