Analyzing the Pros and Cons of Each of MLB's Biggest Offseason Acquisitions
Every transaction made in Major League Baseball is absolutely perfect in every way.
OK, fine. You got me. That's a lie.
The truth is, every baseball move comes with upsides and downsides, with potential benefits and potential risks, and so on and so forth. No trade or free-agent signing is a slam dunk. They are all gambles.
The moves that have been made this offseason are no different, and here's a look at the pros and cons of the biggest and baddest of the bunch.
Rafael Soriano's Contract with Washington Nationals
The Deal: Two years, $28 million with an option for 2015
The closer's role was a question mark for the Nats in 2012, and it ultimately led to a crushing end to their season. The Nats were bounced from the playoffs thanks to a blown save, the cruelest of fates.
This question mark has been erased. Soriano saved 42 games in 2012, despite the fact that he didn't take over as the Yankees closer until May. It was his second 40-save season in the last three years.
The addition of Soriano will make Washington's bullpen deeper, as it now has two excellent setup men in Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard to form a bridge to Soriano in the ninth.
The Nationals paid Soriano like he just repeated his tremendous season with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, but he didn't.
Soriano had a 1.73 ERA in 2010 to go along with a 0.80 WHIP and a 4.07 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He limited opposing hitters to a .509 OPS.
In 2012, Soriano had a 2.26 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP, a 2.88 K/BB and only limited opposing hitters to a .639 OPS. He was very good, but definitely not as dominant as he was in 2010.
A proven closer, sure, but he's no Craig Kimbrel.
A's-Mariners-Nationals 3-Team Trade
The Deal: Catcher John Jaso to Oakland, outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse to Seattle, minor-league right-handers A.J. Cole and Blake Treinen to Washington
For A's: The A's needed to get some offense at catcher after getting a mere .587 OPS from their catchers in 2012. Offense is what they're getting in Jaso, who quietly posted an .850 OPS and hit 10 home runs in 108 games with Seattle last season.
For Mariners: The M's needed to add some pop this winter, and Morse brings plenty of that to the table. He hit 31 home runs in 2011, and 18 in only 102 games in 2012.
For Nationals: The Nationals lost a legit pitching prospect when they traded Alex Meyer to the Minnesota Twins for Denard Span. In acquiring Cole, they filled Meyer's spot with a former farmhand of theirs who has the potential to be a front-end starter.
For A's: The A's made out pretty well in this deal, but they did sacrifice some of their considerable pitching depth by dealing Cole and Treinen. Also, Jaso is not going to help their defense behind the plate. They may end up using him as a primary DH rather than a primary catcher.
For Mariners: Morse has only had one great season. More often than not, he's dealt with injuries. When healthy, he's been held back by an impatient approach at the plate. There's also no natural fit for him in Seattle's lineup, and the Mariners essentially gave themselves no choice but to play Jesus Montero at catcher when they traded Jaso. Morse should be a full-time DH.
Angel Pagan's Contract with San Francisco Giants
The Deal: Four years, $40 million
Pagan had a career year in his first season with the Giants, posting a .778 OPS with eight home runs, 29 stolen bases and a league-best 15 triples.
In terms of fWAR, Pagan ranked as the sixth-most valuable center fielder in baseball, ahead of guys like Adam Jones and even Josh Hamilton (see FanGraphs).
But it's not all about the stats where Pagan is concerned. He was one of the batteries charging San Francisco's run to its second World Series in the last three years, and you get the sense that the Giants paid him a little extra just to retain the energy that he brought in 2012.
That Pagan had a career year in 2012 is both the good news and the bad news. He's a 31-year-old veteran who's getting older, rather than a hot young kid who's entering his prime—there's a chance Pagan will never repeat his 2012 production.
It should also concern the Giants that Pagan needed a hot finish in order to pad his stats. He was hitting .275 with a mere .319 on-base percentage by the end of July. If those numbers become par for the course for Pagan, he won't be consistent enough to earn the money he's being paid.
Edwin Jackson's Contract with Chicago Cubs
The Deal: Four years, $52 million
In four seasons since 2009, Jackson has pitched a total of 812.2 innings. That amounts to right around 200 per year.
Among right-handers, only 10 pitchers have logged more innings than Jackson since 2009. The name directly ahead of him on the list belongs to Zack Greinke, so Jackson is in some pretty good company as far as his ability to eat innings.
The Cubs surely needed an innings-eater, as not one of their starters topped 200 innings in 2012. In fact, no one even topped 175 innings.
Jackson can certainly eat innings, but that's about all he can do.
Jackson owns a 4.40 career ERA, and he's coming off a season that saw him post a 4.03 ERA while allowing the most home runs he'd allowed in a single season since 2009. Even his ability to eat innings was tested, as Jackson saw his innings total take a dive for the fourth year in a row.
The Cubs won't be paying Jackson a ridiculous amount of money during his four years in Chicago, but there should be no mistaking him for anything more than a mid-level starter.
Nick Swisher's Contract with Cleveland Indians
The Deal: Four years, $56 million with a vesting option for 2017
They don't make 'em much more consistent than Swisher. He's hit at least 20 home runs every year since 2005, and he compiled a rock-solid .850 OPS in his four seasons with the Yankees.
Swisher should be just as good an addition to Cleveland's clubhouse culture as he will be to its lineup. The Indians grew sour in the second half of each of the last two seasons, a problem that Swisher's enthusiasm should help solve.
Cleveland's decision to go hard after Swisher also represents a bone being thrown to a fanbase that needed something to get excited about. Since big free-agent signings are rare in Cleveland, Indians fans should approve.
Swisher is a very good player, but to call him a star would be a stretch. He's not the kind of guy who is going to carry a lineup, and there's probably a limit to how many wins he can add to Cleveland's record with his enthusiasm.
In addition, Swisher isn't getting younger. He's already 32 years old, and that's dangerously close to the nebulous area where hitters start to enter the twilight of their careers. By the end of his contract, he'll probably be reduced to a has-been.
B.J. Upton's Contract with Atlanta Braves
The Deal: Five years, $75.25 million
B.J. Upton is one of the top power/speed players in baseball, as he's the only player in the league to hit as many as 80 home runs and steal as many as 150 stolen bases over the last four seasons.
The Braves needed to find a right-handed hitter with some pop, as the guy who is supposed to be filling that role for them hasn't been doing a very good job. In two seasons in Atlanta, second baseman Dan Uggla has hit .227 with a pedestrian .750 OPS.
Upton will also be a capable replacement for Michael Bourn in center field. He doesn't have Bourn's glove, but he more than holds his own.
To repeat something I've said often since Upton signed, the Braves are paying for production they hope will be there rather than production that has been there.
Upton's power and speed are all well and good, but they don't come with patience or plate discipline. He's compiled an ugly .316 on-base percentage over the last four seasons, and he owns a strikeout percentage over 25.0 for his career (see FanGraphs).
If the Braves don't get Upton's approach squared away, then they'll have two right-handed hitters with poor approaches at the plate in their lineup instead of just one.
Diamondbacks-Indians-Reds Three-Team Trade
The Deal: Left-hander Tony Sipper, shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius and first base prospect Lars Anderson to Arizona; center fielder Drew Stubbs, right-handed prospect Trevor Bauer and right-handers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers to Cleveland; outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and infielder Jason Donald to Cincinnati.
For Diamondbacks: The D-Backs were looking for a long-term solution at shortstop, and they got one in Gregorius. He projects as a defensive wizard, and Arizona GM Kevin Towers has said that he sees shades of Derek Jeter when he looks at Gregorius. High praise, indeed.
For Indians: In Stubbs, the Indians got a center fielder who will at least bring a solid glove to the table. In Bauer, they got one of the very best prospects in baseball. He has ace-level stuff and could be a key member of Cleveland's rotation in the very near future.
For Reds: The Reds desperately needed to find a leadoff man this winter, and they got an underrated one in Choo. He quietly posted an .881 OPS as Cleveland's leadoff man in 2012.
For Diamondbacks: In essence, the D-Backs swapped an elite prospect for a fringe prospect. Gregorius has a very poor track record as a hitter, so his ceiling as a player may be as the next Brendan Ryan, rather than the next Jeter.
For Indians: The consensus is that the Indians made out very well in this trade, but that's because the consensus is still that Bauer has ace potential. He certainly didn't look like an ace in his cameo in the majors in 2012, and he supposedly rubbed teammates the wrong way with his attitude.
For Reds: Cincinnati's plan is to use Choo in center field, which could easily backfire. Choo has only logged 83 innings in center field in eight seasons. If he doesn't pan out defensively, Reds pitchers are going to be missing Stubbs.
Kansas City Royals-Tampa Bay Rays Trade
The Deal: Right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City; outfield prospect Wil Myers, right-handed prospect Jake Odorizzi, left-handed prospect Mike Montgomery and third base prospect Patrick Leonard to Tampa Bay.
For Royals: Kansas City starters were among the worst in baseball in 2012. Shields is a solution to the problem, as he's pitched over 200 innings in six straight seasons and has compiled a 3.15 ERA over the last two. Davis is a former top prospect who may benefit from the change of scenery.
For Rays: In Myers, the Rays got one of the best power-hitting prospects in baseball. On his way to being named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year for 2012, Myers slugged 37 home runs with an even .600 slugging percentage between Double-A and Triple-A. Since the Rays have a knack for developing young pitchers, they could work wonders with Odorizzi and Montgomery.
For Royals: Shields may not be with the Royals beyond 2014, so the pressure is on for them to win in the next two years before he departs for greener pastures. Even after the big trade, they don't have enough firepower to win right away. Their starting rotation is flawed beyond Shields, and their offense has a few too many holes in it. They essentially made a win-now trade earlier than they should have.
For Rays: Shields and Davis are going to be missed in the short-term. Shields was an excellent No. 2 starter behind David Price, and Davis carved out a nice niche in Tampa Bay's bullpen. If Myers fails to develop into the slugger he projects to be, this trade will go into the books as a major disappointment for the Rays.
Anibal Sanchez's Contract with Detroit Tigers
The Deal: Five years, $80 million with a club option for 2018
Sanchez has been one of the top pitchers in baseball over the last three seasons, compiling a 3.70 ERA and an fWAR of 12.0 (see FanGraphs). The latter figure is good for 16th among all qualified pitchers.
Though it took a while for him to adjust, Sanchez eventually did find his footing in his first foray into the American League in 2012. In 12 starts with the Tigers, he posted a 3.74 ERA. He then made three excellent starts in the postseason.
The Tigers paid a lot of money to retain Sanchez, but in doing so they retained one of baseball's best starting rotations. It says a lot that Sanchez is the fourth-best starter in Detroit's rotation behind Justin Verlander, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer.
The Tigers agreed to pay Sanchez like a top-end starter, but in reality he's more like a mid-level starter.
Sanchez has yet to pitch more than 200 innings in a season, and his 109 ERA+ since 2010 is only good for 33rd among qualified right-handers.
The Tigers are hoping that the guy who was so good in the postseason will make a comeback in 2013 and stick around for the years to come, but that's not going to happen. Sanchez isn't that good.
Toronto Blue Jays-Miami Marlins Trade
The Deal: Shortstop Jose Reyes, left-hander Mark Buehrle, right-hander Josh Johnson, infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck to Toronto; infielders Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria, right-hander Henderson Alvarez, right-handed prospect Anthony DeSclafani, left-handed prospect Justin Nicolino, catcher Jeff Mathis and outfield prospect Jake Marisnick to Miami.
For Blue Jays: This trade upgraded the Blue Jays on several fronts. Reyes and Bonifacio will bring speed to a lineup that was too power-heavy in 2012. Buehrle will be good for 200 innings in Toronto's rotation. Johnson will be good for 200 innings as well if he stays healthy, and he may be in line for a huge season with free agency looming next winter.
For Marlins: This trade wasn't such a colossal disaster for the Marlins from a baseball perspective. They got some solid young players for their major league roster in Hechavarria and Alvarez, and the prospects they got were welcome additions to a farm system that needed some help. In addition, the money they saved with this trade could be put to good use a few years down the road.
For Blue Jays: The Jays jumped up the AL East power rankings with this trade, but it didn't make them an ironclad favorite. Reyes is not as good as he showed in 2011, Buehrle has poor numbers against several key AL East foes, and Johnson's health tends to come and go. If this trade turns out to be a bust, the Blue Jays will be signing checks that they may not be able to afford.
R.A. Dickey to Toronto Trade
The Deal: Right-hander R.A. Dickey and catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas to Toronto; catcher prospect Travis d’Arnaud, catcher John Buck, right-handed prospect Noah Syndergaard and outfield prospect Wuilmer Becerra to New York.
For Blue Jays: The Jays didn't get a true ace in their big trade with the Marlins, but they got one in this trade. Dickey was a deserving recipient of the 2012 NL Cy Young Award in 2012 after winning 20 games and leading the league in innings and strikeouts. Per FanGraphs, his knuckleball rated as the most effective pitch in baseball in the eyes of PITCHf/x. It should do fine in the AL East.
For Mets: The Mets needed a long-term answer behind the plate, and they got one in Travis d'Arnaud. He ranks as the No. 11 prospect in baseball in Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com's top 100 and projects as a catcher who will hit for average and power, a very rare breed. Getting Syndergaard in the trade as well was huge, as he may now be the Mets' top pitching prospect after Zack Wheeler.
Josh Hamilton's Contract with Los Angeles Angels
The Deal: Five years, $125 million
Hamilton is one of baseball's elite sluggers, as only four players have hit more home runs than him over the last three seasons, and only two players have compiled a higher slugging percentage.
In 2012, Hamilton nearly won the AL's home run title by hitting 43 home runs. That was one behind Miguel Cabrera, who played in 13 more games than Hamilton.
The addition of Hamilton to the Angels lineup gives them one of the best middle-of-the-order duos in baseball, along with Albert Pujols. Given the way Pujols finished the 2012 season after a rough start, it's possible he and Hamilton will combine for as many as 80 home runs in 2013.
Hamilton's short-term future is not without red flags. As good as he was in 2012, his plate discipline was a mess all season. He struck out over 25 percent of the time he came to plate, and he led all qualified hitters in swinging-strike percentage by a comfortable margin (see FanGraphs).
There are even more red flags regarding Hamilton's long-term future. He'll turn 32 years old in May, and he has a history of injuries (both nagging and more severe) and drug and alcohol addiction. These things may lead to a swift end to his status as one of the league's elite players.
Zack Greinke's Contract with Los Angeles Dodgers
The Deal: Six years, $147 million
Greinke is considered overrated in some circles, but he's actually one of the more underrated pitchers in baseball.
Since 2009, only four pitchers in baseball have compiled a higher fWAR than Greinke (see FanGraphs). The only guys ahead of him on the list are Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez, who are widely regarded as true No. 1 starting pitchers.
Greinke is at least in that discussion, but he doesn't even have to be No. 1 on the Dodgers. That's Clayton Kershaw's job. Behind him, Greinke is certainly one of baseball's best No. 2 starters.
Greinke should be a productive pitcher for the Dodgers, but he may not be theirs for a full six years.
Greinke can opt out of his contract after three seasons, which he may do if his first three years in Los Angeles are as good as he's hoping. If he does hit the market again, it will likely be after the going rates for elite pitchers have risen even more than they already have.
And don't think that the Dodgers would be a lock to re-sign him. The Yankees should see their luxury-tax status reset in 2014, which will leave them free to pursue high-priced free agents again. The Red Sox could also choose to make a run at him, and the Rangers may make another run at him after failing to acquire him this winter.
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