As intrasquad scrimmages rage on and actual spring training games are on deck, baseball’s most recent offseason has finally drawn to a close.
All 30 teams jockeyed for position over the winter, some more successful than others.
Everyone saw the Los Angeles Angels add Albert Pujols, arguably the most feared hitter in the game today, and the addition of CJ Wilson to an already stacked rotation. Everyone saw the Rangers win the bidding rights for Yu Darvish, and eventually sign him to a 6 year contract. Everyone saw the newly christened Miami Marlins go on an impromptu spending rampage, adding all star shortstop Jose Reyes and closer Heath Bell, along with top of the rotation man Mark Beurhle. Everyone saw the Yankees trade uber hitting prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda, a 23 year old flame thrower who has ace-like potential.
But there were also a few important moves made over the winter that flew under the radar, and we’re going to count down the top five most impactful, just in case you blinked.
5. Carlos Pena returns to Tampa Bay
The slugging first basemen enjoyed ample success in his first stint with the Rays, helping lead them to their first ever World Series and their first two titles of the AL East. A career .239 hitter, Pena left the Rays after the 2010 season to peruse the open market before eventually signing a 1 year deal with the Cubs. After a 28 homerun campaign in Chicago, he decided to return to Tampa Bay to help beef up the middle of the order, coming to terms to a 1 year deal worth 7.25 million. Pena will be counted on to provided the pop for a primarily pitching heavy team, and attempt to help lead them back to the playoffs for consecutive years.
4. Joe Nathan comes to Texas to slam the proverbial door.
We all remember that fateful night of game 6 in the 2011 World Series. The Rangers were 1 strike away, twice, to winning their first ever World Series before the bullpen let them down on both occasions. Now the Rangers add one of the most consistent closers in the game in Joe Nathan, formerly of the Minnesota Twins. He comes in with an 89% save percentage, good for 2nd all time in the history of baseball, and allows the Rangers some flexibility to tinker with former closer Neftali Feliz to throw in the starting rotation. Nathan missed all of the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery, and had a rocky start to the 2011 campaign before regaining his form after the all star break. If Nathan can get back to his old ways, the Ranger’s bullpen will be set, but if he struggles, it will throw numerous kinks into the Ranger’s grand plan.
3. Hiroki Kuroda adds much needed depth to the Yankee’s starting rotation
The Yankee’s Achilles heel in 2011 was their starting rotation. In 2012, it looks to be a strength. Along with adding Michael Pineda and a fully healthy Phil Hughes, the Yankee’s also will introduce 37 year old Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda signed in January to an 11 million dollar deal, and brings with him a career 3.45 ERA. Last season, the Yankee’s were forced to lean on an out of practice Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. This year, they’ll have much more reliable depth to help get them through the grind of a 162 game season. Kuroda has only landed on the disabled list once in his 4 year career in America, and that was due to a freak incident that saw him get railed with a batted ball that came right back into his skull. If Kuroda can bring the same goods he brought while with the Dodgers, the Yankees should be considered the team to beat in the AL East.
2. Edwin Jackson adds veteran presence to up and coming Nationals
The Washington Nationals and all their youthful talent are probably another year or two away from consistently competing for NL East titles, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to try to crash the party early. In January, the Nationals signed 28 year old Edwin Jackson to a 1 year deal, and he brings World Series experience to a young aspiring team. Jackson has a career 4.46 ERA, and has also thrown a no-hitter in his time in the Majors. The ultra talented Stephen Strasburg could learn a few things from the well traveled Jackson, along with Bryce Harper. They say experience is the key to championship runs, and the Nationals added a piece of that with this move. If Jackson can be an anchor at the top of the rotation along with a healthy Strasburg, there is no reason to believe the National’s won’t be bumping elbows with the Braves and Phillies out east a year ahead of schedule.
1. Diamondbacks add Trevor Cahill to an already loaded rotation
Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers must be well versed in the phrase “buy low, sell high”. In December, Arizona traded prospects Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill and Ryan Cook to Oakland in exchange for front line starter Trevor Cahill and relief pitcher Craig Breslow. Trevor Cahill is coming off a letdown of a season, somewhat of a junior slump. In 2010, Cahill was in talks for receiving the Cy Young award with a 2.97 ERA and an 18-8 record. Looking to follow up on that, he hurled 207 innings in the 2011 campaign and earned a 4.16 ERA, causing his stock to fall a little bit, which is when Towers decided to pounce. The Diamondbacks already return young standouts Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson to the rotation, both of whom turned in stellar 2011 performances, and now add another potential ace to their squad in the desert. The Diamondbacks won the NL West last year, and were beaten in 5 games in the ALDS against the Brewers. The addition of Cahill, if he can regain his ace-like dominance, might be the key piece to putting them over the top in 2012, and winning the World Series for the first time since 2001.