Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hot Stove League: quiet, significant splash

The Yanks made a big splash by signing Johnny Damon; the RedSawx splashed around by signing Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell but losing Damon and Mueller; the BluJs overpaid for pitching, especially their closer. But the most quietly significant offseason may actually belong to the Texas Rangers.

First: they dump grumpy, undisciplined second-baseman Alfonso Soriano -- a dangerous hitter when he can make contact, but a detriment to the team in the field and if he's slumping (strikeout, strikeout, strikeout -- two words: 2003 playoffs, as Sori set a strikeout record and generally sucked). Although he should have been the hero of the 2001 WS after blasting that bomb off of Schilling in Game 7, The Monk has been down on Sori since 2002, when he pushed so hard to get a 40-40 season that he slumped at the plate and stank up the ALDS against the Angels (especially in the field).

Although they only got Brad Wilkerson and a spare in the Sori trade, the Rangers got financial room to work with -- that ultimately resulted in wooing and landing Kevin Millwood. The Monk has not been high on Millwood since the Yanks raked him in the '98 regular season and the '99 WS. But Millwood proved himself on a tough stage last season: switching from NL to AL (and the Jake is a decent park for hitters) and winning the league's ERA title. Millwood also pitched decently in 2003 with the Phillies (4.01 ERA) in their hitter-friendly ballpark (he sucked in 2004 but had injuries), so that gives the Rangers some confidence that he can pitch in Arlington.

The Rangers also landed Vincente Padilla, a solid starter when healthy, and Adam Eaton. Padilla's upside is better -- he's pitched well in Philly. Eaton could be a problem because he's had average to subpar ERAs while pitching for the Padres in their hitters' nightmare ballyard, in a division that also includes pitchers' parks in LA and SF. But Eaton is a decent power pitcher and with some work from Orel Hershiser (a solid pitching coach), could reach the potential so many baseball people see in him.

On paper, the Rangers have what could be their best 1-2-3 pitchers since Helling-Sele-Stottlemyre in the 1998 ALDS loss to the Yankees. In a none-too-strong AL West, that could put the Rangers in position to make a good attempt at the postseason.

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