MLB Free Agency 2014: Grading All of the Offseason's Early Notable Signings
None of the biggest name free agents have signed yet, but it's been a surprisingly busy start to the offseason.
Not including Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum, who signed contract extensions in September and October, respectively, and the signings of Cuban free agents Jose Dariel Abreu and Alexander Guerrero, who each signed big league contracts last month, there has been close to 20 big league signings since the end of the World Series.
Here's a list of the eight most notable deals, along with an early grade and an analysis on the potential impact.
Cincinnati Reds Sign Skip Schumaker to 2-Year, $5 Million Deal
The Cincinnati Reds are very familiar with Skip Schumaker from his many years spent with the division rival St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, they were probably very happy to see him traded to the Dodgers last offseason, considering he's a .307 hitter against them in 84 career games.
So, when he hit the open market this offseason, the Reds didn't waste any time scooping him up the versatile veteran to add to their bench.
After a disappointing performance from their offense in 2013, the Reds brought in the left-handed hitting Schumaker, who has played second base and all three outfield spots during his big league career. With uncertainty in center field—unproven rookie Billy Hamilton is the projected starter at this point—and potentially second base if Brandon Phillips is traded, they've given themselves some insurance at an inexpensive cost.
The 33-year-old didn't perform particularly well at the plate last season, but he finished strong with a .352 on-base percentage after July 1. Don't think the Reds didn't notice. Take Shin-Soo Choo out of the picture, and they are a very mediocre ball club in that area.
Cleveland Indians Sign David Murphy to 2-Year, $12 Million Deal
There will be a lot of mixing and matching in the Cleveland Indians lineup in 2014, and the signing of ex-Rangers outfielder David Murphy only adds to manager Terry Francona's options.
The 32-year-old could end up being a bargain if he can revert to his 2012 form, when he posted an .859 OPS with 15 homer in 147 games. Given his track record—.795 OPS, 14 HR, 61 RBI, 10 SB per season between 2007-2012—it's a pretty solid gamble for the Tribe.
Likely slated to be the regular right fielder versus right-handed pitching, Murphy could platoon with Ryan Raburn or Drew Stubbs, if he's not traded or non-tendered. It's also possible that Nick Swisher shifts to right field against left-handed starters with Yan Gomes playing first base and replacing Murphy in the lineup.
Either way, expect Murphy to sit when a left-handed starter takes the mound. He has a career .816 OPS against right-handers and a .657 OPS versus left-handers.
Colorado Rockies Sign LaTroy Hawkins to 1-Year, $2.5 Million Deal
With Rafael Betancourt out of the picture, the Rockies appeared to be in good hands with Rex Brothers as the closer. The 25-year-old, who filled in for the injured Betancourt for much of the 2013 season, had a 1.74 ERA with 19 saves in 21 chances.
Brothers' days of closing likely aren't over, but the signing of veteran LaTroy Hawkins could delay his return to that role. While things can certainly change, the Rockies plan on utilizing the soon-to-be 41-year-old in the closer's role after he showed he still had plenty left in the tank last season.
After taking over as the Mets' closer following Bobby Parnell's injury, the right-hander had 13 saves in 14 chances, which included 14 consecutive scoreless innings to close out the season.
The move allows Colorado to keep the left-handed Brothers in the setup role, although there's certainly the possibility of giving him closing chances in situations where more than one left-handed hitter is due up in the 9th innings.
Oakland Athletics Sign Nick Punto to One-Year, $3 Million Deal
The Oakland Athletics added to their long list of infield options when they signed veteran Nick Punto to a one-year deal.
While the acquisition doesn't bode well for Scott Sizemore, Eric Sogard, Andy Parrino or Jemile Weeks, all candidates to fill utility role off of Oakland's bench, the team now has plenty of depth, and general manager Billy Beane could shop starting second baseman Alberto Callaspo, or even shortstop Jed Lowrie, who has one year left of club control and would bring back a nice return in a deal.
Punto, 36, posted a .636 OPS with the Dodgers the past two seasons while playing shortstop, second base and third base. He'll fill the same role in Oakland.
Philadelphia Phillies Re-Sign Carlos Ruiz to 3-Year, $26 Million Deal
With several other teams making a push to sign veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz, the Philadelphia Phillies had to act quick and pay a steep price to keep him from bolting town.
Despite the lofty price for a soon-to-be 35-year-old coming off of a mediocre season at the plate, Ruiz's reputation as a terrific defender, handler of a pitching staff and clutch hitter made him essential to the Phillies' goal of contending in 2014.
With their top two catching prospects, Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle, not close to being ready for the majors after disappointing 2013 seasons (Joseph missed most of it with an injury), Ruiz's return became that much more vital.
There's a good chance, however, that he'll be just one of many overpriced veterans that are underperforming over the next few seasons.
Philadelphia Phillies Sign Marlon Byrd to 2-Year, $16 Million Deal
For what Marlon Byrd did on the field in 2014, two years and $16 million appears to be a very team-friendly rate for the Philadelphia Phillies.
But at age 36 and only one year removed from being out of baseball after an awful performance early in the 2012 season, not to mention a P.E.D. suspension that he was allowed to serve while unemployed, Byrd doesn't come without risk.
An $8 million per season salary could start to look inflated if he isn't doing much more than last year's group of right fielders, who combined on a .707 OPS with 22 homers and 68 runs batted in. This isn't great production, but it's not as bad as I would've expected from a group that included Delmon Young, John Mayberry Jr. and Darin Ruf.
A modest decline in production from Byrd, who posted an .847 OPS with 24 homers and 88 runs batted in, and his acquisition would still be a slight upgrade. A more drastic decline, however, and the signing will be just one more black mark on general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s list of mistakes over the past few seasons.
San Diego Padres Sign Josh Johnson to 1-Year, $8 Million Deal
There might not be a more perfect match this offseason than Josh Johnson and the San Diego Padres. It's no surprise they found each other so quickly.
The former Florida Marlins ace, who is coming off of an injury-plagued season with the Toronto Blue Jays, will be pitching most of his games at one of, if not the most, pitcher-friendly ball park in one of the most pitcher-friendly divisions in baseball.
Even if Johnson doesn't have a Francisco Liriano-like rebound or a return to his dominant form with the Marlins, when he went 36-13 with a 2.80 ERA over an 84-start span from 2008-2011, it's quite possible he can give the Padres a huge lift in the middle of their rotation.
After returning from a shoulder injury that cost him most of the 2011 season, Johnson posted a 3.81 ERA with a 3.1 BB/9 and 7.8 K/9 in 31 starts for the Marlins in 2012. If he can repeat that performance in 2014, the $8 million, and possibly another $1.25 million in incentives, will have been a major bargain.
San Francisco Giants Sign Tim Hudson to 2-Year, $23 Million Deal
Ironically, it was a season-ending ankle injury to Tim Hudson in July, which required surgery, that seemed to put him at the top of the "best bargain" list on the free agent market this offseason.
When he went down, Hudson was pitching like the top-of-the-rotation that he had been for so many years with a 2.73 ERA over his last 10 starts. Even at age 38, the right-hander was putting himself in position for a big payday following the season. The injury likely dropped his asking price, but he still did pretty well.
On track for a quick recovery, Hudson was able to land a two-year deal to be the Giants' No. 4 starter. Considering that less effective pitchers like Ricky Nolasco will make more money on minimum three-year deals, the Giants did a tremendous job to fill a major need with a veteran who should be a big upgrade over Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito at the back of the rotation.
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