Here it is January already! And, as usual, there has been a lot of Hot Stove activity, and, well, every year around this time I like to take a look at some of the moves teams have made, and try to pick winners and losers.
So, in no particular order, and by virtue of whether something struck me or not, here we go, starting with those local Oakland Athletics, probably the team I know the best. Now, I do have to say I already wrote that I feel frustrated that Billy Beane--for whom I have a lot of respect--seems to keep retooling his core. That is, every couple of years he cleans house and grabs a bunch of new prospects, hoping that the collection will coalesce around a contender, generally with no success. So, now Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey, and Gio Gonzalez are all gone, although A.J. Cole, Derek Norris, and now Josh Reddick are part of the mix. Oakland has a lot of potentially good arms and hitters with Michael Choice, Grant Green, Collin Cowgill, and Norris, along with Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook, but once again, this means they will not compete in 2012. Losers.
On the other hand, to the south of the Bay Area, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim made the big score with Albert Pujols. Then they added starting pitcher C.J. Wilson, while jettisoning Joel Pineiro, and also picked up backstop Chris Iannetta. The Angels also extended the contract of Howie Kendrick who is on the verge of showing some offensive dominance at the keystone spot. Any team directed by Mike Scioscia has to be taken seriously. But, this team has to have Ron Washington and his two-time AL West--and league--champs a little nervous. Winners.
So, speaking of those Rangers, they did indeed lose on of their top arms in Wilson, but "Corps de Wash" has a plan. They signed closer Joe Nathan, which theoretically moves Neftali Feliz to the rotation, where hopefully like Alexi Ogando last year, they hope to add an ace arm. The other really noteworthy move the Rangers seem to have made was attaining the rights to import Yu Darvish. The Angels might have added more, but that was mainly to catch up with the offense Texas has developed. In fact another import, Leonys Martin now looms meaning Texas will be just as formidable in 2012 at nothing near the cost of Pujols. Winners.
Well, I guess since Diane lives in California, the least we can do is look at the team she watched as a youngster, that being the Cubs on the North Side of Chicago. Probably the best thing the team can boast is the acquisition of new GM, Theo Epstein. They lost Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Pena, and Kerry Wood, none of whom is irreplacable, although in adding arms like Andy Sonnnstine and Chris Volstad in lieu of Carlos Zambrano is probably not going to help Theo or the bottom line. On the other hand, adding Anthony Rizzo, in conjunction with Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro gives the team as promising an infield as anyone in the majors. Unfortunately, like Oakland, Theo might be building, but whatever comes to fruition, will not be at Wrigley this year. Losers.
If the big winners in the American League was the Angels, then the sweepstakes in the National League goes to the now Miami Marlins, who posed the formidable left side of an infield with Jose Reyes at short, moving Hanley Ramirez to third. The team also added top flight closer Heath Bell to pick up the slack behind Zambrano, and uber-steady Mark Buehrle, who is always under-rated. This is a much improved team, moving into a new stadium, with a new name. Not to mention the presence of Mike Stanton, maybe the best young slugger in baseball. Now both Florida teams are dangerous. Winners.
Which means those Tampa Rays, who have had such a glut of terrific prospects coming up through their system. This year, the biggest move was retaining the services of James Shields and Kyle Farnsworth, as Tampa looks to Jeremy Hellickson and now Matt Moore to work with David Price and give the Rays the best starting four in the American League. Not much else has changed save Desmond Jennings will become a player, but this is still a very good home grown team. Unfortunately they also play in the toughest and most expensive division in baseball. Winners.
So, now we might as well look at the opponents of the Rays in the AL East, starting with the Bronx Bombers themselves. The biggest deal the Yanks managed was re-upping their ace, C.C. Sabathia. The team also kept the rights to Freddy Garcia, but otherwise very few changes to the team, although a squad with the likes of Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and now Jesus Montero does not really need to do much. The big question comes from the back end of the Yankees rotation, and questions around that, but for the most part, the Yankees held it steady by doing very little. And, they will indeed come up with a starter when they need one. If they need one. Winners.
Which brings us to the Red Sox, who lost their GM, and let go of their closer in Jonathan Papelbon. Boston did add AnDrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Mark Melancon, and Kelly Shoppach, while letting go of the potentially valuable Reddick. True injuries played a big part in the Boston struggles last year, but simply being healthy in 2012 will not make that much of a difference. I think they would have done better with Reddick and Papelbon. Losers.
The Royals have the best core of youngsters on the planet, including an infield of Eric Hosmer, Johnny Giavotella, and Mike Moustakas. The Royals capitalized on the good season of Melky Cabrera, turning him into Jonathan Sanchez, and opening space now for Lorenzo Cain, who joins Jeff Francoeur and Alex Gordon in the outfield. These guys play in a weak division to boot, so watch them get better and own the division for the next five years. Winners.
Finally, probably no team suffered what appears to be a bigger off season loss than the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals, who bade farewell to Hall of Fame bound Albert Pujols. The team did add outfielder Carlos Beltran, who might still have some stick, but if he plays defense as he did in San Francisco end of last summer, is worthless with a glove. Ideally, between Beltran and the somewhat resurgent--mostly based upon age--Lance Berkman, and the team can offset 66% of the Pujols loss. Add in giving more playing time to Allen Craig and Jon Jay, maybe a contribution for Rule 5 selection Erik Komatsu, and some injury free time from Rafael Furcal and the St. Louis offense should be ok. Add in the return of Adam Wainwright and the team again becomes dangerous. Winners.