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Pre-Christmas shopping

by Matt Smith

It’s a busy time of year with all the Christmas preparations to get on with. That may have not left much time to keep up with the MLB news this week.

If so, you’ve missed out on a lot.

Hamilton joins Halos

The biggest news of the week came out of Los Angeles and this time is wasn’t the free-spending Dodgers grabbing the headlines.

The L.A. Angels sensationally signed former Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125m contract (just under £300k per week). The Halos have missed out on the postseason in each of the past three years and adding Hamilton to a lineup already including Albert Pujols and Mike Trout is a pointed warning to everyone else that the team is intent on breaking that sequence in 2013.

Owner Arte Moreno did his best at Saturday’s press conference to convince onlookers that the Hamilton signing wasn’t influenced by the Dodgers’ spending. Precisely no one believed him. Even though they play in different leagues, the Los Angeles rivalry appears to be taking on the same ‘you spend, we spend right back’ dimension that we witnessed over the past ten years between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

Whilst some bookies have now installed the Angels as World Series favourites, their starting rotation could certainly be improved and it’s expected that they will try to swing a trade to add another quality arm into the mix. The Angels have been linked with the Detroit Tigers’ Rick Porcello as he may now be surplus to requirements, as we shall see.

As for the Texas Rangers, losing Hamilton to a division rival is yet another blow in what has been a very disappointing offseason for them so far. The core of a very good team is still in place and they have some exciting young players, most notably Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt, to call on; however they currently look like a team that needs a few additions to continue being a leading contender in the American League.

Rangers fans will be confident that their owners and Front Office are certain to take up the challenge being laid down to them by the Angels. Look for Texas to be active over the next few weeks.

Sanchez a returning Tiger

The Tigers may be open to trading Porcello after re-signing Anibal Sanchez to a five-year, $80m contract this week (£190k per week). Detroit acquired Sanchez in a trade with the Marlins during the 2012 season and he was particularly impressive in three post-season starts as the Tigers made it to the World Series.

The curious part of the Sanchez signing was that it appeared as though he was on his way to the Chicago Cubs before giving the Tigers a chance to better their offer. The Cubs are firmly in a rebuilding phase so it was interesting to see them going after a leading free agent. Whether Sanchez was a specific target or a sign that the Cubs are looking to speed up their return to being competitive remains to be seen.

What is very clear is that the Tigers’ front four – Verlander, Fister, Scherzer and Sanchez – looks as strong as any in the Majors and Detroit will once again be overwhelming favourites to win the AL Central in 2013.

Royal risk

That leads us on to the Kansas City Royals and their controversial decision to trade away top prospect Wil Meyers and a couple of promising young pitchers to acquire James Shields and Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays.

It’s been a long time since the Royals have been relevant in the playoff stakes and few disagreed, especially their long-suffering supporters, when General Manager Dayton Moore stated this week that it was time for the team to start winning.  The trade has been questioned because, while the trade makes them better in 2013, there is doubt that it genuinely helps them to become contenders.

The second Wild Card does give more teams hope and the Royals are crossing their fingers that Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Salvador Perez, Lorenzo Cain and the rest of their youngsters all take a big step forward. If they do then it’s possible that they could follow the examples set by the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A’s as underdogs proving the experts wrong.

The problem the Royals have is that the quality of the teams in the AL East and West makes even the second Wild Card a dim prospect, leaving their hopes reliant on the Tigers drastically underperforming to make the AL Central title a realistic target.

Detroit nearly did just that in 2012 so it’s not completely of the question, but right now the Royals need one or two significant additions to really give themselves a chance and that doesn’t appear to be on the cards.

Three-team trade

The Royals weren’t the only AL Central team involved in a big trade this week. The Cleveland Indians joined with the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks to complete a three-team trade involving nine players. The most significant parts of the deal saw Shin-Soo Choo joining the Reds, Drew Stubbs and highly-touted pitching prospect Trevor Bauer joining the Indians and reliever Tony Sipp and shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius joining the D-Backs. Gregorius is a Netherlands international, born in the country and then being raised in Curacao, and although his bat is a work in progress, his excellent glovework at short should ensure that he’ll be another European representative in the Majors for many seasons to come.

AL East additions

It seemed unlikely when the rumours began, but now it has come to pass: Kevin Youkilis will be shaving off his facial hair and putting on pinstripes. The former Red Sox hero is crossing the rivalry and joining the New York Yankees, in part to cover for the injured Alex Rodriguez at third base. The Yankees also came to terms with Ichiro Suzuki to bring the Japanese star back to the Bronx on a two-year contract.

Meanwhile in Boston, the Red Sox acquired free agent pitchers Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara, both of whom left the Rangers as free agents at the end of the 2012 season.

The developing news story in the East is that the Toronto Blue Jays reportedly are on the verge of completing a trade with the New York Mets to add Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to their rotation. You have to hand it to Toronto: if they wanted to compete in the AL East in 2013 they needed to dramatically improve their pitching staff. With Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle already on board, adding Dickey would give them a new and impressive front three to their rotation and completely change the look of the staff compared to how it was at the end of the 2012 season.

Other notable deals

The Philadelphia Phillies have added two former Rangers (you’ll notice a theme is emerging here) through a trade for Michael Young and signing free agent reliever Mike Adams. They also filled their hole in centre field by completing a trade with the Minnesota Twins to acquire Ben Revere.  That takes yet another potential suitor for free agent Michael Bourn out of the mix, although anyone thinking that agent Scott Boras might be left without a team to give his client a lucrative contract should remember what happened with Prince Fielder a year ago.

The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired free agent starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy on a two-year, $15m contract to add yet another former Oakland A’s player to their collection. The D-Backs also now appear to be retreating from trade talks to part ways with outfielder Justin Upton and while they don’t have the star power of the Dodgers and the Giants, General Manager Kevin Towers is building a solid roster to make Arizona a sleeper pick in the National League.


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