NL East Hot Stove Report Card!!!

This is the first of a six part report card analyzing each MLBteam’s winter moves to improve. In today’s entry we will review and
rate all the Hot Stove action that took place in the NL East this past
offseason. Who upgraded the most? Which teams got the most bang for
their buck? Will the Mets dominate the division again? Or could their
be a new beast in the East? Let’s take a look.

Philadelphia PhilliesPhi_1271_1

Grade  B+


New Additions

SP Freddy Garcia, SP Adam Eaton, RP Alfonso Alfonseca,          C Rod Barajas, 3B Wes Helms, OF Jayson Werth

 

Hasta La Vista

SP Randy Wolf, SP Gavin Floyd, RP Aaron Fultz, RP Arthur Rhodes, C Mike Lieberthal, OF Dave Dellucci, OF/1B Jeff Conine


Analysis

GM Pat Gillick began accelerating the Phillies’ youth movement at the trade deadline last season, when he jettisoned outfielder Bobby Abreu (33-years old) and middle reliever Rheal Cormier (40-years old). The net result of those two deals were 27-year old lefthanded reliever Matt Smith and four young prospects, including the Yankees’ 2005 first-round pick shortstop C.J. Henry. In the winter Gillick continued his youth movement when he allowed catcher Mike Lieberthal (35-years old), utilityman Jeff Conine (40-years old) and lefties Arthur Rhodes (37-years old) and Aaron Fultz (33-years old) to walk. The young duo of Matt Smith and Fabio Castro
will take over as the lefthanded portion of the bullpen. Both proved to
be very effective at the end of 2006 and will cost the Phils a fraction
of what Rhodes, Cormier and Fultz cost. New catcher Rod Barajas is three years younger than Lieberthal, much more durable, and
has a bazooka arm. If Jayson Werth
can avoid the injury bug that has hampered him over the past year and a
half he could provide a nice power bat off the bench while giving the
Phils more range than Conine in the outfield.

Fred_garcia_3jpg_1The two best acquisitions Gillick made were starting pitchers Freddy Garcia (Photo on Left) and Adam Eaton. The duo gives the Phillies the deepest starting rotation in the East. Garcia should slot in nicely between Brett Myers and Cole Hamels.
The combination of moving over to the the lighter hitting NL, and the
extra motivation of having to pitch for a new contract in 2008 has him
poised for a big season in 2007. Third baseman Wes Helms is a marginal addition who will help plug a position that has been a major problem for the Phils over the last few years.

If there was one area Gillick didnt address enough it was the
bullpen depth. Unless he can revert back to 2004 form, 35-year old Antonio Alfonseca, the sole addition to the bullpen, might be more of a liability than an asset. With closer Tom Gordon nearing the big Four-O and top set-up man Ryan Madson
coming off the worst season of his career, the Phillies bullpen looks
to be their achilles heel. Expect Gillick to continue his pursuit for a
top-end reliever with starting pitcher Jon Lieber acting as the
main bait. If he is unable to swing such a deal, Adam Eaton could be
headed to the pen. Because of a history of arm problems, counting on
Eaton every couple of days does not seem to be an ideal solution.


Atlanta Braves
Atlantabraveslogo_1

Grade  B


New Additions

RP Rafael Soriano, RP Mike Gonzalez, RP Tanyon Sturtze,
1B/OF Craig Wilson, SS/2B Chris Woodward


Hasta La Vista

1B Adam LaRoche, 2B Marcus Giles, SP John Thompson, RP Danys Baez,                     RP Chris Reitsma, RP Ken Ray, RP Mike Remlinger


Analysis

Probably the biggest reason the Atlanta Braves 14-year dominance of
the NL East ended last year was their over-reliance on an ineffective
bullpen. The Braves had only three pitchers that totaled over 100
innings last season. The Braves’ pen finished 11th in the NL in bullpen
ERA (4.39), and blew more saves (29) than any other team in the senior
circuit. After toiling with a closer by committee situation for most of
2006- a committee that saw the likes of Chris Reitsma, Ken Ray and Jorge Sosa as the lead firemen- GM John Schuerholz pulled off a deadline deal in July to acquire a reliable stopper. 38-year old Bob Wickman
turned out to be more than reliable, dominating his new league to the
tune of a 1.04 ERA while converting 18 of 19 Save opportunities.
Schuerholz wasted no time in locking Wickman up, signing him to a
one-year extension before the season ended.

Mgonzalez_1_1With
the closer situation settled for 2007, Schuerholz turned his attention
to shoring up the rest of his leaky pen. In maybe the best deal by any
team over the winter, he traded inconsistent lefthanded starter Horacio Ramirez to the Mariners for one of the top set-up men in the game, righthander Rafael Soriano. And Schuerholz didn’t stop there. After a month of intense negotiations, he acquired Pirates’ southpaw closer Mike Gonzalez (Photo on Left)
to be his top lefthanded set-up man. In a little over five months
Schuerholz has turned the Braves’ weakest link into the team’s greatest
strength.

While the bullpen has been renovated, it came at a cost. The Braves
sacrificed their first baseman and a lot of lefthanded power when they
dealt Adam LaRoche for Gonzalez. In addition, the loss of second baseman Marcus Giles means the Braves will have an entirely new right side of the infield. Free-agent signee Craig Wilson will help fill in for LaRoche at first base as part of a platoon with lefty hitting Scott Thorman (2000 first-round pick). Outfield prospect Kelly Johnson has been converted to second base and will compete with 24-year old switch-hitting Willy Aybar (part of the return from the Wilson Betemit deal with the Dodgers last July), and 23-year-old prospect Martin Prado in place of the now departed Giles.

Another area of concern could be the starting rotation, where the Braves will hope that southpaw  Mike Hampton
can contribute 200+ innings after missing the past year and half while
recovering from Tommy John surgery. In fact the entire makeup of the
rotation has some dubious qualities- ace John Smoltz will be 40-years old in May, Tim Hudson will try to bounce back from the worst season of his career (4.86 ERA), Chuck James will be in his first full year as a starter, and Kyle Davies
(6.38 ERA in 151 career IP) could be about to run out of opportunities.
Unlike past years, the Braves do not have any top starting pitching
prospects that are close to major league ready.


New York Mets
Mets_logo_5

Grade  C


New Additions

LF Moises Alou, 2B/SS Damion Easley, OF Ben Johnson,              Util David Newhan, SP Chan Ho Park, SP Aaron Sele,                       SP Jason Vargas, SP/RP Jorge Sosa, RP Scott Schoenweiss,     RP Ambiorix Burgos


Hasta La Vista

LF Cliff Floyd, 2B/SS Chris Woodward, SP Steve Trachsel, SP Brian Bannister
RP Chad Bradford, RP Royce Ring, RP Darrin Oliver


Analysis

The best move GM Omar Minaya made in the offseason was resisting temptation by saying NO to Scott Boras’ ridiculous demands for Barry Zito. Unless your name is Johan Santana,
it is rarely wise to give a starting pitcher a contract longer than
five years, let alone seven years. If you look around the league it is
very difficult to find a starter who has pitched more than seven years
in the majors without sustaining at least one serious injury. Zito, who
has never had a serious injury,  is now entering his 8th season and has
pitched over 200 innings for six consecutive years. It’s hard to
imagine a curve ball pitcher like Zito, who puts so much stress on his
elbow everytime he twists an Uncle Charlie, avoiding injury over the
next seven years.

The New York media has tossed some pointed criticism at Minaya for
not bringing in a top line starter to help fill out the Mets’ rag-tag
rotation. The criticism is similar to the 2000 offseason when the Mets
resisted Mike Hampton’s absurd contract demands, allowing him to sign
with the Colorado Rockies where he received the largest contract ever
given to a pitcher at the time (8 years/$123-million). We all know how
that turned out. If Minaya has correctly evaluated the odds of Zito
sustaining a major injury or ever pitching to a level that is equal to
the value of his contract (Giants signed him for 7 years/$126-million),
it might just be the best deal he never made.

Minaya also made a more than decent run at Japanese star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka
when he bid a reported $37-million for the right to sign him (the
second highest offer), and while he came up short, one shouldn’t blame
him for not topping the Red Sox’ ridiculous $51-million posting bid.

So, instead of overspending in a bad market, Minaya chose to
guarantee a total of less than $2-million for three veterans who will
push top prospects Mike Pelfrey, Phillip Humber and recently acquired Jason Vargas for a rotation spot come spring training.

Of the three vets, Chan Ho Park ($600,000 guaranteed) has the
best shot of making the rotation. Last year Park returned to the NL for
the first time in five years and showed that he might finally be
regaining some of the arm strength he lost because of multiple arm
injuries suffered while with Texas. No longer under the security of a
sweet deal (Texas’ deal with Park is another good example of why one
should be wary of doling out long expensive deals to starting
pitchers), Park has lots of motivation to prove he can still be an
effective starter.

Jorge Sosa will probably never again have a season like he
did in 2005 when he had a 2.55 ERA in 134 IP. But, for $1.25-million
he’s a low cost risk that could eat plenty of innings until Pelfrey,
Humber or Vargas is ready.

While Aaron Sele is a long shot at best, his success in the
first half of 2006 with the Dodgers (2.91 ERA in 65 IP) coupled with
the fact that he costs the Mets nothing unless he makes the team
($1-million non-guaranteed) is a prudent no risk signing by Minaya.

The best move Minaya made to improve his 2007 rotation could be his deadline deal last July for Oliver Perez. Towards the end of last season and in the playoffs Perez showed he still has the

dominating stuff that made him one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2004. If pitching coach Rick Peterson can help minimize Perez’s lapses in command, the Mets’ rotation will be a lot better than most baseball pundits are predicting.

Alou_6377_1Last year only the Chicago Cubs (.253) had a lower batting average vs lefties than the Mets (.254). Replacing Cliff Floyd with lefty killer Moises Alou (Photo on Left) should help improve this glaring weakness markedly. With the versatile Endy Chavez
on the roster, hopefully the Mets will be able to spot the 40-year old
Alou enough so he avoids the injuries that have plagued him throughout
his career. Even with his health concerns, this is a good sign because
at 1-year/$8.5 million Minaya has limited the mets’ overall liability.

The most questionable moves Minaya made this winter concern the
bullpen and bench. The 2006 postseason exposed the lack of punch the
Mets have on their bench. It’s difficult to consider 38-year old
utilityman Damion Easley an upgrade over Chris Woodward, and trading lefthanded reliever Royce Ring for marginal outfielder Ben Johnson
could come back to bite the Mets. Trading Ring, who has shown a wicked
curve ball that works nicely with his tailing fastball, and replacing
him with free-agent lefty Scott Scoenweiss seemed uneccessary.
Besides the fact that Schoenweiss will cost roughly seven times the
amount of money, Ring has a very good chance of being a much better
pitcher.

Letting side-slinger Chad Bradford walk could also weaken a
bullpen that was the savior of the Mets’ season in 2006. Bradford was
the Mets’ best reliever in the playoffs. Maybe because of the
development of prospect Joe Smith, another side-armer,  Minaya
felt giving Bradford a 3-year deal wasn’t necessary, but it seems to be
the opposite logic that he used in replacing Ring with Schoenweiss.

The one positive addition to the Mets’ pen is flamethrower Ambiorix Burgos who was obtained from the Royals for Brian Bannister.
Burgos is still only 22-years old and has shown that he has the arsenal
to one day be an effective closer. If Burgos can establish himself it
would allow the Mets to once again dangle Aaron Heilman on the trade market should they need another starting pitcher during the season.


Florida Marlins
Floridamarlins_1

Grade  C-


New Additions

1B/3B Aaron Boone, CF Alex Sanchez, RP Kevin Gregg,
RP Henry Owens, RP Matt Lindstrom, RP Felix Rodriguez


Hasta la Vista

1B/3B Wes Helms, SP Jason Vargas, SP Brian Moehler,
RP Joe Borowski, RP Chris Resop


Analysis

When analyzing the Marlins one has to look more at internal moves
than external since they are perennially hamstrung by the lowest budget
in the major leagues. To put that fact into perspective, one must
recognize that the Yankees last year paid Alex Rodriguez almost $10-million more than the entire Marlins’ player payroll (just over $14-million).

If one were to rate the job GM Larry Beinfest has done on
player development and prospect acquisitions, he would get an A+. But,
since we are rating the entire organization the grade is C-. One should
not just blame the economic structure of MLB for the Marlins plight.
This is an organization whose revenue continually bleeds red. Their
inability to strike a new stadium deal or exploit the large latin
population in south florida most likely means their days in the
sunshine state are numbered.

First, we must give Beinfest his props. Last season the Marlins produced the NL Rookie of the Year winner, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, and placed five of the top ten players in the NL Rookie of the Year voting: second baseman Dan Uggla, starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, and leftfielder Josh Willingham to go along with Ramirez.

While the Marlins have produced a large pool of talent, they still
have some glaring holes. No NL team had less production from their
centerfield position in 2006 than the Marlins. The best they could do
this winter was to sign feather hitting speedster Alex Sanchez
to a minor league deal. Sanchez hasn’t played in the majors since 2005,
largely because of a suspension for steroid use. The Marlins are
working with him on his bunting and hope he can turn into a cheap
version of Juan Pierre.

Boone_2222_1The only other change the Marlins made to their offense was replacing effective platoon first baseman Wes Helms with retread Aaron Boone (Photo on Left).

Beinfest has done his best to fill the gaping holes in the bullpen,
but because of a lack of funds the additions have been marginal. Since
closer Joe Borowski signed with the Indians, the Marlins will try to plug that role with 2004 first-round pick, lefthander Taylor Tankersley, and converted starter Ricky Nolasco. Beinfest was able to obtain two minor league fireballers from the Mets, Henry Owens and Matt Lindstrom, but it cost the Marlins their top lefthanded pitching prospect, Jason Vargas.
Both Owens and Lindstrom throw in the high nineties and are expected to
be given a chance to make the major league roster. Owens did have a
very successful season last year as the closer for Double-A Binghamton,
so maybe he’ll turn into a closer option at some point. Veteran Kevin Gregg
was acquired from the Angels to bring some experience to the pen, but
his arm has logged a tremendous amount of innings over the past few
years and his performance is starting to reflect his overuse.

So, while we give Beinfest an A for effort, the Marlins will find it difficult to improve until they get out of South Florida.


Washington Nationals
Washington_nationals_logoeps_copy

Grade  F


New Additions

SP Jerome Williams, RP Emiliano Fruto, OF Chris Snelling,             C Jesus Flores, 1B Dmitri Young, 1B Travis Lee,                             2B Ronnie Belliard 


Hasta La Vista

OF Alfonso Soriano, OF Jose Guillen, OF Marlon Byrd, 2B Jose Vidro, C Matt Lecroy,
SP Tony Armas Jr., SP Ramon Ortiz, RP Felix Rodriguez, RP Joey Eischen
,
Manager Frank Robinson


Analysis

What does it say about a team’s offseason when the best player they
obtained was a backup catcher through the Rule 5 draft. The two best
things I can say about GM Jim Bowden and the Washington Nationals is that Jesus Flores will be a definite upgrade to Matt Lecroy at backup catcher, and that they’ve finally recognized that they are a bad team.

Empty_pockets_1
When you’re a bad team it makes no sense to pay players like Alfonso Soriano, Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro
tons of bucks, but it is of the utmost importance to acquire some young
talent when dealing these money bags away. So, the upside is that the
Nationals got a lot younger while shedding a boatload of salary. The
downside is that Bowden was able to get very few prospects in return
for all the high priced talent he had. How the Nationals could come to
a decision to not trade Soriano last year is hard to fathom. Maybe
Bowden was busy reading the The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty" when he stated that he thought he had a realistic chance of re-signing Soriano.

The two prospects Bowden did receive were in the Vidro deal— outfielder Chris Snelling and reliever Emiliano Fruto.
While Snelling has fourth outfielder written all over him, the 22-year
old Fruto has shown he has the arsenal to be a very effective reliever
one day. After struggling with his command mightily in his first few
years in the minors, Fruto was able to harness his dominating fastball
at Triple-A in 2006. The results were encouraging. In 45.1 IP for
Tacoma he struck out 55 men while posting a 3.18 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. 

The only other transactions to speak of were the signings of three marginal veterans, first basemen Dmitri Young and Travis Lee along with second baseman Ronnie Belliard. Young and Lee will compete to spell Nick Johnson until he is ready to return from injury. Belliard will compete with Christian Guzman for a lineup spot. If Belliard succeeds it would result in Felipe Lopez moving back to shortstop. They also signed nomadic starting pitcher Jerome Williams.
Once upon a time Williams was a well thought of prospect in the Giants’
system. This will be Williams’ third team in three years. So far the
Giants and Cubs have given up on him, but Williams is still only
25-years old, so the Nationals are hoping the third time around will be
the charm.

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