Offseason hasn't been kind to Astros, Orioles, Cubs
Posted: Tuesday January 18, 2005 11:29AM; Updated: Wednesday January 19, 2005 11:09AM
The Astros have lost big bats Jeff Kent (left) and Carlos Beltran.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Over the weekend, I was navigating Manhattan's version of hell -- Times Square -- with a friend when we spotted a Yankees memorabilia store, one that was already selling Big Unit pinstriped jerseys alongside A-Rod unis (the latter, by the way, going for half price). My friend is as well-versed in baseball as I am in Wagner operas, but as I scoured the store's racks for a cop-out birthday gift for an annoying Yankees fan, she turned to me and asked a surprisingly well-informed baseball question: "Doesn't spring training start in a month?"
In 28 days, 3 hours, 40 minutes, and 24 seconds from this writing, to be exact. Wasn't it just the other day when Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore were sucking face on the Busch Stadium grass in the post-World Series hysteria in St. Louis? Indeed, spring training is just around the corner, and that should be scary news for a handful of teams that this winter have either whiffed in their free-agent courtships like they're Adam Dunn or have been as silent as a Charlie Chaplin movie. The winter's biggest losers:
1. Astros Houston went all in with Carlos Beltran and ended up looking as smart as Chevy Chase on Celebrity Poker Showdown. Much of the Astros' fate now rests on the broad shoulders of Roger Clemens, who still hasn't said whether he'll be back. But for a team that's already lost the best all-around position player in the NL (Beltran), an All-Star second baseman (Jeff Kent), and a top of the rotation starter (Wade Miller), the damage is done. Don't count out a team that has Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte anchoring its rotation and has a weapon like Brad Lidge closing games, but the Astros are a Texas-sized longshot to improve on their '04 finish.
2. Orioles Last season the front office couldn't stop talking about how much money they'd have to spend this offseason, even after their spending spree last winter -- $121.5 million to net Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, Rafael Palmeiro and Sidney Ponson -- but Baltimore has pursued Carl Pavano, Carlos Delgado and Richie Sexson only halfheartedly. The Orioles' front office is bellyaching that the new D.C. team has clouded the club's financial future. But is that just a lame excuse to justify their inability to make a single significant upgrade? The Orioles might have a hard time matching last year's 78 wins.
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3. American League pitching Heavyweights Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Pedro Martinez have left for the senior circuit. Besides Randy Johnson, the biggest names migrating to the AL are Carl Pavano and Matt Clement. Presenting your 2005 Cy Young winner: Sidney Ponson!
4. Cubs As I see it, Chicago had two goals this winter: 1) Get rid of Sammy Sosa and 2) Strengthen a bad bullpen. Cubs GM Jim Hendry failed to do both. It shouldn't be any surprise that the Cubs haven't found any takers for Sosa, who will be a massive distraction throughout the summer. That they were unable to upgrade their bullpen should raise eyebrows. LaTroy Hawkins and Joe Borowski remain their best options to close games, and until Hendry nabs a bona fide closer, his Cubs are good enough to win the NL Central but not good enough to reach the World Series.
5. AL Central Baseball's worst division may have gotten worse. No team in the AL Central did anything to make them even close to a World Series contender. The Twins, who lost their third baseman (Corey Koskie) and shortstop (Cristian Guzman), and Royals, losers of 104 games in '04, haven't made a notable addition. The White Sox have been the most active team but aren't necessarily improved. The additions of Jermaine Dye and A.J. Pierzynski won't make up for the loss of Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Lee, and the trade with the Brewers that brought Scott Podsednik and relief pitcher Luis Vizcaino for Lee was barely even. The Tigers talked big at the offseason's outset but have only Troy Percival to show for this winter. The Indians' single big signing? Kevin Millwood to a steep one-year, $7 million deal. In a winter in which Russ Ortiz gets four years and $33 million, this acquisition might seem defensible, but compare Millwood's signing to the Red Sox's one-year, $1.5 million deal for Wade Miller, and it suddenly isn't. Early prediction: The Indians still take this division by at least three games.