MLB Hot Stove: The Fantastic Four of a Crazy Offseason
The final major pieces of the 2010-11 Major League Baseball offseason fell into place this past week. Former superstar sluggers, weathered but still talented, Andruw Jones and Manny Ramirez signed one year deals with the Yankees and Rays respectively. Both now older and fatter should be their teams' designated hitters.
Another former 2004 idiot from the Red Sox, Johnny Damon, joins Manny in Tampa Bay with the best deal of the three: one year at $5 million. Damon, who has been tagged by many as a fantastic teammate, should play plenty of designated hitter, outfield, and even first place with the departure of Carlos Peña.
Now that the 2011 season picture has become a little clearer, barring unforeseen injuries or Frank Robinson-esque trades, it's time to assess the winners and losers of the MLB Hot Stove.
The Pitchin' Phils
Year after year, decade after decade, the cliche of starting pitching winning championships is proven over, and over, and over again. Such was true with the 2010 Giants and their four-headed monster of Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and Bumgarner, and with most World Series champions in the Series' now 108 year existence.
The biggest winners in that respect this offseason, and thus our biggest Hot Stove winners, are the Philadelphia Phillies. Philadelphia slid in at the last second to unseat the Rangers and Yankees from the Cliff Lee chase—landing arguably the best southpaw in the game. Yes, if C.C. Sabathia and Johan Santana are reading this, you guys can toss it pretty good too.
The Phightin' Phils now have, on paper, one of the best rotations in major league history. Let's just say this, Cole Hamels has Cy Young caliber stuff when he's on... and he's the fourth starter. Roy Oswalt was the patriarch of the Astros starting rotation for years, has two 20-win seasons and three All-Star games to his credit. He's the third starter.
Cliff Lee, quite possibly the most sought-after man in baseball this off-season, and has a Cy Young and 22-win season to his credit, is the No. 2 guy. Only Roy Halladay, oft-labeled unhittable by even the cockiest of professional batters, could be the ace of this rotation. After all, he twirled not only a perfect game against Florida in the regular season a year ago, but had the first no-hitter in the playoffs since Don Larsen's perfect game in the '56 World Series. Not to mention his second Cy Young award, and a career-best 219 strikeouts in 250.2 innings pitched.
As if this isn't scary enough. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are still in their primes or at the tail end. Let's move on...
Red Sox Reloaded
With two massive free agent contracts, the Boston Red Sox made themselves a lot more powerful, fast, and overall athletic. But most importantly, they made themselves a real threat to the Yankees new advantage in the "Most Recent Championship" race.
Boston traded for San Diego Padres star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, a more-than-likely titan at Fenway Park, with the promise and mutual respect to work toward a contract extension after Gonzalez's current one ends at the end of the 2011 season. Spray charts of "what if" Gonzalez had been hitting at Fenway instead of the massive Petco Park is downright scary. How he'll deal with the pressure of Beantown and the grind of the AL East is another story, but it's safe to say he's a massive improvement, a potential franchise player, and a ringer that helped push the Sox back even or beyond the Evil Empire of the Yankees.
A couple weeks later, after some premature "Sox are out of it" sports reports, Theo and company snuck in with a big league deal for five-tool outfielder Carl Crawford—for seven years and $142 million. Not only did they make their lineup as nasty as any in the game, but they also heavily depleted their division rival Tampa Bay with one fell swoop. The Red Sox may not be as "evil" as the Yankees but if they're not an empire then what the hell is?
Overpriced deal for Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler might've been a bit extravagant in terms of baseball sense, but their bullpen became solidified as well. There's no reason why Boston shouldn't contend or win the East in 2011 if they can stay healthy. After last season, that is a big "if."
The Sluggin' South Siders
Ozzie should have a lot less to bitch about this season. Don't get me wrong, I love Ozzie and his gripes, but the White Sox look pretty loaded and primed to slug (and pitch, a bit) their way to the AL Central title. In a division that's going to be even tougher with the potential health of the Twins and the addition of Victor Martinez to Detroit.
This offseason, the White Sox picked up one of the biggest underrated power hitters of our generation : Adam Dunn. Dunn, who is big, and often light-hearted, is a fantastic home run hitter and overall ball basher for any team. In fact, in the last eight years he's the only player with 20 home runs before every All-Star break.
Beat that Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, and anyone else you'd care to name. That's right, they can't. Not only does that tell you what a great hitter he is, but how healthy he manages to stay. It's funny how guys who don't need steroids to get bigger can stay healthy sometimes.
Chicago also managed to maintain franchise player Paul Konerko with a three-year deal for about $12 million a year. Very worth it, as Konerko had a hell of a comeback year in 2010: with a .311 average, 39 home runs and 111 RBIs. At the age of 34, Paul proved he can still do it.
With Dunn, Konerko, and Alex Rios, Carlos Quentin and Gordon Beckham in the middle of their line-up, the Pale Hosers can swing with the best of 'em. Wouldn't sleep on that rotation of Jake Peavy, Edwin Jackson, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, either.
New Brew Crew
The only time the word "brew" has come into the mouth of a Wisconsin-ite in the last few months has been requesting another such beverage during a pivotal Packers game. We all know its true. But in the midst of Aaron Rogers' and company's run to Super Bowl XLV, the Milwaukee Brewers made a huge move to solidify them as not only a contender in the newly dense NL Central, but a contender for a title—weak bullpen or not.
The Brew Crew managed to trade for Royals ace and 2009 Cy Young Winner Zack Greinke back on Dec. 20, acquiring the pitcher that many scouts and front office people consider to have some of the most electric stuff in the game today. After battling back from personal and emotional problems, Greinke has been the bane of the existence of hitters in the AL Central. This is despite his mediocre statistical year of 2010 that was due in large part to an anemic Royals squad. Expect 2011 to be like 2009, when Greinke won 16 games and struck out 242 with a major league-leading 2.16 ERA.
Greinke not only gives the Brewers an ace, but makes their rotation as a whole very formidable for the first time in recent memory. Now there are only questions about their fifth starter as one through four—Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf—have the potential to be the quartet of pain for the NL Central.
Throw in dynamic 3-4 duo Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, and upstart bats like Corey Hart and Casey McGehee, and the Brewers have a real shot to do damage in 2011.