Random observations during a busy MLB December

11:46 AM, Dec 18, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's only December, so Major League Baseball teams have plenty of time remaining to upgrade their rosters before they report to spring training.

However, there have already been quite a few difference-making signings and trades throughout the league. Let's examine the likely effects of some of those moves.

DESPITE THE JOSH HAMILTON SIGNING, IT'S DEBATABLE WHETHER THE ANGELS HAVE IMPROVED

Shortly after reports were confirmed last week that the Los Angeles Angels agreed to a five-year contract with free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, Vegas oddsmakers installed the team as the World Series favorite.

A horrible April prevented the Angels from reaching the postseason last year, but they didn't really have many weaknesses. Now they boast a potential outfield of Hamilton, Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo; those three combined for 105 home runs last season.

When a lineup has those three outfielders and Albert Pujols, it has to expect to be one of the league's highest-scoring teams. Surprisingly, the Angels finished only eighth in the American League in runs scored last year.

Although it's likely that the Angels will improve offensively, they would appear to have taken a step back in pitching. Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and trade-deadline acquisition Zack Greinke are gone, and the Angels' starting rotation has more question marks now.

Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson are still a great 1-2 punch at the front, but former Atlanta Braves right-hander Tommy Hanson is penciled in as the No. 3. He has always shown great promise, but he has yet to realize his full potential. He's coming off a career-best 13-win season, but he pitched to a less than stellar 4.48 earned-run average and battled shoulder problems.

Joe Blanton was signed as a free agent to be the No. 4 starter, but he isn't much more than an innings-eater. He was 10-13 with a 4.71 ERA last season, and that's about what he is at this point of his career.

On paper, it doesn't seem like the Angels' upgraded offense will be strong enough to fully offset its weakened pitching staff. Maybe they can find some reinforcements prior to the season.

THE BLUE JAYS' OFFSEASON MOVES ARE SHOWING THEY MEAN BUSINESS

Toronto was fourth in the American League in runs scored last season. Now it has a starting pitching rotation to match.

A blockbuster trade with the Marlins brought in Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio to add to the already impressive offense. More importantly, it netted the Blue Jays starters Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.

In a subsequent trade completed Monday with the New York Mets, the Jays obtained 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. Adding Johnson, Buehrle and Dickey to holdovers Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero should give Toronto one of the best starting staffs in baseball.

Toronto hasn't been to the postseason since 1993, and it's been difficult to compete in a division with big-spending teams like the Yankees and Red Sox and prospect-rich teams like the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Blue Jays finished 22 games behind first-place New York last season, but it looks like they're going to compete with the big boys this year.

EVEN THOUGH THEY TRADED A CY YOUNG WINNER, THE METS ARE TAKING THE RIGHT APPROACH

New York Mets fans had little to cheer about in the second half of last season, but they at least were able to look forward to every fifth day, when eventual NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey took the mound.

A month after winning the game's top pitching prize, Dickey has been shipped out to Toronto for a package of players that includes top-flight catching prospect Travis D'Arnaud and intriguing 20-year-old pitcher Noah Syndergaard.

Catching was one of the Mets' major areas of need, and D'Arnaud is the game's top minor-league catching prospect. Last year in Triple-A, D'Arnaud batted .333 with 16 homers in just 279 at-bats before he suffered a season-ending posterior cruciate ligament tear. Long-term, it wasn't a serious injury, and he should begin a long career as the Mets' backstop no later than the middle of the 2013 season.

Syndergaard was Toronto's top pitching prospect. He throws in the mid-90s with good command. If he can develop an effective changeup, he will become a top of the rotation starter. The Mets already have others who possess the ability to one day become top of the rotation starters - Zack Wheeler and, to a lesser extent, Matt Harvey.

As good a pitcher as Dickey is, he's also 38. The Mets simply aren't close to being a playoff contender. By the time the Mets field their next truly great team, Dickey would probably be too old to be a part of it.

He's a knuckleballer, but not in the same way that Tim Wakefield was. Dickey throws more of a "power" knuckleball, and it doesn't seem all that likely that he will pitch into his mid-40s the way that Wakefield did.

When a team is rebuilding, it has to find ways to obtain or draft and develop young talent. Dickey was one of the Mets' most valuable trade chips, and they utilized him the best way a rebuilding team could when they dealt him for young, top-level prospects.

THE RANGERS' WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY COULD BE CLOSING SOONER THAN EXPECTED

Texas was the World Series runner-up in 2010 and 2011, then a wild-card playoff team last season. Since the end of the year, though, the Rangers have lost Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young to free agency.

Worse, the Rangers failed to come away with any of the big-name players they reportedly were targeting. The Los Angeles Dodgers outbid them for Zack Greinke.

It was believed that James Shields was the Rangers' Plan B if they failed to sign Greinke. It didn't work out that way, because Tampa Bay traded Shields to Kansas City.

The fallback option if they lost Hamilton was supposedly the Diamondbacks' Justin Upton. However, it appears that he is no longer on the trading block.

The Rangers have three months to figure out how they can bolster their starting rotation. Offensively, it looks like the void will be filled by giving significant roles to top prospects Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt. If they turn out to be as good as advertised, Texas' offense could still be formidable.

It's just that Texas is taking a pretty big risk. If the youngsters show they aren't quite ready, the Rangers could fall well back in a stacked American League, since non-playoff teams like the Angels, Blue Jays, Royals, and maybe even Tampa Bay, appear to have improved since last season.

THE DEEP-POCKETED DODGERS APPEAR TO BE THE NEW YANKEES

The past three seasons must have been difficult for Dodgers fans, who have had to watch the hated rival San Francisco Giants walk off with a pair of World Series titles.

The Dodgers figure they have 220 million reasons that things will turn around in 2013. That's 220 million as in dollars, which is Los Angeles' projected payroll for the upcoming season.

Sometimes throwing money at problems with little regard for intangible factors like team chemistry leads to disappointing results. In the case of the Dodgers, though, it's going to be difficult to fail with the talent and depth they have in the starting rotation.

Former Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are joined by Josh Beckett and Korean import Hyun-Jin Ryu. Former prospect Chad Billingsley hasn't lived up to his potential, but it would be tough to find a better No. 5 starter in baseball - and that's if he even beats out the likes of Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly for the last rotation spot.

Despite the high payroll, the Dodgers' offense will probably still be in the middle of the pack at best, but it's going to be virtually impossible to not contend with that rotation.

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