Tuesday, December 20, 2005

This offseason has been full of hustle and bustle, from the players all the way up to the front offices of many teams. With that said, here are your 2005 Offseason Awards!

Best Acquisition Billy Wagner,
New York Mets
As I write this, Johnny Damon has supposedly agreed to a four-year deal with the New York Yankees. If this holds true, then the Yankees take the cake in this category, as they would fill two important needs with the acquisition of Damon: lead-off hitter and centerfielder.
Aside from Damon, A.J. Burnett, and B.J. Ryan, former Phillies closer Billy Wagner was one of the few big-name commodities on the free agent market this offseason. Following Ryan's outrageous contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, Wagner struck gold with the New York Mets, agreeing to a $43 million, four-year deal. While this may not be the most cost-effective signing, the Mets assure themselves of a back-end reliever they can put their money on every time.
Worst Acquisition A.J. Burnett,
Toronto Blue Jays
For his price -- five years at $55 million -- and his average production -- a 12-12 record with a 3.73 ERA over 219 innings -- he may end up being the biggest disappointment in 2006, just as the Mets' Carlos Beltran (and the Seattle Mariners' Adrian Beltre) was in 2005. There should be no question on the talent Burnett possesses; however, there should be some insistence on his September performance last year, when the Marlins needed him most. During the Marlins' fatal September postseason push, Burnett went 0-4 with a 5.93 ERA. Big things will be expected from a kid who has never won more than 12 games in a season.
Most Improved Team Kansas City Royals
It would be hard not to choose the New York Mets for this category, so I won't. The Mets, who finished the 2005 season 83-79, may cross the 90-win plateau in 2006 with a completely transformed roster highlighted by the acquisitions of Wagner, Carlos Delgado, and Paul LoDuca. However, the Royals, who went 56-106 in the same season, have added some veteran leadership to their roster with pitcher Scott Elarton (7 seasons of MLB experience), catcher Paul Bako (8 seasons), first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz (8 seasons), and second baseman Mark Grudzielanek (11 seasons). Compare that the four players that held those positions in 2005: D.J. Carrasco (3 seasons), John Buck (2 seasons), Matt Stairs (13 seasons), and Ruben Gotay (2 seasons). Matt Stars has the best pedigree of any of the eight aforementioned players, but has watched his production swirl around the proverbial drain since 1999.
Least Improved Team Florida Marlins
This is the obvious choice, and one of the only choices, as a lot of teams did themselves good this offseason despite the quality-poor free agent market. The Marlins had to initiate another firesale, this one uncharacteristically one year detached from a World Championship; their 1997 firesale followed their World Series title the same year. They waved bye-bye to Paul LoDuca, Carlos Delgado, Luis Castillo, Mike Lowell, Juan Pierre, Jeff Conine, A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Guillermo Mota, Todd Jones, and manager Jack McKeon, and is replacing them with rookies - yes, even the manager, too, in Joe Girardi. To expect them to even reach .500 would be asking for the moon, but the young corps of players this team has now made its nucleus -- with Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera leading the way -- should be a threat in the coming years. Speaking only in terms of the present, this offseason has been disastrous, exactly the way the Marlins' front-office pictured it. A relocation to another city is possible, but not likely until their lease with the city runs out.
Under the Radar Danny Graves, Cleveland Indians
Graves will be joining the Cleveland Indians for the third time in his career -- the previous two being one-year stints -- but was signed under a Minor League contract. You won't be hearing a lot about Graves early on in the season, but expect him to work his way back up to the Major League level and return to his solid form we grew to love while he donned a Cincinatti Reds uniform. His 2005 season seems to be an aberration (also leaving out his 4-15 2003 season in which he was featured as a starting pitcher rather than a reliever), and could be an important factor in the Indians' chance at making the postseason, especially if Bob Wickman falters, is injured, or is traded in 2006. Graves, if he shows improvement, grants the Indians not only an insurance policy, but also is a bargaining chip to improve the team.
Over the Radar A.J. Burnett,
Toronto Blue Jays
Burnett grabs another negative nomination, as his 2006 season will be a very trying experience for him. He'll be under intense scrutiny, as he landed the biggest deal in the offseason thus far. Should he start the season off slowly, the relentless criticism -- such as he faced in September last year -- may be enough to send him into a baseball depression. His true mental toughness will be on display if and when he does falter, and everyone in Blue Jays nation is hoping he can stay focused. I figure Burnett to be another overpaid middle-of-the-rotation guy just like Carl Pavano was for the Yankees.
Sleeper Team San Francisco Giants
With the additions of free agent starting pitcher Matt Morris, southpaw relief pitcher Steve Kline (who came from Baltimore in exchange for LaTroy Hawkins), right-handed relief pitcher Tim Worrell, as well as a healthy Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giants may be the surprise team of 2006. With all of the signings the Los Angeles Dodgers made this offseason: Nomar Garciaparra, Bill Mueller, Rafael Furcal, and Kenny Lofton, the Dodgers become the favorites to win the NL West on paper. However, the Giants will be entering 2006 with a healthy Jason Schmidt, and Matt Morris as their #1 and 2 starters, respectively. The 3, 4, and 5 pitchers -- Noah Lowry, Matt Kain, and Brad Hennessey, respectively -- will once again be under the tutelage of seasoned catcher Mike Matheny. Beware not only Bonds for breaking Hank Aaron's all-time homerun record, but also for the Giants making the postseason unbeknownst to the world.
In the Spotlight New York Mets
Like Burnett individually, the Mets as a team, in the media capital of the world, will be in the spotlight to achieve success and snap the Atlanta Braves' imperialism of the NL East due to all of the currently-empowering, subsequently-weakening moves the Mets have made. They have nearly depleted their farm system for top-level talent in Carlos Delgado and Paul LoDuca, sending Mike Jacobs, Yusmeiro Petit, Grant Psomas, and two players to be named later in return. If the Mets fail during the first-half of the season, a flurry of trades could ensue around the July 31 trading deadline. Anna Benson, wife of starting pitcher Kris, has not helped the atmosphere surrounding the team with her criticism, and could ultimately destroy the team's chemistry if Kris is not dealt with or traded.
Best Front Office Move Philadelphia Phillies
This is a two-parter, and probably a bit biased, but I believe the Philadelphia front office has done a great job in setting this team up not only to contend in 2006, but to contend in years following. First, Ed Wade was relieved from his position as general manager of the team and replaced with Pat Gillick, whose resume screams success. Secondly, Gillick pulled off shrewd trade of Jim Thome to the Chicago White Sox in return for centerfielder Aaron Rowand, and Minor League pitchers Giovanni Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood. With this move, Gillick killed three birds with one stone: unloading Thome and his large contract to make way for Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard; addressing the Phillies' imminent need for an everyday centerfielder -- not the two-headed centerfielder that actually worked well with Kenny Lofton and Jason Michaels -- as well as someone swift enough to roam the labyrinth that is center field at Citizens Bank Park; and strengthening the farm system, something Ed Wade never did. A point also goes to Gillick for not pulling the trigger on re-signing Billy Wagner, as the general market price for someone of his position and caliber as well as his asking price dictated that he cut ties to the phenomenal closer and move on.
Worst Front Office Move Boston Red Sox
Instead of re-signing Theo Epstein, or someone else to handle the Red Sox general managing duties, the Boston front office opted instead to nominate a two-pronged GM in Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington. While they are both respected members of the organization known for their hard work and dedication, a two-pronged GM creates some problems which can really only hurt the team when it's time to make a decision on an imminent situation, such as a trade. As two different people, they are bound to disagree with each other on a number of situations, and their collective delay of an agreement -- which is bound to happen, as it is human nature -- will force the organization to pass up what could be a great opportunity for the team to grow. While any general manager goes through a series of consulting processes before defining a decision, having two general managers will create a lack of spontaneity, something that successful GM's such as Brian Cashman and Ken Williams are known for.
Bravery Award Ken Williams, Chicago White Sox
Most general managers would keep the team as is, sans a few minor moves here and there, after winning the World Series. Not Ken Williams: he went out and acquired Jim Thome, Javier Vazquez, and Rob Mackowiak via trade, and more moves could be on the way. Kudos to Williams for having the moxie to continue to improve his team rather than settle for one world championship. There is no more championship drought under his watch, and there may be an incoming flood in the future.
Cowardice Award Walt Jocketty,
St. Louis Cardinals
Their outfield during 2005, from left to right: Reggie Sanders, Jim Edmonds, Larry Walker.
Their outfield now, from left to right: John Rodriguez, Jim Edmonds, Larry Bigbie.
The Cardinals saved about $17 million (Walker made $12.6 million in 2005; Sanders made $4 million) in not re-signing those two players, but now their current corner outfielders are most other teams' bench players. Bigbie doesn't offer much in any facet of his game, while Rodriguez does have some promise in his future. Did they forget, though, Sanders' immense contributions in the playoffs, including hitting .333 with 1 HR and 10 RBI in the NLDS? Granted, Walker is aging, injury-prone, and declining in talent and production, but I'll take Larry W. over Larry B. (and not Larry Bird) any day -- Walker does still possess one of the better outfield arms in the league -- regardless of the money. Jocketty also declined to re-sign backup third baseman Abraham Nunez, who filled in very nicely for the injured Scott Rolen. If Jocketty is now taking a passive approach, his team can all but forfeit their recent dominance of the NL Central.

Well, those are your 2005 Offseason Awards. Hope you enjoyed it!