St. Louis Cardinals
The defending champs had money to spend after losing Albert Pujols, and they spent it wisely, signing Carlos Beltran and reportedly Roy Oswalt.
The former Astros teammates have seen their best years pass, but both were undervalued in free agency. Oswalt battled back problems last year, and Beltran played his first healthy season since 2008. The pair of 34-year-olds’ recent injury histories were probably the main contributor to teams’ wariness, and the Cardinals capitalized by offering low-risk, potentially high-reward contracts. Beltran inked for two years and $26 million. Oswalt’s deal will likely be for one year and around $10 million.
Beltran won’t match Pujols’ production in the lineup, but Oswalt will be an upgrade over either Edwin Jackson or Jake Westbrook in the rotation.
With Adam Wainwright set to return from Tommy John surgery, Jackson will not be re-signed, and Westbrook will likely move to the bullpen.
Oswalt’s 4.04 SIERA in 2011 was markedly higher than his 3.69 ERA, but he will be aided by the move to Busch Stadium, a consistently more pitcher-friendly ballpark than Citzens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Busch’s Park Factor has consistently ranked near that of Houston’s Minute Maid Park, Oswalt’s first home.
I question General Manager John Mozeliak’s decision to re-up oft-injured Rafael Furcal for two years and $14 million instead of pursuing a trade for Hanley Ramirez or a free agent deal for Jimmy Rollins, who re-signed with Philadelphia for three years and $33 million. When healthy, Furcal can be one of the most dynamic shortstops in baseball, but the disabled list has been his second home for three of the last four seasons. He did not reach the 100-games-played plateau in 2008, 2010 or 2011. The injuries might finally be catching up to him on the field too—his 0.5 WAR last year was the worst of his 12-year career.
Despite that sole qualm of mine, Mozeliak became the rare G.M. to earn praise despite losing the face of his franchise.
New York Yankees
The Yanks fortified their questionable rotation with the best-value pickup of the offseason, stealing Hiroki Kuroda for one year and $10 million, and by trading for Seattle’s rookie phenom Michael Pineda.
Kuroda has been one of baseball’s most consistent pitchers in the four years since
he left Japan’s Hiroshima Carp for the Dodgers, and he tossed 196+ innings in the last two seasons. Nevertheless, he’s being paid like a declining-skilled injury-risk. Kuroda’s SIERA went up only slightly from 2010 (3.53) to 2011 (3.66).
The Bronx has often been unkind to veteran pitchers coming from the National League (see Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Javier Vazquez, et. al), so that’s probably the greatest risk for a player who turns 37 in February.
If the 23-year-old Pineda (3.36 SIERA in 2011) does not suffer a similar culture shock switching from the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field to the bandbox of Yankee Stadium, he will be a cornerstone of the rotation for years to come. Pineda’s adjustment is more of a question mark than Kuroda’s, however, due to his frighteningly low groundball-rate of 36.7%. The Yankees had to give up prized catching prospect Jesus Montero to obtain Pineda, but Montero is blocked at his position by Russell Martin.
Even if Kuroda and/or Pineda falter, the Yankees can turn to A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes or Freddy Garcia (two of the three will now be in the bullpen).
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels paid dearly for the on-field production and fan-base rejuvenation service of Albert Pujols (10 years, $254 million), but the deal made far more economic sense for them than it did for St. Louis.
The intensely loyal Cardinals’ fan base will always turn out to watch their Redbirds, and St. Louis already milked all the value it could out of Pujols, with seven postseason appearances and two World Series titles in 11 years. Their short-term chances of winning will not decrease severely without Pujols, and having his contract on the books until 2021 would be a death blow to a franchise in a midsized market.
The Angels have established a new culture of winning in the Mike Scioscia era, but the American League Championship Series is the furthest they have advanced since winning the World Series in 2002. They have missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons.
The large-market Angels will not be hurt as much by Pujols’ contract in its later years (as evidenced by the fact that they could even sign him in the first place with Vernon Wells’ bloated salary in the budget for the next three years). He and C.J. Wilson (five years, $77.5 million) could provide the boost back to World Series contention in the next five years.
Of course, if the pair doesn’t bring at least one title to Anaheim in that time, the Pujols deal in particular will be a tremendous disappointment.
The Wilson and Pujols acquisitions were the headlines of the Angels’ offseason, but new General Manager Jerry DiPoto’s agreement with Howie Kendrick on a contract extension was an underrated move deserving of recognition. Four years and $33.5 million for a second baseman with 5.8 WAR in 2011 is an incredible bargain. In fact, he had 0.7 more WAR than Pujols, though I’m certainly not claiming that Kendrick is the better player.
The National League East has been Philadelphia’s domain for the past five seasons, with the Phillies winning division titles each year. Historically tight-fisted owner Jeffrey Loria and his new-look Marlins are eager to bring supremacy to South Beach. It won’t happen this year, but with new additions Jose Reyes (six years, $106 million), Mark Buerhle (four years, $58 million) and Heath Bell (three years, $27 million), the Marlins can compete with the aging Phillies.
With major money committed to Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and the injured Ryan Howard, Philly will be hard-pressed to keep 2012 free-agent-to-be Cole Hamels. If Hamels leaves, look out for these Marlins, tropical uniforms and all. But first, Ozzie Guillen and Carlos Zambrano must agree not to kill each other this season.