Posted: Thursday January 18, 2007 10:35AM; Updated: Thursday January 18, 2007 5:41PM
The Royals broke the bank for mediocre starter Gil Meche.
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Kansas City Royals The word on Gil Meche was that he wanted to go to a good team so he could blend in and not have to be the ace. Yet he winds up in K.C. for $55 million. With that sort of contract, he'll be blending in like Milton Bradley at a debutante ball. Until someone explains this one to me, my suspicion is that it was union-busting cheapskate David Glass' way of showing the others he is willing to spend (waste) some of the revenue-sharing loot after pocketing it the past few winters. I like the trade for Brian Bannister better than the one for Gload. Grade: C-.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Owner Arte Moreno promised something "major,'' but the combination of out-of-this-world prices, a lack of big-time free agents and the inability of general manager Bill Stoneman to create something interesting left the Angels with two moves, one noteworthy but neither major. Gary Matthews Jr.'s $50 million contract drew a lot of jeers from competitors, though he vastly improves a surprisingly shaky defense and appears to have turned a career corner. Shea Hillenbrand seemed like a panic move after Juan Rivera broke his leg in winter ball. Grade: C.
Minnesota Twins They've lost Francisco Liriano for at least half a season and Brad Radke for good (he retired), and among their big pickups were Jeff Cirillo and a rerun for Rondell White. The whole thing looks like a rerun from here. Every winter it appears they're not doing much, and every summer they outplay everyone else's expectations. Multibillionaire Carl Pohlad is still counting his nickels (even after getting stadium approval) and GM Terry Ryan & Co. always manage to make something out of virtually nothing come summer. Grade: D.
New York Yankees They have attempted to rekindle their past glory (Andy Pettitte; Roger Clemens?) and reinvigorate themselves by stockpiling youthful pitchers (Humberto Sanchez, Ross Ohlendorf and others) while also purging their clubhouse of greedy Sheffield and ornery Randy Johnson. The plan makes sense, but with Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano still penciled into the rotation, the pitching staff looks slightly unfinished. The bet is Clemens will be there by June (though the Red Sox and Astros haven't given up on that one). Grade: Incomplete (B- without Clemens, A- with him).
Oakland A's Genius GM Billy Beane has managed to go on winning without Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, and the guess here is that he'll figure a way to keep it going. Somehow, he will. Not a bad try using Joe Kennedy to replace Zito and Alan Embree to replace Kennedy. And Mike Piazza, who made sense as Frank Thomas' replacement once Barry Bonds priced himself out, should hit even better as a DH. Beane did the best anyone possibly could have within the parameters of poverty. But not too many teams can lose their best hitter (Thomas) and pitcher (Zito) and not suffer some dropoff. Grade: D.
Seattle Mariners They tried hard for Zito but settled for Horacio Ramirez and Miguel Batista, who once told his bosses he really wasn't that into pitching. Jose Vidro can't hurt, and in terms of temperament, I'd have to say Jose Guillen's a bit of an upgrade over Carl Everett. Still a little short out West from here. Grade: C+.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays Give them this: They did win the cheapest posting game, nabbing the rights to infielder Akinori Iwamura from Japan for $4.5 million. Beyond that, they tried hard to trade Rocco Baldelli for a star young pitcher. Since they didn't, their rotation remains a nightmare. Young GM Andrew Friedman already has impressed competitors with his smarts, but it's not easy digging out of this hole (or more appropriately, gulf). Grade: D+.
Texas Rangers A winter that started with Carlos Lee bolting cross-state and Matthews going west (for $100 million and $50 million, respectively) steadily grew much more promising. Eric Gagne potentially gives them one of the best back-end bullpen duos. Frank Catalanotto is underrated. Kenny Lofton is still going pretty strong after all these years. Vicente Padilla showed he can win in a hitters' park and Brandon McCarthy is a better bet than John Danks in that he's major-league ready. Nice comeback. Grade: B+.
Toronto Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi was right when he said it was a blessing they missed out on Meche. However, losing Ted Lilly -- a Red Sox killer -- will hurt. As will useful reliever Justin Speier's defection to the Angels. Thomas is an upgrade over Catalanotto for one of the majors' best offenses. The highlight, though, was when they surprised everyone by keeping Vernon Wells longterm. Grade: B.