Offseason Rankings: Part One

With the season about a month away, I thought I’d take a look back and what each team did this offseason and rank their moves. I’ll go from worst to first, with the bottom 15 today and the top 15 in part two.

One thing to note: Just because team A improved more than team B doesn’t mean I’ll rank team A higher. If I think team A improved, but could have done better and team B did about as well as they could, then team B will be higher.

With that said, let’s get to the rankings.

30. Detroit Tigers

Last year, the Tigers used a couple of nice offseason acquisitions (Ivan Rodriguez and Carlos Guillen, in particular) to spark a monumental improvement from the year before. This offseason, they were going to build on that success by pursuing all the top free agents and landing a hitter like Carlos Beltran or Adrian Beltre or J.D. Drew, as well as some pitching help.

Instead, their biggest acquisition for most of the offseason was Troy Percival, who they gave $12 million over two years and lost a draft pick to acquire, even though he’s not that good a closer any longer. And now that Ugueth Urbina has thankfully seen the return of his mother, the Tigers have two mediocre closers, neither of whom will want to be mediocre setup men.

So, they’ll have to trade one of them for whatever they can get in return, or they’ll have to deal with having a mediocre closer and an unhappy, mediocre setup man. To make things even more interesting, they enhanced their mediocre bullpen by trading for Kyle Farnsworth, giving them an inconsistent, mediocre setup man to go alongside their unhappy one.

Finally, they realized that since Beltran and Beltre and Drew had all turned down their money, there wasn’t anybody left to spend it on. So they went and dumped it all on the front doorstep of Magglio Ordonez, who only played 52 games last year because of a serious leg injury.

I know the Tigers have a clause in the contract that allows them to get out of it if that same leg injury prevents him from playing, but it’s not really a good thing when the best thing you can say about your big free agent is, “Well, if the reason he stinks is the same as the reason he stunk last year, we won’t have to pay him.”

On top of all of that, the Tigers didn’t add a starting pitcher of any significance, choosing instead to go with the group that combined to put up a 4.93 ERA last season.

The Tigers might be a little bit better this season than they were last year, but they’re not likely to contend for anything. They essentially gave away $12 million when signing Percival, because he’s not going to be the piece that puts them over the top, and they took a huge gamble giving $75 million to Ordonez, even if they did protect themselves a little bit.

29. Houston Astros

Losing Beltran was obviously a big blow to the Astros, but they weren’t in complete control of whether or not he signed with them and they only had him for a few months anyway, so it’s not like he was the only reason they were good last year.

The biggest problem was that not only did they lose him, they didn’t have any sort of backup plan whatsoever in the event that they might lose him. So, they lost a tremendous player and didn’t replace him with anybody at all.

They also lost Jeff Kent, and will be replacing him with a rookie who likely won’t be as good right away, if ever, and they had to cut loose Wade Miller. You can’t blame them for non-tendering Miller because the amount he would have cost them would have been too risky considering his health situation, but losing him certainly didn’t help them.

And while they were losing Beltran and Kent and Miller, they held on to Craig Biggio by exercising his option, even though he’s simply not a very good player any more.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

The only thing that prevented the Astros from ending up at the bottom of this list is the return of Roger Clemens, even though he’s not worth $18 million. He at least gives them a chance to have a pretty good rotation, which they’ll need since their offense will be worse.

The Astros nearly went to the World Series last year, and now they’re looking like the favorite to finish third in their division. That’s not really what you’re looking to do each offseason.

28. Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks certainly improved their team this offseason, but they also threw around money like they were playing Monopoly. The reason everybody thought they had to trade Randy Johnson in the first place was to save money, but how can they have to save money if they’re giving $78 million to Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz?

In a strictly dollars sense, they didn’t even save money by trading Johnson since he would have cost them a total of $16 million and Javier Vazquez will end up costing them a total of $25 million. They also turned around after that trade and sent a handful of prospects for Shawn Green and $10 million, then giving that $10 million and $20 million more to Green.

So, they got rid of their best player and then gave out a ton of money to players who are either big injury risks (Glaus and Vazquez) or just not very good (Green and Ortiz). To surround the big bucks acquisitions, they did go out and sign some cheap free agents, all of whom are thoroughly uninspiring — Royce Clayton, Craig Counsell, Tony Clark and Shawn Estes.

The only good deal they made this offseason was the trade for Jose Cruz Jr., but they only reason they had a busted prospect to trade for him was because they threw away their other ace pitcher last offseason.

Even after all of these crazy trades and big-bucks signings, the Diamondbacks will still probably finish fourth in their division. Well, at least they didn’t embarrass themselves when hiring a new manager. Oh wait…

27. Cincinnati Reds

First, take a look at the three starting pitchers the Reds gave contracts to this offseason (not counting minor league deals): Paul Wilson (re-signed), Ramon Ortiz (after the Angels declined his option) and Eric Milton. Next, take a look at the amount of money they handed out to these three pitchers: $8 million over two years for Wilson with an option that could make it $13 million over three years, $3.45 million with a mutual option for Ortiz, and a mind-boggling $25.5 million over three years for Milton.

So, that’s at least $36.95 million for three pitchers who have combined for a nice 4.59 ERA over the last three years. Are you telling me that’s really the going rate for mediocrity?

Signing Joe Randa to a fairly reasonable one-year deal isn’t a bad move, per se, but he’s not exactly a great third baseman. He had a .751 OPS last year and is 35 years old. Want to bet on whether his OPS will be higher or lower than .750 this year? Assuming you picked the smart choice, do you think that’s really going to help the Reds?

The Reds didn’t even take the opportunity to lock up their best player (Adam Dunn) before he gets into his free-agent season next year.

Cincinnati would have had to have a really impressive offseason to be a contender to win the NL Central. Instead, they’re only a contender to finish third, and that’s just because the Astros had a bad offseason too. And with that pitching staff, it wouldn’t even surprise me if the Reds finish dead last.

26. Pittsburgh Pirates

Talking about the Pirates is depressing, so I’ll try to keep this one brief. Basically, they finally got rid of Jason Kendall, but didn’t even get rid of his whole contract, and they replaced him with the ancient Benito Santiago. In the Kendall deal, they picked up a mediocre starter (Mark Redman) and an old reliever (Arthur Rhodes), who they then flipped for an old, injury-prone outfielder who makes about $7 million and is basically an average player at his position (Matt Lawton).

So let me get this straight, the Pirates got rid of a player, who is actually good, because he makes too much money, and they ended up with three players who are each average at best and combine to make even more money (in 2005) than the guy they got rid of?

I know they were able to get out of much of the long-term commitment to Kendall, but they would have been much better off trying to build around him, Jason Bay and Oliver Perez, along with other useful players like Jack Wilson, Craig Wilson, Kip Wells and Mike Gonzalez.

Instead of adding to the talent they have and trying to actually have a winning season or maybe even contend for the playoffs if things break right, they subtracted talent without actually rebuilding.

Being a Pirates fan must be terrible. They won’t spend the money to try and win, but they don’t seem to want to fully rebuild either. Instead, they’re just going to keep treading water and winning 70-80 games a season. Sounds like fun.

25. Washington Nationals

Well, the team finally got a real home, which is a good thing. And then they traded a decent outfielder (Juan Rivera) for a good outfielder (Jose Guillen), which is a good thing.

That was the end of the good things this offseason. After that, they decided it would be a good idea to sign Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman, thus saving everybody the trouble of waiting until the end of the season to see who finishes last in the NL East.

Seriously, what were they thinking not only signing Castilla and Guzman, but giving them a combined $23 million? By picking up these two, Washington has pretty much guaranteed that the left side of its infield will combine to get on base less than 30 percent of the time while not providing nearly enough power.

Guzman’s had one good season, and that was four years ago. Since then, he’s provided us with 436 games of crappy hitting to give us pretty compelling evidence that he is, indeed, a crappy hitter.

Castilla used to be a pretty good hitter and his final numbers looked pretty good last year, but you’ve got to remember that he played his home games in Colorado. Away from home, he hit .218/.281/.493, which just isn’t good.

By the way, the Nationals also lost two draft picks because they decided they couldn’t wait to sign these two awesome out-makers, and gave them all that money before the arbitration deadline. I think it’s safe to say that neither player would have been offered arbitration, but I guess they just couldn’t risk losing them…

The only other move of significance by Washington was a one-year, $2.9-million contract for Esteban Loaiza. It’s actually not a bad risk to take, because he could be a pretty good pitcher and it’s not a ton of money if he’s not. Unfortunately, even if he pitches as well as he did in 2003 (which he won’t), Washington’s still not going to be good.

24. Colorado Rockies

The Rockies didn’t really do anything bad this offseason. Really, they didn’t do anything this offseason at all. They lost some players (Castilla, Jeromy Burnitz, Shawn Estes and Royce Clayton), who aren’t very good, to free agency, they picked up a couple draft picks when Washington was stupid, they signed some players (Dustan Mohr and Desi Relaford) who aren’t going to make much of a difference, and they avoided arbitration with some of their somewhat promising pitchers (Jason Jennings and Joe Kennedy).

Add it all up, and you still have a last place team. They didn’t do anything to try to get better in 2005; they didn’t do anything to try to get better after 2005. They just didn’t do much of anything at all. If they have a plan (which would be Plan For Winning In Colorado No. 1,203,947), I don’t see it.

23. Texas Rangers

Last season, the Rangers surprised pretty much everybody by staying in playoff contention until the very end of the season before finishing third. They did it with a solid offense (no surprise) and rag-tag group of pitchers that somehow put together the league’s fifth-best ERA.

Apparently, they’re banking on that rag-tag group to repeat that performance, because they didn’t get anybody to help them out. The biggest pitching pick-ups Texas made this offseason were Pedro Astacio and Ryan Bukvich, which is to say that they didn’t make a single pitching pick-up worth discussing.

Offensively, the only thing they did was sign a pretty useless backup catcher (Sandy Alomar Jr.) and a below-average, injury-prone outfielder (Richard Hidalgo). For some reason, they even gave Hidalgo $5 million instead of just going into the season with an outfield of Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench and David Dellucci and using that money on some pitching.

The Rangers were a nice story last season, but they didn’t do anything this offseason that makes you think they’re going to take the next step forward and actually win the division. In fact, if the pitching staff doesn’t do as well as it did last year (which is pretty likely), then Texas is probably going to fall back into last place.

22. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

The Devil Rays finish ahead of some of the other teams that didn’t do much of anything simply because they made one small move that I liked and another small move that I think has a chance to work out for them.

The move that I liked was giving $800,000 to Josh Phelps. Phelps looked like he was going to become a very good hitter, but he struggled a little bit and two organizations have now given up on him. Phelps still has a career OPS of .812, however, and he doesn’t turn 27 until May. Even if he never develops into a useful regular, he can be a backup/pinch hitter with very good pop, and is a great fit for the right-handed half of a platoon.

The move that I think could work out is the trade of Cruz for Casey Fossum (and yes, I realize that this was also one of the few things I liked about Arizona’s offseason). Basically, Cruz is a solid player who didn’t really do much for Tampa Bay and wasn’t going to be part of the team when all the young talent was ready to maybe make a push for something.

Fossum has been nothing short of a major disappointment thus far, with a 6.23 ERA over the last two seasons. However, he’s still only 27 years old, and I think he has the potential to be at least a decent pitcher. Tampa Bay should keep him out of the rotation and see if pitching in relief allows him to maximize his stuff a little bit. If it does, he could be a lefty specialist or a setup man or even a decent closer.

Now that I’ve written three paragraphs about those two deals, however, I should mention that neither of them is exactly a blockbuster (if you hadn’t already figured that out). The Devil Rays still didn’t really do much this offseason (whether to add young prospects or major-league ready talent) and the rest of the deals they did make baffled me.

The best thing you can say about the Hideo Nomo and Denny Neagle signings is that neither of them will cost Tampa Bay much money. And you can pretty much bet that the Devil Rays will be getting what they paid for (i.e., not much).

Signing Travis Lee isn’t really going to help the team, but it isn’t really going to hurt the team either, and he only cost $1.3 million, so you can’t get too worked up about that.

Trading Cruz away would have been an even better idea if it had actually created room for Joey Gathright and Jonny Gomes to see a decent amount of playing time alongside Carl Crawford and, once he’s healthy, Rocco Baldelli. Instead, the Devil Rays decided that it would be a good idea to sign Danny Bautista to a one-year contract. He’s not a terrible player, but he’s also not a good player and it seems to me that it would be better to just play the kids and see how good they are.

Along those same lines, the signings I really can’t understand are Roberto Alomar and Alex S. Gonzalez. First of all, neither of them is any good. Second of all, the Devil Rays already had three middle infielders who are all either better and/or have higher potential in Julio Lugo, B.J. Upton and Jorge Cantu.

The good news is that it doesn’t appear that Gonzalez will be seeing a lot of playing time in the middle infield. The bad news is that’s because Tampa Bay apparently wants him to play third base, which makes absolutely no sense since he doesn’t even hit well enough for a shortstop.

As for Alomar, at least he only cost them $600,000. Still, if he gets significant playing time, he’ll hurt them on the field and deprive the younger players of the opportunity to get some experience. If he doesn’t get significant playing time, then what was the point?

I guess it doesn’t really matter for 2005, because even if they had put together the best offseason you could imagine for them, they still would have been likely to finish third this year. And who knows, they still may be able to finish third if things break right. But they also could easily finish last, while delaying the arrival of some players who might someday be able to help them at least have a winning record.

21. Kansas City Royals

Another team that didn’t do much this offseason, the Royals at least got rid of two players they didn’t want while picking up younger players that could potentially be somewhat useful somewhere down the road, maybe.

First, they traded Darrell May to the Padres, sending along Ryan Bukvich. They did have to take back Terrence Long and his contract to even things out, but they also got pitcher Dennis Tankersley. Long isn’t a good player and he’s not worth his money, but he’s probably better than what the Royals had at the corner outfield spots, so that’s not terrible.

Tankersley hasn’t been good in his time in the majors, but he’s had solid results in the minor leagues, including a 3.15 ERA at Triple-A Portland last year in 120 innings. At 26, he’s still young enough that he could put things together in the majors and be a decent pitcher.

Then, they traded Benito Santiago to the Pirates for Leo Nunez. Nunez posted a 3.06 ERA as a 21-year-old in Class A last year with a solid strikeout rate (8.8 K/9IP) and a walk rate that wasn’t terrible (2.9 BB/9IP). There’s a good chance he’ll never help the Royals, but he still has a better chance of helping them eventually accomplish something than Santiago did.

Other than that, however, Kansas City didn’t do much. They signed Jose Lima for one year at $2.5 million, which won’t be very significant unless he’s preventing a young player from getting a spot in the rotation that he deserves. I doubt that will be a problem though.

They also signed Chris Truby to be a backup, hopefully, or to get sent to the minors, which would be even better. Truby didn’t play in the majors last year, and he was never anything better than horrible when he did play.

Basically, the Royals are just another team that didn’t really add any major-league talent and didn’t really add any prospects and will finish in last place this year. If the Royals do manage to move up in the standings, it will have nothing to do with what Kansas City did this winter.

20. Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have had a somewhat curious offseason. They signed Corey Koskie for three years and $17 million, which is a pretty good contract for a third baseman of his abilities. But then they traded Adam Peterson for Shea Hillenbrand. And they didn’t trade Eric Hinske.

So, they’ll now have Koskie playing third base, which is good. But they’ll have two former third baseman manning first base and designated hitter, and neither of them even hit well enough to be good third baseman. At first base and DH, they’ll look terrible compared to the average player at the position.

Toronto gave Billy Koch $900,000 for one year, which isn’t a terrible idea. He used to be a pretty good reliever and he’ll be a bargain at that price if he can be one again. But then they gave two years and $5.2 million to Scott Schoeneweis, who has a 5.16 career ERA. He’s had an ERA below 4.80 one time, and that was when he only pitched 64.2 innings in relief and the ERA was only 4.18, which isn’t good for a reliever.

Even after losing Carlos Delgado to free agency, the Blue Jays should be better than they were last year. But they’re not really likely to finish any better than fourth because they didn’t do much to help themselves this offseason. If Hillenbrand and Hinske actually play first base and DH all year, it will be one of the five worst 1B/DH combos in the majors.

19. Philadelphia Phillies

Deciding not to bring back Milton was a very good thing for the Phillies. And signing Jon Lieber to a three-year, $21-million contract to replace the departed Kevin Millwood was a pretty good move as well.

Other than that, there wasn’t much going on in the City of Brotherly Love this offseason. The Phillies didn’t lose Placido Polanco because he accepted arbitration, which should be a good thing because he’s a good player. However, the Phillies apparently wanted to lose him, and they’re not planning on using him in their starting infield on a regular basis (although David Bell‘s back may force Polanco into the starting lineup).

But other than signing Lieber and losing a couple other starting pitchers, the Phillies are apparently counting on improving via addition by subtraction with Larry Bowa out of the manager’s office.

The Phillies didn’t really need to do anything to be in contention this year, because they had a good team last year. However, the Braves, Mets and Marlins all did things to try to improve, and you could even say that all three of those teams had about as good an offseason as you could have expected from them.

Now, that’s obviously not anything Philadelphia can control, but it also isn’t good for the Phillies that their three biggest competitors are all getting better (or in the case of Atlanta, at least not getting tremendously worse). And since the Phillies didn’t do much themselves, they’re just hoping that they’re old and unimproved team is better than the new and improved squads of their three NL East rivals.

18. Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles were 10th in the AL last year with a 5.05 ERA from their starting pitchers. Want to guess how many starters they added this offseason to try to rectify the situation? That’s right, none. Unless you count James Baldwin (you shouldn’t).

They did sign solid relief pitcher Steve Kline to improve their bullpen, which was seventh in the league with a 4.11 ERA, but was closer to third (3.87) than ninth (4.43).

So if they didn’t improve their starting pitching, the biggest weakness on the team, what did they do? Right, trade for more hitting. Specifically, Sammy Sosa.

Now, Sosa will help Baltimore’s offense, and they didn’t have to give up a lot to get him. But he’s not going to make the Orioles a more potent offensive team than either the Red Sox or Yankees, and Baltimore doesn’t have a pitching staff that can even come close to competing with those two teams.

If the goal of this offseason was to see if the Orioles can have a winning record, I guess it may very well be a success. But since they only need to win four more games this year than they did last year to do that, is that really a big accomplishment?

Maybe the Orioles thought they had to sign a big draw like Sosa to compete with those new Washington Nationals, but I don’t see Sosa bringing in huge crowds if the Orioles aren’t winning much more than they did last year.

If Baltimore was going to go out and get a hitter like Sosa to complement some of the other weapons in the offense, why not also go out and spend some money on a starting pitcher or two and see if can’t at least scare the Red Sox and Yankees a little?

I just don’t see the point of adding one pretty good, but pretty expensive player if doing so is clearly not going to make a difference in where you finish in the standings.

17. Chicago Cubs

The Cubs got a great deal when Nomar Garciaparra agreed to come back for $8.25 million guaranteed. And signing Todd Walker to a one-year, $2.5-million contract was pretty good. And Chad Fox and Scott Williamson were low-risk signings that could eventually yield very effective relievers.

So all of that’s the good news for the Cubs this offseason.

The bad news is that they brought back Neifi Perez, they signed Henry Blanco to a two-year (!), $2.7-million (!) contract, and they let the Sosa thing mess them up.

I know things had deteriorated between Sosa and pretty much everybody else — Dusty Baker, the fans, the media, some of his teammates — and I know he’s not as good as he used to be, but he’s still better than anybody else they had for the position or anybody else they were likely to get for the position.

They would have been better off letting him play out the year and then replacing him next offseason. Instead, they traded him for hardly anything (Jerry Hairston isn’t a very good player, especially if you’re not going to use him at second base) and then compounded the problem by giving $5 million to Jeromy Burnitz, who won’t come within 100 points of the .915 OPS he put up in Colorado last year.

To top it all off, the only thing they did to change their question-filled bullpen (other than signing the two big question marks mentioned above) was to get rid of Kyle Farnsworth. That’s fine, because he’s not worth what they would have paid him, but getting rid of him certainly doesn’t help the fact that they don’t have enough good relievers.

The Cubs should still contend for the NL Central because they have some amazing starting pitching and their infield is very good, but they greatly weakened their outfield this offseason and they didn’t do anything to improve their bullpen. Both of those things could come back to bite them.

16. Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers had a kind of middle-of-the-road offseason, hence their middle-of-the-road ranking.

Trading Scott Podsednik and others for Carlos Lee was very good in terms of making the team better for this season, but he’ll probably leave as soon as he becomes a free agent, which means he won’t be around when Milwaukee’s young talent arrives.

Signing Damian Miller wasn’t a terrible idea because he’s not a bad catcher, and the catchers Milwaukee had last year were among the worst. But signing Miller early cost the Brewers a draft pick, and I have a hard time believing that Miller is worth the money they gave him AND a pick.

The only other thing the Brewers really did was flip Danny Kolb, who had an abysmal strikeout rate last year, for a very nice pitching prospect in Jose Capellan.

All in all, a pretty solid offseason, although it certainly doesn’t knock your socks off. They added some talent for this season, which could help them snap their lengthy streak of losing records if things break right. However, they also added a nice prospect, who could help them down the road when their other nice prospects are ready.

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