Oh, to be a talented baseball player on the radar of the Toronto Blue Jays, Los Angeles Angels or Los Angeles Dodgers...
There's still plenty of work to be done, but the Blue Jays, Angels and Dodgers look like the three big winners of baseball's offseason. The Jays have made more impact moves than anyone, and the Angels and Dodgers were able to lure the two best free agents on the market to Southern California.
In the process, these three clubs spent money. Truckloads of it, in fact.
And therein lies a certain dilemma. Teams that win the offseason by spending money don't always go on to succeed when it counts. Just ask the Miami Marlins.
So we have to ask: Each of these three teams has spent, but which of them has spent the wisest?
Let's take a gander.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Reyes-Buehrle-Johnson Trade
Toronto's first blockbuster trade of the offseason happened in November when it agreed to take on a handful of contracts that the Marlins didn't want anymore.
In exchange for a few players the Jays could afford to part with, they got a new starting shortstop in Jose Reyes, two additions for their starting rotation in Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson and a speedy utility man in Emilio Bonifacio.
They also acquired veteran catcher John Buck, but he was sent to Flushing, N.Y., in another deal.
The Blue Jays absorbed a hefty amount of talent in the deal, but they also absorbed a hefty amount of money. Reyes is owed $92 million over the next five years, while Buehrle is owed $51 million over the next three years and Johnson is owed $13.75 million in 2013. Bonifacio is arbitration eligible.
To help pay for all this, the Marlins only sent $8.5 million to Toronto. The rest is all on the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays stand to get solid value from Buehrle and Johnson. Like clockwork, Buehrle is good for 200 innings and an ERA in the 3.00s every year, and he won't be overwhelmed in the American League after pitching with the Chicago White Sox for so many years.
Johnson has only had one truly great season, and he's had problems staying healthy, but there's room for optimism with him coming off a season that saw him pitch over 190 innings with a 3.81 ERA. If his BABIP drops below .300 again, he should post an ERA in the low 3.00s or even in the 2.00s.
Reyes didn't live up to the batting title he won in 2011, but the .287/.347/.433 slash line he posted in 2012 looks an awful lot like the .286/.346/.439 slash line he accumulated between 2007 and 2010. He should have no trouble upgrading a leadoff spot that produced a mere .650 OPS in 2012.
The bigger question mark is Reyes' defense, which rated as being poor in 2012. Per FanGraphs, he failed to qualify as even an average shortstop in the eyes of UZR and DRS.
Despite his poor defense, Reyes still managed to compile an fWAR of 4.5, making him almost three wins more valuable than Yunel Escobar was for the Blue Jays in 2012. If Reyes repeats his performance, the Blue Jays will be in no position to complain.
As for Bonifacio, he should be able to steal upwards of 40 bases if he stays healthy, in which case he'll give the Jays some value at the bottom of their lineup. He also has a track record of being a better defender at second base than he is in the outfield, so the move should make him worth a couple wins above replacement with good health.
The R.A. Dickey Trade
The Blue Jays could have stood pat with Buehrle and Johnson penciled into their starting rotation and been perfectly content, but they must have felt they needed a true ace.
Enter 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, who the Blue Jays acquired in a trade with the New York Mets that involved top prospects Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard along with veteran John Buck.
As part of the deal, the Blue Jays gave Dickey an extension that will pay him $12 million in 2014 and 2015 with a $12 million option for 2016.
In 2013, however, the Blue Jays will only be paying Dickey $5.25 million. If his 2012 performance is any indication, he should have little trouble outperforming his salary next season.
Dickey's 2012 season feels like a fluke, but it wasn't. He went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA and league-high totals in strikeouts and innings because his knuckleball was better than ever. According to FanGraphs, Dickey's knuckler was the single most effective pitch in baseball in 2012, and it helped him finish tied for second among all starters in swinging-strike percentage.
The move to the American League could hurt Dickey's numbers, but not too much. He had a 1.88 ERA in three interleague starts in 2012, and he also dominated in interleague play in 2010 and 2011.
Dickey is getting up there in years, but he's no normal pitcher. Knuckleballers age a lot better than other pitchers, so the Blue Jays stand a chance of getting more than enough value for the contract they've arranged for him. All he has to do is maintain his knuckleball, which isn't asking a lot.
The Melky Cabrera Signing
The Blue Jays had their leadoff hitter when they made their big trade with the Marlins, but they still lacked a classic No. 2 hitter.
Hence the Melky Cabrera signing. The Blue Jays probably could have gotten him for one year, seeing as how he was fresh off a PED suspension, but they offered him a two-year deal worth $16 million that he would have been foolish to turn down.
Since he (hopefully) won't be cheating, nobody should expect Cabrera to compete for a batting title again in 2013. The Blue Jays can only hope that he doesn't revert back to his 2010 self, as the last thing they need is a player with a .671 OPS sucking up millions of dollars.
For $8 million per year, though, they'll gladly take the 2011 version of Cabrera. He quietly hit .305 with an .809 OPS for the Kansas City Royals with 18 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
Cabrera's not a patient hitter, but the trade-off is that he doesn't strike out that much, and he's able to keep his BABIP high because of high line-drive rates.
These skills will very much come in handy when Reyes is on base, as Cabrera's capacity to make contact and hit it where they ain't will allow John Gibbons to be aggressive with his offense when the Blue Jays need a run in a pinch.
The Blue Jays are rolling the dice with Cabrera, but there's a chance they'll be very glad they did.
The Maicer Izturis Signing
Before the Jays caught the attention of the baseball world, they made a small, under-the-radar signing by picking up utility man Maicer Izturis for three years and $10 million.
This remains one of the more underrated signings of the winter. Izturis is a mediocre hitter with no pop in his bat, but he provides value with the versatility of his glove and with his legs on the basepaths.
Izturis' best position is second base, and he promises to see a fair amount of action there as part of a platoon with Emilio Bonifacio. He can also play third base and shortstop, though he likely won't see much action there as long as Jose Reyes stays healthy.
Izturis has stolen 57 bases over the last five seasons, but the stolen base isn't the only way he can provide value on the bases. Per FanGraphs, he's compiled positive UBRs (Ultimate Base Running) on an annual basis since 2005, a reflection of how he's both smart and aggressive on the bases.
In essence, Izturis will add a bit of a Mike Scioscia flavor to a team that otherwise looks like a classic AL East ballclub.
Los Angeles Angels
The Josh Hamilton Signing
The Angels have this whole "mystery team" thing down pat. Last year it was Albert Pujols. This year it was Josh Hamilton, whom the Angels swooped in and signed to a five-year contract worth $125 million last week.
This deal is going to have to pay off right away. Hamilton is 31 years old and will be 32 in May, and he's not getting any better with age. This past season saw him struggle mightily with his plate discipline, and he wasn't a superstar hitter after the first six weeks of the season.
Despite all the complaints that can be made about Hamilton, though, he still managed to post a .930 OPS with 43 home runs. He also drove in 128 runs in only 148 games.
Similar production is in the cards for the Angels in 2013 if Hamilton enjoys the protection of Albert Pujols in the No. 3 hole, though they can probably expect his power numbers to fall a little bit thanks to the transition from Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to Angel Stadium of Anaheim. He could hit 35 home runs, but hitting more than 40 again is going to be tough.
The injury concern is always there with Hamilton, but he should be able to stay healthy on the Angels because he won't be wearing himself out in center field. The Angels will be playing him in either left or right field next to Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos, who can both cover a ton of ground.
Playing in either left or right should also help Hamilton get his defensive value up again, as it plummeted in 2012 and did a number on his overall value (see FanGraphs). And if Hamilton's defense levels out and he gives the Angels around 35 home runs, they should expect to get a WAR in the neighborhood of 5.0 at the very least.
But like I said, they had better make it count. Hamilton is closer to his twilight years than he is to the prime of his prime, so to speak. They owe him $83 million in the final three years of his contract, and it's going to be a miracle if they get good value for that cash at the rate Hamilton is declining.
The Joe Blanton Signing
The Angels jettisoned Ervin Santana and Dan Haren early on in the offseason, but it was expected that they would make a spirited run at keeping Zack Greinke.
Instead, it looks like Joe Blanton is going to be the only free-agent starter the Angels sign this winter. They gave him two years and $15 million earlier this month.
Fans are frowning on this signing, but they fail to see the beauty of it. Blanton is not an ace by any stretch of the imagination, but he's the perfect pitcher on the perfect team in the perfect ballpark.
Blanton has always had good control, and the last three years have seen him drastically increase his K/BB ratio. His M.O. on the mound hasn't changed too much, though, as he's still a fly-ball pitcher.
He's in a perfect situation on the Angels. He's going to have an excellent outfield defense behind him every time he toes the rubber, and he'll be logging a lot of innings at a ballpark that was death on home run hitters in 2012 (see ESPN.com).
The Angels should get 200 innings out of Blanton, and he should give them an ERA in the high 3.00s or low 4.00s. That's good enough for a team with as much offensive firepower as the Angels have, and those numbers are perfectly acceptable for a $7.5 million-per-year contract in this day and age.
Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson
The Angels bullpen was a constant source of frustration in 2012, as their relievers combined to post a 3.97 ERA, and they may have cost the team a spot in the playoffs with a brutal month of August.
Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson should help solve the problem.
Burnett, whom the Angels signed for two years and $8 million, is a lefty specialist who will help take some pressure off of Scott Downs. Burnett held lefties to a .534 OPS in 2012, racking up an astonishing 28.0 K/BB ratio in the process.
Madson is a bit of a risk seeing as how he's coming off Tommy John surgery, but the Angels aren't exactly going all-in on him with a one-year deal worth a $3.5 million base salary.
If Madson recovers his old form, then the Angels will have one of baseball's top relievers closing games for them in the ninth inning. In 117 appearances between 2010 and 2011, Madson compiled a 2.45 ERA and a K/9 of an even 10.0.
If Madson struggles to become a dominant reliever again, the Angels always have Ernesto Frieri to handle ninth-inning duties. He had a 2.32 ERA and a 13.3 K/9 with the Angels in 2012.
Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas
The Angels could have spent a ton of money on their rotation this winter, as it would have taken a huge contract to re-sign Greinke, and both Dan Haren and Ervin Santana had expensive options.
Instead, the Angels went cheap with Joe Blanton, and they're not on the hook for much money with either of their trade acquisitions: Right-hander Tommy Hanson and left-hander Jason Vargas.
The Angels acquired Hanson in a trade with the Atlanta Braves for former closer Jordan Walden. His fly-ball style should play just as well on the Angels as Blanton's should, and he won't be costing the Angels much money with this being his first year of arbitration eligibility.
Vargas, on the other hand, will cost the Angels more money. This is his last year of arbitration eligibility, and his salary should get a bump from the $4.85 million he made in 2012.
To get Vargas, though, the Angels surrendered another free-agent-to-be in Kendrys Morales to the Seattle Mariners. He's made just under $3 million each of the last two seasons, and he should also be due a raise after a nice bounce-back season in 2012.
The Angels would have spent less money on Walden and Morales had they kept them than they're about to pay Hanson and Vargas, but the two of them will likely combine to make less than $10 million in 2013.
The Angels would have had to pay Haren and Santana over $20 million, no small amount for two pitchers who both pitched poorly in 2012. It's possible that Hanson and Vargas could be just as good in 2013, if not better, and they'll be doing it at a fraction of the cost.
As a bonus, the Angels be keeping at least one of their new pitchers for several years, as Hanson doesn't hit free agency until 2016.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Zack Greinke Signing
You could see it coming a mile away, so nobody was too surprised when the Dodgers made Zack Greinke the richest right-hander ever with a six-year contract worth $147 million.
According to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, Greinke's deal could be worth $158 million in the end. He also has the option of opting out of it after three years.
In short, it's a fairly risky deal for the Dodgers. Do they have any hope of getting good value out of it?
They sure do. Greinke isn't regarded as a true ace in some circles, but he has the stats to suggest that a true ace is exactly what he is.
Greinke only has a 3.83 ERA in the three seasons since he won the AL Cy Young Award in 2009, but it's misleading. Statistics like FIP, xFIP and SIERA—which only look at things that a pitcher can control, like walks, strikeouts, etc.—suggest that Greinke's ERA over the last three seasons should have been a lot lower (see FanGraphs).
Greinke is a good control artist and a good strikeout pitcher, but he's been hurt by the long ball in the last two years. He can thank Miller Park for that, as he gave up 14 home runs there in 24 starts.
Pitching at Dodger Stadium on a regular basis should help Greinke get that problem under control, in which case he should give the Dodgers an ERA in the low 3.00s over 200 innings in 2013.
Since Greinke is still young and uses a low-effort delivery, he should be able to keep the good performances coming throughout the life of his contract. His deal may look expensive now, but it likely won't in a couple years when Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez all have new contracts.
That's when Greinke could opt out, sign a new contract worth even more money and get the discussions going all over again.
The Ryu Hyun-jin Signing
The Dodgers know they have two co-aces in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Exactly what Korean left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin is going to become, however, is anybody's guess.
The Dodgers signed Ryu to a six-year, $36 million contract, and that's on top of the $25.7 million fee they paid for his exclusive negotiating rights. With over $60 million invested in him, the hope, obviously, is that he pans out to at least be a capable middle-of-the-rotation starter.
B/R prospects guru Mike Rosenbaum detailed a scouting report by Baseball America on Ryu back in October, and what he found is encouraging. Ryu doesn't have phenomenal stuff, but he does feature a solid, late-life fastball, a slow curveball, a slider and a changeup.
Ryu is also supposed to have a good mind for pitching, and that should help him adapt to pitching in the major leagues. This is especially true if he is forced to abandon his curveball, which doesn't look like the kind of pitch that is going to fool major league hitters on a consistent basis.
As long as Ryu has a solid fastball, slider, changeup and pitching smarts, though, he should be able to hold his own. And if the Dodgers offense is as powerful as it should be, he shouldn't stand out as a major liability if he fails to develop into a front-line starter.
The Brandon League Signing
Brandon League clearly made an impression in the 28 appearances he made for the Dodgers in 2012. They gave him a three-year contract worth $22.5 million and entrusted him to be their closer in 2013.
There's no way to put this nicely. The Dodgers gave League a contract he didn't deserve, and they're hoping he can do a job that he hasn't proved he's cut out for.
League did have a great season as Seattle's closer in 2011, but it looks like an anomaly compared to the rest of his career track record. His strikeout rate stayed steady at 6.1 per nine innings, but his walk rate went down to 1.5 per nine innings to create an outlier K/BB of 4.50.
More often than not, League's walk rate has been over the 3.0 mark, and in 2012 it was over 4.0. Worse, he walked batters at a higher rate as a Dodger than he did as a Mariner.
A high walk rate can get a closer in trouble, especially if said closer isn't capable of a high strikeout rate. League did get his strikeout rate up with the Dodgers, but there's no guarantee he'll be able to hold it there given his tendency for lower strikeout rates.
The Dodgers are hoping League will be a dominant closer, but he's more likely to be Kenley Jansen's setup man before long in 2013.
Final Thoughts and The Grand Conclusion
The dust has yet to settle, but it's beginning to become clear what kind of payroll each of these three clubs is going to have in 2013.
The Blue Jays opened the 2012 season with a payroll just short of $84 million, and so far they have over $100 million in salaries committed for the 2013 season.
The Angels opened 2012 with a payroll of just over $151 million. They have about $115 million committed for 2013, but rough estimates put their payroll right at $150 million again in 2013.
The Dodgers opened 2012 with a payroll right at $105 million and have been steadily building on it ever since. They have over $205 million in salaries committed for the 2013 season.
So the Blue Jays and Dodgers have both gotten more expensive, while the Angels have managed to carry out a significant renovation without significantly boosting their payroll. Since they're a better team than they were before, that would seem to make them the winner of this discussion.
But they're not. It's the Blue Jays.
Which team spent the wisest this winter?
What the Blue Jays have done this winter is nothing short of astonishing. They've added a true ace starting pitcher and two No. 2-caliber pitchers to their starting rotation, and they've added depth at both the bottom and the top of their lineup, which was already scary to begin with.
These changes have made them easily the deepest team in the AL East, not to mention the clear team to beat in the division. And to get this far, they're only increasing their payroll by roughly $20-25 million. That's not a huge increase for such major improvements.
There is some long-term risk inherent in the contracts that the Blue Jays inherited for Reyes and Buehrle, but there's more long-term risk in the contract Hamilton signed with the Angels, and the Dodgers are going to be out $60 million if Ryu doesn't pan out. They could also end up getting only three years of Greinke rather than six.
What it boils down to is that the Blue Jays are just as good on paper as either the Angels or the Dodgers, yet they're going to be the cheapest team of the three both in 2013 and in the years to follow.
This offseason belongs to Toronto.
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