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After Brian Wilson struck out Nelson Cruz to give the San Francisco Giants the 2010 World Series Championship over the Texas Rangers, baseball has seemingly fallen off the map.  With football, hockey, and basketball seasons all in full swing, it is no wonder why baseball was swept under the rug.  However, after the annual winter meeting for Major League Baseball general managers concluded, there have been significant changes to the landscape of rosters.  With all of the distractions of other sports seasons, it is sometimes hard to keep track of which players are going where.  There have been several “blockbuster” transactions made between teams in each league.  The outlook for the 2011 season is significantly different than it was last year.

The first big deal made in the offseason came when annual Cy Young candidate, Cliff Lee, did not choose to remain in Texas, where he helped the Rangers get to the 2010 championship series.  Nor did he choose to go for a tantalizingly large contract offer from the New York Yankees.  Lee instead decided to return to Philadelphia, where he helped the Phillies get to the 2009 World Series.  Lee joins a stellar rotation in Philadelphia that also consists of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels.  There has not been this potent of a rotation in the MLB for about a decade.  Lee, Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels are each capable of getting 20 wins in a season.  The Phillies only significant loss of the offseason was when Jayson Werth went to the Washington Nationals.  Still, with Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and most of their other key sluggers still in the lineup, the Phillies are the early favorites in the National League. 

Other teams in the NL with rising stock include the Chicago Cubs, who acquired pitcher Matt Garza and slugger Carlos Pena from the Tampa Rays, and the Milwaukee Brewers, who added starter Zach Greinke from the Kansas City Royals and starter Shaun Marcum from the Toronto Blue Jays.  The two NL Central foes are really shaking things up.  Considering that last year that both teams were looking up at the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals, neither of whom made a significant off-season deal, the NL Central is going to be as exciting as it ever has been when April rolls around.

In the NL West, the defending champs still have most of their team together, including all of the “lights out” rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner.  They will have a good chance to defend their title with those pitchers.  The Rockies also look good after signing shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to a long-term deal.

As usual, big names have been coming and going from the teams in the American League East.  It was already mentioned that Garza, Pena, and Marcum had gone to the National League.  In the early winter, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees were having notable off seasons but for different reasons.  For the Red Sox, it was about who they did get, while for the Yankees, it was about who they missed out on.  Boston was able to acquire base-stealing-threat Carl Crawford from the Tampa Rays as well as slugger Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres.  Meanwhile, the Yankees’ best efforts to bring in big-name players like Cliff Lee did not materialize into deals.  Much of New York’s winter news focused on their awkward struggle to get a deal with captain and shortstop Derek Jeter.  Eventually the two sides came to an agreement, but not before feelings were hurt and questions surfaced about how much longer Jeter will be playing in the MLB.  The Yankees finally landed Rafael Soriano, another pitcher from the Tampa Rays.  Soriano will be the set-up man for veteran closer Mariano Rivera in 2011.  The Yankees also added catcher Russell Martin from the Los Angeles Dodgers to help take the load of a full season off of Jorge Posada.

Tampa lost a lot of pieces to their team, but the Rays added players like Johnny Damon from the New York Yankees and the fun-loving Manny Ramirez from the Chicago White Sox.  With pitchers David Price and Jeremy Hellickson still in the rotation, the Rays can contend for a wildcard spot.

Elsewhere in the American League, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim made a splash recently when they acquired power-hitting Vernon Wells from Toronto.  The Angels were also involved in talks with Carl Crawford, but saw those efforts fall short.

Many of the other contenders in the American League, like the Texas Rangers, Minnesota Twins, and Chicago White Sox are still intact, which should make for a fantastic finish for the wildcard race.

The player movement in the MLB has been intriguing thus far in 2011 and there is surely more to come as the countdown to spring training in March commences.