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Fixing What Went Wrong

After being confronted with failure or disappointment, it’s human nature to look back and assess what went wrong. After all, you can’t prevent the same mistakes from being made in the future if you don’t know what went wrong in the first place.

Fans and general managers use this line of thinking when they look back at the previous season. They want to know what kept their team from making the playoffs. The answer to this questions isn’t difficult to find — a suspect bullpen, injuries to key players, etc. But whatever the reason, the answer to this question is typically the focal point of the team’s offseason efforts. However, it’s imperative to keep the larger picture in mind. Improving one area to the detriment of others doesn’t help the team overall.

I believe that, this offseason, several of the more criticized moves have their roots in the team in question focusing too heavily on last year’s failures. Each of the following three teams addressed one of the main reasons they fell short of expectations in 2010, but the improvements have come at the expense of other areas of the club, leaving these teams in much the same condition as they were last year.

1. Anaheim Angels. The 2010 Problem: Outfield Defense.

The Angels came into the 2010 season considered by many to be the front-runner in the AL West, but they ended up finishing third in the division with an 80-82 record. While some of the blame fell on the unfortunate injury to Kendry Morales and the ineffectiveness of Scott Kazmir, their outfield defense was a major problem. Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, and Hideki Matsui all got significant playing time in left, combining to post a -9 UZR. In center, Torii Hunter began to show some of his age, posting a -3.8 UZR, and Abreu and Rivera cost Angel pitchers almost 7 runs with their below-average defense in right. All told, the Angels outfield (pre-Peter Bourjos) cost the team close to two wins!

With Vernon Wells in the fold and Peter Bourjos patrolling center, the Angels now have three center fielders, likely giving themselves one of the better defensive outfields in baseball. Improving their outfield defense was obviously not the only consideration the Angels made when acquiring Vernon Wells, but I think it factored in prominently. Even with Torii Hunter’s likely departure in free agency, Michael Trout’s ascension through the minors suggests that the Angels have made the philosophical commitment to deploying three center fielders over the next several seasons.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks. The 2010 Problems: Bullpen and Strikeouts.

The D-backs came into the season with more modest expectations than the Angels. Still, with a talented, young offense and a rotation led by Dan Haren, they were a legitimate contender in the NL West. But hopes of playing in October were quickly derailed by a bullpen that was nothing short of disastrous. The D-backs’ pen finished last in baseball with a 5.72 ERA — a mark of over a full run higher than the 29th-ranked Cubs. New GM Kevin Towers wasted little time addressing the bullpen, adding J.J. Putz from free agency, and David Hernandez, Kam Mickolio, and Armando Galarraga in trades (Sam Demel was also picked up during the season).

With these additions, it’s near certain that the D-backs pen will be much improved in 2011 (in fact, a regression to the mean would likely have led to an improved pen even if few moves had been made). The problem, however, is that the cost of improving the pen has been steep. The lineup has lost Conor Jackson, Mark Reynolds, and Adam LaRoche. While the 2010 D-backs will likely strikeout less, the loss of power and OBP will likely lead to fewer runs, leaving the Diamondbacks in much the same overall position as they were last year.

3. Florida Marlins. 2010 Problem: Bullpen.

The Marlins didn’t have the quite the same late-inning woes as the Diamondbacks, but they finished second in baseball with 25 blown saves, and the bullpen has been a recurring problem for the Fish over the past couple seasons. With a limited budget, the Marlins were more inclined to trade for relief help than explore the free-agent market, and they ultimately traded Cameron Maybin to the Padres in exchange for Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb. Mujica and Webb are two solid pen arms, both of whom figure to help in 2011. The drawback is that with a hole in center field, the Marlins traded away their best internal replacement. The onus now falls on Scott Cousins and Bryan Peterson. Both players have shown promise, but neither has the offensive upside or the defensive chops of Maybin. The Marlins have a strong track record of player development, so perhaps they deserve the benefit of the doubt. But in moving to strengthen their bullpen, they’ve hurt their defense and lineup enough that I don’t believe the team is any stronger.