MLB Free Agency 2012: Grading All 30 Teams' Offseasons So Far
The MLB free agency period is starting to pass, and while some major players are still free agents, most of the big names have been signed. As a result, there are some teams out there that are already set for the 2012 season.
The new year is generally the time where we can start looking more closely at what the teams have done in free agency and begin evaluating them. Even though other big moves could happen, realistically teams have dealt with some priorities.
Here are grades for all 30 teams so far. Grades are of course subjective, and there could very well be teams that I would give an F yet another person would give an A.
Maybe it's just my imagination, but it always feels like the Baltimore Orioles are notoriously slow in free agency, making their moves rather late in the game. That is certainly the case this year, as Endy Chavez and Taylor Teagarden have been their only real decent pickups.
They still need to find a replacement for Vladimir Guerrero, and they need pitching badly. Dana Eveland doesn't count as a major move, since he's really a fifth starter, and they have enough of those. Their grade will likely be higher in March, but for now the moves only get a shrug of the shoulders from me.
Boston Red Sox
Perhaps the best offseason move by the Red Sox was acquiring Bobby Valentine to be the next manager. I love the pickup, and his enthusiasm should rub off on the team. Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey replacing Jonathan Papelbon is a great touch as well, though it begs the question of who will close.
Having said that, the bullpen was not the problem last year; it was the rotation. After Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, they pretty much have a mess, and they have yet to fix that. I like their moves so far, though, and there's enough pitching talent left that they can make it work.
Grade: A- (will change heavily based on starting pitching decisions to come)
New York Yankees
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The New York Yankees don't have much to fix heading into 2012. They need to decide on a DH, which they could do in-house, and some pitching depth could be useful as well depending on how Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett do.
Aside from re-signing Garcia, the Yankees have really done nothing in the offseason. They could potentially sign Hiroyuki Nakajima, but a deal seems unlikely, meaning that they may be stuck bringing back Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez, who would be bargains at least.
I'm grading them rather high because they didn't need to make any rash moves and because I have faith in Ivan Nova as a No. 2 guy. However, I find their free-agent struggles the past two years concerning in the grand scheme of things.
Tampa Bay Rays
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The Rays, first and foremost, have a terrible catching situation, as John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach had terrible years and as a result were let go. Who do they bring in to replace them? Jose Molina, who never has and never will be an everyday catcher.
I like the re-signing of Kyle Farnsworth, and picking up James Shields' option was a no-brainer; if you know he'll leave in free agency, then he's great trade bait. The only other additions were to the bullpen, which did not really need fixing, so I'm not sure why they spent money on that.
They have yet to replace Casey Kotchman or replace/re-sign Johnny Damon, and if they don't add the right role players soon, they'll tumble fast. The moves they've made so far, though, are decent ones.
Grade: C- (I'm factoring in their lack of movement, which lowers it)
Toronto Blue Jays
To start, the fact that they traded for Jeff Mathis is laughable. I'm surprised he's been on a major league roster as long as he has with his hitting. Yes, his defense is nice, but I can't take picking up a .194 hitter seriously.
Replacing Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco with Sergio Santos through a trade and reacquiring Jason Frasor will help the bullpen slightly, even if I liked Nestor Molina as a prospect.
Their offseason so far is another one I'm just shrugging at, as there are no noticeable improvements anywhere. They have the power players to do well, but the role players need to both show up and be signed.
Grade: C (had they acquired Yu Darvish, it would be a lot higher)
Chicago White Sox
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I can't figure out the Chicago White Sox. They lost their longtime ace in Mark Buehrle, so in response they pretty much created their own, signing John Danks to a big-time extension, though he's merely a good pitcher, not a great one.
Trading Sergio Santos for a prospect is entirely fine if they're going to replace him with a nice closer (not Matt Thornton), but they haven't signed anyone. They also traded Carlos Quentin for prospects, simultaneously beginning rebuilding and not doing rebuilding.
I get why Danks was signed long-term, as he's still young, but I hate seeing teams that have no idea whether or not they want to rebuild, as the ensuing offseason is always disastrous.
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The Indians needed to acquire three things in the offseason: pitching depth, a first baseman and a fourth outfielder who can be high-reward. They got the first in Derek Lowe, who's good as an innings eater, and they didn't really give up anything.
Aside from a bunch of minor league contracts, the only other signing was Grady Sizemore. While I like that it's incentive-based, I feel like the move is a case of dwelling on the past. They still need that first baseman, and if they don't get one, then the grade will plummet.
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The Tigers have done very little this offseason, and honestly, it's because they haven't needed to do much. The only thing they would need is some bullpen depth and a backup infielder to help with Brandon Inge, who's starting to show his age.
They are not going after a fifth starter, and I actually like that. A high-level prospect would probably do better than Brad Penny anyway. Octavio Dotel is a great pickup for the bullpen, and keeping Jose Valverde and Ramon Santiago were good moves.
Kansas City Royals
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Aside from the Tigers, the only AL Central team that I think really gets it is the Royals. Who saw that coming? They signed Jonathan Broxton, who is a low-risk high-reward situation that could be great.
They also traded Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez. Cabrera feels like he was a one-year fluke, while Sanchez feels like he has more staying power, so as a result I love this move, as it adds badly needed starting pitching.
The only question mark I have is on Yuniesky Betancourt, who I've never been a fan of, but his contract is cheap, so I can shrug it off.
Grade: A- (Royals could be 2012's sleeper team)
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While the Twins lost Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel, they have a large quantity of signings that could make up for it. Anyone's grade on the Twins is really dependent on how they feel about the several players acquired.
I don't feel that Matt Capps has staying power as a closer and did not like that deal, nor did I like the Jason Marquis pickup, as he's no better than the ragtag rotation they have.
Ryan Doumit I actually like, and having him split time with Joe Mauer should pay off. Jamey Carroll would be a nice one-year pickup—not a fan of two years.
The big signing was, of course, Josh Willingham. He doesn't have the intangibles Cuddyer has, but he can certainly hit for power, so he pretty much is a substitute Kubel-Cuddyer blend.
In the end, their lineup should suffice, but I'm afraid (in a bad way) to see how their rotation plays out.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
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The Angels have signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this offseason. Aside from giving Pujols too many years, there's not much more you can ask for there. However, there were other moves.
They sent out Jeff Mathis and brought in Chris Iannetta, which is a big improvement, and they brought in LaTroy Hawkins to replace Fernando Rodney, which is also an improvement since Rodney appears to be out of gas.
Besides the lengths of contracts, there's really nothing to criticize.
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The Oakland Athletics were going to be able to keep the core of Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey for several more seasons and could have made some headway in the AL West. Instead, they gave up.
Yes, they have a boatload of prospects now and might have the best farm teams, but their major league roster is entirely crippled. They signed Coco Crisp and may have overpaid for their only major bat in the lineup now.
There was not really a reason to pull the trigger now on everyone, and I question what exactly is going on in Oakland. I get that Texas and Los Angeles would be tough to beat, but you can still try.
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The Seattle Mariners might be trying to play it safe since they've signed players to bolster their lineup in the past that have failed miserably. At least, that's a theory on why they've done so little.
The only real moves they've done have been acquiring George Sherrill, who provides experience to a bullpen that was depleted a bit, and John Jaso, who may or may not be a good pickup depending on whether he bounces back.
I can't blame Seattle too much, since they seem to be accepting of the fact that they will need to rebuild in a year or two without already giving up like Oakland did. Honestly, their grade this year will rest on acquiring Prince Fielder.
Grade: C (A- if they bring in Fielder)
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Seeing as how the Rangers were in the World Series the past two years, all they really needed to do is bolster their pitching staff. For starters, with Neftali Feliz likely starting, they signed Joe Nathan. I like the move since Nathan can be elite when he's on, and if it doesn't work out, Feliz can go back to closing.
To replace C.J. Wilson, the Rangers bet on Yu Darvish, which should be a great pickup. However, they are likely going to overpay for him, yet at the same time they need to sign him. The rest of the Rangers' moves were minor, so it all comes down to Darvish.
Grade: Incomplete (A if Darvish signs, D if he doesn't)
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The Braves may be the most difficult team to rate. They nearly made the playoffs last year, and they still have a buttload of prospects ready to make an impact. Since they are still young and are built to contend down the line, they didn't need to make any crazy moves.
They certainly did not. They got rid of some dead weight in Derek Lowe and Nate McLouth, which may have been a better use of their resources. I'm not as crazy about trading Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado, but I get why given their amazing farm talent.
The only question mark I have is if they're sure about leaving the shortstop position open for rookie Tyler Pastornicky to jump in. It's worked with two positions in a row with Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, though, so I'm not one to judge.
Grade: A (sometimes the best move is no move at all)
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The Miami Marlins offseason was full of flash—there's no question about that. Trading for Heath Bell was a solid pickup, even though it remains to be seen how he'll play in San Diego. Mark Buehrle was a great pickup as well so long as he remains consistent.
The signing of Jose Reyes, on the other hand, was full of question marks. They overpaid tremendously for a guy who is often injured, though re-signing Greg Dobbs will provide insurance if that happens again.
Despite overpaying somewhat for the players, the Marlins still have a great foundation if all the players are as advertised, and the fact that they were able to keep Hanley Ramirez bodes well for the future.
New York Mets
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The Mets needed to do three things this offseason. They needed to replace Jose Reyes, find a couple capable starters and rebuild a terrible bullpen.
Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco and Ramon Ramirez were all brought in, and that is a huge improvement to the bullpen, so they got that one down. The only other move of note, however, was the Andres Torres trade, and it remains to be seen if he can play like he did in 2010 again.
I could argue about the lack of a big move, but given the Mets' recent history with marquee signings, perhaps it's better that they stuck with the smaller stuff, like the bullpen. They still need to replace Chris Capuano; granted, Johan Santana's return may fix that.
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Even after signing Cliff Lee out of nowhere last offseason, the Philadelphia Phillies came out firing again, signing Jonathan Papelbon and re-signing Jimmy Rollins, both great moves. Adding Jim Thome is nice, though it remains to be seen what his role will be since he can't DH in the NL.
Ty Wigginton provides good insurance offensively even though he's a terrible defender, and Laynce Nix is a good signing as long as he's the fourth outfielder. It's hard to find fault with any of the signings unless you're big on defense and hate the Wigginton trade, even though they gave up next to nothing for him.
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Pretty much every offseason, it's a given that the Nationals are going to make a big move. They did exactly that by acquiring Gio Gonzalez. It gives them a solid one-two punch in a tough NL East, though they gave up a lot of prospects.
The only other acquisitions were Ryan Perry, Mark DeRosa and Chien-Ming Wang; the rest were minor league contracts. In and of itself, this is just an okay offseason, but knowing the Nationals, they will make another big signing at some point.
Their grade is low since they failed to address any lineup issues; they ranked near the bottom in most categories last season, and they can't rely too much on the farm system since they gave a lot up.
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The Chicago Cubs began the first step of the rebuilding process this year. They hired Theo Epstein, traded veteran reliever Sean Marshall for Travis Wood and let Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez go, leaving one troublesome contract in Alfonso Soriano.
A trade with the Rockies to bring in Ian Stewart and signing David DeJesus will keep them quasi-competitive over the next couple seasons. The moves the Cubs made were not meant to have them win now, but were meant to make it so that in the next two free agencies, they can make their mark.
Grade: B- (the moves aren't anything special despite the rebuilding, though Theo Epstein bumps this up big time)
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I simultaneously respect the Cincinnati Reds and want to shake my head at how they handled this offseason. They made two major moves, the first of which was acquiring Sean Marshall for Travis Wood. This gives them a great setup man for whoever they sign to close out games.
The second trade, however, is the confusing one. They acquired Mat Latos for all their big-name prospects. Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso are both gone, as is Edinson Volquez.
Latos is a good young pitcher, but he did pitch in San Diego. How do we know those numbers will carry over? (Look how Aaron Harang pitched in San Diego this year, Cincy.)
I bounced back and forth, but the more I read about the trade, the more I think they made a mistake by going all in. I get why they wanted to, since Joey Votto will be a free agent soon, but they didn't catch up to St. Louis or Milwaukee with those moves.
Grade: D+ (my liking the Marshall pickup is way offset by the Latos disaster, though some fans may disagree and think this was amazing)
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The main reason I lashed out at Oakland was because they still had time to compete with their players. When it comes to the Houston Astros, they don't have any time left given that they had the worst record in the league.
As a result, now is the time to trade at least Brett Myers and Carlos Lee, if not Wandy Rodriguez. Instead, the only departures are Mark Melancon and Clint Barmes. They did a lot of farm additions with Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence at the deadline, but now's the time for them to finish what they started.
Grade: D- (they need talent in a thin farm system, made a bit better with the Pence and Bourn trades; it's still slightly better than what Oakland pulled, though)
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With Prince Fielder gone and Ryan Braun missing 50 games, a lesser team may have just tried to make do with what they had. That's not the Brewers' style.
They shipped off Casey McGehee and acquired Aramis Ramirez, a big-time improvement at third who can help produce with Fielder gone. Signing Alex Gonzalez is a big improvement over Yuniesky Betancourt as well, and keeping Francisco Rodriguez around and signing Norichika Aoki will help.
The only thing they still have to do is fill the giant hole at first base. Once they do that, they could end up running away with the NL Central again. Then again, maybe it's time to see if Mat Gamel can be a major league first baseman.
Grade: A- (could be A depending on first baseman signing)
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On the surface, it looks like the Pittsburgh Pirates had a decent offseason. Once you factor in what they have to work with and the moves they made in-depth, they did a great job.
Clint Barmes is a great defensive infielder and can fill right in for Ronny Cedeno. The signing of Rod Barajas to replace Ryan Doumit is a step down, but I love the Erik Bedard signing, as he'll provide some respectability to the pitching staff.
I'm fine with the Nate McLouth signing since he knows how to play in Pittsburgh. With the players they picked up, this could be the year they finally break .500.
St. Louis Cardinals
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The St. Louis Cardinals were dealt a crippling blow when Albert Pujols decided to sign with the Angels instead of staying at home. In response, they brushed it off and signed Carlos Beltran, which works perfectly since Lance Berkman can just shift to first base.
They are getting Adam Wainwright back as well, so they didn't really need to make any other moves. They signed J.C. Romero to replace Octavio Dotel and re-signed Rafael Furcal. They were simple moves, and they make it entirely possible for the Cardinals to repeat.
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Most of the Diamondbacks' moves were re-signings, including Willie Bloomquist and Aaron Hill to multi-year deals. They also had one big-time move.
The Diamondbacks acquired Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow for three prospects, the big name being Jarrod Parker. Cahill's contract itself is great, and he won't have the pressure of being an ace. As a guy in the middle of the rotation, he should fare very well, making this a very good move.
The team played a lot better than the surface stats may indicate, and I think its free agency went better than it might look on the surface, which is giving up quite a bit for a guy who was just decent last year.
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The Colorado Rockies made a big splash by signing Michael Cuddyer. He has the intangibles to be great on the Rockies, plus Coors Field should inflate his numbers a bit. Ramon Hernandez was a great pickup as well since he's one of the more underrated catchers in the game.
The Tyler Chatwood pickup will help with the young rotation that's gaining experience, but the trade with the Cubs doesn't feel like it helps either side all that much. As nice as the moves they made were, success rests on the pitching staff, which will be mostly unchanged.
Los Angeles Dodgers
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For the most part, the Dodgers filled in the holes made during the offseason, though the moves do not feel all that great. Rod Barajas became a free agent, so they signed Matt Treanor, who isn't a catcher who's going to play a 140-game season.
They likely lost Hiroki Kuroda in free agency and signed Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano to two-year deals. This provides a fairly solid five-man rotation, even if the above two were a bit overpaid given their role.
Lastly, Mark Ellis was signed to a two-year deal; again, the Dodgers overpaid a bit, but he'll be somewhat of an improvement over Jamey Carroll. Many others were signed to one-year deals, but despite the large number of moves, the team doesn't really feel any better.
San Diego Padres
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The San Diego Padres were one of the teams I figured would be rather quiet in the offseason as they let their prospects develop. I was definitely wrong about that, as they were a very active team.
They acquired Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal from the Reds for Mat Latos, and Edinson Volquez might be able to rebound in San Diego like Aaron Harang did. While they had offensive firepower in the farm, I was hoping they would pick up a real major league bat.
They did exactly that, acquiring Carlos Quentin from the White Sox, giving them the first guy who could hit for power since Adrian Gonzalez. The Padres have a long way to go, but the moves they've made so far have been excellent, even if picking up Mark Kotsay doesn't really help much of anything.
San Francisco Giants
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After 2011, the Giants did not have much offense left, and the outfield in particular was crippled. To patch it up after Carlos Beltran left, they acquired Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez and Angel Pagan for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez.
I like the pickup of Pagan, as he should provide a spark in San Francisco, but I don't like the Cabrera pickup, as he feels like someone who had one lucky year. Sadly, they still need to pick up another outfielder, just to make sure the position is secure.
When a team makes two moves and I like one and hate the other, the grading is easy.