The MLB offseason is anything but an exact science, as teams are faced with tough decisions on how to make their roster better for the upcoming season while dealing with payroll and personnel constraints.
Anything a team can do to make things easier is well worth their time, and looking back at last offseason there are a few lessons each team can apply this offseason as they look to better their rosters.
Three-Team Trades Are Worth Exploring
Last offseason saw a big three-team, nine-player trade go down between the Reds, Indians and Diamondbacks that played out as follows:
Reds Received: CF Shin-Soo Choo (CLE), IF Jason Donald (CLE), cash
Indians Received: SP Trevor Bauer (ARI), RP Bryan Shaw (ARI), Matt Albers (ARI), RF Drew Stubbs (CIN)
D'backs Received: SS Didi Gregorius (CIN), RP Tony Sipp (CLE), 1B Lars Anderson (CLE)
The big winner here, at least to this point, was the Reds as Choo gave them exactly what they needed atop the lineup, and even with him leaving in free agency the team will receive a compensatory pick. They weren't the only winners though.
The Diamondbacks got a young starting shortstop in Gregorius, and his emergence will allow them to shop top prospect Chris Owings this offseason for what will likely be a solid return.
Bauer didn't do much in his first season in Cleveland, but his upside is still tremendous, and if he can put it together, the Indians could be the biggest winners in this deal. As it was, Shaw and Albers both played key roles in the bullpen, and the offense was just fine without Choo.
Looking at the regular season, the White Sox, Red Sox and Tigers pulled off a three-team deal that saw the Red Sox add a much-needed veteran starter in Jake Peavy, while the White Sox got a building block in outfielder Avisail Garcia and the Tigers filled a major need at shortstop with Jose Iglesias.
Granted, three-team deals don't always work out, as there was another deal last offseason that did not play out quite as well.
Diamondbacks Received: RP Heath Bell (MIA), SS Cliff Pennington (OAK), cash
Athletics Received: OF Chris Young (ARI), cash
Marlins Received: 3B Yordy Cabrera
The Marlins wound up being the winners here for unloading some of Bell's salary, as neither Bell nor Young provided much to the team's acquiring them, and Pennington quickly lost his job to the aforementioned Gregorius.
Still, it is not always easy for two teams to come to terms on a major trade, and getting a third team and some extra pieces involved is sometimes the only way to get a deal done. With a number of big names potentially on the market this offseason, led by ace-caliber arms Max Scherzer and David Price, another notable three-team trade would not be a surprise at all.
Cast a Wide Net When Signing Veterans to Minor League Deals
Filling out a big league roster is no easy feat, and inevitable injuries make depth incredibly important, so when the opportunity presents itself for a team to sign a bounce-back candidate on a minor league deal, it's money worth spending.
Here is a look at key 2013 contributors who signed minor league deals last offseason:
|Key 2013 Contributors Who Signed Minor League Deals|
|RF Marlon Byrd, Mets||147 G, .291/.336/.511, 24 HR, 88 RBI, 75 R|
|RP Neal Cotts, Rangers||58 G, 8-3, 1.11 ERA, 0.947 WHIP, 10.3 K/9|
|RP LaTroy Hawkins, Mets||72 G, 3-2, 2.93 ERA, 1.146 WHIP7.0 K/9|
|SP Scott Kazmir, Indians||29 GS, 10-9, 4.04 ERA, 1.323 WHIP, 9.2 K/9|
|SP Ross Ohlendorf, Nationals||16 G, 7 GS, 4-1, 3.28 ERA, 1.160 WHIP, 6.7 K/9|
|RP Chad Qualls, Marlins||66 G, 5-2, 2.61 ERA, 1.266 WHIP, 7.1 K/9|
|OF Ryan Raburn, Indians||87 G, .272/.357/.543, 16 HR, 55 RBI, 40 R|
|OF J.B. Shuck, Angels||129 G, .293/.331/.366, 2 HR, 39 RBI, 60 R|
|SP Kevin Slowey, Marlins||20 G, 14 GS, 3-6, 4.11 ERA, 1.348 WHIP, 7.4 K/9|
|2B Miguel Tejada, Royals||53 G, .288/.317/.378, 3 HR, 20 RBI, 15 R|
|RP Jamey Wright, Rays||66 G, 2-2, 3.09 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 8.4 K/9|
Of that list, Kazmir and Byrd clearly stand out as players who turned in big seasons and are likely to cash in with multi-year deals this offseason, but each of those players contributed far more than was expected of them.
Beyond those two, Raburn already received a two-year, $4.85 million deal from the Indians before the season was over, and a number of other guys are in position to at least earn a major league deal this time around.
Granted, for every minor league free agent who ends up making a notable contribution, there are 10 that wind up released before the season even starts, but it's well worth putting in the time to take flyers on veterans capable of surprising.
Anibal Sanchez Was Well Worth $80 Million
Zack Greinke was clearly the prize of last year's trade deadline among pitchers, but after him, the market was a relatively big question mark, with Anibal Sanchez checking in as the No. 2 pitcher available.
|Anibal Sanchez's 2013 Free Agency Profile|
|2012 Stats||Career Stats||2013 Stats|
|9-13, 3.86 ERA, 7.7 K/9||48-51, 3.75 ERA, 7.6 K/9||14-8, 2.57 ERA, 10.0 K/9|
His stock was boosted by a strong finish to the season after his trade to the Tigers and an impressive showing in the postseason, but there were still more than a few eyebrows raised when Detroit brought him back on a five-year, $80 million deal.
Now a year later, Sanchez is coming off a season in which he went 14-8 and led the AL with a 2.57 ERA, as he gave the Tigers a fourth ace-caliber starter.
If he were on the market this offseason instead of last, chances are he'd fetch a price tag north of $100 million, and no one would think twice about it.
Three pitchers on the free-agent market this offseason profile similarly to how Sanchez did last offseason. Here is a closer look at that trio's career and 2013 numbers:
|Who Could Be This Year's Anibal Sanchez?|
|Player (Age)||2013 Stats||Career Stats|
|Matt Garza (29)||10-6, 3.82 ERA, 7.9 K/9||67-67, 3.84 ERA, 7.6 K/9|
|Ubaldo Jimenez (29)||13-9, 3.30 ERA, 9.6 K/9||82-75, 3.92 ERA, 8.3 K/9|
|Ervin Santana (30)||9-10, 3.24 ERA, 6.9 K/9||105-90, 4.19 ERA, 7.1 K/9|
Now this is by no means saying that any of these three guys are going to put together the type of season that Sanchez did in 2013, but at the same time they are all capable of it if things break right.
Either way, it's fair to assume that teams will be more willing to open their wallets for a No. 2 starter-type this offseason after what Sanchez did in 2013.
The end of each MLB season is a bittersweet time for MLB fans, as they have a cold winter ahead without baseball, but the offseason also brings a good deal of excitement and optimism for the year ahead as teams rebuild their rosters.
Last offseason, the Red Sox added Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster and David Ross in free agency, and with them brought a complete culture change to a team that was coming off of a 93-loss season. The result was a World Series title.
Now, not every team has the payroll flexibility that Boston did, and it's rare that many moves all work out for the good of the team, but it just goes to show how much difference a good offseason can make.
Whether it's spending a little more for a solid starter, hitting on a minor league flyer, pulling off a blockbuster trade or something else altogether, championship teams are built as much through player development as they are through key offseason moves, and this winter promises to be another entertaining one in the MLB.