Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hot Stove League midseason winners/losers

By Rick Morris

Roughly halfway through baseball's vaunted free agency/trading period, let's take a look at your winners and losers to this point (and to refresh your memory about who's gone where, check all the transactions here).


1. New York Yankees. No duh, right? The hilarity of the situation is, though, that even with CC, AJ, MarkTex and NickSwish in the fold, the team is still caught in a three-way mosh pit of excellence in the AL East. The Red Sox should still try to make some upgrades, but they're still right there and for anyone waiting for a Tampa Bay relapse, picture this: Scott Kazmir and David Price at the front of the rotation. With apologies to the Angels, these are definitely the three best teams in the AL at the moment; two will make the playoffs and one must sit home. How'd you like to be answering to little Hankie Steinbrenner the first Monday in October if all of these moves aren't enough?

2. New York Mets. This team is still constituted in a strange manner, a bit short on chemistry and clutch play -- as the last two Septembers have demonstrated. But realistically, the KRod/Putz additions will shortly erase memories of the horrid bullpens of recent times and will create a lot of games that are over after seven innings. Another bat or starting arm would be nice in terms of solidifying a playoff spot, but for now, the Metropolitans have said to Philly "Game on!"

3. Oakland. It's not really clear what Billy Beane intends with the shocking Matt Holliday acquisition. He gave up a lot to get him and he's too shrewd to do that just for one year, so he must think that he can shuffle enough payroll to keep him. The As are slotted here on the assumption that Beane did not miscalculate and make a horrible mistake by compromising an excellent young talent base for a short-term boost. In a sane universe, he'd have been named NL MVP in 2007 and his home-road splits aren't as bad as the haters act like they are (in reality, few are as bad these days in the age of the humidor). With a great all-around offensive game and a glove to match, he's a legitimate difference-maker and if Oakland can shock the world by getting past the Angels or one of the AL East beasts for the wild card, he'll be a huge part of the reason why.

4. St. Louis. This team just keeps finding a way to compete year after year even when they're not completely on their game. Witness the 2006 World Series title after an 83-win regular season or last year's amazing run of contention throughout the year with paper-thin starting pitching in an alleged rebuilding year. The addition of Khalil Greene is a shrewd move, bringing to mind a similar trade for an exciting shortstop about three decades ago ...

5. Kansas City. The team perhaps most likely to be the "Tampa Bay of '09" is taking advantage of the parity in the AL Central by adding Mike Jacobs to their talented young core. Presumably, they're not done yet tinkering around the margins. Are they good enough to win the pennant like the Rays? Of course not, but stealing a garbage division with about 82 wins is not out of the question.

Honorable Mention

Cleveland. You've got to like the bullpen now, especially with the Kerry Wood signing. And the conventional wisdom that the team needs another starting pitcher is not necessarily true with the depth of options available internally, but the team stupidly will not admit that they need at least one more legitimate bat -- make that two if their "wish upon a star Travis Hafner redemption scenario" doesn't materialize.


1. Toronto. How's that decision to gamble big-time on an injury-prone AJ Burnett working out for you, Jays Fan? The guy opted out of the contract early after Toronto had overpaid him for underachieving results. Nice! With an Oriole team quietly building a nice core and three absolute monsters ahead of them in the standings, only realignment could put this team in the playoffs before 2015.

2. L.A. Angels. They'll get somebody to replace KRod, and he may have been overpaid based on the mileage he accrued last year (keeping in mind that you pay players based on anticipated production rather than what they've done in the past). But they have to anticipate a ninth-inning falloff, plus they'll probably lose Garret Anderson. They may well be able to fill holes with young talent, but for a team that has to prove it can get it done in October, surmounting the AL East teams (sorry to say it, but especially Boston) could be difficult without some of their proven stars.

3. Colorado. Just a year removed from the World Series, the full-on rebuilding is underway. Holliday brought in a nice haul, so the team will be OK in the medium-term, but forget contending for at least the next two years.

4. Seattle. The talent offloading continues, but the Mariners couldn't be any worse with young talent next year. That doesn't mean they'll even be within a Tiger Woods driver shot of .500, though.

5. San Francisco. This slotting may seem a bit surprising, but the decision to spend money on Randy Johnson rather than much-needed bats will come back to bite them. The rotation is anchored by the Cy Young winner and could be above-average if the Unit has enough left in the tank and Matt Cain starts to live up to his potential in earnest, but they're going to lose many more 1-0 games than they'll win.

Now, for the teams who could still be winners with a strong Hot Stove second half:

^ Boston. The offense isn't as explosive as it was in the World Series title years, and that will probably be the focus of any remaining moves. With Tex out of the mix, they aren't likely to manage a blockbuster (except through a big trade), but they can add to their lineup strength. The Brad Penny gamble is a good one for a rotation that should be solid enough to do anything you could expect.

^ Tampa Bay. It's been apparent since last summer that the team could benefit from one more bat, preferably a big bopper at DH. If they get one, they're as likely to make the playoffs as either of their big-spending rivals ... but will they finally stick their necks out to get it done?

^ Washington. Supposedly, they're now willing to spend. As bad as they've been, even respectability won't come cheap, but in MLB these days, big payrolls deployed wisely put you right in the hunt.

And here's the teams who will be losers if they don't turn it around before spring training:

^ Arizona. They still need offensive firepower to bridge the gap until their youngsters become regular All-Stars.

^ Cincinnati. Young talent is great, and their core of franchise players might be Top 5 in the entire game. You have to augment with outside talent, though, if you're going to take that next step and be a playoff contender.

^ L.A. Dodgers. With the loss of Manny, they're in the same boat as Arizona. Their AA team at Jacksonville has had lights-out talent the past few years, but Joe Torre needs some vets who can mash right now.

^ Milwaukee. CC's gone and Ben Sheets might well follow. They're in danger of becoming the Bizarro World Giants, a team that is forced to try to win 9-8 games.

^ Philadelphia. They were the champs in '08, but they must keep striving to improve; unlike the Red Sox championship teams of recent years, they can't go into the next season as the favorites without continued upgrades. Another reliable starting pitcher and a legit third baseman would mark them as the team to beat in the NL this year -- and potentially, in all of baseball.

No comments: