April Report Cards for MLB's Top 25 Offseason Acquisitions
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Now that we have a month of baseball in the books, it’s time to start grading the top acquisitions of the past offseason.
Which have made strong first impressions on their new fanbase? Conversely, which have been early-season busts?
Before you panic because your team’s top acquisition hasn’t panned out, remember that Jose Reyes (.634 OPS in April 2012) and Albert Pujols (.569 OPS in April 2012), two of the highest-profile free-agents signings before the 2012 season, both struggled last April. Both picked up the pace soon after and finished the year strong.
That's not always the case, though. Just ask the guys on this list I put together last week.
Here’s my list of the top 25 offseason acquisitions and their first-month grade.
1. Zack Greinke, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
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Greinke’s only mistake in two starts was not doing what he could to avoid contact with a charging Carlos Quentin after hitting him with a pitch. The result for Greinke was a fractured collarbone and a stint on the disabled list that is expected to last approximately two months (per Yahoo! Sports).
The 29-year-old, who signed a six-year, $159 million deal in December, had allowed just two earned runs in 11.2 innings with one walk and 10 strikeouts over his two starts. Both resulted in Dodgers victories.
If the Dodgers and their suddenly very thin starting rotation—also without Chad Billingsley to season-ending Tommy John surgery—can be good enough to hang around in the playoff hunt, they could be a force down the stretch with a healthy Greinke and Clayton Kershaw leading the way.
2. Josh Hamilton, OF, Los Angeles Angels
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Hamiton’s signing came with its risks, but I’m not sure anyone could’ve predicted that the five-time All-Star and former AL MVP would be this bad over the first month of the season.
In Monday’s 19-inning loss to the A’s, Hamilton went 0-for-8 with three strikeouts, dropping his OPS to .544 with five walks and 32 strikeouts.
He’s also 5-for-29 versus left-handed pitchers with one walk and 15 strikeouts. He’s 7-for-57 on the road. He’s 4-for-32 in day games. Hard to find a bright spot, although the 31-year-old did show that he can hit against teams from Texas with 13 hits in 37 at-bats against the Astros and Rangers.
Just as there was concern with Pujols and his start last season, the Angels have to be holding their breath and hoping they haven't just wasted a whole lot of money. $125 million over five years to be exact.
3. Jose Reyes, SS, Toronto Blue Jays
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The only one of several big-name acquisitions by the Blue Jays to get off to a good start, Reyes’ severe ankle sprain that could cost him the entire first half of the season has exposed the team’s lack of middle-infield depth.
Munenori Kawasaki (9-for-41 while at shortstop) has gotten most of the starts at shortstop while Reyes is on the disabled list. The drop-off, as you can imagine, is drastic.
The 29-year-old Reyes, acquired in the blockbuster deal with the Marlins, was 15-for-38 (.395 BA) with five walks and five stolen bases.
In Reyes’ absence, the Blue Jays have gone 6-11 after a 4-6 start. His production is irreplaceable at this time of the season so they’ll just have to stick it out and hope to make his return meaningful by staying within earshot of a playoff spot.
4. Justin Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves
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The Braves finished the month with the best record in the NL at 17-9 and Justin Upton is a huge reason why. With several other key lineup regulars slumping, the 25-year-old helped to carry the offense with 12 homers and 19 runs batted in.
By the middle of the month, he wasn't getting much to hit. After walking three times in his first 10 games, Upton drew 13 bases on balls over his last 16 games. Needless to say, he'll need some of his teammates to get hot so pitchers will start throwing the ball over the plate again and he can continue his MVP-caliber pace.
Now, why were the Diamondbacks so anxious to trade him?
5. R.A. Dickey, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
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The Jays gave up their top prospect in catcher Travis d'Arnaud and one of their best pitching prospects in Noah Syndergaard to acquire the NL Cy Young Award winner from the Mets.
While he hasn't quite gotten in the groove he was in for seemingly the entire 2012 season, the 38-year-old has had four quality starts. His team is only 2-4 when he starts, though.
Dickey's BB/K rate is way down (1.87 in 2013 from 4.26 in 2012), which is likely the biggest concern. He has been pitching with soreness in his neck and upper-body area so that might just be the problem.
Regardless, the 10-17 Blue Jays are going to need the 2012 version of Dickey or this could be a very long season full of unmet expectations in Toronto.
6. B.J. Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves
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Unlike his little brother Justin, B.J. Upton is having a tough time getting going with his new team. The 30-year-old center fielder, who signed a five-year, $75.25 million free-agent contract in November, has gone hitless in 15 of his 24 games and has a dismal slash line of .143/.225/.275.
He also has 32 strikeouts. Justin has 30, but that doesn't get mentioned when you have an OPS of 1.136.
The longtime Rays center fielder is prone to slumps—he was nearly as bad last June—so maybe his just came early in 2013. This Braves team will be scary if they get all their hitters going at the same time.
7. Michael Bourn, OF, Cleveland Indians
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Before landing on the disabled list with a lacerated right index finger, Bourn was a hitting machine at the top of the Indians' lineup. The 30-year-old center fielder, who signed a four-year, $48 million deal in February, had his average up to .333 after a three-hit game on April 14th—his sixth multi-hit game of the season.
The team proceeded to lose the next four games with Bourn out of the lineup, but a three-game winning streak followed and another to end the month has the Tribe heading into May with some momentum.
Moreover, its leadoff man is closing in on a short rehab assignment before he returns.
8. James Shields, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
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Expectations for Shields can't be much higher after the Royals traded away their top prospect, power-hitting outfielder Wil Myers, in the offseason to acquire him.
He's lived up to the hype, though, pitching at least six innings in all six starts, including seven-inning and eight-inning outings and one complete game.
Although the Royals have only won three of Shields' six starts, his ability to pitch deep into games and always give his team a chance to win will make a huge difference throughout the season.
At 14-10, the Royals have confidence in their ability to win the AL Central and having the 31-year-old Shields at the top of the rotation is a big reason why.
9. Kyle Lohse, SP, Milwaukee Brewers
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It took until March 25th for Lohse to sign his three-year, $33 million deal with the Brewers, a team with several question marks in its rotation heading into the season. He's been worth every penny, so far, posting a 2.53 ERA with only two walks and 21 strikeouts in 32 innings over his first five starts.
The Brewers offense isn't helping Lohse out much, though. The team has only won two of his five starts with only one run scored in those losses.
Overall, the Brewers are a club on a roll (12-3 to finish the month), so having a reliable veteran like Lohse throwing every five days gives a team that's not very good "on paper" a good chance to stay competitive throughout the season.
10. Josh Johnson, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
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In four starts, Johnson allowed 28 hits and walked nine batters in 19.2 innings, so he's not exactly fooling many hitters.
The 29-year-old was one of the best young pitchers in the game before a shoulder injury in 2011, however, so the Blue Jays are hoping he can stay healthy and rediscover his previous form.
Currently sidelined with a sore triceps, Johnson could already end up missing a few starts. A free agent after the season, the Jays would at least like to get him healthy and pitching well before the trade deadline in case they continue to fall out of contention.
11. Edwin Jackson, SP, Chicago Cubs
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After pitching for seven teams in his first 10 big league seasons, Jackson signed a four-year, $52 million deal with team No. 8. The Cubs, although considered a rebuilding club by many, likely inked Jackson with an eye on 2014 and beyond.
Good thing, too, because he hasn't pitched all that well in 2013.
Coming off back-to-back quality starts—his first two of the season—the 29-year-old was roughed up by the Padres for eight runs and 11 hits in 4.2 innings on Tuesday to give him an ERA of 6.27 in April.
His team has lost all but one of his six starts.
12. Nick Swisher, 1B/OF, Cleveland Indians
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A 4-for-25 slide after a red-hot start has the 32-year-old finishing the month with a .796 OPS. He did most of his damage against lefties (1.020 OPS) while struggling against right-handers (.629 OPS).
Another statistic that stands out, although probably meaningless, is his lack of production while playing first base (9-for-44, 0 HR) versus when he plays right field or designated hitter.
If the slumping middle-infield tandem of Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis can start getting on base more, Swisher could probably do much better than nine runs batted in—his total for April—and look to drive more pitches as opposed to taking 15 walks in a month.
13. Mark Buehrle, SP, Toronto Blue Jays
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With 12 consecutive seasons with at least 200 innings, maybe there should be some concern that the 34-year-old just isn't the pitcher he has been. Through five starts, he has a 6.37 ERA and has already allowed six homers in 28.1 innings.
Buehre's been through rough patches before, so the Jays are hoping this is just one of those—especially because they owe him another $37 million over the next two seasons.
14. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Cincinnati Reds
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The Reds made one notable acquisition this offseason and it was trading for Choo to be their leadoff man and starting center fielder. While his inexperience and lack of range in center field can hurt the team at times, he sure has made up for it at the plate.
Choo's .477 on-base percentage leads the majors, but he's also hitting the ball with authority (13 extra base hits) and scoring runs (20).
With Billy Hamilton likely to take over the center field job sometime in 2014 and corner outfielders Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick signed for 2014, this will likely be the 30-year-old Choo's lone season in Cincinnati. He's doing what he can to make it a memorable one.
15. Rafael Soriano, RP, Washington Nationals
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The early-season struggles of Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard make the Nats look even smarter for inking Soriano to a two-year, $22 million deal before the season.
The 33-year-old has one blown save, but the Nats ended up winning that game. In his other nine appearances, he's allowed two earned runs and five hits in nine innings with seven saves in seven chances.
One of the most underachieving teams in baseball after the first month, the 2013-14 Nationals still have the talent to run off several winning streaks throughout the season and having a reliable closer will be a key to sustaining those runs.
Unfortunately, Storen and Clippard would also be keys and they have not been reliable in 2013.
16. Denard Span, OF, Washington Nationals
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The price for Span, the Nationals' new leadoff man and center fielder for 2013, was pitching prospect Alex Meyer, who could make the Nats regret the deal in a couple of years.
The 6'9" Meyer has been impressive for the Twins' Double-A team, posting a 2.57 ERA with 10 walks and 34 strikeouts in 28 innings.
If the Nats have a big year and Span can get on base at a high rate, steal 30-plus bases and score 100-plus runs, it could be an easier pill to swallow.
The 29-year-old Span was off to a stellar start before a recent 5-for-22 slide with no walks and six strikeouts knocked his OPS to a mediocre .665 after the first month. He also scored just nine runs and stole four bases, both lower totals than the Nats are hoping to get out of their new leadoff man.
17. Brandon McCarthy, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
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A 7.48 ERA and zero quality starts is not what the Diamondbacks had in mind when they signed McCarthy to a two-year, $15.5 million deal this past offseason.
As long as the 29-year-old could stay healthy, that contract seemed like a bargain.
Opposing hitters are teeing off on McCarthy with a .360 batting average, including 13 extra base hits, although he's only walked four hitters with 18 strikeouts in 27.2 innings.
The Diamondbacks are 15-12 and have for the most part gotten terrific pitching from their other four starters, so McCarthy's poor performance has flown under the radar early in the season.
18. Lance Berkman, DH, Texas Rangers
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After contemplating retirement, Berkman decided to return on a one-year, $11 million deal to be the Rangers' designated hitter. It was a smart move considering he can still hit and his team is 17-9 as well as in first place in the AL West.
Through 21 games, the 37-year-old hasn't shown a lot of power (2 HR, 6 2B), but he's hitting .319 with 15 RBI and 17 walks. Berkman, who missed most of the 2012 season with a knee injury, has yet to see much of the field yet as the Rangers try to keep their No. 3 hitter healthy for the entire season.
19. Martin Prado, IF/OF, Atlanta Braves
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Prado's versatility has been a plus, as he has played second base and left field in addition to his regular third base gig because of injuries to Aaron Hill, Cody Ross and Jason Kubel.
His bat hasn't been a plus, though. The 29-year-old, acquired from Atlanta in the Justin Upton deal, is hitting just .217 in 26 games.
Considering he's hit over .300 in four of the past five seasons, it's likely Prado will get on a roll and approach that number once again. So far, he's been a disappointment with a .520 OPS from the No. 2 hole—a spot the Diamondbacks were hoping he'd solidify.
20. Ryan Dempster, SP, Boston Red Sox
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The Sox went with quantity this offseason, but it hasn't turned out to be at the expense of quality. Several offseason acquisitions, including Dempster, have helped them to a major-league-best 18-8 record.
At 35 years of age, Dempster is pitching as well as ever with a 3.30 ERA in 30 innings with only 20 hits allowed, 14 walks and 43 strikeouts.
If Dempster, along with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, who are a combined 9-0, continue to pitch as well as they did in April, the Sox will continue to be a force in the American League and could be a factor in the playoffs.
21. Michael Morse, 1B/OF, Seattle Mariners
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Morse's return to Seattle started with a bang, as he hit six homers and knocked in nine runs through his first nine games. He then went 12 games without a homer before hitting two in the last three games of April.
The 31-year-old also has some ugly numbers (4 BB, 28 K, .288 OBP) to go with the eight homers, though. Furthermore, his team is just 12-17 and 6.5 games out in the AL West.
A free agent after the season, Morse could be a prime trade candidate if the Mariners fall out of contention.
22. Shane Victorino, OF, Boston Red Sox
A three-year, $39 million deal for Victorino seemed excessive after his numbers declined in 2012 (.704 OPS). Things haven't gotten much better in Boston (.677 OPS in 19 games), although it's yet to be magnified because of the Sox's great start.
The 32-year-old hasn't played since April 24th because of lower-back tightness while his replacement, Mike Carp, is 5-for-12 with a homer and two doubles.
If this is the player Victorino has become, this could be a long three years him, regularly reminded by Boston fans that he's not earning his paycheck.
23. Mike Napoli, 1B, Boston Red Sox
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Napoli went from agreeing to a three-year, $39 million deal this offseason to eventually signing a one-year, $5 million deal weeks later due to concerns over a degenerative hip condition. It certainly hasn't affected him so far, as he has 27 runs batted in to go with 13 doubles and four homers.
The 31-year-old has a brutal BB/K rate (six walks, 40 strikeouts), but he's proving to be a terrific fit at Fenway Park (.946 OPS). On the road, that hasn't been the case as of yet (.723 OPS, 0 BB, 19 K).
24. Ervin Santana, SP, Kansas City Royals
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Not considered to be a big-impact acquisition, Santana was coming off of a rough season with the Angels. The Royals "bought low" and are now getting a terrific payoff.
Since allowing four runs over six innings in his 2013 debut, the 30-year-old has a 1.20 ERA with four walks and 23 strikeouts in 30 innings over his last four starts.
If this is the type of control Santana is going to have throughout the season, the Royals have themselves a top-of-the-rotation starter to team with James Shields and Jeremy Guthrie on a team that could make some noise if it gets into the playoffs.
25. Kevin Youkilis, 3B/1B, New York Yankees
One of many free-agent signings to have productive first months for the surprising Yankees, Youkilis had a .966 OPS on April 16th before a 1-for-18 slide and eventual disabled list stint for a strained back. He has plenty of company, with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira also injured.
The 34-year-old comes with the injury-prone label, so his one-year, $12 million deal was risky. With limited options and Rodriguez expected to miss several months after hip surgery, general manager brought in the former Red Sox rival.
If the Yankees can continue to win ballgames with the cast of overachievers on their current 25-man roster, they could be a force once they start to get healthy over the next few months.