Five movers poised to have impact on teams
Pujols, Fielder, Latos, Gonzalez, Reyes should thrive
When Braves president John Schuerholz was growing up, he and his friends had passionate debates about whether it would be better for their favorite teams to add a great hitter or a dominant pitcher.
"I can remember as a kid: 'Willie Mays or Sandy Koufax, who are you taking?' Mickey Mantle or whoever," Schuerholz said.
It's an interesting question, with multiple factors to consider. Blue Jays manager John Farrell, for example, thinks league affiliation makes a difference.
"Any time you can lengthen out a lineup, particularly in the American League, where offense is a premium, it alters how you pitch to the lineup," Farrell said.
Added Bobby Cox, who managed the Braves to 14 consecutive division titles: "It seems to me, when we give out big contracts ... generally the American League is going to get them. Because of the number of years on those contracts, there's a safety net in the DH. And it's unfortunate that we lose those guys out of the National League."
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Tigers Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline, now a special assistant for the team, remembered how much of a difference adding Darrell Evans made to the 1984 club, which won the World Series.
"It's hard to explain, but one guy can be so important," Kaline said. "He can just set up the whole lineup, and it helps everybody. Guys hitting behind them and guys hitting ahead of them are going to get more pitches to hit. Over the course of the year, that might mean 70 or 80 more times they can drive in big runs.
"They wear out the opposing pitchers, too, keep them from going deep in the game, because they throw so many more pitches. It's a number of things."
Teams will address specific needs when adding big-name players, but Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick believes that as baseball evolves, the focus must shift as well.
"I would probably go with an impact hitter," Gillick said. "A year or two ago, I might have said I'd go with an impact pitcher, but things have changed. It's more difficult to find impact hitters than it was five or six years ago. There aren't as many around. So, consequently, I think people are going to be looking for offense. If you've got somebody who can provide offense, that's pretty valuable right now."
Schuerholz has a different take.
"Pitcher. That's been the story of my life," he said. "I started my career with the Orioles [and] built around pitching and athleticism. We took that process and philosophy to Kansas City, with the principal core being excellent pitching. [In Atlanta] we've done that. Bobby [Cox's] focus on the rebuilding of this franchise before I even came here was focused on those great young pitchers, and one of the first moves I made was to get Greg Maddux, signed him as a free agent. So it's about pitching."
Let the argument continue. In the meantime, here's a look at five players who changed teams this winter and who should make an impact in 2012.
Albert Pujols: The Angels grabbed the most sought-after free agent of the offseason and signed him to a 10-year, $252 million contract.
"He does everything. He's a leader. He's a great defensive player. He's the best hitter in baseball," Cox said.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said that Pujols will change the dynamic of the entire lineup.
"If the perception is [that] these guys are just going to sit back and get fastballs thrown to them all day long, that's wrong," Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times. "That isn't going to happen. But I definitely think there are going to be more at-bats where [the other hitters are] challenged than there are when you don't have a guy [like Pujols] behind you."
Prince Fielder: The Tigers' hopes took a big hit in January when Victor Martinez underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but optimism soared again when Fielder was signed to a nine-year, $214 million deal. Fielder will team up with Miguel Cabrera to give the Tigers what is potentially one of the best 3-4 hitting combinations in history.
"The Tigers had a good lineup to begin with. They're going to miss Victor Martinez a tremendous amount," said Farrell. "But to have the ability to just go out and add Prince Fielder, not many teams are capable of doing that. Those names are very noticeable when they're on the lineup card, I'll tell you that."
Mat Latos: Of all the potential impact players who moved, Latos has the shortest track record. But that didn't prevent Reds general manager Walt Jocketty from giving up four top prospects to get the 24-year-old right-hander, who is expected to slip into the rotation behind Opening Day starter Johnny Cueto.
"He has a lot of upside potential," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "That's what we're banking on. Not just for the short term but for the long term."
Gio Gonzalez: Gonzalez, for whom the Nationals gave Oakland a boatload of prospects, couldn't have been more upbeat during his introductory news conference.
"With the offense and the defense that we have, we're going to be around for quite a while," Gonzalez declared. "Hopefully we can get this championship out of the way and try to get a couple more while I'm still here."
Considering that this franchise has only won two postseason games in its history, as the Montreal Expos in 1981, that's a pretty bold statement. Then again, having Gonzalez paired with Stephen Strasburg at the top of the rotation certainly makes that a reachable goal.
Jose Reyes: With big bopper Giancarlo Stanton already on board, the Marlins went in a slightly different direction to improve their lineup by giving fleet shortstop Reyes a six-year, $106 million contract.
"He led the league in hitting, he can steal bases," said Cox. "He doesn't miss many balls at shortstop; he brings a tremendous amount of energy. And he's loose. You don't want to play this game tight. You want to play it loose, and he does. That runs off on the other guys as well."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.