MLB Offseason Grades
It is customary for the New York Yankees to win the offseason, but atypical for them to reload without outbidding the competition.
Marquee free agent Robinson Cano left the Bronx when the Seattle Mariners coughed up $240 million over the next 10 years. The All-Star second baseman leaves a vacancy in the middle of the infield, but the Yankees acted to address the middle of the lineup.
For a total of $238 million, general manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees brought in outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and catcher Brian McCann.
Stars continue to relocate. The Detroit Tigers traded All-Star slugger Prince Fielder and could be eyeing another big move. The Cardinals tweaked their roster without breaking the bank or tapping into their vault of young power pitchers.
Cashman acknowledged he has work to be done 60 days before teams begin reporting for spring training -- many of his peers have much more to accomplish before rosters are set.
The World Series champion Red Sox remain budget and chemistry minded. Without Ellsbury at the top of their lineup, did Boston lose ground to its bitter rivals?
In an offseason mid-term report card of sorts, we're grading all 30 clubs for their roster-building work to date.
The Sports Xchange's major league baseball correspondents rate their teams' offseason performance to date:
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
Arizona Diamondbacks: B -- Left fielder Mark Trumbo is a definite power upgrade for a team that hit only 130 homers last season. Left-hander Tyler Skaggs, who went to the Los Angeles Angels in the three-team deal, would have been a long-shot to make the D-backs' starting rotation after falling behind top prospect Archie Bradley in the pecking order. With Trumbo, the D-backs had an excess of outfielders, freeing themselves to send center fielder Adam Eaton to the Chicago White Sox and keeping A.J. Pollock in center.
Colorado Rockies: B -- They signed free agent LaTroy Hawkins to be the closer, with Rex Brothers, who moved into that role last year when Rafael Betancourt was injured, an option if Hawkins falters. Hawkins, who turns 41 in Dec. 21, pitched for the Rockies in 2007, the only year they made the World Series. The Rockies didn't get much for center fielder Dexter Fowler, trading him to the Astros for right-hander Jordan Lyles, a back-end starter or, perhaps, multiple-inning reliever, and reserve OF Brandon Barnes. But money saved in that deal went toward signing free agent 1B Justin Morneau to a two-year contract. He brings a veteran presence, and the Rockies believe he has something left, despite declining power numbers. Morneau replaces retired franchise icon Todd Helton, whose production waned in recent seasons. If he can stay healthy, which hasn't been the case in recent seasons, LHP Brett Anderson, acquired from Oakland, should be a major addition to the rotation. He'll pitch at age 26 in 2014 and is under Rockies control for two seasons.
Los Angeles Dodgers: B -- After reaching the NL Championship Series in 2013, the Dodgers so far resisted the urge to make any big alterations to the team that won the NL West and went on a historic 50-game run in midseason (42-8). Though there was speculation of a trade for Tampa Bay Rays right-hander David Price or moving an outfielder, the Dodgers instead shored up their rotation with the addition of right-hander Dan Haren and convinced right-handed reliever Brian Wilson to return in a setup role. They still must find a third baseman and sort out their infield options with second base Mark Ellis a free agent and Cuban newcomer Alexander Guerrero an unknown factor.
San Diego Padres: C-minus -- Trading for outfielder Seth Smith gives the Padres the left-handed bat they need. But he's also another third or fourth outfielder on a team packed with the genre. There had been hope that the Padres would trade for a front-line outfielder. With the addition of Josh Johnson, the Padres added depth to a rotation that has health issues -- making Johnson a perfect fit. Some of the Padres' surplus of young starters could find their way to a bullpen that at the moment has only six members and two minor league candidates. GM Josh Brynes still has much work to complete.
San Francisco Giants: B -- The Giants added right-hander Tim Hudson and left fielder Michael Morse, but those weren't the team's only transactions. The front office also re-signed four San Francisco players who were due to be free agents, including right fielder Hunter Pence, right-handers Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong, and left-handed reliever Javier Lopez, committing $172 million to six players, including three starting pitchers (Hudson, Lincecum and Vogelsong). The roster is virtually set, give or take a reliever or utility man. The Giants weren't looking to make a roster overhaul, but they did fill two spots by acquiring Hudson and Morse.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Chicago Cubs: C -- The Cubs are in the midst of a quiet offseason, spending most of their energy hiring manager Rick Renteria and a largely new coaching staff. Team president Theo Epstein warned against hoping for a big splash in the trade or free agent markets, and there was barely a ripple. Most fans profess to be on board with Epstein's rebuilding plan, but patience is starting to wear a bit thin, and the offseason inactivity is doing little to please the fans.
Cincinnati Reds: C -- The Reds addressed their bench by signing outfielder/second baseman Skip Schumaker and catcher Brayan Pena. They also re-signed left-hander Manny Parra. However, they did nothing to address the impending loss of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. They reportedly were near a deal that would have sent second baseman Brandon Phillips to the New York Yankees for Brett Gardner before the Yankees rejected the trade. Gardner is name to watch. He would fill the Reds' center field and leadoff holes.
Milwaukee Brewers: D -- The Brewers have yet to fill their biggest void at first base. They made a bid to bring back Corey Hart, but Seattle made a much bigger offer, and Hart bolted to the Mariners. The only move of note for the Brewers thus far was trading right fielder Norichika Aoki to Kansas City for left-hander Will Smith. That deal did allow for the move of left fielder Ryan Braun to right field, opening left field for young slugger Khris Davis. General manager Doug Melvin is still looking for some experienced arms for the bullpen.
Pittsburgh Pirates: D -- The Pirates haven't done much to build on the momentum of having their first winning season and making their first playoff trip since 1992. The only move besides signing right-hander Edinson Volquez and infielder Clint Barmes as free agents were three minor trades in which the Pirates reacquired right-hander Duke Welker from the Minnesota Twins, picked up catcher Chris Stewart from the New York Yankees and obtained right-hander Miles Mikolas and outfielder Jaff Decker from the San Diego Padres.
St. Louis Cardinals: A -- The Cardinals added a shortstop, Jhonny Peralta, and a center fielder, Peter Bourjos, without disturbing their exceedingly deep young pitching reservoir. They missed out on re-signing free agent outfielder Carlos Beltran, who joined the Yankees, but they have outstanding young talent in outfielder/first baseman Allen Craig, first baseman Matt Adams and outfielder Oscar Taveras.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Atlanta Braves: D -- The only thing the Braves got done so far is a deal for a new stadium in suburban Cobb County, and even that is highly controversial. The team expected to lose free agent catcher Brian McCann but hoped to retain veteran right-hander Tim Hudson. Instead, Hudson signed a two-year deal with the San Francisco Giants worth $23 million. The Braves have financial constrains because of an outdated TV deal, which is why the revenue from a new ballpark is needed. For now, though, they have to keep the payroll under $100 million. "There is still a little sticker shock at what guys are getting," general manager Frank Wren said about the cost of free agent pitching this winter.
Miami Marlins: B-minus -- Signing catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, first baseman Garrett Jones and second baseman Rafael Furcal can only provide a big boost for an offense that ranked near the bottom of the majors last year. However, there is no guarantee those players will make a difference. Still, any moves that bring in established veterans can only be apples for a team that finished in last place in 2013. Miami traded for right-handed reliever Carter Capps, sending underachieving first baseman Logan Morrison to Seattle. Justin Ruggiano was traded to the Cubs for Brian Bogusevic in a swap of outfielders.
New York Mets: B-plus -- Outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young give the Mets the sort of power outfield they have not boasted in years, while right-hander Bartolo Colon adds legitimacy to the rotation. However, the Mets have unfinished business that their $85 million payroll may prevent them from finishing. Only if they manage to trade first baseman Ike Davis and acquire a shortstop upgrade would the offseason enter A-plus territory.
Philadelphia Phillies: C-minus -- The Phillies didn't need to hand out any additional $100 million contracts with left-handers Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee and first baseman Ryan Howard already making big bucks, but after missing the playoffs for the second straight year, they did need real upgrades in several areas. Re-signing catcher Carlos Ruiz is fine, since the team needs a right-handed bat and a calming, veteran influence behind the plate. However, an aging, oft-injured offense probably needed something more than Marlon Byrd, who was out of baseball a year ago. And the retirement of former workhorse right-hander Roy Halladay probably called for something more than taking a chance on right-hander Roberto Hernandez, the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. indicated those were likely the last significant moves he would make this winter.
Washington Nationals: A-minus -- By acquiring No. 4 starter Doug Fister without giving up much in return, and adding left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins and fourth outfielder Nate McLouth, the Nationals directly answered three top weaknesses on a team that failed to meet expectations in 2013. The club might have overpaid for McLouth at two years and $10.75 million, however. The Nationals still need to look for a backup catcher and a fifth starter, but those solutions will most likely come from within. Getting shortstop Ian Desmond and right-hander Jordan Zimmermann signed to contract extensions remain the goal as the offseason winds down.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Houston Astros: B -- Considering their payroll last year was around $14 million, the Astros have made significant improvements with the addition of veteran starter Scott Feldman and veteran reliever Chad Qualls. The Astros desperately needed to address the rotation and the bullpen, and Qualls along with right-hander Anthony Bass should drastically improve a bullpen that was lost in the two months of the season. Feldman is a quality veteran leader for a rotation that lacked veteran leadership in 2013. Outfielder Dexter Fowler gives the team a true leadoff hitter for the first time since center fielder Michael Bourn was traded in July 2011.
Los Angeles Angels: B -- The Angels filled all of their holes, but the jury is still out as to how effectively they filled them. Left-handed starters Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago could be talented, cost-controlled pitchers, or each could be a bust. Third baseman David Freese is coming off an injury-marred season in which he didn't perform. If the Angels can get sign a pitcher such as Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka or former Texas Ranger right-hander Matt Garza, their offseason suddenly would become much better.
Oakland Athletics: B -- Some significant departures, with the A's losing two All-Stars in right-handers Bartolo Colon and Grant Balfour, plus Opening Day starter Brett Anderson, but right-hander Jim Johnson replaces Balfour and lefty Scott Kazmir -- who was pitching in independent ball in 2012 -- takes Colon's spot in the rotation. Oakland could still use more power in the lineup to go along with outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and first baseman Brandon Moss, but the low-payroll A's look as if they might be finished for the winter.
Seattle Mariners: B-plus -- Signing second baseman Robinson Cano was as big a move as any team made in free agency, and it went against the Mariners' typical offseason grade. What made almost as big a ripple in the fan base was the decision for team president Chuck Armstrong to step down at the end of the season. Armstrong had become a symbol of the Mariners' decade-long suffering, and a recent Seattle Times story on the dysfunction of the front office didn't help his reputation. That story took some of the shine off the Cano signing, but in between the lines this franchise can point to its offseason as a success. Things started with a collective yawn when the Mariners added infielder Willie Bloomquist, but they woke up the entire American League with the Cano signing a few days later. Getting first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart and first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison could turn out to be productive under-the-wire moves.
Texas Rangers: B-plus -- The acquisition of first baseman Prince Fielder addressed the club's most glaring a need: a power left-handed bat for the middle of the order. And it was the splashiest. It was hardly the only move. The Rangers have spent the offseason fortifying their core by adding depth to the bullpen (re-signing right-hander Jason Frasor) and the rotation (re-signing righty Colby Lewis), putting together a low-cost catching tandem of Geovany Soto and J.P. Arencibia and adding a potential long-term answer for left field (trading for Michael Choice). There is more that can be done. Most notably, the Rangers could use another bat. But they have put themselves in position to pick and choose the best fit/value on the market. It's been a strong offseason.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Chicago White Sox: C -- The Sox have gotten younger, acquiring outfielder Adam Eaton and signing first baseman Jose Abreu, but that doesn't mean they've gotten better. Then again, 63-99 last season means they can really only go up. The team feels that its strength moving forward is still pitching, and it's built around Chris Sale, followed by Jose Quintana and John Danks. But unless players like Adam Dunn, Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo can have bounce-back years, the changes made to the lineup won't mean much.
Cleveland Indians: C -- The Indians have been relatively quiet in the offseason. Through the end of the winter meetings, their only significant addition was free agent outfielder David Murphy. However, with the losses through free agency or release of right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, left-hander Scott Kazmir, right-hander Joe Smith and closer Chris Perez, the team is expected to add some pitching before the start of spring training.
Detroit Tigers: B-plus -- Getting out from under first baseman Prince Fielder's contract reduced the Tigers' power potential, but the team's other changes, including getting second baseman Ian Kinsler from the Texas Rangers in the trade, improved the overall infield defense and club speed. Signing right-hander Joe Nathan filled the hole at closer, and right-hander Joba Chamberlain will provide veteran backend help. Replacing traded right-hander Doug Fister with young left-hander Drew Smyly is fine except for the hole it left in the back end of the bullpen; whether lefty Ian Kroll, part of the deal with Washington for Fister, can handle the load remains to be seen. The money Detroit saved by dealing Fielder isn't nearly enough to sign right-hander Max Scherzer, the American League Cy Young Award winner who can be a free agent after the next season, but it could help.
Kansas City Royals: C-plus -- The Royals signed left-hander Justin Vargas to supplement their rotation and traded for outfielder Norichika Aoki, who should fill the void as a bona fide leadoff hitter. But the Royals fell short in landing free-agent outfielder Carlos Beltran, who went to the Yankees. They would like to add another proven starter to the rotation and where they go, if anywhere, for a second baseman remains a question.
Minnesota Twins: B -- The signings of right-handers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, though not earthshaking, provide an immediate upgrade to Minnesota moribund rotation. The Twins have more to do, which includes finding a leadoff hitter, a veteran catcher and additional power for the middle of the lineup.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Baltimore Orioles: C -- Dealing right-hander Jim Johnson before the deadline to tender him a contract came down to the wire and the club got little in return for its closer, but the deal gave the Orioles some financial breathing room. But where that financial breathing room helps wasn't immediately clear. The Orioles won't offer a big deal for a starter, and it seems they're comfortable shopping for bargain basement deals.
Boston Red Sox: B-plus -- By re-signing first baseman Mike Napoli to a two-year contract, the Red Sox were able to retain an important middle-of-the-order bat. And they believe they may have upgraded behind the plate, replacing catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia with grizzled veteran A.J. Pierzynski. But the loss of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury will be felt, if not defensively than definitely at the top of the order. The Sox are hoping either right fielder Shane Victorino or left fielder Daniel Nava is able to take over in the leadoff spot, which had been primarily Ellsbury's domain since 2008.
New York Yankees: B -- The Yankees were uncharacteristically outbid for All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano, losing him to the Mariners for a 10-year deal worth $240 million. The Bombers still must replace Cano. They used that money to overhaul their lineup with the additions of catcher Brian McCann and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. The Yanks also re-signed right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal, but they still were looking to add another starting pitcher and relief help following the retirement of closer Mariano Rivera.
Tampa Bay Rays: C -- Incomplete would be more appropriate, as the Rays left the winter meetings without a first baseman and no resolution to trade talks involving ace David Price. They have added two experienced bullpen arms in Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo but technically haven't replaced free-agent closer Fernando Rodney. They did pick up a frontline catcher in Ryan Hanigan.
Toronto Blue Jays: D -- That rating might be good news considering last offseason it would have been an A and look how that turned out, last in the American League East. There remain too many loose ends and too many ifs at this stage concerning a starting pitcher and second baseman. But signing catcher Dioner Navarro filled a glaring need.