Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hot Stove winners: American League

The skies are sunny. The mercury is rising. Pitchers and catchers have settled into their routine.

Baseball is back. And so is the fantasy baseblog, after an off-season hiatus.

Obviously, we've got a lot of ground to cover. And fast. Over the next week or so, we'll break down the winners and losers this off-season from both leagues.

We'll start with American League Winners:

1. Seattle Mariners: If the M's only would have added Cliff Lee to their rotation, I would probably have made a spot for them on this list. He's a bona fide No. 1 on a team already blessed with one of the top arms in all of baseball. Oh, and while they were at it, Seattle locked up their ace Felix Hernandez to a five-year, $78 million contract that may look like a genius move a couple years from now. Either pitcher would look nice anchoring your rotation.

But the Mariners didn't just upgrade their rotation. Adding Chone Figgins in lieu of Adrian Beltre was smart, even if he was a tad pricey (4 years, $36 million). Hitting ahead or behind Ichiro is a recipe for fantasy greatness, so don't shy away from Figgy, even if he's leaving base-swapping haven Anaheim.

One move I didn't like is adding Milton Bradley, not so much because of chemistry issues, but because MB is never healthy. But they shed Carlos Silva, signed to possibly the worst pitching contract in baseball history, so that move is a wash.

Adding Casey Kochman and Ryan Garko at 1B doesn't isn't going to keep the turnstiles cranking, but I do like wrapping up promising young outfielder Franklin Guiterrez to a long-term deal. Keep a close eye on him, especially in keeper leagues.

2. New York Yankees: The rich get richer. The poor get kids. An old family joke there. But seriously, we've all heard this song before. Sure, they said goodbye to Hideke Matsui, Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera, but in return they added Curtis Granderson, Randy Winn, Nick Johnson and Javier Vazquez.

Cash register receipt, please. Yup, Yankees came out ahead. Again.

If you're a Boston fan, obviously you're not happy, but I give them credit for not resting after winning it all this off-season. The biggest add here is Granderson and hitting in the top of that lineup in that park, I don't need to tell you that he should be on your radar as a top-tier OF. Yes, 30/30 with 100 RBI and 120 runs is possible, if Girardi gives him the full green light.

Johnson and Winn won't be huge fantasy contributors, but Johnson, if he hits in the top 5, could be a sneaky late-round pickup as that porch in right field is awfully short (just ask Johnny Damon). Keep Johnson's name handy.

Vazquez is the interesting subject. After a fantastic 2009 with the Braves (15-10, 2.87 ERA, 238 Ks), he returns to the scene where his fantasy reputation was almost permanently damaged in 2004. But consider he did have back issues he pitched through the second half of that season and maybe it wasn't that he couldn't handle the bright lights. I'm guessing someone will overpay for him this year, as he'll struggle to repeat those numbers in the A.L. East.

3. Minnesota Twins: Love the J.J. Hardy-Carlos Gomez trade. If anything, the Twins don't have to keep reminding themselves what an awful move they made in the Santana Sweepstakes (think that Jon Lester/Jacoby Ellsbury package is looking good right about now?). Gomez may never quite pan out as an everyday start, forget about a fantasy elite guy, but he gets a change of scenery. Hardy could put up big numbers in a deceptively powerful Twins lineup and SS is a skimpy position this year.

Yes, the Twinkies added Jim Thome and brought back Carl Pavano, but I don't want either guy on my team. Just not a believer in Pavano, even after a very solid 2009. Thome won't get the ABs, unless there's an injury. Did really like the Orlando Hudson signing and he's a nice middle infielder option (2B is way too deep of a position to have the O-Dog as your guy, unless your league is 14-teams or bigger).

The internet was ablaze earlier this month about Joe Mauer and the Twins agreeing on a 10-year deal. Seems like that was just a rumor, but don't be surprised if something gets hammered out soon. Both parties want this to happen. And bad. The fan base is begging for it. Just don't be duped into bidding $50 or more for Mauer in an auction. Yes, he's the best catcher, but he doesn't have the power track record to back that up.

Honorable Mention: The Chicago White Sox. Their only significant add was Juan Pierre, which could turn into the CF/leadoff guy they've been desperately craving. But baseball's Frenchman turns 33 in August. Not to mention his arm strength is fallen off so bad, Johnny Damon is calling him up to go to the radar booths at the county fair.

OK, I'll get to the point. The Pale Hose, as my Jacksonville buddy likes to call them, potentially upgraded significantly at the trading deadline last year. Trading for Jake Peavy and Alex Rios were two gutsy move. Both guy's stock had dipped into a dangerous territory, but still have tremendous upside. If Peavy can get right again, the White Sox are instant favorites.

And for those of you who want a good laugh every now again, check out manager Ozzie Guillen's Twitter page, with Tweets in English and Spanish. He's promised Kenny Williams he'll keep it unsalty.