2012 MLB Free Agency: Grading Every Team's Most Controversial Move
The Chicago Cubs signed Cuban defector and teenage pitching phenom Gerardo Concepcion Thursday, guaranteeing the left-handed hurler $7 million on a multi-year, major league contract, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Concepcion, 19, was the Rookie of the Year in Cuba before defecting in the Netherlands, and one of the most sought-after international free agents in an offseason chock-full of them. For the Cubs, this deal will be an immediate and controversial talking point. The terms of the deal are much more favorable to Concepcion than most anyone expected, so Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, at long last, will put the faith of Cubs fans to the test.
Every team must do that at some point in a key offseason, though. Controversy emanates from courageous, bold action, and even when those actions are brazen and stupid, they indicate a stern commitment to the task at hand.
Nor are the Cubs the only team to make waves with a crazy deal this winter. Here are the most controversial moves each team has made since the end of the World Series, graded out based on their eventual wisdom.
The Deal: Diamondbacks sign Jason Kubel to a two-year, $16 million contract
It rightly caused a stir when Arizona ponied up a multi-year commitment to make Kubel (ostensibly) their left fielder. Incumbent Gerardo Parra had a semi-breakout in 2011, and given his youth, the perception that he would lose playing time understandably upset some fans.
In the end, though, I expect the team will wise up, have Kubel platoon with Paul Goldschmidt at first base and play Parra every day in left field. If they figure that out, they win this signing.
The Deal: Braves send Derek Lowe and cash to the Indians for Chris Jones
This was a salary dump that should not have been necessary. Despite consistently turning neat profits, Liberty Media continues to pinch pennies and hold back Atlanta at times when they need to make a splash for one extra impact player. It looked like this deal would facilitate pursuit of some other solid bat. It never did.
The Deal: Orioles sign Wilson Betemit to a two-year, $3 million deal.
Betemit can hit right-handed pitching, and...that's it. That's a marketable skill, though, and he will earn more than the O's will pay him over the life of this deal simply by doing it. His career .817 OPS against righties confirms his bona fides.
Boston Red Sox
The Deal: Red Sox send Marco Scutaro to Rockies for Clayton Mortensen
Another salary dump gone wrong. Boston turned their freed-up cash into Cody Ross, but didn't net themselves a win in 2012, and don't have any additional assets beyond that as a result of this deal.
The Deal: Cubs sign Cuban-Mexican left-handed pitcher Gerardo Concepcion to major league deal worth $7 million
Theo Epstein seems to be gearing up to put a bow on a good first winter at the helm, as the Concepcion acquisition will force the Cubs to make an extra move or two between now and Opening Day. It also infuses what was a weak farm system with its second solid talent, after the team nabbed Anthony Rizzo earlier this winter. It adds up to a very savvy move, mitigated in its brilliance only by the price tag it took to get this one done.
Chicago White Sox
The Deal: Sox send closer Sergio Santos to Toronto Blue Jays for pitching prospect Nestor Molina
The Sox announced their intent to rebuild with this deal, but it was hardly a winning opener. Santos is under a very team-friendly contract for the next several years, while Molina has fairly tepid stuff. He's a back-end starter, and a few years from being even that.
Right idea from Kenny Williams, but wrong execution.
The Deal: Reds acquire Mat Latos from Padres for Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger, Yasmani Grandal and Edinson Volquez
This was a huge get for Cincinnati, who have emerged as clear favorites in the NL Central. They overpaid a bit in terms of absolute trade value to land Latos, but felt Alonso and Grandal were blocked by Joey Votto and Devin Mesoraco, respectively. That no doubt gave them the courage to go bold.
The Deal: Indians get Derek Lowe and cash from Braves for Chris Jones
Jones will probably never turn into anything, and the Tribe got partial salary relief in the trade. It was a good deal on face value, but it may have been ill-timed. Later in the winter, when Fausto Carmona turned out to be Roberto Hernandez Heredia, the team was already committed to Lowe. In a perfect world, they might have saved that cash for a more serious run at Edwin Jackson.
The Deal: Rockies sign Michael Cuddyer to a three-year, $31.5 million deal
Cuddyer's forgotten team, the Twins, got Josh Willingham (an extraordinarily similar player to Cuddyer) for three years and just $21 million. The Rockies overpaid. However, Cuddyer does strengthen the middle of their order as they make what they hope will be their best run toward the playoffs in five years.
The Deal: Tigers sign Prince Fielder to nine-year, $214 million contract
It was a great idea, right up until someone said with a straight face that Miguel Cabrera will play third base. That's a nightmare. Still, this move covers for the loss of Victor Martinez and makes the Tigers lineup one of baseball's most potent. If any single move could have vaulted them to the top of the AL Central heap, it was this one.
They just need to find the right way to manage their roster now.
The Deal: Astros acquire Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland from Red Sox for Mark Melancon
Not sure why this caused some consternation in Houston, other than because Astros fans these days have every right to be consternated. This one, though, is a classic deal for a rebuilding team, sending away a reliever in exchange for two players who will either mature into big parts of future teams, or settle in as solid role players.
Kansas City Royals
The Deal: Royals acquire Jonathan Sanchez from San Francisco Giants for Melky Cabrera
Nothing against Melky Cabrera or the Giants, but to the Royals, this must have felt like something for nothing.
Imagine the Royals had only two options with Cabrera: Keep him as their starting center fielder, or non-tender him and install Lorenzo Cain. They would have been better off, and some $5 million richer, if they chose the latter. Instead, they got a left-handed starter with 200-strikeout potential in return for Cabrera.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Deal: Angels sign Albert Pujols for 10 years, $246 million
A long-term TV contract loosened the purse strings in Anaheim and made a spending spree viable. No one said it would make it advisable.
Pujols is great right now, and should be for a few years to come. By the fourth or fifth year of this mega-deal, though, things are going to look much less sunny in Southern California. Pujols is a first baseman/DH, so every little bit he loses at the plate erodes his value substantially.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Deal: Dodgers extended Matt Kemp on an eight-year, $160 million deal
This deal should work out brilliantly, though it's fair to wonder from whence it came in light of the current ownership situation in Chavez Ravine. By comparison with, say, Joe Mauer's contract with the Twins, Kemp looks like a good buy for LA. He's durable, plays a premium position right now and has the athletic tools to play well at another spot in a few years.
The Deal: Marlins acquire Carlos Zambrano and cash from the Cubs for Chris Volstad
You can't talk about controversy and skip over Carlos Zambrano. Questions abound surrounding this deal, many of them about his mental state and ability to hold it together on game days. Ozzie Guillen is a friend and countryman of Zambrano's, which many feel will help.
No word, though, on whether Guillen will also be able to help Zambrano's decreasingly impressive stuff get batters out. This deal might not even make Miami better in 2012, and isn't designed to help beyond that.
The Deal: Brewers sign Alex Gonzalez for two years, $5.25 million
For less than they would have spent on Yuniesky Betancourt in 2012 alone, the Brewers ended up with Alex Gonzalez for two years. He's not an OBP guy by any means, but he can pick it at shortstop, and has some power. For some reason, the move was initially unpopular, but it fits what Milwaukee should be trying to do.
The Deal: Twins sign Joel Zumaya to incentive-laden big league deal
This was a low-risk, high-reward move. Zumaya could be the Twins closer by midseason if he stays healthy, and if he doesn't, they have made no overwhelming investment in him. Though fans felt the team should have pursued a more certain commodity, Zumaya represented the team's best chance to buy low on a talented back-end reliever. Other than Matt Capps, that is.
New York Mets
The Deal: Mets sign Frank Francisco for two years, $12 million
Sandy Alderson felt he needed a new closer after trading Francisco Rodriguez and cutting ties with Jason Isringhausen. Much to the chagrin of Mets fans, though, he went about it by spending free-agent money on a second-tier reliever.
Frank Francisco is a fine pitcher, but he didn't deserve $12 million, especially from the cash-strapped Mets.
New York Yankees
The Deal: Mariners trade Michael Pineda and Jose Campos to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi
What a deal. The old-fashioned challenge trade is back, and in a big way. Each team gave up an elite young player they did not really need, and got one of similar talents in an area of need. The Yankees got the better of the secondary exchange, but only by a little. This trade works out beautifully for both sides, at least at first glance.
The Deal: A's sign Coco Crisp for two years, $14 million
The A's let two of their primary outfielders from 2011 walk via free agency, but brought back Crisp on a deal that probably outpaces his actual value by a fair margin. If the team is committed to rebuilding and waiting for a new ballpark in five or six years, this deal was an impulsive overreach. If not, they are not doing their usual good job of identifying winning players at good values.
The Deal: Phillies sign Jonathan Papelbon for four years, $50 million
Is the Phillies bullpen better for the addition of Jonathan Papelbon? Probably so. Given what they paid to secure his services, though, it had better get substantially better. Not only did this deal represent a massive fiscal overpay, but by pulling the trigger on it before the new CBA took effect in November, they also gave away a draft pick.
There are few rivals for the worst move of the winter.
The Deal: Pirates sign Clint Barmes for two years, $10.5 million
While viewed mostly as an overpay for a player with poor on-base skills, this contract could actually work out. Barmes has some pop, and is a great defender at the position. He's certainly an upgrade over Ronny Cedeno, now a Met.
San Diego Padres
The Deal: Padres trade Mat Latos to the Reds for Brad Boxberger, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Edinson Volquez
Though it will hurt their 2012 rotation and signals likely rebuilding, this move was too appealing to pass up for the Padres. For one pitcher, they added a first baseman, a catcher and two pitchers who could all contribute in 2012.
San Francisco Giants
The Deal: Mets trade Angel Pagan to the Giants for Ramon Ramirez and Andres Torres
Pagan is the defensive center fielder Torres never was. He has better on-base potential and raw speed, though less power. The Giants gave up a middle reliever to make the upgrade, but it's not as though they're short on middle relievers. Pagan will stabilize what could be a good defensive outfield.
The Deal: Mariners trade Michael Pineda and Jose Campos to Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi
This deal basically meant throwing away 2012 for Seattle, because their second starting pitcher is now Jason Vargas or Noesi. In the process, though, they got the kind of elite offensive prospect they have needed for years. Jesus Montero will fill the third or fourth spot in the Mariners order for the next decade or so, and with a trio of elite pitching prospects on the way, they could spare Pineda.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Deal: Cardinals sign Rafael Furcal for two years, $14 million
Coming off a World Series title, it's easy to get too attached to certain members of the team that brought home the hardware. Furcal brought infectious energy to the team, and they decided to reinvest in him.
Unfortunately, Furcal is far past his prime defensively, and his on-base skills are gone. The best-case scenario is that his arm carries his glove and that he hits for a bit of power. The worst case is that this deal becomes an immediate bust.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Deal: Mariners trade Josh Lueke to Tampa Bay Rays for John Jaso
Nothing stirs controversy like trading for a player once accused of rape. The Rays, though, must feel Lueke is a more upstanding man for the experience, and that he is undervalued as a pitcher because of his character issues. Lueke is talented, and seems to have a better head on his shoulders these days.
Given the catching vacuum left behind with Jaso's exile, though, this deal still didn't make much sense.
The Deal: Rangers sign Yu Darvish, for total cost of $112 million
The posting system is a nightmare for MLB teams. No one gets a good deal in the process, except for the Japanese teams who get a massive lump sum in return for allowing their players to move freely on the player market internationally. Darvish got less than he deserved, while the Rangers paid more than their new co-ace was worth. They did as well as can be done, though.
Darvish seems to be an exceptional, singular Japanese talent.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Deal: White Sox traded Sergio Santos to Blue Jays for Nestor Molina
Blue Jays fans are very attached to the team's prospects, and with good reason. The farm system in Toronto runs deeper than any other in the league. They did not welcome the news that Molina was gone.
Realistically, though, Molina is not a high-ceiling prospect, and the depth of the Jays system made this trade a great one for them.
The Deal: The A's traded Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals for Brad Peacock, Derek Norris, A.J. Cole and Tom Milone
For my money, the Nats are getting ahead of themselves. They seem intent upon competing this year, which meant signing Edwin Jackson, trading for Gonzalez and could mean having Bryce Harper in the lineup on Opening Day.
They gave up an awful lot of the future to get Gonzalez. Those four prospects have a lot of upside and only moderate risk. It's great that they added to a strong rotation, but at what cost?