Biggest Winners, Losers in MLB for the Month of January
January isn't the best month for baseball junkies. It's MLB's no man's land—a slow stretch of time between the main nerve of the hot stove season and spring training.
This January, however, brought some drama for a change.
The hot stove provided more heat than usual, as high-profile free-agent deals were struck, and a couple trades were made as well. One of those was the Justin Upton blockbuster we'd been waiting for since the mid-18th century.
Not all of the headlines were positive, though. Some players didn't make out so well in January, and the month wrapped up with a Miami New Times report that thrust another PED scandal on MLB's hands.
Looking back, there were just as many losers in January as there were winners. Here's a look at who made out the best and who made out the worst.
Winner: Rafael Soriano
Rafael Soriano could have made $14 million pitching for the New York Yankees in 2013, but that would have been too easy. Instead, he decided to opt out of his contract to pursue a multi-year deal.
For a while there, it was looking like Soriano and his agent, the almighty Scott Boras, had made a major miscalculation. Teams are more skeptical of high-profile closers now than they have been in the past, and Soriano's situation was made all the more complicated by his ties to draft-pick compensation after rejecting a qualifying offer from the Yankees.
But nope. Boras will vouch that patience is a virtue, and his patience with Soriano paid off in the end. He signed a two-year contract worth $28 million with the Washington Nationals in mid-January that also includes a $14 million vesting option for the 2015 season.
Soriano's deal with the Nats validated the gamble he took when he opted out of his pinstripes. In addition to getting the multi-year deal he was seeking, he signed on to close for a team that has a better shot of winning the World Series in 2013 than the one he left (no argument there, right?).
Not that the Yankees are complaining. In fact, they were thrilled to get the draft pick they were hoping for when Soriano's deal with the Nats was struck. His deal was a win for all involved parties, really.
Loser: Michael Bourn
Not all Scott Boras clients were as lucky as Rafael Soriano in January. Poor Michael Bourn is still looking for a deal.
There's no question that Bourn is the top free agent left on the market. He's baseball's best defensive center fielder and a solid leadoff man. Whoever signs him will be signing up to get excellent glove work and 40 stolen bases and 100 runs scored for at least a couple of years.
But Bourn's market is tricky like Run-DMC. The Minnesota Twins threw it for a loop when they traded away two center fielders to needy teams earlier this offseason, and Bourn's ties to draft-pick compensation are making life difficult for potential suitors (none more so than the New York Mets).
That Bourn wasn't able to find a contract in January says a lot about how quiet his market has become. Finding contracts for clients in January with spring training just around the corner is Boras' specialty, yet even he couldn't get something done for Bourn.
Spring training is no longer just around the corner. The start of it is right there in front of Boras and Bourn, looming over them like a dirigible outfitted for war. The clock is ticking for Boras to get something done.
Boras isn't one to get desperate and take the first favorable offer that comes sliding across his desk, but the passing of time is eroding the amount of leverage he has. It's getting to a point where his client needs suitors more than suitors need his client.
Winner: Edwin Jackson
Edwin Jackson's plan was to find a multi-year offer on the free-agent market last year, when he was coming off a solid season with the Toronto Blue Jays and St. Louis Cardinals.
With no multi-year offers forthcoming, Jackson took a chance. He signed a one-year deal with the Nationals, with the idea being to prove himself worthy of a multi-year deal with another strong season.
His plan worked to perfection. Following a season in which he managed a 4.03 ERA and a solid 1.22 WHIP over 189.2 innings, Jackson landed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Chicago Cubs.
Jackson's deal with the Cubs is partially a result of simple good luck. Had Cole Hamels not signed an extension with the Philadelphia Phillies during the season, Hamels would have entered the market and pushed Jackson further down on the totem pole of free-agent pitchers. He may have had to settle for a lesser deal or perhaps another one-year "prove it" deal.
Aside from that, Jackson's deal with the Cubs is a simple sign of times. The prices for pitchers are rising. An ace like Zack Greinke is worth well north of $100 million. A solid No. 2/No. 3 like Anibal Sanchez is worth close to $100 million. A good No. 4 like Jackson is now worth $50 million.
Young pitchers should take note: You don't need to be an ace to strike it rich.
Loser: Kyle Lohse
You might say Kyle Lohse is in the same boat as Michael Bourn, as he's yet another Scott Boras client who is still looking for a contract with free agency fast approaching.
But he's not. Lohse is in his own boat, one much more lonely and with more and more water seeping through the hull.
The interest in Lohse appears to be minimal, maybe even nonexistent altogether. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Lohse hadn't even received an offer as of early January, and mere rumors of teams being interested in him are few and far between.
Lohse will find a new home eventually, but there's a higher chance of him settling for a lesser deal than there is of Bourn settling for a lesser deal. Prices for quality pitchers are rising, but the market is sending a clear message to Lohse that he's not as good as he thinks he is.
Lohse is coming off a terrific season and was generally a very good pitcher during his days with the Cardinals. But teams can clearly see that he was a below-average pitcher before he went to St. Louis. Between 2001 and 2007, Lohse accumulated a 4.82 ERA and a 95 ERA+.
Compounding matters are Lohse's ties to draft-pick compensation and his age. He's a 34-year-old pitcher looking for a multi-year deal, and teams have indicated that they're not willing to give up a draft pick to roll that particular set of dice.
Winner: Martin Prado
The Arizona Diamondbacks parted with one of baseball's brightest young stars when they traded Justin Upton to the Atlanta Braves. But they got one of baseball's most underrated players in return.
In Martin Prado, the D-Backs got a guy with a .296/.346/.438 slash line over the last five seasons. By FanGraphs' reckoning, he has roughly the same WAR as Nick Swisher since 2008.
The Braves surely would have been happy to keep Prado for the 2013 season, but they didn't seem to be in a hurry to sign him to an extension. ESPN's Buster Olney reported in July that extending Prado was in Atlanta's plans, but there was little noise of the two sides hammering anything out this winter.
Had Prado started the 2013 season with no extension in place, he would have been in a position to earn a big free-agent contract with a big season. But that door swings both ways. A poor season like the one Prado had in 2011 would have compromised his value.
This concern evaporated the moment Prado was traded to the Diamondbacks. They wasted no time getting down to business, eventually getting Prado to agree to a four-year extension worth $40 million (first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com).
That's about fair market value for Prado, and the deal will allow him to enter the market after his 32-year-old season in 2016. If he performs well in his four years with Arizona, he should be able to land another multi-year deal.
In all, the trade to the D-Backs set Martin up well in both the short- and long-term future.
Loser: Mike Napoli
Mike Napoli was one of baseball's biggest winners at the winter meetings in early December, as he walked away with an agreement to join the Boston Red Sox on a three-year, $39 million contract.
Things started to go downhill from there. The Red Sox discovered an issue with one of Napoli's hips during his physical, and they proceeded to adjust their offer to be less risky.
The end result: A one-year contract worth only $5 million guaranteed, with incentives that could push Napoli's salary to $13 million.
That's potentially $34 million less than Napoli thought he was going to get from the Red Sox back in December. He essentially went from being set for life to still being in search of long-term financial security.
Napoli is going to have a much harder time getting what he wants after what's transpired this offseason. He'll have to have a big season with the Red Sox in 2013 to put himself in line for a multi-year contract on the market next winter, and even then he may end up being disappointed again.
Now that the word is out about Napoli's hips, teams are going to be very wary of signing him to a long-term deal. He may not be able to settle down in one place for longer than a year from here on out.
Winner: Matt Harrison (and the Texas Rangers)
Don't tell Matt Harrison that the Texas Rangers have been too cheap and too conservative this offseason.
While the Rangers have done little to bolster their long-term future on the trade and free-agent markets this winter, they did make a significant move when they signed Harrison to a five-year extension worth $55 million.
The deal is a win for Harrison, as he now has long-term financial security. He could have gotten that in two years' time by hitting the free-agent market after the 2014 season, but you just never know when pitchers are going to break.
Harrison chose to play it safe by accepting Texas' offer, which will be good through at least his 31-year-old season in 2017 and perhaps his 33-year-old season in 2018 if his option vests. Whenever he does hit the market, he'll still be young enough to command a multi-year deal.
The deal is also a win for the Rangers, as they just locked up one of baseball's best left-handed pitchers at team-friendly rates. Harrison gets overlooked on the national landscape, but only two left-handers have a better ERA+ than he does since 2011. Their names: Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee.
In short, top marks all around.
Loser: Adam LaRoche
Somewhat out of the blue, Adam LaRoche had a career year in 2012. The veteran first baseman compiled an .853 OPS and hit a career-high 33 home runs, and he also won his first Gold Glove award.
However, LaRoche was not able to turn his big 2012 season into the big free-agent contract he was seeking.
He didn't exactly do poorly in free agency, as he agreed to a two-year deal worth $24 million to return to the Nationals with an option for a third year at $15 million. The deal, though, is nicer for the Nationals than it is for LaRoche.
LaRoche was said to be seeking a deal for three guaranteed years. The Nationals didn't want to give him a deal like that, and they effectively dared him to go find such a deal out on the open market.
Obviously, LaRoche wasn't able to do that. The market was wary of him in part because of his age, as LaRoche turned 33 in early November, but more so because of his ties to draft-pick compensation.
Despite his age, LaRoche probably would have been able to find a three-year deal on the open market in years past. But this year, losing a draft pick to gamble on a three-year contract for an aging player like LaRoche was too heavy a compromise for potential suitors.
Winner: Justin Upton
Justin Upton desperately needed to get out of Arizona. He was clearly not in the good graces of his bosses, and he was in the crosshairs of a fanbase that was very disappointed by his poor season in 2012.
Upton could have began life anew in Seattle, but he chose to reject a trade to the Mariners and hold out hope for something better. Time proved him wise, as he got a perfect change of scenery when he was traded to the Braves instead.
Upton should be able to relax and play ball in Atlanta. He'll be playing alongside his older brother, for one, as the Braves signed B.J. Upton to a five-year contract earlier in the offseason. He'll play center field, and Justin will play left field.
Just as important, the younger Upton is now on a team where he doesn't have to be the guy. There will be just as much pressure on his brother to perform seeing as how he's the one with the big free-agent contract, and the Braves have other young stars like Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and slick-fielding shortstop Andrelton Simmons as well.
There's also the reality that the Braves are going to be a very, very good team if Upton recaptures the form he showed in his near-MVP season in 2011. If he and Altanta's other star players play up to their capabilities, the Braves are going to have a World Series-caliber team in 2013 and in years to come.
Loser: Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez's career was already going downhill, but the last few months have seen it go into a screaming tailspin. First came a brutal postseason, and then came word that he needed another hip surgery. The last thing he needed this winter was a central role in a PED scandal.
Naturally, that's what he got.
The Miami New Times' report about the dealings of a now-closed wellness clinic in South Florida is a bombshell for all involved parties—whether we're talking the players named in the report or Major League Baseball itself. But it didn't hit anybody as hard as it hit Rodriguez.
A-Rod is by far the biggest star player named in the report, and he's named over and over and over again. The records say that he was using PEDs from 2009 through 2012, not exactly ancient history.
Rodriguez has denied the allegations, but the situation doesn't look good for him. He's admitted to using PEDs in the past, and now he's linked to a PED supplier that allegedly supplied drugs to Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal, all of whom were caught cheating in 2012.
There's a chance that nothing could come of the report, as the allegations within can't be treated as gospel until more evidence comes to light.
But there's also a chance that the report is the beginning of the end for A-Rod. He could be suspended by MLB, in which case the Yankees could possibly void his contract. If not, he could be forced into an early retirement anyway, as his body may crumble without the PEDs he was allegedly taking these last few years.
This is assuming he doesn't get hit by a wayward meteorite first. At the rate he's going, that seems like a real possibility.
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