Los Angeles Angels
Filling Needs: C+
Improved Team: C
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The winter started off well for the Angels as they were able to rid themselves of Jose Guillen and add two solid players in Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis. Rivera is coming off a solid season and would have served the Angels well as a starting outfielder and the slick-fielding Izturis gives the Angels value as a defensive replacement and trade chip.
When Steve Finley was brought in, Rivera's value became nothing more than another trade option. At 40-years-old, Finley will take over as the everyday center fielder for the Angels. He can still play average defense and give the team nearly 30 homers but it will be difficult for him to live up to his multi-million dollar contract.
The worst personnel move for the Angels came when Orlando Cabrera inked his four-year contract. Cabrera is a talented player who can do a little of everything, but aside from his 2003 season, he has never hit above .280 or had an on-base percentage above .326. At 30-years-old it is unlikely that he will be able to have another season like 2003. Giving Cabrera $32 million for one strong year and a solid glove is a move the Angels will soon be regretting.
Troy Percival was let go and Francisco "KRod" Rodriguez will take over the closing duties for the team. Given KRod's electric stuff, he should have no problem filling in for the veteran Percival. However, filling in for KRod will be the problem. Brendan Donnelly could change his role, creating a domino effect through the rest of the pen. Esteban Yan was brought in to help stop the chain reaction but it is hard to see why the Angels gave him a multi-year deal when they have been so successful at developing their own talented relievers.
Losing a player of Troy Glaus' caliber would be detrimental to most other teams in the league but Dallas McPherson will do his best to ease the loss. McPherson will never win any gold glove awards but he may find a different precious metal sitting on his mantle soon. The third baseman is one of the top power prospects in the minor leagues and could be hitting 40 bombs a year in no time.
The Angels failed to make any moves that will lock up the division championship. They neither improved nor hurt the team significantly and should win as many games in '05 as they did in '04. Wether that is enough to make it to October remains to be seen.
Filling Needs: B-
Improved Team: C
If someone told you in November that the A's will trade Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson and be a better team because of it, would you have believed them? It was a long shot but the crafty Billy Beane pulled of numerous deals that have set up the A's to be contenders for the next several years. With four trades and one international free agent signing, the A's will stay competitive, and possibly take a step forward over the next few season.
On December 16 the A's took the first step towards the future when Tim Hudson was sent packing. In return, the A's received three players that will have an impact on the 2005 team. Charles Thomas will fill the role as the fourth outfielder and could start in a pinch. Juan Cruz, the former number two prospect in the Cubs organization, proved to be much better suited in a bullpen role and pitched well for the Braves last season. Dan Meyer, the key to the trade, is one of the better left-handed pitching prospects in the league and could challenge for a rotation spot out of spring.
Just when reports indicated that the A's were not moving another member of "The Big Three" the news broke that Mark Mulder had been dealt to the Cardinals. Many questioned the move that, on the surface, cripples the A's rotation. That is, until it was announced who they would receive. Kiko Calero, the most polished player acquired, adds to the extremely deep and strong bullpen that the A's have put together. Right-hander Dan Haren, the top prospect in the Cardinals organization in 2003, will challenge for a rotation spot in the spring and is likely to break camp in the rotation.
The centerpiece of the trade, if you look to the future, is a 19-year-old catching prospect. Daric Barton did not receive much notoriety before the trade but is one of top offensive prospects in all of baseball. He has limitless offensive potential and the A's have already decided that they will move him to first base to keep his bat strong. The trade may have a negative impact on the team for 2005 but the present and future value rates very high.
Unlike the previous two moves, the acquisition of Jason Kendall from the Pirates for Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes will have a strong positive impact in 2005. Kendall's .400 on-base percentage will fit perfectly atop the lineup and his endurance will keep him on the field nearly every day. The loss of Redman will be countered by the signing of Keiichi Yabu and Rhodes will easily be replaced by the depth of the A's pen.
The A's won't have the same star power in their 2005 rotation but they will be able to get similar production from the rotation. The offense lacks the punch of most other lineups but it is deep and should be able to carry the pitching. The success of the 2005 A's depends on how quickly the youth can turn promise into performance.
Filling Needs: B+
Improved Team: A
It is a good thing that the Yankees didn't give out the two biggest contracts in team history in the same winter or else the economy may have overheated. The normally tight-fisted Mariners decided to open up their wallet and do what needed to be done. They brought in the biggest free agent signing in team history in Richie Sexson and then trumped that a week later by inking Adrian Beltre.
The Sexson deal alone can be questioned for its value. Giving $50 million to a player in the latter stages of his prime and coming off a major shoulder injury is not often the right thing to do. In this case, however, it was necessary.
Signing Sexson showed the league that Seattle is committed to winning and changing their ways. If Sexson stays healthy and produces, he will be worth the whole contract. If he gets hurt, obviously he will be a burden to the payroll, but that was a risk worth taking.
There is no doubting the Adrian Beltre signing. The best move in team history was also the best move of the winter. The risk that comes with Beltre stems from questions about his 2004 season. It was his only MVP-like season of his career and since it came in his contract year, many are concerned. However, the breakout season came at the age of 25 and he showed signs of excellence in previous years. Even if he regresses some from last season, he will still be worth the contract at the plate and in the field.
Even after those two huge signings the M's weren't done. Slick-fielding Pokey Reese was the next addition to the revamped infield and is exactly what the team needed. Although Jose Lopez is the future in the middle infield, many in the organization say that the 21-year-old isn't ready yet. Reese allows Lopez to get another year of seasoning in Triple-A. He gives the team the best defensive left-side of the infield in the league. If he can't stay on the field, which he has been known for in the past, Lopez is just a phone call away. This is the ideal low-risk, high-reward signing.
The only thing missing from Seattle's offseason was a starting pitcher. The goal coming into the winter was adding two bats and one arm but they only got two thirds of the way there. Considering the contracts inked by the pitching on the market, it is hard to blame the M's for not bringing one in. Felix Hernandez is on the horizon and he may break into the league come August.
Overall, this winter must be considered the most successful in team history. After a questionable start, GM Bill Bavasi must be congratulated for a job well done so far. Although the work isn't done, and he knows that, he is on the right path. The team won 63 games last season but with a few good breaks could challenge for the division crown in 2005.
Filling Needs: D
Improved team: D
Sometimes the right move is not making one but not for the pitching-starved Rangers. The only objective for the team going into the winter was finding a way to improve the rotation. Instead of satisfying either need, the Rangers signed another bat. The decision to bring in Richard Hidalgo can't be questioned but not putting that money towards pitching can be.
While he did not have his best season last year, Richard Hidalgo is still a dangerous hitter. He is not the 44 homer, .314 hitter we saw in 2000 but he isn't the .239 hitter we saw last year either. Moving to Texas and joining the already loaded offense should allow him to hit nearly 30 homers while batting in the area of .275. Getting that kind of production for $5 million is a solid addition.
The Rangers must be banking on hope for their fate in 2005. Ryan Drese had what was easily the best year of his career last season but at 29-years-old, he isn't getting much better. Kenny Rogers shocked the league with his pitching throughout most of last season. He began to show his age late in the season and finished with an ERA more expected of him. If he manages to post a similar season to last year it will be a pleasant surprise.
One non-move that can be praised is the Alfonso Soriano trade. It was reported that the Rangers were looking to move him but a deal never materialized. By hanging on to Soriano, they will return on of the youngest and most dangerous offenses in the league. The infield may be the best in all of baseball and it is just getting better.
The Rangers surprised everyone by playing as well as they did last year. With the success they had, they won't be able to sneak up on anyone this season. If the offense can continue to get better and carry the pitching, they may be able to contend in the deep AL West. However, while everyone else attempted to make their team better they sat back and watched and it could cost them.
Best Move: Seattle signing Adrian Beltre
Runner-up: Oakland trading Mark Mulder
Worst Move: Texas not acquiring pitching
Runner-up: Anaheim signing Orlando Cabrera
Non-personnel Decision: The Angels changing their name to the ‘Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim'
Most improved team for 2005: Seattle
Most improved team for the future: Oakland
Happy Trails: Edgar Martinez, retiring after 18 amazing seasons as a Seattle Mariner
Welcome Home: Jason Kendall, born in San Diego, CA