After this memorable Hot Stove week, I figured it would be a great time to take a look at the big winners thus far in the MLB off-season. Which teams have made big splashes already, and which teams should be focusing on those remaining free agents? With that in mind, here are my picks for the top five winners thus far in the off-season.
5. Minnesota Twins
While by comparison to the names ahead on this list, the Twins off-season might seem quiet thus far, they’ve been helped by circumstance as much as they’ve helped themselves. The Twins made the first big acquisition of the off-season trading for shortstop JJ Hardy, and relinquishing Carlos Gomez, a trade that most believe favors the Twins. So long as JJ Hardy can recover from a down year in 2009, the Twins will be adding a great bat, with average, power and defense, at a premium position. Add to this the rumors that a Joe Mauer extension is in the works, the loss of Curtis Granderson and Placido Polanco by the Tigers, and the risky moves we’ve seen from the White Sox, and it seems that the Twins are a clear favorite to take the AL Central even with these small moves.
Next Steps: Extending Joe Mauer, and perhaps upgrades at third-base (Adrian Beltre?) or a mid-level starting pitcher.
4. Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies have made some great baseball decisions this off-season. For starters, they declined their option on Pedro Feliz and replaced him with a better-defensive player who gets on-base at a better rate in Placido Polanco. Their other big move of course was upgrading staff aces by adding Roy Halladay, despite the loss of Cliff Lee. They gave up some great prospects in the deal, but were at least able to replace them with similar talents. Phillippe Aumont, in particular, may not be far away from being able to help the bullpen of the Phillies, if they decide to keep him in a relief role in the minors. With Doc under contract for the next four years, the Phillies are in a great position to start off the next decade with success.
Next Steps: Bullpen help for Brad Lidge
3. Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox off-season seems to have taken hints from the Seattle Mariners with their defense focus. They added Mike Cameron, who will be a gigantic defense upgrade over Jason Bay. They’ve also added solid shortstop Marco Scutaro, who is a versatile defender and, if he can replicate his 2009 season, will be a big offensive boost at the shortstop position that’s hurt them for years. They are also looking to move Mike Lowell to Texas, and rumors tell us that Adrian Beltre, one of the best defensive third-basemen in the game, would be their main target for third base in that case. On top of that, they added the markets best free agent pitcher in John Lackey, which gives them a very dominant looking rotation.
Next Steps: Perhaps signing Adrian Beltre if Lowell is traded, and those never-ending Adrian Gonzalez rumors.
2. New York Yankees
The Yankees have essentially made two substantial moves this off-season, and they’ve both been excellent. They made a massive splash by trading for Curtis Granderson, who will allow the outfield positions to shift and create a huge defensive upgrade over Johnny Damon. On top of that, his lefty-handed bat and power to right field will play perfect in Yankee Stadium, allowing most to think that he’ll have a terrific season in 2010. He’s also got the reputation of being a great guy, and that never hurts. This week, they also added Nick Johnson, who will likely replace DH Hideki Matsui. Johnson is what I like to refer to as an "OBP Monster", and while the 2-spot is unconventional for a DH, his propensity to take walks would look great in front of Mark Texeira and Alex Rodriguez.
Next Steps: It’s hard to imagine any, really. Unless they get crazy and try to add Jason Bay or Matt Holliday, their lineup of all-stars looks complete.
1. Seattle Mariners
At the beginning of the off-season, there were rumblings that the Mariners had a ton of cash to spend, but many dismissed that rumor. I don’t think anyone expected this type of off-season from Seattle. They picked up speedy Chone Figgins to provide great defense and get on-base with Ichiro at the top of the lineup, acquired Cliff Lee to give them baseball’s best one-two pitching punch, and now added Milton Bradley, who will give them a very good bat, so long as his attitude doesn’t get in the way. The man they call "Jack Z" is being essentially universally-praised these days, and with good reason. In less than two years, he’s taken the Mariners from a train-wreck to the clear-cut favorites to win the AL West. With the pitching they have, they may even be able to make a great run through the playoffs.
Next Steps: A power-bat in the middle of the lineup, though Jason Bay doesn’t fit their defense-minded approach. A slugging first-baseman should do the trick.