Home MLB A busy early January in MLB

A busy early January in MLB

by Matt Smith

MlbHlSqIt has been a busy start to 2011 as the early days of January have produced a number of notable bits of transaction news in MLB.

Beltre joins the Rangers

The news-making started in Texas, where the Rangers didn’t leave their ‘Cliff Lee’ money in the bank for long.  They used some of the cash that would have gone to the Phillies’ new recruit to sign Adrian Beltre to a 5 year deal worth $80m (just a shade under £200k per week for the duration of the contract), with a $16m option for a sixth year on top. 

Beltre turned down some multi-year offers twelve months ago and signed a one-year deal with the Boston Red Sox with the aim of having a big year and getting a better deal.  As so often happens with clients of agent Scott Boras, the plan worked out perfectly (well, arguably almost perfectly as the Red Sox’s signing of Adrian Gonzalez took them out of the equation of re-signing the third baseman.  Their involvement in the bidding process may have lead to a guaranteed sixth year).

It’s a nice upgrade for the Rangers as he figures to put up some good offensive numbers in Texas and is far superior with the glove than Michael Young at the hot corner, although quite how much of an upgrade it will be overall depends on what value they get out of Young as a DH/utility infielder. 

This is the third time Young has been moved from a position to accommodate someone else by the Rangers; not the typical way a sports team would treat their captain.  For all of the qualities he does bring to a team, defensive excellence at one position isn’t one of them.  This latest move is a pragmatic decision and Young appears to accept it as such. 

Will the Yankees be quite so pragmatic with Derek Jeter and will their captain be so obliging when the time comes?  I’m not convinced.

Knock-on effect for the Angels

The above move had the added benefit for the Rangers of taking away another target from their division rivals the L.A. Angels (the A’s also put a strong bid in for Beltre, for the second year in a row, but the player’s apparent reluctance to join Oakland made that interest seem almost inconsequential).  First Carl Crawford, then Beltre: this offseason isn’t going the Angels’ way so far. 

Matt Garza to the Cubs, Saito to the Brewers

It wasn’t all joy for the Rangers this week either as their pursuit of Matt Garza came to an unsuccessful conclusion.  The Rays turned down Texas’ offer and traded the starting pitcher to the Chicago Cubs instead for a bundle of prospects, partly to clear a space in the rotation for Jeremy Hellickson and partly to top up their supply of young players: ever important in the battle against the free-spending Yankees and Red Sox.

In acquiring Garza, the Cubs have added an established pitcher for the next three seasons and made the National League Central even more of a battle than it was already shaping up to be. 

Garza joins former Rays teammate Carlos Pena and Kerry Wood in a trio of free-agent signings that have genuinely improved the Cubs’ roster into one that could be in the mix if Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano return to form and Carlos Zambrano carries on from his late-season ‘Calm not Crazy Carlos’ performances.  That’s a big ‘if’, but the Cubs will be paying those three a combined $52,475,000 in 2011 regardless, so they may as well give it a shot.

Meanwhile the Brewers have carried on improving their pitching staff, which undoubtedly needed improving, by signing Takashi Saito to a one-year contract.  Saito will turn 41 in February, but his performances for the Braves last year (11.5 K’s per nine innings) showed there’s still plenty of life left in him.  He’s slated to be a set-up man, with John Axford continuing as the Brewers’ closer.

Renteria signs with the Reds

Where does all this leave the Cincinnati Reds?  They will go into the season with the confidence that being the reigning division champs brings, but retaining that title will be even harder than winning it in the first place.

Spending $2.1m on Edgar Renteria, with the possibility of another $900k in incentives, isn’t the sort of move that will put fear into the hearts of their opponents, despite his 2010 World Series MVP award still being fresh in the mind. 

The Brewers and Cubs had a lot of ground to make up on the Reds from 2010 and have looked to reduce that gap through the offseason so far, while the Reds are tinkering around the edges rather than making major additions.  Add the Cardinals into the discussion and it could turn out to be a four-way race.

Contract extensions for Uggla and Gonzalez

The Atlanta Braves traded for Dan Uggla earlier this offseason with the intention of signing the former Marlin to a contract extension.  They duly signed their new recruit to a five-year contract worth $62m this week.  The Florida Marlins wanted to keep Uggla but were only prepared to offer him a four-year contract, hence their decision to trade him to the Braves rather than see him leave as a free agent at the end of the season.  One of the many sub-plots in the NL East over the next five years will be whether the Marlins were wrong not to go that extra year with Uggla.

Another contract extension that will be judged in years to come is the decision by the Colorado Rockies to sign Carlos Gonzalez to a seven-year deal worth $80m (subject to a physical due to take place this coming week).  The rising cost of acquiring impact players as free agents or via trades has encouraged teams recently to agree contracts with their best young players covering their arbitration years and buying out some free agent years in the process. 

The Rockies have acted quickly following Gonzalez’s outstanding 2010 season, in which he finished third in the NL MVP voting process.  Will it prove to be too quickly?   It was only Gonzalez’s first full season in the Majors, after two half-year stints in 2008 and 2009.  Was that a sign of things to come or an early peak, helped out by the most pronounced home-road splits of any player in the Majors?  The Rockies have placed an $80m bet on the former.  Check back in seven years’ time to see if that was the correct decision or not.

Such is the difficult life of a General Manager.

The week ahead

It could be a week of pitching moves in the American League.

The Twins are hoping to re-sign Carl Pavano, the Yankees are still waiting to hear if Andy Pettitte is retiring or returning, while the Rangers will continue their pitching search after missing out on Lee, Garza and Zack Greinke in recent weeks.

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