Around The Bases: Hot Stove Edition

mlb_i_lackey02_5762After a fairly quiet first few days of Winter Meetings, the annual Hot Stove really heated up yesterday with a huge flurry of activity involving several teams and many marquee players.

In a blockbuster trade, the Philadelphia Phillies traded last season’s trade deadline acquisition Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners, who will send a couple of major prospects to the Phillies, who will take those prospects, along with one of their top prospects and send them in a package deal back to the Blue Jays, who will then send superstar pitcher Roy Halladay to the Phillies. There are some small details to still be worked out, but at the moment it’s being called a done deal.

Last season, the trade deadline pickup of Lee by the Phillies was what they needed to keep them on top of the NL East and ultimately gave them the boost they needed to win the NL Pennant. He almost immediately supplanted Cole Hammels as Philadelphia’s ace as he went 7-4 in 12 starts with a 3.39 ERA, and then went 4-0 with a 1.56 mark in five postseason starts, including 2-0 in the World Series.

We already know how successful he will be in the American League. Lest we forget, he won a Cy Young Award there in 2008 while pitching for Cleveland. That season, he went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA.

Last summer, you may remember, Halladay was rumored to go to the Red Sox, then the Phillies, then the Yankees, but by the time the trading deadline came and went, he never left Canada. He pitched great for the Jays last season, going 17-10 with a 2.79 ERA and 9 complete games. For the 6th time in his 11 years with the team he pitched over 200 innings while recording over 200 Ks for the 3rd time in the same time period. Lifetime with the Jays, Halladay was 148-76 with a 3.43 ERA.

Now, going to the National League, the question is, is he going to master the league like CC Sabathia did in 2008 when he went from Cleveland to Milwaukee, and like Lee did last season when he went from Cleveland to Philly? Over the course of his career, in inter-league play, he has pitched in 35 games. He has gone 17-8 with a 3.02 ERA. Opposing batters have hit .246 against him. That is kinda promising. Here’s something else: Against the rest of the National League East outside of Philadelphia, Halladay is 8-4 with an ERA around 3.00.

In other big MLB news yesterday, the Boston Red Sox surprised everyone and very quietly signed free agent pitcher John Lackey to a 5-year deal. Lackey is largely considered to be the top free agent pitcher on the market. What makes this signing more interesting is just last week, Boston’s General Manager, Theo Epstien, made comments to the press that this upcoming season was going to be a rebuilding year and not to expect great moves. While he was getting skewered all over Boston radio and newspaper, he was behind the scenes, quietly making a few very good moves. Note: Don’t ever play poker with this guy.

Lackey is probably very happy about not having to face the Red Sox again. There is no team that he has a worse record against (3-7) in his career. And, of teams that he has faced more than 7 times, he only has a higher ERA against the Texas Rangers (5.87, 5.25 vs Red Sox). However, during the AL Divisional Series, all of that went away as Lackey pitched 7.1 shutout innings against the Sox, only allowing 4 hits and striking out 4.

With Lackey added to the starting rotation with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield on the back end, the Red Sox likely have the strongest starting five in the American League. It also gives them tremendous flexibility in trying to move either Matsuzaka or Clay Buchholz for a solid bat to replace Jason Bay.

Now that it is quite clear that Bay is not returning, they need someone in the middle of the lineup who’s going to give them the 35-40 HR that he gave them last season. While they did just sign veteran outfielder Mike Cameron, and he is a very good outfielder who will be a great defensive addition to the team, he doesn’t have the bat they lost when they lost Bay.

There is a lot of chatter about the possibility of the Red Sox trying to sign veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre to replace fan favorite Mike Lowell. That will help. But his 25 HR and 90 RBI still may not be enough.

They need to put together a package for Adrian Gonzalez and make a reasonable offer to San Diego. Then move Kevin Youkalis to third base. Gonzalez will bring the heavy bat back into the lineup. Last season he blasted 40 HR with 99 RBI, the season before he had 36 HR with 119 RBI. Plus, he’s played in 156 games or more each of the past 4 seasons. His career .281 batting average is nothing to sneeze at either.

On the other side of the country, the Angels of Southern California have taken a beating this off-season. Last week they lost their great leadoff hitter and shortstop, Chone Figgins to divisional rivals Seattle, and this week, they lost their ace, Lackey to free agency, plus, to add salt to the wound, the Mariners picked up a new ace in Lee. On the bright side, they did sign DH free agent World Series MVP Hideki Matsui. Clearly, based on his spectacular World Series performance Matsui can still play. He only batted .615 with 8 hits and 8 RBI. In the regular season, he hit .274 with 28 HR and 90 RBI in 142 games.

This move is going to leave Vlad Guerrero as the odd man out as his once spectacular skills have significantly declined. From ’08 to last season, he dropped from 143 games to 100 and from 27 HR to 15. His RBI total dropped from 91 to 50. While much of this was due to injury, his once feared power is just not what it used to be.

There are still many great players out there who will find themselves on new teams at the start of the season. Is Bay the top free agent on the market now? What about Matt Holliday in St. Louis? There’s an offer on the table. Is he going to take it and stay there a little longer? If not, where will he end up? Who’s the top free agent pitcher out there now that Lackey has been grabbed? Joel Pinero? Where is he going to end up? At the moment, no one is at the top of the list. One thing’s for sure: There is still much to resolve. This hot stove season isn’t going to cool off any time soon.