- The biggest news is that the Rangers have signed the only free agent pitcher left that's really worth a damn: Kevin Millwood. Millwood is signed for 4 years and about $48 million. Is this a good move for the Rangers? Yes and no. Yes in that it gives them a pitcher who is, you know, actually good. They were entering the season with a starting rotation of Adam Eaton, Vicente Padilla, Rich Rodriguez, Joaquin Benoit, and a partridge in a pear tree. The Millwood signing gives them at least one pitcher who can be counted upon to be above-average and vaguely durable.
- The negative aspect of the deal is money: $48 million. 4 years isn't a bad deal for Millwood (who's 31), and while he will likely earn his $12 million this year and maybe next, he's not likely to be worth it on the back end of the deal. There is a fifth year on the contract, but the best information available is that it's a team option for the Rangers. The Millwood problem is about the same as the Eric Milton problem; a team is trying to solve an entire pitching staff's problems by signing one guy to big money. Millwood will be an upgrade, but does that mean the Ranger pitching staff still doesn't suck? Odds are that Millwood will pitch about as well as Kenny Rogers did last year, except that he costs more money. So the Rangers' pitching staff is, if anything, a shade worse than it was last year (they've lost more than they've gained), despite being much more expensive. Considering where the Rangers are, it's not such a terrible move, but the real lesson here is never to let your pitching staff degenerate this far; the best option for improving your pitching staff is to develop your own young arms. The Rangers have failed miserably to do this. In fact, it would be hard to think of the really top-notch arms the Rangers have developed since 1972. Kevin Brown, Bobby Witt . . . am I forgetting anyone? The Rangers (like the Reds) are forced into a no-win situation simply because their farm system has proven inept at developing a very good pitcher. Oddly enough, the Reds are even more of a historical disappointment when it comes to developing pitchers . . .
- The Blue Jays have traded for Troy Glaus. I think J.P. Ricciardi is trying to sign every living player on the North American continent (and a few dead ones). The Blue Jays had Shea Hillenbrand and Corey Koskie slated to play third base, which gives you pretty good production for a relatively small price. Now they've got Troy Glaus. Glaus' acquisition (I guess he'll be the DH) gives the Jays greater depth, but is it really worth the cost? The Jays give up second-base glove wizard Orlando Hudson and "closer" Miguel Batista in exchange for Glaus and a prospect. You've got a couple teams swapping big contracts here (Batista for Glaus), but I have to see the D-Backs getting the better end of this one. The Jays don't really need Glaus, but they're getting him anyway, which sounds more like the Yankees or the Mets than the previously sensible Toronto front office. The D-Backs get rid of a big contract without losing much, since they can shift Chad Tracy back to third and put uber-prospect Conor Jackson at first. Batista can either close or (better yet) shore up a pretty slim Diamondback rotation. Hudson doesn't hit much, but he's an excellent defensive second baseman, and it's not like the D-Backs had anyone else. Ricciardi has gone too far, like the computer in I, Robot. Or something a little less geeky . . .
- The Indians signed free agent pitcher Jason Johnson. Johnson is the epitome of a low-end innings-eater, but then the Tribe is only spending $4 million on a 1-year deal, a surprisingly reasonable contract in this off-season.
- The Cardinals filled some openings with RF Juan Encarancion and 2B Junior Spivey. Encarnacion is about as overrated as you can get. He has good power and gets his RBIs, which makes people ignore his .316 career OBP. He doesn't really steal bases anymore, and at age 30 (in March), his best years are behind him, which is a bit unnerving, considering they've got him for 3 years. Spivey is a good-hitting second baseman, but is one of the most injury-prone players in the game today. He's a career 354/436/270 hitter (granted, with some help in hitter's parks), but has only played more than 106 games once in his career. He's going to be 31 and is coming off a 77-game loser of a campaign in Milwaukee and Washington. But here's the kicker -- Spivey gets a 1-year, $1.2 million contract. So even if Spivey does get injured, the Cards won't be out much money, whereas Encarnacion will barely be a good investment even if he reproduces his career numbers.
- It's beginning to look like the Orioles might just trade Miguel Tejada. Tejada expressed a desire to be traded a few weeks ago, which set off a media flurry. He went back on his comments in public, but it looks like he might still want out of Baltimore. The deal on the table now (according to rumors) is that Tejada would go to the Cubs along with Erik Bedard for Mark Prior, Corey Patterson, and young Rich Hill. This is a complex deal, but it works out to a steal for the Cubs. Tejada is the best shortstop in baseball, and one of the best players in baseball, period. Tejada turns 30 in May, so while he should decline, he's still got some good baseball ahead of him. It's tough to see Prior go. Prior looked like the best young pitcher in baseball in 2003, when he had a near Cy-Young season. Since then, though, he's been horribly troubled by injuries. Prior is 25, and the time for him to recover from injury is growing short. Bedard doesn't have near the potential that Prior does, but should actually be just as good if not better over the next few seasons (Bedard is a bit older; he will turn 26 in March). Patterson is no loss, and Rich Hill is a bit old to still be called a prospect. Tejada doesn't really make that much money, and I think the Cubs get the best end of this deal by far. The only thing that could make this a good deal for Baltimore is if Prior turns around and starts pitching like a Cy Young candidate again. That is possible, but unlikely. The Orioles should really just try to keep Tejada; their pitching would only marginally improve, if at all, by trading a Grade-B injury-prone star prospect (Bedard) for a Grade-A injury-prone star prospect (Prior).
More to come later, including my review of the 2006 Hardball Times Baseball Annual.