Grading Newest Wave of MLB's Impact Offseason Transactions
The offseason is still going strong into late December.
The latest free-agent chip to fall was Shin-Soo Choo, who signed a seven-year, $130 million pact with the Texas Rangers. And while the Rangers had few options left to jump-start their offense, it’s possible the Choo deal will blow up in their face.
But the Choo signing was hardly surprising. By contrast, few expected the Chicago White Sox to dangle Addison Reed, who they dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks for third-base prospect Matt Davidson. The White Sox, who are in a mini-rebuilding phase, parted with unneeded depth for a hitter who could realistically be the team’s third baseman for the next decade.
Read on to see how all of MLB’s latest impact offseason transactions grade out.
Chris Perez Signs One-Year, $2.3 Million Deal
Despite posting a combined 3.19 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 122 ERA+), 1.20 WHIP, 2.34-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and 123 saves for the Cleveland Indians over the past four seasons, Chris Perez found himself released this offseason.
In all fairness to the Indians, of course, Perez was en route to earning around $9 million through arbitration. And considering the 28-year-old just tossed a 4.33 ERA (versus an 87 ERA+), 1.42 WHIP and 2.57-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 2013, the Tribe made the correct choice.
That said, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ decision to ink the maligned closer to a one-year, $2.3 million deal, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez, was a wise one. Even though the right-handed Perez routinely outperforms his FIP (a career 3.41 ERA versus a 4.11 FIP), as a low-cost noncloser, he would no longer drag the “overrated closer” label around.
Shin-Soo Choo Signs Seven-Year, $130 Million Deal
In a somewhat expected acquisition, the Texas Rangers recently inked outfielder Shin-Soo Choo to a mammoth seven-year, $130 million contract. Choo was a force on offense for the Cincinnati Reds in 2013, hitting to the tune of a park-adjusted 143 OPS+, 15.7 percent walk rate, 21 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
But not all sects of Choo’s game were noteworthy last season, however. The 31-year-old only collected a .612 OPS against right-handed pitchers and gloved an atrocious minus-17 DRS, per The Fan Bible.
Regardless, the Rangers still took a significant step forward in improving their offense. Choo will likely bat leadoff in a lineup already featuring Elvis Andrus, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios. Expect Choo to step on home plate a lot in 2014.
Danny Valencia/David Lough Trade
Compared to the Addison Reed for Matt Davidson trade, the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals’ swap of Danny Valencia and David Lough seems rather ordinary. But comparisons aside, each team received players with moderate value for 2014.
Over just 170 plate appearances for the Orioles, the 29-year-old Valencia hit .304 with a park-adjusted 135 OPS+ and eight home runs last season. And while Valencia bested Lough on offense (a 96 OPS+), the Royals’ outfielder was the better overall player in 2013.
The 27-year-old gloved a 15 DRS, per The Fielding Bible, and garnered a 2.7 bWAR as a result. By comparison, Valencia managed only a 0.7 bWAR.
Both players could help their new, respective teams, but Lough is the better bet by a hair.
Kansas City Royals Grade: C+
Baltimore Orioles Grade: B-
Ryan Doumit/Sean Gilmartin Trade
With the loss of homegrown catcher Brian McCann, the Atlanta Braves were in need of veteran depth to back up Evan Gattis. Even though the Braves already had Gerald Laird in tow, the addition of Ryan Doumit gives the team a solid starting option if needed.
The 32-year-old enjoyed moderate success for the Minnesota Twins last season, posting an 8.9 percent walk rate, park-adjusted 96 OPS+ and 14 home runs over 538 plate appearances. And while Doumit’s OPS+ has fallen from as much as 131 in 2011, the switch-hitter’s offense is still above-average for catchers.
On the flip side, the Twins received 2011 first-round pick Sean Gilmartin. The 23-year-old has seen his stock decline rapidly in recent years, tossing a forgettable 5.06 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and 2.45-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio at mostly Triple-A in 2013. It’s unlikely Gilmartin will make an impact on the Twins’ 2014 plans.
Atlanta Braves Grade: B+
Minnesota Twins: C
Drew Stubbs/Josh Outman Trade
In 2010, Drew Stubbs seemed untouchable. The right-handed hitter collected a 9.4 percent walk rate, park-adjusted 105 OPS+, 22 home runs and 30 stolen bases at age 25 for the Cincinnati Reds.
But over the next two seasons, Stubbs managed only a combined 75 OPS+ with 29 home runs while hitting .230 in the process. His quickly declining power and plate skills led to a trade to the Cleveland Indians post-2012.
Stubbs’ hitting woes only continued in Cleveland, however, as the 29-year-old posted a .233 batting average with a 90 OPS+, 10 home runs and 17 stolen bases. And according to The Fielding Bible, Stubbs’ collective minus-9 DRS in center and right field were well-below average.
Like Stubbs, Josh Outman has too endured a dicey career despite initial success and praise. After tossing a 3.48 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 127 ERA+) over 14 games (including 12 starts) in 2009, the Oakland Athletics’ farmhand succumbed to arm injuries.
The injuries sacked his entire 2010 season and the pitcher truly didn’t find his place until 2013, when the Colorado Rockies converted Outman to a full-time reliever. Over 54 innings last season, the southpaw pitched to the tune of a 4.33 ERA (versus a 102 ERA+), 1.46 WHIP and 2.30-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
It’s worth noting that Outman held left-handed hitters to a mere .539 OPS with a 3.55-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
Cleveland Indians Grade: B
Colorado Rockies Grade: C+
Joaquin Benoit Signs Two-Year, $15.5 Million Deal
Joaquin Benoit has quietly been one of the most successful relievers in baseball over the past four seasons. The right-hander owns a 2.53 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 164 ERA+), 0.98 WHIP and 4.10-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over that span.
But it took the Detroit Tigers until 2013 to appoint Benoit as the official closer. The 36-year-old rewarded the Tigers with a dominant 2.01 ERA (versus a 209 ERA+), 1.03 WHIP, 3.32-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and 24 saves. Even with Benoit’s success in the role, however, the Tigers opted to ink veteran Joe Nathan instead, forcing Benoit to fend for himself on the free-agent market.
Despite already having Huston Street under contract, the San Diego Padres realized Benoit’s value and signed the reliever to a two-year, $15.5 million deal. Benoit is expected to close in San Diego, but even if he doesn’t, he’ll still earn his contract.
J.P. Howell Signs Two-Year, $11.25 Million Deal
From 2008 to 2009, J.P. Howell was an extremely valuable reliever for the Tampa Bay Rays. Posting a 2.48 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 177 ERA+), 1.16 WHIP, 2.38-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and 20 saves over that span, Howell seemingly adjusted to any relief situation he was thrust in.
But the left-hander missed all of 2010 recovering from shoulder surgery and couldn’t seem to reclaim his zeal in the subsequent seasons. Howell tossed a 4.22 ERA (versus a 91 ERA+), 1.34 WHIP and 1.70-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio from 2011 to 2012.
Hoping to buy low, the Los Angeles Dodgers inked Howell to a one-year, $2.85 million contract last offseason. The deal paid off as the southpaw pitched to the tune of a 2.03 ERA (versus a 176 ERA+), 1.04 WHIP and 2.35-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
Given the 30-year-old’s injury history and recent mediocrity, the Dodgers’ decision to extend Howell a two-year, $11.25 million offer is a bit risky. But even if the pitcher experiences some regression (Steamer projects a 3.63 FIP in 2014), the Dodgers still might not get burned.
Addison Reed/Matt Davidson Trade
One of the most surprising trades this offseason was the swap of Addison Reed and Matt Davidson.
Reed, 24, posted a 3.79 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 113 ERA+), 1.10 WHIP, 3.13-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and 40 saves for the Chicago White Sox in 2013. And while the closer won’t be a free agent until 2018, it’s likely his arbitration rate will exceed the value of a closer.
On the other end of the spectrum there’s Matt Davidson. Even though Davidson has yet to post a full season in the majors, his minor league career has been promising.
The 22-year-old posted a .280 batting average, 9.2 percent walk rate, .831 OPS and 17 home runs at Triple-A for the Arizona Diamondbacks. But with Martin Prado and Paul Goldschmidt manning third and first base, respectively, the Diamondbacks felt comfortable dealing Davidson.
It’s possible the White Sox will let Davidson compete for their third-base gig.
Chicago White Sox Grade: A-
Arizona Diamondbacks: B-