Five teams hope to cash in after going all in
Red Sox, White Sox, Tigers, Phils, Brewers play to win in 2011
When you're the general manager of a Major League club, you're playing with your owner's money and your fans' emotions.You, more than anybody, know what kind of talent you have on hand and in the pipeline. And you, more than anybody, should know if you have the resources and/or the need to build around that talent in the offseason, and if those needs can be met in the free agent or trade markets. What it all boils down to, ultimately, is a choice: To stand pat or to be aggressive. And while standing pat doesn't always mean waving a white flag and being aggressive doesn't always mean hoisting a championship banner, what you do over the course of the winter goes a long way toward determining how seriously your club is taken on Opening Day. Now that the biggest moves of the winter have apparently all transpired and we are ready to set our sights on Spring Training camps that open in Florida and Arizona in two weeks, we can safely identify five teams that, for one reason or another, fell short of expectations in 2010 and have made obvious efforts to turn things around in 2011. Each of the five GMs of said clubs could have opted to make only minor tweaks and field younger clubs this season. Instead, Theo Epstein of the Red Sox, Kenny Williams of the White Sox, Dave Dombrowski of the Tigers, Ruben Amaro Jr. of the Phillies and Doug Melvin of the Brewers all did their part to make this offseason interesting. They're going for it. "It's uncomfortable sometimes," Williams admitted recently, "but you either are all in or you are out. ... If you are in it, stand up and show you are." In the wake of their winter moves, these five are clearly among those in it to win it. But which of these aggressive clubs are most likely to see a payoff? And which will enter "gloom and doom" territory should they fall short of their 2011 goals? Let's take a look, shall we? BOSTON RED SOX After the Red Sox missed the postseason for just the second time in eight years, nobody expected them to pull back. If anything, a frustrating year in which injuries besieged the lineup figured to inspire Epstein into action. So the decision to bring in reinforcements for 2011 (and beyond) was no surprise whatsoever. The surprise, if anything, was the sheer amount of resources tossed around in acquiring two of the game's most feared offensive players, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.
HOW THEY FARED
What we have here is a Red Sox team that will be picked by many to win the American League East. But that doesn't mean this team won't enter the year without question marks. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a risk behind the plate, and the rotation has a lot riding on Josh Beckett and John Lackey returning to form.On the whole, though, the questions in Boston seem relatively minor when compared with the outlook for the vast majority of teams. This is simply a loaded club. What's more, Epstein didn't wholly sacrifice the future to bulk up in the present. He got two superstar players in their mid- to late-20s, and even with the loss of three highly regarded prospects -- Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and Reymond Fuentes -- in the Gonzalez trade with the Padres, the Boston farm system is still considered deep. "It's aggressive," Epstein said of this winter's activity, "but we've been operating within our belief system, which I feel good about. I think if you are aggressive and if you execute aggressive moves, you don't have to set aside the things you believe in to do it." The Red Sox might be poised for a long run of championship contention. Unfortunately, it's a little difficult to say the same about the other Sox, on the South Side of Chicago. CHICAGO WHITE SOX The White Sox will enter 2011 with a franchise-record payroll of $123 million after retaining Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski and signing slugger Adam Dunn and relievers Jesse Crain and Will Ohman. It was a surprisingly bold winter for a team that had been expected to take a step back and evaluate its youth this year. "When I left after the  season," manager Ozzie Guillen said, "I thought we were going to go with the kids." Instead, team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf let Williams do his thing. The GM was burned by the late-season acquisition of Manny Ramirez in 2010, but Dunn seems a safer bet in his first exposure to the AL. Nobody expected Williams to be able to sign both Konerko and Dunn, but Dunn's willingness to take less money on the front end of his four-year, $56 million deal gave the White Sox the flexibility to retain their captain. The White Sox will be a popular pick to win an improved AL Central because of those additions and what appears to be a strong starting rotation. That said, the rotation is no sure thing. Edwin Jackson was strong down the stretch after the Sox acquired him last year, but he has to prove he can put together an entire season. Gavin Floyd has struggled the past two years. And the biggest question of all revolves around the biggest name of all -- Jake Peavy. His ongoing recovery from a detached shoulder muscle could dictate whether the Sox are a great team or just a good one. That's the immediate concern. Looking more long-term, the Sox have two top prospects -- Chris Sale, who could claim the closer's job, and Brent Morel, who will vie for time at third base -- who could/should impact the 2011 club. Beyond that, however, the farm system is a bit barren. Ultimately, how well the Sox are positioned beyond 2011 could be determined by the fans. Reinsdorf has made it clear that the Sox overextended themselves financially this winter in a leap of faith that the fans will turn out. "I just decided like two days before the Adam Dunn signing, 'Let's go for it,'" Reinsdorf said. "'Let's hope if we spend the money, the attendance will pick up.' And once we committed to Adam Dunn, then we had to be all in. Then it had to be [Konerko], and we had to bring A.J. back." DETROIT TIGERS The White Sox weren't the only ones in the AL Central who were aggressive this winter. The Tigers made the biggest splash in the early days of the Hot Stove season, retaining Brandon Inge and Jhonny Peralta for the left side of the infield, bringing in Victor Martinez to help out at catcher and first base with a four-year, $50 million contract, surprising the industry by extending a three-year, $16.5 million commitment to reliever Joaquin Benoit and bringing back Magglio Ordonez on a one-year, $10 million deal. The Tigers later rounded out their rotation by taking a chance on Brad Penny with a one-year deal with a $3 million base salary. Despite all that spending, though, Detroit will enter 2011 with a smaller payroll than it had a year ago. Back in 2008, the Tigers really showed us how a team can go "all in" and get burned. They are just now climbing out of the rut of some bad contracts (Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Inge) signed around that time. While the Tigers have their share of question marks (Peralta at shortstop is a big one), they seem to have effectively built around a strong starting rotation core of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, and they don't appear to have mortgaged their future in the process. "I think now we've reached a point where we've kind of made a transition," Dombrowski said. "We still have a couple veteran players, but overall, we're kind of a young club. ... We have a chance, if we do well this year, to be good for a lot of years and to build around those guys." That said, the Tigers do have added incentive to make it happen this year. Both Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland are in the final year of their contracts. "We're all aware that our [tail] is on the line," Leyland said at the end of last season, "and that's fine. I'll put my [tail] on the line with those guys." PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES The Phillies have much on the line in 2011, too. Because it has been made abundantly clear -- be it through the stated expectations of the fans, the media, the front office or manager Charlie Manuel -- that anything less than a World Series title will be considered a great disappointment. With four front-line starters in the rotation in Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the expectations are justified. One can harp on any of the Phillies' concerns -- chief among them the utter absence of a right-handed power threat in the lineup -- but they don't distill the bottom line that this team looks like a playoff lock. And if the Phillies can indeed get to October, then just imagine the trouble opposing teams would face trying to match up against those four horses. So, what's the cost of putting together the game's most feared rotation? It's a hefty one. All told, the Phillies traded 13 prospects and spent more than $255 million to have the above four and Joe Blanton in the mix. But Amaro said he wouldn't have gone to such lengths to field this starting five if it weren't set up for the long haul. Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Blanton are all under contract for at least two more seasons. The Phillies and Oswalt have mutual options for 2012. "In each of these cases," he said, "we had some level of control beyond that particular season. If any of these guys were one-and-done, I don't think we would have done any of these deals." Yes, the lineup ain't getting any younger. But the Phillies have shown in the past that they're willing to spend to augment the in-house commodities, and there is plenty of young talent -- most notably outfielder Domonic Brown -- coming up the pipeline. The Phillies presently have one of the more highly regarded farm systems. Their long-range outlook won't lessen the demands made on the Phillies in 2011, but at least it offers some consolation should the Phillies fall short. MILWAUKEE BREWERS In Milwaukee, such consolation is not as readily available. Clearly, the Brew Crew is greatly improved in the wake of trading for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Greinke, the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner for the Royals, could be even more dominant now that he's in the NL and is pitching for a contending club. And Marcum is an underrated pitcher who quietly proved his worth for the Blue Jays in the brutal AL East. With Yovani Gallardo already in the mix, the Brewers have one of the league's more formidable starting staffs. In truth, the Brewers did what they had to do to grab a coveted, proven talent like Greinke. Had he been a free agent, they would have had no shot at affording him. But they got him by dipping into the farm system and shipping off some top talent -- shortstop Alcides Escobar, outfielder Lorenzo Cain and right-handers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. It was the same type of transaction that landed CC Sabathia from Cleveland and pushed the Brewers into the postseason in 2008. But in the wake of all these high-profile trades (second-base prospect Brett Lawrie was shipped to Toronto for Marcum), the Brewers' farm system is gutted. The club's performance in 2011 will determine whether it was all worth it. "This is sort of a 'now' deal," Melvin said after the Greinke trade. "But I told Zack Greinke this: 'It feels like we got CC Sabathia, but we got him for two years, and maybe even longer.'" Yeah, maybe. That'll be up to Greinke, who is signed through 2012 and would obviously be a top-tier free agent. But with Prince Fielder ready to cash in -- most likely elsewhere -- as a free agent at season's end and little help or hope in the pipeline, the Brewers arguably have more riding on 2011 than any other club. Of course, that's what it means to go "all in." And as uncomfortable as it might be for the general managers, it sure is fun for the fans.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. Jason Beck, Ian Browne, Adam McCalvy, Scott Merkin, Todd Zolecki contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.