Yankees, Rays, Tigers help themselves in Indy

BY foxsports • December 14, 2009

As has been the trend in recent years, baseball's winter meetings provided more noise than signal.

With worthies like Roy Halladay, Matt Holliday, Jason Bay and John Lackey still on the market or trade block, the Hot Stove hasn't begun to sizzle. With all that said, though, the hootenanny in Indy provides us with plenty to unpack and analyze. So let's do just that. "A job well done" or "Much more to do"? Each major player at the meetings falls under one of those categories.

A job well done

1. Yankees

The trip to Indy was a fruitful one for baseball's reigning colossus. Most notably, they hauled in Curtis Granderson without compromising the major-league roster. Granderson is one of the smartest, most appealing players today (exposed socks and lots of triples make for an appealing player). He'll give the Yankees quality defense in center, and even in his "down" campaign of 2009 he hit .275 AVG/.358 OBP/.539 SLG against right-handers despite playing his home games in a run-suppressing environment. And speaking of environments, Yankee Stadium figures to be ideally suited to Granderson's power tendencies. Don't be surprised if Granderson next season is good for 35-plus bombs. Yes, he needs to be religiously platooned, but otherwise he's an ideal fit.

GM Brian Cashman also is to be praised for bringing back Andy Pettitte on a one-year deal. It's early yet in the offseason, but the maneuverings to date make the Yankees the favorites to repeat.

2. Rays

In 2009, Tampa spread the save opps around by necessity. But now that the Rays have traded for Rafael Soriano, they'll enjoy certainty in the closer's role. Soriano sports a career ERA of 2.92, and he has the peripherals to justify it (more whiffs than innings and a 3.51 strikeout-to-walk ratio). And throughout that career, he has given up just five unearned runs (despite what the traditionalists tell you, pitchers do bear some responsibility for unearned runs). Don't be surprised if Soriano emerges as one of the best closers in the American League. All this for Jesse Chavez?

3. Tigers

At first blush, it's tempting to say the Tigers hurt themselves during their Indiana sojourn. After all, they traded away Granderson -- one of the most beloved Tigers since the days of Al Kaline and Willie Horton. But you must grade them on a curve. Last season, Detroit had the fifth-highest payroll in baseball, and that's despite surrounding blight and a local economy that calls to mind Mogadishu during a sanitation strike. Shedding salaries was bound to happen. On that point, Granderson is headed toward his high-salary years (he'll make $8.25 million in 2011 and $10 million in 2012), and that's why he's now a Yankee. The Tigers also parted with Edwin Jackson, who, despite recent success, is a candidate for regression in 2010. So they dealt away the arbitration-eligible right-hander and Granderson in exchange for Max Scherzer, Daniel Schlereth, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke. That's a nice haul.

Scherzer has blazing stuff, 240 whiffs in 226 1/3 career innings, and less than two years of service time. Schlereth, meanwhile, could be the shutdown reliever the Tigers have long sought. Jackson is certainly no Granderson, but he profiles as a plus fielder in center and a plus runner on the bases. He also figures to develop into a league-average hitter in his prime. As for Coke, he can be useful, but the Tigers -- in contrast with Joe Girardi and the Yanks -- will need to limit his exposure to right-handed batters. Considering the hamstrung state of the Tigers, they fared well.

Much more to do

1. Astros

As if just to prove he didn't learn anything from his days of lurching for bullpen help in Philly, Astros GM Ed Wade doled out the most inexplicable contract of the meetings. Three years and $15 million for Brandon Lyon? Sure, Lyon turned in a fine 2009, but his numbers from this past season are out of step with the balance of his career. More to the point, Lyon's batting average on balls in play was .231 -- an abnormally low figure for him and one that's almost certainly not sustainable. The likely consequence is that, in 2010, Brandon Lyon will resume pitching like, well, Brandon Lyon. And the real Brandon Lyon isn't worth $15 million. A team like Houston can't afford bad contracts.

More generally, it's long past time for the Astros to rebuild. They soldier on with half-measure after half-measure, and there's little to show for it in recent seasons. The core is getting old, and the farm system is not a strong one. This organization should be focused on trading away veterans and restocking the system with high-ceiling young players. Yet delusions of relevance still guide them.

2. Diamondbacks

As you might guess based on the above Yankees and Tigers praise, the D-backs -- the third party in the biggest trade of the offseason -- haven't helped themselves. They parted with a potential future ace and a potential future closer to get Edwin Jackson, who's more expensive and has less upside that Scherzer, the guy he'll replace in the Arizona rotation. Also, Jackson is ill-suited to his new digs. He's a fly-ball pitcher, and last season he coughed up 27 home runs despite logging almost half his innings in Comerica Park -- a park that cuts down on homer rates. He'll be moving into Chase Field -- a park that increases homer rates. There's also Ian Kennedy, but he profiles as nothing better than a fifth starter. As far as the pitching staff goes, the Snakes got more expensive, but they didn't get any better.

What the D-backs really need to worry about is improving an offense that ranked near the bottom of the league in park-adjusted OPS. Otherwise, they won't have a shot in the NL West.

3. Dodgers

The Dodgers are here mostly because of their questionable arbitration decisions. Despite claims to the contrary, the Dodgers are in cost-cutting mode, and that's because of owner Frank McCourt's looming divorce. Obviously, this is a team poised to win now. They barged to the NL's best regular-season record in 2009, but, if anything, they've gotten worse over the winter. The Dodgers offered arbitration to neither Orlando Hudson nor Randy Wolf. While you can justify the decision with Hudson (although it's still not wise), there's no explanation for passing on Wolf. Wolf, after his success in 2009, was certain to land a multiyear contract, and indeed he did. So the Dodgers, in essence, threw away a high draft pick by not offering arbitration to Wolf. That's either a thorough misreading of the market or stinginess to the point of absurdity. Smart organizations don't give talent away in such a manner.

The Dodgers should> be readying themselves for another playoff run -- another highly profitable playoff run. Instead, they're ceding the division to Colorado.

4. Mets

The Mets have done little so far. That's not necessarily a problem considering how many name free agents are still available, but the Mets have a cornucopia of needs. Rotation help, a first baseman, a catcher, an outfielder, bullpen arms, infield depth, a realization that Jeff Francoeur is not a major-league regular ... GM Omar Minaya faces challenge upon challenge. If the Jason Bay rumors provide any insight into his thinking, then Mets fans can commence worrying.

Bay should not be the Mets' signature addition this offseason. Bay can hit, but, as pointed out many times in this space, he's a serious liability in the field. Since Bay's 2007 knee injury, his range in the field has been woefully inadequate. Put him in the spacious CitiField outfield, and he'll negate much of the value he supplies at the plate. Bay is a great fit for an AL team in need of help at DH, but he's a bad fit for the Mets, especially given his likely price tag. The Mets probably won't catch the Phillies no matter what they do, and adding Bay certainly won't help.

5. Rangers

It hasn't been a fruitful few days for Texas. First, they traded away the generally reliable Kevin Millwood for Chris Ray, a pitcher who missed 2008 with injury and notched a 7.27 ERA in 2009. As Matthew Pouliot observes, three times in the last 12 years has a Rangers pitcher worked a qualifying number of innings with an ERA better than 4.00. Kenny Rogers did it twice, and the third guy was Millwood in 2009. Indeed, Millwood's peripherals suggest he was quite lucky last season, but even facing regression he's worth more than Ray.

Then the Rangers signed Rich Harden, a pitcher who, while excellent in some regards, is a terrible match for the Rangers' home yard. As is the case with Jackson in Arizona, fly-ball tendencies plus gopheritis plus hitter's park do not generally yield favorable results. If it's not his terminally injured arm or the Texas heat that does him in this season, then it might be whiplash. The Rangers have ground to make up on the Angels and the improving Mariners. Thus far, they're not doing that.

On the bright side, Tom Hicks may soon go away.

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