Report-Card Grades for MLB's Top 10 Free-Agent Signings so Far

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2012

Report-Card Grades for MLB's Top 10 Free-Agent Signings so Far

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    While the biggest names on the free-agent market—Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke—remain in play, teams have not waited for those two to find new homes before making moves of their own.

    The action on the free-agent market might not be coming as fast and furiously as some would like, but teams are slowly and steadily adding key pieces as they build their rosters towards World Series runs in 2013.

    Let's check in on the biggest names to come off of the open market thus far and see how the teams that signed them did with the deals they handed out.

Jonathan Broxton Re-Signs with the Cincinnati Reds

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    The Deal: 3 Years, $21 million

    Jonathan Broxton was excellent for the Reds after they acquired him from the Kansas City Royals at the trade deadline, pitching to a 2.82 ERA and 1.03 WHIP over 22.1 innings of work, striking out 20 batters and walking only three.

    A former All-Star closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Broxton can either serve as the closer—should the team decide to move flamethrower Aroldis Chapman into the starting rotation—or join Sean Marshall and comprise one of the best pairs of setup men in the game.

    The fact that the Reds can now rest easy and move Chapman into a starting role, bolstering their rotation without sacrificing a quality option in the ninth inning, makes this an excellent move.

    Grade: A

Shane Victorino Signs with Boston Red Sox

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    The Deal: 3 Years, $37.5 million

    So much for a "more disciplined" Red Sox front office (h/t ESPN).

    Committing nearly $40 million to a 32-year-old outfielder who is heavily reliant on his speed is a questionable decision to begin with.

    When that outfielder is coming off of the least-productive season of his nine-year career, it's quite a baffling move.

    But I understand Boston's thinking, in theory.

    By all accounts, Shane Victorino is a great guy and an even better teammate, two qualities that Boston certainly has missed in its clubhouse over the past year or two.

    The Flyin' Hawaiian is an excellent defensive outfielder who has speed and some pop in his bat. For much of his career, he's been an on-base machine, three times finishing the season with an on-base percentage better than .350.

    Can Victorino return to his form in 2011, when he hit .279 with an .847 OPS?

    Or was his 2012 season, in which he hit only .255 with a .704 OPS for the Phillies and Dodgers, a foretelling of what's to come?

    There are simply too many questions surrounding how productive Victorino is going to be over the life of this deal for Boston to get high marks on this one.

    When you consider that the team shed more than $200 million from its payroll towards the end of last season, there were better options—albeit more expensive ones—than Victorino.

    My gut tells me that the Cleveland Indians will be thankful that Victorino turned down their four-year, $44 million offer by the time Victorino's three years in Boston have run their course (h/t Yahoo! Sports).

    Grade: C-

Dan Haren Signs with the Washington Nationals

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    The Deal: 1 Year, $13 million

    I love this signing for the Nationals in that it's a low-risk, high-reward signing.

    Many have bemoaned that the 32-year-old right-hander is done after a sub-par 2012 for the Los Angeles Angels, but if you look at his numbers, they weren't terrible: a 4.23 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and a 3.74 K-to-BB ratio.

    As the fourth starter in a rotation that features Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman and Gio Gonzalez, all Haren will be asked to do is keep the reigning champions of the NL East in games every fifth day.

    There's no reason to believe that he's incapable of doing so.

    Grade: B+

Mike Napoli Signs with the Boston Red Sox

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    The Deal: 3 Years, $39 million

    Unlike the Shane Victorino signing, bringing Mike Napoli to Boston makes sense.

    The Red Sox had nobody to play first base, and the 30-year-old Napoli was clearly the best option available via free agency.

    While his batting line was significantly lower in 2012 (.227/.343/.469) than it was in 2011 (.320/.414/.631), his power remained consistent, slugging more than 20 home runs for the fifth consecutive season.

    Considering that Napoli won't be asked to spend any significant time at catcher, he should be able to stay fresh and play in more than the 108 games he did for the Texas Rangers in 2012—with the end result being an increase in his numbers across the board.

    Grade: B

Melky Cabrera Signs with the Toronto Blue Jays

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    The Deal: 2 Years, $16 million

    I'm not a fan of this one at all.

    Cabrera, 28, was suspended for 50 games by the MLB last season for testing positive for testosterone, which prematurely ended his "breakout season."

    Prior to 2011, Cabrera was a .267 hitter with middling power who played mediocre defense.

    Maybe the Blue Jays are right in taking this risk—that Cabrera really is the player who has posted a .322/.360/.489 batting line over the past season and a half.

    But that's an expensive bet to make.

    Grade: C-

Marco Scutaro Re-Signs with the San Francisco Giants

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    The Deal: 3 Years, $20 million

    It made sense for the Giants to bring Marco Scutaro back, given the lack of second-base options on the free-agent market.

    Three years may have been more than the Giants wanted to commit to a 37-year-old middle infielder, but after the postseason that he had for them—a .328/.377/.391 batting line with eight RBI and 11 runs scored—they didn't have much of a choice.

    A solid signing, though, Scutaro is sure to show signs of slowing down near the end of the deal.

    Grade: B-

B.J. Upton Signs with the Atlanta Braves

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    The Deal: 5 Years, $75.25 million

    B.J. Upton isn't going to replace Michael Bourn as the Atlanta Braves leadoff hitter, but he's an excellent replacement for Bourn in center field.

    Upton, 28, is two years younger than his predecessor, and he has the power and speed to help the Braves account for the loss of Bourn's speed and Chipper Jones' power.

    He struggled defensively in 2012, but he's historically a solid defensive player.

    As naturally gifted a player as there is in the league, he's never been able to reach the incredibly high ceiling that he had as a prospect, but he's a solid all-around ballplayer who will thrive hitting second in Atlanta's lineup between Martin Prado and Jason Heyward.

    Considering the other options available—Bourn, Shane Victorino and Josh Hamilton—the Braves made the right call.

    Grade: B

Brandon McCarthy Signs with the Arizona Diamondbacks

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    The Deal: 2 Years, $15.5 million

    There's some risk involved with Brandon McCarthy, who required emergency surgery after being struck in the head by a line drive in September, ending his 2012 season (h/t ESPN).

    It's fair to wonder how McCarthy, 29, will be affected by the injury—not so much physically, but mentally.

    Will he be able to return to the form that allowed him to post a 3.29 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over the past two years for the Oakland A's, or will he be tentative on the mound?

    There's also a question about his durability, as he's never thrown more than 175 innings in any of his seven major league seasons.

    All things considered, this was a gamble worth taking for the Diamondbacks, who are loaded with high-end pitching prospects who could replace McCarthy should he falter.

    If he's the same pitcher that he was with the A's, this could turn out to be the steal of the winter.

    Grade: B

Angel Pagan Re-Signs with the San Francisco Giants

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    The Deal: 4 Years, $40 million

    San Francisco decided to stay with what it knows in center field, bringing 31-year-old Angel Pagan back for another four years at a reasonable annual salary.

    Pagan isn't going to win any Gold Gloves, but he's a capable fielder who does an excellent job setting the table atop the Giants lineup.

    There's always some concern with giving lengthy contracts to players in their 30s whose games are predicated on their speed, but Pagan has shown no signs of slowing down, leading the NL in triples last season while swiping 27 bases.

    Michael Bourn would have been the only other real option here, and Pagan offers a similar skill set at a fraction of the price.

    Grade: B

Russell Martin Signs with the Pittsburgh Pirates

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    The Deal: 2 Years, $17 million

    While Brandon McCarthy could be the steal of the winter, he'll have to overtake the Pirates' signing of Russell Martin to wear that crown.

    Pittsburgh got itself a steadying presence behind the plate, someone who can not only handle veteran arms but help to bring the Pirates' young guns along when they arrive.

    He won't hit for a high average, but Martin provides veteran leadership and power in the lower half of the Pirates lineup.

    A phenomenal signing at a very reasonable price.

    Grade: A+