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Monday, December 19, 2011

The Hot Stove is Warming Up

The World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals game us a seven game battle royale with the American League Champion Texas Rangers that baseball fans will remember for years. While the images from that titanic series will forever be frozen in time through the miracles of modern media, the teams and their rosters are not frozen. Contracts expire; players get traded.

The big free agent, Albert Pujols, will be flying with the Angels next year instead of Redbirds. A number of significant free agent moves have also taken place. Closing pitchers and other role players have already begun to move teams. Meanwhile, big sluggers, like Prince Fielder, are seeking the best opportunity to cash in on their career resumes.
Here are the big transactions in this offseason’s hot stove:

Los Angeles Dodgers

Matt Kemp, CF - 8 years, $160 million - This was a resigning that the Dodgers absolutely, positively had to make happen if they were to return to a competitive state. Many argued that Kemp should have been the National League M.V.P. That number has likely increased in light of reigning N.L. M.V.P. Ryan Braun's positive test for performance enhancing drugs. This was one mega-deal that few critics questioned the wisdom of.

Jerry Hairston, Jr., SS - 2 years, $6 million - The well-traveled Hairston offers the Dodgers an often unsung asset - a shortstop who it consistent and competent with the stick. At age 35, Hairston hit .270. Barring an unforeseen and dramatic drop off, the Dodgers got better with this move.

Kemp may not be with Rihanna anymore, but he has 160 million friends to help him move on. 1

Texas Rangers

Joe Nathan, CP – 2 years, $14.5 million - The defending two-time American League champions have to shake off the enormous missed opportunity (being one strike away, twice, from winning) in the World Series. Singing a top tier closer in Joe Nathan and promoting a young star who may have too much potential to remain a closer, 2010 A.L. Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz, to the starting rotation are the progressive steps that the Rangers need to take to make a third run for the MLB mountain top.

With Feliz moving to the starting rotation, he can better help his team recreate moments like these. 2

Cleveland Indians

Grady Sizemore, CF – 1 year, $5 million - Five million dollars is a lot of money for an outfielder with above average power, but below average contact and below average health, approaching age 30. It is even more puzzling considering that the Indians were a team in first place for most of the year, but sputtered after the All-Star break in 2011 as Sizemore has not played 110 games or more since 2008. Still, there is something to be said for retaining talent. Sizemore functions in a leadership role in the Indians clubhouse and should he stay healthy and/or return to his pre-2009 form with the bat, his contract will appear to be a small risk in hindsight.

Kansas City Royals

Jonathan Broxton, CP – 1 year, $4 million - When a team like the Dodgers, with financial problems, resigns its star to a long term, $20 million/year contract, other talented players have to be allowed to leave. When a team like the Royals, which has taken baby steps over the past two year to be more competitive, can pick up a piece like Broxton, one of the better closers in the majors, it is a win-win for baseball.

Chicago Cubs

David DeJesus, RF – 2 years, $10 million - The Cubs have crippled themselves with bad signings in recent years. Committing $10 million in payroll to a 31 year old outfielder whose batting average dropped by nearly 80 points from the prior year, and 40 points below his career average, falls in line with that pattern.

Colorado Rockies

Ramon Hernandez, C - 2 years, $6.4 million - With the defection of long time catcher Chris Iannetta to the Los Angles Angels to join MLB's version of the "Dream Team", the Rockies may have been backed into a favorable free agency corner. The 34 year old veteran catcher, formerly with the Cincinnati Reds, is coming off of the best two year stretch as a contact hitter of his entire career.

Miami Marlins

Heath Bell, CP - 3 years, $27 million - Lots of style....

Jose Reyes, SS - 6 years, $106 million - ...How much...

Mark Buehrle, SP - 4 years, $58 million - ....substance?

Miami: A city doomed to repeat history. 3

Minnesota Twins

Matt Capps, CP - 1 year, $4.8 million - In Louisiana, our Governor, Bobby Jindal, has a catch phrase, "Doing more with less." The Twins are doing just that. After losing long time closer Joe Nathan to free agency, the Twins picked up a very capable closer, in Capps, and committed $9 million less in total payroll and close to $3 million in 2012 salary (compared to Nathan) to do so. For a team with very capable starting pitchers, this was a prudent move.

Josh Willingham, LF - 3 years, $21 million - Willingham will offer the Twins some of the bases-clearing power their lineup has lacked since Torii Hunter left for Anaheim four years ago and Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau began having assorted ailments, causing the stars to miss games.

San Diego Padres

Huston Street, CP - acquired via trade with Colorado Rockies; 1 year, $7.5 million remaining -

The Padres are another team trying to do more with less, with one of the smallest payrolls in the majors. That is why picking up the big dollar contract of a declining closer in Street is a head scratcher.

Boston Red Sox

David Ortiz, DH - accepted salary arbitration - Big Papi expressed that it was time for a change after the Red Sox were eliminated from the playoffs on the final day of the 2011 regular season. I guess his watch was fast.

Milwaukee Brewers

Francisco Rodriguez - accepted salary arbitration - Just because K-Rod accepted arbitration does not mean he will be in Milwaukee next season. There has been speculation in the sports media about the possibility of the Brewers dealing Rodriguez, post-arbitration.

Aramis Ramirez, 3B - 3 years, $36 million - As I mentioned, the Cubs signed a lot of players who under delivered. Ramirez was not one of them. His bat is going to help replace some of what the Brewers will lose with the imminent defection of Prince Fielder.

Toronto Blue Jays

Kelly Johnson, 2B - accepted salary arbitration - The Blue Jays have had trouble retaining talented players. There is no better way, in MLB, to show a player the money than arbitration.

Los Angeles Angels

Albert Pujols, 1B - 10 years, $254 million - Last name "Ever,"...first name, "Greatest"? Possibly. The Angels paid a fortune of a premium to acquire the game's best player. This deal may prove costly at the back end of the contract. However, in the American League, the Angels will be able to move Pujols to the designated hitter position as he approaches age 40 and begins to slow down. Big risk...big reward.

C.J. Wilson, SP - 5 years, $77.5 million - The Angels made power moves in both aspects of their game: hitting with Pujols and pitching with former Rangers ace C.J. Wilson. Some analysts have argued that Wilson is not the prototypical MLB ace pitcher (particularly last postseason, while frequently being compared to Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies), in spite of being consistent and successful over the years. With the arrival of Pujols and the return of Kendrys Morales from a nearly two year hiatus, due to injury, Wilson will have plenty of run support to afford to be "almost" a "true" ace.

Right now, the Dodgers are the "other team" in Los Angeles. 4

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