Grading the Latest Wave of MLB Offseason Impact Moves
Bah! Who needs the winter meetings when there's a perfectly good week for signing and trading beforehand?
All 30 of Major League Baseball's general managers must have gotten together recently and reached that very conclusion. It's the only way to explain the current temperature of the Hot Stove.
Starting with the shocker of a trade that sent Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers to the Washington Nationals on Monday night, there's been a veritable explosion of impact free-agent signings and trades that demand attention.
Who are we to ignore this demand? Rather than do that, we're going to tackle each impact deal individually (in chronological order, or close enough to it) and assign some grades as we go.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals
Nationals Get: RHP Doug Fister
The Nationals were hoping Dan Haren would be an upgrade over Edwin Jackson as a fourth starter when they signed him to a one-year deal last winter. That didn't work out, as Haren posted an ERA well over 4.00 even despite a strong finish.
The Nats should have better luck with Doug Fister. He keeps it simple with lots of sinkers and great control, but he's quietly been one of the 10 most valuable starters in the league over the last three seasons by FanGraphs' WAR. He's less of a complementary starter and more of a top-of-the-rotation guy.
The Nats acquired Fister for nothing they're going to miss dearly, somehow convincing the Tigers to give him up for a light-hitting utilityman, a lefty reliever and a pitching prospect not named Lucas Giolito or A.J. Cole.
Tigers Get: INF/OF Steve Lombardozzi, LHP Ian Krol, LHP Robbie Ray
In Lombardozzi, the Tigers got a guy with a 74 OPS+ in 755 major league plate appearances who also owns a negative defensive rating.
In Krol, they got a lefty reliever who featured an average fastball of 93.5 miles per hour in 2013, which is good. The 7.2 K/9 Krol posted, however, is just OK, and righty hitters slugged over .600 against him.
Ray is the main attraction here. Baseball America had him rated as Washington's No. 5 prospect before the trade, meaning he's no slouch. ESPN's Keith Law (subscription required), however, has Ray down as a future back-end guy.
So whether this trade helps the Tigers in the long run is up for debate, and the best thing it did for them in the short-term is clear them from having to pay Fister a raise of a few million dollars in arbitration. But since he only made $4 million in 2013, making sense of this trade for Detroit isn't easy.
Jim Johnson to the Oakland A's
A's Get: RHP Jim Johnson
Look past the 50 saves Johnson racked up in 2013, and you'll see a reliever who saw his ERA climb by almost half a run. Johnson also blew three times as many saves (nine) in 2013 as he did in 2012 (three). Among relievers, he wasn't even in the top 45 in fWAR.
Oh, and MLBTradeRumors.com projects Johnson to make a salary of close to $11 million in 2014 thanks to arbitration. He's going to make "proven closer" money.
That it was the A's who traded for Johnson came as a shock, as they're generally not the type to pay big bucks for a "proven closer." But they did need a replacement for Grant Balfour, and they will be putting a sinkerballer who gets a ton of ground balls in a much friendlier home ballpark. So even though it's going to cost them, the A's are more stable in the ninth inning than they were before the deal.
And since they parted with a piece they had no room for, it's hardly a mistake.
Orioles Get: INF/OF Jemile Weeks
Weeks looked like he was going to be a viable regular at second base when he posted a 110 OPS+ with 22 steals as a rookie in 2011, but he struggled mightily in 2012 and spent a good chunk of 2013 as a center field experiment down in the minors. Along the way, he only had a .745 OPS.
Maybe Weeks will turn out to be a solid-hitting utilityman with some speed to offer, but the real value in this deal for the Orioles is in the money they saved in getting rid of Johnson. Rather than pay him close to $11 million or whatever, they're now free to spend that money on upgrades elsewhere.
Maybe they could have done better than Weeks dealing with somebody else, but the Orioles did make a deal they can benefit from.
A.J. Pierzynski to the Boston Red Sox
The Deal: One year for $8.25 million
On the surface, going from Jarrod Saltalamacchia to A.J. Pierzynski at catcher looks like a significant downgrade for the Red Sox. Neither is a great defensive catcher, but Salty had a 118 OPS+ in 2013 to Pierzynski's 94 OPS+.
But with Pierzynski, the Red Sox can rest easy knowing they've bought some predictability with their $8.25 million. He's been a lock for over 100 games caught for many years now. And while his offensive ceiling isn't high, his floor sure is. Pierzynski has done better than a 93 OPS+ in four out of the last five years.
Salty offered less predictability. Much of his success in 2013 was owed to a .372 average on balls in play, a figure that he's going to have a very hard time repeating.
Rather than bank on Salty to do that, the Red Sox have arranged a solid platoon partnership between the lefty-swinging Pierzynski and the righty-swinging David Ross. Once their contracts are up after 2014, the Boston could turn things over to Blake Swihart and/or Christian Vazquez.
Joe Nathan to the Detroit Tigers
The Deal: Two years for $20-ish million
In 2012, the Tigers endured a season of Jose Valverde's ups and downs. In 2013, there was turmoil before Joaquin Benoit secured the ninth-inning role, and turmoil at the end when he seemed to run out of gas.
Breathe easy, Tigers fans. Joe Nathan is here now.
Nathan has quietly put together one of the greatest careers of any closer in history. He owns as many career saves (341) as Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers, and is coming off a season in which he posted a 1.39 ERA and blew only three saves.
Fair warning, though: It's not fair to expect the 39-year-old Nathan to do that again. He's a good pitcher, but he had an awful lot go right for him in 2013. He'll be good in 2014, but very likely not as dominant.
As for the money, it's hard to make a definitive call without knowing the exact terms of the contract. But the $20 million range is where Rafael Soriano landed last year, and it cost the Nationals a draft pick to go there. The Tigers won't be giving up a pick for a superior pitcher, so it's a good deal for them even despite Nathan's likely regression in 2014.
Rays-Diamondbacks-Reds Three-Team Trade
Rays Get: C Ryan Hanigan, RHP Heath Bell and $500K
In Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan, the Rays now have two righty-swinging catchers who can't hit. But the two of them also represent two of the better defensive catchers in the league. A good defensive catcher is a good thing to have. Two is even better.
And according to Roger Mooney of The Tampa Tribune, the Rays didn't waste time extending Hanigan. He'll be staying through at least 2016 on a three-year deal that includes an option for 2017.
As for Heath Bell, well, he's a project. It's good that the 4.5 K/BB ratio he posted last year was the highest of his career, but he also gave up 12 homers and over 10 hits per nine innings.
Knowing the Rays, Bell will probably be transformed back into a shutdown closer, in which case this deal will have netted them a valuable catcher and late-inning reliever for an undrafted pitcher (Justin Choate) with 16 Low-A appearances under his belt.
Reds Get: LHP David Holmberg
The Reds shed a couple million bucks in 2014 salary by sending Hanigan to the Rays, and they could have done a lot worse than getting Holmberg from the Diamondbacks.
Holmberg made 26 starts at Double-A in 2013, posting a 2.75 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com has him slated as one of Cincinnati's top 10 prospects after the trade, and he would seem poised to serve as rotation depth behind Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake and Tony Cingrani.
Diamondbacks Get: RHP Justin Choate and a PTBNL or Cash
For the D-Backs, this deal was a salary dump first and foremost. In getting rid of Bell and the roughly $6 million he was owed in 2014, they now have some extra cash to make upgrades elsewhere.
That the D-Backs had to part with Holmberg is the less-awesome part of this deal for them, especially given that Choate isn't a suitable replacement. But since they have Archie Bradley knocking on the major league door and a handful of talented pitching prospects in line behind him, parting with Holmberg isn't exactly a franchise-wrecker.
Oakland A's-Texas Rangers Swap
A's Get: OF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindblom
When the A's lost Chris Young to free agency, they lost the guy they had brought in to hit left-handed pitching and to be a defensive specialist in the outfield.
Now it's Craig Gentry's turn to fill that role. He owns an .826 OPS against lefty pitching over the last two seasons, and he can play all three outfield spots. He's particularly good in center and left, totaling 38 Defensive Runs Saved between the two positions.
Lindblom's future role on the A's is a little cloudier. He was solid in relief between 2011 and 2012, but spent most of 2013 as a starter. He didn't do so hot in five major league starts, posting a 6.33 ERA. Whether or not he has the stuff to start is the big question.
It's not a bad haul for the A's, but it did come at a cost. They had to give up a guy Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus had down as their No. 2 prospect, as well as a guy Parks had down as their No. 8 prospect.
Rangers Get: OF Michael Choice and INF Chris Bostick
Choice is the guy Parks labeled as Oakland's No. 2 prospect, and it's not hard to see why. He hit 30 homers at High-A in 2011, and hit .300 with a rock-solid .835 OPS at Triple-A in 2013.
That Choice projects as a quality right-handed power-hitting outfielder has to be music to the Rangers' ears, as they've lost one of those with Nelson Cruz testing the free-agent waters. Alex Rios will man right field in 2014, but Choice looks like the guy for left field. Don't be surprised if he starts putting up numbers right away.
As for Bostick, he's only made it as far as Single-A. The good news, however, is that he upped his OPS from .694 in 2012 to .806 in 2013. He could be a sleeper.
Oakland A's-San Diego Padres Swap
A's Get: RHP Luke Gregerson
Only Tyler Clippard and Matt Belisle have appeared in more games over the last four seasons than Gregerson. And in his 291 appearances, Gregerson has pitched to a 2.78 ERA.
So what was already a bullpen that featured a strong late-inning trio of Johnson, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle now looks even better. The fair warning here is that Gregerson will need his slider to keep doing the bulk of his dirty work, as Brooks Baseball can show that his fastball velocity is headed in the wrong direction.
The A's had to give up a solid lefty bat to make this deal, but only one that had a 103 OPS+ in 2013 with no defensive value. Knowing them, they'll find another (Daric Barton, perhaps).
Padres Get: OF Seth Smith
The Padres needed to find a lefty bat this winter, so acquiring Smith fills that need. And if he goes back to hitting right-handers better than he did in 2013, when he posted a modest .748 OPS against them, he'll be a quality platoon option with Carlos Quentin in left field and a good guy to bring off the bench in a pinch.
What's less clear is how the Padres are going to account for Gregerson's departure, especially given that they're probably not saving any real money with this trade. MLBTradeRumors.com has Smith due to make $4.3 million in arbitration, compared to $4.9 million for Gregerson.
Just as it's not really a slam dunk for the A's, this deal isn't one for the Padres either. So we'll call it even.
Dexter Fowler to the Houston Astros
Astros Get: CF Dexter Fowler and a PTBNL
On the surface, the Astros are getting a center fielder with a solid bat, a bit of power and a bit of speed.
However, the catch with Fowler is the same as it is with most Rockies hitters. His career OPS at home is close to 200 points higher than his career OPS on the road, and his career 101 OPS+ characterizes him as basically an average hitter.
Also worth noting is that the metrics aren't crazy about Fowler's defense in center field, as both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved rate him as a below-average fielder.
Still, Fowler will do for a solid regular the Astros can trade whenever George Springer is ready, and they didn't part with anything they're likely to miss to get him. They're not getting a star, but decent players who can be easily moved are also good.
Rockies Get: OF Brandon Barnes and RHP Jordan Lyles
Barnes is a 27-year-old with 550 major league plate appearances and a 69 OPS+ under his belt. The good news is that he has a good glove that can be used in all three outfield spots, so the Rockies should be able to find a use for him in 2014.
It certainly wasn't the numbers that drew the Rockies to Lyles, as he owns a 74 ERA+ over 377 major league innings. The Rockies should also be wary that he has a bit of a home run problem with a career HR/FB rate close to 13 percent. That's not a habit that plays well at Coors Field at last check.
Even still, it's good that Lyles' velocity is trending in the right direction. And because he's still only 23, there's still time for him to bloom.
If not, then the best thing this trade did for the Rockies was save them some money. They swapped a guy poised to make over $7 million for two pre-arb players.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Miami Marlins
Story: Alex Speier of WEEI.com
The Deal: Three years for $21 million
Color me surprised that the Marlins were able to get Saltalamacchia for only $21 million. That's less than Carlos Ruiz, a much older player, got from the Philadelphia Phillies over three years.
What are the Marlins getting? Certainly a dependable everyday catcher, as Salty has caught over 100 games in each of the last three seasons. And while he's no defensive stalwart, he has gotten better.
The big question mark is Salty's bat. He's going to strike out a ton regardless. The .372 BABIP he posted in 2013 is highly unlikely to happen again. And while he does have power, he'll now be playing half his games at a park that kills power. Per ESPN.com, Marlins Park was the worst park in the majors for home runs in 2013.
The Marlins may have to be content with getting lots of doubles instead. Salty picked up 40 of those in 2013, and Marlins Park does offer big gaps that are good for doubles.
Even if the Marlins only get average or slightly below-average offensive production from Salty, it's hard to be down on this deal considering the price. In getting a solid everyday catcher with some pop who's still only 28, this is one of those times when we have to give the Marlins some props.
Jacoby Ellsbury to the New York Yankees
The Deal: Seven years for $153 million (with an option that could push it to $169 million)
The short version: the Yankees just bought themselves a leadoff hitter with a solid on-base ability and tons of speed to put to use on the basepaths and in the outfield.
These things alone are good enough to make Ellsbury an elite player, as he finished 13th in fWAR in 2013 despite relatively little power. And while his speed will go eventually, it should be good for a couple more years.
Beyond that, one assumes part of the Yankees' justification for this contract has to do with how Ellsbury's power will play at Yankee Stadium. The short porch helped Johnny Damon, another former Red Sox, increase his power and stay productive through his age-35 season. Ellsbury probably has more raw power than Damon ever did, and the Yankees just signed him through his age-36 season.
The $153 million does strike me as being a bit too high, but it's not a horrible overpay. An average of $21.9 million per year isn't too bad for an elite player these days, and Ellsbury will be able to live up to it if Yankee Stadium augments his power.
At first glance, the biggest deal of the offseason looks like a good one.
Justin Morneau to the Colorado Rockies
Story: Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com
The Deal: Two years for $13 million
The Rockies just lost a lefty-swinging first baseman to retirement, so to a certain extent this is them filling a need.
As far as the last three years are concerned, the Rockies might as well be replacing Todd Helton with his twin. Morneau's OPS+ since 2011 is exactly 100. Helton racked up a 101 OPS+ in that same timeframe.
The concern with Morneau, however, is his dwindling power. Despite being able to play in 150 games for the first time since 2008 in 2013, he managed just a .152 ISO and only mustered four doubles after being traded to the Pirates.
But we all know where Morneau is going. Coors Field can only help. If his health holds like it did in 2013, the Rockies could easily get a couple of 20-homer seasons with above-average overall production at first base out of Morneau.
And at less than $7 million per year, they'll be getting said production for cheap.