While some general managers head into the Hot Stove League with more flexibility and resources to improve their rosters than others, all of them are looking to find the same thing: value in their offseason acquisitions.
It's about getting the most bang for their team's buck.
Those who do are celebrated, while those who fail are vilified—and often wind up looking for a new job before too long. But contrary to popular opinion, those proverbial bucks aren't limited to the money teams spend on free agents.
The pieces a team moves in a trade also figure in to the equation, and in some cases, due to financial constraints, the trade market is the only option a GM has to improve his team's roster.
Which teams have done the best job at getting more for less this winter?
Let's take a look.
I really love what both the Chicago White Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals have done this winter, but each team made one free-agent signing that brings with it just enough questions to push it out of the top 10.
Chicago invested $68 million over the next six years in Jose Dariel Abreu, a 26-year-old slugging first baseman who is making the jump from Cuba to the United States. While his power is legitimate and he fields his position well, there are real questions as to whether he can hit anything besides a fastball.
In St. Louis, it's fair to ask which Jhonny Peralta the Cardinals handed a four-year, $53 million contract to with the 31-year-old having served a 50-game suspension last year for his link to the Biogenesis Anti-Aging Clinic. Is it the guy who hit a combined .300 with an OPS above .800 for the Tigers in 2011 and 2013, or is it the guy who has hit a combined .250 over the rest of his career?
While I firmly believe that, in the long run, both teams will get tremendous value from their respective signings, both are large enough investments to keep the White Sox and Cardinals off the list.
Acquired RHP Burke Badenhop from Milwaukee for LHP Luis Ortega
Re-signed 1B Mike Napoli to a two-year, $32 million deal
Signed RHP Edward Mujica to a two-year, $9.5 million deal
Signed C A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year, $8.25 million deal
Where's the Value?
It cost the Boston Red Sox a minor league starter who was nowhere near making an impact with the big club and less than $10 million to add a pair of quality relievers to an already solid bullpen. That's not called bang for your buck, that's called highway robbery.
Pierzynski, 37, continues to defy age and produce at the plate, as his 104 wRC+ over the past two seasons is among the 90 highest totals in baseball, regardless of position. On a one-year deal, his ability to call a game provides great value for Boston, which wanted to leave its options behind the plate open in 2015 and beyond.
The team's biggest coup this winter, without question, was getting Napoli re-signed to a below-market deal. Not convinced that he took a below-market deal? Take a look at what some of the more high-profile first basemen in the game are set to earn in 2014:
|Player (Team)||2014 Salary||2013 wRC+|
|Ryan Howard||$25 million||111|
|Prince Fielder (TEX)||$24 million||125|
|Mark Teixeira (NYY)||$23.1 million||58|
|Albert Pujols (LAA)||$23 million||111|
|Adrian Gonzalez (LAD)||$21.8 million||124|
|Mike Napoli (BOS)||$16 million||129|
Napoli not only fits in Boston's clubhouse, but his penchant for clutch hits and outstanding glove work at the position make him a relative bargain at $16 million a year—and he gives the Red Sox piece of mind at a position where the team lacks another enticing full-time option.
David Murphy will prove to be one of this winter's biggest steals.
Signed RHP John Axford to a one-year, $4.5 million deal
Signed OF David Murphy to a two-year, $12 million deal
Where's the Value?
The Cleveland Indians are banking on the Axford that pitched to a 1.74 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP over 13 appearances as a setup man with the Cardinals after a late-season trade taking the ball in the ninth inning, using Cody Allen and Vinnie Pestano in a setup role.
Even if the ultimate decision is to roll with the hard-throwing Allen in the ninth inning—a move I think the team should make—$4.5 million is a worthy investment in a quality reliever, especially one that is only 30 years old and was one of baseball's better closers in Milwaukee from 2009 to 2011.
The biggest value lies in the signing of 32-year-old Murphy, who will platoon with Ryan Raburn in right field. His career-worst performance at the plate with the Texas Rangers last season (.220 BA, .656 OPS) can be explained by his .202 BABIP—100 points below his career mark.
It was only two years ago that Murphy was one of the most productive outfielders in the game with 129 wRC+, more than the likes of Adam Jones and Carlos Beltran (126 wRC+), Carlos Gonzalez (121 wRC+) and Jay Bruce (120 wRC+).
Murphy is as good a candidate to bounce back in 2014 as anyone, and his overall numbers should climb back toward the .283/.346/.449 slash line that he posted from 2008 to 2012—numbers that would be worth more than $12 million a year on the open market.
The Ian Kinsler deal impacts far more than just second base in Detroit.
Signed RHP Joba Chamberlain to a one-year, $2.5 million deal
Signed OF Rajai Davis to a two-year, $10 million deal
Acquired 2B Ian Kinsler from Texas for 1B Prince Fielder and $30 million
Signed RHP Joe Nathan to a two-year, $20 million deal
Where's the Value?
The Detroit Tigers strengthened three positions—and removed a chronic postseason underachiever from the roster—with the trade of Fielder to Texas for Kinsler. Not only is Kinsler an upgrade over Omar Infante at second base, but he gives new skipper Brad Ausmus another leadoff option should he decide to drop Austin Jackson in the lineup.
More importantly, Miguel Cabrera moves across the diamond to first base, where his body will take less wear and tear and his defense becomes less of an issue, while top prospect Nick Castellanos will get regular at-bats as he takes over at the hot corner.
The roughly $76 million that Detroit saved by moving Fielder can now be put toward extensions for Cabrera, a free agent after the 2015 season, and Max Scherzer, who is set to hit the open market after 2014.
Some of that money was used to bolster two other areas of need for the club, none bigger than the bullpen, which has fallen apart at the worst possible times for the Tigers recently.
While Nathan, 39, doesn't have many years left in his career, he's proven that he's still an incredibly effective closer, filling a major need at a reasonable price.
As for the 28-year-old Chamberlain, there's little risk in giving a power arm a $2.5 million deal to see if he can recapture the form that made him, at one point, one of baseball's brightest young arms.
Davis, 33, resolves two issues that Detroit faced. Not only does he bring big-time speed to the roster, having averaged more than 40 stolen bases a year since 2009 as a part-time player, but he plays solid defense in the corner outfield spots. As part of a platoon with Andy Dirks in left field, Davis is a relative bargain at $5 million a year.
Aoki makes Kansas City better at the plate and in the field.
Acquired OF Norichika Aoki from Milwaukee for LHP Will Smith
Signed 2B Omar Infante to a four-year, $30 million deal
Signed LHP Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million deal
Where's the Value?
Vargas, 30, averaged more than 200 innings a season from 2010 to 2012—and likely would have done so again in 2013 had he not missed a chunk of the year due to a blood clot in his armpit.
Equally effective against batters from both sides of the plate—with left-handers hitting .257 with a .701 OPS against him and right-handers hitting .263 with a .754 OPS—Vargas at $8 million a season is a well-below-market-value deal considering the price tags that established starters are commanding.
Coming off one of the best years of his career for the Tigers in 2013, the 32-year-old Infante is versatile enough to play second base, third base or a corner outfield spot, though he's going fill the void that the Royals have had at second base for quite some time.
Signing Infante also strengthens the team's bench, where the equally versatile Emilio Bonifacio becomes a valuable reserve.
Kansas City's biggest steal this winter, without question, was landing the criminally underrated Norichika Aoki from the Milwaukee Brewers for a left-handed specialist in the bullpen who had become expendable.
A disciplined batter who walks more than he strikes out, Aoki will be the team's leadoff hitter and allow the Royals to drop Alex Gordon in the lineup, something that GM Dayton Moore says was a priority for the team, per the team's Twitter page: "We wanted to acquire a leadoff hitter so we could move Gordo more to the middle of the lineup."
An above-average defender in right field, Aoki now gives the Royals one of the best defensive outfields in the game, with Gordon in left field and Lorenzo Cain in center.
Scott Feldman brings stability at a reasonable price to an Astros rotation that needed it badly.
Signed RHP Matt Albers to a one-year, $2.45 million deal
Signed RHP Jesse Crain to a one-year, $3.25 million deal
Signed RHP Scott Feldman to a three-year, $30 million deal
Acquired CF Dexter Fowler and a player-to-be-named later from Colorado for OF Brandon Barnes and RHP Jordan Lyles
Signed RHP Chad Qualls to a two-year, $6 million deal
Where's the Value?
Scott Feldman gives the Houston Astros something they haven't had since the days of Wandy Rodriguez: a dependable, experienced starter who will eat innings and keep the team within shouting distance of winning some games.
He's not a front-line starter by any stretch of the imagination, but for where the Astros are in their rebuilding plan, Feldman fits the team's needs perfectly and comes at a reasonable price. A former 17-game winner with the Rangers, his familiarity with the AL West certainly won't hurt.
Houston also bolstered the worst bullpen in baseball, adding a trio of veteran relievers in Albers, Crain and Qualls for less than $12 million. Assuming Crain is healthy, he could be one of the winter's biggest steals at $2.45 million and, being a Houston native, could look to re-sign with the team after the season.
While Fowler's numbers have been boosted by Coors Field, with a .694 OPS away from his former stomping grounds, he is an athletic player still in his prime whose defensive issues will become less of an issue in the smaller outfield that Minute Maid Park provides.
Neither Barnes nor Lyles was going to be a major part of the team's long-term plans given Barnes' struggles to get on base consistently and Lyles' inability to get major league hitters out. Fowler could be, and with Houston not expected to contend in 2014, there's little risk for the Astros to find out if he is.
Young pitchers with upside like Skaggs don't become available all that often.
Acquired 3B David Freese and RHP Fernando Salas from St. Louis for OF Peter Bourjos and OF Randal Grichuk
Signed OF/DH/1B Raul Ibanez to a one-year, $2.75 million deal
Acquired LHP Hector Santiago from Chicago and LHP Tyler Skaggs from Arizona, traded OF Mark Trumbo and RHP A.J. Schugel to Arizona
Signed RHP Joe Smith to a three-year, $15.75 million deal
Where's the Value?
When it's all said and done, the Los Angeles Angels may be the team that stands above the rest as having gotten the biggest bang for their buck, not only in 2014 but for years to come.
The pitching-starved franchise flipped a one-dimensional player in Mark Trumbo for a pair of young left-handed starters, Santiago and Skaggs, both under team control for years to come at a negligible cost. Of the two, Skaggs is the most intriguing and has front-line potential if he can fix his mechanics.
You could argue that the Angels overpaid to land the 29-year-old Smith, but since adopting a submarine-style of pitching, he's become one of the more effective relievers in baseball. Over the past three years for the Indians, Smith has pitched to a 2.42 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while making at least 70 appearances a season.
While Freese has a shaky history of injuries and struggled at the plate in 2013 for the Cardinals, he plugs a major hole at third base for the Angels at the expense of Bourjos, who was buried as the team's fourth outfielder, and Grichuk, who was also blocked by the team's crowded outfield.
Ibanez will serve as the Angels' designated hitter, at least against right-handed pitching, and he gives the team an option for a corner outfield spot and at first base should a need arise to put him in the field.
In almost 300 at-bats at Angel Stadium, accumulated over an 18-year career, Ibanez owns a .349/.407/.522 slash line with 29 extra-base hits (10 home runs) and 48 RBI. At only $2.5 million, he could outplay his contract before the All-Star break hits.
Signed RHP Dan Haren to a one-year, $10 million deal
Signed RHP Chris Perez to a one-year, $2.3 million deal
Re-signed 3B Juan Uribe to a two-year, $15 million deal
Re-signed RHP Brian Wilson to a one-year, $10 million deal
Where's the Value?
Yes, spending $10 million on a 31-year-old setup man who has twice undergone Tommy John surgery and who has thrown a total of 21.2 major league innings since the end of the 2011 season may not be a bargain, but you have to remember that $10 million to the Dodgers is the equivalent of $5 million to other clubs.
Wilson was excellent over a short span in Los Angeles last season, allowing only one earned run in 13.2 regular-season innings while keeping the Atlanta Braves and the Cardinals off the scoreboard over six innings in the playoffs.
Haren, 33, rebounded from an atrocious first half (5.61 ERA, 1.42 WHIP) with the Washington Nationals to finish the 2013 season looking very much like the pitcher he's been for the bulk of his 11-year career (3.52 ERA, 1.02 WHIP). Landing a quality veteran starter who can keep the Dodgers in games and eat innings for $10 million is an absolute bargain in today's market—especially if he pitches like he did down the stretch for the Nationals.
Uribe may be the biggest risk of the three, but he's also the biggest value. Even if his offense reverts to the numbers he posted over his first two years in Los Angeles (.199 BA, .552 OPS), his defense at the hot corner is worth $7.5 million a year for a Dodgers team that expects to contend for a championship.
No matter what advanced defensive metric you want to use, there's no denying that the 34-year-old Uribe was one of the game's premier defenders at third base in 2013. With a stacked lineup, Uribe's offense—or lack thereof—is less of a liability for the Dodgers than it would be in other lineups.
Suzuki makes Joe Mauer's move to 1B far less painful at a bargain price.
Acquired LHP Sean Gilmartin from Atlanta for C/1B/OF Ryan Doumit
Signed RHP Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million deal
Signed RHP Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million deal
Signed C Kurt Suzuki to a one-year, $2.75 million deal
Where's the Value?
The Minnesota Twins needed pitching and got just that this winter, landing a solid innings-eating veteran in Nolasco for a more than reasonable price and a major bounce-back candidate in Hughes.
Nolasco is really a solid No. 3 starter masquerading as an ace in Minnesota, but he'll give the Twins 200 innings a year and keep the team in games until he turns the ball over to a talented relief corps.
The prize of this winter's spending spree, however, very well could be Hughes.
A fly-ball pitcher, the 27-year-old was victimized by his surroundings at Yankee Stadium, where he pitched to a 6.32 ERA and 1.55 WHIP, allowing 17 bombs over 78.1 innings. Away from the Bronx, he pitched to a 3.88 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, allowing seven home runs in just over 67 innings of work.
Owner of a career 2.53 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 21.1 innings at Target Field, Hughes still has some upside and has a chance to reach his potential now that he's away from the pressure of playing for the Yankees, where, as a former top prospect, expectations for him were consistently through the roof.
Having a chance to sign an experienced pitcher under the age of 30 who still has some upside for $8 million a season is unheard of in today's game.
Gilmartin, 23, battled shoulder tendinitis and an assortment of other ailments in 2013, leading to a less-than-stellar Triple-A debut, but he remains a southpaw with some upside, one with a ceiling of a solid No. 3 or above-average No. 4 starter in a big league rotation.
For a minimal cost, the Twins have ensured that the transition from Joe Mauer to 24-year-old Josmil Pinto behind the plate will be far less painful with Suzuki's presence on the roster. An excellent defensive catcher and game-caller, it would be nearly impossible for him to not exceed his $2.5 million salary, regardless of what he produces at the plate.
Gregerson makes an already dominant bullpen that much better.
Acquired OF Craig Gentry and RHP Josh Lindbloom from Texas for OF Michael Choice and 2B Chris Bostick
Acquired RHP Luke Gregerson from San Diego for OF Seth Smith
Acquired RHP Jim Johnson for 2B Jemile Weeks and C Michael Freitas
Signed LHP Scott Kazmir to a two-year, $22 million deal
Acquired LHP Drew Pomeranz and RHP Chris Jensen from Colorado for LHP Brett Anderson
Signed IF Nick Punto to a one-year, $2.75 million deal
Where's the Value?
Oakland A's GM Billy Beane worked his magic once again this winter, moving a fourth outfielder (Smith) for a top-flight setup man (Gregerson), two players that didn't fit into the team's plans (Weeks and Freitas) for an established closer (Johnson) and an oft-injured starter in Anderson for more pitching depth (Jensen and Pomeranz).
Of that group, Gregerson and Johnson are by far the biggest additions, the former a veteran reliever who doesn't issue walks and knows how to make batters swing and miss and the latter a pitcher who will see his numbers improve across the board in spacious O.co Coliseum.
Signing Kazmir signaled the end of Bartolo Colon's time in Oakland, but for an extra $2 million, the A's picked up a pitcher that is 11 years younger and has far less wear and tear on his arm than the hefty veteran, who landed with the New York Mets on a two-year, $20 million deal.
Gentry provides an immediate defensive upgrade to Oakland's outfield, allowing Yoenis Cespedes to spend more time as the team's designated hitter and, hopefully, less time on the disabled list.
In Punto, the A's get a versatile veteran, capable of playing multiple positions well for less than they're paying Hiroyuki Nakajima, who will once again spend his time in the minor leagues.
Washington hardly gave up anything worthwhile to land one of baseball's best starting pitchers.
Acquired LHP Jerry Blevins from Oakland for OF Billy Burns
Acquired RHP Doug Fister from Detroit for LHP Ian Krol, IF/OF Steve Lombardozzi and RHP Robbie Ray
Signed OF Nate McLouth to a two-year, $10.75 million deal
Where's the Value?
Blevins and McLouth strengthen Washington's bullpen and bench, respectively, but the Nationals robbed Detroit blind with the deal that bought Fister to our nation's capital.
They gave up a utility player (Lombardozzi), an unproven reliever (Krol) and a pitching prospect (Ray) who is at least another year away from making an impact in the big leagues to land Fister, who has won 24 games, pitched to a 3.57 ERA and 1.26 WHIP since 2012 and fields his position as well as anyone.
Toss in the fact that Fister has two years of team control left on his deal and, well, what GM Mike Rizzo was able to turn three relatively mediocre assets into has to be considered one of, if not the best value move that any team in the game has made this winter.