Offseason Rankings: Part Two

Last Thursday, I looked at the 15 teams who had the worst offseasons. I had so much to say, that this is now a three-part series. Today, I’m looking at the teams I ranked sixth through 15th. Let’s get right to them.

Keep in mind that I care less about whether a team improved and more about whether a team’s moves make sense to me with an ultimate goal of making the playoffs as soon and as often as possible. That is, a bad team that spends $15 million to add two or three wins will get a lower ranking than a good team that spends no money and stands pat.

15. San Francisco Giants

Because of the moves Brian Sabean made this offseason, I really believe the Giants could win anywhere from 60 to 100 games in 2005. Sabean added four players — Omar Vizquel, Armando Benitez, Mike Matheny and Moises Alou — and all of them are at least 32 years old.

Benitez is 32, Matheny is 34, Alou is 38 and Vizquel will turn 38 early in the season. Not only that, but the Giants gave up a draft pick to sign three of them, two because it was before the arbitration deadline. I know it’s part of Sabean’s plan to get rid of high draft picks, but since I disagree with that plan, the Giants still get demerits for losing three draft picks even though they meant to lose them.

Benitez isn’t a bad signing, although $21 million for three years is on the high side, because the Giants late-inning options in the bullpen were just brutal last year. Benitez isn’t great, but he’s generally reliable and not likely to completely fall apart.

If you think Matheny’s a good player, then that wasn’t a terrible signing either because $10.5 million over three years isn’t a lot of money, although the Giants already had a decent catcher in Pierzynski. I’m not so sure about Matheny. He’s great defensively, but he can’t hit. I guess the nice thing is that he doesn’t have much offense to lose to old age, so the Giants just need to hope his defense holds up.

The Vizquel and Alou signings could work out, but they also could be terrible. At least Alou’s contract is only for one year, but $7.25 million is a lot for a player who could easily be below average offensively.

Three years and a total of $12.25 million is crazy for Vizquel. He had something of a resurgence last year, but his offense still wasn’t that good, and it had been terrible in two of the three previous seasons. He could be unusable in the last year of this deal.

I know the Giants have to try and make the most of the time they have left with Barry Bonds, and this offseason does give them a chance to do that. They’ve improved their bullpen and they may have improved the lineup around Bonds.

But if Bonds declines or gets injured this year or next year or he retires after this year, this team is absolutely going to go into the tank. It is ridiculously old. If you think I’m being crazy when I suggest that 100 losses is a possibility, just take a look at what happened to the Mariners last year when an aging team started to decline all at the same time.

Of course, if the Giants win 93 games like the 2003 Mariners did, they’ll probably go to the playoffs. So, I can’t completely knock their offseason.

14. Chicago White Sox

Trading Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik wasn’t real smart because Podsednik’s just not as good an offensive player. But Podsednik shouldn’t be terrible either. He only had a .313 OBP last year, but it was .379 the year before. I think he’ll regain some of the lost ground this season. And while stealing bases isn’t tremendously important, Podsednik is very good at it, with an 83 percent success rate in his career.

Other than that trade, the White Sox made pretty much only smart or low-risk moves. They gave about $10 million over two years to Jermaine Dye, who’s not that good a hitter any more, but will at least give them some power to help offset the loss of Lee.

They gave $5.5 million over two years to Dustin Hermanson. Hermanson isn’t a great pitcher, but that’s not much money for a pitcher who could be above average either as a reliever or a starter.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

They picked up A.J. Pierzynski for $2.25 million, which is a pretty good deal for a catcher who should be in the top half of the league offensively.

They gave two years and $8 million plus incentives to Orlando Hernandez, who should be a solid starter if he’s healthy and won’t cost them a ton of money if he’s not.

And they took a two-year, $5-million flier on Japanese import Tadahito Iguchi, who should team with Juan Uribe to give Chicago a pretty solid middle infield.

If all of their signings work out, the White Sox will have a shot at winning the division. If none of the signings work out, they’ll probably finish fourth, but at least they didn’t spend a ton of money doing it and they gave themselves a chance to contend. It wasn’t a great offseason by any means, but it wasn’t bad either.

13. Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta drew a lot of criticism for what happened in LA this offseason, but while he may have shown some inexperience in dealing with people, he didn’t do a bad job with the actual moves he made.

Losing Adrian Beltre hurts, but there are some caveats. First, while the very early years of his career suggested he might be capable of it, his performance last year was ridiculously better than anything he had done before, so he might not get back to quite that level again. Second, the top prospect in LA’s farm system (Joel Guzman) is likely to end up at third base, and could be ready as early as 2006 (although 2007 seems more likely).

Also, J.D. Drew is a heck of a player. He has risks, but so does Beltre; they’re just different risks. And Drew cost $2 million per year less for the Dodgers. And they added two draft picks in the exchange because they offered arbitration to Beltre and the Braves didn’t to Drew.

Adding Jeff Kent (two year, $17 million) and Jose Valentin (one year, $3.5 million) should help the team in the infield, and Norihiro Nakamura provides some insurance in case Valentin suffers a serious age-related decline.

Giving Odalis Perez $24 million over three years seems reasonable considering what other pitchers were getting this offseason.

The Shawn Green trade was fine to me. They got a catcher Dioner Navarro, who could become a regular for them, and three pitching prospects for a player who really hasn’t been a good enough hitter for the money he makes at the position he plays the last two seasons.

The only move the Dodgers made that truly looks bad is the Derek Lowe contract. Now, Lowe wasn’t as bad as his numbers looked last year, he’s been very good at times before and he showed in the postseason what he’s capable of doing. And it’s also possible that Chavez Ravine particularly suits his talents as a pitcher and will make him more valuable than he’d otherwise be. Even with all of that under consideration, there’s simply no way he’s worth $36 million over four years.

All in all, it really wasn’t a bad offseason. They’re probably still the favorites to win the NL West, and they picked up four prospects who could help them out down the road. They probably could have done things more smoothly, and this offseason would look a lot better if they had passed on Lowe or given him less money, but Dodger fans really shouldn’t be that disappointed.

12. New York Yankees

I’ll just say this about New York’s offseason. If you had come up to me, a Red Sox fan, in early November and hand me a sheet of paper listing everything the Yankees ended up doing and told me that’s what the Yankees would do, I would have been thrilled.

You knew the Yankees were going to spend money. That was just a given. It was just a matter of who they were going to spend it on. I was just hoping they wouldn’t get both Randy Johnson and Carlos Beltran. If I had to pick one of the two for them to get, it would have been Johnson, because he’s a bigger risk and he’ll help them for a shorter amount of time and they had to give up some assets other than money to get him.

That the Yankees decided they had finally reached the limit of what they could spend, and couldn’t afford Beltran blew me away. The upgrade from Bernie Williams to Beltran would have been tremendous, and signing him in addition to trading for Johnson would have made them the definite favorites to win the World Series.

Even if they decided they couldn’t spend much more than they did, they still could have gotten Beltran if they really wanted to. They could have — and should have, regardless — passed on Tony Womack for $4 million over two years and spent about half as much on somebody else.

They could have passed on $3 million for Tino Martinez and kept either John Olerud or Tony Clark or Travis Lee for about $2 million less. They also could have found cheaper options to fill out their starting rotation than Carl Pavano ($40 million over four years) and Jaret Wright ($18 million over two years that could become $21 million over three years), such as Hernandez, Kevin Millwood, David Wells, Woody Williams and maybe others.

If they had saved $5 or $6 million at those positions, they probably could have signed Beltran to a backloaded contract in which he got about $8 million for 2005 and then the salary escalated after this season, when Williams and Kevin Brown come off the books for New York.

Instead, the Yankees will get sub par offense in center field (because they kept Williams in the starting lineup) and second base (because they got Womack), and they will have a brutal defensive outfield.

They also won’t have as good a rotation as some people think, despite spending a ton of money on it. First of all, their five starters (Johnson, Pavano, Wright, Brown and Mike Mussina) averaged 130 starts between them over the last two seasons. That’s skewed a bit by Wright not making any starts in 2003, but if the Yankees even get just 140 starts from those five, it’ll be a problem.

The sixth starter for the Yankees is Tanyon Sturtze, who has a 5.23 career ERA, and I don’t even know who their seventh starter is. The only Yankees starter who has made at least 30 starts in each of the last two seasons is Pavano, and those are the only two seasons in his career that he’s made at least 30 starts.

Pavano is also a risk to suffer from his league switch. He wasn’t really much better last year than in 2003, when he had a 4.30 ERA. He had 133 strikeouts, 49 walks, 19 homers and seven hit batters in 201 innings in 2003. He had 139 strikeouts, 49 walks, 16 homers and 11 hit batters in 222.1 innings last year. His DIPS ERA was 3.56, and I think with his low strikeout rate combined with the AL and the Yankees poor defense, his ERA will be at least 4.00 and very possibly 4.50 this year.

I actually like Wright better, but he’s far from a sure thing because of his injury history. You can’t knock the pickup of Johnson because he’s a fantastic pitcher, but he’s 41 years old and has some serious injury concerns. If even four of these five pitchers are at 100 percent when October rolls around, I’ll be somewhat surprised.

Signing Martinez probably won’t hurt them because it’s not a lot of money, he’s not a terrible hitter (although he’s not good for his position) and he’s a pretty good fielder. But the Womack signing was terrible. He’s 35 years old and his decent (not good) production last year was far and away the best of his career. There’s almost no way he matches it this year.

With Williams in center and Jason Giambi a question mark at DH, signing those two could give the Yankees four positions at which they don’t get above average offense. And their bench is terrible, as the backups they signed this offseason were Doug Glanville and Rey Sanchez, neither of whom can hit.

The Yankees are still almost a lock for the postseason and could easily top 100 wins again and win the World Series, but there’s a lot of risk because of what they did. They didn’t shore up their rotation as much as it seems and they didn’t give it any protection at all. They didn’t help their defense and they didn’t do anything for their bench.

They did improve their bullpen by trading for Mike Stanton and Felix Rodriguez, which should help keep their big three (Mariano Rivera, Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill) fresher for the postseason, but this was not a great offseason for the Yankees.

11. San Diego Padres

This is a team for whom not doing much was actually a good thing. The Padres made a nice run at the playoffs last year, and they looked like a good bet to keep improving as some of their young players keep developing. So, they didn’t really need to get involved with all the crazy money getting thrown around, and it only helped them out when none of the teams in their division had a really good offseason.

Basically, the Padres only did three things. They lost David Wells and replaced him with a pretty similar pitcher in Woody Williams, picking up two draft picks in the process.

They traded a contract they didn’t want (Terrence Long) for a pitcher the Royals didn’t want (Darrell May) in a trade that probably won’t have much impact on anything. Since the Padres didn’t want Long anyway, it’s not a bad trade because May could be a solid fifth starter for them, especially if Petco helps with his homer problem (38 allowed last year).

And they traded for Dave Roberts, giving the Red Sox Jay Payton, Ramon Vazquez and marginal prospect David Pauley. I think it was too much to give up for Roberts, but he can be a nice player as he played good defense, steals bases at an excellent clip and is capable of getting on base enough that he’s not a real drag on the offense.

All in all, a solid job of tweaking a team that already had a good shot at contending for a division title.

10. Anaheim Angels

First of all, I’m not calling them the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Ever. It’s just stupid. That said, let’s look at the things they did this offseason that actually have some relevance on the field.

The Angels are somewhat like the Yankees, in that they spent a good chunk of money, but didn’t really get much better in the big picture for this season, and certainly didn’t go a good job of getting better in the long term.

Losing Troy Percival and Troy Glaus were both things they had to deal with because they’re not worth nearly the money other teams were willing to give them. I like Francisco Rodriguez a lot, and he should be a very good closer while Percival continues to decline as a reliever.

However, Percival (despite a collapsing strikeout rate) did manage to put up a 2.90 ERA in about 50 innings last year, and the Anaheim bullpen will likely be a little worse because they’ll have trouble replacing that. Esteban Yan will be able to replace the innings, but I don’t know if he’ll be able to replace them well. Even last year, in a good season for him, he only had a 3.83 ERA.

Similarly, I like Dallas McPherson and his power potential at third base, but he did strike out a ton in the minor leagues. I don’t think how you make an out is that important once you reach the majors, but that many strikeouts in the minor leagues could be an indication that you’ll struggle once you get to the majors.

The Angels outfield is also likely to not be much improved this year over what it was last year. Having Garret Anderson healthy all season would help, but the Steve Finley signing is offset offensively by the fact that the Angels had to trade Jose Guillen after the mess at the end of last season.

Finley’s aged well, but he’ll be 40 years old when the season starts, and I don’t think he’ll hit as well this year as he did last year. That would mean that he won’t hit nearly as well this year as Guillen hit last year.

Defensively, Finley’s just not a very good centerfielder any more, and Guillen was probably Anaheim’s best defensive outfielder last year. So, replacing Anderson’s defense in center with Finley’s is an upgrade, but I think replacing Guillen’s defense in left with Anderson’s is a bigger downgrade. Or at least as big a downgrade.

As for the shortstop situation, well, David Eckstein isn’t great, but neither is Orlando Cabrera. I’d say Cabrera will probably outproduce Eckstein at the plate this season, but he’s not nearly a big enough upgrade to warrant cutting Eckstein and giving $32 million over four years to Cabrera, who isn’t young at 30 years of age.

Letting Ramon Ortiz go and signing Paul Byrd was a pretty good idea, but they need Byrd to be healthy all season or else that rotation is going to be awful. And signing Kendry Morales, well, who knows? It could turn out to be a tremendous bargain or a tremendous waste of money.

So, as I said, I don’t see great improvement for the Angels this season. Fortunately for them, I don’t see great improvement for either of the teams that were close to them in the standings last year, so they’re still the favorites to win the division. If these moves work out as well as possible, they’ve improved their chances of winning a title. If they don’t, they’ve still got a shot at the playoffs.

9. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners had about as bad a season as was possible last year, falling from 93 wins to 99 losses as the team got very old all at once. They didn’t make many moves this offseason, but two of the moves they did make were very big.

Those moves would be the signing of Adrian Beltre (five years, $64 million) and Richie Sexson (four years, $50 million) to big contracts). While those contracts alone probably aren’t enough to get the Mariners into the playoffs, they are enough — when combined with a few other things — to give Seattle a real shot at a winning season.

Seattle’s third basemen last season posted a putrid .232/.294/.377 (.671) line in 607 at-bats. Beltre put up a .334/.388/.629 (1.017) line in 598 at-bats. I don’t think he’ll be quite that good again, but his OPS should be at least 200 points higher than that of Seattle’s third basemen last season. And Beltre will only be 26 this season, so he’ll be in his prime for the entirety of the contract he signed.

Seattle’s first basemen last season posted an unacceptable .258/.339/.392 (.730) line in 600 at-bats. Sexson obviously only played 23 games last year, but his lowest OPS in a full season is .848, so he should be good for at least a 100-point improvement in OPS for Seattle’s first basemen. His contract may be a tad expensive, but he’ll definitely be a help and he won’t be too old, at 33, when the contract ends.

The Mariners also signed Pokey Reese to a one-year deal. Reese can’t hit, but Seattle’s shortstops only posted a .239/.288/.342 (.630) line last year. Reese can match, or at least come close to matching, that and his defense will be a lot better than what the Mariners got out of Rich Aurilia, Jose Lopez et al.

With a slight, at least, defensive improvement at one position and large offensive improvements at two positions, the Mariners did quite a bit to improve the team this offseason. You might think that it will be something of a wasted improvement because the rest of the team isn’t good enough to make it significant.

However, when you look at what the Mariners did last year, the only player you can really pick out as somebody whose performance is likely to decline is Ichiro Suzuki, and he should still be pretty darn good.

Bobby Madritsch might be another candidate for decline, but he only pitched 88 innings last year and might not be much less valuable if he can post a 3.75 ERA in 180 innings this year than he was with the 3.27 ERA in 88 innings last year.

Otherwise, you’re looking at a bunch of players — Bret Boone, Eddie Guardado, Joel Pineiro, Jamie Moyer — who are more likely to be better and/or healthier than they are to keep getting worse.

You’ve also got some younger players — Bucky Jacobsen, Jeremy Reed, maybe Rafael Soriano — who could see more time than they did last year, and could be better than some of the veterans who saw that time instead.

So, when you factor in the improvements they should get from the players they already had and tack on the major improvements they should get from the players they added, the Mariners could make some noise in the AL West just one year after losing 99 games.

8. Minnesota Twins

The Twins lost a player they could have used (Corey Koskie), kept some players they didn’t really need (Jacque Jones and Luis Rivas) and added a player who doesn’t make a lot of sense (Juan Castro). But they did the two things that were the most important for them to do this offseason.

First, they got a bit of a hometown discount from Brad Radke and signed him for $18 million over two years. If he had left, the Twins would have to bid against the bigger-market teams for a crop of starters who might have cost more and provided less than Radke. And if they hadn’t gotten any of them, they would have been left with one great starter, one good starter and three question marks. So keeping Radke was huge.

Then, they agreed to an extension with Johan Santana for $40 million over four years, covering his last two arbitration years and his first two free agency years. Barring injury, Santana is going to be one of the very best pitchers in baseball for at least that long, and it’s almost certain he would have left Minnesota had he reached free agency without an extension.

The Twins did enough this offseason to be the favorite to win the AL Central yet again, and they made sure that they’ll have Santana for twice as long as they were guaranteed to have him. That’s enough to make the offseason a success.

7. Florida Marlins

Losing Carl Pavano and adding Al Leiter will not be a net improvement to the rotation. Losing Armando Benitez and adding Antonio Alfonseca, Todd Jones and John Riedling will not be a net improvement to the bullpen.

But adding Carlos Delgado will be a tremendous improvement to the offense. With Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo at the top of the order followed by Miguel Cabrera, Delgado and Mike Lowell, the Marlins should easily improve on last year’s 11th-place showing in runs scored.

And another good thing about this offseason for the Marlins is that they picked up four extra draft picks because Delgado wasn’t offered arbitration, Pavano was offered arbitration and Benitez was signed before the arbitration deadline.

Still, I can’t help but wonder one thing. Would you rather have Delgado and Paul Lo Duca for a combined $20 million per year or Ivan Rodriguez and Derrek Lee for a combined $17.5 million per (approximately)? I’d rather have the latter duo, and if the Marlins had kept them last offseason, they might have given themselves a chance to make the playoffs last year.

Oh well, at least they’ve given themselves that chance this year.

6. Cleveland Indians

The Indians already had a promising, young team that stayed in contention into mid-August before slipping and finishing just below .500 at 80-82. This offseason, they’ve made a lot of moves that give them a ton of depth, probably more than any other team in baseball.

They traded for Arthur Rhodes and signed Paul Shuey to a minor-league deal to help out a bullpen that posted an ugly 4.88 ERA.

They signed Kevin Millwood to a low-risk, incentive-laden contract to help out a young and inconsistent rotation.

They signed Juan Gonzalez to a cheap deal to replace Matt Lawton, hoping he has something left in the tank to help them out.

And they bombarded their infield with useful players, signing Alex Cora and Jose Hernandez while re-signing Ron Belliard and Casey Blake.

The Indians don’t have a ton of top-shelf talent, but they do have a lot of good, solid players. If they can find the right way to fit them all together, they should be able to give the Twins a nice race in the AL Central. If not, they didn’t spend much money, they didn’t lose any players who were important in the long term and they actually added two draft picks.

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