I never figured there was a hurry to render these judgments, and all the more so in the last few years, when many owners tried to use the spring-training clock to their advantage and wait out anxious players.
After all, if I had posted this at the outset of spring training, then I would've missed out on the Tigers' signing of Johnny Damon, and the Yankees' signing of Chan Ho Park, and a few interesting minor-league deals like the Mets and Kiko Calero and Colorado and Joe Beimel. It doesn't start counting until Sunday night, so why not wait things out a little longer?
The standard line of demarcation, for me, is when all of the Type A free agents have settled their situations. Alas, this year, Jermaine Dye is still out there, and we can't wait any longer.
Like last year, we'll add a layer of nuance/keister-covering by splitting the 30 teams into four groups: Winners, Winners With Downside, Losers With Upside and Losers. The middle two groups usually involve long-term issues. For instance,the Yankees were Winners With Downside a year ago because of the risks inherent with the huge commitments to A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. And the Orioles were Losers With Upside because, even though they did nothing dramatically to help them for 2009, they continued to work toward a long-range plan of organic development.
OK, enough blathering. These are in alphabetical order within each category. I'm borrowing MLB Trade Rumors' excellently thorough "Offseason in Review" write-ups for 28 of the teams (linked in the clubs' first mention). Only the Padres and Giants have yet to be scrutinized by MLBTR.
1. Colorado. The Rockies' winter lagely consisted of fine-tuning, but that's a credit to what they had accomplished to date - rather than an indictment of any inactivity that will apply to a certain New York team further down.
2. Minnesota. What's not to like? The Twins got themselves a new and improved middle infield, brought back Carl "American Idle" Pavano on a one-year deal to keep him motivated, acquired the still productive Jim Thome and committed long-term to franchise player Joe Mauer. The Joe Nathan injury is a blow, but the Twins have the personnel, in theory, to cover for it.
3. Yankees.The beauty of their work this winter is how much they accomplished at relatively such little cost. Not a ridiculous contract to be found, and while they gave up a handful of prospects, there's no one who isn't replaceable within their system.
4. Pittsburgh. No, I don't think this is the Pirates' year, but their clear strategy over the winter was to take on short-term upgrades (like Akinori Iwamura and Octavio Dotel) whom they could then turn into trade bait in July.
5. San Diego. Coming off a positive ending to last season, the Padres signed a couple of guys, in Jon Garland and Yorvit Torrealba, who could bring back a little something in a trade. And if they shop Heath Bell and Adrian Gonzalez, they could dominate the deadline.
6. Tampa Bay. Love the Rafael Soriano trade, and the Rays' strong spring just re-emphasizes how talented they are.
7. Texas. Good short-term pickups in Rich Harden (admittedly shaky so far) and Vladimir Guerrero. And they got two more draft picks thanks to Marlon Byrd and Ivan Rodriguez signing elsewhere.
8. Toronto. With so much pressure on them to execute the Roy Halladay trade - to the right team, for the right players - new GM Alex Anthopoulos seems to have nailed it. This'll be a rebuilding season, but they're on a positive path.
WINNERS WITH DOWNSIDE
2. Boston. Industry folks looooove their offseason. It'll probably pay off, but I'm still surprised they gave so much to John Lackey when the right-hander has been in a decline of sorts.
3. Detroit. It's hard to know what to make of the Tigers, as they went from rebuilding (the Granderson-Jackson trade) to "Win now" (the Valverde and Damon signings) without even setting foot on a field. Still, Austin Jackson's strong spring offers hope that these guys can be a darkhorse, and the commitment to Justin Verlander made sense.
4. Florida.After getting their wrists slapped by baseball's central office and the Players Association, the Marlins signed a reasonable long-term deal with Josh Johnson. Still, most people feel they don't have enough to keep up with the Phillies and Braves.
5. Angels. Hideki Matsui and Joel Pineiro were smart signings that won't hurt the club long-term if they don't work out. Fernando Rodney doesn't make much sense, not for the money he received. The saving grace? The Angels recouped four draft picks for losing Chone Figgins (to Seattle) and John Lackey (to Boston) to free agency.
6. Milwaukee. As one scout said to me, "Doug Melvin filled his holes." How well, however, will Randy Wolf hold up over the span of his deal? And how much will the Brewers miss Mike Cameron?
7. St. Louis. Matt Holliday is really good, Felipe Lopez came dirt cheap and Brad Penny could be Dave Duncan's latest masterpiece. Still, that's an awful lot of money for Holliday.
8. Seattle. Interesting how the shine already has faded from their winter before a game has been played, as Cliff Lee's injury underscored the lack of pitching depth. Jack Zdueiencick is still a rock star, IMO. He just might have to wait another year for the payoff.
9. Washington. I guess they improved their team with Jason Marquis and Adam Kennedy, and maybe Matt Capps, and none came with any tremendous acquisition cost. Plus, maybe Chien-Ming Wang will get healthy. Nevertheless, this still seems like a last-place team. And they goofed by bringing back Jim Riggleman instead of hiring Bobby Valentine to manage.
LOSERS WITH UPSIDE
1. Arizona. I thought they got the worst of the Jackson-Granderson deal, giving up young pitchers Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth for the overrated Jackson, and now Brandon Webb isn't ready for the regular season. I did, however, like the Adam LaRoche and Kelly Johnson signings.
2. Atlanta.They spent an awful lot of money on brittle relievers Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito, and they traded Javier Vazquez only because they couldn't unload Derek Lowe. Troy Glaus is an obvious roll of the dice. So why the upside? Because this still appears to be a very talented club.
3. White Sox.Juan Pierre and Mark Teahen? Oh, boy. I never label the White Sox flat-out losers, though, because GM Kenny Williams surpirses too often. Furthermore, Jake Peavy essentially turned into an "offseason acquisition" for them, philosophically, when he pitched only at the tail end of September. And he's really good.
4. Cincinnati. For a team that has been so nondescript, there's something to be said for going for it on Aroldis Chapman. And Orlando Cabrera can bring back a warm body in a July trade. Still, doubts linger about what Chapman's ceiling will be.
5. Houston.The Brandon Lyon contract is just ridiculous, and in general, this appears to be a weak team with an unimpressive farm system. For some reason, though, the Astros have a way of pouncing on us when we're not expecting it. So maybe Lyon and Matt Lindstrom create a shutdown bullpen, and Brett Myers pitches like his "second half of 2008" self.
6. Mets.This is particularly relative to their past. They inexcusably didn't capitalize on a very reasonable market for starting pitchers, but at least they didn't commit any specific contract that made Mets fans scream (justifiably), "This is gonna set us back for another five years!"
7. Oakland. After whiffing on Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro, both of whom signed with Boston for less, the A's overpaid Ben Sheets. If Sheets actually pitches like he can, then the $10 million will have been justified, yet how likely is that? It's also worth noting that Oakland agreed not to offer Sheets arbitration if he's a Type A free agent next winter. That will hurt Sheets' trade value, as interested clubs will know they can't recoup draft picks for him.
8. Philadelphia.Yup, they're the two-time defending NL champions, and their team still looks awesome. But to channel Frank Costanza from this episode of "Seinfeld" - when he put aside the supposed death of his son to challenge George Steinbrenner on the Jay Buhner-for-Ken Phelps trade - how could they deal Cliff Lee? I don't buy any of the reasons. They also overpaid for Placido Polanco.
1. Cubs.Trapped with Milton Bradley, they gave him up for the apparently useless Carlos Silva. The Byrd signing, coupled with Bradley's departure, makes their lineup ridiculously unbalanced toward the right side.
2. Cleveland.The Indians assured their 2010 irrelevance last July, when they dealt away Lee and Victor Martinez in less-than-impressive deals, and they did very little over the winter. Maybe some of their prospects will start blooming this season.
3. Kansas City. Can anyone figure out what Dayton Moore is doing? Anyone? Has there been a more disappointing GM in the last decade? Amazing that Larry Lucchino once wanted Moore to replace Theo Epstein in Boston.
4. Dodgers.The commitments to their young, talented position players shouldn't be discounted, yet their stinginess on the pitching front - not even offering Randy Wolf arbitration was terrible - can't be ignored. The McCourts are a train wreck.
--Back at the start of spring training, we discussed the Yankees and complacency, and whether it was a real issue. The Yankees apparently thought enough of it to bring in Michael Johnson to discuss it.
--Interesting story by the AP's Alan Robinson on Lastings Milledge. I'm always skeptical of these "New personality!" deals, so we'll see if Milledge can back up his words in the intensity of the regular season.