Most of the big names are off the board and the ones remaining on the market—Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson—aren’t going to change the landscape much, if at all.
Let’s look at the hot stove winners for this winter.
New York Yankees
This isn’t a matter of the Yankees opening their checkbook and buying stuff as it usually is when they’re considered the “big winners” of the off-season. This winter was dedicated to keeping CC Sabathia and bolstering their starting rotation—which they did.
The Yankees essentially held serve and got more assured production with the additions of Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda than the scrambling they did and luck they enjoyed last year when Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon surpassed any logical expectations.
They’ve also been helped by the Red Sox evident disarray; the Blue Jays failing to acquire any veteran lineup or starting pitching help; the financial constraints that continually bound the Rays; and the Orioles being the Orioles.
The Rangers helped their starting rotation in two ways. One, they signed Joe Nathan to take over as closer and are shifting Neftali Feliz into being a starter. Two, they won the bidding for Yu Darvish.
Some will point to the loss of C.J. Wilson and the above moves as canceling each other out. The case can even be made that because the Angels signed Wilson, the Rangers wind up as net losers because of Wilson’s departure for a division rival.
The money they spent on Darvish in comparison to what it would’ve cost to keep Wilson or sign Jackson or Kuroda is a viable argument of having overpayed, but Wilson is 31 and Darvish 25. With Darvish, they get a more talented pitcher and the ancillary benefit of worldwide marketing possibilities because of his Iranian/Japanese heritage, looks and personality.
I think Darvish is going to be a superstar.
Los Angeles Angels
Long term consequences aside for having to pay Albert Pujols $59 million past his 40th birthday, they signed the best hitter of this generation and immediately launched themselves to the top of the talent scale. Simultaneously, they supplemented their strength in the starting rotation by signing Wilson.
They also acquired a catcher with pop in Chris Iannetta and hired a more competent GM when they replaced Tony Reagins with Jerry DiPoto.
They wanted a proven, name manager to draw buzz heading into their new ballpark and traded for Ozzie Guillen.
They needed starting pitching and signed Mark Buehrle and acquired Carlos Zambrano.
They needed a closer and signed Heath Bell.
And they wanted to bring in an offensive force to strengthen both shortstop and third base offensively and defensively and signed Jose Reyes, shifting Hanley Ramirez to third base.
The big questions are whether or not petulant owner Jeffrey Loria, meddling team president David Samson, Guillen, Zambrano and an unhappy Ramirez light the fuse of this powder keg and if the fans decide to show up to watch after the initial novelties.
On paper in February, they look good.
Giving up a chunk of their minor league system to get Mat Latos is risky, but he fills the need at the top of their starting rotation.
Ryan Madson’s market crashed and the Reds got him for one year; they traded for a solid lefty reliever in Sean Marshall and signed Ryan Ludwick, who will benefit from being a background player and hitting in a friendlier home park.
Michael Cuddyer will have a big offensive year in right field and can play first base if/when Todd Helton gets hurt.
Replacing the shaky Huston Street with the cheaper and better Rafael Betancourt is a step up. Getting Tyler Chatwood for Iannetta and signing Ramon Hernandez to replace Iannetta is a dual gain. They signed the underrated Casey Blake to play third and traded a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen to get Marco Scutaro, immediately solving their problem at second base.
San Diego Padres
Yonder Alonso is a power bat and Rookie of the Year candidate at first base. Yasmani Grandal is a top catching prospect and Edinson Volquez is good if he’s healthy and will benefit from pitching in the cavernous Petco Park and having a deep bullpen supporting him.
They gave up Latos to get the above package, but it’s an even trade for both sides for short and long term needs.
Street is just as good as the departed free agent Bell and maintains the bullpen hierarchy with Luke Gregerson as the set-up man and Street closing.
Carlos Quentin will be looking to have a big year as he heads for free agency and the Padres acquired him for two minor league pitchers who’d fallen out of favor with the organization.
Josh Byrnes is a category above Jed Hoyer as GM.
The hot stove losers and clubs that made lateral maneuvers will be discussed in upcoming posts.