With so little drama to be found in the final month's games, the MLB regular season is going a bit stale. The playoffs will rekindle fans' passion, but for now, many are wondering how their team fell into such disrepair and how it can be fixed.
Sometimes, being aggressive during the offseason is just what a team needs to do to succeed. At other times, though, patience is the wiser course. Some teams acknowledge their need to improve certain areas, but do not have the means to do it fast. Such is life in the harsh capitalist world of big-league baseball.
For any number of reasons, then, teams can sometimes find that the winter slides by without their having made any major additions or subtractions. Some teams hum with rumors and then ignite with action every December. These 10 squads, however, will have quiet hibernations between October and April.
When Milwaukee GM Bob Melvin dealt for Zack Greinke last December, he subtly shoved all his chips to the middle of the poker table. If 2011 is a hand of cards, the Brewers have gone all-in.
After this season, Prince Fielder will don someone else's uniform. Even with Fielder gone, the Brewers will have little fiscal flexibility, because they are already committed to pay seven players (Yuniesky Betancourt, Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks and Randy Wolf) a combined $58 million and change next season. That does not account for the arbitration awards that will go to Shaun Marcum, Nyjer Morgan and Casey McGehee, among others.
All told, the Brewers might have some $10-15 million available to replace Fielder, but they cannot afford a spending splurge unless they reach the World Series and claim the added revenue that would accompany that feat. With one of the three worst farm systems in baseball, they're also in no position to make a big trade.
It's not as though the Padres have no help coming. Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo could both make next year's Opening Day roster. When it comes to adding free-agent conquests to their stable of solid prospects, though, the Padres are in a tough spot. Heath Bell looks more likely to return every day, which would register as the biggest move one can imagine from Jed Hoyer this winter.
Wandy Rodriguez offers the greatest hope for a major move by the Astros this winter, but even that trade seems unlikely. This is all about the success cycle—Houston did a good job drawing in some useful minor-league talent this summer while shedding dead wood, but now it has little else of value to trade and cannot afford to make a serious splash in the free-agent market. Since the Astros are a year—or five—from contention anyway, they will probably go with the slow-and-steady approach and stand virtually pat this winter.
Cleveland fans notoriously love and cherish their top prospects, so it was a stroke of brilliance when Chris Antonetti used this semi-competitive season as an excuse to deal two of them for a pitcher who is both better and more established than either ever would be.
The Ubaldo Jimenez deal was terrific for the Indians, and since their key contributors (Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Asdrubal Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, Carlos Santana and Shin-Soo Choo) will all return next season, it looks like Antonetti did his Christmas shopping incredibly early this season.
At the other end of the Jimenez deal, the Rockies received two pitchers who will help fill their deepening rotation for the next half-decade or so. The team's pitching depth, coupled with the stars-and-scrubs positional corps built around Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, will help them contend going forward. However, it also crimps their wallets a bit; without sufficient depth to accomplish a trade without surrendering a necessary part, the Rockies will probably elect a middle road this offseason.
Mark Buehrle and Ozzie Guillen could be on the same express train out of town this winter, but the White Sox's finances make replacing them with big names a virtual impossibility.
Carlos Quentin and John Danks are each arbitration-eligible for the third time, so expect big paydays for each, and the Sox will be left with neither the farm system nor the deep pockets to make a meaningful move.
Batsmen Vladimir Guerrero and Luke Scott will not be back, but the Orioles may have found their replacement when they traded for Chris Davis in July. With President Andy MacPhail on his way out, the O's figure to play it safe as they change course.
It's too early to give up on their young pitchers, although Brian Matusz, especially, is testing everyone's patience. Barring an ill-advised change-of-scenery trade of Matusz or Chris Tillmann, it will be a quiet winter in Baltimore.
The Twins' roster contains no fewer than 10 injury-prone players whose futures are unclear, but the team cannot do much about it. Target Field remains full, but is already less a cash cow than it was during its debut season. The Twins might need to trim payroll, but they have static commitments to most of the guys whom they would find to be a major risk. There certainly will not be room for big trades or signings within the Twins' means.
The story on the team's ownership debacle seems to change daily, but one thing remains clear: the Dodgers have no money to spend. Since their farm system is also spotty, the biggest stories of this offseason are likely to be the team's fruitless efforts to get for James Loney and Andre Ethier what management feels they are worth.
With their long-awaited bumper crop of prospects just beginning to coalesce, it would seem a strange time for the Royals to wade far into either transaction market this winter. Rather, they will probably play it safe by keeping their key cogs in place and trying to develop their inconsistent pitching prodigies into big-league hurlers. Dayton Moore need not overextend himself this winter, when much more pitching help will be out there after 2012.