D-backs, Angels, Twins, Brewers, Pirates all did good things to improve
By Richard Justice
The Diamondbacks have had a sneaky good offseason. So have the Angels and Twins. Likewise, the Brewers and Pirates.
All five of those teams will go to Spring Training feeling good about how the past few months have gone. Hope springs, etc.
Baseball has had an incredible past few months as one seismic shift was followed by another and yet another. One day, it was the Red Sox. Then the Padres. Then the Cubs, White Sox and Dodgers.
So much has changed that it's going to take a while to wrap our minds around the new bottom line for each division. Expectations have changed all over the place.
Some of the most interesting moves were made by teams that didn't dominate the headlines. That's where this stuff gets interesting, because we may look back six months from now and appreciate their work in different ways.
For instance ...
Arizona's one splashy move was the $68.5 million signing of 24-year-old Cuban third baseman Yasmany Tomas. If Mark Trumbo is healthy and productive, the middle of the batting order -- Paul Goldschmidt, Trumbo and Tomas -- could be the start of a nice offense.
But the really interesting work by the new baseball operations staff -- Tony La Russa, Dave Stewart, De Jon Watson -- was the accumulation of young, serviceable pitchers. At last count, they'd acquired six quality arms, all of them unproven but all of them with high ceilings -- Yoan Lopez, Rubby De La Rosa, Jeremy Hellickson, Allen Webster, Vidal Nuno and Robbie Ray.
Those acquisitions are more interesting because of the presence of Dave Duncan in the D-backs' front office. He's the most accomplished and respected pitching coach of the last half-century and has a long history of developing guys, including Stewart himself.
With Patrick Corbin due back from Tommy John elbow surgery around midseason and with prospects Archie Bradley and Braden Shipley on the fast track to the big leagues, Arizona has the makings of a quality rotation.
General manager Jerry Dipoto had a smart, efficient offseason, acquiring talent for 2015 and beyond. In Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano, he added two young pitchers who have set up the Angels nicely for the future. Dipoto also got a 24-year-old third baseman, Kyle Kubitza, who fits nicely with David Freese, who is in the final year of his contract. Finally, with Howie Kendrick departing in the deal that brought Heaney from the Dodgers, Dipoto set up a nice competition for the second-base job by acquiring two 25-year-olds, Josh Rutledge and Taylor Featherston, from the Rockies and 27-year-old Johnny Giavotella from the Royals to compete with Grant Green.
Pitching has been the theme for Terry Ryan since he returned to be GM. He has traded for it, drafted it and signed it. A year after signing Phil Hughes, Ryan added another veteran, Ervin Santana, who has averaged 207 innings the past five seasons. Along with youngsters Trevor May, Kyle Gibson and Alex Meyer, Minnesota can see the makings of a nice future. In the end, the Twins' transformation will depend largely on how quickly MLB.com's overall No. 1 prospect, outfielder Byron Buxton, gets to the big leagues, but Ryan did something to help that transition along with the signing of veteran outfielder Torii Hunter.
GM Doug Melvin has been mostly building around the edges, adding Adam Lind to play first base and shoring up the bullpen with the signings of Neal Cotts and Chris Perez. Combine those with the additions of outfielder Gerardo Parra and reliever Jonathan Broxton during the 2014 season, and Milwaukee is a team that seems good enough to compete for a playoff spot.
After all the comings and goings, Bucs GM Neal Huntington has quietly positioned his team to go to the playoffs for a third straight year with the additions of catcher Francisco Cervelli, right-hander A.J. Burnett, lefty reliever Antonio Bastardo and Korean shortstop Jung Ho Kang. The Pirates suffered a big loss in free agency when catcher Russell Martin signed with the Blue Jays, and right-hander Edinson Volquez signed with the Royals. But Cervelli hit .301 in 49 games for the Yankees last season, and Bastardo will be a nice addition to the bullpen. With the starting lineup essentially set, Kang will get spring playing time all over the diamond, and Pittsburgh sees him as a sort of Ben Zobrist-type of weapon for manager Clint Hurdle.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.