Kamis, 15 Maret 2012

Season Previews, Part 32: Complete Offseason Review

As always, this year's offseason was almost as exciting as actual baseball -- or at least it feels that way. There were surprises aplenty: Prince to Detroit, Pujols to Anaheim, and the Marlins signing everybody else. Yu Darvish decided to come to America and ply his trade against the best hitters in the world.

There was a whirlwind of movement off the field, as a half dozen teams had serious management shuffles. In the wake of the worst collapse in the history of baseball, Boston parted ways with beloved manager Terry Francona, and Theo Epstein left for the Cubs, taking San Diego GM Jed Hoyer with him. San Diego and Boston were left to fill those gaps, as Houston, Baltimore, Anaheim all dealt with their own front office situations.

There were sour notes as well. Ryan Braun, the reigning NL MVP was cited for a failed drug test in December, with off-the-charts testosterone levels. He managed to get off the hook, but there will be a cloud over the rest of his playing life. Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona was found guilty of identity fraud, and while he did manage to shirk his charges in the Dominican Republic, it came to be known that his name is actually Roberto Heredia, and he is 31, not 28. Young Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos was kidnapped in his native Venezuela, but returned unharmed.

Yes, the 2011-12 offseason generated its share of headlines, but what we care about, ultimately, is the players, and player movement. What I will do here is examine the best and worst of the offseason. Who made the right calls, who didn't do enough. Without further ado, I give you:

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Complete Offseason Review

Most Improved

Miami Marlins

It would be difficult not to say the Marlins (though they did get some competition here from the Angels). They did lose Javier Vazquez, who had a huge second half, to what appears to be retirement, but they also added Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, and Heath Bell. The team won just 72 games in 2011, while Hanley Ramirez struggled and Josh Johnson made 9 starts. With a bounce-back year from Hanley, the Marlins become a legitimate offensive threat with Reyes at the top, and a potentially even better Giancarlo 'Don't Call me Mike' Stanton and Logan Morrison in the middle. If Johnson comes back, the rotation is pretty good as well, and while the NL East will make it tough for them to be much better than .500, coming off of a 90-loss season, the Marlins are the most improved team in baseball.

Least Improved

Baltimore Orioles

The O's had a tough start to their offseason (which I detailed here), as they failed to find a suitable GM, and it became apparent that team owner Peter Angelos was more concerned with keeping his friends in charge than hiring an actual good executive.

On the field, however, the team was not much more impressive. New VP of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette brought on such spare parts as Endy Chavez, Dana Eveland, and Jason Hammel. Can these guys contribute at the MLB level? Yes. Will they make Baltimore a better club? Probably not. With no real MLB additions and no visible youth infusion, the O's shouldn't be expected to do much better than their 69-93 record of 2011.

Best Move

Rangers Sign Yu Darvish

As I detailed here, I am very excited about Darvish. Of course, there are doubts; there always are, but I was impressed with Rangers brass for not being afraid to try again on a Japanese pitcher after the underwhelming Daisuke Matsuzaka experiment. The Rangers won the bidding on Darvish with a $51.7 MM bid, then signed him to a $60 MM contract. I liked the move for a few reasons:

- Darvish fills the biggest real hole that the Rangers had on their roster: their rotation.
- There was no impact to the Rangers' roster. He does not cost them any personnel, not even draft picks, and the money spent on him shouldn't have a significant impact on Rangers spending capability: they drew almost 4 million fans in 2011, and that should not decrease after a second consecutive AL pennant. Additionally, after the 2014 season, the Rangers will start a new TV deal worth something in the neighbourhood of $80 MM per season.
- Darvish is, without question, the greatest non-American/Caribbean pitching talent, ever. If you read the article to which I referred earlier, his accomplishments are unmatched, his stuff some of the best on the planet right now. Additionally, he does not have the history of arm abuse Daisuke had.

Worst Move

Detroit Signs Prince Fielder

Before Prince ever signed with Detroit, both myself and my colleague were expecting a very poor return on investment on Prince. Then, Detroit signed Prince to a $219 MM contract. The deal made headlines, raised Detroit's profile, may have sold tickets, and in all likelihood made the 2012 club a better team -- but it is hard to envision a scenario in which the Tigers do not regret this deal inside of a few years, let alone nine.

Seattle Trades for Jesus Montero

I analyzed this trade here, and I feel very much the same way now: Seattle got fleeced. Montero is either a bad catcher or a DH, and in either case, he becomes simply a bat. A bat that Seattle needed, yes, but how good can he be? Even if he lives up to all the hype, turns into a .300/.400/.500 hitter, is that worth Michael Pineda? We know what Pineda can do, and he looks like a future Cy Young contender. There is a lot that goes into this deal: service time, need fulfillment, but it boils down to trading a player away for a player that isn't as good, and I think Seattle made a mistake here.

Biggest Splash

Los Angeles Angels Sign Albert Pujols

USA Today featured a great article about the Pujols signing coming to pass, but it was certainly a shock to the baseball world when, minutes before the Rule 5 draft at the December Winter Meetings, news broke that the Angels had signed the best player in baseball to a 10-year, $254 MM contract. Challenged only by the Prince signing, that morning was the most resounding moment of the offseason.

Best Offseason Plan

Colorado Rockies

As I wrote in the above article, I really like the Rockies' offseason plan. They didn't make any big splashes, because they didn't need to. They are in a position where patience would be key. With plenty of young stars, the Rockies needed to get healthy and develop, and so GM Dan O'Dowd concentrated on building around his core, adding players like Marco Scutaro, Michael Cuddyer, and Ramon Hernandez.

They added youth in Tyler Chatwood. I thought they got a great return on Seth Smith, who should be revealed as an overachiever in spacious Oakland Coliseum (or whatever they're calling it this year). Basically, I thought they improved the most at the smallest cost, making theirs the best offseason overall.

Worst Offseason Plan

San Diego Padres

Jed Hoyer had been running a pretty good rebuilding show in San Diego, but when Theo Epstein left Boston on October, he snatched Hoyer away from the Padres to serve as his GM, leaving owner Jeff Moorad to bring back his former muse with the Diamondbacks, Josh Byrnes. Byrnes had his successes in Arizona, but his tenure was largely dubbed a failure, and he was back at it immediately in San Diego.

Mat Latos, a terrifically overrated flyball pitcher, was traded for a pretty good package from Cincinnati, but the keystone player in the deal, Yonder Alonso, profiles very poorly for PETCO Park. The Padres traded a couple of decent minor league arms for Carlos Quentin, another horrible match for PETCO with only one year remaining on his contract. They took on a closer with $17 MM remaining on his contract, and basically gave top prospect Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs to avoid the headache of finding a home for... Alonso.

In the end it seemed like much ado about nothing. They took on a bunch of payroll and traded away a lot of good young talent, with no real gain to the major league roster. It was hard to see them move in any direction, and when you're coming off of a 91-loss season, that's not really an option.

Best Rebuilding Effort

Kansas City Royals

The reason I didn't pick the Nationals for any of these categories is that while they are becoming a very good ballclub, they are sort of forcing the issue. This is not by any means a bad thing: good for them for being aggressive. However, a youth movement is never a sure thing, and if it fails, it is better to have been patient and spent your money wisely than be saddled with cumbersome contracts going forward, and it is for this reason that the Royals are running one of the better rebuilding efforts around.

Despite graduating top prospects like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas in 2011, Kansas City has one of the best farm systems in baseball, and even though they are creeping up on competitiveness, they remained patient this winter, declining to spend any money on big-ticket free agents, and instead locking up young players like Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez. They signed Jonathan Broxton, giving them another asset to deal for young talent at the trade deadline. The Royals are making all the right moves in getting back to competitiveness the right way.

Oakland Athletics

In preparation for a potential relocation, the A's are preparing the next generation of players. They made several big moves to add young talent to their organization, acquiring young flamethrower Jarrod Parker, Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes, and possible star catcher Derek Norris with minimal losses. The A's are stuck in a holding pattern right now, waiting for a new park, a new city, and the health of stud lefty Bret Anderson, but the foundations are being laid for Billy Beane's next great team.

Best Competitive Team Staying Competitive

New York Yankees

Every once in a while, the Yankees will shake their head, look around, and say 'maybe we should fix a couple of things.' They did it in more spectacular fashion in the 2008-'09 offseason, but they did it just as effectively this time around. Their only real weakness, in the rotation, was addressed by acquiring perhaps the best pitcher in baseball younger than Clayton Kershaw, Michael Pineda. They also dealt with their biggest headache, dumping AJ Burnett (and half of his salary) on Pittsburgh and even getting a little bit of talent in return, in Diego Moreno and Exicardo Cayones.

The JP Ricchiardi 'Should Have' Award

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox were one of the great underwhelming teams in baseball last season. A bloated payroll couldn't keep them from being a bad team, and while that will happen, and isn't a damnable offense, they are not making the right moves to fix the situation. The White Sox have a bad farm system, one of the worst in the majors, so sitting still should not be an option right now. They aren't going to compete in 2011, so I'm not sure what Kenny Williams is waiting for. He did move Sergio Santos and Carlos Quentin, but not for any significant talent. He has only a few real assets on his team, but has shown no inclination to move them. There are two desirable spots in baseball: the top, and the way there. The White Sox are in neither position, and that is concerning.

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