Grading Newest Wave of MLB Major Offseason Transactions
Who needs the MLB winter meetings?
Teams evidently didn't want to wait until the second week of December to complete major offseason transactions. Impact players like Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Carlos Beltran all made decisions about their baseball futures on Thursday and Friday.
Grades for the latest signings and trades hinged on the financial consequences, of course, but also the "goodness of fit." Adding experienced, talented (and, often, expensive) individuals is only appropriate when there are rosters that can be markedly improved by their presence. We've exposed a few violators of that concept.
Let's recap and evaluate this exhilarating wave of moves.
Miami Marlins Sign Rafael Furcal
Contract Terms: one year, $3 million plus incentives
Due to Tommy John surgery, Rafael Furcal didn't play a single inning last season. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the New York Mets called off their pursuit of him due to concerns that Furcal hadn't yet recovered from the procedure.
Under these circumstances, though, the Miami Marlins have come up with the best possible solution—shifting the longtime shortstop to second base. That should protect his fragile elbow.
The 36-year-old uses his athleticism to compensate for an erratic throwing arm, providing average defense overall up the middle. Combining that with his great contact skills, he'll probably provide about 1.0 WAR in a full season.
But how can we trust Furcal to endure anything close to a full season?
From 2010-2011, he had four non-elbow-related stints on the disabled list. The issues included a fractured thumb, strained back and strained oblique.
And besides, he isn't noticeably better than incumbent second baseman Donovan Solano.
Marlins Grade: C
Kansas City Royals Acquire Norichika Aoki
Full Trade: Kansas City Royals trade Will Smith to Milwaukee Brewers for Norichika Aoki
MLB.com's Phil Rogers sees this as a win-win scenario, and it's tough to disagree.
Khris Davis established himself as a productive offensive player during Ryan Braun's suspension. He batted .291/.363/.609 from August onward, contributing an extra-base hit every other game.
Braun's return would've likely sent him back to the bench, but this deal enables the Brewers to keep Davis' power in the lineup.
They also get Smith in return, a 24-year-old left-hander with excellent secondary stuff. In 19 appearances (one start) for the 2013 Royals, he posted a 3.24 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 11.61 K/9. Smith isn't much of a loss for Kansas City considering the club's bullpen depth.
Meanwhile, Royals general manager Dayton Moore plans to use Aoki as a leadoff hitter. He brings much-needed plate discipline to a lineup with several free-swingers, and he's versatile enough to occupy any outfield position.
Entering his age-32 season, Aoki's salary is just $1.95 million.
Royals Grade: A-
Brewers Grade: B+
Boston Red Sox Sign Edward Mujica
Contract Terms: two years, $9.5 million
Edward Mujica wore down toward the end of the season. That compelled the St. Louis Cardinals to remove him from the closer's role and use him for only three total innings during their final 26 regular-season and postseason games.
Stretching back through the past four seasons, however, there haven't been many better relievers in baseball.
As MLB Trade Rumors' Steve Adams recognizes, Mujica's sensational command distinguishes him from the pack. The right-hander issued only five walks this past summer; there are reputable setup men who do that over the course of a single week! And his performance is essentially unaffected by the opponent's handedness.
The chief concern that the Boston Red Sox should have is his pedestrian home run rate. Balls fly out of Fenway Park fairly easily, and the same applies at three of the four other AL East stadiums.
Red Sox Grade: B+
Los Angeles Dodgers Re-Sign Brian Wilson
Contract Terms: one year, $10 million plus incentives with $8.5-10 million player option
This is an awfully generous commitment for a reliever who has made just 20 regular-season appearances over the past two seasons, but context matters here.
The Los Angeles Dodgers probably have money dispensing out of their dugout Gatorade coolers, so the dollar amount isn't particularly relevant.
The questionable aspect of this is giving Brian Wilson control of the option. With the right-hander not far removed from Tommy John surgery and striking out fewer batters than he used to, shouldn't the club have more leverage?
Nonetheless, Wilson's abundance of ninth-inning experience is encouraging, as is his spotless 0.00 earned run average in the playoffs (17.2 IP).
Dodgers Grade: B-
Washington Nationals Sign Nate McLouth
Contract Terms: two years, $10.75 million with club option
The Washington Nationals signed Nate McLouth for less than the $12 million that fellow left-handed-swinging platoon outfielder David Murphy got from the Cleveland Indians. They're essentially the same age and McLouth was coming off the superior walk year.
Then again, as Hardball Talk's Matthew Pouliot observes, the Nats have a full outfield. Also, McLouth is a defensive liability if used away from left field.
Denard Span, who's ahead of him on Washington's depth chart, is potentially a trade candidate. He could be dealt for relief pitching and prospects, but that would either expose Bryce Harper to the increased injury risks that come with patrolling center, or put McLouth out of place.
This is a bargain for most clubs, but a weird fit for the Nats.
Nationals Grade: B-
Houston Astros Sign Scott Feldman
Contract Terms: three years, $30 million
ESPN's Jayson Stark wants to remind us that Scott Feldman has a low ceiling: "Scott Feldman has never had season w/ ERA lower than 3.86. If cutoff is 30+ IP, Jason Marquis 9 yrs in row, Feldman 8, Zito & C Villanueva 7."
The encouraging part of that for the Houston Astros is that he posted the 3.86 last season. Feldman also generated a lot of grounders in 2013, and the Astros actually have success in converting them into double plays.
Heading into his age-31 season, this Hawaiian native is easily the most experienced pitcher on Houston's pitching staff. Unfortunately, his career has been a testament to neither consistency nor durability.
Feldman will probably make the Astros better in 2014, but he was undeserving of this contract's length. Perhaps the franchise would've been better off waiting a couple more years to gain some relevance before investing $30 million in a free agent like this.
Astros Grade: C
New York Yankees Re-Sign Hiroki Kuroda
Contract Terms: one year, $16 million plus incentives
The New York Yankees weren't bidding against any other MLB teams, but they agreed on a $1 million pay raise because Hiroki Kuroda had been considering a return to Japan.
This free-agent class doesn't offer any definitively better starters than Kuroda. Moreover, he did the team a favor by settling for a one-year deal during an offseason that has seen inferior options like Tim Hudson and Scott Kazmir get $23 million and $22 million, respectively.
The 2013 season was a story of two halves for Kuroda: 2.65 ERA, .227 BAA before the All Star break compared to a 4.25 ERA and .279 BAA afterward.
Going on 39 years old, there's certainly a risk that his overall numbers regress, or that, due to injuries, he falls short of the 200-inning mark.
But given the thinness of New York's rotation, this signing was warranted.
Yankees Grade: B+
New York Mets Sign Curtis Granderson
Contract Terms: four years, $60 million
Take Curtis Granderson's underwhelming production last season with a grain of salt. Two unfortunate hit-by-pitches—one in spring training, the other in late May—resulted in about three months on the disabled list.
Based off his 2012 stats (.811 OPS, 43 HR, 3 DRS), he's worth about $15 million annually on the open market.
Granderson also figures to be an invaluable clubhouse influence on one of the sport's youngest rosters. He is a philanthropist and world ambassador for Major League Baseball who has left a positive impression on virtually all media members and ex-teammates.
With his 33rd birthday approaching in March, now is the time to permanently transition to a corner outfielder. Conveniently, the New York Mets can do that and sleep soundly knowing that Juan Lagares is patrolling center.
The glaring flaw with the Grandy Man is his strikeout rate. Over the past four seasons, only 21 qualified batters have whiffed more frequently, and the majority are either unemployed or disappointing under the terms of their current contracts.
Mets Grade: B
New York Yankees Sign Carlos Beltran
Contract Terms: three years, $45 million
Very few position players age as gracefully as Carlos Beltran has. The New York Yankees feel he can continue contributing on a near-regular basis through his late 30s.
The former Gold Glover's defense has gone downhill to such an extent that he's now significantly below average in right field.
However, Beltran is being put in a situation where that shouldn't be exploited. There's not much ground to cover on that side of Yankee Stadium, and playing alongside Jacoby Ellsbury should relieve him of even more responsibility.
Albeit no longer a threat to steal, the veteran switch-hitter still makes wise decisions on the basepaths.
The Yankees were pressured into paying Beltran liberally due to the insufficiency of the sluggers at the high levels of their minor league system. Given those circumstances, though, he was the ideal fit.
The potential Hall of Famer ought to be a 30-homer threat in the Bronx, and he goes about it without compromising his plate discipline.
Yankees Grade: B+
Seattle Mariners Sign Robinson Cano
Contract Terms: 10 years, $240 million, full no-trade clause
Robinson Cano is currently in the discussion for best middle infielder in baseball. He might be again this coming season and for a couple more after that.
But the length of this contract is absurd.
Although Cano has been inhumanely durable, with 159-plus games played in each of the past seven seasons, it's not going to last. Even Hall of Fame-caliber iron men like Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken Jr. deteriorated in their late 30s.
The Dominican superstar has gradually developed better strike zone awareness, and that's going to help him stay in the starting lineup during the latter half of this deal. His presence makes Nick Franklin expendable, which could indirectly allow the Seattle Mariners to put together a competitive David Price trade package, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports observes.
Seattle is guilty of using its dollars inefficiently here, but perhaps Cano's presence could lure some of the team's other free-agent targets. And if that makes this a consistent postseason team, then there won't be too many regrets.
Mariners Grade: C+
Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.