MLB Free Agency: Winners and Losers of the 2013 Offseason
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This MLB offseason has been like no other—that might be a stretch, but it’s still been extremely interesting to say the least.
A handful of general managers and front offices have picked apart their rosters and put their teams back at least five years.
Others, however, have taken a completely different approach. Smart teams have tried to improve their teams for the short-and-long-term via adding players through free agency and making trades. At times, even, teams improved by letting a player walk during free agency or trading away a veteran for a promising young star.
Nearly each MLB team will have a somewhat different look to it in 2013 compared to last season and in most cases, for the better. Those who will be worse will be scrutinized by the media and fans later in the season.
For the time being, though, let’s take a look at the winners and losers of the offseason thus far.
Winner: Washington Nationals
Washington Nationals 1B Adam LaRoche
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The Washington Nationals came into the offseason not needing a ton of work, coming off of their best season ever. But that didn’t stop general manager Mike Rizzo and company from improving the team even further.
Washington started off by trading prospect Alex Meyer to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for outfielder Denard Span. Span will hit atop Washington’s lineup and give them both speed and great defense—and also brings another threat to the already-impressive offense.
The Nationals have one of the top starting rotations in baseball and when Edwin Jackson became a free agent, Washington took advantage of the market and signed veteran Dan Haren. If healthy, Haren should make good contributions to the All-Star-heavy staff.
While the bullpen isn’t the best in baseball, it’s also very good. It only got better when Washington signed former New York Yankees closer Rafael Soriano to play the same role. Although a couple of key relievers from last season left via free agency, the Nationals' pen is still expected to do wonders in 2013.
The last bump in the road they faced came once they struggled to bring back Adam LaRoche. When they eventually did re-sign him, Michael Morse was left as trade bait. Washington was able to acquire former Nationals prospect A.J. Cole in a deal that sent Morse to the Seattle Mariners—the Oakland Athletics also being involved.
Washington will be back after an early exit from the postseason in 2012, and will be expected to make a deeper run in 2013.
Loser: Arizona Diamondbacks
Arizona Diamondbacks OF Justin Upton
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The Arizona Diamondbacks have made a bunch of good moves this offseason—in my book—but it’s the deal they have yet to make which puzzles me.
And yes, not trading Justin Upton when given the opportunity is bigger than trading a couple of guys and signing some veterans.
The Diamondbacks have a star in the making—if not in the present—in Upton. For whatever reason, some people in the front office don’t think he’s all that he’s hyped up to be and they’d like to get fair return for him in a trade.
Arizona tried to trade Upton to the Seattle Mariners, but it completely backfired. The Diamondbacks knew that Seattle was one of the destinations on Upton’s no-trade list and yet they still tried to send him there. He rejected the deal.
But now that the Diamondbacks have made it public knowledge that they are trying to trade Upton, they still have yet to do so—and that’s a problem.
The Atlanta Braves have the pieces to put a deal together to acquire Upton, a plan they haven’t ruled out, according to Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Chicago Cubs are also interested in the outfielder, according to Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago.
But the problem, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, is that Arizona is making things difficult.
It’s almost like Arizona thought about trading him, got an offer it liked, thought he’d waive his no-trade clause and then when he didn’t, they were lost. They just don’t know what to do.
Well, Arizona, you absolutely have to trade Upton now. You cannot keep a player you failed to trade—it doesn’t work like that. I like the players Arizona has brought in, but until the Diamondbacks trade Upton, it’s been a nightmare of an offseason.
Winner: Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Angels OF Josh Hamilton
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The Los Angeles Angels just missed out on playing in October last season, but they certainly had the star power to do so. With rising slugger Mike Trout already playing at an MVP level and Albert Pujols trying to perfect his American League swing, the Angels didn’t really need to do much this offseason.
But they did.
Los Angeles made a couple of complementary moves to improve its pitching staff. They acquired Tommy Hanson from the Atlanta Braves and Jason Vargas from the Seattle Mariners, both middle-of-the-rotation guys who are sure to contribute in 2013 and beyond. The Angels also got Joe Blanton who will close out the rotation as the fifth starter.
With Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson still atop the starting five, the Angels look to be in great shape in regard to pitching.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Angels also seemed to be content. They lost Torii Hunter in free agency, but already had a somewhat set outfield.
That didn’t stop the Angels from going out and landing the top free agent on the market, Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton is a fantastic addition for a couple of reasons. First off, he no longer plays against you 18 times per season. Secondly, he gives you another big bat in the heart of the lineup. Lastly, he’s one of the best overall players in the game so that can’t hurt either.
The Angels now arguably have the top trio in all of baseball, in Trout, Pujols and Hamilton. Those three each could hit 40 home runs and drive in 120 runs while scoring 100 times next season. It’s going to be quite the show to watch them hit next to each other in 2013, all contending for the MVP Award.
Winner: New York Yankees
New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman
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For once in a blue moon, the New York Yankees played it safe during the offseason—and I think that was a smart decision by general manager Brian Cashman and his team of executives.
New York will head into spring training and the regular season with an aged roster of former stars, but there’s no reason to doubt the Bronx Bombers. They seemed to have found the formula for success and just because many of the projected starters are older than the average team, they should still be a playoff team.
But New York is taking a huge risk in trusting those who are returning from injury—Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. The Yankees let Rafael Soriano walk in free agency and there still isn’t a star in the waiting behind No. 2.
The biggest problem the Yankees had to address this winter was Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez, who will miss majority of the 2013 season after undergoing hip surgery, left a gaping hole at third base and in the lineup—but the Yankees filled it. They signed Kevin Youkilis to a modest deal that should solve that problem for the time being.
It’s tough to look past the amount of talent that will not be returning to Yankee Stadium next season. That long list includes Nick Swisher, the aforementioned Soriano, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez, among others.
To the Yankees’ credit, however, it was a bold, yet smart move to let Swisher and Soriano walk. By doing so, New York picks up two draft picks since they offered both players qualifying offers at the start of the winter—which has turned out to be a big deal for teams willing to lose a draft pick.
New York could have re-signed everyone and hoped for the best, but they are still in good shape for the short-term and in better shape for the long-term.
Loser: Texas Rangers
Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels
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The Texas Rangers won’t be nearly in 2013 what they were in 2012, and by a wide margin in my eyes. General manager Jon Daniels really hasn’t done a good job of improving a team that slumped down the stretch and was eliminated from the postseason just one game in.
Let’s take a look at some of the players who won’t be suiting up for the Rangers next season that definitely would have added value to the club. First and foremost, they no longer employ Josh Hamilton, who went to their division rivals. That’s a major, major loss in the middle of the lineup no matter how you look at it.
Texas will also be without first baseman/catcher Mike Napoli, utility player Michael Young, starting pitchers Scott Feldman and Ryan Dempster and two great relievers in Koji Uehara and Mike Adams. The Rangers also had one of their top minor league players pried from them in the Rule 5 draft.
So to try to make up for those losses, Daniels hasn’t really done much. He added two veteran bats in A.J. Pierzynski and Lance Berkman, who are well past their primes and virtually immobile. And he also added a reliever who couldn’t pitch last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Catch my drift, yet?
And what intrigues me the most is that after letting so many players walk and also trading a few guys, there still isn’t a spot in the lineup for Jurickson Profar. Profar, arguably the top prospect in baseball, is a shortstop that is blocked by Elvis Andrus. They could move Profar to second base, but then he’s blocked by Ian Kinsler. There’s no spot for him anywhere really.
The Rangers needed to ensure a trip back to the postseason, but I think they dropped the ball this offseason and will now end up sitting at home during October.
Winner: Boston Red Sox
Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington and MGR John Farrell
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The Boston Red Sox came into this offseason with so many needs it wasn’t even funny, but general manager Ben Cherington has done a fantastic job of using his resources to fill the voids.
First and foremost, the Red Sox got the manager they wanted, John Farrell. The former Boston pitching coach is sure to aid the starting rotation that struggled so mightily last season. He’s also expected to do a better job of keeping the clubhouse under control and creating good relationships with his players.
Player-wise, there will be a ton of new faces at Fenway Park this summer.
Boston added David Ross to create a logjam behind home plate since it already had Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway, although Lavarnway will now likely start the season in Triple-A and continue to develop a little more.
The Red Sox knew that Jose Iglesias wasn’t ready to play shortstop each day so they signed veteran Stephen Drew to play that role. Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino will play the corner outfield spots on a regular basis after signing via free agency.
Boston’s rotation was boosted by the addition of Ryan Dempster and the bullpen got better with the acquisitions of Koji Uehara and Joel Hanrahan.
What could have been an absolute disaster regarding first base actually worked out in Boston’s favor, making them winners this offseason. Boston originally agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with Mike Napoli. Trouble started to brew after the deal hadn’t been finalized for several weeks, noting that something had to have come up in his physical.
Boston managed to restructure the deal and Napoli agreed to a one-year contract worth $5 million where he can earn incentives. Now at least if Napoli does get hurt, the Red Sox don’t have a ton invested in him.
The Red Sox were terrible last season, but I would expect them to be a much better team after all of these additions.
Loser: Miami Marlins
Miami Marlins OF Giancarlo Stanton
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The Miami Marlins are now accepting applications for the following positions: catcher, first base, second base, shortstop, third base, left field, center field, starting pitcher (5) and reliever (7).
Now, but seriously, send in your resume if you want a shot at a starting job with a Major League Baseball team.
The Marlins have decided to basically start all over and build a winning baseball club from scratch. That, however, is going to take an extremely long time; something they may have considered, but I doubt it.
Miami dealt away its team this offseason in an attempt to drastically decrease payroll. They traded away John Buck, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to the Toronto Blue Jays for what clearly wasn’t fair return. Sure, they got a couple of young guys who could eventually be decent and some others who were once good, but everyone knew what was going on once the trade was announced.
The Marlins were giving up for the near future.
What’s worse about this entire situation is that the Marlins feel they can still draw fans, which I’m still unsure of why they think that. They have one star and that’s Giancarlo Stanton. And Stanton didn’t seem too happy once he found out he was the lone soldier stuck in Miami.
The Marlins weren’t going to be close to a playoff team in 2013, but could have been in maybe 2016 or 2017. Now, Miami won’t be playing postseason baseball until around 2020 at the earliest.
Winner: Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto Blue Jays SS Jose Reyes and GM Alex Anthropoulos
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And finally, the team that turned their future around, the Toronto Blue Jays.
Toronto has been stuck in neutral for the longest time, having trouble winning games in the extremely competitive American League. The Blue Jays haven’t even been to the playoffs since 1993, when they won their second consecutive World Series. That’s quite the postseason draught if you ask me.
But now, that’s bound to change after a couple of moves that makes Toronto a contender instead of a pretender.
Let’s start off with the trade that shocked a nation. That may be a bit exaggerated, but did anyone really see this trade happening? I didn’t think so. Toronto hauled in a lot of star power for virtually nothing they really needed.
They got themselves a starting shortstop, a starting catcher, a starting second baseman and two frontline starting pitchers.
But Toronto didn’t really need that starting catcher or their projected starting catcher of the future. They traded John Buck, Travis d’Arnaud and two prospects to the New York Mets for Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and change.
Toronto also managed to add the All-Star Game MVP and suspended slugger, Melky Cabrera.
This was Toronto’s starting lineup on Opening Day last season: Yunel Escobar, Kelly Johnson, Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Eric Thames, J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus.
Here’s what Toronto’s starting lineup will likely look like on Opening Day this season: Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind, J.P. Arencibia and Emilio Bonifacio.
See the difference?
Aside from the offense, the Blue Jays now have one of the top starting rotations in baseball that is bound to win a ton of games. From top (Dickey) to bottom (Ricky Romero), Toronto basically has an ace going for them each day—something that every team envies, and also fears should they have to face the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays were division dwellers, but are clearly now World Series contenders.