Yankees left at the alter. The Red Sox moved in on Crawford before the Yanks could. Ditto for the Nationals and Jason Werth. The big bust for NYY was Cliff Lee spurning them for the Phillies. Personally, I didn't see this coming. How does someone leave 40+ million dollars on the table? Its seems crazy, but I guess rich is rich, and Cliff Lee knew he would be set for life and then some no matter what. Apparently being part of the best rotation in at least ten years and maybe since the 1960 Dodgers appealed to him. Plus, he realized pitching in the NL East is WAY easier the AL East. Go figure, a superstar using some common sense to trump dollar signs. The end result is that the Yankees are underdogs in their division and no sure thing to make the playoffs for the first time in maybe 15 years. This despite keeping Jeter, Rivera and still having a payroll approaching 200 million dollars. Why? AJ Burnett is currently their #2 starter. That's why.
Red Sox make the big moves in the AL. This is somewhat related to the above item. Adding Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to their line-up cannot be understated. Gonzalez could be ridiculous for them. He goes the other way better than any left-handed hitter in baseball, so expect a ton of doubles off the monster. Crawford is in his prime as well, and should only get better the next couple of year. Both guys are also plus defenders. Baring the deluge of injuries they experienced last year, the Sox are suddenly the favorite in the NL by adding these two guys. They also improved their bullpen picking up Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler. Certainly, they'll need Beckett to rebound to win in the postseason, but its a rare year when they made the Yankees eat crow, at least on paper.
The Phillies' rotation is obscene. I've heard rumors they may look to move Oswalt, who is in the last year of his contract and unlikely to be re-signed long term, but I doubt they will do this. They are heavy favorites this year. Halladay and Lee are probably top five in all of MLB and Oswalt and Hamels would be aces on almost any other team. Their offense is LH heavy and not near as scary as a couple of year ago, but its still better than most clubs in the NL. The bullpen is certainly a question mark, but heck, Halladay and Lee likely won't need a bullpen in the postseason, plus Oswalt and/or Hamels could spend a lot of time there at that time. Put simply, they terrify me.
The NL Central could be more interesting that I thought it would be.... The Brewers have added Greinke and Shawn Marcum, shoring-up their biggest weakness, starting pitching, in a big way. Their offense is probably somewhat overrated, but they should have Prince for one more year. The Reds look like much the same team that won it last year. I certainly don't think they will catch all the same breaks they did last year, but they can also expect better (full) season from Volquez in the rotation and Bruce in the field. The Cubs can't be expected to be worse than last year and are picking-up Garza from the Rays it looks like. The key from them will be whether or not Soriano, Rameriz, and Fukadome can live-up to their exorbitant salaries for once. Bottom line: this should be far from a two-horse race between the Cards and Reds,though I'd expect the Astros and Pirates to continue to be terrible.
No big moves by the Cards, but hope for improvement anyway. I certainly like the addition of Berkman. If he can rebound, Berkman/Pujols/Hollidsay/Rasmus makes for a great middle of the order. I think he will be highly motivated to prove the Astros wrong for giving up on him, though I certainly wonder about this ability to play the outfield. I expect to see John Jay in late innings in any game we have the lead, that's for sure. Theriot I am less thrilled about. I'm not sure his slightly better hitting trumps Ryan's world-class defense at shortstop. The biggest questions? Can Freese stay healthy and can Rasmus stay happy? Those two young guns will likely make or break the season. The pitching, to me, looks excellent. Westebrook solidifies the rotation. You may expect Garcia to be not quite so great, but I also think Lohse will be not quite so terrible. The bullpen is not thrilling, but the last two years its been more solid than I expected, and I see not reason for that not continue. Bottom line: the division should be tougher, but after last year's epic fail, surely the Cards will be much better in 2011. Right?
Well, that's the big stories as I see them so far this offseason. Only about 6 weeks till pitchers and catchers report, and I can't wait. Hopefully Albert is signed to be a Cardinal for life by then as well!