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Winter of discontent

Few teams earn high marks after frigid offseason

  Jim Thome The Phillies committed $185 million to five players during the offseason, including $87.5 million to slugger Jim Thome. Tom Pidgeon/Allsport

By Lonny Krasnow, SI.com

Maybe it was a weak free-agent class. Maybe it was the threat of a luxury tax. Maybe it was common sense.

Whatever the reason, baseball's economic landscape changed over the winter.

Only three players landed contracts worth more than $30 million (Jose Contreras, Tom Glavine, Jim Thome). Aces were traded away in cost-cutting moves (Bartolo Colon, Kevin Millwood). Productive hitters settled for one-year, $1 million contracts (Robert Fick, Brad Fullmer, Jose Hernandez).

As pitchers and catchers began reporting to spring training, former All-Stars Chuck Finley, Kenny Lofton, Kenny Rogers and Reggie Sanders were still looking for work.

While most owners demonstrated fiscal responsibility and agents whispered of collusion, a few teams continued to spend.

The New York Yankees weren't going to let a $9 million luxury-tax penalty stand in the way of signing Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui and Cuban ace Contreras. Still stinging from last year's debacle, the New York Mets invested $61 million in Cliff Floyd and Tom Glavine. And the the traditionally frugal Philadelphia Phillies, who plan on bringing a contender to their new ballpark in 2004, committed almost $185 million to five players.

Money still talks, and it's no coincidence the teams who opened up their checkbooks over the winter generally improved the most. Following are offseason report cards for all 30 major league teams.


Offseason Report Cards
Team Grade  Analysis
  A  How do you turn a .500 club into a contender? Sign 1B Jim Thome and 3B David Bell and trade for RHP Kevin Millwood. Suddenly, even long-suffering Phillies fans think the final season at Veterans Stadium could extend into October.

  A-  GM Brian Cashman said the Yankees were going to trim payroll. The Boss had other ideas. New York overhauled its bullpen, re-signed RHP Roger Clemens and shelled out $53 million for international mystery men Contreras and Matsui.

  B+  Coming off a last-place finish, the Mets were among the big spenders again, dishing out $70 million for Glavine, OF Cliff Floyd and LHP Mike Stanton. Gone are SS Rey Ordonez and 3B Edgardo Alfonzo. Art Howe is the new sheriff in town.

  B+  With a pair of clever trades, GM Ken Williams closed the gap in the AL Central. Bartolo Colon, acquired in a three-way deal with the Expos and Yanks, gives the White Sox a legitimate ace. Billy Koch replaces Keith Foulke as closer.

  B+  Now we get to see what Felipe Alou can do with a real team. The Giants let 2B Jeff Kent walk but cleaned up on the free-agent market, signing 3B Edgardo Alfonzo, RF Jose Cruz Jr., 2B/OF Ray Durham and CF Marquis Grissom.

  B  If anyone can get the Cubs back on track, it's Dusty Baker. GM Jim Hendry got out from under Todd Hundley's contract and upgraded the pitching staff by signing LHP Shawn Estes, LHP Mike Remlinger and RHP Dave Veres.

  B  GM Gerry Hunsicker called the unexpected signing of 2B Jeff Kent the Astros' most significant free-agent acquisition since Nolan Ryan in 1979. How Craig Biggio adjusts to center field will determine how significant this move really was.

  B  Lacking pitching depth, GM Walt Jocketty acquired seven pitchers, including RHP Brett Tomko and RHP Chris Carpenter. The NL's best offense returns intact as the Cards seek a fourth consecutive postseason appearance.

  B-  The Braves made the best of a difficult financial situation. Glavine, Millwood and LHP Damian Moss are replaced by RHP Paul Byrd, LHP Mike Hampton and RHP Russ Ortiz. Except for Smoltz, the entire bullpen was gutted, too.

  B-  Colon and Contreras were the fish that got away from the Red Sox. Still, new GM Theo Epstein overhauled the bullpen and added depth with second-tier free agents OF Jeremy Giambi, 3B Bill Mueller, 1B David Ortiz and 2B Todd Walker.

  B-  GM Billy Beane turned down serious cash from Boston and then landed slugger Erubiel o in a four-team trade. The A's also signed CF Chris Singleton and saved money by trading closer Billy Koch to Chicago for Keith Foulke.

  B-  The Pirates added depth to their pitching staff, signing RHP Jeff Suppan, RHP Jeff D'Amico, RHP Julian Tavarez, RHP Matt Herges and RHP Rolando Arrojo. Free-swingers 1B Randall Simon and RF Matt Stairs add pop to the lineup.

  C+  While still seeking offers for the Angels, the Walt Disney Co. added $20 million to the payroll. Postseason heroes 2B Adam Kennedy, 1B Scott Spiezio and RHP Jarrod Washburn each received substantial raises while avoiding arbitration.

  C+  The Twins were not active on the free-agent market. They released David Ortiz, but found enough money to sign All-Star CF Torii Hunter (four years, $32 million) and LF Jacque Jones (two years, $7.1 million) to contract extensions.

  C  The Diamondbacks acquired RHP Elmer Dessens in a four-team trade that sent Durazo to the A's. Seven members of the 2001 championship team were not retained, including LHP Brian Anderson, C Damian Miller and INF Jay Bell.

  C  The Indians are thinking young. New skipper Eric Wedge, 35, takes over a team with no star power but plenty of prospects. The Tribe signed OF Shane Spencer, LHP Brian Anderson and RHP Jason Bere and traded for minor league stud 1B Travis Hafner, who will try to fill Thome's shoes at first base.

  C  Seattle received OF Randy Winn as compensation for losing manager Lou Piniella. The M's spent most of the winter re-signing veterans DH Edgar Martinez, 1B John Olerud and C Dan Wilson. Doug Melvin takes over a club with few holes.

  C  Limited by a $55 million payroll, GM J.P. Ricciardi traded for LHP Cory Lidle and signed UT Frank Catalanotto, SS Mike Bordick and RHP Tanyon Sturtze for less than what it would have cost to re-sign OF Jose Cruz Jr.

  C  The Marlins saved money by firing their mascot, releasing OF Kevin Millar and trading C Charles Johnson and OF Preston Wilson. Signing C Ivan Rodriguez to a one-year, $10 million was the surprise of the offseason.

  C-  GM Dan O'Dowd unloaded Hampton but couldn't find any takers for LHP Denny Neagle. The additions of C Charles Johnson, OF Preston Wilson, INF Jose Hernandez promise even more 10-run games at Coors Field.

  C-  The Dodgers did little to address their needs over the winter and failed to re-sign several players, including 1B Eric Karros and OF Marquis Grissom. The offense will get a small boost from 1B Fred McGriff, C Todd Hundley and OF Daryle Ward.

  D+  The Brewers cleaned house following a 10th straight losing season. The new management team (president Ulice Payne, GM Doug Melvin, manager Ned Yost) is preaching patience and player development in year one of the new regime.

  D+  The Orioles replaced Bordick with Deivi Cruz and then struck out trying to sign OF Cliff Floyd, C Ivan Rodriguez and Cruz Jr. LHP Omar Daal joins a flimsy rotation. Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan take over as co-general managers.

  D  GM Omar Minaya spent most of the offseason orchestrating the Colon sweepstakes. In the end, the Expos settled for RHP Orlando Hernandez, RHP Rocky Biddle, 1B-OF Jeff Liefer in a three-team trade with the White Sox and Yankees.

  D  The Rays lucked out in landing manager Lou Piniella. Then they dumped nine of their 11 players who last year made $500,000 or more. SS Rey Ordonez and 1B Travis Lee will fit right in with their lifetime .245 and .255 batting averages.

  D  The rebuilding began when the Rangers let Pudge and LHP Kenny Rogers walk. Buck Showalter takes over a club that brought back RHP Ismael Valdes and OF Ruben Sierra and signed OF Doug Glanville, C Einar Diaz and Ugueth Urbina.

  D-  Unwilling to spend money until PETCO Park opens in 2004, the Padres let several veterans go and signed a dozen misfits and retreads like OF Brady Anderson, 2B Homer Bush, PH Dave Hansen, LHP Jesse Orosco and RHP Jaret Wright.

  D-  Heading into their first season at Great American Ballpark, the Reds were more interested in cost-cutting than improving the product on the field. RHP Elmer Dessens, LHP Shawn Estes RHP Brian Moehler and 2B Todd Walker were moved.

  D-  Management hopes changes in the dugout -- Alan Trammell as manager, Kirk Gibson as bench coach -- will breathe life into the Tigers, who haven't enjoyed a winning season since 1993, when Trammell and Gibson were still playing.

  F  Coming off their first 100-loss season, K.C. let its top two starting pitchers, closer and shortstop walk. RHP James Baldwin and RHP Albie Lopez join an inexperienced rotation. Even George Brett wants nothing to do with the Royals.

 

 
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