Riding the Pine… What's going right

Well, I’m back. I’ve sent the last few months looking for a job and learning to raise a daughter, so my writing responsibilities have fallen to the back burner. I have a strong lead and I should find out if I have a job this week.

On a baseball note, a lot has happened and I’m hoping to get all caught up before the season starts. First thing is we’ll look at the winners this off-season; which 5 teams took the necessary steps to improve their teams.

1. Detroit Tigers – Detroit followed up a somewhat disappointing season by reloading for the upcoming one. They surprised many by adding SS Edgar Renteria for a few prospects. The addition of Renteria moves Carlos Guillen to first base in the hopes it will keep his knees fresh. The defense up the middle should be better, but Renteria’s short comings were exposed when he didn’t have a Scott Rolen caliber defender next to him.

The only way to follow this up was to make a bigger splash – by trading for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. This deal cost the Tigers their top pitching prospect, top hitting prospect, and 3 other prospects. They also walked away with the best hitting third baseman outside of New York. Cabrera is criticized for his size, but he has been working to change his reputation. Cabrera pushes Brandon Inge to a backup role, at third and catcher. Willis, who had struggled the last couple of years in Florida, will get a nice change of scenery; another pitchers park and a large number of hitters who have never faced him before. His delivery relies on deception, but most NL hitters weren’t fooled.

The final piece for the Tigers came when they picked up Jacque Jones from the Cubs for backup infielder Omar Infante. Jones will start in left field, where Marcus Thames and Craig Monroe platooned for most of last year. Jones is a steady fielder who has a decent bat.

The Tigers are one of the most complete teams in baseball. Their weakest areas are their bench and bullpen, but neither is a pressing concern.

2. New York Mets – The Mets added the top pitcher in baseball, and all it cost them was some of their top prospects (not all). Carlos Gomez wasn’t guaranteed a starting role, I believe the Mets had about given up on Phil Humber, and Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey are still a ways from hitting the majors. They wanted to hang onto Fernando Martinez, arguably their best prospect. Santana adds the ace they were hoping for when they signed Pedro Martinez; the fact that they were able to sign him to an extension should make them the favorites in the NL East for quite some time.

They also dealt Lastings Milledge, who was in the same boat as Humber – after a somewhat impressive debut, he was criticized by management and teammates for his lazy attitude. In return, they received their starting right fielder (Ryan Church) and their starting catcher (Brian Schnieder). While Schnieder can’t hit, he’s a defensive upgrade over the declining Paul LoDuca. While they didn’t sign a top free agent, they have filled most holes for the up-coming season and have invited a lot of minor league free agents that could fill in their bench.

The main concern for the Mets, besides the weak hitting catcher, is the starting rotation. After Santana, they have the fragile Martinez and Orlando Hernandez, and the inconsistent Oliver Perez. John Maine looked good last season and should be solid again, but Mike Pelfrey doesn’t have much experience in the majors if someone goes down. Behind Pelfrey, they don’t have a lot of hope.

3. Seattle Mariners – The Mariners pulled off a similar feat to that of the Mets: they received an ace for a couple of prospects. Erik Bedard, who cost more than Santana but had an extra year before free agency, complements King Felix at the top of the rotation. The loss of Adam Jones will hurt, but their outfield is set with Ichiro, Raul Ibanez, and Brad Wilkerson (or Wladimir Balentien if Wilkerson falters). George Sherrill was one of the top left handed relievers in the game but was expendable. Chris Tillman, ranked the 4th best prospect in the Mariner’s system by Baseball America, was projected to be a starter in a few seasons; now he could be sooner rather than later.

Rounding out the rotation additions is Carlos Silva, sadly one of the top free agent pitchers this off-season. They definitely over paid (4 years, $48 mil), but that’s todays baseball market. One bargain for the team was Wilkerson; they are hoping for $3 mil, he can regain his old Montreal/Washington form.

Seattle’s biggest concern is first base and their aging players; Richie Sexson was horrific last year and Ibanez, Ichiro, and Jose Vidro don’t have much longer in their careers. If the Mariners can’t pull it off this year, their chances (and bodies) won’t get any better.

4. Chicago White Sox – Eric will be happy to see that the White Sox made some smart moves this off-season. Moving the overrated Jon Garland to Los Angeles for Orlando Cabrera moves Juan Uribe to second base, improving the defense. Cabrera is an upgrade over Uribe at short, but Uribe should be a fine second baseman.

Next, the ChiSox sent minor league 1B Chris Carter to the D’backs for Carlos Quentin. Quentin has been a highly touted prospect, but struggled in his first full time role last season. He’s moving to a similar park and a fresh start should be what he needs to get back on track. What makes this deal better is it pushed Scott Podsednik out the door.

The last major move was acquiring Nick Swisher from the Athletics for Ryan Sweeney and 2 pitching prospects (one being Gio Gonzalez, who’s career path has gone from the White Sox to the Phillies, back to the White Sox, and now to the A’s). Swisher, who will most likely start in center, is an upgrade over Jerry Owens. Owens will move to the bench.

The only really question mark that wasn’t addressed was the starting rotation – trading Garland means the Sox will rely on failed prospect Gavin Floyd for the final rotation spot. Floyd was expected to be an ace in Philadelphia a few years ago, but really hasn’t come along like anyone has hoped.

5. Minnesota Twins – Many think the Twins could have gotten more for Johan Santana, but they got a pretty good package. You have to remember that most teams didn’t want to deplete their system for 1 year of an ace and a ridiculous contract extension. Landing Gomez, Humber, Guerra, and Mulvey was a pretty good deal, especially if they all live up to their potential. Gomez will start in center for the Twins; he’s got big shoes to fill, but should handle the job well. Humber will move into the rotation, where he could fill any of the 5 spots; he’s not the same pitcher that he was before TJ surgery, but the Twins build pitchers like no one else. Guerra and Mulvey still have some time in the minors, but they will replace Slowey, Perkins, and Garza in the prospect rankings.

Before the Santana deal went through, the Twins made another splash; they dealt Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and prospect Eduardo Morlan to the Devil Rays for Delmon Young, Jason Pridie, and Brandon Harris. Young, considered the top hitting prospect in the game before last season, will be the starting right fielder for the Twins. He should give extra protection to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in the batting order. Harris will provide competition with Mike Lamb at third, Adam Everett at short, and Nick Punto and Alexi Casilla at second. Pridie will most likely start the season at Triple A.

Everett was another good pick up. He won’t provide the offense that any other shortstop would, but that wasn’t the reason they brought him in; they have enough solid bats to carry him. His glove is what got him a contract. His defense will be a huge upgrade over Bartlett, who was an average defender; this will help the confidence of the young pitching staff.

The main concern for the Twins is the rotation. They traded ace Santana and the pitcher with the most potential, Garza. That leaves them with a recovering Francisco Liriano, young guns Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Boof Bonser, Humber, and Glen Perkins as the potential starters. They don’t have a proven innings eater. If one of these kids faulters, it could be a long season for the Twins.

HM: Atlanta Braves (Mark Kotsay, Jair Jurjens), Chicago Cubs (Kosuke Fukudome, Jom Lieber).

Next installment will look at the 5 teams that didn’t do enough. I’m also going to take a deeper look at the rebuilding efforts of Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays, some trade evaluations, and a divisional preview.

If anyone wants anything specific covered, has an opinion about what I’ve written, or need fantasy baseball advice, feel free to e-mail me here.

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