Pittsburg Every team tries to improve in the offseason - some with splashy moves that make headlines, others with quiet deals for unheralded players.
Some of them work, some don't. And the winners and losers often separate themselves pretty quickly. As baseball gets set for the second half, here are three clubs that hit it big last winter and three that struck out.
¢ New York Mets. The addition of slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado has made the entire lineup better. He bats between All-Stars Carlos Beltran and David Wright, who are both putting up huge numbers. All-Star catcher Paul Lo Duca and 47-year-old Julio Franco have brought a winning attitude to the clubhouse. Xavier Nady and reserve outfielder Endy Chavez have made key contributions, too. Billy Wagner hasn't been worth his $43 million price tag, but he's a much better closer than Braden Looper and the Mets have a 12-game lead in the NL East.
¢ Toronto Blue Jays. General manager J.P. Ricciardi spent a lot of money last offseason with one purpose in mind: challenging New York and Boston in the AL East. Well, that's exactly what the Blue Jays (49-39) are doing. They're only five games behind the first-place Red Sox, thanks in large part to newcomers B.J. Ryan (24 saves, 0.84 ERA), Troy Glaus (23 homers, 60 RBIs), Lyle Overbay and Bengie Molina. Toronto does miss Orlando Hudson's defense at second base, and $55 million pitcher A.J. Burnett has proved to be an injury risk.
¢ Cincinnati Reds. While the Mets and Blue Jays spent big money on big-name players, Cincinnati improved with a few quiet additions. New owner Bob Castellini started by hiring GM Wayne Krivsky out of Minnesota's front office. Krivsky traded outfielder Wily Mo Pena to Boston for pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who made the NL All-Star team, in a deal that's been a steal so far. Krivsky also acquired catcher David Ross, first baseman Scott Hatteberg and second baseman Brandon Phillips for next to nothing. Coming off five straight losing seasons, the second-place Reds are 45-44 despite going 2-8 to close the first half.
¢ Kansas City Royals. Bringing in a slew of mediocre veterans (Scott Elarton, Joe Mays, Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz, Reggie Sanders, Elmer Dessens) hasn't helped. The Royals (31-56) have the worst record in the American League, and GM Allard Baird lost his job. There is some young talent on the way in the minors, and maybe new GM Dayton Moore can turn things around after coming over from Atlanta.
¢ Cleveland Indians. Mark Shapiro is a bright GM who has this team headed in the right direction over the long haul, but something isn't working this year. Young shortstop Jhonny Peralta hasn't hit since getting a contract extension during spring training, and the disappointing Indians failed to replace ace Kevin Millwood. Paul Byrd isn't the answer and Jason Johnson was a bust. Some think manager Eric Wedge's job could be in jeopardy.
¢ Atlanta Braves. GM John Schuerholz has done a terrific job during Atlanta's incredible run of 14 straight division titles, yet the Braves (40-49) haven't found a way to shore up their shaky bullpen this season. The loss of pitching coach Leo Mazzone to Baltimore appears to have hurt the whole staff.