Baseball: Examining the Hot Stove so far

By Paul Hurst

Examining the Hot Stove so far baseball - Photo by Keith Allison

With a little over six weeks until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, we’ve seen some big deals made already, and have a pretty good idea of where teams are looking to strengthen.

Now is probably a good time to assess who the big winners have been so far, and who is still left on the market that could be the last piece of the jigsaw for potential suitors.

The biggest winners so far have been the Philadelphia Phillies and the Seattle Mariners. The Phillies sent three of their top prospects, including top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek, to Toronto in return for Roy Halladay. In order to re-stock their farm system, the Phillies sent 2008 Cy Young winner Cliff Lee to Seattle for two top pitching prospects and young outfielder Tyson Gillies.

Obviously the Phillies would have loved to hang on to Lee beyond the end of the 2010 season when his contract expires. However with them having big money tied up in the likes of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and now Halladay, it may have been one strain too many on their payroll.

Another big consideration would have been the increasingly likely prospect of Lee wanting to test the free agency waters next winter – leaving them with a best case of re-signing him on a big salary after a bidding war, and a worst case of him walking away for nothing.

All in all Phillies fans should be pretty happy with the deal. They’ve picked up one of the best and most consistent pitchers in baseball and have him locked up through the 2014 season. As good as Lee has been the last couple of years, Halladay is definitely an upgrade.

The only thing Phillies fans may question is why they have decimated their farm system by giving up four top level prospects to get Lee for half a season, followed by three more for Halladay, when they could have simply taken Halladay last summer for any three or four of those seven guys. The Mariners can be pretty happy too; Felix Hernandez, and now Lee at the top of the rotation will give them a genuine chance of contending in the West this coming season.

Elsewhere in the NL East, the New York Mets signed outfielder Jason Bay to a four-year contract worth $66m. On first glance it does seem like quite a lot of money for Bay. Unfortunately for the Mets, it’s not a great free agent market this winter, and they had a need right now. With that in mind, it doesn’t look like too bad a pick-up. It isn’t a deal that Mets fans will be getting too excited about, but Bay is coming off a big season, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t continue to put up solid numbers in the coming seasons.

There were some whispers out of Red Sox Nation about issues with his health (knee, or shoulder, depending on which you choose to go with) but it’s hard to take them too seriously given they offered him a contract worth around $60m. The other free-agent option for the Mets was Matt Holliday. He’s reportedly turned down a contract worth $18m a year from his former club Colorado, and the latest reports suggest he’s likely to re-sign with the Cardinals, once they finish quibbling over the length of the contract.

The Mets other need is for starting pitching, and they look to be struggling to fill it. They had an interest in John Lackey, but he (unsurprisingly) chose to go to Boston, after having little interest in joining the Mets. It’s now difficult to know where they might look to bolster their starting pitching. They’ve already denied they’re interested in bringing Pedro Martinez back. There have been some rumours they’ll trade with the Cubs to bring Victor Zambrano in, but it seems somewhat unlikely, not least because the Mets don’t have a great deal of young talent to give up for him.

Arguably their best option could be to take a chance on a guy like Ben Sheets, coming back from injury, though it would be a big risk given they’re aiming to show they’re serious about contending, after their awful in 2009.

There have been a few, less-widely reported, deals that look like decent pick-ups for their respective teams.

The Giants signed up Mark DeRosa on a 2-year contract worth $12m. He’s not going to set the world alight in San Francisco, but he’s a versatile infielder, and early signs are that he’ll play every day at third base, allowing Pablo ‘Kung Fu Panda’ Sandoval to move over to first. $6m a year could be a little pricey, but he should do a solid job for them.

After managing to shift Milton Bradley out to Seattle (potentially a good pick-up if, and with MB this is always a big ‘if’, they can sort out his attitude) the Cubs inked Marlon Byrd to a three-year contract worth $15m. He’s not a great fielder, but an improvement on Fukudome, and with regular playing time, he should wind-up being well worth his $5m a year.

The Tampa Bay Rays picked up Kelly Shoppach from Cleveland. Shoppach is a guy who plays much better when he’s a regular, rather than as a back-up, and as he looks like being the Rays everyday catcher, it’s a good move for both parties. He was never going to get the opportunity in Cleveland, and he won’t be costing the Rays big bucks in 2010 so it looks like a solid signing.

Finally, the Yankees, as ever, have been busy. They worked out a three-team deal during the Winter Meetings to bring Curtis Granderson to the Bronx from Detroit. In return, the Tigers picked up a slew of young pitchers from New York and Arizona, with the Yankees’ Ian Kennedy heading to Arizona to tie things up. Granderson is coming off a poor season, and he simply cannot hit left-handers. I do like the signing though.

His career numbers suggest last year was a blip. He’ll be helped out playing in the new hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. And it’s a given he’ll come up with some fantastic plays in the centre-field. He’ll become either a fan-favourite or a figure of derision in New York – it pretty much depends whether he thrives under the Yankee pressure.

A couple of days before Christmas they brought in Javier Vazquez from Atlanta in return for Melky Cabrera (who they didn’t want), Mike Dunn (who they didn’t need) and Arodys Vizcaino (who is really too young for them to know if they wanted or needed him). Vazquez is a totally different pitcher now than he was in his previous stint in NYC and should do a job in bolstering their starting rotation. The only question mark for the Yankees now is who fills the spot in left-field.

It looked like a good bet for a while that they’d re-sign Johnny Damon, although that possibility seems a lot more remote now. Damon wants the same money he got in 2009 ($13m) and wants a two-year contract. It isn’t a surprise the Yankees have balked at that, given Damon is 35 years old, and his skills have clearly diminished over the last couple of years. Right now, I’m finding it difficult to picture where he will end up this year, other than re-signing with the Yankees once his demands come back down to Earth.

Of course, they won’t be worrying too much about this, as even without a set left-fielder, their line-up still looks to be the best in the Majors, and they will be the team to beat in 2010.

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