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Busy offseason has fans gearing up for opening day

By Ian Guss

Section: Sports

March 2, 2007

Spring training is well underway and the start of the regular season is only a month away. There are many fascinating stories for the baseball fan to keep an eye on: Will Barry Bonds break Hank Aarons all time home run record? Will the Cubs go from worst to first in the National League Central? What about the World Series Champion Cardinals? Will the $100 million addition to the Red Sox rotation finally get them over the top in the AL East? These are just a few questions to ponder in the upcoming weeks. Lets take a look at the offseason moves for each MLB team:

AL East
The Red Sox were the big spenders this offseason. They added two expensive free agents in P Daisuke Matsuzaka and OF J.D. Drew. Even though they overpaid for both of these players, in the short term, these moves should pay off. The Yankees also had a strong offseason by not overpaying for some of the overpriced free agent options such as SP Barry Zito and reigning, proven big game winner SP Andy Pettitte. They also traded away two ageing veterans in P Randy Johnson and OF Gary Sheffield for minor leaguers. After these key trades, the Yankees have more depth in their minor league system than in previous years. The signing of SP Kei Igawa was questionable, possibly done just to combat the Matsuzaka signing. The Orioles tried to retool their bullpen, but did nothing to make them contenders in the division. They should be in rebuilding mode, and a trade of SS Miguel Tejada could have brought them highly regarded prospects. Free agent SP Ted Lilly did not resign with the Blue Jays, which could leave them with a hole in the starting rotation. On offense, they did sign OF Vernon Wells to a long term contract and added DH Frank Thomas. The Devils Rays' big offseason move was signing 3B Akinori Iwamura from Japan for $4.5 million, but that will not get them far in this tough division.

AL Central
The Twins got unlucky last year when SP Francisco Liriano went down with an elbow injury, which will keep him out for much of the 2007 campaign. They also lost another starting pitcher, Brad Radke, to retirement and did little to replace them. By all accounts the Twins did not have a good offseason, but just like in past years, will likely somehow manage to stay competitive. The Royals made the worst signing of the offseason by bringing in SP Gil Meche for 5 years, $55 million. Why would a team with almost no chance in the division make such an expensive move? The White Sox also made a few questionable moves by trading away two starting pitchers, Freddy Garcia and Brandon McCarthy. There is no need to rebuild after winning the World Series in 2005. Young second baseman Josh Barfield was traded to the Indians, who also signed OF David Dellucchi to a relatively inexpensive deal: 3 years, $11.5 million. This team has to improve on its disappointing 2006 record. Finally, the Tigers made a good move by adding a veteran in Sheffield, giving the aging outfielder a two year extension worth $28 million, and resigned 1B Sean Casey to a $4 million deal.

AL West
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez was not traded to the Angels as was the rumor at the end of last season. Instead they signed OF Gary Matthews Jr. and 1B Shea Hillenbrand. The As lost their best pitcher (Barry Zito) and their best hitter (Frank Thomas). GM Billy Bean made his best attempt at replacing them by signing C Mike Piazza and bringing in RP Alan Embree. The Mariners were active this winter, signing pitchers Horacio Ramirez and Miguel Batista, 2B Jose Vidro and OF Jose Guillen. This still leaves them short of the top teams in the division. After losing two star players — Carlos Lee and Matthews Jr. — the Rangers were determined to improve. They did this by signing RP Eric Gagne, OF Frank Catalanotto, OF Kenny Lofton and getting SP McCarthy in the trade with the White Sox. On paper, they look like one of the most improved teams in the league.

NL East
GM John Schuerholz improved the Braves bullpen by obtaining Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez and resigning RP Bob Wickman. The Marlins did not do much this offseason, which does not come as a surprise because they have the lowest payroll in baseball. The Mets added OF Moises Alou and helped a bullpen that will get a lot of work thanks to its suspect starting rotation, with the pickups of Ambiorix Burgos and Scott Schoeneweis. The Phillies made the biggest impact with one move this offseason, by trading for SP Garcia, which should make them highly competitive this season. The Nationals foolishly did not trade OF Alfonzo Soriano before the 2006 trading deadline and instead let him go this offseason.

NL Central
The team that made the biggest splash this offseason was the Cubs. After inking Lou Piniella as their manager, the Cubs went on a spending spree with Soriano, Lilly and Jason Marquis. With close to $300 million spent this offseason, they should be much improved. The reigning World Series winning Cardinals did not improve their team;

in fact, it got worse. Their big offseason signing was OF Juan Encarnacion. The Pirates made a nice move by adding 1B Adam LaRoche, but they are still in the bottom of the division. The Reds made two minor moves that neither make them better nor worse, signing RP Mike Stanton and 1B Jeff Conine. The Brewers signing of Jeff Suppan for $42 million almost looks like a good deal in this free-agent market. He has won 44 games over the past three years and was an integral piece of the Cardinals' postseason run. Catcher Johnny Estrada is an upgrade at catcher, but they were unable to upgrade their outfield. In the short term, the Astros' signing of OF Lee gives a much needed boost to their offense. But their starting rotation took a hit, losing one and possibly two of its best starters in Roger Clemens and Pettitte.

NL West
The Diamondbacks have a strong starting rotation to go with young position players. They added Johnson to a rotation that also includes Brandon Webb, Livan Hernandez and Doug Davis. The highlight of the Rockies' offseason was the trade of SP Jason Jennings for SP Jason Hirsh, SP Taylor Buchholz and OF Willy Taveras. The Giants let their star pitcher Jason Schmidt go to their archrival, the Dodgers. What were they thinking? The Dodgers also picked up Randy Wolf, enabling them to construct a deep rotation. The pickups of OF Luis Gonzalez and OF Juan Pierre are about as equal as their losses — OF Kenny Lofton and OF Drew. The Giants made some strange moves. Signing SP Zito to an outrageous contract, bringing back the circus of OF Barry Bonds, and the questionable acquisitions of C Bengie Molina, OF Dave Roberts and OF Ryan Klesko were all debatable moves.

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