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The Strike Zone

Winter report cards: Final AL grades

R.A. Dickey R.A. Dickey, last year's NL Cy Young winner, may not have even been the biggest name Toronto added during the offseason. (Reuters)

With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, the Hot Stove season is at its end, which means it's time for me to review my winter report cards — the first of which was written 30 days ago — and adjust teams' preliminary grades to account for subsequent moves, and in a few cases, second thoughts about my initial reaction. I've linked to each team's report card and noted the date it was published; the teams are listed in order of final ranking.

The grades I issued were admittedly subjective, a judgement for each team that took into account both whether they had improved for 2013 and for the long run, measured against a sliding scale to account for where a team's priorities should be heaviest (are they rebuilding, or in win-now mode?). I have to admit that I had some fear that I had been overly harsh when issuing the grades, but the preliminary average for both leagues using a traditional grade point scale (A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, with plusses adding a third and minuses subtracting a third) come out to 2.3 for each league, basically a C+ — suggesting a slight step forward. My revisions collectively adjust the AL's GPA to 2.4; rather than tweak everything to center at 2.0, you can mentally deduct one-third of a grade to measure against a true average.

A tip of the hat to the excellent MLB Depth Charts site, which has been most helpful in pulling together the bulk of the information used in this series.

Toronto Blue Jays Preliminary grade (Jan. 22): A. Final grade: A Easily the best offseason of any AL team, as the additions of R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera make the Blue Jays the team to beat in the AL East at a time when the rest of the division is on its heels.

Cleveland Indians Preliminary grade (Jan. 17): B+. Final grade: A-. This week's addition of Michael Bourn via a four-year, $48 million deal rates as a considerable discount; remember, the Braves signed B.J. Upton for five years and $75.25 million because they thought Bourn would be too expensive. The outfield defense could be the best in the league even if Nick Swisher stays put in rightfield, relegating Drew Stubbs to fourth outfielder status. And while non-roster invitations generally don't amount to much, it's tough not to like the additions of 42-year-old Jason Giambi as a potential DH option given the position's .226/317/.385 line last year, and Matt Capps as another bullpen option if his shoulder is sound.

Detroit Tigers Preliminary grade (Jan. 29): B+. Final grade: B+ Their failure to do anything in the middle infield still nags, but this team is nonetheless stronger than the one that represented the American League in last fall's World Series and is easily the class of the AL Central.

Houston Astros Preliminary grade (Jan. 15): B-. Final grade: B+. Respect for GM Jeff Luhnow's work continues to grow in the wake of the Feb. 4 deal with the A's, which swapped Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez for 1B/DH bopper Chris Carter, potential catcher of the future Max Stassi and rotation option Brad Peacock. Bringing in Erik Bedard (5.01 ERA but 8.5 K/9 and 4.11 FIP in 125 2/3 innings) as another option via a minor league deal is a nice no-risk move as well.

Boston Red Sox Preliminary grade (Jan. 18): B. Final grade: B. This is an improved team, particularly if John Lackey's better physical condition portends a return to form. Still, I'm more skeptical than most that multi-year deals for Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino will bear the intended fruit. Recent NRI Lyle Overbay probably doesn't have much to contribute (.245/.330/.410 vs. RHP from 2010-2012) beyond veteran herbs and spices.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Preliminary grade (Jan. 22): B-. Final grade: B-. The recent news of Ryan Madson's setback means more early-season stress on last year's closers, Ernesto Frieri and Scott Downs, which could have a ripple effect in a bullpen that has fallen on hard times relative to the Halos' heyday. Can surplus starters Garret Richards and Jerome Williams help out of the 'pen, or will they need additional depth?

Tampa Bay Rays Preliminary grade (Jan. 31): B-. Final grade: B-. They've cleared out some middle infield deadwood by trading Elliot Johnson to the Royals to complete the James Shields-Wil Myers deal and designating Reid Brignac for assignment, but at the very least, they still need better platoon solutions at DH and first base.

Minnesota Twins Preliminary grade (Jan. 16): B-. Final grade: B-. Somehow I managed to overlook the signing of Rich Harden to a minor league deal back in December. He missed all of 2012 after undergoing shoulder capsule surgery, and had a 5.36 ERA in 174 2/3 innings in 2010-2011, but so long as his arm remains attached, a righty with a career strikeout rate of 9.2 per nine is worth a spring look — particularly in this strikeout-averse organization.

Oakland A's Preliminary grade (Feb. 4): C. Final grade: C+ Completed just after their report card was published, the trade with the Astros was probably a long-term net loss, but the addition of Jed Lowrie helps address multiple trouble spots in their current infield. As for minor-league signing Hideki Okajima, he threw just 8 1/3 innings in the majors in 2011 and none in 2012 — the latter due to a shoulder injury which led to a minor league contract with the Yankees being voided. Even if he's healthy, the bullpen has Travis Blackley, Jerry Blevens, Sean Doolittle, Pedro Figueroa and Jordan Norberto as other lefty options, though today's news that closer Grant Balfour will undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus elevates Doolittle's importance as an early-season ninth inning option even more.

Texas Rangers Preliminary grade (Jan. 22): C-. Final grade: C-. The other shoe still has yet to drop; this remains an atypically underwhelming offseason.

New York Yankees Preliminary grade (Feb. 5): D+. Final grade: C-. For as much as I think the Yankees went backwards, my failure to mention the pickup of two supplemental first-round picks as compensation for the losses of Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano in free agency rates as a significant oversight that deserves correction. Wednesday's acquisition of Mariners righty Shawn Kelley for minor league outfielder Abe Almonte adds a useful righty reliever (3.25 ERA and 9.1 strikeouts per nine in 44 1/3 innings last year) to an already-deep bullpen.

Seattle Mariners Preliminary grade (Jan. 23): D+. Final grade: C-. They've made two useful moves since this one was published, adding catcher Kelly Shoppach (.233/.309/.425 with eight homers in 245 PA for the Red Sox and Mets) to give them an alternative to Jesus Montero behind the plate and lefty Joe Saunders (4.07 ERA and 5.8 strikeouts per nine in 174 2/3 innings) to bump Hector Noesi back to Triple-A or the bullpen. The Felix Hernandez extension, while it may ease the minds of Mariners fans for the moment, tempers those gains, as the long-term history of big-dollar pitching contracts isn't a particularly rosy one.

Chicago White Sox Preliminary grade (Jan. 28): C-. Final grade: D+ . Particularly in light of the Indians' late moves, the White Sox relative complacency stands out even more, and the recent waiver-wire pickup of first baseman Lars Anderson (.259/.355/.416 in 1,509 career plate appearances at Triple-A) doesn't compensate.

Baltimore Orioles Preliminary grade (Jan. 31): D. Final grade: D+ . They became the 27th team to pluck Russ Canzler off the waiver wire this winter (okay, only the fourth). The 27-year-old righty has hit .289/.365/.508 in 1,088 PA at Triple-A over the past two years, and could provide an option against lefties either in leftfield or at designated hitter, both areas that needed addressing beyond giving another shot to long-lost Lew Ford.

Kansas City Royals Preliminary grade (Jan. 21): D. Final grade: D. They made a nice move to pluck catcher George Kottaras off of waivers from the A's, but he's only a backup to Sal Perez. Infielder Elliot Johnson might have a use in the second base mess given his .251/.308/.411 career line away from Tropicana Field, but if that's the best they can do, they still haven't done enough in the grand scheme.
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