January 29, 2012

Baseball's five biggest off-season winners, losers

Angels rank among five biggest off-season winners, but Texas answers with sporty new Japanese import.

Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson left for the warmth of Southern California, signing long-term deals with the Los Angeles Angels.

Prince Fielder found that the money is greener in Detroit.

And Yu Darvish is excited to join the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers, who bid a record posting fee and then signed the standout Japanese right-hander to a six-year deal.

Those were some of the biggest moves as baseball teams spent the past three months building their rosters.

In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals (Pujols) and the Milwaukee Brewers (Fielder) lost their biggest bats.

The Philadelphia Phillies, who won the most regular-season games last year, bolstered their bullpen with closer Jonathan Papelbon.

The new-look Miami Marlins made a splash by signing shortstop Jose Reyes, closer Heath Bell and starter Mark Buehrle.

But, as the Red Sox found out after signing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez last year, the winners of the off-season don't necessarily mean the winners on the field.

Here is a look at the five biggest winners and losers of the off-season.


Los Angeles Angels

2011 record: 86-76, 2nd in AL West

Notable additions: 1B Albert Pujols, LHP C.J. Wilson, RHP LaTroy Hawkins

2012 outlook: From 2002-09, the Angels made six playoff appearances and had a stranglehold atop the AL West. But, over the past two seasons, the Angels have seen the Rangers rise to the top. Los Angeles isn't going away quietly, though, signing three-time MVP Albert Pujols and All-Star left-hander C.J. Wilson this off-season. The Angels will contend with a strong rotation, a healthy Kendrys Morales and the longest tenured manager, Mike Scioscia.

Texas Rangers

2011 record: 96-66, 1st in AL West, advanced to World Series.

Notable additions: RHP Yu Darvish, RHP Joe Nathan

2012 outlook: The two-time defending AL champions are determined to become a perennial power. The Rangers believe they've found an ace-caliber pitcher in Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, who is expected to replace C.J. Wilson. Texas feels it made two additions with the signing of closer Joe Nathan, allowing them to move Neftali Feliz into the rotation. The offense didn't get any upgrades, but it didn't need any, either. Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz are all back, as well as Mike Napoli, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler.

New York Yankees

2011 record: 97-65, 1st in AL East

Notable additions: RHP Hiroki Kuroda, RHP Michael Pineda

2012 outlook: Despite winning the most regular-season games in the AL last season, the Yankees were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. As it always does, though, New York reloaded, acquiring two starting pitchers, including 23-year-old Michael Pineda from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for highly touted hitting prospect Jesus Montero. The Yankees kept ace CC Sabathia and return the majority of their position players, and are hoping for a bounce-back season by Alex Rodriguez.

Detroit Tigers

2011 record: 95-67, 1st in AL Central

Notable additions: 1B Prince Fielder, RHP Octavio Dotel

2012 outlook: The Tigers received devastating news earlier this month when they lost Victor Martinez for the season with a torn ACL. However, they filled that void with the surprise signing of Prince Fielder to a nine-year deal, moving Miguel Cabrera to third base. With the addition of Fielder, Detroit's offense shouldn't miss a step. Its pitching staff is deep, too, with starters Justin Verlander and Doug Fister leading the rotation, and Jose Valverde closing.

Miami Marlins

2011 record: 72-90, 5th in NL East

Notable additions: RHP Heath Bell, SS Jose Reyes, LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP Carlos Zambrano

2012 outlook: With a new stadium and new manager Ozzie Guillen, the Marlins' outlook is bright to rebound from a 90-loss season. They signed shortstop Jose Reyes, prompting a position switch to third for Hanley Ramirez. They bolstered their bullpen with closer Heath Bell, and they stabilized their rotation with left-hander Mark Buehrle. Finally, Miami rolled the dice by trading for starter Carlos Zambrano, a three-time All-Star who became a clubhouse cancer for the Chicago Cubs.


Milwaukee Brewers

2011 record: 96-66, 1st in NL Central

Notable additions: 3B Aramis Ramirez

2012 outlook: Coming off a season in which they set a franchise-record for wins, the Brewers appear headed to take a step back. They lost Prince Fielder to free agency, and might be without MVP Ryan Braun for 50 games, pending an appeal of a suspension after a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs. Milwaukee won't be able to replace that offensive production, although Aramis Ramirez was a good sign. On the bright side, the Brewers have a strong rotation led by Fort Worth's Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke.

Minnesota Twins

2011 record: 63-99, 5th in AL Central

Notable additions: RHP Jason Marquis, OF Josh Willingham, INF Jamey Carroll, RHP Joel Zumaya

2012 outlook: The Twins were favorites to win the AL Central last season, but failed to reach the 70-win mark for the first time since 2000. They have lost Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer to free agency, but added starter Jason Marquis and outfielder Josh Willingham. With no marquee acquisitions this off-season, Minnesota is banking on Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to return to form after injury-plagued seasons.

Oakland Athletics

2011 record: 74-88, 3rd in AL West

Notable additions: RHP Bartolo Colon, OF Jonny Gomes

2012 outlook: The A's are in rebuilding mode. They traded away young, promising pitchers in 26-year-old Gio Gonzalez (Washington), 23-year-old Trevor Cahill (Arizona) and 27-year-old Andrew Bailey (Boston). With the pitching staff depleted and an inconsistent offense, the A's will have a hard time staying in the AL West race.

Houston Astros

2011 record: 56-106, 6th in NL Central

Notable additions: SS Jed Lowrie, C Chris Snyder, LHP Zach Duke

2012 outlook: With a new owner, Jim Crane, and new GM, Jeff Luhnow, there should be a sense of encouragement and rejuvenation for Astros fans. However, Houston doesn't have too much to look forward to. The Astros traded their two most recognizable players last season in Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, and are still stuck with the hefty contracts of Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers. With a move to the AL West on the horizon, it could be a while before the Astros find themselves among the contenders.

New York Mets

2011 record: 77-85, 4th in NL East

Notable additions: INF Ronny Cedeno, RHP Frank Francisco, RHP Jon Rauch

2012 outlook: The Mets are without two of their best players from last year's team, shortstop Jose Reyes and outfielder Carlos Beltran. They didn't make any major off-season acquisitions, although the bullpen improved by adding right-handers Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. The Mets are hopeful that Jason Bay and David Wright recover from sub-par seasons, and Johan Santana returns to form after shoulder surgery cost him the entire 2011 season.

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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