Detroit Tigers – The Tigers made one of winter’s biggest pickups by acquiring Gary Sheffield from the Yankees to play DH. Much like the White Sox’s acquisition of Jim Thome last year, the Tigers’ front office deserves credit for being able to assess their team’s incredible success as a bit fluky last year. GM Dave Dombrowski knows he may not be able to count on last year’s levels of production from outfielders Marcus Thames and Craig Monroe again. Therefore, Sheffield adds a fearsome and consistent presence to their already dangerous lineup. However, the Tigers might find that a great offseason pickup isn’t a guarantee of getting back to the promised land because the Tigers’ young arms were used very frequently in their 2006 World Series run last season.
Boston Red Sox – The BoSox spent oodles of cash as a consequence of signing highly talented Japanese starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, right fielder J.D. Drew, and shortstop Julio Lugo. Teams such as Boston that are able to spend top dollar on premier free agents tend to do better in the long run, unlike squads that pay big money for mediocre talent. It must be nice to be a Red Sox fan under the Theo Epstein/Larry Lucchino Regime; they’ve been able to fill holes every year and replace aging stalwarts and fan favorites like Trot Nixon, Derek Lowe, and Pedro Martinez with seamless continuity. Jon Papelbon, who had 35 saves and a 0.95 ERA last season, will move to the starting rotation this year. It is an interesting experiment that seems likely to succeed, but it’s going to take an incredible commitment from Boston to stick with it when Joel Piniero as a first-time closer.
Texas Rangers – GM Jon Daniels enacted an interesting strategy by making low-risk, high-reward moves on some aging players with question marks. First, the Rangers signed closer Eric Gagne and center fielder Kenny Lofton to identical one-year, $6 million deals and then topped that by inviting Sammy Sosa to camp on a non-guaranteed deal. The 40-year old Lofton has averaged a .375 on-base percentage and 27 steals over the last two years. Although younger, Gagne is more of a risk because he’s pitched only 2o innings because of injuries since his dominant three-year stretch from 2002-2004, but he can be the steal of the winter if he jumps in the time machine. Bonus points to the Rangers for letting Gary Matthews Jr. go to the Angels for $50 million. Daniels made another savvy move by trading for Brandon McCarthy from the White Sox. McCarthy gives the Rangers three solid starters along with Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla. As for the Sosa move, it’s an absolute shot in the dark. The only certainty is how the sports media will cover it. If Sosa falls flat on his face, he’ll be held up as an illustration of the harmful long-term effects of steroid use. If he succeeds, he’ll make for a good redemption story. There won’t be any middle ground. If nothing else, it’ll be an interesting season for the Rangers.
Kansas City Royals – Finally armed with some money to spend because of revenue sharing and the new Collective Bargaining agreement, the Royals go out and sign Gil Meche to a five-year, $55 million deal. Fans were dancing in the streets of Kansas City until they realized he’s a number four starter with a 55-45 career record and a 4.65 ERA. It has the potential to be one of the worst baseball contracts ever. Conveniently, the contract is identical in years and money to Darren Dreifort’s 2001 deal with the Dodgers, which is currently the worst contract ever given in baseball history. For some reason, rookie GM Dayton Moore decided to trade away his most talented and cheap young bullpen arms, Ambiorix Burgos and Andy Sisco, because they were apparently problems in the clubhouse. It’s perplexing, because the Royals should be concerned with their enormous problems on the field. They do have some top prospects on the cusp in third baseman Alex Gordon, but Kansas City has little chance of getting out of the AL Central basement for the foreseeable future.
Minnesota Twins – The Twins made an incredible run last year led by an elite core of talent in Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano. Unfortunately, Liriano’s out for the year with a torn elbow ligament and the reliable Brad Radke retired. Two stud position players and two ace pitchers surrounded by a mediocre supporting cast can be enough to contend, but when one vital piece is removed, the team should make adjustments. Instead, the Twins signed journeymen Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz to fill out their pitching rotation and decided to give left fielder Rondell White one more chance to prove he’s not the worst-hitting regular in the game. GM Terry Ryan has taken a lot of criticism over the years for not being able to pull the trigger on an impact move necessary to elevate good Twins’ teams to a championship level. Some things never change.