Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Twilight Zone That Was The Baseball Offseason

If you looked at baseball three years ago, you would see a different league.  There were the big money teams in the Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox, the mid markets like Detroit and LA, and the small markets like Pittsburgh and Kansas City.  The Pirates seemed to be everybody else's farm system and the Royals never seemed to have a player worth signing long term.  If I told you three years ago that in 2012 the Yankees would make a trade with the Pirates to shed salary, would you believe me?

Don't worry, the Yankees still have many high priced players.  It is starting to look like the Yankees are trying to actually learn from past mistakes.  They are already stuck with A-Rod for better or worse, they don't want to make the same mistake with a Zack Greinke or a Josh Hamilton.  They sign one year deals with Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kiroda and two years with Ichiro Suzuki.  Meanwhile, the Pirates outbid the Yankees to take away Russell Martin from them.  No, that wasn't a typo, the Pirates outspent the Yankees on a player New York needed.  Pittsburgh also added Francisco Liriano to a two year deal.  The Cleveland Indians went out and got Mark Reynolds and Nick Swisher to become more competitive in the very winnable AL Central.  The Diamondbacks have spent money to try to stay competitive with the Giants and Dodgers by bringing in Eric Chavez, Cody Ross and Brandon McCarthy.  Teams are not happy with losing in baseball anymore.

This is crucial for baseball to compete with other sports.  One thing that has held baseball back is that the same teams were winning the most games.  The Yankees and Red Sox and Phillies have been perennial playoff contenders while teams like the Astros and Blue Jays couldn't even smell the playoffs.  Now the Astros are moving into the American League West, which was won by the team with the lowest payroll in baseball the Oakland Athletics.  The Blue Jays just made the big trade with Miami to bring in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson.  They weren't done there.  They then went and traded for NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and signed All Star MVP Melky Cabrera.  It has been a while since the Blue Jays have been competitive in the American League (19 years and counting since their last postseason appearance), but it seems the ownership in Toronto wants to see a changing of the guard. 

The Kansas City Royals even made a splash this offseason. They resigned Jeremy Guthrie and traded for James Shields and Wade Davis from Tampa Bay.  Some say that the Royals gave up too much, but the point is they are showing their fans they are trying to be competitive now.  They made other low risk moves like signing Miguel Tejada and Xavier Nady. 

The biggest change when it comes to small market teams is the fact that they have been able to keep their superstars away from free agency.  Baltimore has their stud center fielder Adam Jones signed through 2018.  The Brewers have Ryan Braun signed through 2020.  The Rays signed their future when they gave Evan Longoria an extension until at least 2022.  Pittsburgh signed Andrew McCutchen to a deal that keeps him in the Steel City until 2018.  Even with all the money issues the Mets have been having they were still able to keep David Wright and extend him until 2020.

There just aren't those superstar players hitting the market like they used to.  Don't get me wrong, Hamilton and Greinke are great players, but they come with a lot of risk.  The league is changing for the better.  Everyone has a shot to get whomever they want.  The Yankees are losing free agent bidding wars.  The Blue Jays are winning trade offers.  Teams like the Athletics and the Orioles are making the playoffs again.  Teams like the Dodgers who buy every player in sight aren't necessarily a lock. 

Baseball is finally moving in the right direction to get small market fan bases back into the game.  They are signing the young players to keep them around so fans can keep a favorite player.  They are doing what they can to put a competitive product on the field.  Eight teams have not made the playoffs in over five years.  Four of those teams have been for over a decade.  All four (Mariners, Blue Jays, Pirates, Royals) have become significantly better in the past two months.  There will always be a team like the Marlins who's owner will empty the load at the first sign of bad, but there is too much good in baseball right now to keep everyone buying.  Hopefully this becomes the rule, not the exception. 

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