Top 10 offseason performances
Mariners added ace starter and upgraded offense without giving up top prospects
John Lackey could give Red Sox baseball's top trio of starting pitchers in 2010
More topics: Joel Pineiro sweepstakes heat up, Rangers sale continues to lag
While nearly 100 free agents remain available, it's probably too late for any team to transform its team or winter with what's left. So it's time to assess the winters of the 30 teams -- or at least the top 10 of them.
Here they are, the 10 best performances from last year's World Series till now ...
1. Mariners. They added a co-ace, Cliff Lee, to go with holdover ace Felix Hernandez and gave themselves perhaps baseball's best one-two punch without giving up anything significant for 2010 (pitching prospect Philippe Aumont was the biggest chip going to Philly). They also improved an already excellent defense by importing third baseman Chone Figgins, first baseman Casey Kotchman and left fielder Milton Bradley. While Bradley always carries the chance to poison things, he also has a chance to go unnoticed in the great northwest. Plus, Seattle was able to send failed starter Carlos Silva 2,000 miles away. As for those who are in the rotation, the Mariners are trying to lock up King Felix (there's tempered optimism for a five- or six-year deal to be done sometime after a one-year contract is arranged first) and would love to do the same for Lee if he winds up liking Seattle (that one's a bigger long shot as free agency looms, but they could always trade him at midseason if they aren't contending). One quibble: The loss of Russell Branyan and Adrian Beltre means they still could use a power hitter. A right-handed-hitting slugger who could spell Kotchman and Ken Griffey Jr. would be nice (Ryan Garko?).
2. Red Sox. Boston is the other team to add an ace without subtracting one, as John Lackey brings pedigree and an attitude to an already excellent rotation. In teaming with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, Lackey also gives the Sox perhaps the best starting trio in the league. The defense has been enhanced in four spots with Beltre coming to play third, Marco Scutaro at short, Mike Cameron at center and Jacoby Ellsbury moving over to left field.
3. Phillies. Roy Halladay is arguably baseball's best pitcher, and the switch to the National League and his desired team may actually make him better. They would have had am all-time winter had they been able to hold onto Lee, as well, but the extra $9 million that Lee costs in 2010 apparently would have been a budget buster. Too bad. Placido Polanco, one of baseball's better situational hitters, should fit nicely into their lineup. And Danys Baez should help the bullpen, which needed the support (though they could probably still use a reliever or two).
4. Orioles. Quietly, the Orioles have taken significant steps to improve their team, though not enough to threaten in the impossible AL East. Regardless, improvement will be seen, thanks to the importing of Kevin Millwood, Mike Gonzalez and Garrett Atkins. Millwood is just the sort of veteran presence the starting rotation needed, Gonzalez is a versatile reliever with the ability to close and corner infielder Atkins has to do better than he performed last year (as a bonus, he also comes with a second-year team option in case he returns to his old form).
5. Diamondbacks. While they took some hits for devising the three-way blockbuster that sent hard-throwing Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth away for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy and added a few millions to the payroll, Jackson gives them a sure thing behind the imposing one-two punch of Dan Haren and Brandon Webb. They worried about Scherzer's limited repertoire, but many scouts feel his fastball is so good he could still become a Kevin Brown-type. Adam LaRoche is a real bargain at $4.5 million for 2010, and Kelly Johnson could provide a bounce-back year at second base.
6. Yankees. Javier Vazquez brings back some bad memories for Yankees fans, but he provides the rotation just the sort of solid, innings-eating No. 4 pitcher they needed, at little cost (Melky Cabrera plus a prospect). Defensively, they are should be better with Curtis Granderson in for Johnny Damon (though Damon's return remains a possibility, and if he does come back, Brett Gardner would go to the bench). For now, though, the Yankees are down two very clutch hitters (Damon and Hideki Matsui) and up one injury-prone on-base machine (Nick Johnson, who had a .426 OBP last year but has averaged 94 games a season in his career).
7. Rangers. Switching out solid vet Millwood for talented but injury-prone Rich Harden is a risk (it'll be interesting to see how many pitches Harden will throw in the AL games). But Vladimir Guererro is just the sort of right-handed batter they need, assuming he can return to health and form in 2010. He has been a dynamo at Rangers Ballpark, and certainly Texas' pitchers will appreciate not having to face him. Khalil Greene is a reasonably-priced utilityman ($750,000) in a market that went haywire at that position (Craig Counsell, Jamey Carroll and Alex Cora all got about $2 million per year).
8. Brewers. For all the second-guessing over the near $30-million, three-year contract Randy Wolf, he is just what they needed. Though, they probably need one more pitcher. They remain in the hunt for Jarrod Washburn or Doug Davis and probably will also give former A's star Mark Mulder a shot, as well.
9. Cardinals. There's been a lot of criticism of the $120-million, seven-year deal handed to Matt Holliday, but his numbers were good enough to convince St. Louis to pay him more than Mark Teixeira through his arbitration years. Such is the reward for a player who provided the perfect protection for franchise player Albert Pujols. Holliday is a .379 career hitter at new Busch Stadium, and at 29, should have plenty more productive years ahead of him. Plus, there's no shot St. Louis would jeopardize its chances to retain Pujols beyond 2011, so this signing doesn't preclude that -- though it remains uncertain whether they will ultimately keep Pujols, who declined to start long-term talks this winter. They did lose Mark DeRosa and presumably will lose Joel Pineiro, as well, but those are livable losses for this resilient franchise.
10. Nationals. They're not going to contend right away, but kudos them for bringing in veteran catcher Ivan Rodriguez, starter Jason Marquis and relievers Matt Capps and Brian Bruney. Reportedly, they are still working on things, so there could be yet another signing.
Around the Majors
The Dodgers, Angels and Mets all appear to be in the bidding for Pineiro, the top starting pitcher available. The Dodgers are in frequent contact with the 1--year veteran but a Dodgers person said they will need to be "creative'' to bridge the gap. Meanwhile, the Mets are said to "need to hurry'' to win the pitcher, a clue a deal could happen in coming days.
The Dodgers' fallback positions are Vicente Padilla, who starred for them in the payoffs last year, and Braden Looper, a solid pitcher who hasn't garnered much publicity this winter.
Tim Lincecum is the arbitration case to watch, as baseball people see his salary potentially going up 15-fold or more in his first year of eligibility. The record for a first-year arb-eligible starting pitcher is Dontrelle Willis' $4.35 million, but a closer, Jonathan Papelbon, got $6.25 million. The record is Ryan Howard's $10 million, won two springs ago by agent Casey Close. Lincecum's agents reportedly have thought about requesting $23,000,000.01 because his "special accomplishments'' should make him comparable to anyone (i.e. CC Sabathia.) A more likely figure for him is just north of $10 million. Fellow aces Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander each should garner between $8 million and $10 million after making $3.8 million and $3.675 million, respectively.
The Marlins did right by Josh Johnson, giving him $39 million over four years. The contract came within days after the union forced the Marlins to abide by the CBA rule that teams need to use revenue-sharing monies to try to improve themselves, though it isn't known whether the rare enforcement of the rules spurred the deal. Previously, Florida had only been offering three years.
Everyone still expects Bengie Molina to go to the Mets, as no great alternative teams have emerged yet. The Mariners seem OK with their mix of unproven catchers (Rob Johnson, Adam Moore) and veteran backups (Josh Bard) while the Giants aren't expected to try to bring back Molina even after their scouts determined that top prospect Buster Posey isn't ready to catch full-time after his Arizona Fall League performance. Some Giants people could see a switch to behind the plate for Pablo Sandoval. But the more likely outside move will be to sign either Rod Barajas or Yorvit Torrealba.
Giants people are hurt LaRoche turned them down to take a much lower offer of $6 million guaranteed (including $4.5 mil for 2010) from the D'backs. Word is, San Francisco offered $17 million for two years, and it remains a mystery to them why LaRoche chose Arizona. The Giants wound up with Aubrey Huff for $3 million instead but still wouldn't appear to have enough offense to go with their deluxe pitching.
Prospective Rangers buyer Chuck Greenberg, a sports attorney from Pittsburgh, issued a statement after Friday's midnight deadline passed and no deal was done with owner Tom Hicks to buy the team. Greenberg said he feels they are extremely close to a deal and should keep negotiating. But MLB has about had it with Hicks, and top officials say they may soon take over the sale of the team, which potentially could bring the other two hopeful buyers back into the picture, those being Houston businessman Jim Crane, and former agent, and current White Sox executive, Dennis Gilbert, who has appeared to be baseball's top choice from the start. The sale price is expected to be $570 million, according to sources. One impediment to a deal has been Hicks' insistence upon maintaining significant power even after collecting the sale proceeds. Greenberg's big edge had been that he was willing to allow Hicks to remain as a board member who'd attend owners meetings.
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