By Jeff israel-
Yesterday, I analyzed the National League and came to the conclusion that the Nationals improved the most out of any team. Today, I’ll recap the teams in the American League, where a lot of huge deals took place to change the entire landscape of the league. Just a recap of the criteria:
- A team’s grade is based on needs and their financial flexibility, what they needed to do (trades/extensions), and how good of a fit the players are.
- If there is a “P” next to a player’s name, it means they are considered a top 100 prospect in baseball (according to MLB.com)
- Grades reflect what the teams have done to this point; I do mention in some report cards that a team should still look to sign somebody if they have the resources (guys like Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse and Joe Saunders are still on the market)
So who improved enough to compete with the defending American League Champion Detroit Tigers?
Baltimore Orioles (C-)
Notable Additons: RHP Jair Jurrjens, re-signed OF Nate McLouth
Notable Losses: 1B/3B Mark Reynolds
Baltimore stunned everyone last year by reaching the postseason with power and a great bullpen. Entering the offseason everybody thought that this was the year they would pounce on a big name free agent. Some even implied that they would be in the running for Josh Hamilton, but Baltimore is still considered a small-market city (despite being right next to DC) and they didn’t have the financial resources to sign him and improve the rest of the team. I liked the idea of going after Adam LaRoche, but they didn’t even bother with that. They should have at least found some type of power bat to replace Reynolds, but they have a strong offense already and Manny Machado will develop. Their biggest problem was starting pitching. Sure they had a surprising season and Chen, Hammel, and Tillman are solid, but a repeat performance for all three seems unlikely. I don’t know why they haven’t re-signed Joe Saunders yet, but they still have a chance to sign him. At the same time they should have looked to sign another arm to a low risk major league contract or minor league deal. They can’t expect their outstanding bullpen to bail them out again.
Boston Red Sox (B)
Notable Additions: Acquired rights to manager John Farrell from Toronto, OF Shane Victorino, 1B/OF Mike Napoli, RHP Ryan Dempster, RHP Joel Hanrahan, SS Stephen Drew
Notable Losses: Fired manager Bobby Valentine, 1B James Loney, OF Cody Ross, RHP Mark Melancon, INF Mike Aviles
Could any team have been more dysfunctional than the Red Sox last year? First off, let me say that even though they collapsed down the stretch in 2011 they still shouldn’t have fired Terry Francona. Frankly, I’m glad they fired Bobby V after one season because I thought he wasn’t a good fit for the clubhouse in the first place. Not only was I right, but not only was he terrible and got fired, but he’s essentially the reason GM Ben Cherington traded away Beckett, Gonzalez, and Crawford for nothing, in the biggest salary dump ever. Even though they had a disastrous year, they still had talent to compete. So it was clear entering the offseason that this team needed to retool their roster and add what I would call “gymrats”, guys who love the game and are great in the clubhouse. They first acquired a new manager, John Farrell, then signed OF Victorino and Jonny Gomes to solid multi-year contracts. They nearly overpaid, in terms of value, for Napoli on a three-year deal, but that fell through when it was discovered he had a hip condition. That turned into a manageable one-year contract for both sides, and it’s going to pay off big time if he can stay healthy (career .707 slugging at Fenway). They definitely improved their bullpen by acquiring an All-Star closer in Hanrahan and Koji Uehara. They still needed to add a more reliable starter than Dempster, who as a fly ball pitcher doesn’t fit well pitching in Fenway. If they could steal Kyle Lohse from free agency, their grade would definitely by an A. Still, this team of gymrats may be a true postseason contender unlike their high-priced counterparts of 2012.
Chicago White Sox (D)
Notable Additions: Re-signed RHP Jake Peavy, INF Jeff Keppinger, RHP Matt Lindstrom
Notable Losses: 3B Kevin Youkilis
I honestly wasn’t exactly sure what this team needed at all. If I had to pick something, it would have been to re-sign Peavy and find a 3B. Well, mission accomplished. Signing Peavy was vitally important to a young rotation featuring Chris Sale and Jose Quintana and a recovering John Danks. Keppinger is coming off a career year and is expected to compete for the starting job at the hot corner. He is extremely versatile and can play anywhere around the infield or the corner outfield spots. They definitely could have done more for the rotation with all of the health concerns and inexperience in their staff. They didn’t do enough little things to catch up to the Tigers and may have been caught up to as the second best team in this division.
Cleveland Indians (A-)
Notable Additions: Hired Terry Francona as manager, 1B/OF Nick Swisher, OF Drew Stubbs, RHP Trevor Bauer (P), RHP Brett Myers, 1B/3B Mark Reynolds, INF Mike Aviles
Notable Losses: OF Shin-Soo Choo, DH Travis Hafner, fired manager Manny Acta
At the end of the season it was pretty clear the Indians needed to rebuild by acquiring minor leaguers in trades. With Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Chris Perez, and Justin Masterson to play with, the expectation was that they would trade two maybe even three of those guys. Just days after the season ended they hired Terry “Tito” Francona to be their manager. The offseason started by trading away Choo for three years of Stubbs, who was in need of a change in scenery, and the ultimate prize in Bauer who if his head is right could be the next Tim Lincecum (not the 2012 version, the Cy Young version). Before that went down, Cabrera was in a bunch of rumors involving him going to Arizona in a multi-team deal involving Justin Upton, which was quickly eliminated after the Choo trade (Arizona getting SS Didi Gregorius). As they made moves for guys like Reynolds and Myers, I kept waiting for them to make another big trade. Instead they made a splash on the free agent market and signed Nick Swisher to be the leader in the clubhouse. Looking at this move it was obvious that the organizations plan was to “retool” rather than to “rebuild”. Their belief is that they have been strong for two straight years heading into the All-Star break, but fell flat down the stretch. With the additions of Tito and Swish in the clubhouse, they will have the leadership they desperately need to compete in September. While they get a plus for retooling, the Indians are still a year away from actually competing.
Detroit Tigers (A-)
Notable Additions: OF Torii Hunter, re-signed RHP Anibal Sanchez
Notable Losses: OF Delmon Young
Nobody other than the Dodgers had a simpler gameplan than the Tigers. The Tigers clearly were targeting a corner outfielder and a reliable starter. The Tigers were the first team in the league to make a big move when they overpaid for two years of Hunter. Hunter will fit in very nicely between Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera in the two-hole just like he did last year (between Trout and Pujols). Then they somewhat overpaid to get Sanchez back, although it was somewhat expected with him being one of the top free agent pitchers. Add in the fact that Victor Martinez is coming back from his ACL injury to be the DH and this lineup and rotation are arguably the best in the AL. My only concern is the Tigers belief in top prospect Bruce Rondon to be their closer during the season (nobody, not even Phil Coke, strikes me as a closer). They should have let go Jose Valverde (who’s still out there) but they should have signed Rafael Soriano. The fact that they overpaid to get Hunter and Sanchez may have hurt their space for a new closer. With that being said, the Tigers to me are clearly still the favorite in the AL.
Houston Astros (F)
Notable Additions: 1B/DH Carlos Pena, RHP Alex White, 1B Chris Carter, RHP Brad Peacock (non-100 P), LHP Erik Bedard (minor league deal)
Notable Losses: RHP Wilton Lopez, SS Jed Lowrie
Welcome Houston to the AL! This was a move that needed to be made in order to create a balance within Major League Baseball, putting five teams in every division. If anybody expects the Astros to pick up wins in their new league, they are absolutely wrong. In fact AL contenders and borderline teams may gain wins with this move. As for the moves themselves, there was not much this team could do since they are waiting for their top prospects to blossom. But since they didn’t spend it will be another rough year in Houston. For one, the Astros failed in getting a more quality DH. I would have went with Berkman or Hafner over Pena. They didn’t get more veteran pitching depth on one year or minor league deals, knowing that their young pitchers may struggle. Finally, their highest paid player is starting pitcher Bud Norris at $3.3 million which shows how abysmal this team will be. There is a good chance moving into a new league spending less than $5 million guaranteed, they break the Mets 120 loss record. Get ready to own the number one pick for a third straight year Astros fans, that’s all your going to be looking forward to.
Kansas City Royals (B+)
Notable Additions: RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis, RHP Ervin Santana
Notable Losses: OF Wil Myers (P), RHP Jake Odorizzi (P), LHP Mike Montgomery (non-100 P), RHP Joakim Soria
Last year, I thought that this team was going to make the jump from bad to surprise, borderline contender because of their young talent. Alas, their minor league pitching never really developed in the upper levels and Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas didn’t take the next step due to injuries and inconsistencies. But their biggest problem was the starting staff. While they had the offense and the pen (even without Soria), their rotation was horrible (not Rockies’ status but still pretty bad). GM Dayton Moore knew he needed to improve the starting staff and adding Santana and re-signing Jeremy Guthrie (the lone bright spot after a midseason trade) was the first step to solving that problem. Instead of trading guys like Billy Butler and Alex Gordon for pitching prospects, the Royals stunned everyone as they traded three promising prospects, including Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year Wil Myers to the Rays for “Big Game” James Shields and Wade Davis. Shields is the proven starter they have been looking for since trading Greinke, and Davis, after being an effective reliever last year, will return to the rotation where he will be solid contributor. While there will be some backlash from trading a top hitting prospect like Myers, this team is close to competing and they have a ton of young offensive weapons already. This move will hurt this team in the future if Davis falters and Shields walks after 2014. This rotation isn’t perfect and will have its flaws, but having a consistent arm like Shields will somewhat help alleviate those woes. I applaud Moore for being aggressive and realizing that the future starts this year. Depending what I see in spring training, this maybe 2013’s surprising team.
Los Angeles Angels (A-)
Notable Additions: OF Josh Hamilton, RHP Jason Vargas, RHP Tommy Hanson, RHP Ryan Madson, LHP Sean Burnett, RHP Joe Blanton
Notable Losses: OF Torii Hunter, RHP Dan Haren, RHP Zack Greinke, RHP Jordan Walden, 1B/DH Kendry Morales
Owner Arte Moreno is probably grinning right now. He knows that last year he stunned everyone by signing Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. He won that offseason. This year he might not have won it outright, but he once again used stealth to get what he wanted. This time he used it to land the biggest free agent on the market, signing Josh Hamilton. He not only has created one of the deadliest top of the orders in baseball (Mike Trout, Howie Kendrick?, Pujols, Hamilton) but he also created a nasty rivalry by ticking off Texas. Other than the obvious move, I loved what they did in the late innings adding Madson and Burnett to ease their late season bullpen woes. They downgraded within the rotation, and they should have looked into signing Lohse just like everyone else. However, considering they didn’t have much financial flexibility after signing Hamilton, it’s not all that bad. Vargas moves into a pitcher’s park, which is good considering he is a fly-ball pitcher (bad though in other parks), and Hanson, still young, has pretty good stuff to be an effective #3 when healthy. I want to give this team a full blown A, but I can’t because they could have saved a little money from slashing the deals of Blanton and Hamilton to get a better #2 or #3 starter.
Minnesota Twins (C+)
Notable Additions: RHP Vance Worley, Kevin Correia, RHP Mike Pelfrey, RHP Alex Meyer (P), RHP Trevor May (non-100 P)
Notable Losses: OF Ben Revere, OF Denard Span, RHP Scott Baker
The Twins know they have a good offense and that their farm system is filled with potential impact bats, but they lack starting pitching not only in the majors but the minors as well. Entering the offseason, the only guy who seemed like a sure thing for the starting rotation was Scott Diamond, with everyone else surrounded by question marks. Clearly they knew that they needed not only to sign low risk, high reward options but also use their depth in the outfield to improve their pitching. I knew Span would be the likely candidate to fall and while they got a pretty good prospect in Meyer, they lost in this trade for not asking for another prospect. Then they traded Revere in what got them a pretty good starter in Worley and a high ceiling pitcher in May. I’m a little worried about what they are going to do in center, but they are deep in their farm system. Right now Worley, Correia, and Diamond are locks for the rotation but they still have concerns at second and short. They are fine defensively there, but they won’t get much offense from those positions. They should have taken a chance on a Stephen Drew Another problem that hasn’t been tinkered with is the bullpen. This offense is ready to win now, but the pitching staff says wait two or three years.
New York Yankees (D)
Notable Additions: 3B Kevin Youkilis, DH Travis Hafner, re-signed RHP Hiroki Kuroda, LHP Andy Pettitte, OF Ichiro Suzuki, and RHP Mariano Rivera
Notable Losses: C Russell Martin, 1B/OF Nick Swisher, RHP Rafael Soriano, OF/DH Raul Ibanez
Yankees fans everywhere are probably scratching their heads saying what in the world is going on? When have the feared Bronx Bombers suddenly become cost cutters. In order to stay under the $189 million luxury tax in 2014, the Yankees let go Swisher, Martin, and Soriano, all major contributors to the Yanks’ success this past season. I do like the fact they kept Kuroda, Pettitte and Rivera on one-year deals and kept a resurgent Ichiro, who thrived after being dealt from Seattle. However this team wants to compete now, and as I see it there are still more questions marks than certainties. First off, everyone on this team is ancient and outside of Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia, injuries and decline will be a major concern. Along with the players that left, Alex Rodriguez will be out half the year with a hip injury, and probably won’t be back after the Miami PED report was released (what a moron). Bringing Youk in on a one-year deal was a good move, but like everyone else injuries are going to be a concern. They lost a lot of clubhouse leadership and personality in Martin, Ibanez, and Swisher (Jeter is the quiet leader, not vocal). They currently have no depth in the upper minors that will make an impact which is why I’m surprised they didn’t go after any big name free agents. They should have let Ichiro go and signed Hamilton, and went after either Sanchez or Lohse to be more reliable starting options. As it stands right now, they have an inconsistent and injury prone rotation. This whole trying to stay under the luxury tax thing is a bunch of hogwash. They own their own network and are one of the richest teams in all of sports. Bringing back the veterans was smart, there is nothing that improved the team and they may need to change their philosophy with the power they lost.
Oakland Athletics (B)
Notable Additions: SS Jed Lowrie, SS Hiroyuki Nakajima, OF Chris Young, C John Jaso
Notable Losses: OF Jonny Gomes, RHP Brandon McCarthy, SS Stephen Drew, SS Cliff Pennington, RHP A.J. Cole (P), 1B Chris Carter, RHP Brad Peacock (non-100 P)
Everybody was stunned last year by the remarkable run the A’s had, that some are calling for a Moneyball sequel. Nobody in the world could have predicted that the A’s jump of the powerhouse Rangers and Angels, to claim the AL West crown. And they did it with no stars, just a bunch of young players and gymrats. So in a season where a team overachieves, where possibly could the A’s improve their roster? Well the only two areas they needed to address were catcher and short. They were more concerned about short though, so after having success with Cespedes last year, they decided to go the international route again by signing Nakajima. However, just days ago they made a move to acquire Jed Lowrie from Houston which will make it interesting this spring who gets short and whether the other one gets bumped to second or third. Getting Jaso is a bit of an improvement over George Kottaras. My last thought is that they made a good move in acquiring Young to play center, but they now have to figure out what to do with Coco Crisp. Some say it is unlikely they will do it again, but they had a good offseason and should be able to compete for a postseason spot with their strong pitching; plus they should add wins with the Astros in their division.
Seattle Mariners (B-)
Notable Additions: 1B/OF Mike Morse, 1B/DH Kendry Morales, OF Jason Bay, OF/DH Raul Ibanez, LHP Joe Saunders, extend Felix Hernandez
Notable Losses: RHP Jason Vargas, C John Jaso
This was a team that I thought was ready to pounce on a big name hitter. The main reason for this was because Safeco Field’s fences were going to be moved in just enough to give their young hitters a better piece of mind. They were considered a dark horse team for Josh Hamilton because they had the need and the financial resources to make such a deal happen. They even had enough farm pieces to land a big bat in a trade (Billy Butler, Giancarlo Stanton). None of that happened. They nearly landed Justin Upton in what I thought was a fair swap, but Justin nixed the deal out of fear of playing in a pitcher’s park. So when most of their plans fell through, they went to plan C: acquire as many power bats as possible. By acquiring one year of Morse and Morales, their lineup is certainly better with two proven veteran bats, especially if young guys like Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager continue to improve. However, these moves have created a huge conundrum at the 1B and DH spots. First, 1B Justin Smoak needs to stop being dangled between AAA and the majors and needs to play everyday, and clearly Jesus Montero, while he can be a catcher, is more suited for the DH role. Right now Morse plays in a corner outfield spot, Morales is the DH and Smoak plays 1B. Top prospect Mike Zunino may steal the catching spot, which leaves Montero out of a job, even though his bat is valuable. So they either need to trade Smoak or Montero to complete their offseason. Their pitching staff took a hit when they traded Vargas for Morales, but they have a lot of major league ready pitching in the high minors. This is a team that will be competitive and like Oakland will gain more victories from playing the Astros, but I don’t really understand why they got guys who play positions they already had filled.
Tampa Bay Rays (B)
Notable Additions: SS Yunel Escobar, 2B Kelly Johnson, 1B James Loney, OF Wil Myers (P), Jake Odorizzi (P), LHP Mike Montgomery (non-100 P)
Notable Losses: RHP James Shields, RHP Wade Davis, B.J. Upton, INF Jeff Keppinger, 1B/DH Carlos Pena
This is has been my favorite organization to watch (other than the Phillies) over the last five years. I love how this organization wins, allow players to walk, develops talent, and wins some more. They have continued that philosophy this offseason. They were never going to pay B.J. the money he got from Atlanta and while Keppinger was valuable, they could afford to let him walk because they have another guy like him in Ben Zobrist. Now to the real moves. First, I’m really excited that they signed Evan Longoria to an extension through 2022. He is more than deserving of being the team’s first lifetime player and he is on a team friendly contract until 2017 when the extension kicks in. I like the low risk, high reward moves they made around the infield, adding Loney at first, Johnson at second, and Escobar at short. They all provide strong defense, an important philosophy to the Joe Maddon style, and there is a good chance that at least one or two have bounce-back campaigns. The move that I really like is the James Shields trade. They knew they had the best available pitcher on the trade market and waited it out until a team bit and gave them an unreal package. The Rays added a future impact bat in Myers and a good arm in Odorizzi. Both of these guys could have their impacts felt this season. But the sleeper in this deal is Mike Montgomery, the Royals top pitching prospect over the last couple of years who has fallen off dramatically due to his shaky command and confidence. The Rays will be able to fix that though because they have been top notch when it comes to developing pitchers. While the Rays took a hit in their pitching this year by losing Shields, they more than made up for it by making a move for the future.
Texas Rangers (C)
Notable Additions: C A.J. Pierzynski, 1B/OF Lance Berkman, RHP Joakim Soria, RHP Jason Frasor
Notable Losses: OF Josh Hamilton, INF Michael Young, C/1B Mike Napoli, RHP Ryan Dempster, RHP Mike Adams
The Rangers entered 2012 as the favorites to win the AL West and contend for a third straight AL crown. They were right, up until the last two weeks when they coughed up a five game lead to the A’s and lost in the Wild Card game to the Orioles. The expectation going into the offseason was that the Rangers were going to be big players in the free agent and trade markets. They had two Plan A’s essentially as they entered the Winter Meetings in Nashville. The first was to sign Zack Greinke and trade for Justin Upton in a multi-team trade. The second was to bring back Hamilton and trade for either Dickey or Shields. They failed miserably on both ends. Both big name free agents went to Hollywood, and Greinke as expected signed with the Dodgers, and Hamilton, who more than likely felt scorned by the fact he wasn’t signed before the season, left for the division rival Angels. They watched as Shields and Dickey were also traded away to different teams. And when they had a chance to salvage their plans by acquiring Upton, they continued to refuse to put Elvis Andrus in any deal. I would have done an Upton for Andrus trade knowing that they have Jurickson Profar major league ready. To top all of it off, they allowed two clubhouse leaders to leave when they traded Young to Philly and let Napoli walk to Boston. They still have a good team, but most of these players leaving is well-deserving of an F. However, they did a nice job of salvaging their offseason. Pierzynski had a career year and will be a durable and reliable catcher for Texas. Berkman will be able to better use his offense by staying off the field and play the role of the DH. Their bullpen is just as deep as it was last year and if Joe Nathan was great coming off surgery, Soria will be a huge score for them as the setup man. Their rotation will be tested with no veteran leader to start the year (Colby Lewis out 1st half), but they should survive with Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish. In reality, they are in a bit of a transition and while they will without question be in postseason contention, they will miss Hamilton’s production a lot.
Toronto Blue Jays (A)
Notable Additions: hired John Gibbons as manager, SS Jose Reyes, RHP R.A. Dickey, RHP Josh Johnson, RHP Mark Buehrle, INF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, OF Melky Cabrera
Notable Losses: traded the rights of manager John Farrell to Boston, SS Yunel Escobar, INF Andeiny Hachavarria, RHP Henderson Alvarez, OF Jake Marisnick (P), RHP Justin Nicolino (P), C Travis D’Arnaud (P), RHP Noah Snydergaard (P), 2B Kelly Johnson, RHP Carlos Villanueva, RHP Jason Frasor
If you just looked at this list, no team probably added and subtracted more players of significance from the majors and minors than Toronto. The Jays realize that the Red Sox and Yankees are in transition and the Rays and Orioles are staying as is (or sticking to their money saving philosophies of winning), so now was the opportunity to pounce. The Jays started the offseason by trading their manager to a division rival, then before even hiring John Gibbons as their manager (his 2nd stint, little puzzled of that), they would make the shocker of the offseason by gutting the Marlins clean. What they got were two speedsters playing up the middle (Reyes and Bonifacio) and two very capable starters (Josh Johnson and Buehrle) and only had to give up young players who are years away from contributing. They then mysteriously gave Melky a two-year contract, but based on how deep their offense is, he will be buried in the lineup until he proves that he can hit without PEDs. As if their team couldn’t get any better, they decided that trading the top catching prospect was worth the price of a Cy Young knuckleballer in R.A. Dickey. Was three years of Dickey worth trading a premier catching prospect and another strong young arm? Five years from now no, but we are talking about today. They traded a lot of their farm system in order to compete now, but the moves they made allow them to compete for the next two to three years. They improved their offense, defense, and pitching. If they have failed to do one thing, it’s bringing in another bullpen arm, particularly one who can pitch in the 8th or 9th inning. But they have improved so much, that even that seems like such a small worry at the moment. The Jays on paper should win the AL East, but paper is paper. They now got to go out there and prove it.
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