There are few big names left on the Free Agent Market. Some teams may have missed out on their top choices and have resorted to their back up plans. The Texas Rangers have done this after falling short in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes by signing Brandon Webb. Webb is a gamble, but has a high reward if he can return to his 2006 Cy Young pitching form.
No team can ever fully expect to fill the holes exactly how they mapped out before the off season started. This off season is a great example of that. Once your ideal player has been taken as a general manager you must move on to the next best option. The following is the first of two lists of the teams that made the moves to best improve themselves within their divisions. It doesn’t take into account the long term impact a big contract may have, just how it helps the team this season.
Starting in the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers seem to have the edge when it comes to improving. In one of the most even divisions over recent years, improving could be the difference between being a basement dweller like the Arizona Diamondbacks or a World Series champion like the San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers improved their team at other teams in their division’s expenses. Signing Juan Uribe away from the Giants is an example of this as well as signing Jon Garland from the Padres. Both have experience winning the World Series, which can never hurt a team.
In addition, they also re-signed starting pitchers Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda to give them a solid 1-5 rotation. They replaced Russel Martin with a combination of Dioner Navarro and Rod Barajas, not as gifted as Martin but also not horrible. Navarro has shown the ability to hit for average while Barajas has some power. They have also added to their bullpen by signing Matt Guerrier to take the mound before Broxton. All in all, they have added key pieces to their line ups, starting rotations and bullpens and should see improvements this season. As a result you can count on seeing them challenge for the NL West division deep into the season.
In the National League Central Division the best improved team didn’t make their biggest moves to bolster their team via free agency. The Milwaukee Brewers improved their rotation via the trade route. The Giants last year proved like many before them that pitching wins championships, and that is exactly the approach the Brewers seemed to have taken. First they traded for the Blue Jays ace Shaun Marcum, probably pretty underrated because of the market he comes from. Finally the big deal came, for former Cy Young award winner Zach Grienke. Grienke was unhappy with playing in Kansas City and now will get the opportunity to play on a winning baseball team. This addition gives the Brewers one of the best rotations in the division.
Their bullpen also added some depth by signing Takashi Saito. He has made a career over not only pitching in the late innings, but pitching well. You can look at his 2.83 ERA in a couple ways, one it is still fairly low for a 40 year old pitcher or another is it is the highest ERA he has since he started closing for the Dodgers in 2006. Regardless of if Saito’s numbers are dwindling, he is still a veteran arm in the pen that will get his job done most nights. After two losing seasons in a row the Brewers look to use their new starting pitching strength to propel them into a winning season and meaningful September games. Whether they can win the division will also be up to the Cardinals and Reds.
Finally comes the NL East where the decision is not easy. The best player added to the division is Cliff Lee, making the Phillies starting rotation legendary. They have also re-signed Jose Contreras and added Dennys Reyes from the Cardinals to their pen. They are once again the favourites to win the division, but they haven’t made top off season moves. The Florida Marlins have made the best signings and trades, followed closely by the Atlanta Braves. It was tough to decide between the two, especially considering the Marlins traded Dan Uggla to the Braves.
I like however how they were not afraid to address their needs by trading prospects before their value completely disappears. Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller for example have been pretty big disappointments thus far. They turned these players into three relievers that can have a major impact on the team this season. They also bolstered their starting rotation by adding Javier Vazquez, who posted a 2.83 ERA in 2009 while pitching within the division for the Braves. John Buck will also be a nice addition behind the plate. He is coming off a solid season with the Blue Jays and should handle their pitching staff very well. Finally, losing Uggla’s bat hurts, but the deal wasn’t a complete loss. Omar Infante is a lot more versatile and will play superior defense to Uggla. He has hit .300 his last two seasons as well and the Marlins also received Michael Dunn in the deal, a left handed reliever who has shown great potential in his short showing in the big leagues. One thing can be sure about the Marlins, they should have a good bullpen with a lot of depth. Teams are going to need to get to their starters.