February 8, 2011
When Vladimir Guerrero signed with the Baltimore Orioles on Friday for one year and $8 million, the last big domino in baseball’s free agent game fell. With only a few weeks to go until spring training, it would appear the major players have made their big offseason moves and are ready to get the action going again. Here’s a look at the top five impact signings and how they might affect the races this summer.
5. Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon – Rays
Tampa Bay signed this pair of ex-Red Sox stars for a huge bargain price. Damon, 37, is chasing 3,000 hits and will earn $5.25 million in 2011 with $750,000 in performance incentives. Ramirez, 38, has 555 career home runs, but will play for only $2 million. Of course, both are in the twilights of their respective careers, well past the age of 35, but for numbers as gaudy as theirs, they likely could have commanded a few million more. Ramirez was playing for $20 million last year between Los Angeles and Chicago. He should bring an instant upgrade at designated hitter, especially since he’ll no longer have to worry about left field duties. Damon is still a serviceable outfielder and matched his career on-base percentage last year of .355. With better hitters around him in Tampa like Evan Longoria and B.J. Upton, he might see a few more pitches than he did in Detroit, which should help boost his numbers. Both should keep Tampa in the mix in the American League East after Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena signed elsewhere this offseason.
4. Rafael Soriano – Yankees
New York needed to plug the holes in its leaky bullpen and it did so in a big way. Not only did the Yanks keep Mariano Rivera in the fold with a two-year deal, they snagged the relief market’s biggest fish in Rafael Soriano for three-years and $35 million. Soriano was sensational last season with Tampa Bay, saving 45 games while posting a 1.73 ERA and 57 strikeouts against only 14 walks. For his career, the reliever owns a 2.73 ERA, .193 opponents’ batting average, 1.00 WHIP and 3.57:1 K/BB ration. He should allow the Yankees to keep runners off the bases in the late innings this season, something they couldn’t do when it counted last year. It should be noted, though, that Soriano had a tough postseason series against the Rays in 2010. In three innings against the Rangers in the ALDS, he gave up three runs, good for a 9.00 ERA, as well as a .308 opponents’ batting average. He’s going to have to do better than that this postseason to justify what is a massive contract for a relief pitcher.
3. Adrian Beltre – Rangers
After allowing Vladimir Guerrero to walk following the season, the Rangers needed to replace his production somewhere, so they went younger and better defensively by grabbing Beltre for six-years and $96 million. His production spiked in 2010 to a .321 batting average, 28 home runs, 102 RBIs and a .919 OPS, all his best marks since 2004 when he hit .334 with 48 homers, 121 RBIs and a 1.017 OPS in Los Angeles. He gives Texas an excellent defensive left side in tandem with shortstop Elvis Andrus, too. With the American League West likely entering another down year in 2011, Beltre might be the difference between the Rangers and the rest of the pack in the division. If he can even just approach the numbers he posted last season in Boston, he’ll be another potent bat in Texas’ fearsome lineup. This will give the young pitching staff some breathing room to develop and grow and allow the Rangers a chance to return to the World Series.
2. Carl Crawford – Red Sox
Boston’s signing of this five-tool star for seven-years and $142 million is big not only in what it brings to Fenway Park, but what it takes away from division rival Tampa Bay. Crawford was a catalyst for many of his nine seasons with the Rays. He stole 20 or more bases eight times and 50 or more five times including a 60-spot in 2009. He’s also improved his power numbers over the years, posting careers highs in home runs (19) and OPS (.851) in 2010. The Rays will miss that diversified, game-breaking production big time in 2011, even with the additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon. The Red Sox, on the other hand, figure to benefit greatly from having this playmaker at the top of their lineup. Only one player, Ryan Kalish, broke double figures in stolen bases last season for Boston with 10 and only Marco Scutaro’s 92 runs approached Crawford’s total of 110 with Boston. Crawford’s presences figures to charge up what became a stagnant offense in Bean Town last season.
1. Cliff Lee – Phillies
Lee’s return to Philadelphia has gotten a lot of press and why shouldn’t it? The Phillies now have perhaps the best rotation this generation of baseball fans has ever seen with Lee, Roy Oswalt, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels in the fold. But what does Lee bring individually? One key is durability. Lee has pitched over 200 innings in five of the last six seasons. He’s also racked up an impressive 20 complete games for his career in an era when managers get queasy when a pitcher goes past the sixth inning. He also brings great control. Last year, between Seattle and Texas, Lee walked only 18 batters. That’s a staggeringly low number for as many innings as he pitched. The biggest key, though, is his postseason resume. In 76 playoff innings, Lee sports a 2.13 ERA and a 7-2 record. His ERA has been under 3.00 in five of his six career playoff series. Though he struggled in the World Series last season, he was a big part of both the Phillies’ and the Rangers’ runs there in 2009 and 2010. If Philadelphia can get him back to the postseason this year, look out, because he can do some real damage.