David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
What a winter it was. The Marlins were gutted, Anthony Bosch of Biogenesis fame became a household name and the Yankees, somehow, didn't wind up with either Josh Hamilton or Felix Hernandez (more on that later).
So in New York, this was a relatively quiet offseason - aside from another Alex Rodriguez PED scandal, of course - as two of baseball's biggest prizes, Hamilton and Zack Greinke, wound up on the West Coast.
Not be outdone, their neighbor to the far north, the Mariners, spent the final days leading up to spring training dotting the I's and crossing the T's on a $175-million contract for King Felix. Whether or not Jesus Montero is behind the plate to catch him is another story - we surely haven't heard the last of those accused in the Biogenesis PED fiasco - but no one's been suspended. Yet.
Anyway, because the games actually don't count until March 31, when the Rangers and Astros kick off their brand spanking new American League West rivalry, let's do the only thing we can do before then - talk about everything else. So here's a random list featuring some of the best and worst of what went on since the Giants left Motown with the trophy.
Worst change to this year's regular-season schedule: Daily interleague play. It's bad enough that a tired concept like this will now be forced down everyone's throats from the start of the year to the finish - thanks to the newly aligned 15-team leagues. But think of the havoc it will cause among pitching staffs, which now must take batting practice early and often for the games in the NL parks. While very few pitchers are capable hitters, the large majority are dreadful with a bat in their hands, and it will be interesting to see if a more steady diet of BP will make them any better.
Best use of a top-rated catching prospect: Blue Jays. Maybe Travis d'Arnaud winds up as the next Mike Piazza. But Toronto got the Mets to part with the Cy Young winner by dangling d'Arnaud, and then signed him at the relatively bargain rate of two years, $25 million. Dickey is now the Jays' Opening Day starter, and he's one of the reasons they're also a legit World Series pick.
Worst impression of a major-league team: Astros. They've switched leagues. They've switched uniforms. But for the Astros, there's no disguising what a low-budget operation they've become. With an estimated payroll of around $20 million for 2013 - their highest paid player is Bud Norris ($3 million), followed by Carlos Pena ($2.9 million) - Houston seems primed for a third straight 100-loss season, and playing in the powerful AL West this season should definitely help that cause.
Best reason for demanding a no-trade clause: Jeffrey Loria. For those who always thought money was everything in contract negotiations, we present the Marlins, a team that likes to keep its options open. In what seemed like minutes after Miami tanked the inaugural season in its new $600 million stadium, the Marlins dismantled its roster, starting with disgruntled closer Heath Bell and culminating in a 12-player trade that shipped more than $145 million to Toronto. The ink had barely dried on the contracts for Bell, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle.
Best villain in the eyes of the sabermetric crowd: Miguel Cabrera. In perhaps the most polarizing MVP vote in the award's history, Cabrera edged Mike Trout -- champion of sabermetricians everywhere - to set baseball back a good half-century or so (we kid). Bud Selig had a cool trophy made for Cabrera's Triple Crown, but the feat mattered little to the more aggressive faction of the stat crowd, which insisted that Trout was robbed. Trout did get Rookie of the Year as a consolation prize, however.
Best example of brotherly love outside Philadelphia: Braves. After months of internal debate, the Diamondbacks finally chose to pull the trigger on a Justin Upton trade, and what better spot than Atlanta, which had signed his brother, B.J., to a five-year, $75.25-million contract. The two Uptons now combine with Jason Heyward to form one of the better outfields in the sport on a team that will push the Nationals for NL East supremacy.
Best sneak attack on a division rival: Angels. As much of an offensive coup as it was to sign Albert Pujols away from the Cardinals last year, the Angels topped that this winter by swiping Josh Hamilton from underneath the noses of the Rangers with a five-year, $125-million deal. At first glance, it seemed like overkill, but pairing Hamilton with Pujols, Mike Trout, Erick Aybar and Mark Trumbo not only strengthens the Angels' lineup - his absence hurts Texas, too.
Worst poker face by a manager: John Farrell. As it looked more and more like Bobby Valentine was a goner in Boston, Farrell told everyone how happy he was in Toronto. Except during the Jays' last September trip to Fenway Park, when Farrell entertained plenty of questions about Valentine's job and told everyone there how much he loved his time as the Red Sox pitching coach. Two months later, the Jays traded him to Boston.
Worst excuse for appearing on alleged PED documents: Ryan Braun. It was one thing when Braun sidestepped a 50-game suspension over a chain-of-custody dispute regarding a urine sample. Due process is due process, after all. But when his name surfaced on the recently uncovered Biogenesis documents, Braun insisted it was because he used Anthony Bosch as a consultant - nothing more - during his appeal back in 2011. As coincidences go, this is looking like a stretch, but it's still going to take a lot more than handwritten notes to penalize Braun this time, too.