The National League had some catching up to do, and it did just that this winter. The NL imported Barry Zito, Carlos Lee, Freddy Garcia and Randy Johnson from the American League. If this keeps up, things will even out before long.
For now, at least, they'll have to settle for better grades. And here they are:
Arizona Diamondbacks Johnson didn't exactly conquer New York. He's 43, his slider flattens out, his back is a question mark, and beyond that, he isn't exactly a bon vivant for the clubhouse. Even so, the Big Unit seems to fit in better out there among the prickly cacti, so there's reason to hope the back surgery and a return to the NL and his homeland reinvigorates him. Along with Brandon Webb, Livan Hernandez and Doug Davis, who was acquired in the Johnny Estrada trade (Estrada couldn't co-exist with mild-mannered manager Bob Melvin for some reason), the D-Backs have a potentially formidable rotation to go along with the best crop of positional prospects in the game. They've got a shot. Grade: B+.
Atlanta Braves GM John Schuerholz showed he still has some tricks up his sleeve when he pilfered Rafael Soriano in a straight-up trade for average-at-best starter Horacio Ramirez, then finally landed Mike Gonzalez to go with the re-signed Bob Wickman. Just like that, Schuerholz rebuilt what was an awful bullpen in 2006. The penny-counting Braves otherwise remained on the sideline (unless you count useful utilityman Chris Woodward and damaged reliever Tanyon Sturtze as being in the middle of the action) but should be better off largely for two reasons: 1) their bullpen has been upgraded, and 2) they vastly underachieved last year. Grade: B..
Chicago Cubs Their outlay and effort were spectacular, with GM Jim Hendry completing the $40 million deal for Ted Lilly from his hospital bed, where he was undergoing tests on his heart. While the Cubs probably overpaid for Lilly, Jason Marquis, Henry Blanco and, of course, Alfonso Soriano, and probably should have made sure Carlos Zambrano was signed to a multiyear contract before Zito blew open the starting-pitching market, they made some very good deals (Kerry Wood for $1.75 million guaranteed, Aramis Ramirez for $75 million, Mark DeRosa for $13 million and Lou Piniella for $10 million) and improved more than anyone else. With $300 million spent, they better be close to 20 games better. If they aren't, Hendry's bosses won't take pity on him; he'll be gone. Grade: A-.
Cincinnati Reds Since they didn't have the money to overpay for stars, they settled for overpaying for non-stars. It's hard to imagine Mike Stanton beingworth a two-year deal or Jeff Conine being deserving of a guaranteed contract. Does Josh Hamilton have any chance to pan out (though at 50 grand, the price was right)? Alex Gonzalez (the one who comes from Boston) can pick it like almost no one else, though. Grade: C-.
Colorado Rockies Their one trade of Jason Jennings for Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz and Willy Taveras inspired raves throughout baseball (one competing GM said he called to tell GM Dan O'Dowd he "deserved GM of the Year, just for that,'' and another said he would have taken Hirsh straight-up for Jennings, who's a year from free agency). Rodrigo Lopez just might benefit from a trade away from Leo Mazzone, who seemed to have the opposite effect on pitchers last season than he had in Atlanta all those years. Grade: A-.
Florida Marlins With their knack for finding gems in other organizations, you can't be surprised if they unlock the keys to success for hard-throwing Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom, formerly of the Mets. Beyond that deal involving four young pitchers, the most noteworthy thing that happened is that we found out Dontrelle Willis isn't perfect. Grade: C.
Houston Astros Lee is going to hit a ton of home runs into the Crawford boxes. But by the time his $100 million contract expires, it's going to look as bloated as he will. Jennings is a decent replacement for Andy Pettitte, but Jon Garland would have been better and they came within a finger of getting him (the White Sox had questions about Buchholz's health, including what effect the tendonitis on his middle finger would have on his pitches). I'd be surprised if Roger Clemens goes back now that his buddy Pettitte has returned east. Grade: B-.
Los Angeles Dodgers For the price of Gil Meche, they signed Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf, enabling them to construct a deep rotation to go along with an almost-as-deep bullpen and their long litany of talented youngsters. Luis Gonzalez and Juan Pierre are a fair trade for Kenny Lofton and J.D. Drew at almost exactly the same price ($70 million plus, counting Drew's new contract, not his old one). The one question that haunts is: What did the Giants not see in Schmidt that they let him go to their competitors without so much as a whisper? Grade: A-.