Rough Winter For the NL East
Judging by Chico's post over at NJ last night, we are starting to get a clear answer to what I believed was the key question in the aftermath of the Teixeira pursuit: What was going to happen to that money the Nationals were prepared to hand to Teixeira? Apparently, it's not going to be spent this winter.
And that's fine. Clearly, the Nationals viewed Teixeira -- young, telegenic, locally grown, switch-hitting, outstanding on both offense and defense -- as a once-in-a-lifetime exception to their strategy of building through drafts, player development and the stockpiling of younger players.
But as Chico also points out, the Nationals, at this point, seem prepared to open 2009 with the same collection of players, excepting one position player and two starting pitchers, that lost 102 games last year.
How would you grade the Nationals' winter thus far? I can't justify giving them anything less than a C, because (as we've been over before) the trade for Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen was tremendous, and the signing of Daniel Cabrera (even if he is designed to break your heart) was a solid, low-risk move with the possibility (even if it's a slim one) of a huge payoff. But I also can't justify going much higher than a C, given the failure - so far -- to land a center fielder, a first baseman or a back-of-the-bullpen stopper.
On the other hand, is it possible a grade of C would give the Nationals the best winter so far in the National League East?
Let's take a look on a team-by-team basis, from best to worst, as we sit here today -- roughly five weeks from the opening of spring training camps:
*Mets. Major moves: Acquired relievers J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez; traded away RHP Aaron Heilman, OF Endy Chavez, RHP Joe Smith, LHP Scott Schoeneweis.
Grade: B-. Even though they got closer Francisco Rodriguez for roughly half what he was originally seeking, I still think they'll come to regret the deal by its end. Rodriguez has been trending poorly, has a violent delivery and generally seems a candidate for future arm trouble. He is also overrated because of those 62 saves. The trade for Putz, on the other hand, was outstanding, as long as the Mets can keep him happy setting up for Rodriguez. (Undoubtedly, the Mets would raise this grade by signing Derek Lowe or Oliver Perez, as seems likely.)
*Marlins. Major moves: Traded for 2B Emilio Bonifacio and RH relievers Jose Ceda and Leo Nunez, signed RH reliever Scott Proctor, traded away closer Kevin Gregg, 1B Mike Jacobs, LHP Scott Olsen and OF Josh Willingham.
Grade: D. I understand they needed to rid themselves of some of their many arbitration-eligible players, but I don't think they got enough in return. Apparently, they see something in Bonifacio that no one else sees--and they still don't have an obvious place to play him in 2009. The Marlins could be going from 84 wins in 2008 to oblivion in 2009.
*Phillies. Major moves: Re-signed LHP Jamie Moyer, signed RHP Chan-Ho Park, signed LF Raul Ibanez.
Grade: D-. The Phillies totally botched the left field situation, failing to make an offer to now-departed Pat Burrell and replacing him with someone (Ibanez) who is essentially same player, only older and left-handed--at a time when the Phillies desperarely need right-handed pop. On top of everything else, they gave Ibanez an extra year and about $2.5 million more in annual salary than what Burrell wound up getting from Tampa Bay. They also needed a rotation upgrade, but instead wound up giving two years (!) to the 46-year-old Moyer.
*Braves. Major moves: Traded for RHP Javier Vazquez, signed backup catcher David Ross.
Grade: F. Wow. Let's tally it up: They failed in their attempt to trade for ace Jake Peavy (then settled for a No. 3 starter in Vazquez), made a failed run at A.J. Burnett but lost out to the Yankees, saw their apparent signing of SS Rafael Furcal turn into a highly public fiasco when Furcal changed directions and signed with the Dodgers, then made John Smoltz upset enough that he ditched a 21-year marriage with the Braves and signed with the Red Sox. A signing of Derek Lowe could salvage things somewhat, but these words from Chipper Jones suggest things are very bad and could get worse.
So, there you see--in the context of the rest of the NL East, the Nationals are having an absolutely fabulous winter.
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