Each year GM’s from across the league come together and meet in one place and talk hardcore baseball, these are the Winter Meetings. It’s the Black Friday of baseballs shopping season, and the springboard that leads into MLB’s Hot Stove offseason.
The meetings wrapped up last week and to review the action The Nats Blog is going to get reviews from top blogs across the league. Today will be the NL East, here will be the schedule for the rest of the week:
12/16-NL Central, 12/17-NL West, 12/18-AL East, 12/19-AL Central, 12/20 AL West
Team Name: Los Angeles Dodgers
2009 Record: 95-67
Team Needs: Starting pitching. Second base. An entirely new bench. Oh, and new owners. Dear lord, new owners.
Team Moves: Failed to offer arbitration to Randy Wolf & Orlando Hudson. But hey, at least they signed Josh Towers to a minor-league deal. World Series, here we come!
Winter Meetings Grade: I’d be tempted to say “F”, but you have to at least participate to fail.
Evaluation: Let me put it this way. You’ve got ESPN’s Buster Olney writing articles about how the Dodgers are “frozen”, the Los Angeles Times writing an article about how the Dodgers “are saying it all with their silence”, and neither one of those come close to winning “most embarrassing story of the week”. How could they, when they’re mere baseball concerns? Not having a starting rotation or showing any interest in draft picks can’t compete with Bill Shaikin’s story in the LA Times about the alleged boy-toy of discraced psuedo-owner Jamie McCourt making a bizarre trip to Asia to present a Taiwanese legislator with Dodger merchandise, can it?
As far as the offseason is going… well, other teams are making big time signings like John Lackey or swapping Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay. The Dodgers are busy not offering arbitration to two Type A guys (Wolf & Hudson) who would have never accepted, and digging in the bargain bin with the Pirates and Royals for guys like Towers. But hey, at least they went out and filled out their pitching staff by getting not one but two Rule 5 guys who they’ll have to carry all season.
You feel as though you’ve detected a lack of optimism here, especially since I cover a young team that just made it to the NLCS twice in a row. You would not be wrong.
Team Name: Arizona Diamondbacks
2009 Record: 70-92
Team Needs: Starting Pitching, Relief Pitching, First Base
Team Moves: Traded RHP Max Scherzer, RHP Daniel Schlereth for RHP Edwin Jackson (Detroit) and RHP Ian Kennedy (New York Yankees). Selected LHP Zach Kroenke in Rule V Draft.
Winter Meetings Grade: B
Evaluation: Everyone was expecting Arizona to be fairly quiet during the Winter Meetings. They went in needing a number four starter, a relief pitcher, and a first baseman with just $10 million to spend. What they came away with was an upgrade to their pitching staff while still having the bulk of their money to spend.
Arizona traded away promising starter Max Scherzer along with hard throwing reliever Daniel Schlereth but received an all-star pitcher capable of pitching 200 innings a year (something Scherzer will likely never accomplish). The Diamondbacks are very high on Ian Kennedy and feel his injury problems are behind him, a view not shared my most of baseball.
With the starting pitching addressed, Arizona selected Zach Kroenke in the Rule V draft to be used as a left-handed specialist with the departure of Schlereth. Given Schlereth’s control problems this may end up being an upgrade to the Diamondbacks bullpen as well.
Overall Arizona helped itself out with this trade and now has a couple of months to address the need for an additional veteran arm in the bullpen and potentially a first baseman.
Team Name: Colorado Rockies
Team Record: 92-70 (Wild Card winners)
Team Needs: Back up catcher, backup infielder who can play 1st and 3rd base, and pitching depth.
Team Moves: Signed catcher Chris Iannetta to a three year, $8 million contract. The agreement buys Iannetta out of his arbitration years and gives the Rockies cost certainty heading into the 2010 campaign. Late-inning reliever Rafael Betancourt accepted arbitration, guaranteeing the Rockies a solid back end of the rotation. Non-tendered third baseman Garrett Atkins, allowing him to become a free agent.
Team Grade: B
Evaluation: The Rockies were not expected to be very active in the 2009 Winter Meetings. They are comfortable with their lineup staying basically the same heading into 2010. Catcher Yorvit Torrealba took over the starting spot late in the season as Iannetta faltered, and the Rockies are trying to work on a deal to get him back as well. Torrealba is set on a two-year, $6 million deal. The Rockies are reportedly $400,000 away from that number, but neither side is willing to budge. Iannetta possesses more God-given talent, but after three straight seasons of losing the starting job, the Rockies are looking to have a veteran catcher waiting in the wings. Torrealba is a clubhouse favorite and had several clutch hits down the stretch and in the playoffs for the Rockies.
Signing Iannetta was a no-brainer for the Rockies. Despite having two highly touted catching prospects in the minor leagues (Mike McKenry and Wilin Rosario), the Rockies should save a significant amount of money by avoiding three years of arbitration and if Iannetta flames out, gets hurt, or proves that his down 2009 was not an aberration, the team is not on the hook for a huge chunk of money. The Rockies are still looking to add depth after losing Jason Marquis to free agency, but are most likely going to depend on Jeff Francis to fill that role.
Team Name: Colorado Rockies
Team Record: 92-70 2nd 3.0 GB Wildcard winner
Team Needs: Salary Relief, Backup Catcher, and Pitching Depth.
Moves Made: Non-tendered 3B Garrett Atkins
Winter Meetings Grade – Incomplete – no moves, no grade.
Evaluation: Coming off their second wildcard in three seasons, the Rockies are in an enviable position. Young players dot the roster at key positions, especially up the middle with Chris Iannetta catching, Troy Tulowitzki at short and Dexter Fowler, the likely centerfielder. In addition impressive youngsters Carlos Gonzalez and Ian Stewart round out the left side of the field in left and at third base respectively. Clint Barmes, currently at second base, may be pushed to a utility role by Eric Young Jr. The Rockies youth movement has given them impressive depth in the outfield, where five players will fight for playing time. Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs figure to be the fourth and fifth outfielders, unless Dan O’Dowd reverses course and tried to find a taker for the Brad Hawpe, who turns 31 in June, is the elder statesman of the Rockies outfield.
On the hill, Ubaldo Jimenez fronts a rotation rounded out by Aaron Cook, Jorge De La Rosa, Jason Hammel, and Jeff Francis. Jimenez put together his second straight brilliant season, chalking up more strikeouts than hits allowed, while pushing his strikeout to walk ration to 2.33. He’s the undisputed ace of the staff. Francis, entering his age 29 season, is coming off a lost 2009 thanks to arthroscopic surgery on his pitching shoulder. Colorado is depending on him to stay healthy to replace free agent Jason Marquis. Hammel’s first season in the National League showed how big the difference between AL and NL has become. He improved on all of his rate stats, nearly doubled his career innings pitched and filled won ten games. De La Rosa on his fifth organization put together his best season, and will be just 29 in 2010. Cook, the eldest of the starters, had an uneven year in 2009, but thanks to keeping the ball in the park kept his ERA to a nifty 4.16, in spite of otherwise unimpressive peripherals.
Colorado has enough young talent to defer bigger acquisitions to mid-2010. Franklin Morales gives them a pitcher who can hedge against ineffectiveness of Cook or Francis, or step in to replace Street at the back of the pen. The returns of Francis and Taylor Buchholz from injury are hopeful signs, but also suggest greater depth on the mound would be helpful. The still costly Todd Helton deal hampers Colorado’s ability to retain their young talent, but continued success in Denver will help keep the fans in the park and provide the financial buffer to pay the young players as they go through arbitration. In an NL West with an imploded Padre team, an imploding, though still very talented, Dodger team, a Diamondback team that has underachieved for consecutive seasons and a Giant team that varies between old and creaky and young and inexperienced, the Rockies are in position to strongly contend for the division title this year and in the immediate future.Depending on how bad things get in Dodgertown, they are the team to beat.
San Diego Padres
Team Name: San Diego Padres 2009 Record: 75-87
Team Needs: Center Field, Lead-Off Hitter, Starting Pitching, Anyone who can successfully hit Major League pitching
Team Moves: Resigned Kevin Correia, non-tendered Jackson Quezada and Mark Worrell
Winter Meetings Grade: C
Evaluation: When the San Diego Padres left the GM meetings their biggest and best deal was the one they didn’t make, trading All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. The San Diego-born Gonzalez is signed to an extremely team-friendly deal and represents really the only consistent offensive threat in the Padres lineup, without him the 2010 Padres don’t have much hope. Then again, with him there isn’t much hope either.
New GM Jed Hoyer’s next best move might have been hiring Jason McLeod to be the assistant GM away from the Red Sox where he presided over their draft choices, picking players like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz in recent years. If McLeod can have similar success in San Diego the Padres’ farm system could be rapidly refilled with top prospects which is direly needed.
The team on the field, so far, is relatively unchanged from the end of the season, the team signed Kevin Correia — who ended up leading the team with his whopping 11 wins — to a $3.6 million contract for next season avoiding arbitration. They tendered contracts to all of their eligible players — including Kevin Kouzmanoff and closer Heath Bell — except for Jackson Quezada and Mark Worrell who were non-tendered. Who? Exactly. BFD.
As it is, the team that finished 7 games below .500 last year has done little to nothing to improve their on-field product for next season. The hope remains that young players like Mat Latos, Clayton Richard, Kouzmanoff, Chase Headley and Wade LeBlanc progress and the team can build off them but that foundation is awfully shaky at the moment; especially if Gonzalez is not a part of the team — regardless of the prospects and players he’d bring in exchange.
San Francisco Giants
Team Name: San Francisco Giants
2009 Record: 88-74
Team Needs: Hitters, hitters, hitters. A consistent 1st baseman, possibly a staring catcher, and some more guys who can hit the baseball where fielders aren’t.
Team Moves: Signed Freddy Sanchez and minor league short stop Tony Pena Jr., declined to offer a contract to Ryan Garko, declined arbitration to Benji Molina, Randy Winn, Randy Johnson, and Bobby Howry, & (kinda) lost Brad Penny to St. Louis
Winter Meetings Grade: INC
Evaluation: I think most Giants fans would agree that they overachieved this season. My brother and I used the phrase “Major League pitching, Minor League offense” more often than we would care to remember over the course of the season. In a sense, it was a damn shame to waste such amazing pitching with an offense that was consistently near the bottom at the league. Seriously, they had an on base percentage of .309. .309. You are not imagining that number. Worst in the majors. Really.
Why do I dwell so much on last season? Because it exposed a major flaw in the Giants organization philosophy when it comes to getting and evaluating position players. Of course pitching wins championships, but not if you can’t score any runs. Ever. So what did the Giants do at the Winter Meetings to address this issue? Absolutely nothing. And yet for Giants fans, the winter meetings this year followed a general trend of the Giants doing absolutely nothing at winter meetings and moving slowly and cautiously through the off season. They are linked to a number of trades, discussed as interested in several players, and always lurking around the outsides of things but never really involved.
The Giants continually telling the fans to judge the team in March and not in December. It’s rough for fans to watch their team sit idly by at the Winter Meetings when other teams are making moves, especially when their team’s weaknesses are so obvious and so .309. But at the same time, Giants fans would rather see the team take time to pick a quality player than just have them throw money at the first shiny thing that walks by.