With spring training beginning yesterday, it is time to start looking ahead to the 2013 Major League Baseball season. This offseason was filled with major free agent signings and blockbuster trades that will undoubtedly alter the landscape of America’s favorite pastime. Here is a recap of the high rollers and biggest spenders from a wild offseason.
Angels (89-73, Third in AL West)
After a disappointing 2012, the Angels’s front office made yet another big free agent splash this offseason with the signing of ex-Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million contract. Despite parting ways with Torii Hunter and Kendrys Morales, the Angels still have a lineup that boasts all-stars like Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and now Hamilton.
However, scoring runs was not the problem last season for the Halos; it was the bullpen. In 2012, the Angels’s bullpen blew 22 save opportunities and ranked 22nd in ERA (3.97) and 19th in batting average against (.245). To solve that problem, second-year General Manager Jerry Dipoto signed veteran relief pitchers Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett.
To fill the holes left by the departures of starting pitchers Ervin Santana and Dan Haren, the Angels also acquired Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas. Vargas is a Southern California native and also pitched alongside current Angels ace Jered Weaver in college at Long Beach State. Looking ahead to the 2013 season, the Angels should win their division not only because of their upgrades, but also because the Athletics and Rangers either stayed the same or lost key personnel this offseason.
Los Angeles Dodgers (86-76, Second in NL West)
The Los Angeles Dodgers are finally free from the economic dungeon that was the Frank McCourt ownership and are making up for lost time. This offseason, they signed starting pitcher Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million contract. Greinke’s contract now puts the Dodgers’s payroll at around $213 million for the 2013 season, which is more than double the $95.1 million payroll they began last season with.
The biggest questions for the Dodgers will be Hanley Ramirez’s transition back to shortstop and the health of Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford. If they are healthy, the Dodgers can fill the lineup card with the likes of Kemp, Crawford, Ramirez, Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez. With these big offseason changes, the boys in blue look like a prime contender to challenge the Giants for the NL West crown. Baseball is better when the Dodgers-Giants rivalry is competitive, as it looks to be this year.
Cleveland Indians (68-94, Fourth in AL Central)
The Indians have been irrelevant for quite some time now, but it looks like they are back on the right track. Earlier this week, they inked the free agent and speedy outfielder Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48 million deal. Bourn is a dynamic leadoff hitter who can steal bases and track down fly balls as well as anyone in the game.
However, Bourn needs to improve his consistency if he is going to be worth the new contract. Before the All-Star break last season, Bourn was hitting .311 and had a .366 on-base percentage, but in the second half of the season those numbers slumped down to .225 and .325, respectively.
In addition to Bourn, the Indians also signed outfielder/DH Nick Swisher to a four-year, $56 million deal. Swisher hit .272 with 24 home runs and 93 RBI for the Yankees last season. A few other notable moves Cleveland made this offseason were the acquisitions of manager Terry Francona and big-time pitching prospect Trevor Bauer.
Francona won two World Series with the Red Sox and Bauer was the third overall pick out of UCLA in the 2011 draft. The Indians are still the third or fourth-best team in the AL Central behind the Tigers, White Sox and Royals, but they will be much improved.
Toronto Blue Jays (73-89, Fourth in AL East)
In a division that has been dominated for so long by the Yankees and Red Sox, the winds of change are beginning to blow. The Rays are now a consistently good ball club, the Orioles showed last season they have the ability to compete and now the Blue Jays are turning heads. One of their biggest moves was trading for last year’s NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and signing him to a three-year, $30 million contract extension.
In addition to the Dickey trade, the Jays also completed a mega-trade with the Marlins that brought Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto. Reyes is an elite shortstop and a former NL batting champion. Johnson can be a devastating force in the rotation when he’s healthy and Buehrle is a left-handed innings eater.
The Jays also traded their manager, John Farrell, back to the Red Sox, where he served as the pitching coach during the Francona era. Looking ahead to the 2013 season, the Yankees and Red Sox are looking like they will struggle more than usual, so that means the Blue Jays have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs if Dickey and Reyes pan out.
Atlanta Braves (94-68, Second in NL East)
The 2013 Braves roster will look significantly different than the one that won 94 games last season. Perhaps the biggest difference will be watching someone other than Chipper Jones playing third base and hitting fourth in the order.
Jones played his entire 19-year career in Atlanta and is considered one of the best switch-hitters to ever play the game. In order to help fill the offensive void left by Jones, the Braves added the Upton brothers to their outfield this offseason.
That’s right — Justin and BJ Upton will now be patrolling center and right field for Atlanta. BJ came to the Braves via free agency when he signed a five-year, $75 million contract and Justin came over in a trade with the Diamondbacks.
The Braves’s offense will be fine, but their starting pitching is the biggest question. If they can get consistency out of their starters, then the Braves will battle the Nationals for the top spot in the NL East.
Other Notable Offseason Transactions
The Seattle Mariners have reportedly signed ace starting pitcher Felix Hernandez to a seven-year, $175 million deal that would make him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball history. There were some worries about the health of Hernandez’s elbow, but the contract will contain language that protects the Mariners if King Felix were to blow out his elbow.
The Washington Nationals were able to bring back almost the same roster as the one that posted the best record in baseball last season. They resigned first baseman Adam Laroche to a three-year, $24 million deal and added another power arm to their already stacked bullpen in the form of Rafael Soriano. Soriano’s deal is for two years and $28 million.
The Yankees had a relatively quiet offseason. They resigned Ichiro Suzuki to a two-year, $13 million deal and closer Mariano Rivera to a one-year, $10 million deal. They also brought in former Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis with a one-year, $12 million contract.
The biggest news out of New York, however, has been the rumor that they are going to try and find a way out of the remaining $114 million that they still owe Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez was absolutely atrocious in last year’s playoffs and his alleged linkage to a performance-enhancing drug lab this offseason has only made it worse. On the bright side, the Yankees should get starting pitcher Michael Pineda back from injury this season.
Finally, the Detroit Tigers resigned starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez to a five-year, $80 million contract and signed free agent outfielder Torii Hunter to a two-year, $26 million contract.