December 17th, 2014

National Landscape Hasn’t Changed Much

It seems as though player movement becomes contagious. Teams watch clubs in their division make moves to strengthen their organization and it becomes a motivating factor to follow suit. While not all the meaningful transactions took place in San Diego, this past Winter Meetings kept participants on guard as transactions came quickly.

It seems more of the earth shaking moves took place in the American League, but the NL had its share of big transactions as well.

The Atlanta Braves have a new leadoff hitter in Nick Markakis. Markakis must first undergo neck surgery from a condition that has bothered him for some time. That may have been among the reasons the Orioles did not finalize a deal to retain his services. Markakis takes the role vacated when Jason Heyward was traded to the Cardinals. Pesky Alberto Callaspo slips into the two hole in the batting order as a free agent acquisition. The team hopes the additions of Shelby Miller to the rotation and Jim Johnson and Arodys Vizcaino to the bullpen help make up for injury losses. Of course, the Braves may not be finished. Justin and B J Upton may be on the move.

The Cubs are beginning to give the north side of Chicago some hope. My fear is that expectations will be too high for the coming year. It will take at least two seasons in my opinion for all the young players and new veterans to come together and play as a unit. However, this club is headed in the right direction and could be lethal when they mature together.

Of course, adding Jon Lester as the ace of the staff is the foundation for the pitching future. He brings his cutter and mature mound presence to a club where his leadership will be as valued as his ability to pitch. Along with the newly refined Jake Arrieta, the team has an outstanding one-two punch at the top of the rotation. Jason Hammel returns to the team as the third starter. Very quietly, the Cubs added veteran flamethrower Jason Motte to the bullpen. If he’s healthy, that’s a big addition. The catching tandem of Wellington Castillo and newly acquired Miguel Montero could be formidable. Montero gets a fresh start in a new environment. He needs to renew his passion for the game and get back to solid catching fundamentals.

The Reds picked up starter Anthony DeSclafani is a deal for one time ace Mat Latos. Latos had come to the Reds as the focal point of the blockbuster deal with the Padres in December 2011. That deal included Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal. DeSclafani has good stuff and is a fine prospect. Probably the team’s fifth starter now, he can work his way up the food chain if he irons out some inconsistency in his command. Latos has had some injury issues, but if he’s healthy, he can really help the Marlins.

The Padres have still not finalized the much discussed deal for Matt Kemp. If they do get the outfielder from the Dodgers I have some very real concerns. First, will Kemp be happy in a lineup that doesn’t have much offensive pop? Will he be happy away from the brighter lights of Los Angeles? Even though it’s a short drive away, the two cities are totally different in feel and living environment. The issue for me is not the package of players returned to the Dodgers for Kemp, but more Kemp’s contract. Will the Padres be able to supplement the lineup with quality players or will one contract eat much of their available payroll? As I write this a proposed deal for outfielder Wil Myers from the Rays is in the works.

One thing is certain. The Padres front office is making every effort to change the offensive side of the club. They have been in discussions with many free agents and have thrown their hat in the ring for potential trades. Some may come to fruition.

In addition to the Cardinals adding Jason Heyward to right field, they have signed first baseman/third baseman Mark Reynolds as depth off the bench. It’s has some significance, because Reynolds is the type of guy that can win a ballgame with a home run as a pinch hitter in the late innings. Yes, he strikes out a ton. However, there is no doubt about his power. Jordan Walden came in the Heyward trade from the Braves and can add some depth to the bullpen. He along with free agent acquisition Matt Belisle of the Rockies will be new to the pen.

The Mets have added the bat of Michael Cuddyer to their lineup and he could be hitting in the cleanup spot. John Mayberry, Jr. signed as a free agent and could add some depth at first base and in the outfield.

The Pirates handled the loss of catcher Russell Martin by bringing Francisco Cervelli over from the Yankees. It was a great move for Pittsburgh, as Cervelli offers outstanding defense to a pitching staff that has prospered under Martin’s guidance. Cervelli is really a bit underrated in my opinion. And bringing back starting lefty Francisco Liriano really helped the continuity of their rotation. They’ll have an all Francisco battery. But the move I really like is the addition of utility player Sean Rodriguez in trade from the Rays. Rodriguez is a solid hitter with some power. He can play all over the field and his versatility will add great depth to the Pirates. Good move IMO.

The Phillies have added pitcher Odubel Herrera and outfielder Andy Oliver via the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings. I have not scouted either player.

The Giants added infield depth by signing Carlos Triunfel. He was a good infield prospect several years ago for the Mariners.

The Brewers may have found their first baseman in Adam Lind. He has enough power to be a threat in the middle of the lineup and can help take some of the pressure off Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez. He also adds a nice left-handed bat to the middle of the order. I think it was a nice move. He may not hit much for average, but Miller Park is a nice play pen for his swing.

The Rockies have not made many significant moves, but did add left-handed hitting Daniel Descalso to their roster. They also have picked up right-hander Jairo Diaz in trade from the Dodgers. He’ll likely assume a bullpen role.

The Nationals have added second baseman Chris Bostick from the Rangers in a move that could provide the team with some infield depth in the event of a future trade.

You can find my thoughts on the Dodgers and Marlins in previous editions of BERNIE’S BASEBALL WORLD.

Tomorrow: The remaining American League teams.

Thanks for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done.