MLB Hot Stove: Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford Among 20 Best Moves Of Offseason

John ChurchCorrespondent IJanuary 10, 2011

MLB Hot Stove: Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford Among 20 Best Moves Of Offseason

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    With shocking free agent signings, blockbuster deals, and no shortage of clear-cut winners and losers, the 2010 off-season certainly hasn't lacked intrigue.

    With most of the big-name free agents off the board and the trade market slowing down, now is a good time to take a look at the best moves of the off season up to this point.

    In evaluating these moves, I gave as much consideration to the impact of the move on the team's chances as I did that player's cost in either dollars or players.

    In other words, I won't dwell on a team overpaying for a player if it greatly improves their chances next season. Likewise, I'll be sure to recognize bargain signings even by teams that figure to have a hard time competing next season.

    As Jayson Werth's deal with Washington does not put the Nationals over the top and was a severe overpay, that is one move you won't find on this list.

    Please leave me some feedback and check out my other articles if you like this piece. Enjoy!

20. Baltimore Orioles Acquire Mark Reynolds

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    A nice low-risk, high-reward addition by Andy MacPhail. Hitting for average obviously is not Reynolds' strong suit, and I still don't understand why Arizona essentially turned a blind eye to his strikeouts.

    That said, I do expect him to post a batting line closer to his .242/ .334/ .483 career average than the .198/ .320/ .433 line he posted last season.

    Bottom line, Baltimore went out and got him for his run-producing ability. Per 162 games played, Reynolds averages 35 HR and 100 RBI a season (The O's got 16 HR and 71 RBI out of their third basemen last season).

    They had to surrender young relievers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio to acquire him, but with Kevin Gregg, Mike Gonzalez and Koji Uehara among others in the fold, the O's still have the makings of a decent bullpen.

19. Arizona Diamondbacks Sign J.J. Putz

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    While I do feel Kevin Towers needed to make another addition or two to a bullpen that was preposterously bad in 2010 (5.74 ERA, over one run worse than the next worst team), he at least addressed the most important component of any relief core: closer.

    Once a dynamite closer in Seattle, Putz re-established himself as a viable late-inning presence in Chicago in 2010 and was able to land a closing job this winter. Towers was wise to sign Putz to a reasonable two-year, $10M contract rather than throwing money at someone like Rafael Soriano.

    Like I said, I have questions about Arizona's middle relief. But if Kirk Gibson can hand the ball to Putz with a lead, he should like his club's chances of getting the win.

18. Oakland A's Acquire David DeJesus

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    An acquisition that went under the radar, but a shrewd move by Billy Beane. DeJesus is a more complete player than Rajai Davis (who was dealt to Toronto shortly after this trade) and with a career .360 OBP (as opposed to Davis' .330 mark), certainly fits the organization's emphasis of getting on base.

    DeJesus is an asset in the field too, with the arm and range to play every outfield position. With Coco Crisp entrenched in center, outfield defense looks to be a strength of the A's.

    You have to like Kansas City's end of the deal as well, as Vin Mazzaro looks like a promising young pitcher who's already had success in the majors.

    With Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez already headlining an impressive rotation, the A's were able to deal from a position of strength to address a pressing need for more ofense.

17. Texas Rangers Sign Brandon Webb

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    After watching Cliff Lee sign with the Phillies for five years and $120M, the Rangers turned around and signed Brandon Webb, who was once in Lee's company as one of the best pitchers in baseball (for four years and $117M less).

    In most cases, Texas would hardly seem like an ideal place for a pitcher to re-establish himself.

    That said, Webb has a fantastic career ground ball rate of 62.4 percent and will have great infield defense behind him. Assets like that can play in any ballpark.

    Even if Webb doesn't quite return to his ace form, it's easy to forget that C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis were holding down the fort atop the Texas staff before the Cliff Lee trade last season.

    If Webb can merely be a quality mid-rotation starter, it will have been a worthwhile investment.

16. Chicago Cubs Sign Kerry Wood

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    Easily the best middle-relief signing of the off-season, and quite the feel-good story as well. Whereas teams like the Tigers, White Sox and Dodgers handed out lucrative three-year deals to non-closing relievers, the Cubs were able to land one of the best on the market at a bargain price.

    Obviously, the Cubs have a special place in Wood's heart, and being where he was comfortable meant more to him than making money. A breath of fresh air for the typical fan sick of players simply going where the big bucks are.

    The Cubs have no shortage of question marks. With Wood returning to set up Carlos Marmol, late inning relief is not one of them.

15. Baltimore Orioles Sign Derrek Lee

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    Another nice addition to a retooled Baltimore infield. 2010 was a tale of two seasons for Lee; after struggling in the first half, he rebounded to hit 9 HR with 44 RBI and a .298/ .373/ .516 line after the All-Star break. 

    In hitter-friendly Camden Yards, I expect him to pick up where he left off at the end of 2010.

    That said, the most valuable asset Lee provides the O's this season may be his defense. The three-time gold glove winner should be invaluable to an Orioles team that committed the most errors and had the worst fielding percentage among first basemen in the majors last season.

    Lee may not put the O's over the top, but he's a fine veteran presence to a young team trying to put over a decade of futility behind them.

14. Los Angeles Dodgers Sign Jon Garland

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    On top of retaining Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda, the Dodgers added one of the most reliable pitchers in the game in Jon Garland, ensuring starting pitching will be a strength of the team.

    After he pitched for them down the stretch in 2009, I thought it made sense for the Dodgers to re-sign him then before he signed with the Padres.

    Garland won't win many awards, but he's everything you could ask for in a back-of-the-rotation starter, averaging 13 wins and 208 innings a season for his career.

    The Padres' opening day starter in 2010, Garland profiles as the fifth starter in L.A. behind Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Lilly, and Kuroda. With rotation depth like that, don't be surprised if the Dodgers are right back in the thick of the NL West race in 2011.

13. Oakland A's Acquire Josh Willingham

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    Rather than overpay for a power-hitting outfielder on the free agent market, Billy Beane decided to take advantage of his farm depth and acquire Josh Willingham from the Nationals for a pair of prospects. Willingham joins Coco Crisp and David DeJesus in a revamped Oakland outfield.

    Like DeJesus, Willingham is an A's type of player, with a career OBP of .367. He showed what he can do with a full season's worth of AB in 2007 (21 HR, 89 RBI, .827 OPS), but has had trouble staying healthy since then.

    If he can stay on the field, Willingham will be a vital part of an A's offense that struggled mightily last season.

12. Washington Nationals Sign Adam LaRoche

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    Certainly not Washington's flashiest move of the off-season, but in my opinion their best. With Adam Dunn departing for the South Side of Chicago, first base was an area Washington had to address and they were able to sign one of the steadiest first basemen available.

    LaRoche does not have Dunn's monster power and he doesn't walk enough to mitigate his strikeouts as Dunn does. He's hit exactly 25 home runs each of the last three seasons though, and will be a major upgrade defensively over Dunn.

    With Stephen Strasburg sidelined for 2011, Mike Rizzo and the Nationals probably won't see the fruits of their labor next season. With the young phenom set to return alongside Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, LaRoche, and potentially Bryce Harper, the forecast for 2012 looks a lot brighter.

11. Chicago Cubs Acquire Matt Garza

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    After saying all along they weren't going to trade him, the Rays got an offer for Matt Garza they couldn't refuse, trading the fiery right-hander to the Cubs. For the Rays, it's another step in their extreme makeover this off-season. As for the Cubs, they have a new ace.

    Much is being made of the package the Cubs had to part with, namely top prospects Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee, to acquire Garza. That Garza is still just 27 and under contract for another three years justifies the deal in my opinion.

    The Cubs' season hinges on several of their hitters having bounce-back seasons, but their rotation looks pretty deep and formidable after this trade, maybe so much so that they contend in the NL Central.

10. Oakland A's Sign Hideki Matsui

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    A tremendous bargain signing by Billy Beane that adds some much needed pop to the middle of the A's order. After a slow start to his 2010 season, Matsui slipped through the cracks to a degree. Quietly, he had a great second half for the Angels, hitting 11 HR with 37 RBI and a .955 OPS.

    The A's signed him for one year and $4.5M, $3.5M less than Lance Berkman's deal with the Cardinals (at this point in their careers, I think Matsui is the better player). Barring another hard-hitting addition, Matsui probably slides in as the A's cleanup man next season.

    Despite missing out an Adrian Beltre, the A's have had one of the most productive off-seasons of any team so far, Matsui being their biggest addition. 

9. Texas Rangers Sign Adrian Beltre

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    Yes, they overpaid to get him; I have a hard time believing Beltre will be worth $16M five years from now. However, for what he brings to the table now and how it impacts the AL West race, it was more than worth it for the Rangers to bring him in.

    For one, his addition may give the Rangers the best defense in baseball. That's significant for a team relying on pitchers like Brandon Webb and Tommy Hunter who don't rack up strikeouts.

    Also, they kept him away from the A's (his addition may have made Oakland the AL West favorites) and the Angels (furthering what has been an absolutely brutal off-season for the Halos).

    I don't think he'll hit .321/ .365/ .553 again, but I expect him to remain productive playing half his games in Texas. Its typical for teams who enjoy magical seasons one year to regress the next, but looking up and down their roster, it's hard for me to not believe the Rangers could have serious staying power.

8. Milwaukee Brewers Acquire Shaun Marcum

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    If you want an idea of how I feel about the Brewers now that they have Zack Greinke, consider this: I was liking their chances after they traded for Shaun Marcum. The Cy Young winner Greinke is obviously the move that has had everyone talking, but Marcum is no slouch himself, and enters 2011 one of the better third starters in baseball.

    Marcum is coming off the best season of his career, as he went 13-8 with a 3.64 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 3.84 SO/BB. He's battled injuries throughout his career, but is a top of the rotation starter when healthy. In Milwaukee, he'll continue to get the run support he enjoyed while with Toronto.

    A free agent after 2011, Marcum is said to be interested in an extension with the Brewers. While all the talk is that the Brewers are going for it this year, they could have a pretty lethal trio wrapped up for years to come if that extension happens.

7. Atlanta Braves Acquire Dan Uggla

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    The second long-time Marlin (along with skipper Fredi Gonzalez) to head North to Atlanta this off-season, Dan Uggla is a tremendous pickup for the Braves.

    Aside from a second-base swap (with Omar Infante heading to Florida), the only other player the Braves had to part with was young reliever Mike Dunn (Atlanta has an abundance of young relievers).

    Uggla provides the right-handed power the Braves needed to complement left-handed sluggers Brian McCann and Jason Heyward. In his career, Uggla is averaging 32 HR and 97 RBI per 162 games played, and also has an .854 OPS over the past three seasons.

    Uggla will probably never win a gold glove, but I see him driving in more than he lets in. If it really doesn't work out for him there, they can always move Martin Prado back and move Uggla to left field or third base.

    With Uggla having signed a five-year extension, with a number of young stars in the fold, the post-Bobby Cox era in Atlanta looks pretty promising.

6. Detroit Tigers Sign Victor Martinez

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    The Tigers have spent most of the off-season re-signing their own free agents (Magglio Ordonez, Brandon Inge). However, one of their additions, Victor Martinez, is a fairly significant one. In 2010, teams pitched around Miguel Cabrera at will after they figured out Brennan Boesch.

    With the four-time all-star Martinez essentially taking Boesch's place, opposing managers won't have that luxury in 2011.

    It's not very often you see a full-time DH and part-time catcher, but that's precisely the role Martinez is expected to fill in Detroit. Pundits argue his numbers look a lot better as a catcher than a DH; the bottom line is that DHing is conducive to Martinez staying healthy, and all that matters is that he's in the lineup.

    When Magglio Ordonez was healthy and Cabrera was getting pitches to hit last season, the Tigers looked like legitimate contenders. With Martinez in the fold, their lineup should be even more potent next year.

    With better pitching, 2011 could be the year Detroit finally rises to the top of the AL Central.

5. Chicago White Sox Sign Adam Dunn

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    Early sentiment that it may be a quiet off season for the White Sox was shattered when they signed the premiere home-run hitter on the market, Adam Dunn.

    News of his signing spurred some to wonder if 50 home runs were a possibility; it's hard not to get excited about Dunn playing half his games in hitter-friendly U.S. Cellular Field.

    After finishing in the bottom five in the AL in HR, total bases, and extra-base hits out of the DH slot, the White Sox needed to add some power. With Dunn joining Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin, they should have more than enough now.

    Despite being a prototypical DH, Dunn maintained he didn't want to do it before signing with Chicago, so he's going to have to accept that role.

    Whether he needs a glove or not this year, look for him to deliver more than his fair share of souvenirs on the South Side this year.

4. Milwaukee Brewers Acquire Zack Greinke

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    While most people had to expect Doug Melvin to try to improve a pitching staff that finished with the fifth-worst ERA in baseball last season, I don't think anyone expected him to do as much as he did.

    With Zack Greinke joining Yovani Gallardo atop the Brewer rotation, some suddenly have the Crew pegged as favorites in the NL Central.

    Greinke has admitted pitching in a losing atmosphere in Kansas City affected his motivation last season. Back in the thick of a pennant race (and in the National League at that), it's scary to think of the numbers the 2009 AL Cy Young award winner could put up.

    With two major deals, a rotation that was once a liability now may be the third-best in the National League behind the Phillies and Giants. Though they did send a nice package Kansas City's way (and will have to live with Yuniesky Betancourt as their shortstop), it'll be worth it if they make the playoffs this season.

3. Boston Red Sox Sign Carl Crawford

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    After watching him terrorize them for years with the Rays, Theo Epstein and the Red Sox stepped up and landed the best position player on the market, Carl Crawford. It took a $142M commitment, but the Red Sox were able to land a dynamic player to the top of their lineup.

    The move comes as part of a severe makeover that many believe has vaulted Boston to the top of the AL East.

    Crawford has the skill set to hit in any of the first three spots in the lineup; personally, I like him in one of the first two spots in the lineup, getting the most out of his base-stealing ability, a lot more than him hitting third. Wherever he hits, he's a huge addition to what was already a formidable lineup.

    The signing has calamitous consequences across the league. It all but ensures the Rays will not be a factor in the AL East in 2011. It was a major blow to the Angels, and keeping a star player away from the Yankees is never a bad thing if you're the Red Sox.

    Considering all this, Boston may very well be the team to beat in the American League.

2. Boston Red Sox Acquire Adrian Gonzalez

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    For years, this seemed like too good a match to not happen eventually. After over a year of trade rumors, The Red Sox and Padres finally made it happen, completing a five-player deal that landed the San Diego native in Boston.

    In making this deal and signing Carl Crawford, the Red Sox appear to have the offensive firepower to compete with the Yankees they've lacked since the departure of Manny Ramirez.

    After joining the Padres in 2006, Gonzalez put up monster numbers in cavernous Petco Park (32 HR, 97 RBI, .875 OPS per 162 games played for his career) with basically no protection. It's scary to imagine what he can do at the hitter's paradise Fenway Park in a loaded lineup.

    This move and the Crawford signing are basically interchangeable. I gave this move the edge because whereas they needed to hand Crawford a lucrative contract, they got Gonzalez (at a very affordable $6.3M —for now) for a package of prospects.

    Bottom line, they're both tremendous moves that make the Red Sox clear winners of the off-season thus far.

1. Philadelphia Phillies Sign Cliff Lee

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    The most shocking free agent signing in years, and the best move of the off season thus far. Five years and $120M is a generous amount itself (particularly for a 32-year-old pitcher), but it was quite refreshing to see Cliff Lee spurn larger offers to go where he and his family were comfortable and where his heart was all along.

    Championships aren't won on paper (and I for one am concerned with the team's lack of right-handed power), but you can't help but look at the Phillies' rotation and be wowed. When your fourth starter, Cole Hamels, would be the ace on half the teams in baseball, you know you're set pitching-wise.

    The catch is that while this could be a historically dominant staff, Hamels is the only one of the top four under the age of 30, so that dominance may not last more than a handful of seasons.

    Right now, which is clearly all they care about in Philadelphia, you have to like the Phillies' chances for no other reason than their rotation.


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