Friday, February 29, 2008

Movers and shakers

(Posted on Frostburg's The Bottom Line here)

As the winter sports season continues, many players from every MLB team have been arriving at their various spring training locations to start getting ready for the long season ahead. Pitchers and catchers have reported already, and position players are making their way to camp as well.

During the offseason, all teams worked on improving their rosters. Some teams made relatively small moves and kept much of their core talent together. The Red Sox, coming off of a World Series victory, did not make any notable moves and chose to keep its young talent together. The Yankees, surprisingly, did not choose to make any huge deals. Instead, the team re-signed Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and Robinson Cano. The Yankees did sign reliever LaTroy Hawkins, but mainly they are counting on young pitchers like Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes to perform.

Other teams, though, decided to assemble talent from somewhere else. The Angels signed Torii Hunter to a five-year, $90 million dollar contract. The Cubs signed Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to a four-year contract worth $48 million, and the Giants signed Aaron Rowand to a five-year $60 million dollar contract. Recently, the Mariners traded Adam Jones and George Sherrill and three other prospects to the Orioles for Erik Bedard. The Phillies traded for closer Brad Lidge, and the Brewers signed Eric Gagne.

Many other teams signed players to try and improve their teams, but, in my opinion, these teams made the biggest moves and improved the most:

New York Mets

The Mets made arguably the biggest trade during the offseason when they acquired Johan Santana from the Minnesota Twins for prospects Carlos Gomez, Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Delois Guerra. After the Mets acquired the star pitcher, they then signed him to a six-year contract worth more than $150 million. The Mets, who already had a formidable lineup with Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo, and Moises Alou, significantly upgraded their starting rotation, which was thought to be a little thin. Santana will lead a starting rotation consisting of Pedro Martinez, John Maine, Oliver Perez, and Orlando Hernandez.

The acquisition of Santana may just be enough to make the Mets the favorite in the National League this year. At the very least, his presence should help many Mets’ fans forget the team’s disappointing collapse last season when they lost their grasp of the NL East to the Phillies and missed the playoffs.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Figuring their ace needed some help at the top of the starting rotation, the Diamondbacks acquired Dan Haren from the Oakland A’s in exchange for prospects Brett Anderson, Dana Eveland, Greg Smith, Aaron Cunningham, Carlos Gonzalez, and Chris Carter. Haren, who finished the 2007 season with 15 wins and a 3.07 ERA, will look to improve next year’s rotation that will include Doug Davis, Micah Owings, and, hopefully, Randy Johnson. The possible three-headed monster of Webb, Haren, and Johnson could be scary for the entire National League. Even though the Diamondbacks traded their closer, Jose Valverde, to the Houston Astros in the offseason, the team has many talented relievers to shoulder the load. With Conor Jackson, Stephen Drew, Chris B. Young, and Justin Upton, the D-Backs also have plenty of young and talented hitters to fill out the lineup.

Detroit Tigers

After a disappointing 2007 season in which the Tigers finished second in the AL Central and missed the playoffs altogether, the team decided to pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade that sent talented prospects away. The Tigers parted with Cameron Maybin, Mike Rabelo, Andrew Miller, Burke Badenhop, Eulogio De La Cruz, and Dallas Trahern when they sent them to the Marlins. The Tigers, however, received plenty of talent in return -- starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis and third baseman Miguel Cabrera. In a busy offseason, the Tigers also acquired shortstop Edgar Renteria from the Atlanta Braves for prospects and outfielder Jacque Jones from the Cubs in exchange for infielder Omar Infante.

All four acquisitions should help to bolster a team that already had a talented core of players. Cabrera, Renteria, and Jones join a lineup that includes Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco, Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, and Gary Sheffield. The Tigers may be assembling the best lineup in the entire league. Meanwhile, Willis joins Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, and Nate Robertson in the starting rotation. The bullpen, though, may still be a question mark for the Tigers with veteran Todd Jones returning as the team’s closer. If Joel Zumaya can return to form after suffering a serious shoulder injury, the Tigers should compete with the other top teams in the American League.

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