Baseball fans’ favorite time of the year is naturally either Opening Day or the postseason, but “true” baseball aficionados pay as much attention (and sometimes even more) to the off-season “Hot Stove” comings-and-goings. This is the time when teams assess their rosters and engage in wheeling and dealing to try and find the magic combination that will help to lead their team to success. The 2013 offseason was no different with many teams making changes.
Two of the more active teams this winter have been Toronto and Washington. Blue Jay fans will definitely need a program to identify their favorites, as the team pulled off two big trades and inked a coveted free agent. The team acquired SS Jose Reyes, IF Emilio Bonaficio and Ps Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from Miami and then added 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey in a deal with the New York Mets. The Jays weren’t finished however as they convinced OF Melky Cabrera to join them. Each of these players are expected to make major contributions as Toronto seeks to climb back into AL East contention.
The Nationals were the NL 2012 surprise team, winning their first NL East crown and energizing their D.C. fan base. Their biggest weakness was the lack of a consistent, productive leadoff man, a glaring hole they addressed with the acquisition of CF Denard Swan. The addition of Swan allows manager Davey Johnson to move SS Ian Desmond and RF Jayson Werth back into a more natural batting order slot, with the hope that Swan’s on-base-percentage will give the Nats power hitters more RBI opportunities. Speaking of power hitters, the Nats re-signed 1B Adam LaRoche (career-best 33 HRs in 2012), and are hoping he can continue to provide the power needed. Another key pickup for the Nationals was closer Rafael Soriano from the Yankees. Expendable since Mariano Rivera is expected back, Soriano reaped the benefits of his standout 2012 by inking a two-year $28 million dollar contract. Free agent P Dan Haren joins an already sterling rotation, giving the Nats an enviable staff all the way through. With youngsters Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper as cornerstones, and the new additions, much will be expected in 2013 from Washington.
The Nats biggest challengers, the Atlanta Braves, certainly didn’t stand pat and will no doubt pose more than a formidable foe. The retirement of Chipper Jones and his clutch bat leaves a big hole in the lineup, but manager Fredi Gonzalez thinks the moves made by the front office will adequately replace the production, but replacing Jones’ unmatched leadership and mentorship in the clubhouse will be a different matter. With the acquisition of the Upton brothers, Atlanta’s outfield (the Uptons along with Jason Heyward) has the potential to be the best in the majors. Combined with Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Brian McCann and rising star SS Andrelton Simmons, scoring runs shouldn’t be an issue. The pitching staff (Medlen, Hudson, Beachey, Minor along with closer Craig Kimbrell) is at least the equal of Washington’s. Losing the dependable Martin Prado in the Justin Upton deal hurts, but this team appears to be ready to reclaim their accustomed spot atop the NL East.
The biggest transaction during the offseason may have been the Angels signing of free agent slugger Josh Hamilton from the Texas Rangers. Following last season’s inking of Albert Pujols, opposing pitchers will no doubt have to pick their poison with those two batting back-to-back. Detroit lost in the World Series, but they appear to have strengthened their sometimes shaky defense with the signing of perennial Gold Glover OF Torii Hunter. Another significant move by the Tigers involved re-signing P Anibal Sanchez to a five-year $80 million dollar deal, and the return of the injured Victor Martinez gives Detroit yet another big bat to go along with Prince Fielder and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. As long as the Tigers trot out P Justin Verlander every fifth day, they’ll remain a contender, especially with all that firepower behind him.
Other key players changing addresses during the offseason include P Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Dodgers, lockdown closer Joel Hanrahan joining the Red Sox, P Edwin Jackson leaving Washington for the Chicago Cubs, and P James Shields moving from Tampa Bay to the Kansas City Royals.
One of the biggest surprises of the offseason revolved around the New York Yankees. Ordinarily one of the busiest teams in free agency, the Yankees strangely did very little in terms of personnel. Already one of the oldest teams in the majors, the Yankees failed to address their age issue, instead re-signing such greybeards as Andy Pettite, Kevin Youklis and Mariano Rivera. If the Yankees stumble out of the gate in 2013, that rumbling heard throughout the Bronx will be George Steinbrenner doing everything possible to fire someone from the grave.