Smaller-scale acquisitions making contributions

Smaller-scale acquisitions making contributions

Smaller-scale acquisitions making contributions
More than two weeks into the season, one of the Angels' offseason acquisitions sits in second on the club's home run leaderboard, with two, and he leads the team in RBIs, with eight.

Don't worry about scrambling to verify that Albert Pujols is still, indeed, homerless on the season. That statement applies to catcher Chris Iannetta -- the other offseason acquisition in the Halos' starting lineup.

Nobody could blame someone for not knowing that Iannetta, who replaced Jeff Mathis behind the dish during the offseason, is off to a respectable start. All the hoopla surrounding the signings of Pujols and starter C.J. Wilson -- not to mention the other American League splashes made by Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes -- was enough to overshadow many of the other, "lesser" offseason acquisitions.

Now that we're entering the final week of April, it might be worth the time to divert some attention from the Pujols homer watch and take note of some of the moves that have shaken up the league so far.

Newcomers Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson have helped the Nationals to a 2.34 team ERA, the lowest in franchise history through 16 games. In fact, that ERA is the lowest for any Major League club in that span since 2002, when the Giants (1.95) and Mets (2.19) posted lower totals.

The second AL Player of the Week honors of 2012 weren't bestowed on any of the headline-grabbing names from this offseason. Instead it was the Twins' 33-year-old Josh Willingham -- who replaced the departed 33-year-old Michael Cuddyer -- who took home the award.

"It's obviously an honor," said Willingham, who was hitting .328 entering play on Monday. "The only thing is, I wish we would have got off to a good start as a team. But yeah, I feel honored."

Whereas the Twins sit at 5-11 -- just a game behind Pujols' Angels -- one club that has had a solid start, as well as an impressive player debut, is Pujols' former squad. Part of the reason St. Louis has stormed out to a National League Central-best 11-5 record has been the ability of Carlos Beltran (hitting .298 with a team-leading five home runs entering Monday) to pick up the offensive slack left by Pujols' departure.

Unfortunately, the Brewers' move to counter the loss of Fielder hasn't yet paid similar dividends. Third baseman Aramis Ramirez is hitting .158, and recorded his first and only home run last Wednesday.

"I've been through it before," Ramirez said of his slump. "I've been around a while -- this is my 14th year in the league. It happens. It's just unfortunate that it happened with a new team."

For each Beltran there's been a Ramirez, who hasn't made a dazzling first impression. For a starting point, focus on the bullpens, which saw possibly the biggest offseason shuffle league-wide.

Nearly one-third of the 30 teams is currently, or has tried, employing a closer who was in a different uniform last summer. Two of those teams, the Reds and Red Sox, lost their new closers before the season even started. With Ryan Madson (Tommy John surgery) out for the season and Andrew Bailey (thumb surgery) out indefinitely, Cincinnati and Boston, respectively, each turned to another newcomer to take over the role -- with very different results.

The Reds called, in part, on Sean Marshall, who has struck out nine over 5 1/3 innings while converting all three of his save opportunities. The Red Sox, on the other hand, suffered a disastrous start to the season out of the 'pen, which included Mark Melancon's blown save and a 49.50 ERA through four appearances. Melancon was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket last Wednesday.

"Mark just has to be the pitcher that he is," manager Bobby Valentine said of Melancon, who posted a 2.78 ERA in 71 games with the Astros last year. "He's a great command pitcher, and thus far he hasn't had it. We don't feel that he'd have the opportunity, really, here to work through it. He was anxious to get an opportunity to work more regularly so that he could get back to where he belongs."

Elsewhere, former White Sox-now-Blue Jays closer Sergio Santos converted just two of his four saves before landing on the disabled list on Saturday with inflammation in his right shoulder. Heath Bell blew each of his first two save attempts for the Marlins prior to earning back-to-back saves to cap off the past week.

As for starters, it's the same story. Bartolo Colon has seen a resurgence in Oakland, starting 3-1, allowing just one earned run over 23 innings in his three wins. At the other end of the spectrum, there's Mat Latos.

Over his first three starts in his first season with the Reds, Latos has allowed 14 earned runs in just 15 1/3 innings. As Latos searches for his first win, manager Dusty Baker offered a simple explanation about what it will take to get Latos going.

"We need desperately to get his first [win]," Baker said after Latos' most recent outing.

Now that Ramirez has his first homer under his belt and Bell notched that first save, Latos and the Reds can only hope it's that simple. Pujols hopes to soon join that discussion as well.

At this point, general managers have just a small sample size to evaluate their offseason moves. For the Nationals, that means back-to-back outings of seven scoreless innings and just four combined hits allowed by the 26-year-old Gonzalez.

"It's almost like a 'thank you' for [general manager Mike] Rizzo, the Lerner family for taking a chance on me," Gonzalez said after notching his first victory in the NL. "So little by little, I'm going to try my best to continue to give them what they want.

"It's all smiles from there, especially with the new rotation. I don't want to be left behind."

Paul Casella is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.