Each year GM's from across the league come together and meet in one place and talk hardcore baseball, these are the Winter Meetings. It's the Black Friday of baseballs shopping season, and the springboard that leads into MLB's Hot Stove offseason.
The meetings wrapped up last week and to review the action The Nats Blog is going to get reviews from top blogs across the league. Today will be the NL East, here will be the schedule for the rest of the week:
12/16-NL Central, 12/17-NL West, 12/18-AL East, 12/19-AL Central, 12/20 AL West
St. Louis Cardinals
Team Name: St. Louis Cardinals
2009 Record: 91-71, NL Central Champs
Team Needs: Left field, starting pitching
Team Moves: Signed Brad Penny to a one-year deal.
Winter Meetings Grade: B
Evaluation: It's hard to judge the Cardinals winter meetings, because so much hangs on their pursuit of Matt Holliday. While the Cards talked twice with Scott Boras, they did not tender an official offer until after they were back home in St. Louis.
Penny provides a "lottery ticket", in terms that the front office has used before. If he's healthy and works well with Dave Duncan, he could be a great addition to an already strong pitching rotation. If he doesn't pan out, he's only around for one year and at a reasonable contract level.
The Holliday situation will influence the rest of the offseason. On Friday, the Cardinals made their first formal offer and expected to have a response by the end of the weekend. There's been no word as we stand here on Monday. If the Cardinals are forced to move on, there's thought that Mark DeRosa could be part of a Plan B, as well as perhaps more pitching. The Cardinals have not ruled out resigning John Smoltz to a fifth starter/bullpen role.
The winter meetings were interesting from the Cardinal point of view (especially with former manager Whitey Herzog being elected to the Hall of Fame) but not definitive. The story of this offseason is still to be played out.
Team Name: Houston Astros
2009 record: 74-88
Team needs: Closer, third baseman, starting pitching, outfield depth.
Team moves: Traded with Florida for reliever Matt Lindstrom, losing two minor leaguers and a draft pick in the Rule V draft. Signed reliever Brandon Lyon to a three-year/$15 million contract. Signed third baseman Pedro Feliz to a one-year/$4.5 million contract.
Winter Meetings Grade: B
Evaluation: After not coming to terms with relievers Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins and shortstop Miguel Tejada (combined 2009 salaries: $27 million), the Astros quickly moved to fill their voids by signing Lyon and Feliz as well as trading for Lindstrom.
Feliz will team with Geoff Blum to man third base while Tommy Manzella will get a shot to win a job at shortstop. Lindstrom had an off year in 2009 but possesses high heat and a wild streak that would make him unhittable if he had better control. Many think the Astros overspent on Lyon who has tried closing before with mixed results. The three expect to earn $11 million in 2010 as Houston looks to trim a payroll that exceeded $100 million last season.
Team Name: Houston Astros
Team Needs: Third base, closer, backup outfielder, fourth starter
Team Moves: Signed RHP Brandon Lyon (3 years, 15 million), Signed 3B Pedro Feliz (1 year, 4.5 million), Traded for Florida RHP Matt Lindstrom
Winter Meetings Grade: C+
Evaluation: The best way to describe the collective feeling of our little community at The Crawfish Boxes is 'cautiously opitimistic.' The main thing to consider with the Astros this winter is that General Manger Ed Wade had about 15 million dollars to spend. He almost spent all of that in two days in Indianapolis.
While Lyon isn't the best reliever on the market, the money per year wasn't outrageous for a closer. The problem that many people have is with the length. Three years is a long time to give a guy who hasn't shown he can be a dependable reliever at any stop in his career. The outlook for both Lindstrom and Feliz is better, as Feliz at least provides solid defense at third and Lindstrom will be cheap (1.5 to 2m after arbitration) and a possible bounce-back candidate after suffering an injury last year in the World Baseball Classic. The closer competition in spring training will come down to Lyon and Lindstrom with the loser becoming the setup man. The Astros didn't give up much in the trade for Lindstrom (Low A right-hander Robert Bono, Rookie League shortstop Luis Bryan and the Astros' top pick in the Rule V draft) and hopefully can get much more in return. All that's left to acquire is a backup outfielder, and a guy like Ryan Church could fit nicely into Houston's plans.
Still, it's certainly an underwhelming haul for all the money that was spent. Former Houston reliever LaTroy Hawkins got a 2 year, 8 million dollar deal with the Brewers, Rich Harden signed a reasonable, incentive-laden deal with the Rangers and non-tender candidates like Chien-ming Wang and Kevin Correia each could have been picked up in a trade. The three latter guys could have been a definite upgrade on Brian Moehler as the fifth starter while Hawkins came at a cheaper price than Lyon. If you look at what the team really needed instead of what management wanted, the Winter Meetings weren't very successful. When the Astros are five games under .500 in July, we just hope someone remembers what could have been this offseason.
Team Name: Milwaukee Brewers (80-82 last season)
Team Needs: Starting pitching, more starting pitching, extra starting pitching, and maybe a backup infielder.
Team Moves: Signed Randy Wolf to a three year/$29.75 million deal. Signed LaTroy Hawkins to a two year/$7.5 million deal. Drafted left handed pitcher Chuck Lofgren from the Indians in the Rule 5 Draft. Are reportedly close to deals with SS Craig Counsell and reliever Claudio Vargas.
Winter Meetings Grade: B
Evaluation: The Brewers made possibly the biggest free agent splash at the Meetings, targeting Randy Wolf and doing everything it took to get him to commit to come to Milwaukee. The move is somewhat risky given Wolf's age and injury history, but it's a move that needed to happen, given the Brewers' severe lack of viable starting pitching options. After that, they wasted a little money by giving a two year deal to LaTroy Hawkins. The two-year, $7.5 million deal is probably right around fair market value for his services, but it means the Brewers have $16 million committed to three bullpen arms in 2010 (Trevor Hoffman, David Riske and Hawkins), plus whatever they'll end up paying Claudio Vargas and Todd Coffey's arbitration raise. During the Rule 5 draft, they picked high-upside lefty Chuck Lofgren, who throws in the low-mid 90's but has had some control issues.
Moving forward, the Brewers could probably still use one more starting pitcher but don't have much money left to spare, so any move would have to be made via trade. Corey Hart was involved in multiple rumors during the winter meetings, so it seems likely the Brewers would be willing to move him if the right deal was offered.
Team Name: Cincinnati Reds 2009 Record: 78-84
Team Needs: Offense, specifically at SS, LF, and catcher
Team Moves: Signed Chris Burke, non-tendered Jonny Gomes
Winter Meetings Grade: DNP
Evaluation: The Reds used the 2009 Winter Meetings as an opportunity to take a few days of vacation and in typical Reds fashion, they took the vacation in beautiful Indianapolis, just 110 miles away. The Reds were so non-existent at the Winter Meetings that there were a couple of tweets from outside media asking, "Were the Reds even in Indianapolis this week?"
There were rumors of inquiries into Nelson Cruz and possible negotiations with Craig Counsell, but a quick look at Walt Jocketty's hotel bill would probably show that the team spent most of their time watching movies and raiding the minibar. None of this was a surprise though as management has already started spouting the mantra, "This is likely the team we'll start the season with." After going 78-84 in 2009, finishing their 9th straight losing season, why wouldn't it be?
Team Name: Pittsburgh Pirates
2009 Record: 62-99
Team Needs: Depends on how you'd count Andy LaRoche, Lastings Milledge, Jeff Clement, etc.; those guys will likely get shots in left field, third base, and first base, but there's significant risk there. Along with that, there's a definite need for help in the middle infield beyond 2010, when Akinori Iwamura will become a free agent.
Team Moves: Traded Jesse Chavez to Tampa for Akinori Iwamura, signed free agent shortstop Bobby Crosby, and non-tendered arbitration eligible pitcher Matt Capps.
Winter Meetings Grade: For the winter meetings and only the winter meetings, the Crosby signing gets a solid "C" from me. As in, "this move doesn't really help or hurt things." Expanding it to include everything since the meetings started, I'd bump it to a "D" for the baffling non-tender of Capps, but if we consider the whole off-season, I'd go back to a "C-" because I like the trade for Iwamura
Evaluation: Up until they let Capps go, I was right on board with everything. Iwamura was a nice pickup that immediately improved the team at a very weak position without blocking a prospect or giving up too much in the trade. Crosby hasn't been that great in recent years, but at the very least he's an upgrade over Ronny Cedeno and if he can stay healthy, he might be a little more than that.
Letting Capps go without trading him, though, is baffling. It's been four days and I still can't figure it out. Beyond that, though, the Pirates are holding course with their stated plan this offseason, which was to add some depth but to not do anything to affect the development of their young players or block the upcoming minor leaguers. It's a boring approach and it might make for an ugly 2010, but it will be best for the team in the long run. I hope.
Team Name: Chicago Cubs
2009 Record: 83-78 (second in NL Central)
Team Needs: Starting pitcher, centerfielder, second baseman, bench bat, relief pitcher
Team Moves: Gave John Grabow 2 year $7.5 million deal
Winter Meetings Grade: F
Evaluation: The Cubs went into the winter meetings with the goal of trading Milton Bradley. Instead they managed to embarrass themselves for four days and couldn’t get one team to take Bradley off their hands, mostly because Cubs executives are too stupid to understand how trading a player with no value works. Right now the only move the Cubs have is to dump Bradley, as stupid as that really is. Without doing that, the Cubs can’t do anything.
Otherwise the Cubs look to be staying with much of the same this offseason. Financial constraints will limit other moves to almost nothing, and it appears new ownership is content with fielding a mediocre baseball team while they renovate Wrigley Field.
Team Name: Chicago Cubs
2009 Record: 83-78
Team Needs: outfielder, bench, bullpen
Team Moves: none
Winter Meetings Grade: The Meetings are just part of the offseason so I wouldn't give a grade for these few days.
Evaluation: The Cubs went into the Winter Meetings looking to trade Milton Bradley. Whether or not that is a good idea is up for debate, but that's what the Cubs wanted to do. They also wanted to lay the groundwork or sign a replacement outfielder. The names linked to the Cubs have been Mike Cameron, Marlon Byrd and more recently Rick Ankiel and Scott Podsednik. The Cubs did talk with each of their agents and will continue to talk with them, but they first have to trade Milton Bradley.
The team has now learned how difficult that will be. They tried to create a market by planting rumors during the meetings, but Tampa Bay remains not only the most likely destination, but perhaps the only destination. While the Cubs didn't get done what they had hoped to do, there is still plenty of time to do that. They did learn a few things, most notably just how hard it will be trade Bradley and free up money. That's probably not going to happen unless the GM gets really creative. After the Cubs do trade Bradley they will quickly sign one of the four outfielder I named above. Who it is will depend on how much money the Cubs have to send to Tampa Bay. If the team signs Ankiel or Podsednik to be their starting CF the whole offseason has been a failure.