ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney breaks down some of the major free-agent signings and trades from this offseason:
Each deal is graded according to its quality and impact for that team:
= extremely high impact
= high impact
= average impact
= low impact
|SAMMY SOSA TO ORIOLES|
Buster Olney's analysis: for Cubs; for Orioles
The Move: The Cubs trade outfielder Sammy Sosa to the Orioles for second baseman Jerry Hairston and two minor leaguers.
The Upside: For both teams, this was about trying to make the best of a bad situation. The Orioles have had a terrible offseason, striking out on signing Carl Pavano, failing in their attempts to deal for Tim Hudson, coming up short for Carlos Delgado. Baltimore plays in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, has an obvious problem with its pitching, but has failed to upgrade there; the leader of the pitching staff, Sidney Ponson, spent part of his offseason in jail, reportedly after an altercation with a judge. This will at least give Orioles fans something to talk about -- and similarly, it will give something for Cubs fans to talk about. It was clear that Sosa had to go, after a summer of hurt feelings, disagreements with Dusty Baker over his place in the batting order, and his early exit from Wrigley Field on the last day of the season. When the Cubs report to spring training next month, the Sosa issue won't hang over their heads, thankfully.
The Downside: The Orioles still don't have much pitching, and there is a lot of reason to think Sosa will contribute nothing but a handful of meaningless homers. His batting average has declined each of the last three seasons, to .253 in 2004, and in that time, his walks declined from 116 to 56, while he kept striking out (133 in 126 games last year). He was a painfully flawed player last year, and unless he has a major turnaround at age 36, rallies will die with him. And while Jerry Hairston will be a useful player for the Cubs, probably starting at second against lefties and finishing other games as a defensive replacement for Todd Walker, the Sosa problem still effectively wrecked the team's offseason. While they desperately sought for someone to take Sosa, they failed to add needed bats for the offense and help for the bullpen. Now the pickings are slim: Magglio Ordonez is the only real proven option remaining in a winter that once sported more than 200 available players, and his knee problems make him less than a sure thing.
Big Picture: It's a deal that has some flash, but Orioles fans are too smart to buy this move; at this point, they just want to win, and they know from their experience of watching Palmer, Flanagan, McNally, Cuellar, McGregor that pitching wins. The Cubs' pitching makes them a dangerous team, but there is more work to be done on this roster -- and they can forge ahead, now that the Sosa chapters are closed.
|CARLOS DELGADO TO MARLINS|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: The Marlins sign first baseman Carlos Delgado to a four-year, $52 million deal.
The Upside: Florida gets the left-handed slugger who slots perfectly into the middle of its lineup. Delgado has hit 30 or more homers in eight straight seasons, and has 90 or more RBI in nine consecutive years, and even moving into the Marlins' cavernous home park, you can count on him for 35 HR-110 RBI, batting between the right-handed hitting Miguel Cabrera and Mike Lowell. Florida probably has the most well-rounded NL team on paper now, with a deep lineup, good defense, solid starting pitching options, and a decent bullpen.
The Downside: Considering their limited resources, the Marlins did invest an inordinate amount of money in a first baseman, one of the easier positions from which to obtain offensive production. And right now, Delgado is merely adequate defensively on his best days, and he'll probably be much worse than that by the end of this contract. This is a win-now type move -- mitigated somewhat by the fact that the deal is heavily backloaded -- that has often backfired on small-budget teams, because it could restrict their financial flexibility. If Delgado has any kind of regression in the next couple of years, his contract could be all but unmovable. Long-term, it's a big gamble.
Big Picture: The Marlins are trying to win popular support for a new stadium, and Delgado certainly gives them a better chance to break the Braves' stranglehold on the NL East; if Josh Beckett gains consistency, if they avoid injuries to their relatively thin pitching staff, if Guillermo Mota can close, they will be formidable.
|CARLOS BELTRAN TO METS|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: The Mets agree to sign outfielder Carlos Beltran to a seven-year, $119 million contract.
The Upside: Beltran is an exceptional player -- a switch-hitter with power, he has driven in 100 or more runs in four seasons; he can steal bases, coming off a year in which he swiped 42; he is a very good defensive center fielder, making him perfect for spacious Shea Stadium; he's only 27 years old. He was the best position player available in the free-agent market this winter, and he figures to be the centerpiece of the Mets for years to come.
The Downside: There are doubts about whether Beltran will be comfortable in New York, where the demands on players -- particularly star players -- can be excruciating. Others who know Beltran wonder if he'll be comfortable coping with the demands of the fans and media on a daily basis, and because of the contract he is signing, at a crossroads in Mets history, he will be besieged. And while he is certainly worth all the money anybody is willing to pay him, the Mets are taking a big risk in giving Beltran this deal when there are so many questions about other aspects of the team that need addressing.
Big Picture: Omar Minaya has taken over the Mets and committed $172 million to Beltran and Pedro Martinez. There has been much talk about how Minaya won the hearts and minds of Beltran and Martinez, but in both cases, the players took offers that were more than $10 million greater than those of competing teams, so the successful negotiations probably had more to do with money than moxie. There is much work to be done on middle relief, a question mark in Mike Piazza at catcher, a big hole at first base, a second baseman (Kaz Matsui) who will be learning a new position, and a lot of injury risk in the starting rotation. But the Mets' activity has ramped up the hopes of the team's fans, and if New York struggles in 2005, Minaya will be out on a limb; if the team contends, he will be a hometown hero. He is destined to get either too much credit or too much blame.
|RANDY JOHNSON TO YANKEES|
Buster Olney's analysis: (for Yankees); (for Diamondbacks)
The Move: Arizona trades All-Star pitcher Randy Johnson to the Yankees for pitchers Javier Vazquez, Brad Halsey and catching prospect Dioner Navarro.
The Upside: An ace never really developed for the Yankees in 2004; Kevin Brown's velocity and stuff was down even before he attacked a cement wall, Mike Mussina got hurt, Jon Lieber steadily improved but was never dominant, Vazquez flamed out in the second half. Now the Yankees have an ace with a complete pedigree in Johnson -- a power pitcher, left-hander, a guy who knows what it means to work under pressure, someone who will consistently pitch into the seventh or eighth inning. He's a perfect acquisition, should take pressure off the other starters and the bullpen, and if he stays healthy, Johnson will be a leader of what could be one of the greatest regular-season teams in major-league history. For the Diamondbacks' new regime, this is a chance to turn the page, to get the disgruntled star out of Arizona, and whether they trade Vazquez or keep him, there is a good chance he will rebound because of his professional accountability. He works hard, never blamed anybody else for his problems. Arizona is expected to revisit a deal with the Dodgers for Shawn Green, dangling Navarro, who would give L.A. a needed catcher.
The Downside: This deal is just the latest in a series of moves made to improve the team in the short-term, at the cost of the future. Johnson is 41 and his age naturally makes him a physical risk, and yet the Yankees may wind up committing nearly $50 million to him -- $16 million in an extension for this year (with $6 million deferred), plus $32 million for 2006 and 2007. If the Yankees sign Carlos Beltran, they would have about $205 million committed to five players -- Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Johnson and Beltran -- for the 2006 and 2007 seasons. The Yankees have again traded prospects, but neither Halsey nor Navarro is considered among their most elite young players. The Diamondbacks have made many moves this offseason, but the only way the new executives can prove it was a good idea to trade a future Hall of Famer will be if they win in 2005.
Big Picture: Two months ago, Yankees manager Joe Torre went into Game 7 of the ALCS against the Red Sox not knowing whether he should throw Brown or Vazquez or Esteban Loaiza; they were all imperfect options. Now Torre has Johnson, the pitcher who was on the mound on Nov. 4, 2001, the night the 1996-2001 Yankees' dynasty ended.
|ORLANDO CABRERA TO ANGELS|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: Anaheim signs free agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera to a four-year, $32 million deal.
The Upside: Cabrera is an extraordinary defensive shortstop, an impact player with the glove, and he immediately makes a good defensive team even better; the Angels will now close down rallies with Cabrera, first baseman Darin Erstad, the catchers Molina, center fielder Steve Finley and left fielder Garret Anderson. Cabrera, 30, is never going to be confused with Edgar Renteria as an offensive player -- which is a big part of the reason why Boston preferred Renteria over Cabrera, who helped them win a World Series -- but he is a respectable hitter. He's had 38 or more doubles in four different seasons in his career, he'll pop 10-15 homers, and he'll contribute more tough at-bats than his .316 career on-base percentage will suggest.
The Downside: As Cabrera arrives, David Eckstein -- who was a part of the soul of this team as it won the 2002 World Series -- vacates shortstop. He is an unselfish and strong team guy, and Cabrera is a suitable replacement; his intangibles are similar. The Angels probably wound up paying more than they expected for Cabrera, but that is a reflection of the surprisingly expensive shortstop market.
Big Picture: With Oakland swapping Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder and now sporting a rotation with 22 career victories behind ace Barry Zito, Anaheim likely becomes a strong favorite to win the AL West, if it can avoid injuries. The Angels have done very well this winter with the additions of Finley and Cabrera.
|MARK MULDER TO CARDINALS|
Buster Olney's analysis: (for Cards); (for A's)
The Move: Oakland trades All-Star pitcher Mark Mulder to St. Louis for pitchers Danny Haren and Kiko Calero and catcher Daric Barton.
The Upside: Now only Barry Zito is left among Oakland's Big Three -- and there is a chance he could soon be dealt, to Baltimore. Athletics GM Billy Beane is overhauling his team and he is accumulating talent. Haren, 24, has a good arm, and Calero, 29, held opponents to a .176 batting average in 45 1/3 innings for St. Louis last season. Barton, 19, will probably turn out to be the key to the deal for Oakland. He was ranked by Baseball America as the second-best prospect in the Single-A Midwest League last season, meaning he is probably two or three years away from reaching the big leagues. St. Louis clearly lacked pitching with power stuff in the World Series, and Mulder -- the leading candidate for the AL Cy Young Award into early August last season -- can lead a Cardinals' rotation that also includes Chris Carpenter and Matt Morris. Mulder, 27, went 17-8 for Oakland last year, and has a lifetime record of 81-42.
The Downside: Beane has a reputation as one of baseball's best general managers, but others in the game -- some probably a little jealous, some simply objective -- believe that the Big Three actually were more responsible for Oakland' success than Beane. We'll know within a couple of years, because the foundation of the Athletics has been gutted in the first stage of rebuilding. Mulder has had some injury problems the last two years, and some rival executives wonder if he will have chronic hip trouble the rest of his career; St. Louis is assuming some risk with this deal.
Big Picture: With the backbone of the Oakland team compromised, Anaheim will go into the 2005 season as the favorite to win the AL West -- but Beane does have more flexibility to make midseason moves, if the Athletics are close. St. Louis can't match the Cubs' rotation, but the Cardinals got the power pitcher they desperately needed.
|MATT CLEMENT TO RED SOX|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: The Red Sox and pitcher Matt Clement agreed to a three-year contract.
The Upside: The departure of Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe leaves Boston's rotation with a couple of big holes, and Clement has the raw stuff to fill one of those spots. Scouts have compared his arm and the movement on the fastball to a younger Kevin Brown, and if Clement can handle Boston and throw strikes more consistently, he could become a dominant force. But those are big ifs.
The Downside: Others familiar with Clement have doubts about whether he can handle the pressure of pitching in Boston, where new players are given a relatively short leash by the media and the fans. If Clement goes into a prolonged period when he struggles with his command and loses some games, he will get booed and will have to handle enormous duress. He is a player of many rituals, and his comfort zone could be invaded by the stress. Clement will get his chance on the big stage.
Big Picture: The Red Sox could have waited to address their lack of starting pitching, perhaps into spring training or the start of the season. They made their move now, and while it might feel more comfortable at this time, they have locked themselves into a significant commitment with a pitcher who may or may not thrive in Boston. Seems like a lot of cash -- they gave Clement as much as they initially offered Martinez -- for a less than certain investment.
|TIM HUDSON TO BRAVES|
Buster Olney's analysis: (for Braves); (for A's)
The Move: Oakland trades All-Star pitcher Tim Hudson to Atlanta for reliever Juan Cruz, outfielder Charles Thomas and pitcher Dan Meyer.
The Upside: The Athletics moved Hudson because he will be eligible for free agency after the 2005 season, and they already have three good starting pitchers locked up in Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Rich Harden. If Cruz's live arm translates, he could be a good middle reliever, and if Thomas -- a hard-playing gamer and excellent fielder who batted .288 with seven homers in 83 games for the Braves in '04 -- continues to improve, he could develop into an every day player. Meyer was Atlanta's first-round pick in 2002 and has shown some promise, but reports on him around baseball are mixed. For Atlanta, this deal puts the Braves in position to perhaps top the NL East for the 15th consecutive season, assuming that Hudson stays healthy. He is, in many respects, right out of the Greg Maddux mold -- a terrific athlete with nasty stuff, and he should thrive in the NL. With John Smoltz and Hudson fronting the Atlanta rotation, the Braves will be tough; Atlanta must shore up its middle relief.
The Downside: From 2000-2004, the Athletics won about 65 percent of the games started by Hudson, Mulder and Zito, and when anybody else has pitched, their winning percentage is about .530. Now Oakland moves into a new era, without one member of the Big Three. In trading Hudson, the Athletics seemed to get three decent players -- but not one sure-fire, superstar prospect, and that's a surprise considering Hudson's current marketability. Cruz has now been traded twice and has a 3.99 ERA pitching over four big-league seasons, Thomas seemed to come out of nowhere in '04, and there doesn't seem to be a consensus on Meyer yet; Baseball America rated him as the eighth-best prospect in the International League last year, and he was a No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft. The Braves will probably work hard to sign Hudson -- who was born in Columbus, Ga. -- to a long-term deal. Hudson could walk away, otherwise, after this season, and even if they do sign him, there are questions about whether Hudson, with his high-torque delivery and medium size, will have a long career.
Big Picture: Oakland may have more depth, but the Athletics are losing a warrior -- and the Braves have added the perfect pitcher and person to inherent the legacy of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.
|ADRIAN BELTRE TO MARINERS|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: The Mariners agree to terms on a five-year, $65 million deal with third baseman Adrian Beltre.
The Upside: The Mariners' situation this winter was much like the Mets' situation: With their credibility eroded, they felt they had to make a splash to win back the interest of the fans. The signing of Richie Sexson was their Pedro Martinez gamble, giving a four-year, $50 million contract to a medical risk. Now they have followed that up with the signing of one of the best available position players -- the 25-year-old Beltre, who batted .334 with 48 homers and 121 RBI for the Dodgers last year, after fully blossoming for the first time in his career. There is no exchange rate involved in those numbers, either: Beltre put up that MVP-type season in Dodger Stadium, a pitcher's park, just like Seattle's Safeco Field. He had the grit to play through injuries last season, he had earned the respect of teammates, and he could be a terrific player for the Mariners for many years to come. He is expensive -- but in a winter when all teams are paying sticker price, that is the cost of talent.
The Downside: If he gets hurt, the Mariners will be saddled with a major financial obligation that could seriously affect their flexibility. He is, after all, the highest paid player in club history.
Big Picture: Maybe their pitching won't hold together next season, maybe Sexson won't hold up, maybe their hole at shortstop will sabotage the Mariners. Maybe -- undoubtedly -- they should've spent more money in an effort to win the World Series in 2001 and 2002. But going forward, they have made a strong and bold statement; Beltre's a great player and he will be for a long time.
|PEDRO MARTINEZ TO METS|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: The Mets have finalized a four-year deal, worth $53 million, with pitcher Pedro Martinez.
The Upside: Omar Minaya, the Mets' new head honcho, wanted to make a splash and this qualifies. For years, the Mets have tried and failed to make the big deal -- for Alex Rodriguez, for Vladimir Guerrero. This time, they got it done, overwhelming the three-year offer made by the Boston Red Sox and perhaps putting themselves into position to contend in the mediocre NL East in 2005. The Mets have many holes and question marks to address, from their middle infield to their middle relief to the possible acquisition of Sammy Sosa, but their rotation has a chance to be very good: Martinez, Glavine, Kris Benson, Steve Trachsel, Victor Zambrano. Martinez, a future Hall of Famer, went 16-9 for the Red Sox and remains a very good pitcher, despite growing questions about the condition of his right shoulder; like Roger Clemens, he could benefit from a switch from the AL to the NL.
The Downside: Martinez's fastball velocity has declined from a consistent 94-95 mph to a consistent 88-90, and although he has two other outstanding pitches in his changeup and curve, he is a huge physical risk. He's 33 years old, he has a high-torque delivery that puts enormous strain on a shoulder that already is partially torn, and it wouldn't surprise anybody in Boston if he broke down for good in 2005; that's why the Red Sox refused to guarantee a fourth year in their offer. This could turn out to be a total disaster for the Mets, along the lines of Mo Vaughn. And the Mets are not doing any favors for new manager Willie Randolph in adding Pedro Martinez, who often dictated his own rules when he played with the Red Sox.
Big Picture: This is a much better gamble than Sammy Sosa, but it's a big-time gamble, nonetheless. This deal will make Minaya look like a genius or a knucklehead, in the end.
|CARLOS LEE TO BREWERS; SCOTT PODSEDNIK TO WHITE SOX|
Buster Olney's analysis: (for Brewers); (for White Sox)
The Move: The Brewers swap outfielder Scott Podsednik and middle reliever Luis Vizcaino for outfielder Carlos Lee.
The Upside: Quietly and steadily, Milwaukee is developing a good core of veterans, with a wave of top prospects due to land in the next couple of years. Lee, 28, batted .305 with 31 homers and 99 RBI for the White Sox last year, and he gives the Brewers a solid right-handed hitter to place between left-handed hitting Geoff Jenkins and Lyle Overbay, some serious power. He also has improved his defense from poor to adequate. Like the Brewers' swap of Dan Kolb, Milwaukee's trade of Podsednik might be a case of a team trading a player while his stock is still high: After a strong rookie season in 2003, Podsednik hit just .244 with 12 homers and a .313 on-base percentage in 2004; he stole 70 bases, and had 27 doubles and seven triples. Vizcaino had a good season in '04, holding opponents to a .228 average and allowing only 24 walks in 72 innings.
The Downside: There are questions about whether Lee's power input might be related to some renovations in Chicago's home park made before last season; a prevailing theory is that right-handed hitters like Lee and Paul Konerko benefited from a change in the wind flow. Seventeen of Lee's 31 homers were hit at home. But his home/road splits are pretty even, otherwise, and he is going to a good offensive park in Milwaukee. The White Sox must hope that Podsednik, who turns 29 next spring, does not turn out to be a one-year wonder. If he does little else besides steal bases, as some scouts said of his '04 season, this is not a good deal for Chicago. Vizcaino will help.
Big Picture: : With a little more maturity and a reconstruction of their bullpen, the Brewers may actually turn out to be -- think about this -- contenders. The White Sox clearly are nearing a crossroads: After several seasons of hovering near the top of the AL Central, they will either get better with acquisitions like Freddy Garcia and Podsednik, or they are headed downhill.
|MIKE MATHENY TO GIANTS|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: The Giants sign catcher Mike Matheny to a three-year, $10.5 million deal.
The Upside: The Giants' pitchers had issues with the diligence and work habits of A.J. Pierzynski last season, and now San Francisco has replaced him with perhaps the most sound defensive catcher in the majors -- someone who will block balls in the dirt, work to slow down the running game, and devote himself to the pitcher on the mound. For a team that plays in a pitcher's park, and will have at least two young starters in its rotation, he's a tremendous fit.
The Downside: Matheny is a subpar hitter, in today's world of Ivan Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. His 50 RBI last year were a career high, he's never hit more than eight homers in a season, and his career batting average is .239; at age 34, he's not going to suddenly learn how to hit, either. The Giants' entire offense was held up by Barry Bonds last season, and with the addition of Matheny and shortstop Omar Vizquel -- who reaches base but will never be a high-production guy -- the weight on Bonds has increased.
Big Picture:: The Giants have added a strong defensive shortstop, a top-flight closer in Armando Benitez, and a strong defensive catcher in Matheny. This is yet another indication they intend to make a serious run at a division title in 2005.
|RICHIE SEXSON TO MARINERS|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: The Mariners agree to terms on a four-year, $50 million deal with first baseman Richie Sexson.
The Upside: When healthy, Sexson can hit a lot of bombs. He's got 200 career homers, and already has four seasons of 30 or more homers -- and there is no disputing that Seattle desperately needs an influx of offense, with the retirement of Edgar Martinez and the regression of other Mariners' hitters. Until this deal, it seemed like most prime free agents were merely using Seattle's interest as a way to drive up their own demands. But finally, Seattle has landed a big one.
The Downside: Signing Sexson for this kind of money is an enormous risk, less than a year after he twice injured his shoulder simply swinging a bat. Early in this offseason, it seemed that Sexson might have to settle for a one-year deal some place, then re-prove himself in 2005 and go back out on the market. But Seattle, spurred by its own desperation and a upward spiraling free-agent market, is paying top dollar for Sexson. They will expect top production, and Sexson isn't necessarily a great hitter. He had always played in excellent offensive parks until last year, when he mustered a .239 average for Arizona. Now he's going to a pitcher's park in Safeco, where his prodigious strikeout totals -- 136 or more in four straight seasons, from 2000-'03 -- may be framed by decreasing power output.
Big Picture: Seattle wanted to show its fans that the team is trying, and willing to spend some money (a move that comes at least two years too years too late -- two years after the team's window of opportunity for championships closed). He might turn out to be the wrong guy at the wrong time.
MLB executive's take: "Sexson is a quality guy, and Seattle needs to get some offense. I don't think much of this talk about them signing (Carlos) Delgado to play first and moving Sexson to left field. I like Sexson at first base and Delgado DHing, and then you're a good team. And that's how it'll end up. Seattle lost last year because they didn't have defense. They had no idea what they were doing and they put a bad defensive club on the field. Baseball people will tell you, 'You don't put Sexson in left field.' They're going to find that doesn't work.''
|COREY KOSKIE TO BLUE JAYS|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: Toronto agrees to a three-year, $17 million deal with third baseman Corey Koskie.
The Upside: In an offseason dominated by big names like Beltran and Pedro, Koskie is probably among the most underrated free agents -- a steady all-around player who can field, hit for power, get on base, and beyond all that, he consistently plays hard. The Jays must rely on youngsters as they move forward with their rebuilding effort, but the 31-year-old Koskie is the kind of good veteran who can lead the way.
The Downside: The Jays shouldn't go into this deal expecting too much from Koskie; he's not a franchise-type player who can carry an offense. Last year, Koskie batted .251, and while he hit 25 homers, he had 103 strikeouts in 422 at-bats, and he's never had fewer than 103 punchouts in each of his last five seasons. The addition of Koskie apparently is a concession that Eric Hinske, the AL rookie of the year in 2002, might be a bust. Hinske -- who signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract after his first season -- reportedly will either be traded or shifted to first base.
Big Picture: J.P. Ricciardi, the general manager for the Jays, doesn't have a lot of free-agent bullets to fire off, as he tries to contend in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, teams that rank No. 1 and No. 2 in payroll. He needs to make all his ammunition count, and Koskie is a good signing.
MLB executive's take: "I like the player a lot. He's a solid guy. He's a good defensive player. He's had a history of some injuries, but in this marketplace, the way it is today, that's a good sign. Three years and $17 million seems pretty reasonable for a quality third baseman who's young. He'll hit you .270 with 25 home runs.''
|CARL PAVANO TO YANKEES|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: The Yankees agree to terms with right-hander Carl Pavano.
The Upside: The Yankees had to remake their rotation this offseason and landing the most sought-after free agent pitcher not named Pedro Martinez is an excellent start. Pavano is young (28), he's coming off a strong season in which he was a Cy Young Award candidate until early September, and he thrived in his one shot at post-season play in 2003, playing an important role as the Marlins won the World Series.
The Downside: He made a total of 38 starts for Montreal from 2000-2002 because of injury, and his career-record is 57-58. The Yankees are investing about $40 million in Pavano, but it's not as if they're getting a guy with a rock-solid history of a Roger Clemens or David Cone; he's had one good season in his career. And there will be questions about Pavano's ability to switch leagues, just as there were questions about an even more accomplished pitcher last year -- Javier Vazquez, who was chewed up and spat out by the AL in the second half of 2004.
Big Picture: The Yankees' farm system is a mess, they don't have tradable commodities on their major-league roster, so as they try to re-shape their roster, their best strategy is to take some chances on free agents. The Yankees also have to find some way to try to get some good, young arms, to slow the recent age and regression of their pitching staff, and at least they have a chance to do that by adding Pavano and Jaret Wright.
MLB executive's take: "He's good, but when did he become this premier pitcher who's worth roughly $10 million a year? Is he that much better than the rest of these guys getting the standard three and $21 million package? I don't think so. He pitched in front of a great defense in a great pitcher's park in a low-pressure environment for the last couple of years. Now he's going to the American League, to a lousy defensive club in not as good of a pitcher's park. It seems like a recipe for disappointment. He's never been a big strikeout guy, so he depends on his defense. And until the Yankees get Beltran, that's a bad defensive club.''
|DAVID WELLS TO RED SOX|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: The Red Sox sign free agent pitcher David Wells to a two-year contract.
The Upside: The 41-year-old Boomer will always be known for his girth, for his questionable physical conditioning. In truth, he is an incredible athlete, a physical marvel who can repeat his delivery time and again with incredible precision in spite of his large bulk. Last year, the strike-throwing machine walked only 20 batters in 195.2 innings, and he went 12-8 for San Diego; his 3.73 ERA was his lowest since 1998. He has always pitched well in the postseason, and Wells will love pitching against his former Yankee teammates.
The Downside: He turns 42 next May, and past back trouble flares up repeatedly; back spasms caused him to walk off the field after pitching only one inning in Game 5 of the 2003 World Series. At some point, Wells will finally break down, and there would seem to be a more than reasonable chance that this might happen during his two-year deal with Boston. Wells went to San Diego with a checkered reputation as a clubhouse distraction and the Padres nonetheless loved him. But Boston is different than San Diego: There will be more media scrutiny, more day-to-day tension, and probably, more problems. The Red Sox had hoped to start changing the culture of selfishness that occasionally popped up over the last decade, but in Wells, they will have one of baseball's great divas.
Big Picture: The Yankees had an old pitching staff in 2004 and eventually, this cost them, creating wear-and-tear on the bullpen that faded in the playoffs. Now the Boston rotation includes Curt Schilling, a horse who is, nonetheless, 38; Wells; and Tim Wakefield, 38, young for knuckleballers but still not exactly young. It's a surprise that the Red Sox, with all their resources, would put themselves in a position to get this old this quickly.
Scout's take: "If Boomer stays healthy, he's always going to take the ball. He gives them a left-hander in their rotation that they didn't have before, and he gives them protection for Pedro if he doesn't come back. It's just a question of whether his back acts up. Moving to a colder climate, you have to be somewhat more concerned than you were in San Diego. He's also going to be pitching in a smaller ballpark. But he's definitely going to throw strikes, and he keeps his team in the game. If he goes to the post 30 times and pitches the way he's capable, it's going to be worth it. Pitching in Boston sure won't bother him. David is a unique individual. He could pitch on the moon.''
|DANNY KOLB TO BRAVES|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: Atlanta acquires closer Danny Kolb in return for Jose Capellan, the Braves' hard-throwing young prospect.
The Upside: With John Smoltz shifting from the closer's role to the rotation, the Braves had to get an experienced closer as they prepared for 2005 -- and Kolb is pretty good in this role, converting 39 of 44 chances in 2004. Kolb is not a classic closer, with overpowering stuff -- he averaged just 3.30 strikeouts per nine innings in '04, and he totaled only 21 strikeouts in 64 appearances -- but he is not afraid to take the ball and finish games. At 29, he has 61 career saves.
The Downside: Scouts love Capallen's potential, and clearly, there will be questions about Kolb moving from the low-pressure environment of Milwaukee into a high-pressure spot in Atlanta. Kolb replaces Smoltz, who someday will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Milwaukee probably moved him now to take advantage of his value while it's still high. This was a classic sell-high trade.
Big Picture: There weren't that many closers on the free agent market, and the prime closers who were available -- Armando Benitez and Troy Percival -- got pricey contracts. Kolb made only $1.5 million in 2004 and won't bust Atlanta's tight budget, and his presence will allow the Braves to at least feel better about shifting Smoltz into the rotation. But there will be moments, unquestionably, when Bobby Cox will wish he had Smoltz in the 'pen.
MLB executive's take: "I don't think it's as bad for the Braves as a lot of people are making out. The biggest negative is they might have been able to get a little more for Capellan. He's got a big, big arm. A couple of our guys saw him last year and he was all they could talk about. But then you look at him and he's just a fastball guy, and he doesn't have that much pitching experience, particularly at the upper level. If they just think he's a flamethrower and he's never going to learn a breaking ball or a decent changeup, why not trade him now when he's got maximum value?
"John Smoltz is in the last year of his contract, so you might as well just run him out there for as many innings as you can. And if he finally blows out again, at least you maximize your value. To me, Kolb isn't anything special. But he's an extreme groundball guy, and you watch -- he'll go there this year and strike out 50 percent more guys than anybody thinks. At this point, how can you bet against Leo Mazzone?''
|STEVE FINLEY TO ANGELS|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: The Angels sign free agent center fielder Steve Finley.
The Upside: Instead of waiting for superagent Scott Boras to start the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes in earnest, the Angels made a pre-emptive strike and got the best available all-around center fielder in Finley. He pounded 36 homers last year, in splitting the season between Arizona and Los Angeles, and drove in 94 runs. Finley has become one of the game's most reliable players, with a couple of World Series appearances to his credit, and he will fit in perfectly with the Angels, and allow Anaheim to shift Garret Anderson back to left field.
The Downside: Finley will be 40 years old on Opening Day, and though he still runs well, the inherent risk of injury is higher. But Finley has not played in fewer than 140 games since 1995, and he played in 162 in 2004, matching his career high.
Big Picture: Signing Beltran will probably cost around $100 million, or more (if the Yankees get him). In locking up Finley, the Angels got a good player for much less, and they avoided the potential problem of giving somebody else more money than the reigning AL MVP, Vladimir Guerrero, who earns $14 million annually. In spite of the money they've paid out recently, the Angels have managed to keep good payroll flexibility.
Scout's take: "Finley plays the game the way it's supposed to be played, and he still runs good. I thought that was one of the better signings this off-season. He's probably the youngest guy his age that I've seen in a long time, so the length of the contract is no issue for me. He's probably held his skills as well as any player I've seen in a very long time. He gives the Angels better defense than they had before. It keeps Darin Erstad at first base and moves Garret Andersen back to left field, where he's more comfortable. It also gives them power that they lost last year with Andersen's back problems. And if Andersen's condition is arthritic and comes back again. Finley gives them some protection there.''
|TROY GLAUS, RUSS ORTIZ TO D-BACKS|
Buster Olney's analysis: (upgraded to two if the Diamondbacks retain Randy Johnson).
The Move: The Diamondbacks sign free agents Troy Glaus (four years, $45 million) and Russ Ortiz (four years, $33 million).
The Upside: Arizona at least slows the runaway impression that the franchise is headed into a prolonged period of rebuilding. None of the available free agents has the power of Glaus, who has 182 career homers in 827 games, and Ortiz has been a solid NL pitcher and innings-eater, making 32 or more starts and racking up 14 or more victories in each of the last six seasons.
The Downside: When your franchise is perceived to be spiraling downward, then you probably have to overpay to get good free agents -- and executives with other teams think the Diamondbacks paid sticker price for both guys. Glaus missed more than half of last season and hasn't proven he can be a major-league third baseman again, and Ortiz's ERA has climbed in each of the last three seasons, despite the fact that he's always pitched in parks that favor pitchers; most teams didn't regard Ortiz as one of the better free-agent pitchers, but he'll wind up getting one of the biggest contracts of the off-season for pitchers. And only the Diamondbacks' executives know the answer that everybody in baseball is asking for: How is Arizona paying for all of this?
Big Picture: It's an aggressive first step by new operating officer Jeff Moorad, but ultimately, any progress made with these moves would be completely offset if Arizona trades future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. Spending on Glaus and Ortiz might eventually seem like a waste if the Big Unit moves on before '05 season starts.
MLB executive's take: "I have no idea what the Diamondbacks are doing. Ortiz is the worse of the two. They just paid an extra year and a substantial premium for a pitcher who isn't any better than the Kris Bensons and Jon Liebers and Matt Clements of the world. He's a fly ball pitcher who's going to a great home run park. He walks way too many guys, and he's had a heavy, heavy workload. If there's a breakdown risk in this market, I'd have to think it was him. They'd be better off acknowledging, 'Look, we're going to stink for a couple of years, and we're going to run some kids out there and see what they can do.'
"Glaus doesn't bother me as much, because if he's 100 percent, he's a hell of a hitter. It's just a strange commitment for a guy who may or may not be healthy, and probably wasn't going to get anywhere near that much money from anybody else. They already have Chad Tracy and Shea Hillenbrand. Run Tracy out there for a year and see what happens. Conor Jackson is coming too. I don't understand why you make moves to block that caliber of player, especially when Troy Glaus isn't going to push them to a division title.''
|RICHARD HIDALGO TO RANGERS|
Buster Olney's analysis:
The Move: The Rangers sign free agent outfielder Richard Hidalgo to a one-year deal.
The Upside: The Rangers already have some big-time hitters at every infield position, but Brian Jordan struggled with injury last year and Texas sometimes lacked production from its outfield. Hidalgo is probably going to thrive in his new spot in Texas -- probably hitting in the bottom four spots in the Rangers' lineup, behind Michael Young and Alfonso Soriano and Hank Blalock. Hidalgo will probably never be as great as the Astros once thought he would be, but he's a good complementary player.
The Downside: He is big, thick-legged, often nagged by injuries, and on defense, he'll never be confused with Torii Hunter. And Hidalgo is coming off a year in which he hit well early and then faded, finishing at .239.
Big Picture: Rangers Manager Buck Showalter likes high-character guys and Hidalgo will fit in, and give Texas good production without costing top dollar.
MLB executive's take: "I thought it was a nice pickup. They got themselves a decent player, and it was only for one year. He has some limitations, but he gives them a good defensive outfielder. They've run some cement shoes guys out there to right field the last couple of years. Hidalgo can throw and he has really good range. He doesn't get on base a ton, but he'll take advantage of that ballpark. He should hit 25-30 home runs pretty easily there. This hitting market stinks. There's nothing out there. So if you can pay a 10-20 percent premium and not have to go the extra years, that's pretty good.''
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