Major League Baseball: Top 10 Moves of the Off-Season
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Prior to the start of the 1966 season, the Cincinnati Reds traded eight time All-Star outfielder Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles for outfielder Dick Simpson and pitchers Milt Pappas and Jack Baldschun.
By season's end, it would become known as the most lopsided trade in Major League Baseball history. Robinson went on win the Triple Crown, league MVP, and World Series MVP in leading the Orioles to a four game sweep over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Since then, every major league team has longed to land the next Frank Robinson in an off-season trade or land a prized free agent like the Atlanta Braves did when they signed pitcher Greg Maddux back in 1993. In 11 seasons for the Braves, Maddux won 194 games, 10 Gold Gloves, 3-Cy Young Awards, was named to the All-Star team six times, and won a World Series title in 1995.
Many have tried and few have succeeded, but it doesn't stop the flurry of free agent activity that comes every off-season.
Millions and millions of dollars are poured out in hopes of landing the missing piece to the puzzle. For some, it's a series of players. See the New York Yankees, who shelled out close to $400 million to land pitchers AJ Burnett, CC Sabathia and first baseman Mark Teixeira back in 2009.
This off-season held no shortage of moves and money spent.
Here is the my list of the Top 10 best moves made in the off-season with explanation. Some make sense, some are justified, and some may surprise. Enjoy...
No. 10: Angels Sign Pitcher CJ Wilson Away from Rangers
In two full seasons as a starter, C.J. Wilson has 31 wins and ERA of 3.15
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The Los Angeles Angels paid big money for a pitcher who has only been a starter the last two seasons, but C.J. Wilson looks to be the real deal.
In two seasons as a starter for the Texas Rangers, Wilson has 31 wins, 15 losses and a combined ERA of just 3.15. Last year he set a career high with 206 strikeouts, good for sixth in the American League.
With the signing of C.J. Wilson, the Angels may rival the the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves for the best rotation in all of baseball.
Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana give the Angels one of the deepest starting rotations in the league, and certainly the best in their own division, which includes the back-to-back American League Champion Texas Rangers.
No. 9: Yankees Land Pitcher Michael Pineda
Michael Pineda was 7-4 with a 2.64 ERA prior to the 2011 All-Star game.
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Michael Pineda may have been one of the biggest surprises of the first half of the 2011 season—literally.
Standing 6 feet 7 inches tall, the hard throwing right hander from the Dominican Republic scorched through the first half of the season, going 7-4 with a 2.64 ERA and an All-Star nod in his rookie season.
For the Mariners, it was a pleasant surprise, as they had one of the best 1-2 punches in the league in Pineda and Felix Hernandez.
Following the All-Star break, Pineda fell off the map, finishing just 2-5 with a 5.12 ERA and immediately, questions arose about his durability.
For the New York Yankees on the other hand, durability wasn't the question so much as potential. Outside of CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, Yankee pitchers were terribly average.
Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and AJ Burnett finished with a combined record of 31 wins, 29 losses and an ERA of 4.26.
Enter Pineda, who at just 23-years old has suddenly become one of the youngest starting pitchers on the team as well as the No. 2 man behind CC Sabathia.
The move to land Pineda came at a cost, as the Yankees gave up catching prospect Jesus Montero. Still, the Yankees believe they have their 1-2 punch set up in the rotation.
No. 8: Oakland A's Land Pitchers Parker and Peacock in Trades, Sign Cespedes
The A's aquired a wealth of young talent, including pitcher Jarrod Parker and Brad Peacock.
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Oakland Athletic's GM Billy Beane, better known as the face of Moneyball, has become the pied piper of general managers in Major League Baseball.
When Oakland makes a move, the league stops, observes, then tries to digest it.
This off-season, Oakland made a series of what appeared to be franchise crushing and salary cap clearing moves, trading away their top two starting pitchers from last season, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, as well as closer Andrew Bailey.
In return however, Oakland landed some top major league prospects in Jarrod Parker and Brian Peacock.
Both are hard throwing right handers who could step in immediately for the A's, especially considering that Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson are still rehabbing from injuries.
What's amazing is that somehow, Oakland always seems to have a wealth of pitchers. From Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson to Trevor Cahill, Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, and Gio Gonzalez, the A's are ready for their next crop of hurlers.
Pitching wins games, and when completely healthy, Oakland could have one of the best 5-man rotations in the majors, with both Parker and Peacock looking like front runners for the staff.
Then on February 13, the A's again turned heads around the league. This time instead of trading away, they signed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The 26-year old hard hitting righty is expected to anchor the outfield for the A's for the next several years and also solidified the A's movement towards on both offense and defense.
No. 7: D'Backs Land Pitcher Trevor Cahill
The D'Backs have may secured the AL West when they landed Trevor Cahill to complete their pitching staff.
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Two year ago, Trevor Cahill was one of the best pitchers in baseball, racking up 18 wins against 8 losses and an ERA of just 2.97.
Through the first two months of the 2011 season, Cahill again looked like a Cy Young Award winning pitcher. In his first 12 starts, Cahill was 6-3 with an ERA of 2.31. At one point, his ERA dipped all the way down to 1.72.
In his last 22 starts however, Cahill was anything but spectacular: 6 wins, 11 losses, and an ERA that by season's end shot up all the way up to 4.16. Twelve times he allowed 7 hits or more and nine times he allowed four or more runs.
The numbers weren't there for Cahill in 2011, but Arizona believes they landed a gem of a pitcher who goes from a punch-less offense in Oakland to a team on the rise.
Arizona, who seemingly came out of nowhere to win the NL West last season, were led by pitchers Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, who combined for 38 wins.
With Cahill in the mix now, the D'Backs may have just outdone the San Francisco Giants for the top pitching staff in the NL West.
No. 6: Red Sox Land Closer Andrew Bailey
Andrew Bailey, the 2009 AL Rookie of the Year has a career ERA of just 2.07
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Through 59 appearances last season, Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon successfully closed out 30 games and had only a single blown save opportunity.
In his final four appearances of the 2011 season, Papelbon closed out one game and had a pair of blown saves to the Baltimore Orioles, including the season finale with Boston up with one strike and one out to go. Instead, Boston was knocked out of playoff contention.
The Red Sox opted not to re-sign, let alone make an offer to Papelbon and instead, traded with the Oakland A's to get pitcher Andrew Bailey, the 2009 AL Rookie of the Year and a two time All-Star closer.
Through three seasons in the Majors, including spending time on the DL the last two years, Bailey has closed out 133 of 157 total games, and his career ERA is a low 2.07.
Bailey averaged 25 saves a season with an Oakland A's offense that in no way compares to the Boston Red Sox offense.
In Boston, Bailey could easily hit the 40+ save mark. Four years younger and at a discount price when compared to Papelbon, Boston got a heck of a steal in Bailey.
No. 5: Reds Aquire Pitcher Mat Latos
Pitcher Matt Latos ERA over the last two seasons is just 3.20
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Of all the teams in the NL Central, only the Cincinnati Reds improved this off-season.
The Pirates are still far off from making a serious run at a division, the Houston Astros have some nice prospects but by next season will have gone to the AL West, the Cubs got a new GM in Theo Epstein, the Brewers lost Prince Fielder and the Cardinals lost Albert Pujols.
Nobody aside from the Reds made any real progress this off-season.
Cincy landed pitcher Mat Latos from San Diego who immediately becomes the front line starter for the Reds for the 2012 season.
Over the last two years, Latos has been fairly consistent, averaging 187 strikeouts and a 3.20 ERA. Now he lands with a team that has the offensive firepower he sorely lacked in San Diego.
With the addition of Latos, suddenly the Reds may have become the best pitching staff in the NL Central. (Latos, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey and Aroldis Chapman)
Yes, the Reds gave up pitcher Edison Volquez and first base prospect Yonder Alonzo to get Latos, but it's a move the Reds believe gives them a shot at winning the division for the next several years.
No. 4: Tigers Sign Prince Fielder
Prince Fielder gives the Tigers one of the best power hitting combos in baseball with Miguel Cabrera.
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There are two reasons why the Detroit Tigers signing Prince Fielder makes sense.
One, his father used to play and hit mammoth home-runs for the Tigers. It's a great storyline to see both father and son playing for the same team.
Two, the Tigers are thinking long term with this signing. Unless they completely melt down, they will win this division. Nobody improved enough to overtake the Tigers.
Not Minnesota, not Kansas City, not the White Sox and not the Indians.
The Tigers have the pitching staff, the bullpen, and now they have one of the best offensive minded lineups in the league today, despite losing Victor Martinez for the season.
Last year, Miguel Cabrera, who now takes over at third base, and Prince Fielder combined for 68 home-runs, 225 RBIs and a batting average of .322.
Now they get a chance to bat consecutively in the lineup for the next several seasons, and for the rest of the AL Central, it's not something to look forward to.
No. 3: Marlins Sign Closer Heath Bell
Heath Bell has closed out 132 games in the last 3 years with the Padres.
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Since taking over closer duties for the Florida Marlins, Juan Carlos Oviedo, better known as Leo Nunez, has closed out 92 games. He's also blown 25 save opportunities and has an ERA of 3.86.
During that time span, Heath Bell has closed out 132 games, blown 14 save opportunities, and has an ERA of just 2.36.
It's easy to see why the Marlins went after Bell as their closer. Not only their numbers but also the fact that Leo Nunez' real name is Juan Carlos Oviedo and that he's actually a year older than he said he was could have factored into the Marlins paying big money to land Bell.
This off-season, the Marlins shelled out boat loads of money for key free agents in hopes of making a strong run at the Braves and Phillies as the top two squads in the NL East.
They'll know this much, though—so long as Bell has the lead going into the 9th inning, they are in great hands.
No. 2: Angels Sign Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols signed a 10-year deal worth close to $250 million with the Angels.
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I know what you're thinking, Albert Pujols is second on your list of the best off-season moves?
Yes, and here's why.
Everybody knows the story and the stats. Albert Pujols is the greatest hitter of his generation and unlike Barry Bonds, has zero steroid linkage.
He is a first ballot Hall of Famer who in 11-seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, won three MVP awards, was named to the All-Star team nine times and helped the Birds get to the World Series three times, winning twice.
According to Forbes.com, the overall value of the Cardinals franchise doubled from $219 million in 2000 to $528 million in 2011.
Pujols now brings that success to the West Coast, where he's not only expected to continue to put up those numbers, but also to help bring a couple of World Series titles to the Angels.
Pujols is also doing something else for the franchise—helping it make bank. Pujols is quickly approaching home-run milestones such as the 500 mark, and at only 32-years old and averaging 41 homers a year, Pujols could break the all-time mark set by either Hank Aaron or Barry Bonds (depends on who you think is really the all-time HR champ).
The Angels have the pitching, and now they have the best hitter in baseball in Albert Pujols.
If Kendrys Morales is able to successfully come back from a devastating injury and Mark Trumbo continues to develop, the Angels could give the Rangers a run for their money for the next several seasons in the division, and with Pujols at the heart of the lineup, the Angels could rival the Yankees, Red Sox and Tigers for the AL Pennant.
No. 1: Seattle Lands Catcher Jesus Montero
Yankees GM Brian Cashman csaid Jesus Montero quite possibly was the best player he ever traded.
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In Major League Baseball today, there are only a handful of solid all-around offensive minded catchers. The Twins Joe Mauer, the Giants Buster Posey, and Braves catcher Brian McCann quickly come to mind.
Montero may someday be in the same category as those three. At just 17-years old, Jesus Montero signed a $2 million deal with the New York Yankees. Scouts believed that Montero is the complete package. Good with the bat, great arm, and a solid all around baseball player.
For the next five seasons, Montero spent time in the Yankees farm system, always being touted by Baseball America as one of the best prospects in all of Minor League Baseball and the heir apparent to Jorge Posada.
In 2011, he made his debut and in just 61 at-bats, hit .324 with 4 home-runs and 12 RBI.
It's not every day that a team can land a highly regarded prospect like Montero, who was originally part of a trade back in 2010 to Seattle as part of the Cliff Lee deal. The chance to land Montero once and for all was too good to pass up, and this time around, Seattle got their man.
Franchise catchers are few and far between, and if baseball history shows us anything, it's that you need a good catcher.
With Montero and pitcher Felix Hernandez, the Mariners have built their foundation. If Montero pans out the way Yankee scouts hoped he would when they signed him at 17 years old, then Seattle got a steal of a trade.