A Look Back: The Five Most Improved Teams Last Off-season

During the off-season, I looked at 5 teams that I thought improved themselves the most. I got 3 of the 5 right – the Mets, White Sox, and Twins are all fighting for playoff spots after missing out last year. I really missed the Tigers (as did most others) and Mariners.

1. Detroit Tigers – Well, the starting pitching fell completely flat. I expected Dontrelle Willis to struggle (“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.” I guess the AL hitters weren’t fooled either), but I didn’t expect Verlander to take a step back. Bonderman missed the whole season, Rogers is getting old and ineffective, and Robertson has completely regressed. At least Armando Galarraga pitched well.

The hitters got of to a slow start, but started to come on as the season went along (as did Verlander). Edgar Renteria was a bust again (he plays much better in the NL for some reason). Jacque Jones didn’t make it half the season with the team before being released. Gary Sheffield is old and fragile; he missed a bit of time.

Their bench and bullpen were weak points, which I pointed out then; just more so than I thought (at least the ‘pen).

The team wants to shed some payroll, so they’ll rely on some youngsters. Rick Porcello could be up next year, but they’ll need at least 1 starter until then. There is also a lot of talk of trying to move Magglio Ordonez, which will clear out a lot of room on the payroll.

2. New York Mets – I’d say I got them right, although I expected them to run away with the division (“…favorites in the NL East for quite some time” is what I said). They got off to a really bad start, but have been good for the second half.

The pitching has been pretty good. Santana is the ace that they’ve been missing for a while. Martinez is league average now, but that’s better than what a lot of teams have been using. Maine and Perez have been up and down, and Pelfrey is having a pretty good season.

The bullpen has been shaky at times, especially now that Wagner’s Mets career is over.

Luis Castillo has been pretty bad at second; back up Damion Easley is worse. The outfield has been thin at times, with Moises Alou and Angel Pagan on the DL most of the season and Ryan Church missing significant time due to a concussion. They’ve relied on Endy Chavez way too much, but it really hasn’t hurt them.

The Mets will be shopping for a new second baseman (if they can deal Castillo) and pitching. They need a closer and a starter – Oliver Perez probably won’t be back. Another outfield bat wouldn’t hurt either, if Fernando Martinez isn’t ready.

3. Seattle Mariners – Age caught up to this team (“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.”).

Sexson and Vidro were both cut loose after similar seasons to last year. Brad Wilkerson, which I thought was a good value signing, was a bust; at least Jeremy Reed filled in nicely.

One spot where I wasn’t expecting a decline was at catcher; Kenji Johjima has been pretty bad after signing an extension. Jeff Clement has been decent this year in limited time, so they have that going for them.

The main piece they added was a bust: Erik Bedard. After selling the farm for him, he got hurt. It’s so bad that they probably wouldn’t be able to move him in the off-season.

Carlos Silva has been horrible, Miguel Batista was demoted to the bullpen, and Jarrod Washburn has been average, at best.

It’s time to rebuild. Ibanez is gone, so Balentien will be starting next year in the outfield. If their is any team that will take on Washburn, Silva, and/or Batista, take the deal. They have a few young guys that will be around for a while, so it can’t be all bad.

4. Chicago White Sox – To say I got chastized for this one is an understatement; here’s an e-mail I received threecyl-1 (thanks for manning up and giving your name):

“Too bad you don’t know what your talking about regarding te White Sox.
That’s why you will always be second rate at best.”

The White Sox definitely made the right moves – even with a slow start from Paul Konerko and Nick Swisher.

Carlos Quentin had to have been in consideration for the MVP before his wrist injury (and Kenny Williams deserves the Exec of the Year for making this deal alone). After Swisher started hitting, he looked pretty good. Cuba defector Alexei Ramirez has been a real find. The deal for Orlando Cabrera has worked out nicely for both sides, even if Cabrera doesn’t like his manager.

I was worried about the pitching, but it’s probably been the real bright point of the season. Gavin Floyd and John Danks have pitched well, and shows that Williams knew what he was doing in previous trades. The bullpen had nice additions in Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink.

The future does look bleak – the Sox don’t have much of a farm system (2nd worst according to my rankings). Decline looks to have started for Konerko, Thome isn’t getting any younger, and 2/3rds of the current outfield will be on the wrong side of 35 in spring training. They’ll also need a new shortstop, since Cabrera won’t be back.

5. Minnesota Twins – Even with trading Santana, they are still competing.

While neither big deal they pulled off has had a huge benefit (at this point), they have gotten a lot of help from their system. Nick Blackburn has been the ace of the staff. Francisco Liriano struggles initially, but has been great since he was called back up. Perkins and Baker have both been solid.

Alexi Castilla has emerged as a starting option, while Adam Everett has been average at best.

They won’t be losing much this off-season, although they could use some upgrades (a starter, a reliever, and a third baseman).

I was split on the honarable mentions. The Braves have packed it in this year, but completely under-achieved. The Cubs have been one of the teams, and the most consistant, this season.

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