This past offseason for major league baseball was head-scratching, eye-popping, and utterly fascinating.
It was filled with stunning trades, ginormous contracts, and Alex Rodriguez – little crack there at the end.
The New York Yankees, by all accounts, made the most noise, bagging roughly half-a-billion dollars in free agents, and, arguably, bettering their team more than any other organization around the majors.
That label of winter-winners is obviously apparent, and deservingly so, but they’re not. Surprising perspective you say? Not really. Don’t misconstrue my opinion though, the Yanks’ delivered a potent punch in the front office, however, there’s one team who improved their squad exceptionally all-around without unloading wads of cash.
Here’s a hint, they’re in the same division. Give up? The Baltimore Orioles.
Not only did they get the best bang-for-their-buck, but the O’s, and general manager Dan Duquette, brought aboard premier talent that perhaps was overlooked. A couple players they scooped-up, I’m sure, were bartering for a bigger salary and more years, yet Baltimore somehow, someway, snatched them for less.
Despite the misfortunes surrounding the signing of closer Grant Balfour, who failed a physical and terminated his roster spot, Baltimore regrouped, scrolled the market, and recovered in under-the-radar fashion.
Here’s a look at who they added:
- Ubaldo Jimenez – SP
- Nelson Cruz – OF
- Suk-min Yoon – SP/RP
- Johan Santana – SP
- Jemile Weeks – 2B
Between Cruz, Jimenez and Yoon, it took Baltimore just $63,575,000 million to claim all three. Should Yoon start 26-plus – which he’ll have stiff competition in making the rotation – his contract will raise by $7.5 million. Still, a little over $70 million for those three, that’s astonishing, considering how prominent Cruz and Jimenez are.
Santana, who people forget is a two-time American League Cy Young Award recipient, was inked to a minor-league contract! Minor-league! If Santana reaches the majors, which I have the utmost confidence he will, $3 million is all he’s receiving, with a chance of earning bonus incentives. That’s just crazy to fathom.
Now, I understand, Santana is risky, given the fact he’s currently rehabbing from his second severe procedure on his left shoulder. Riddle me this though – wouldn’t you take a leap of faith on a guy who owns a 3.20 lifetime earned-run-average, is 12 strikeouts shy of 2,000, and won 139 games on mediocre clubs his whole career? The O’s are anticipating Santana’s arrival around June 1st, you can count on him boosting the rotation’s pizzazz – if he’s fully healthy, of course.
Shipping closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics was unforeseen, considering he tied for the league-lead in saves (50) last season, but they got a promising player in Weeks.
Originally selected in the fifth-round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2005, Weeks opted for college, re-entered the draft, and was grabbed by the A’s 12th overall in 2008. Weeks’ potential is certainly there, and with only 223 career games under his belt in the majors, the 28-year-old has plenty of time to make adjustments. Maybe he just needed the right fit. The O’s could be his match.
Johnson’s departure, you could justify, as being sort of expected. With how frequent he was blowing saves, and the surge of Tommy Hunter, who figures to fill Johnson’s ex-role this season, dealing him wasn’t too strenuous.
So, if you’re analyzing from face value who did the best job in reconstructing their roster, it’s Baltimore, hands down.
Their batting order looks frightening, especially now that Cruz has been inserted into the middle of that lineup. This guy, who’s a monster-masher, finished in the top-20 for homers last season, and that’s with a 50-game suspension due to his involvement in the infamous Biogenesis scandal.
Here’s an educated guess as to how Baltimore’s order will look:
- Jemile Weeks – 2B
- Manny Machado – 3B
- Adam Jones – CF
- Chris Davis – 1B/DH
- Nelson Cruz – RF/DH
- Matt Wieters – C
- Nick Markakis – LF
- J.J. Hardy – SS
- Nolan Reimold – OF/DH
This collective, specifically from 2-through-7, is stacked. My opinion, just as intimidating as any other lineup in the A.L.
Not to mention, Baltimore has phenomenal pitching depth. The O’s have four concrete starters, and a boat-load of other formidable hurlers vying for the fifth slot, including top-of-the-line prospects.
Here’s their rotation:
- Chris Tillman
- Wei-Yin Chen
- Ubaldo Jimenez
- Bud Norris
- Johan Santana / Kevin Gausman / Suk-min Yoon / Dylan Bundy / Miguel Gonzalez
Baltimore’ head coach Buck Showalter now has a full arsenal heading into the upcoming 2014 season, and barring any setbacks to Santana, this team poses a serious threat to the rest of the A.L. East.
The Orioles’ brass, sat up on their perch and watched as the rest of the league feasted on the presented pool of free agents. When the time was right, they swooped-in, surrendered little-to-no dough, and integrated front-end skill into their clubhouse.
While the majority of the audience will be paying close attention to how the Yankees’ situation unfolds, it’s the O’s that are the compelling squad to watch.
An upgraded lineup, a dense pitching unit, and without using a bunch of loot? Bravo, Dan.