Offseason Mistakes MLB Teams Won't Be Able to Recover from
Through less than two months of MLB offseason activity, a number of teams have already done irreparable damage.
We've witnessed baseball's version of binge eating from several clubs this winter after big-name acquisitions that they'll inevitably regret, both in the short term and several years down the road.
Meanwhile, heavy-spending franchises which expect to contend immediately made questionable decisions that will ultimately impede them from qualifying for the 2014 playoffs.
Although future moves can minimize these mistakes, they won't fully offset them. These five decisions, in particular, appear certain to haunt the teams that made them.
Detroit Tigers Trade Doug Fister
This offseason's class of free-agent starting pitching was particularly underwhelming.
That's evident from the Oakland Athletics' signing of Scott Kazmir. One of Major League Baseball's poorest teams committed two years and $22 million to a notoriously inconsistent pitcher who has started only 30 MLB games in the past three years.
Doug Fister, who's only 11 days younger than Kazmir, is projected to cost $6.9 million in 2014 as an arbitration-eligible player, per Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors. The lanky right-hander, who's also under team control for the following season, will almost certainly earn less than Kazmir's $22 million total from ages 30 to 31.
Oh, and he just so happens to be better than Kazmir. A lot better.
Fister ranked 13th in the American League in innings pitched from 2010 to 2013. The only AL pitchers with greater workloads and lower earned run averages during that period were Felix Hernandez, David Price, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.
Given Fister's superb strike-throwing ability and knack for inducing ground balls, the Detroit Tigers should've been able to procure a talented package of players in any trade. Instead, they settled for this trio:
- Ian Krol—A lefty reliever entering his age-23 season. He had a 3.95 earned run average as an MLB rookie (27.1 IP) with massive platoon splits.
- Steve Lombardozzi—A 25-year-old utility man with a .297 career on-base percentage. Lombardozzi is a replacement-level player who has neither speed nor power to contribute.
- Robbie Ray—A 2010 draft pick with zero major league experience (nothing above Double-A, actually). Although Ray has terrific swing-and-miss ability, he also owns a 4.29 ERA and 4.0 BB/9 for his career.
Ray could develop into a front-line starter, but this trade still wouldn't be justified from the Tigers' perspective. A team that's in win-now mode should never, ever, ever voluntarily compromise its major league rotation.
San Francisco Giants Extend Tim Lincecum
Coming off consecutive durable-yet-inconsistent seasons—72 ERA+, 3.9 BB/9 in 383.2 IP—Tim Lincecum seemingly wasn't a candidate for a multi-year contract.
But understandably, the San Francisco Giants wanted to retain the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner. Remember, he was an integral piece of their 2010 and 2012 World Series runs. Moreover, the club is devoid of quality rotation candidates at the high levels of its farm system, and at least Lincecum is marketable enough to fill the seats at AT&T Park every five days.
Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles attempts to explain the Giants' thought process:
Tim Lincecum is a part of the brand. The Giants are gettin' the brand back together. Which means the Giants believe there's value in never letting the franchise icons go until it's absolutely clear there's nothing left. It's what the Yankees did with Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. It's what the Dodgers will do from now until the end of time. The big teams pay a premium for sentimentality because the image of a beloved player in another uniform disturbs the causal fans.
Indeed, they are guilty of bidding against themselves to finalize a two-year, $35 million deal, which Lincecum's recent performance didn't merit.
Since 2012, the quirky right-hander has averaged fewer than six innings per start. Moreover, only 43.1 percent of his outings met the criteria for a quality start.
Brooks Baseball illustrates how Lincecum's fastball velocity has deteriorated during the past half-dozen seasons. Meanwhile, the split-changeup continues coming out of his hand at the same speed. Therefore, there's much less of a contrast between the two offerings, which has resulted in a declining strikeout rate and higher frequency of home runs on pitches he leaves over the plate.
We have no reason to suspect that Lincecum will ever return to All-Star form. Actually, unless the 29-year-old drastically rethinks his pitch selection or fine-tunes his command, it's unlikely that he'll even revert to league-average status.
The excessive money spent by the Giants in "gettin' the band back together" has forced general manager Brian Sabean to max out his payroll, according to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle. Sabean reached his limit without making any dramatic upgrades to a roster that finished 10 games below .500 last summer.
Seattle Mariners Sign Robinson Cano
The upbeat soundtrack featured in this MLB.com video is meant to convey a feeling of anticipation regarding Robinson Cano's arrival with the Seattle Mariners. However, the volume will fade well before his decadelong deal does.
General manager Jack Zduriencik cannot be foolish enough to believe that Cano's handsomeness (h/t John McGrath, The Tacoma News Tribune) will spare him from an abrupt decline, right? After all, Zduriencik had a front-row seat to Ken Griffey Jr.'s victory tour at ages 39 and 40, during which the future Hall of Famer slashed only .208/.310/.369.
The Mariners' bold acquisition helped woo free agent Corey Hart to the Pacific Northwest, and this coming summer, Cano will probably justify his $24 million salary with a combination of elite power-hitting and glove work.
But Seattle finished 71-91 last season. Playoff contention in 2014 still looks like a pipe dream, even if Cano performs like a top-five MVP candidate, Hart overcomes double knee surgery to start semi-regularly, and several members of the club enjoy bounce-back campaigns.
As NESN.com's Ricky Doyle explains, forking over a near-quarter-billion-dollar contract makes zero sense unless you surround that centerpiece with more proven contributors. And the M's only have a handful of years to do that. Cano's squeaky-clean injury history is not predictive; just like any other human, he'll get bullied by Father Time.
New York Yankees Don't Guarantee 4 Years, Miss out on Omar Infante
"[General manager] Brian Cashman deserves credit for holding firm in the Robinson Cano negotiations," writes ESPN's Jim Bowden (via Zach Links, MLB Trade Rumors). Cashman and the New York Yankees have been tortured by enough ill-advised, long-term free-agent contracts to recognize that it's not worth moving heaven and earth for any 31-year-old player.
In this free-agent market, unfortunately, there were never many starting-caliber players available who had experience at second base.
New York's top fallback option was Omar Infante, who quietly posted a better batting average than Cano did in 2013. Way back on the eve of Thanksgiving, ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand reported that Infante had been generating appeal. And when somebody appeals to the Yankees, they typically do whatever is necessary to get him.
That didn't hold true in this situation.
Marchand's ESPN New York colleague, Wallace Matthews, valued the club's final bid for Infante at three years and $24 million. His representatives had stated that the versatile Venezuelan sought a fourth year, but the Yankees were reluctant to go there. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals bit the bullet, guaranteeing a longer deal—albeit at a slightly less average annual value—and Infante took it.
Cashman may have been gripping his wallet too tight here, considering Infante's steady track record as a two- to three-win player and the dearth of decent alternatives.
Now, his team reluctantly heads toward 2014 with Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson projected to fill an enormous void on the right side of the diamond.
Arizona Diamondbacks Move Tyler Skaggs, Adam Eaton in Mark Trumbo Trade
The Arizona Diamondbacks entered this offseason with a surplus of cheap, controllable, MLB-ready players. In other words, they had the ammunition to trade for basically any player in the league.
Yet they elected to sacrifice Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton, two of their finest chips, for Mark Trumbo.
No, as a National League team, the D-Backs will not have the luxury of sticking Trumbo in the designated hitter's spot. Inconveniently, franchise player Paul Goldschmidt is entrenched at first base, which eliminates the only other logical fit for Trumbo.
Rather, Arizona intends to start the 235-pounder in left field on a daily basis. Trumbo actually owns a tolerable 1.4 UZR/150 in 75 career games at the position, but the eye test suggests that his lack of range will be exploited over a larger sample size.
The club is delusional if it's relying on Trumbo's bat to make this transaction worthwhile. His strikeout rate has grown markedly worse each season, and he doesn't even have sufficient plate discipline to be a true "three outcomes" guy (career .299 OBP). With half his games at Chase Field, Trumbo could challenge for the National League lead in home runs, but that's going to cause his salary to soar in arbitration.
In this three-team trade, the D-Backs also acquired minor leaguers Brandon Jacobs and A.J. Schugel. However, it's doubtful that either can become impact players at the highest level. Even if they make that leap, it won't come in 2014.
Bleacher Report MLB experts Jason Martinez and Zachary D. Rymer both dubbed this the worst move of the offseason.
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.