The best -- and worst -- of everything this winter:
Best offseason stories
1. New York Yankees keep their wallet closed. Who are these guys, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays? GM Brian Cashman clearly is in charge of this organization's baseball path now, and his operating philosophy became obvious this winter: Make the Yankees younger, stockpile pitching prospects and, ahem, even reduce payroll. Which will give the Yankees more flexibility. Why, this keeps up, Cashman is going to become Time's Man of the Year, Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the Leopard Lodge's Grand Poobah, all at once.
2. The Cubs' wild spending ways. Somebody had to step into the breach left by the Yankees. Rumors abound that the Cubs are being groomed to be sold, and throwing $300 million at players either is going to make them a whole lot more attractive ... or scare a few potential bidders away. Either way, they should be much more attractive to their fans this year. No Lysol needed.
|Theo Epstein and the Red Sox opened up the vault for Daisuke Matsuzaka. (Getty Images)|
4. Boston's espionage laced pursuit of Daisuke Matsuzaka. It contained all the elements of the best spy novels, with a whole bunch of baseball thrown in. All that was missing was a James Bond girl or two. Now if the 2007 season is a page-turner for the Red Sox, they'll look brilliant.
5. Barry Bonds tests positive for amphetamines. Hmm, do you think he was the only player who violated baseball's amphetamines policy last year? You don't? Then isn't it quite the coincidence that his name is the only on that has been leaked so far? Baseball has some 'splainin' to do.
Most overdone offseason stories
1. Alex Rodriguez trade talk. Thank goodness for the Internet, which, at the very lest, doesn't kill trees when printing wild, rampant, unfounded speculation.
2. Manny Ramirez trade rumors. Can't wait for next winter, when the Red Sox trot out Chapter 42 in the longest running saga this side of The Thornbirds ... and we all fall for it again.
3. Roger Clemens. Play. Don't play. Come back in May. Or June. Or July. Whatev ... yawn ... er ... bigger yawn ... Zzzzzzzz.
4. New York Mets pursue Barry Zito. People have had Zito pegged for the Mets since last June. Uh, whoops. Just because you have a plastic badge and a fingerprint kit doesn't mean you're a detective.
5. The Yankees' dealing Randy Johnson to Arizona opened the door for them to pursue Zito. No, it didn't. It only opened the curtain. And when everybody went charging through to put the Yankees with Zito, they all ran into the glass sliding door. Nobody saw that.
1. Boston, Matsuzaka, six years, $52 million. The contract was brilliant. Especially when you see what Ted Freakin' Lilly and Gil Freakin' Meche are getting. The tough thing to swallow is the $51 million the Red Sox paid simply for the right to negotiate with Matsuzaka.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers, Randy Wolf, one year, $8 million. While the other kids were all getting crisp $20 bills, Wolf happily accepted 50 cents and went on his way. If he's right physically, working in a pitcher friendly ballpark, the Dodgers could be getting the best pitching bargain of anybody.
3. Detroit, Sean Casey, one year, $4 million. Casey is as Midwest friendly as they come, he fits into the clubhouse like postgame pizza, he's a gap hitter who fits into Comerica Park even better, and he was eminently affordable. What's not to like?
4. St. Louis, Adam Kennedy, three years, $10 million. Very reasonable deal for a guy who can still play, already has a working knowledge of maneuvering around the second-base bag with shortstop David Eckstein and is the consummate professional.
5. Boston, Julio Lugo, four years, $36 million. If Lugo plays like he did with the Dodgers last summer, this could backfire. And the Red Sox already have been there, done that with Edgar Renteria. Here's guessing Lugo will revert back to his old, steady form in his return to both a league and a position in which he is comfortable. Compare this contract to Rafael Furcal getting $13 million a year, and Boston did well.
1. Zito, San Francisco, seven years, $126 million. There's almost as good a chance of Paris Hilton walking into your computer room right now as there is that this contract will work out for the Giants. Monster contracts for pitchers have a long and sordid history of backfiring. See Brown, Kevin (seven years, $105 million), Hampton, Mike (eight years, $121 million), Dreifort, Darren (five years, $55 million) and Neagle, Denny (five years, $51 million).
2. Juan Pierre, Dodgers, five years, $44 million. Personally, if somebody is going to get $44 million, I'm really happy to see a great guy like Pierre get it. But there's zero power, and he didn't rank among the NL's top 50 in on-base percentage last year.
3. J.D. Drew, Boston, five years, $70 million. Wait until Red Sox fans get their hands on this loafer.
4. Meche, Kansas City, five years, $55 million. Oh ... my ... goodness.
5. Danys Baez, Baltimore, three years, $19 million. The Orioles needed bullpen help and spent $42.4 million on four relievers who are somewhat less than state-of-the-art. In this division, Baez will wear out his welcome far earlier than three years.
Best personnel moves
1. Tigers trade for Gary Sheffield. Detroit needed a middle-of-the-order bat and struck early, before the winter really got going and salaries spun out of control.
What's the better personnel move?
Giants hire Bochy
Cubs hire Piniella
Braves beef up bullpen
Rangers hire Washington
Tigers trade for Sheffield
Total Votes: 13,829
2. Cubs hire Lou Piniella as manager. What a pleasure it will be to again see Piniella have some talent to work with.
3. Giants hire Bruce Bochy as manager. He's just like Felipe Alou, only younger and not quite so philosophical.
5. Texas hiring Ron Washington as manager. He has paid his dues, he has experience and he is a unique, direct personality players love. Not anywhere close to the cookie-cutter, corporate-type of manager, and good for the Rangers for hiring him anyway.
Worst personnel moves
1. Giants bring back Bonds. Won't be long before Giants players and coaches will be issued toxic waste suits and respirators before entering their own clubhouse.
2. Padres say "see ya" to Bochy. The Padres refuse to admit that they wanted Bochy gone because they were, among other things, too cheap under owner John Moores and president Sandy Alderson to pay a manager more than $1 million. But if that's not true, and if Alderson is so smart, why didn't the Padres at least demand compensation from the Giants for allowing Bochy out of his contract (he was signed through 2007), to a division rival, no less? Answer: Because they wanted Bochy gone, and because Moores misrepresented himself to fans when he was lobbying for Petco Park -- intimating that he would spend a lot more money than he has -- and they didn't want to pay Bochy, let alone marquee free agents. When Seattle allowed Piniella to go to Tampa Bay, the Mariners received outfielder Randy Winn as compensation. The Padres didn't even ask.
4. Padres trading second baseman Josh Barfield to Cleveland for third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. Barfield had a terrific rookie season. The Padres needed a productive bat in the middle of their lineup. Odds are long that Kouzmanoff is it.
5. Seattle keeping manager Mike Hargrove. What's the point?
Most underrated personnel moves
1. Cubs sign Mark DeRosa. Maybe DeRosa did have a career year in 2006, and some scoff at $13 million over three years. But he's versatile, he's smart and he'll help the Cubs cover several positions.
2. Milwaukee signing Jeff Suppan. The Brewers have a lot of good, young position-player talent. They need pitching. Suppan knows how to win, and he knows October.
3. Cleveland trades for Barfield. Great, great move by GM Mark Shapiro.
4. Atlanta trades for Soriano. Braves GM John Schuerholz firmly believes that if the Braves had closer Wickman for all of '06, their streak of division titles would remain intact. This trade with Seattle will help solidify the Braves late in games, giving them more than just Wickman in '07.
5. Texas signs Frank Catalanotto. Watch him flourish now that he has the luxury of playing one position (left field) instead of several as a utility man.
Most harrowing moments
1. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry's angioplasty. Hendry was having chest pains at the winter meetings in December, finally was convinced to go to the hospital and completed the deal with Lilly while hooked up to machines testing his heart. Let's see Sprint, Verizon or Cingular put that in their plan.
2. Boston's owners and GM Theo Epstein flying unannounced to Scott Boras' "doorstep" in Southern California to finish off the Matsuzaka contract. Maybe you should try it with the doctor you can't get in to see for another three weeks.
3. Bonds arriving at winter meetings. It has come to this, that he has to personally show up to sell himself?
4. Shortstop Juan Uribe says he might not play this year. The AL Central leads the league in emotional infielders. Uribe, who almost certainly will play this year, talked a few weeks ago as if he might not after he, his brother and a family friend were questioned after the shooting of two men in the Dominican Republic. The White Sox's heart skipped a beat, and it reminded everyone of Detroit's Placido Polanco calling it a season while rehabbing from an injury last summer -- before returning to help the Tigers to the World Series.
5. Ken Griffey Jr.'s broken hand. It's always something ...
Coldest offseason deals
1. Texas signing Eric Gagne and telling him he'll close ... and telling Akinori Otsuka sorry. Thanks for bailing us out last year with those 32 saves, Aki. Now get back downstairs to the eighth inning.
2. Drew cutting ties with the Dodgers. The guy spends September telling everyone he likes it in L.A. and definitely will be back. Then he disappears into the winter, his word as reliable as a '78 Pinto.
3. Catcher Rod Barajas backing out of an oral agreement with Toronto. A guy's word just doesn't mean as much as it once did -- sense a pattern here? The Jays thought they had Barajas' deal done, only to have him back out of it late the night before it was to be announced. Last laugh, though, was for the Blue Jays: Barajas didn't have a fallback plan and eventually signed with Philadelphia, losing roughly $5 million in the process.
4. Craig Counsell veering away from the Padres at the last minute after all but giving an oral commitment. He wound up signing with Milwaukee
5. Nationals freezing out Frank Robinson. Hey, what was a fired manager going to do, anyway -- just hang around?
Most apropos offseason moment
Most improved teams
1. Chicago Cubs. Not just because they spent the money. They lost 96 games last year, and they can't be that bad again. They invested in Aramis Ramirez returning, they signed the best player on the market in Alfonso Soriano, and though Lilly and Marquis aren't exactly Claude Passeau and Ferguson Jenkins ... they'll help.
Which team improved most?
Total Votes: 2,521
2. Atlanta. Acquiring Gonzalez this week from Pittsburgh was the masterstroke. The Braves badly needed bullpen help, and in Gonzalez and Soriano, they've gotten it.
3. Boston. Anybody who watched Matsuzaka work in last spring's World Baseball Classic knows he is capable of making a big difference in the AL East -- or anywhere else.
4. Philadelphia. Freddy Garcia gives the Phillies a whole new twist. He should be really good in the NL, so much so that you can forget GM Pat Gillick's initial assessment after dealing Bobby Abreu last year when he said that the Phillies realistically wouldn't contend until 2008. Mix Garcia in with Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and the rest of what's here, and you have the makings of a pretty good story this summer.
5. Cleveland. The Indians added Barfield and a stable of relievers: Joe Borowski, Keith Foulke, Aaron Fultz and Roberto Hernandez. OF David Dellucci. And Jhonny Peralta can't be that bad again, can he?
Least improved teams
1. Washington. The Nationals, after not trading Alfonso Soriano last July, lose him essentially for nothing. Until they move into their new stadium, they're not doing anything. Their farm system is depleted from the Montreal days. They spent the winter collecting six-year minor league free agents. This is going to be one ugly team -- the inspiring play from two years ago might as well have been 100.
2. Los Angeles Angels. About that marquee move owner Arte Moreno promised to make over the winter for an impact, middle-of-the-order bat. Gary Matthews Jr.? I don't think so.
4. Oakland. The A's lost their best hitter from last year (Frank Thomas) and their best starting pitcher (Zito).
5. Minnesota. Where the heck are the Twins going to get starting pitching with Brad Radke retired and Francisco Liriano out for the season? Sidney Ponson? Ah ... next? One thing I will say: GM Terry Ryan and his excellent staff have proved adept at coming up with something, somewhere.
1. Colorado trading for Willy Taveras. Lots of folks think the Rockies are crazy for giving up Jason Jennings, but they added speed they needed along with two pitchers -- Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz -- who can help sooner rather than later.
2. Houston acquiring Jennings. Sure, the Astros lost Andy Pettitte and might lose Clemens. Jennings will help pick up some of the slack.
3. Pittsburgh acquiring first baseman Adam LaRoche for Gonzalez and Co. Question: Why does a team that loses 90 games need a closer? The Pirates need LaRoche -- a left-handed hitter who maybe can help protect Jason Bay in the lineup -- a lot more than they need Gonzalez at this point.
4. The Yankees getting prospects for Johnson and Sheffield. We have no idea right now whether Humberto Sanchez (from Detroit in the Sheffield deal) or Ross Ohlendorf (from Arizona in the Johnson deal) will turn into All-Stars or busts. But Johnson is going to wake up finished one of these mornings, and Sheffield wasn't a long-term guy for the Yanks. At some point, New York must get somebody into its system other than Philip Hughes who maybe can develop into a starting pitcher one day. That process started this winter, and it's smart baseball on the part of Cashman.
5. Cincinnati trading for outfield prospect Josh Hamilton. The kid badly flamed out in Tampa Bay thanks to drugs and other assorted missteps. But the talent is there, and Cincinnati is the perfect place to give him a new start. It's low risk and high reward for the Reds.
Longest stay in the on-deck circle
The Mets signed reliever Guillermo Mota. But remember, he'll start 2007 by serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for steroids.
Best pre-emptive moves
1. St. Louis extending Chris Carpenter's contract. Walt Jocketty took one look at the way the money for pitching was soaring and immediately moved on Carpenter. Result: A five-year, $63.5 million deal for Carpenter, giving him security and the Cardinals comfort in knowing they will not have to meet him on the free-agent market anytime soon.
2. Toronto re-signing Vernon Wells, avoiding a spring and summer of trade rumors and speculation.
3. Detroit signing Jeremy Bonderman to a four-year, $38 million extension. The ink was barely dry before inflation struck the pitching market.
4. The White Sox trading Garcia as he was entering his walk year. No worries over Garcia's impending free-agency for Chicago.
How about simply adding a retractable roof?
The Rangers are planning to move the start of their home games back 30 minutes, to 7:35 p.m., this summer. They think maybe it will help attendance, and they really hope that even a minimal temperature drop in those 30 minutes, an average of about two degrees, will help eliminate some of their fatigue problems. It's part of a major campaign by the Rangers to eliminate fatigue -- the first step was firing manager Buck Showalter.