It wasn't quite the two days I had hoped and after a brief site delay in my registration here, I finally got the list finished and even made a couple changes on recent news.
5. Chicago White Sox
I don't necessarily believe the White Sox are any worse than they were last season, but Kenny Williams never ceases to amaze. Trading one of your more productive hitters in Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino was a horrible move but one that unfortunately had to be done to clear salary room for improvements (if you want to call them that). Replacing Lee's bat with Jermaine Dye makes it that much worse. Add multi-year deals to Dye, Orlando Hernandez, Dustin Hermanson and a one year agreement with Grade A prick A.J. Pierzynski and you can't help but scratch your head.
Williams overhauled the White Sox outfield this off-season, opting to clear salary space by trading Carlos Lee and adding Podsednik and Dye. Podsednik figures to take over in center field for the White Sox and while a stolen base threat, he isn't a very good player. Jermaine Dye has struggled through injuries the past three years and is no longer the player he was with Kansas City. Also joining the Sox is Japanese import Tadahito Iguchi, who will take over at second and might be someone to watch. A.J. Pierzynski will take over the catching duties for the Sox and bring his loving and caring personality with him.
Orlando Hernandez, Luis Vizcaino and Dustin Hermanson join a White Sox pitching staff that struggled last season. It's never a good idea to give out a multi-year contract to a pitcher with a history of injuries, but the White Sox are hoping that the 35 year old El Duque can provide two years of solid production. Vizcaino has never quite lived up to the hype that followed him in the minors although it appeared at times that he may have possibly turned the corner last season. Hermanson is receiving a lot of money for doing an okay job in the closers role for the Giants last year.
For a team that needed to clear salary room this off-season in order to make upgrades, Williams had to trade one of his best offensive players in a move that is unfortunately inevitable for mid-market teams. But to take the wiggling room and squander it away, adding marginal players and locking them up to multi-year deals is a waste. Even though they made some questionable moves this off-season, they could still sneak into the playoff picture in the AL Central.
4. Texas Rangers
As one of the surprise teams of 2004, this off-season has to be viewed as a disappointment. The team needed pitching and the Rangers spent their entire off-season looking at offensive improvements and resigning GM John Hart to an extension through 2006.
Richard Hidalgo should turn out to be a terrific signing and fit in nicely with the young offensive juggernaut. Hidalgo will take over one of the corner OF spots and should be able to exploit the friendly confines of Arlington. Hank Blalock figured out how to hit left handed pitching last season and should continue to improve this year. Mark Teixiera lived up to his draft day hype and despite an early season oblique injury, led the team in HR's, RBI's and OPS. After trying to find a taker for Alfonso Soriano this winter, the team is hoping that he will be able to rebound in 2005 and reestablish some trade value.
Under the tutelage of Orel Hershiser, the Rangers were able to run out an array of young arms last year who kept them in competition until late in the season. Kenny Rogers and Ryan Drese anchored the Rangers rotation last season and should be joined by some talented young arms this season. Juan Dominguez, Ricardo Rodriguez and Chris Young should factor into the rotation plans as will free agent bust Chan Ho Park. Recently signed Pedro Astacio will be in the mix as well, but for a player who has only pitched 46 innings the last two seasons, not much should be expected. Francisco Cordero will anchor a bullpen that will feature some young talented arms, but outside of Cordero or Brocail, a lot of unknowns.
The Rangers desperately needed to add a starting pitcher this off-season and instead spent the majority of the winter window shopping offensive talent. The offense should conceivably be as dangerous (if not better) as they were last season but their pitching shouldn't be counted on to perform like it did in 2004.
3. Chicago Cubs
For a team with such high aspirations going into 2004, things really backfired. The complacency that the Cubs illustrated during the season seemed to have spilled into the off-season as the Cubs did relatively nothing to improve their ball club and are hoping that addition by subtraction will be their saving grace.
The biggest move for the Cubs this off-season has to be the trade of Sammy Sosa to the Baltimore Orioles for Jerry Hairston, Mike Fontenot and Dave Crouthers. Regardless of how much this helps the Chicago clubhouse, (and it does), it doesn't help the offense. Being brought in to replace Sosa is free agent Jeromy Burnitz who is another player cashing in on his Coors Field success (home stats .322/.386/.670 vs. away stats .244/.327/.448). Hairston and rookie Jason Dubois figure to get the bulk of playing time in left field, replacing the 38 year old Moises Alou, who despite his age had a very productive season last year. The Cubs were able to keep Nomar Garciaparra in town for an $8 million base salary and performance incentives.
The starting pitching also took a step back, allowing Matt Clement to walk and handing the spot to Glendon Rusch. Rusch had a surprisingly solid 2004, especially after his nightmarish 2003 season, pitching in both the bullpen and the rotation. However, counting on him being an effective member of the rotation is a stretch. The Cubs did nothing to address their bullpen issues, opting to bring back Ryan Dempster and sign Chad Fox and Scott Williamson to minor league deals. Dempster might be the Cubs 2005 closer, but he will have to take the role from LaTroy Hawkins in the spring. Fox has a solid chance of making the team's bullpen, but it all depends on the status of the elbow injury that forced him to miss the majority of 2004. Williamson will miss all of 2005 as he is recovering from another Tommy John operation. Promising rookie Angel Guzman could win a spot in the rotation with a solid spring, but he is another Cubs pitcher with arm problems and will likely start the year in AAA.
For a team that was so close to the World Series two seasons ago, they now appear to be going in the opposite direction. The Cubs could be one of the surprise teams in the NL Central, but they will need strong seasons from the majority of their roster if they will have any chance at the postseason this year.
2. Detroit Tigers
After one of the worst seasons in baseball history in 2003, the Tigers bounced back admirably in 2004 and fans entered the off-season with high hopes. The Tiger's did acquire two players this off-season with name recognition and impressive credentials, but that was three years ago.
The Tigers went into the off-season hoping to land one of the big free agent sluggers on the market and swung and missed. Instead, they are reportedly close to a 5 year/$75 million contract. Jeff's covered the idiosyncrasies of signing Magglio Ordonez to the length and sum of the rumored contract extensively, so there isn't much left to say about it. The only other significant change on the offense is the subtraction of Eric Munson (Twins) which pushes Brandon Inge to third. If Ordonez makes a full recovery from the knee surgeries and returns to previous form, this offense will score some runs. But Ordonez isn't the team's only health risk; as Dmitri Young, Rondell White and Carlos Guillen have all missed significant time over the last few years due to injury.
The club did little to improve their pitching this off-season although they did decide to implement the Doublemint closer technique. After picking up Ugueth Urbina's $4 million option in early November, the club turned around and signed Troy Percival to a two year/$12 million contract. Percival isn't the pitcher he has three years ago, but he can still be productive if he can stay healthy. The rotation should include four of the five starting pitcher from Opening Day last year, as well as promising lefty Wil Ledezma, a Rule 5 selection from 2003. Jeremy Bonderman, the famed Moneyball reject, improved on an impressive rookie campaign last year and is a pitcher to watch this year.
The Tigers weren't even on this list yesterday, but after today's news they pushed the Baltimore Orioles off. It's admirable that the Tigers are doing everything in their power to try to bring hope to their fans and more importantly, people to the stadium. But you don't invest $75 million into a 31 year old coming off two significant knee surgeries. If they get lucky, the Tigers could take advantage of a weak AL Central, but don't count on it.
1. Houston Astros
Much to the chagrin of Astro fans, the Tim Purpura regime hasn't quite gotten off to the start that many had hoped. The club tried to retain free agent star Carlos Beltran, who eventually signed with the Mets, leaving a gaping hole in center field. The team was able to convince Roger Clemens to come back for one more season, but it took 18 million
reasons for him to do so.
The Astros desperately needed to bring back Beltran, or at least another bat or two and have been unsuccessful up until this point. To make matters worse, Lance Berkman tore his ACL during a church flag football game and will miss at least the first month of the season. Jeff Bagwell struggled last season, battling nagging injuries and discomfort in his surgically repaired shoulder. Craig Biggio had a nice rebound season, but is an average second baseman trying to play the outfield. Rookie Chris Burke and Willy Tavarez are going to be given every chance to stick around at second and center (respectively) and there are hopes that a healthy Morgan Ensburg will be able to build off his strong finish in '04.
After Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens, the starting rotation is questionable at best. If Andy Pettitte is able to return from elbow surgery, the Astros will have a formidable front three. Post-season hero Brandon Backe figures to a member of the staff with Carlos Hernandez, Tim Redding and Brandon Duckworth fighting for the last spot in the rotation. In an effort to shore up their bullpen, Turk Wendell, Russ Springer, Phil Norton and Dave Burba were brought in on minor league contracts. 44 year old John Franco, who is effective against left handed hitters but would have better luck placing the ball on a tee for right handed hitters, was unwisely added to the mix on a major league deal.
Not much went right for the Astros this off-season and it should translate into the standings this year. The upper levels of their farm system are weak and it appears that their window of opportunity may have shut on them last year.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays- For a team with some quality younger players who just need a chance to play everyday, the Rays are doing everything in their power to block them with old, washed up veterans. To make things worse, there is some talk about them quietly shopping Aubrey Huff.
Colorado Rockies - After last year's very impressive bargain basement off-season, the Rockies sat idle this year. Adding Vinny Castilla, Royce Clayton and Jeromy Burnitz for peanuts last season was brilliant as they were perfect fits for Coors Field and they gave the dozen or so fans in the stands someone to cheer for. This year Dan O'Dowd, who has been given way too much slack in Colorado, is going with a youth movement with Garrett Atkins, J.D. Closser and Clint Barmes leading the way. Remember in the not so distant past when the Rockies used to lead the league in attendance?
Baltimore Orioles - Trading for someone else's problem rarely works out the way everyone hopes, but the Orioles are banking that Sammy will be able to leave his attitude problems in Chicago. Steve Reed and Steve Kline should improve their bullpen, but the team is still a couple starters short of making any noise in the AL East. Much like the Rangers, the Orioles would have been better off shoring up their pitching instead of investing in offense.
Kansas City - Currently starting another youth movement, only two years after their last one.