VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – Are there any words more beautiful to the ears of MLB diehards than these: Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 23rd.
MAS thinks not.
They warm the cockles of the heart, if not the nose and toes, of the faithful shivering through another hot stove league winter.
And now that spring training is almost upon us, big league fans are rubbing their hands together not just to keep them warm, but in gleeful anticipation as well.
Offseason team machinations are over for the most part.
New managers have been hired.
Most of the trades, free agent signings and re-signings have already taken place.
The rosters of the 30 ballclubs are pretty much set.
MLB is once more ready and rarin’ to go.
So, what better time than now to rate the key personnel moves made this winter by MLB front offices.
Call it the good, the bad and the mediocre of winter maneuvering.
First, the ballclubs that knocked MAS’ socks off, or at least one of them, with their savvy additions.
■ Arizona — Give it the NL West title already. Signed best pitcher in baseball, Zack Greinke (for a mere $206.5 million) and traded for budding star P Shelby Miller.
■ New York Yankees — You can never be too thin or too rich. Or, if you’re the Yanks, have too many closers.
They inked a THIRD in fireballing Aroldis (Mr. 169 kph) Chapman, the ex-Red.
Yanks also swiped former All-Star infielder Starlin Castro from the Cubs.
■ New York Mets — Still reeling from the Bernie Madoff fiasco, the Mets dillydallied but FINALLY signed Yoenis Cespedes, whose offense keyed their drive to the NL pennant.
■ Minnesota Twins — Invested $25 million in Korean import slugger Park Byung-ho (105 HRs in last two seasons) hoping he’ll add needed power.
■ Los Angeles Angels —Picked Atlanta’s pocket for 25- year-old All-Star shortstop Andrelton Simmons and added hard-hitting third baseman Yunel Escobar.
Hello dyn-o-mite left side of Halos’ infield.
■ Houston — Improved closer spot by trading for young Ken Giles, 1.56 earned run average, 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings with Philly.
■ Kansas City — Re-signed their own free agent, outfielder Alex Gordon, the heart and soul of Royals’ home-bred World Series champ.
■ San Francisco — Shored up its shaky starting pitching by paying through the nose for established, if sometimes shaky, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.
■ Boston Red Sox — Inked prize free agent lefty David Price, the stopper the BoSox needed desperately.
Also, traded for closer Craig Kimbrel, freeing Koji Uehara to return to setup duties.
■ Detroit — Paid maybe too mucho dinero for ex-Washington star Jordan Zimmermann, coming off a down year.
But pricey F.A. outfielder Justin Upton’s gives Tigers a legit murderers’ row on offense
■ Baltimore — Kept own free agent, slugging first sacker Chris Davis (126 HRs over last 3 years) in hopes of halting further regression.
Saving the worst team moves for later, let’s look at ballclubs whose acquisitions were OK, but not dazzling.
■ Chicago White Sox — Next-to-last in American League scoring last season, traded for Cincy third sacker Todd Frazier (35 HRs in 2015) and middle infielder Brett Lawrie.
■ Washington — Biggest addition was manager Dusty Baker, a proven winner as a Giants, Reds and Cubs skipper.
Afield, acquired Mets’ postseason homer hero David Murphy and outfielder Ben Revere, a proven .300 hitter.
■ Tampa Bay — Seeking offensive improvement received steady shortstop Brad Miller and handy IF-OF Logan Morrison from Seattle. But neither is a difference maker.
■ St. Louis — Solid starting pitcher Mike Leake, ex-Red, adds depth to a seemingly always injury-riddled Cardinals’ rotation.
■ Texas — Made its key move late last year (see traded for ace pitcher Cole Hamels).
■ Toronto — AL East champs mostly stood pat, preferring to save money for next winter when star sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion (The Bat Flip Bros) become free agents.
■ Cleveland— Held on to solid pitching, rather than trade any away for offense. Recycled bats of newcomers Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis will have to suffice.
■ Colorado — Traded for several promising Tampa Bay hurlers to build mound depth.
And finally, those ballclubs who didn’t address needs adequately or had MAS shaking his head over their moves.
■ Chicago Cubs — Has GM Theo Epstein lost his marbles?
He trades away All-Star middle infielder Starlin Castro (25) after ONE tough year and replaces him with steady but 34-year-old Ben Zobrist.
And then overpays ($181 million) for solid but powerless OF Jason Heyward and second-tier free agent P John Lackey ($32 million/two years).
■ Oakland —Plunged to cellar and added only two closers when the A’s already have a good one.
But who is MAS to question “Moneyball Billy” Beane.
■ Los Angeles Dodgers — The Charlie Manson of front offices. How else to describe their annual screwball helter skelter personnel changes?
Let Zack Greinke escape and replace him with almost-ascostly meh Scott Kazmir (98-90 career W/L mark), giving them THREE lefties in their starting rotation.
■ Philadelphia —Did a lot of nothing. Plan to suffer through a Houston Astros-type rebuild from within that eventually pays off.
■ Miami — If only new skipper and batting coach (Don Mattingly and Barry Bonds, respectively) were also allowed to hit for Fish.
■ Milwaukee — Traded away solid pieces in center fielder Carlos Gonzalez and closer Frankie “K-Rod” Rodriguez for six near-ready pitching prospects.
■ San Diego Padres — Went from power to balance on offense. Exchanged vet sluggers for speedy contact hitters like ex-Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay and several Boston prospects.
■ Pittsburgh — No money, no honey. Small market Pirates mostly just shrugged their shoulders, adding only ex-Giant postseason star Ryan Vogelsong, now 38, and journeyman catcher John Jaso.
■ Seattle — When you address a .311 on base percentage by adding only catcher Chris Iannetta and OF Norichika Aoki, you haven’t done enough.
■ Cincinnati —Announced it is building for 2017-18 by trading P Leake and slugger Frazier and ace hurler Cueto (late last season) for talent to restock farm system.
■ Atlanta — Dealt two young stars you can build around, Simmons and Miller, for unproven but promising talent. MAS sez: Bird in the hand . . .
Offseason thumbnail sketches now complete, get ready for an MLB fan’s most favorite words of all.
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