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Final AL Winter Report Card grades: White Sox, Royals stay at head of the class

Mitchell Boggs, White SoxMitchell Boggs isn't the biggest name the White Sox added this winter, but he should be a key part of their bullpen. (David Zalubowski/AP)

Several prominent free-agents -- including starting pitchers Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, outfielder Nelson Cruz and shortstop Stephen Drew -- remain unsigned, but with pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training this week, the Hot Stove season is at its end. That means it's time for us to review our winter report cards -- the first of which was written a month ago -- and adjust teams’ preliminary grades to account for subsequent moves and second thoughts about our initial reactions.

Unlike last year, when Jay Jaffe wrote up all 30 teams, this time both Cliff Corcoran and Joe Lemire pitched in significantly. While admittedly subjective, those grades — issued independently — were based upon each writer's judgement as to whether the team in question improved for 2014 and in 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?). To wrap things up, we've adjusted those grades slightly, but if you're scoring at home, it's worth noting that using the traditional grade point scale (A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, with plusses adding a third and minuses subtracting a third), the AL centers at 2.64 (basically, a B-), while the NL is at 2.36 (a C+).

Note that teams are presented below in order of their final grades; the original report cards for each team are linked with the date of its publication.

Chicago White Sox

Preliminary grade (Jan. 13): A-

Final grade: A-

Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHP Mitchell Boggs

Boggs had a difficult 2013 split between the Cardinals and Rockies in which he spent time in both clubs’ farm systems to regain his mechanics. When he’s on, however, he has the groundball-inducing stuff that should play well at U.S. Cellular Field. Chicago still has questions about how much offense it will get at catcher and in the middle infield, but there’s no doubting that general manager Rick Hahn has had a very good winter. -- Joe Lemire

Kansas City Royals

Preliminary grade (Jan. 23): A-

Final grade: A-

Key moves since preliminary grade: Re-signed LHP Bruce Chen, released UT Emilio Bonifacio

Coming off their first winning season since 2003, the Royals effectively targeted their needs. They solidified rightfield and second base, respectively, by trading for Norichika Aoki and singing Omar Infante, replaced free agent starter Ervin Santana by signing lefty Jason Vargas and traded for Danny Valencia as a potential backup or platoon partner for Mike Moustakas at third base. -- Cliff Corcoran

Houston Astros

Preliminary grade (Jan. 10): B+

Final grade: B+

Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHP Jerome Williams, designated 1B Brett Wallace for assignment

Jerome Williams gives the Astros a valuable innings-eating utility pitcher who, like free agent rotation anchor Scott Feldman, can help take the pressure off Houston's emerging young starters and, in turn, its bullpen. Speaking of the 'pen, it was reinforced by veterans Jesse Crain, Chad Qualls and Matt Albers as well as lefty Darin Downs and righty Anthony Bass. The jewel in the Astros' offseason, however, was the trade for centerfielder Dexter Fowler, a trade which should be an easy win for Houston even if Fowler suffers from the move out of Coors Field and leaves as a free agent after next season. -- Cliff Corcoran

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Preliminary grade (Jan. 21): B+

Final grade: B+

Key moves since preliminary grade: None

The Angels needed starting pitching and a third baseman and had an overvalued commodity in low-on-base-percentage slugger Mark Trumbo and an excess centerfielder in Peter Bourjos. So they traded Bourjos for third baseman David Freese and Trumbo for two young lefthanded starters in Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. They then replaced Trumbo at designated hitter with Raul Ibañez, who has been nearly as productive as Trumbo over the last three seasons, and also upgraded their bullpen with free agent Joe Smith. The only reason L.A.'s grade is not higher is that Freese was replacement-level last year and Skaggs has yet to carry his minor league success over to the majors. -- Cliff Corcoran

Seattle Mariners

Preliminary grade (Jan. 15): B

Final grade: B+

Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHP Fernando Rodney

Our initial report card for the Mariners listed their bullpen (which had a 4.58 ERA in 2013, better than only the Astros' in all of baseball) among their unfinished business. Signing Fernando Rodney was a big step in the right direction there. We can't credit them for signing outfielder Nelson Cruz yet, though all signs seem to point to that happening. Still, they get a bump here for adding Rodney to fellow free agents Robinson Cano and Corey Hart and trade acquisition Logan Morrison. -- Cliff Corcoran

New York Yankees

Preliminary grade (Jan. 21): B+

Final grade: B

Key moves since preliminary grade: Traded LHP David Huff to Giants for cash considerations.

Coming off just their second playoff-free season since the 1994 strike, the Yankees flashed their cash in extreme fashion. New York handed out three of the winter's five largest free agent contracts and committed a total of $438 million to Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran; that tab that doesn't even include Tanaka's $20 million posting fee.

For all of the Yankees' upgrades — which appear to have pushed them just past the $189 million threshold to reset their luxury tax rate, a guiding principle of their previous year's worth of transactions — the bullpen remains surprisingly incomplete. While options such as Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney signed elsewhere at relatively affordable prices, the anticipated move of David Robertson to closer leaves the relatively untested Shawn Kelley and aging newcomer Matt Thornton as the top setup men. -- Jay Jaffe

Boston Red Sox

Preliminary grade (Feb. 7): B

Final grade: B

Key moves since preliminary grade: None

The Red Sox have been very prudent with their spending, starting last winter when they famously and successfully opted to give out rich deals of short-to-medium length rather than anything too long-term. Next up may be extending starter Jon Lester and DH David Ortiz who, respectively, have publicly stated an interest in a hometown discount and just a one-year extension, so those moves ought to fit in GM Ben Cherington’s master plan. So too would re-signing shortstop Stephen Drew, who may be forced to accept a very short contract given the apparent dearth of suitors out there. -- Joe Lemire

Minnesota Twins

Preliminary grade (Jan. 14): B

Final grade: B-

Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHP Matt Guerrier (minor league contract); released LHP Andrew Albers

Minnesota released Albers to pursue an opportunity in Korea and brought back Guerrier, a longtime Twin who had left to sign a lucrative three-year deal with the Dodgers. That move has upside, but in the past month the organization still hasn’t added another bat to a lineup that sorely needs one. After adding starters Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, one expected that they’d have made more of an all-around upgrade. -- Joe Lemire

Texas Rangers

Preliminary grade (Jan. 27): B+

Final grade: B

Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed RHP Daniel Bard, RHP Armando Galarraga and Tommy Hanson to minor league contracts, lost RHP Chaz Roe to free agency

The Rangers made big splashes and addressed some of their glaring weaknesses by trading Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder and signing Shin-Soo Choo to a seven-year, $130 million deal, moves that opened up a lineup spot for Jurickson Profar and beefed up the middle of the order. However, GM Jon Daniels has done little to their rotation but cross his fingers and hope that Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hanson can all return at full strength from injury-marred seasons; meanwhile, he's also lost Derek Holland for perhaps half a season to a knee injury.

Galarraga is cannon fodder given that he hasn't done anything noteworthy in the majors since 2010, and the signing of Bard is a shot in the dark; maybe they can fix him even though the Cubs and Red Sox couldn't. Hanson, who threw just 73 innings with a 5.42 ERA for the Angels while dealing with a forearm strain and a demotion to Triple-A, has more upside given his 2009-11 success, but his lack of durability makes him merely another question mark. Texas still needs pitching and a better DH than Mitch Moreland, who was part of the problem in 2013. -- Jay Jaffe

Oakland A's

Preliminary grade (Feb. 4): B

Final grade: B-

Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed OF Sam Fuld to a minor league contract

Arguably the biggest surprise in baseball over the past two seasons has been the revitalization of the A's via back-to-back AL West titles in the face of so much spending by the Rangers and Angels. But even if Billy Beane's modernization of Moneyball can account for the spread of analytics into every major league front office, that doesn't guarantee that this winter's moves -- centered around swapping out Bartolo Colon for Scott Kazmir in the rotation, Grant Balfour for Jim Johnson at closer and prospect Micahel Choice for Craig Gentry in the outfield -- will be so successful. -- Jay Jaffe

Detroit Tigers

Preliminary grade (Jan. 31): C+

Final grade: C+

Key moves since preliminary grade: None

Detroit remains the AL Central favorite, but it is no better or probably even a little worse on paper than last year’s team. Extending either of its award winners, Max Scherzer (Cy Young) or Miguel Cabrera (AL MVP), would make this a more successful offseason. -- Joe Lemire

Tampa Bay Rays

Preliminary grade (Jan. 28): C

Final grade: C

Key moves since preliminary grade: None

The Rays were active this offseason, with closer Grant Balfour and catcher Ryan Hanigan their most significant additions, but they don't appear to have improved overall and still lack righthanded bats to help prop up leftfield and designated hitter. -- Cliff Corcoran

Cleveland Indians

Preliminary grade (Jan. 30): C-

Final grade:  C-

Key moves since preliminary grade: Signed 1B Bryan LaHair to a minor league contract

After an impressive turnaround that took them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the Indians have been rather quiet this winter. Beyond the addition of outfielder David Murphy, GM Chris Antonetti's activity has centered around remaking the bullpen, with likely closer John Axford the centerpiece. The losses of Scott Kazmir and (likely) Ubaldo Jimenez leave Cleveland with a rotation that has promise but only Justin Masterson as someone who has spent a full season in the majors as a starter.

To contend again, the Indians will need multiple pitchers from among Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco to come up big. Meanwhile, the 31-year-old LaHair isn't likley to help the offense much given how drastically he tailed off after a hot start with the Cubs in 2012 (.222/.284/.351 from June 1 onward) and an underwhelming season with Softbank in the Japanese Pacific League (.230/.306/.428). -- Jay Jaffe

Baltimore Orioles

Preliminary grade (Jan. 22): D

Final grade: D

Key moves since preliminary grade: None

The Orioles' offseason has thus far consisted of a series of small moves that, taken on their own, were generally sensible, but don't add up to much. This team needed to fill holes at second base, designated hitter and in left field and upgrade its rotation, and its most noteworthy moe was to trade its closer for a quadruple-A second baseman in Jemile Weeks. -- Cliff Corcoran

Toronto Blue Jays

Preliminary grade (Jan. 17): D+

Final grade: D

Key moves since preliminary grade: None

At least nobody will accuse them of "winning the winter" this time around. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has more or less kept the Jays out of the headlines; his biggest offseason move, aside from letting Josh Johnson and Rajai Davis depart, is signing catcher Dioner Navarro to a two-year, $8 million deal. The much-anticipated addition of a free agent starter such as Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez has yet to materialize, though with prices dropping, Anthopoulos may still net one and wind up looking shrewd. Until then, however, the bottom line is this team's question marks haven't disappeared, but their window of opportunity in the AL East might have. -- Jay Jaffe

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