An MLB off-season update | January 8, 2013 by

The turn of each year marks the beginning of a gradual build of excitement, as we say goodbye to the NFL regular season, and prepare for the great Baseball machine to start up again.

With the Hall of Fame class announced Wednesday (January 9th), the American sports writers once again turn their attentions to baseball as a distraction to the NFL playoffs, and within two weeks of the Super Bowl, pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training, with a full spring programme in place by the end of February. And, on March 31st, it all starts again, as the MLB Opening Night pits the newest AL team Houston against their state rivals Texas in a game that should get the juices flowing early on.

With that all to come, the baseball season promises to be as compelling as ever, but whilst football and basketball have stolen the attention of most since the Giants’ sweep of Detroit in October, the MLB has been far from quiet. So here you can find the important headlines that you may have missed:

Miami Marlins’ Fire Sale

Jose Reyes

After a disappointing 2012 saw Miami finish with less than 70 wins in the NL East basement, the team parted ways with controversial manager Ozzie Guillen, but hit the headlines weeks later for a blockbuster trade that is likely to have turned all but the die-hard Marlin fans against them.

All-star SS Jose Reyes, SP Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, C John Buck, and OF Emilio Bonifacio were sent to Toronto for a group of seven former Blue Jays headed by infielders Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria, none of whom have signed a big-money deal. Whilst the fire-sale may have been deemed necessary by the Marlins’ business-like ownership the fans, many of whom contributed taxes that helped build the new Marlins Stadium, have almost disowned the team. Of the 40-man roster that started the 2012 season, Miami has traded away 12, and the only true start left in a Marlin uniform is the disgruntled Giancarlo Stanton, who has also been the subject of trade rumours.

Managerial dismissals

Whilst Guillen was one of the first to face the chop, he wasn’t the last, as, in total, six managers departed. After a poor first season in Boston, Bobby Valentine was fired just days after the season ended, and the Red Sox moved swiftly to name then Blue Jays boss John Farrell as his replacement. Farrell in turn was replaced by John gibbons, beginning his second stint as Toronto manager after a somewhat successful four year spell that ended in 2008.

Whilst Brad Mills and Manny Acta were fired in-season from the Astros and Indians respectively, the most predictable move of the off-season was Jim Tracy’s departure from Colorado. Their answer was to bring in first time major league manager, and form shortstop Walt Weiss, whose only previous managerial experience comes in the form of a season as the Varsity coach of an Aurora, CO high school.

A Blue Jays influx

R._A._Dickey

Whilst the Blue Jays were the benefactors of Miami’s salary dump, Toronto didn’t stop there, and made a few notable moves that has pushed them for a middling AL East team to a club that is more than likely a contender for a division title come September.

The biggest move aside from the Marlins trade would be that of the acquisition of last season’s NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, the knuckleball pitcher, who was traded to Toronto from the Mets. Whilst top prospects d’Arnaud and Syndergaard left Toronto in the deal, as well as Buck (who they picked up from Miami), Toronto look ready, on paper, to win, and should be a force to be reckoned with. It is notable that they also picked up Melky Cabrerra, whose devious dealings last year earned him a 50 game suspension. http://www.ukmlb.co.uk/melky-cabrera-suspended-for-50-games/

Big name free-agent moves

Whilst some notable free-agents are still to sign new deals elsewhere, the majority of the biggest names were signed early, creating some definite winners and losers. The Angels acquired Josh Hamilton, the most sought after hitter in the market, yet without an upgrade in their pitching may still struggle to dominate the AL West as they would like.

The Yankees signed Kevin Youkilis and Ichiro Suzuki, but are expected to struggle in a competitive East division this year. Elsewhere, Dan Haren was added to the already impressive Nationals rotation, with Washington headed into the season as early NL favourites.

Whilst the Indians and Dodgers have made waves by signing Nick Swisher and Zach Greinke respectively, they both look a few pieces away from being contenders in tough divisions. However, there are some big names still left to sign, with former Cardinal pitcher Kyle Lohse, outfielders Delmon Young and Michael Bourn, as well as 1B Adam laRoche without deals.

Divisional re-alignment

Although announced last season, the Houston Astros have moved to the AL West, thus creating parity across the six divisions, as each now contain 5 teams. Not only does this make scheduling the league much easier, it has increased the number of intra-league games, which will now be played throughout the season, instead of during a set period.

Due to the interleague scheduling, a ‘Rivals Week’ has been put in place, and is set to be played from 27-30 May, with natural rivals facing off in a four game series.

Of course, for more MLB news, we suggest you check the Official MLB website, and Richard will be bringing you his thoughts on baseball throughout the remaining off-season months through to the World Series.

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