As my previous article about the Oakland A’s described the recent activity of these traditionally small-market and to some extent '80s-competitive “super” power teams, because I discussed the A’s in that article I will omit them from this one, their moves notwithstanding.
With a weaker west, DeJesus and Matsui, can we just give the A's the division now?
All of these teams were at some point (along with the Padres and Pirates, who will be discussed to some extent here but haven’t done as much as the above to warrant as much analysis) good in the 1980s when many of us of that generation started following baseball. It is because of this nostalgia that we endorse their resurgence since that is many of our first memories with the sport.
If I had to grade their activity to date I’d rank them in the following order in terms of competitiveness (translation: after these moves were made how likely they helped them move towards the playoffs):
- Oakland A’s (see other article for in-depth details)
- Milwaukee Brewers
- San Diego Padres
- Baltimore Orioles
- Washington Nationals
- Pittsburgh Pirates
This team skyrockets to the top of this list with their bold move that literally had to make the increasingly irrelevant :) New York Yankee$ jealous with their trade for Kansas City ace Zack Grienke.
We all know about the Brewers solid depth of hitting, and it was obvious it was being wasted. GM Doug Melvin made it a point to add two starting pitchers, and he did just that with ace Zack Grienke and solid No. 4 in Shawn Marcum, who should win a dozen or so games (likely more) out of that spot.
While I’d like to see them add one more starter yet, and I question who is going to close games, there is no question the rotation is so much better with:
While I am still not convinced they could get second in the division which would mean a legit chance at fighting for the Wild Card since I think the NL Central is the Reds for the foreseeable future, they’ve at least given themselves a chance, on paper, to do just that. For the first time in a long time. It's a move that could be seen as CC Sabathia II, basically a second chance at rolling the dice and acquiring an Ace for a second run at the playoffs for the small-market Brewers, who seem to win 80 every year now. That's a vast improvement from the past.
San Diego Padres
After they lost a local marketable star in Adrian Gonzalez, everyone, myself included, expected the budget-conscious Padres to fall to fifth place after a surprising 2010 run.
While they have lost pitchers Jon Garland and Kevin Correia, whom they must replace, I have no doubt they will. They rebounded nicely with veteran additions Jason Barlett and Orlando Hudson, giving them a suddenly recognizable infield that could soon add Derrek Lee.
Maybe this team will be alright after all? While third place won’t get them in the playoffs, I think they have a legit chance at that now, which says a lot when you lose A-Gon early in the offseason for nothing (prospects), causing people to draw early conclusions about your 2011 chances.
The only reason they don’t move up higher is because they play in the American League East, and history shows even with their improvements all across the board, it's still too much to overcome to make a difference.
Still, no one played better in the American League late than the O’s, who finished 2010 34-23 after new manager Buck Showalter came aboard. Can it carry over next year? Probably not, as I have no idea how the no-name pitching staff did that good, and we’ve seen teams like the Royals and notably Cito Gaston’s Blue Jays scorch at the end for seasons for 85 wins and fourth place year after year only to stay in that limbo.
This team has already taken on a lot of payroll, adding Mark Reynolds from the downtrodden Diamondbacks for two kids that never worked in their system, anyway, and in doing so added $10.5 million in payroll in moves not seen since their '90s run.
Next, they added $7.25 million more in payroll by taking starting shortstop J.J. Hardy and utility man Brendan Harris off the Twins hands for two kids who may never pan out.
Finally, they re-signed solid relief pitcher Koji Uehara for $2 million less than he would he would have gotten had they simply picked up his option. They also remain in the hunt for Derrek Lee or Adam LaRoche at first, whom Reynolds wants, seeing how they played together in Arizona. The O's also remain the favorites to land Kevin Gregg, who saved 37 last year for Toronto.
1B LaRoche or Lee
Suddenly that lineup looks solid with upgrades at 3B, SS and 1B from last year. If Showalter can have similar success with the X-factor starting rotation, this team may be a lot closer than you think, even in the suddenly crowded and competitive East where, outside of Boston, the gap continues to close.
They made their big splash with Jayson Werth. While its a highly controversial signing, it shows the once-small market Nationals have some money to spend and aren’t afraid to do it.
While they stupidly gave away Josh Willingham (see my A’s article), they claim it's to save money to perhaps add a Derrek Lee, which, if true, is OK. But production-wise, it's probably a wash, causing the team to not get better, but to hold ground.
While they didn’t land him, the fact they were in the Grienke talks shows how far this team has come in a willingness to spend. They dominated the winter meetings with their big splash as people continue to monitor them now. What else do they have up their sleeves? You have to think with losing out on Grienke, being in the talks for Cliff Lee before losing out on him, too, will only intensify their efforts to land Carl Pavano, to whom they’ve also been linked.
Like the Brewers, this team needs to add two starters to go with Jordan Zimmerman and Jason Marquis, but if they are able to do that their rotation looks like this:
That looks a lot better than in years past and like the Brewers moving Wolf down to his natural No. 3 and Gallardo to No. 2, they are able to shift guys down to their normal spots, causing them to pitch against more worthy, equal, and thus beatable opponents, allowing their teams to have a better chance than if they were mismatched due to lack of talent.
Don’t laugh, but adding Kevin Correia, Matty Diaz, and Lyle Overbay at SP, LF, and 1B are all upgrades over the crap they ran out their last year.
While these are all short-term, financially friendly contracts (i.e., asily movable contracts at the trading deadline so reminiscent of this franchise) they make the team better on paper (at least until they mess it up on the field, that is). Still, it's nice to see they are active making Oakland A’s-like calculated moves and not just bargain shopping for scraps in January like usual small market teams in years past.
While the Phillies and Red Sox may steal all the headlines, these surprisingly active, small-market teams have quietly all improved, which is more than I can say for the big-market New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels or New York Yankee$.