Texas Rangers – Despite losing Cliff Lee, the Rangers still had a very successful offseason. They made a big splash by inking Adrian Beltre to a six-year contract. Beltre brings substantial power – along with a good glove – to a lineup that already includes Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz. The three sluggers should combine to hit over 75 home runs in a very weak American League West division. They also added former Angels catcher Mike Napoli in a trade. Naploi is one of the better catchers in the game and is quite an offensive threat as well. He’s a guy that can hit 25-plus home runs. Napoli along with Hamilton, Cruz, and Beltre gives the Rangers a very powerful offense that should run away with the division crown.
They also bolstered their pitching in a few areas. They added veteran lefty reliever Arthur Rhodes to a one year contract. Rhodes spent 2010 with the Cincinnati Reds going 4-4 with a 2.29 ERA in 69 appearances. He was an All-Star last season and is joining an already talented bullpen that includes closer Neftali Feliz, Darren Oliver, and Darren O’Day. All three pitcher had sub-3.00 ERAs last season and Rhodes just solidifies the Rangers’ bullpen even more. They also took a chance on often-injured starter Brandon Webb. Webb hasn’t really been the same since he won the Cy Young in 2006. He missed almost all of the past two seasons with a devastating right shoulder injury. Webb could turn out to a bargain if he can stay healthy. In his career, Webb boasts an 87-62 record with a 3.29 ERA in eight seasons with the Diamondbacks. He has a great sinker that allows him to be very successful. There is little risk for adding Webb to the Rangers’ staff and if he stays healthy and performs, he could make Rangers fans forget all about Cliff Lee.
Philadelphia Phillies – It’s been made perfectly clear in the past that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is not afraid to make a big splash. This offseason was no different. The Phillies landed Philadelphia’s favorite son Cliff Lee in a deal that no one in baseball saw coming. Lee signed with the Phillies for less money than he would’ve made in New York or Texas. Lee now gives the Phillies four aces in their starting rotation. Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, and Lee could make up the greatest starting rotation of all time. Each has the potential to win 20 games this season and should help the Phillies run away with the National League East division.
The Phillies also resigned relievers Jose Contreras and J.C. Romero. The bullpen should be fairly strong this season but it will all hinge on the success of closer Brad Lidge. Lidge was rocky in parts of the 2010 season and has been far from perfect since his magical season in 2008. He recorded a 1-1 record with 2.96 ERA and notched 27 saves. There were moments when Lidge looked like his 2008 self and there were others when he looked like a lost cause. One that specifically comes to mind is a walk-off three run home run by Ryan Zimmerman to beat the Phillies on the road. If Lidge can shut the door in the ninth inning, the Phillies’ bullpen should be very good in 2011.
Boston Red Sox -The Red Sox arguably had the best offseason in baseball. They added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to their lineup and could be the team to beat in the American League this season. I believe this is the year that the Red Sox win the American League East and can give the Yankees some trouble. Gonzalez should thrive at Fenway Park and could use the Green Monster to his advantage. He hit 33 doubles last season and that number should be significantly higher playing in Boston this year. Hitting in a lineup with Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz, Gonzalez gives Boston one of the better power-hitting teams in the majors. Crawford brings significant speed to the lineup as well. He can get on base and swipe bases and really sets the table for the power-hitting portion of the Red Sox lineup. I think both players are well worth adding for Boston and should have them in the driver’s seat in their division.
New York Yankees – Before the offseason even began, most baseball experts thought it was a foregone conclusion that Cliff Lee would sign with the Yankees. Unfortunately for the Yankees, not everybody can be bought. Lee left millions of dollars on the table and signed with the Phillies. This left the Yankees with no Plan B. Their number one priority this offseason was to sign Lee. When that failed, Zack Greinke was still available and could’ve been had in a trade. However, they passed up that chance and decided to stick with the rotation that they had in place. Even if Andy Pettitte resigns in the Bronx, this offseason was a complete and utter disaster for the Yankees. They were supposed to be the team that made the big splash in the division and put on a claim on the American League crown. However the Red Sox ended up going all out and adding a few All-Stars.
They did improve their already strong bullpen by adding Rafael Soriano – spending almost $12 million a season on a set-up man – and Pedro Feliciano. They were able to resign Derek Jeter which was tense for a few weeks. Russell Martin and Andruw Jones also will be making their way to New York this season. But the area of need was clearly starting pitching and it was simply not addressed. CC Sabathia is a great pitcher and will be a 20-game winner this year. But what do the Bronx Bombers have after their ace? AJ Burnett and Phil Hughes. That doesn’t exactly strike fear throughout baseball.
Washington Nationals – The Nationals made the shocking signing of the offseason when they inked Jayson Werth to a 7-year contract worth a total of $126 million. Werth left the Phillies for the money. That is the only way to look at it. The Nationals do have some nice pieces but it will be years before they can able to be relevant in the National League. Werth took this contract because it was likely the largest one he would see in free agency. It just makes little sense for the Nationals to throw all that money at Werth and they won’t even be competing anytime soon. They’re throwing $126 million at a guy who is over 30 years old already and has never even driven in 100 runs in a season. This move may have made more sense if they had held onto Adam Dunn. But Dunn signed with the White Sox and Washington replaced him with Adam LaRoche. The Nationals improved a little bit but they certainly didn’t need to throw that kind of money at a guy like Werth.
Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays subtracted a significant amount of talent during the offseason. They traded starter Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs for prospects. They lost relievers Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, and Grant Balfour to other teams via free agency. Their only significant signings were Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez who were both signed to one-year contracts. They can help the Rays somewhat and will help improve the lineup. But after losing all the pitching that they did, they didn’t do much of anything to make up for those losses. Garza was one of the starters that threw a no-hitter last season. He also was very strong during their World Series run in 2008. The bullpen is now very weak and their offense is getting worse. I just don’t see how the Rays can compete this season.
EDITORS NOTE (John Russo): I disagree with calling the Rays losers. Yes they lost some key players but they filled those holes with Damon and Ramirez who I think will be complete bargains. They have dominated the AL East their entire careers and coming back to that division and playing 81 games in a park they dominated plus 18 in Yankee and Fenway combined, expect Ramirez and Damon to keep the Rays in the pennant race. Their pitching is still strong and very young. David Price will have an unbelievable season in 2011.
With the Yankees being a weak team in my opinion, look for Tampa to be that gnat in the Red Sox ears this season.