Talking baseball while being thankful that my lights are working: 1. Yu Darvish goes to the Rangers, and it raises a question: Where were the Yankees and Red Sox?
Not so long ago, major league baseball revolved around the two beasts of the American League East. But not so much anymore. And apparently that's OK with the Yankees and Red Sox.
Between 1996 and 2009, the Yankees and Red Sox won 126 playoff games, an average of nine per year. They've won only seven the last two seasons -- with the Red Sox missing the playoffs both years and the Yankees losing two of their three postseason series -- and currently could be ranked as low as fifth and sixth in the AL power rankings, behind the Rangers, Angels, Tigers and Rays.
But here's what they have done this winter:
The Red Sox have allowed closer Jonathan Papelbon to leave as a free agent while re-signing David Ortiz and trading for a set-up man (Mark Melancon) and adding to their bench with two free-agent signings (Nick Punto and Kelly Shoppach), the latter of which seems to mean they're cutting ties with Jason Varitek (who could be heading to the Cubs).
The Yankees have re-signed Freddy Garcia and made two picks in the Rule 5 draft of unprotected minor-leaguers.
Starting pitching depth is an issue in both places, but neither bid significantly for C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle or, it seems, Darvish. What's going on?
Baseball's luxury tax finally seems to have discouraged the reckless spending that along with solid player development built these two powerhouses. Both the Yankees and Red Sox acquired big-ticket first basemen (Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez) before Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder reached free agency, mostly locking themselves out of consideration.
The Yankees in particular are finally looking to build internally, hoping that they can continue to patch up their rotation while prospects Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Hector Noesi follow Ivan Nova to New York. The Red Sox seem distracted by internal politics, spending two months resolving their front office/managerial questions, and haven't had much financial flexibility after loading up to add Carl Crawford and Gonzalez a year ago.
The Yankees are positioned to trade for one of the attractive arms that teams are making available -- Gio Gonzalez, the White Sox's John Danks or the Cubs' Matt Garza. But they seem reluctant to part with the young talent it would take to make a trade.
"They're not the Yankees anymore,'' says Jim Memolo of SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio.
2. The Cubs bid for Darvish but weren't seen as being as aggressive as the Rangers and the Blue Jays, who most think were the runners-up. Their global focus shifts to the Dominican Republic, where Cuban center fielders Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler are about to be declared free agents. Cespedes, unlike Pujols and Fielder, seems to be in Theo Epstein's wheelhouse. He's listed at 25, and while you can question that age, you can't question his build. He's a Bo Jackson/Herschel Walker combo who has the potential to become an Eric Davis-style speed/power player. He would fit the Cubs' timetable, having the next year or two to become acclimated to North American baseball and then being in his prime in 2014 and beyond, when the Cubs expect to factor into the NL Central race. Bidding for Cespedes is expected to go beyond $50 million. Soler, 19, isn't big-league ready but he might have as higher -- or even higher -- of a ceiling than Cespedes. Baseball America's Jim Callis compares him to Bubba Starling as a prospect. Texas signed Cuban center fielder Leonys Martin to a four-year, $15-million deal last summer, and Soler is expected to get a bigger deal.
3. Darvish, who is expected to sign with the Rangers, would replace Wilson in a rotation that is seven deep. Derek Holland and Colby Lewis are givens, and Scott Feldman has shown he can be effective as a swingman, so the question is who is the odd man out among the other three -- lefty Matt Harrison (14-9 last season) and right-handed starter/relievers Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando. There's been talk that they might trade Harrison, but what about Feliz? He's scarred from blowing Game 6 of the World Series but before then was considered one of baseball's best closers, converting 72 of 81 save situations the last two years. How much appeal would he have for the Reds or Red Sox?
For those of us waiting for the Rangers to pursue Fielder, it's apparently not happening. One reason is that third baseman Mike Olt, who hit 13 home runs in the Arizona Fall League, is likely to be moved to first base, where he could wind up platooning with Mitch Moreland. He's blocked at third by Adrian Beltre. The Rangers seem intent on locking up the high-risk, high-reward Josh Hamilton, a free agent after 2012, rather than adding Fielder to make it possible to allow him to leave. There's an emotional connection between Hamilton and the team's front office and fans, and it may be getting in the way of the smart decision. Fielder would be perfect for Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, but GM Jon Daniels wants to win it all with the core of the team that got so close in 2010 and '11.
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