by Jordan Adams - 04/17/2006
A consistent theme comes up at the beginning of every MLB season and the 2006 campaign is no different. This trend can label teams as one of the following: those who are World Series contenders, those who rise from the shadows to surprise and those who are destined for the cellars of their respective divisions.
Which group your team falls into can greatly can depend upon off-season success in putting together a capable group of players. It seems that in recent years, the majority of trades come mid-season at the trade deadline. That being said, free agency is a must to improve teams' chances of winning the following year.
This off-season marked a great deal of player movement. There were players that flocked from one contender to another, some players that went to a new team looking to make a fresh start and some players that bolted and made their new team even worse.
Positive Team Additions
Chicago White Sox
Look no further that the defending World Series champions. While they made more subtractions than additions, the players they acquired make them as deadly a team if not better than last year. Many critics thought Jim Thome would continue to struggle and never recover from his recent injuries. But thus far his play has been spectacular, returning to his old self by clobbering six home runs while keeping his average over .300.
The southsiders also swapped pitchers with the Diamondbacks, bringing in Javier Vasquez. Surely no one can dismiss El Duque's last season post-season performance, but with Vasquez and the returning rotation, they have the best pitching staff of any team in the majors, at least on paper.
The White Sox's third key pickup was the multi-dimensional Rob Mackowiak. Capable of playing five to six positions, he brings depth off the bench, an added benefit to Ozzie Guillen's roster.
Toronto Blue Jays
Of any team, no one brought in more talent than the Toronto Blue Jays. The pitching staff is much improved and deeper thanks to the signing of young arm A.J. Burnett and closer B.J. Ryan. One could argue about Burnett's past arm issues - he is a victim of Tommy John surgery -- but if he can remain healthy he and ace Roy Halladay could form one of the toughest 1-2 combos in the AL. B.J. Ryan gives the team a solid closer, capable of having a 40-save year.
The lumber supply comes at multiple positions. Lyle Overbay, Troy Glaus and Bengie Molina make the lineup more complete and, besides hitting, Molina's ability to call a game and influence the success of his staff will do wonders that do not show up in the box scores.
The beloved Cubbies have a lot to look forward to in 2006. While constantly reminded of 'the curse' and of the Bartman incident, every new season is an opportunity for a clean slate. Free agents aside, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior's in-season returns are like trades. While these two pitchers cannot seem to stay healthy for an entire season, once back it will seem be a boost to a rotation with not much depth. If the Cubs can stay above .500 or better until their aces return, they have a shot at the Wild Card or even the chance to push the Cardinals to the brink for the division title.
Last year the Cubs struggled to score runs on a consistent basis. The signings of outfielders Jacque Jones and Juan Pierre bring elements the Cubs have not had in some time. First and foremost, Pierre is a formidable leadoff man that Chicago has lacked and failed miserably at trying to fill. Jones brings adequate power and good defense to the right side of the outfield and depth down the batting order.
New York Mets
Now more than ever the Amazins' are capable of getting back to World Series status. Last season Carlos Beltran was their key addition and this year even more help is arriving in Queens. With their additions, the Mets could have arguable the best offensive lineup in the majors, rivaling their cross-town buroughers in the Bronx. Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca are proven hitters and will put up the expected numbers. Lesser hitters such as Julio Franco and Xavier Nady are toss-ups and any major help from them would be unexpected but certainly welcome.
While the lineup is now stacked, the bullpen is more stable. Bringing in flamethrower Billy Wagner and former Baltimore closer Jorge Julio, this year's bullpen has one of the best closers in the game and depth throughout with Julio and Chad Bradford.
Negative Team Additions/Subtractions
San Francisco Giants
Barry Bonds brings more attention to his team for his alleged off the field "workout programs" than all other player's talents on the field combined. That basically sums up the Giants chances in '06. The biggest off-season addition was Steve Finley from their California counterpart Anaheim. He is capable of hitting more than 20 homers, but outside of that, he is not the player he was four or five years ago. The pitching staff added Matt Morris from St. Louis, but he is not enough with Schmidt to rectify the pitching woes of recent years.
Bottom line is San Fran simply did not add enough talent around Bonds to contend with teams in the NL West. Granted it's the worst division in baseball, but the Padres still have enough talent and the Dodgers' bringing in Furcal and co. is enough to finish either ahead of or right behind San Diego.
P.S. -- Did the Giants ever imagine its team without Barry Bonds? What if his surgically repaired knees do no hold up and he is a total bust? San Francisco is a one-man show and that will be apparent throughout a rigorous 162 game season.
The Sunshine State has now the most pitiful team in the majors with the dismantling of this squad. Florida threw away everything but the kitchen sink to both AL teams and competing intra-division foes.
The pitching staff removed two of its top two hurlers in Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett. They also managed to pitch their late inning set-up men and closer Todd Jones. If that didn't make you ponder twice, let us go into the mind of Dontrelle Willis and ask what he was thinking by re-signing. Why in the world would you not force a trade and catch the bus out of town with everyone else? He must have fallen in love with South Beach because he certainly cannot be looking forward to a season where he will get no run support during his outings.
The Marlins' hitters, too, skipped town this winter. Luis Castillo, Jeff Conine, Carlos Delgado, Damion Easley, Juan Encarnacion, Alex Gonzalez, Paul Lo Duca, Mike Lowell and Juan Pierre all went buh-bye. Sound like an exaggeration? Yea, well not really. There cannot be a reasonable strategy from management other than to imitate the female owner in the movie Major League who wants to draw attendance so low the team could be moved. This time Cleveland has a team already, so maybe they can move to Akron or Toledo.
The only fun way to enjoy this year if you are a Marlins fan is to see if the Miami Heat can actually have more wins at the end of the season. The sad thing is you won't have to include Heat playoff wins. Good luck and happy fishing.
Seattle once again went to the Far East for some talent, bringing in another Japanese star in catcher Kenji Jojima. He, like Ichiro, will look to make the transition to the MLB and add depth to a lineup that added sluggers Richie Sexon and Adrian Beltre one year prior. After his ten-game suspension concludes, the Mariners will also have the services of Matt Lawton, as well as Fernando Vina and Carl Everett. These additions to the batting order will prove worthwhile if these key players produce similar numbers as good as their paychecks.
The pitching rotation got an added bonus when Jarrod Washburn jumped shipped but stayed in the division and headed northwest. His veteran leadership along with Jamie Moyer will lead this pitching unit. The promising Felix Hernandez has no limit to his talent and if he can put together a special year, then Seattle will be in the AL West race until the end. However, do not expect this to happen. Until Beltre can return to the form of his final season with the Dodgers and the pitching stays consistent, do not expect the Mariners to return to post season play.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's baseball picks service.