The 2011-2012 off season sure has been a strange one.  Let’s quickly recap it.

Ryan Madson went from being on the cusp from signing a four year $44M contract to remain with the Phillies, only get to get spurned at the last second.  The Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon instead, and Madson toiled around the market before finally settling on a one year $8.5M deal with the Reds.

After the Cardinals won their 11th World Series this past October, Albert Pujols decided that he wanted to go to Disneyland.  While it isn’t uncommon for an athlete to visit the iconic theme park after winning a championship, I doubt anyone expected he’d agree to stay there for the next ten years.

The Marlins have been among the most frugal (if not the most) teams in baseball for the past fifteen years.  With their new ballpark slated to finally open in April, we knew they’d be looking to expand their budget.  We didn’t know they’d end up being tied to practically every major free agent on the market, and would try burn through money like Tony Montana burned through cocaine in Scarface.  They didn’t land the big fish they were hoping for (Pujols), but they did land lefty starter Mark Buehrle and ace closer Heath Bell.  That won’t put them over the hump, but they’re great additions to a core that includes Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Mike Stanton, and Logan Morrison.  At the very least, they’ll be an interesting ball club; especially with Ozzie Guillen at the helm.

It’s January 16th, and Prince Fielder still doesn’t have a home.  I expected Scott Boras to let Pujols set the market, but I didn’t expect it be so tough for a 27 year old power hitting first baseman to land his big contract.  If Fielder and Boras reduce their demands fro 7-8 years to five years, they might open up a few more doors.  Texas is my front runner at this point.

The Yankees and Red Sox have been eerily quiet and fiscally responsible.  Oh yeah, about that…

On Friday, the slumbering Yankees awoke from their winter long hibernation to make two very impressive moves.  In their first move, they traded super catching prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for 21 year old starting pitcher Michael Pineda.  While it might seem odd that the Yankees would trade a major league ready highly touted prospect, the move actually makes a lot of sense and fills a critical need.  To be honest, Brian Cashman and the Yankees haven’t been terribly enthralled with Montero for the past year or so.  They certainly recognized his impressive talents, but his inability to develop behind the plate made him less valuable to the club.  They could have moved him to another position, but where?  Mark Teixeira is signed through 2016, and Nick Swisher is a much better solution in RF.  Some suggested he could be their every day DH, but that sees like a role better suited for Alex Rodriguez in the coming years.  Without a clear position, the only move was to trade Montero.

In Pineda, the Yankees get a young pitcher with an ace ceiling.  Luckily (for them, not us), they don’t need him to be an ace any time soon with C.C. Sabathia fronting their rotation through 2016.  Still, it’s nice to have an ace in waiting, and he should slot nicely into the number two spot in the rotation either in 2012 or 2013.  Pineda has a five-pitch repertoire that includes a four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, slider, and change-up.  Like most young pitchers with plus velocity (94.9 MPH average velocity), he relied on his four-seamer quite a bit last season; throwing it 51.2% of the time.  He doesn’t generate a lot of whiffs (9.5%) with the pitch, but he throws it consistently for strikes (68.2%).  His slider is a true plus pitch, and easily the most effective in his repertoire.  He gets good horizontal movement that breaks away from right-handed hitters, and induced whiffs 18.6% of the time last year.  He throws the pitch to both righties and lefties, but like most pitchers that throw sliders; it’s most effective against like handed batters.  His two-seamer, cutter, and change-up are mostly show pitches, with each being thrown less than 5% of the time.  If he hopes to be successful in the AL East, he’ll need to develop a reliable third pitch.  The change-up seems to be an obvious option as it would give him an alternate pitch to neutralize lefties.  The cutter is also a possibility as he’ll have the opportunity to learn from the master, Mariano Rivera.

Last season, Pineda induced strikeouts 24.9% of the time, a rate of more than one per inning.  He has good command as evidenced by his 7.9% walk rate and 3.15 K/BB ratio; both excellent ratios for a 21 year old.  In terms of his batted ball profile, I’m a little concerned about his fly ball tendencies.  When he was pitching at the homerphobic Safeco Field, this wouldn’t have been a problem.  Now that he’ll be pitching half of his games in the homer friendly Yankee Stadium, it could become an issue.  While it’s tough to call him an extreme fly ball pitcher with a 0.81 GB/FB ratio, it does make him more likely to suffer from homer prone tendencies.  Still, with his otherwise great peripherals, he’s talented enough to avoid the pitfalls that plague lesser pitchers.  A 3.75 FIP with 170-180 innings should a reasonable projection for 2012.

The second move the Yankees made on Friday was acquiring former Dodger right-handed starting pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda, via free agency.  Those of you who know me can tell you that this move really hurt me.  I’ve long been a fan of Kuroda, and thought he would have been a great addition to the back of the Red Sox rotation.  Instead, he’ll step into the middle of the Yankee rotation, presumably as either their number two or three starter.

Kuroda, 36, doesn’t do anything spectacularly, but he does a lot of things very well.  He generates a lot of ground balls (48.6% career) via his sinker, and induces a great deal of whiffs using his slider (15.5%) and splitter (18.5%).  He also throws a four-seamer and a curve, but the curve is mostly a “show” pitch.  Moving to the AL East from the NL West should pose a few additional challenges for the veteran starter.  Still, for a pitcher with a career 3.55 FIP, he should be able to make the transition pretty easily.  At the very least, the Yankees should expect around 200 innings of 3.75-4.00 FIP pitching, which should be good for about 2.5-3.0 fWAR.

The moves the Yankees made last Friday were very strong, and clearly put them in the driver’s seat in the AL East for 2012.  There’s still plenty of time remaining this offseason for both the Red Sox and Rays to make game changing moves.  With few impact players remaining (Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson among them) and little money available, both teams will need make smart, incremental moves to fill their remaining roster needs.  The good news is that teams don’t win championships on paper in January–as we painfully learned last season.  A lot can happen between now and October, but for now, the Yankees are looking pretty good.