1 Offseason Acquisition For Each MLB Team That's Already Paying Off
At it's core, adding players to a team's roster in the offseason is nothing more than high-stakes gambling.
Every general manager in the game is hoping to hit the jackpot with each of the additions that they make to a team's 25-man roster, but ultimately, whether a player will succeed in new surroundings is largely a crapshoot.
Nobody would argue that Josh Hamilton isn't one of the most naturally gifted baseball players that we've seen in a decade—yet he's struggled to get going with the Los Angeles Angels.
At the same time, a pitcher like Chad Gaudin wasn't even a blip on the free agent radar this past offseason—yet he's been one of the best relievers in baseball so far in 2013.
You just don't know how it's all going to play out, and sure, early-season success—or failure—isn't necessarily a foretelling of things to come over the rest of the regular season.
But the games count, and as we've seen far too often, early season struggles have a way of costing teams dearly late in the season when it comes to the race for the playoffs.
Lets take a look at the newcomers to each team who have, so far, repaid their respective GM's faith with big-time performances for their new clubs.
*Players who re-signed with their 2012 teams were not eligible for consideration.
Baltimore Orioles: Alexi Casilla, 2B
One of the few new faces in Baltimore's clubhouse this season is 28-year-old infielder Alexi Casilla, claimed off waivers from the Minnesota Twins back in November.
Primarily a second baseman, Casilla has filled in admirably for Brian Roberts, on the disabled list once again, this time with an injured right knee.
While he's yet to drive in a run, Casilla's slash line is a solid .278/.316/.389. He's been outstanding defensively, yet to commit an error and sitting with a 27.6 UZR/150 that ranks 10th in baseball among second basemen—just below Roberts' mark of 31.9 (via FanGraphs).
Boston Red Sox: John Farrell, Manager
The Red Sox needed a new voice, both in the clubhouse and in the dugout, and the team got exactly what it needed in John Farrell.
Farrell, who already had relationships with many of the major players on the roster from his time as the team's pitching coach under Terry Francona, has breathed new life into a franchise that, only eight months ago, was essentially in ruins, dealing with the aftermath of the Bobby Valentine era.
It only took a week for Boston's skipper to make headlines for all the right reasons, as pointed out by NESN's Jenny Dell:
At 5-2, John Farrell is off to the best start by a new #RedSox manager since Morgan's Magic in 1988— Jenny Dell (@JennyDellNESN) April 10, 2013
Boston's success under Farrell has continued, with the team off to it's best start since 2007, the last time the Red Sox won the World Series:
Under the watchful eye of Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves, both Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are throwing the ball as well as they ever have, with the pitching staff as a whole performing multiple levels above where it spent the bulk of the 2012 season.
All Boston could ask for was a return to respectability in 2012. Not only has that been accomplished, but the early returns make you think that a playoff berth isn't as much of a stretch as some originally believed it to be.
New York Yankees: Kevin Youkilis
You could insert Vernon Wells or Travis Hafner here if you like, but for my money, Kevin Youkilis has been as good as the New York Yankees could have hoped for through the early part of the 2013 season.
That Youkilis has fit so well with the Bronx Bombers shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone—back in November, I laid out five reasons why the man that Yankees fans used to hate was a perfect fit wth the Yankees.
He's been solid at the plate, hitting .315/.383/.500 with a pair of home runs and seven RBI, but it's his versatility that has become invaluable for the Yankees and manager Joe Girardi.
Youk has already spent time at both corners of the infield and, in a pinch, could do the same in the outfield. It was his quick thinking that allowed the Yankees to turn the team's first triple play at home in nearly 50 years, the last coming against Minnesota on June 3, 1968.
Tampa Bay Rays: Jamey Wright
Joe Maddon is smarter than all of us—fans, writers, even ESPN's Jayson Stark, who questioned the manager's decision to start the season with 38-year-old Jamey Wright in the team's bullpen instead of 28-year-old Brandon Gomes:
#Rays sent Brandon Gomes out & kept Jamey Wright even though Gomes "had maybe best spring of anybody in this camp," Maddom said. Why? Depth
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) March 26, 2013
Gomes was called up from Triple-A Durham less than a week into the season, replacing the injured Jeff Niemann, while Wright has been one of Tampa Bay's most effective relievers through the first few weeks of the season
In just over seven innings of work, Wright has allowed five hits and one earned run, walking three while striking out four. His 1.23 ERA is second on the team to Matt Moore, his 1.09 WHIP third, behind Moore and Gomes.
With Jake McGee still rounding into form and Fernando Rodney pitching more like, well, Fernando Rodney and less like Mariano Rivera, Wright's performance in relief for Maddon and the Rays has been huge.
Toronto Blue Jays: Jose Reyes
Things haven't gone according to plan for the Toronto Blue Jays so far in 2013, with nearly everyone on the club playing well below their talent level.
One of the few Blue Jays performing above expectations has been shortstop Jose Reyes, currently sidelined by a gruesome ankle injury that he suffered against the Kansas City Royals.
Here’s how Jose Reyes injured himself sliding into second base tonight: atmlb.com/124CbZf— MLB (@MLB) April 13, 2013
Originally expected to keep Reyes out through the All-Star break, CBS Sports' Danny Knobler reports that he All-Star shortstop could be back on the field before the end of June:
Better news today for Jose Reyes, who could be back in 8 weeks, rather than the 3 months the Jays first feared. cbsprt.co/ZwtQIJ— Danny Knobler (@DannyKnoblerCBS) April 15, 2013
Before getting injured, Reyes was easily Toronto's best player, with a team-high .395/.465/.526 slash line, 15 hits and going a perfect 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts. Advanced metrics show Reyes as playing below-average defense for the Blue Jays (via FanGraphs), but you can't argue with an error-less shortstop.
All things considered, Reyes has been exactliy what the Blue Jays thought they were getting when the team acquired him in a blockbuster, 12-player deal with Miami during the winter: a table-setter for the offense and a solid, if unspectacular defensive shortstop
Atlanta Braves: Justin Upton
Miami Marlins: Placido Polanco, 3B
Someone forgot to tell 37-year-old Placido Polanco that he's over-the-hill and no longer a capable, everyday player at this point in his career.
Largely an afterthought when the Miami Marlins signed him this past winter, Polanco has already exceeded expectations, giving Miami solid defense at the hot corner while providing a steady bat in the middle of the team's lineup.
If you're looking for a reason why Polanco is playing at such a high level, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer might have the answer you seek:
Placido Polanco lives 15 minutes from home. He is hitting cleanup. He is healthy. He is loving life. bit.ly/Yxd815— Matt Gelb (@magelb) April 12, 2013
Being happy certainly doesn't negatively impact a player's production at the plate. The veteran has reached base safely in 13 of the 15 games in which he's played, and he leads the Marlins in both hits (17) and batting average (.309), the only member of the team hitting above .260.
New York Mets: John Buck, C
John Buck finds himself in the midst of a mini-slump, with only two hits and no RBI in his past 13 at-bats, but that doesn't make the New York Mets any less ecstatic with the play of their 32-year-old catcher so far in 2013.
Among the league leaders in home runs (six) and RBI (19), Buck's torrid start to the 2013 season has put him in rarefied air when it comes to backstops in baseball history:
FACT: #Mets C John Buck has 6 HR in '13. Ties Gabby Hartnett ('25) & Sandy Alomar Jr ('97) for most HR by catcher in 1st 10 games of season.— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) April 13, 2013
While his CERA (Catcher's ERA) of 4.79 is on the high-side and he's struggled to stop the opposition from stealing bases, Buck's performance at the plate more than makes up for any defensive shortcomings.
Philadelphia Phillies: Michael Young, 3B
Nobody is going to confuse Michael Young with Mike Schmidt, but Philadelphia's newest third baseman has been just what the team needed at the hot corner—a stabilizing force.
After more than a dozen years with the Texas Rangers, a run that saw the 36-year-old be selected to six All-Star games, picking up a gold glove and an American League batting title along the way, Young has continued to play at a high level in the city of brotherly love.
Philadelphia's leading hitter (.339 batting average, 19 hits), Young's ability to get on-base consistently has proven to be invaluable for the Phillies, as his .393 on-base percentage trails only John Mayberry Jr's .394 mark for the team lead among regulars.
As the aforementioned Schmidt told MLB.com's Todd Zolecki in spring training, none of us should be surprised by Young's performance so far in a Phillies uniform:
What a lot of people don't realize and I haven't heard it, Michael Young could retire tomorrow and he would be a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame. He's probably two Michael Young years away from being a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I don't know if anybody has thought about that. I don't know what his career hitting numbers are, but he's a little like Derek Jeter, is he not? He's that kind of player and he's had that kind of career. Obviously it's not playing in New York, but if he played in New York, imagine what people would be saying about Michael Young's career? Somebody would have mentioned the Hall of Fame a long time ago.
Whether you agree with Schmidt's assessment or not, Young has been as good as advertised, both on the field and in the clubhouse, for a Phillies team looking to get back into the postseason.
Washington Nationals: Denard Span, CF
It's rare when a team can fill two areas of need with one player, but that's just what Washington did when it traded pitching prospect Alex Meyer to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for center fielder Denard Span.
One of the more underrated players in baseball, Span has shrugged off a slow spring training where he hit only .222 to be among Washington's most productive hitters in the regular season.
Span leads the team in walks with nine, while his .313 batting average and .421 on-base percentage are among the highest among Nationals regulars.
He's been terrific with the glove as well, not only saving runs, but signs that fans happen to lose their grip on as well:
Span has been everything that the Nationals hoped he'd be hitting atop a lineup that has yet to really get into a groove. He's only going to become more dangerous a weapon for the Nationals as guys like Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman begin to find their stroke.
Chicago White Sox: Matt Lindstrom
Middle relievers typically don't garner much fanfare, and such was the case when the Chicago White Sox announced that 33-year-old Matt Lindstrom was joining the team's bullpen this winter.
Outside of Chicago, nobody paid much attention to the move.
Yet people around baseball are taking notice now, as the six-year veteran has quickly established himself as one of manager Robin Ventura's most reliable options out of the pen.
Lindstrom has yet to allow a run in 7.2 innings of work this season, scattering three hits—all singles—while striking out six, and is a big reason why Chicago's bullpen has lowest ERA (1.74) in the American League and second-lowest in all of baseball, trailing only the Atlanta Braves.
Cleveland Indians: Nick Swisher, 1B/OF
Nick Swisher might not be on pace to put up gaudy power numbers in his first season with the Cleveland Indians, but the 32-year-old outfielder/first baseman has been exactly what the Indians thought they were getting when the team signed him to a four-year, $56 million deal during the offseason.
While his two home runs and six RBI are lower than the Indians would like, Swisher is hitting a respectable .271 with a team-high nine walks, and his .407 on-base percentage is second on the team to Carlos Santana's .488 mark.
Primarily playing first base, Swisher has been tremendous with the glove, posting a 30.5 UZR/150, fourth-best in baseball and the third-highest mark in the American League among qualified first basemen, according to FanGraphs.
Detroit Tigers: Torii Hunter
Torii Hunter hasn't forgotten about where he came from—and that's not good news for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the team who hosts Hunter and the Detroit Tigers for a series beginning on Friday night:
Just landed in my old stumping grounds of Anaheim. Had a great 5 years here but I'm a Tiger now and we are here to eat.😺😺😺😺— Torii Hunter (@toriihunter48) April 19, 2013
Against what has been a putrid Angels pitching staff, the eating should be good—and Hunter's scorching start to the season will continue.
Hunter has been spectacular in all aspects of the game while wearing a Detroit uniform. Hitting second in an incredibly deep lineup, he leads the American League with a .413 batting average and all of baseball with 26 hits, one more than teammate Austin Jackson.
He's been as good as advertised with the glove, making plays that Detroit's corner outfielders simply couldn't make last year and making an already solid pitching staff that much more effective.
Kansas City Royals: James Shields
Plenty of people thought that the Kansas City Royals surrendered too much in the trade with the Tampa Bay Rays that bought James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City, but as FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan aptly points out, the early returns heavily favor the Royals:
Wade Davis and James Shields have allowed 12 runs in six starts and Wil Myers is still waiting on his first 2013 dinger— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) April 18, 2013
You really couldn't go wrong picking Davis or Ervin Santana for this spot in Kansas City, but it's Shields who serves as the ace of Kansas City's rebuilt rotation, and it's Shields' right arm on which the Royals are going to lean heavily in 2013 as the team tries to not only finish the season with a winning record, but a playoff berth as well.
Shields has given the Royals two quality starts in three outings, tossing nine innings of two-hit, three-run baseball in his last start against the Toronto Blue Jays, winding up the hard-luck loser. While he's allowed 20 hits in 21 innings of work, Shields has only walked three while striking out 20.
Minnesota Twins: Kevin Correia
While Minnesota's acquisition of Vance Worley from the Philadelphia Phillies got most of the attention, Kevin Correia joined the club as a free agent with little-to-no fanfare, and rightly so.
In over a decade in the big leagues, the 32-year-old right-handed starter went 60-65 with a 4.55 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, never winning more than 12 games in a season and eclipsing the 175-inning mark only once.
Yet it's Correia, not Worley, who has pitched like the ace of the Twins pitching staff, going 1-1 with a 2.95 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, delivering a quality start in each of his three outings thus far.
As MLB.com's Tom Singer points out, Correia has already performed better with Minnesota than he did in 2012 with the Pittsburgh Pirates:
It's fair to say that Correia has already exceeded even the most ardent Twins fan's expectations of him thus far.
Chicago Cubs: Carlos Villanueva
If it wasn't for a trio of solo home runs, Chicago's Carlos Villanueva would be one of the only starting pitchers in baseball to not yet allow an earned run on the season.
The 29-year-old right-hander has been fantastic in a Cubs uniform thus far, delivering three quality starts and pitching like the numbers on the back of his baseball card belong to someone else.
Villanueva hasn't been feasting on the weaker teams in baseball either. His three starts have come against the Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants, teams with three of the more formidable lineups in the game.
As B/R's Jeff Chase notes, Villanueva is on pace for some truly ridiculous numbers:
It's highly unlikely that we'll be talking about Villanueva as a Cy Young Award contender two months from now, much less at the end of the season, but so far, he's been better than the Cubs ever could have hoped for.
Cincinnati Reds: Shin-Soo Choo
We knew that Cincinnati's decision to put Shin-Soo Choo in center field was going to be, well, interesting, but we also knew that Choo's ability with a bat in his hands would more than make up for his defensive shortcomings.
How right we were.
Choo has been terrific in the leadoff spot for the Reds, leading the team in runs scored with 13 and getting on base with regularity. His .345/.472/.569 slash line is the best on the team, and he's not only scoring runs, but driving them in as well:
The 30-year-old free-agent-to-be has done exactly what the Reds needed him to do thus far in the 2013 season: produce at the top of the lineup, keeping the spot warm for über-prospect Billy Hamilton, who will take over in center field next season.
Milwaukee Brewers: Kyle Lohse
Yovani Gallardo may still technically be the ace of Milwaukee's starting rotation, but it's Kyle Lohse who has pitched like the ace of the staff so far in 2013, something that wasn't lost on Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
How solid has the winless Lohse been?
A late-signing by the Brewers, Lohse has pitched to a 2.70 ERA and 0.90 WHIP with one walk and 13 strikeouts in 20 innings of work, delivering a quality start each of the three times that he's taken the mound.
Not bad for a guy who didn't throw a pitch in spring training while he waited for a team to make him a reasonable offer as the last remaining big-name free agent.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Mark Melancon
Acquired from the Boston Red Sox in the trade that sent former closer Joel Hanrahan out of Pittsburgh, Mark Melancon has been as good as the Pirates could have asked for in 2013, especially when you consider just how bad Melancon was to start the season in Boston last year:
Through 3 games this season, @redsox closers Alfredo Aceves & Mark Melancon have a combined ERA of 63.00— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 9, 2012
Through his first nine appearances of the season, the 28-year-old right-hander has allowed one earned run and three hits over nine innings of work, walking none while striking out nine and picking up five holds.
He's paired with Jason Grilli to give the Pirates one of the more effective—and surprising—back-ends of the bullpen in all of baseball.
St. Louis Cardinals: Nobody
St. Louis didn't make many major additions to its roster during the offseason and the two veterans that the team did bring in, infielder Ty Wigginton and reliever Randy Choate, have been mediocre at best.
I suppose that I could have gone with Choate as the choice here, but he's thrown a total of 2.1 innings of work, allowing three baserunners and an earned run while failing to retire any batters on strikes.
It's hard to look at those numbers and say that Choate is "paying off" for the Cardinals right now.
Houston Astros: Philip Humber
You might look at his 0-3 record and think that it's no surprise Philip Humber, 30, is now with his fifth team in the past seven seasons.
Pitchers who don't win games typically don't last long anywhere, especially in the major leagues.
But doing so would be to ignore the rest of Humber's stat line, which has been impressive thus far. He's pitched to a 2.89 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in three starts, two of them quality ones. His lack of wins is easily explained, via MLB.com's Brian McTaggart:
Philip Humber has a 2.89 ERA through three starts for the #Astros and is winless. Team has scored one run while he's been on mound.— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) April 14, 2013
No pitcher, whether his last name is Humber or Verlander, can win when the offense decides to take the day off whenever he steps on the mound.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Sean Burnett
For all of the recognizable names that the Angels added this winter, whether it be Josh Hamilton, Tommy Hanson or Jason Vargas, it's been a relatively overlooked left-handed reliever that has been the team's best acquisition thus far in 2013.
Sean Burnett has done his best to solidify what has been a shaky bullpen for the Angels, allowing only one earned run in 6.1 innings of work. His three walks are more than you'd like to see in such a small sample size, but you can't really argue with the results: a 1.42 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.
Oakland Athletics: Jed Lowrie
With the benefit of hindsight, I'd go back and change the grade that I handed out for the Oakland Athletics when the team obtained Jed Lowrie from the Houston Astros back in February.
A's GM Billy Beane gets an "A" for what, early on at least, has turned out to be a rather lopsided deal in Oakland's favor, as Lowrie has been a force in the middle of the A's lineup.
Take a look at where the 29-year-old lands on the early-season leaderboards:
|AL Rank||MLB Rank|
|Batting Average (.373)||Fourth||Eighth|
|Slugging Percentage (.644)||Seventh||14th|
Lowrie's production is a major reason why Oakland sits with an AL-best record of 12-4—and serves as further proof of why Billy Beane remains one of, if not the best general manager in the game.
Seattle Mariners: Michael Morse
After hitting .310 with five home runs and eight RBI in Seattle's first seven games, Michael Morse has begun to cool off for the Seattle Mariners.
Over his last six games, Morse has gone 5-for-25 with a home run and two RBI, striking out seven times.
That said, Morse is still tied with Baltimore's Chris Davis for the American League home run lead with six, and his .611 slugging percentage ranks ninth.
His performance in the middle of Seattle's lineup has been a major reason why the Mariners offense has been scoring runs far more often than it has in years—and the Mariners will gladly take a lower batting average as long as he continues to be a major run producer for the club.
Texas Rangers: Lance Berkman
ESPN's Tim MacMahon may have said it best when it comes to the Texas Rangers and general manager Jon Daniels:
For a GM who had such a horrible offseason, Jon Daniels sure looks smart so far for the Lance Berkman and AJ Pierzynski deals.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 12, 2013
While Berkman has only gone deep once so far in 2013, his slash line of .389/.500/.611 is one of the more impressive lines you'll find in baseball, and his eight RBI on the season trails only Ian Kinsler's 11 for the team lead.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Martin Prado
How happy are the Diamondbacks to have Martin Prado as part of their team in 2013? According to the team's play-by-play announcer and former ESPN anchor Steve Berthiaume, the answer to that question is really, really happy:
Kirk Gibson praising Martin Prado's versatility as a "savior" through all #Dbacks injuries. Prado playing 2nd base tonight with Hill on DL.
— Steve Berthiaume (@BertDbacks) April 16, 2013
Gibson has since backed off those comments, telling Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic that he'd prefer to not move Prado around the field as often as he has, but make no mistake about it—Prado's versatility was one of the things that made him so attractive to Arizona this winter.
His slash line of .254/.301/.433 isn't great, but Prado has done what the Diamondbacks hoped he'd do—solidify third base. It's only a matter of time before his bat starts to heat up.
Colorado Rockies: Jon Garland
Don't try and adjust your television—Colorado actually has what looks to be a solid starting rotation for the first time in what seems like a decade.
Jon Garland, nearly seven years removed from his back-to-back 18-win seasons as a member of the Chicago White Sox, has been a solid addition to the mix in Colorado so far this season.
His numbers alone are solid: 2-0 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over 19 innings of work, but they become even more impressive when you consider that he's pitched to a 2.77 ERA at Coors Field, one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the baseball history.
Considering how bad Colorado's starting rotation was in 2012, Garland could have an ERA of 4.85 and still be considered an offseason acquisition that's paying dividends for the Rockies in 2013.
That he's been so much better than that only makes his early-season performance all the more sweet.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Hyun-Jin Ryu
While Zack Greinke got all the attention in Los Angeles this offseason, the Dodgers' signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu kind of floated under the radar a bit.
After his first three major league starts, everyone is starting to take notice of the 26-year-old southpaw.
Ryu has given the Dodgers three quality starts, going 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. While he's allowed 19 hits in 18.2 innings of work, he's struck out 20 batters (his last nine against Arizona were all of the swing-and-miss variety) while walking only three.
With Greinke on the disabled list, someone needed to step up and take his place as the No. 2 starter in the Dodgers rotation. It sure looks as if Ryu is up for the challenge.
San Diego Padres: Nobody
San Diego didn't do much this offseason and of the players that it did add to the roster, none have performed particularly well.
You could make a case for Tyson Ross if you like, but with 10 walks and 14 hits allowed in 14 innings of work and the 25-year-old right-hander yet to last six innings in any of his starts, I hesitate to say that he's "paying off" for the Padres in 2013.
San Francisco Giants: Chad Gaudin
The defending World Series champions did little to change its roster heading into the season, adding complimentary pieces and role players here and there.
One of those players, 30-year-old right-hander Chad Gaudin, has been excellent out of the team's bullpen.
In 10.1 innings of relief, Gaudin has allowed only four hits and one earned run, walking a single batter while striking out 10. He's worked at least two innings in four of his five outings thus far and is quickly becoming a go-to guy for manager Bruce Bochy in the middle innings.
His 0.87 ERA and 0.48 WHIP are among the lowest you'll find on any reliever in baseball this season, regardless of whether they are setup men, middle relievers or closers.