In Bes-ball Talk #7-8 I wrote about the Yankees and Mets off season progress. So, for the next few Bes-Balls I want to do a round up of everyone else! Last time I did the East. Next up, the Central!
Cubs: Last year I thought the Cubs would reverse their Billy Goat curse, but their post season slump continued. So this off season, the NL Central favorites needed some tweaking to get over the hump and win a World Series. So far, their main goal of landing Jake Peavy through trade has failed, but the winter isn't over just yet. They've moved a bunch of pieces around in an effort, one would think, to better position themselves to acquiring the former CY Young winner. They let long time Cubbie Kerry Wood go, and traded for Marlins closer Kevin Gregg, who will set up for new closer Carlos Marmol. They traded over-priced 5th starter Jason Marquis to the Rockies for former Yankess Luis Vizcaino, adding a good piece to their bullpen in the process. Mark DeRosa was, astoundingly, traded to the Indians for some minor league pitching, and former super prospect Felix Pie was traded for rotation possibility Garrett Olsen. Of all these trades only the DeRosa one bothers me. The guy is a spark plug, but I guess they believe in an Aaron Miles/Mike Fontenot combo there. Their big signing of the winter is Milton Bradley to play right field, which was a very good maneuver. Last year, Bradley seemed to put away his troubles, and play very well for the Rangers; becoming a good teammate to guys like Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler. He's an excellent hitter, and will help this team get runners in scoring position home, something the NL Central champs could've used against the Dodgers. All in all, a decent off season that could turn great if they land Peavy before opening day.
White Sox: President Obama's favorite team just barely made to the playoffs last year, but like their NL counterparts didn't get far. This year, they've offloaded pitcher Javier Vasquez and center fielder Nick Swisher, but all they have to show for it is Wilson Betemit, Brent Lillibridge, and some minor leaguers. Most of the off season chatter with them was about trading Jermaine Dye, which would be a mistake, unless you're getting back key pieces. They are not bringing back Ken Griffey Jr., either, and there doesn't look to be any other big signings on the horizon, which, to me, could signal a fruitless offseason. Here's a team, though, that could be a fit for Bobby Abreu...
Milwaukee: The NL Wild Card winners were led by CC Sabathia last year, who carried them on his big back, but faltered once there, apparently a theme for the Central teams. This year, however, they will go to battle without Sabathia, who joined the Yanks, and maybe also without perennial favorite son Ben Sheets, but there's definitely an air of defiance coming from the Brewers that will be hard to miss. They have a new manager in Ken Macha, who brought the A's to the playoffs numerous times, and he brings former Mets' skipper Willie Randolph with him to be his bench coach. They brought in all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman to be their closer, a solid upgrade to the retiring Solomon Torres, and they're bring back their full complement of players. The same guys brought them to the dance in the first place. If they could bring in another pitcher or two, or get a solid return from Chris Capuano, then they could be serious contenders again. If not, things may get a little dicey with the shortened staff. Still, I feel that the taste of making the playoffs rubbed strongly on this group, and a return is inevitable.
Twins: About all they've done is re-signed SS Nick Punto to a 2 year deal, yet somehow the Twins are always there towards the end, competing their butts off. They have a well managed young team, with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau leading the way, and, seemingly, that's all they need. It's crazy and strange and wonderful. Good for them.
Astros: They've brought back Mike Hampton, signed Aaron Boone, and have pretty much shut it down after that, citing the bad economy. Bah, whatever, guys. Sure it's bad, but less so in baseball. This team can hit, although less without non-tendered Ty Wiggington, but have no one behind ace Roy Oswalt. They should try to work something out with Randy Wolf again, a guy that did really well for them, and whom they pulled an offer from. Bah!
Indians: So, these are the suckers that signed Carl Pavano, huh? Yes, but they may not be suckers after all. They didn't spend all that much for pitcher who still has a big upside if he's finally completely health and ready to go. A big "if" however, and one that few teams would gamble on. So give GM Mark Shapiro credit for having the guts to make the deal. More importantly, though, is the deal they gave Kerry Wood to become their closer. Wood had really started coming into his own in this role, and I think the Tribe has markedly improved themselves in this area. They also added former Met reliever Joe Smith to their bullpen, one of the brighter spots in the Mets' dismal '08 pen. Finally, they replaced Casey Blake at third by trading for Mark DeRosa. This is a great move for the Indians, as they got a clutch, scrappy player. This team is improved, and should challenge for the division or wild card.
Cardinals: I think this team is in trouble, but it's hard to ever count Tony LaRussa's crew out. Their two big moves were signing lefty Trever Miller, and trading for Padres shortstop Khalil Greene. Miller was solid for the Rays last year, and could be a very welcome addition to a virtually anonymous bullpen. With no chosen closer, this spot is going to be dicey. Greene will most certainly help their offense, should he return to form, of course. He'll need to, with 3rd baseman and slugger Troy Glaus out till May. Once they get him back the lineup will be pretty good, but with a rotation as nondescript as the bullpen, it'll be hard to climb out of 4th place. Their former ace, Chris Carpenter, is coming off major injuries, and doesn't figure to be much of a factor. They've also let Braden Looper, a surprisingly solid pitcher for them the last few years, walk. I think Jon Garland would be a good addition for this team, at least he'll put in the innings. They'll need at least that.
Tigers: One of last year's big disappointments, the Tigers will mostly need big returns from many of their players. Kenny Rogers isn't coming back and may be retiring. They've traded for Gerald Laird to catch, replacing Ivan Rodriguez and allowing Brandon Inge to return to 3rd to find his bat. They also just added Brandon Lyon to the back end of their bullpen to at least compete with Fernando Rodney for the closer's role. They simply needed more than that, but it looks like further moves may not happen. So there's a lot of banking on big turnarounds from some aging starters, but even from the youngish rotation. If that doesn't happen, the fluke of '08 may turn into a continuous slide.
Reds: They're starting a new era without Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr., but they are not yet poised for the post season. Their rotation could be solid if vets Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo are consistent. They've got some nice young position players as well, some that can really slug it out, too, and they've added a new lead off man in Willy Taveras, and a new catcher in Ramon Hernandez. Are these upgrades? Possibly, Hernandez is good and Taveras sure can run, but you always have to wonder why teams let players like this go. If they had cash, a Bobby Abreu could help them, providing mentoring and a solid bat. But that's an "if" that isn't there. So maybe a trade is possible, like the one talked about with the Yanks for Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady. I'd take Harang or Arroyo for my number 5 starter, let's give it a go.
Royals: They made a flurry of trades early on, grabbing centerfielder Coco Crisp, 1st baseman Mike Jacobs, and signed pitchers Kyle Farnsworth, Horacio Ramirez, and Doug Waechter. Four of the five guys should help this team climb to .500. They also just signed their own pitcher Zach Greinke to a 4 year deal, which was a great move, as he's an important piece to the puzzle. Manager Trey Hillman has gotten them out of last place, but in this division it's easy to go back, although, something tells me that's not happening.
Pirates: Sure, they have some good young players and pitchers, but no real leadership, and that "leads" to their constant faltering. I can't see how this season will be any different, if anything, it may get worse since they'll now start fresh without two of their major hitters, Xavier Nady and Jason Bay, both who were traded at last year's deadline. There's talk they might bring Pedro Martinez, which would be a welcome addition to their staff; at the very least maybe he can impart some knowledge and wisdom to their young starters. But even that's a long shot since they won't even bring back Doug Mientkiewicz, who's been this team's veteran leader and conscious. I mean, don't get me wrong, this team has the ability to improve, but don't expect a Rays like jump anytime soon.
Next, the West! And that's Bes-Ball.