Every MLB Team's Biggest Steal of the 2014 Offseason
Nobody likes to be branded a thief—most of the time, anyway.
But when it comes to the MLB offseason, general managers around the game are all vying for the title of "Biggest Crook," trying to one-up their counterparts around the game as they all vie for a limited pool of players with which they may be able to improve their rosters.
Whether it's a shrewd free-agent signing or a lopsided trade, finding value is the name of the game in the Hot Stove League, and some teams have done a far better job at doing just that than others.
As a matter of fact, some teams have yet to find any real value at all this winter. With roughly six weeks to go before spring training starts and plenty of talent left available on the free-agent market, there's still plenty of time for those clubs to steal someone out from under their competitors' noses.
Let's take a look at the biggest steal for each team so far and find out just which GMs are the biggest crooks of them all.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Fangraphs.
*All salary information courtesy of Cot's Contracts.
Arizona Diamondbacks: RP Addison Reed
Acquired from Chicago (AL) for 3B Matt Davidson
While some of the Arizona Diamondbacks' moves this winter lend themselves to furious head scratching, the trade that sent third base prospect Matt Davidson to the Chicago White Sox for closer Addison Reed isn't one of them.
Reed, 25, has converted 85 percent of his save opportunities (69 out of 81) over the past two seasons and fills a glaring hole at the back of the Diamondbacks bullpen, where J.J. Putz is no longer a reliable option and Brad Ziegler is best served in a setup role.
Davidson filled no such hole for the Diamondbacks, where Martin Prado takes over as the team's full-time third baseman with the addition of Mark Trumbo to the team's outfield. With legitimate questions surrounding his glove and ability to hit for average, Davidson, far from a sure thing, was expendable.
The simple fact is that hard-throwing 25-year-old pitchers like Reed simply don't become available often, and when a team has a chance to acquire one, any GM worth his salary is going to do just that.
Could he become too expensive for the team down the road? Sure. But that road is lengthy, with Reed not eligible for arbitration until next winter and under team control through 2017. For a Diamondbacks club that is looking to contend in 2014, adding Reed for a player that wasn't going to be a contributor was a big-time steal.
Atlanta Braves: 1B/3B Mat Gamel
Free Agent: Signed to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training
It's been a rather painful offseason in Atlanta, where two longtime Braves, catcher Brian McCann and starting pitcher Tim Hudson, departed as free agents and the team has added almost nobody of note.
Signing players to minor league contracts typically flies under the radar, but the Braves' decision to ink Mat Gamel to one could pay big dividends for the club in 2014 and beyond.
Torn ACLs in 2012 and 2013 have limited the 28-year-old to a total of 75 plate appearances since the end of the 2011 season, when he hit .310 with 28 home runs, 96 RBI and a .372 on-base percentage in 128 games at Triple-A Nashville.
A career .304/.376/.498 hitter over parts of seven minor league seasons, Gamel is out of minor league options. If he can stay healthy and produce in the spring, he should be able to earn a bench spot with the Braves.
Not only can he back up Freddie Freeman at first base and Chris Johnson at third, but he would also give skipper Fredi Gonzalez a left-handed bat with power to call upon late in games when the situation called for one.
Once considered one of the better prospects in baseball, a healthy Gamel could make a big impact for the Braves in 2014 as they try to defend their NL East championship against improved competition.
Baltimore Orioles: OF David Lough
Acquired from Kansas City for IF Danny Valencia
Nate McLouth's defection to the Washington Nationals left the Baltimore Orioles with a gaping hole in left field, one that they filled by acquiring David Lough from the Kansas City Royals.
Five years younger than McLouth, the 27-year-old Lough is very much like his predecessor, with some pop in his bat and enough speed to be a threat to take off running when he gets on base.
A plus defender in either corner outfield spot, he hits left-handed and right-handed pitching equally well and finished eighth in the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year voting. That it cost the Orioles only a reserve third baseman in Danny Valencia to acquire him makes Lough an absolute steal.
Boston Red Sox: 1B Mike Napoli
Free Agent: Re-signed to a two-year, $32 million deal
It might seem odd to include a player that just signed a two-year, $32 million contract on a list of the biggest steals of the offseason, but make no mistake about it: The Red Sox aren't paying nearly as much as they should be for a player of Mike Napoli's talent.
We looked at the immense value that Napoli's team-friendly deal brings to Boston last week, but it bears repeating here. Take a look at where he ranks at the plate when compared with some other high-profile veteran first basemen:
|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|
A superior fielder to everyone on that list with the possible exception of Mark Teixeira, Napoli's glovework and production at the plate should command an annual salary of at least $20 million. For argument's sake, let's say that he should have cost Boston $21 million a year.
The five million that the Red Sox didn't give Napoli wound up going to reliever Edward Mujica, who inked a two-year, $9.5 million pact with the club in late December, bolstering what was an already outstanding relief corps.
When a team can bolster two positions because of a deal like this, there's no argument to be made against calling the Napoli signing anything but a steal.
Chicago Cubs: Nobody
The Chicago Cubs have been relatively quiet this winter, making small additions to the roster, most in the form of minor league contracts with invitations to spring training.
Chicago's biggest additions have been to the bullpen, where the team spent just over $5 million in handing out one-year deals to veteran relievers Jose Veras ($4 million) and Wesley Wright ($1.25 million). Neither deal would be characterized as steal, and the argument could be made that the team overpaid Wright.
Chicago White Sox: OF Adam Eaton
Acquired from Arizona in exchange for LHP Hector Santiago and OF Brandon Jacobs
White Sox GM Rick Hahn can take a bow for his ability to flip a back-end starter (Hector Santiago) and a minor league outfielder (Brandon Jacobs) for a player who will be a fixture on the south side of Chicago for years to come.
Adam Eaton is an exciting player who has pretty much everything a team would want aside from power. He's got terrific speed, both on the basepaths and in the field, which allows him to cover a ton of ground in center field, where he flashes a solid glove and a cannon for a throwing arm.
At the plate, Eaton has tremendous discipline and knows how to make solid, consistent contact. In 2012, he led all of minor league baseball in batting average (.375), hits (198) and doubles (47) and was named Pacific Coast League MVP.
White Sox fans are going to love him—and in retrospect, this move will rank as one of, if not the best move of the entire winter.
Cincinnati Reds: Nobody
When signing Skip Schumaker is the biggest move that a team makes in the offseason, well, there isn't much to be said about what the Cincinnati Reds have done this winter.
Granted, the three-team deal that sent catcher Ryan Hanigan to the Tampa Bay Rays and bought 22-year-old left-handed starter David Holmberg to Cincinnati could wind up being a big steal down the road, but Holmberg isn't going to break camp with the Reds and figures to spend most of the season at Triple-A Louisville.
Cleveland Indians: OF David Murphy
Free Agent: Signed a two-year, $12 million deal
It was only two years ago that David Murphy was one of the most productive outfielders in baseball, putting up a 129 wRC+, which was more than the likes of Adam Jones and Carlos Beltran (126 wRC+), Carlos Gonzalez (121 wRC+) and Jay Bruce (120 wRC+).
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—and makes him as good a candidate to bounce back with a vengeance in 2014 as anyone.
Signed to a two-year, $12 million deal to platoon with Ryan Raburn in left field, Murphy's overall numbers should climb back toward the .283/.346/.449 slash line that he posted from 2008 to 2012—numbers that would be worth well more than $6 million a year on the open market.
Colorado Rockies: SP Brett Anderson
Acquired from the Oakland Athletics for LHP Drew Pomeranz and RHP Chris Jensen
The Colorado Rockies landed itself a 25-year-old left-handed starter with front-of-the-rotation potential in exchange for a minor league pitcher (Chris Jensen) and a pitcher who never fit—or lived up to the most modest expectations—with the Rockies (Drew Pomeranz).
The oft-injured Brett Anderson has gone 26-29 with a 3.81 ERA and 1.28 WHIP over parts of five seasons with the Oakland Athletics. While some will point to the switch from spacious O.co Coliseum to the hitter's paradise of Coors Field as a reason Anderson will falter, he is well equipped to handle the change.
Keeping the ball on the ground in Colorado is key to any pitcher finding success, and few pitchers do a better job of that than Anderson does.
Since making his debut in 2009, only nine pitchers with at least 450 innings pitched have induced ground balls more often than Anderson, who induces them nearly 55 percent of the time.
As long as he stays healthy, he could finally live up to his potential as a front-of-the-rotation arm—not a minute too soon for a Rockies rotation that has been among the worst in baseball for a very long time.
Detroit Tigers: RP Joba Chamberlain
Free Agent: Signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal
There's little risk involved when a team signs a relief pitcher to a one-year, $2.5 million deal. In Joba Chamberlain's case, the potential reward makes the minimal risk all the more worthwhile.
The outspoken Chamberlain burst on to the scene in 2007 by tossing 24 innings of two-run ball and pitched to a 2.60 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 2008. But has struggled since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2011, pitching to a 4.74 ERA and 1.68 WHIP.
He's struggled with his command, walking a career-high 5.6 batters per nine innings of work in 2013, but he continues to make batters swing and miss, averaging a strikeout per inning over the course of his career.
Chamberlain, 28, also has fantastic numbers at Comerica Park, going 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 15.1 innings of work. While that's an incredibly small sample size to reach any conclusions from, there are few places where he seems to feel as comfortable on the mound as he does in Detroit.
Away from the pressure and spotlight that comes with pitching in New York, don't be surprised if Chamberlain winds up a favorite to take home AL Comeback Player of the Year honors at the end of the 2014 season.
Houston Astros: RP Jesse Crain
Free Agent: Signed a one-year, $2.45 million deal
While the Houston Astros remain in rebuilding mode and the bulk of their young talent is still at least a year away from making an impact in the major leagues, Houston has finally begun to make moves toward improving the major league product.
With the first wave of young talent set to hit the big leagues this season, namely first baseman Jonathan Singleton and outfielder George Springer, the Astros spent less than $12 million to sign a trio of veteran relievers: Matt Albers, Chad Qualls and Jesse Crain.
Few relievers have been as good as Crain over the past four years, with the 32-year-old pitching to a 2.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while averaging nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings of work. While 2014 will be the first time that he'll be a full-time closer, given his past success, the odds are that he'll thrive in the role.
On his numbers as a setup man alone, Crain is a bargain at $2.45 million. If he winds up succeeding in the ninth inning as expected, he'll wind up as one of the biggest steals of the winter.
Kansas City Royals: OF Norichika Aoki
Acquired from Milwaukee for LHP Will Smith
The Kansas City Royals' biggest steal this winter, without question, was landing the criminally underrated Norichika Aoki from the Milwaukee Brewers for Will Smith, 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 official 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.
Los Angeles Angels: DH/OF Raul Ibanez
Free Agent: Signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal
The Los Angeles Angels needed a cost-effective way to replace some of the power they lost after trading Mark Trumbo to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and they found it in 41-year-old Raul Ibanez.
Ibanez has averaged 22 home runs and 86 RBI a season since 2001, and he will serve as the Angels' designated hitter, at least against right-handed pitching. The veteran also gives skipper Mike Scioscia another option for a corner outfield spot and at first base should a need arise to put him in the field.
The most encouraging thing about the Ibanez signing are his career numbers at Angel Stadium. In almost 300 at-bats in his new home ballpark, the 18-year veteran owns a .349/.407/.522 slash line with 29 extra-base hits (10 home runs) and 48 RBI.
At only $2.5 million, chances are that he will outplay his contract before the All-Star break hits.
Los Angeles Dodgers: SP Dan Haren
Free Agent: Signed a one-year, $10 million deal
Landing a quality veteran starter who can eat innings for $10 million is an absolute bargain in today's market—especially if he pitches like Dan Haren did down the stretch for the Washington Nationals.
Haren, 33, rebounded from an atrocious first half (5.61 ERA, 1.42 WHIP) with the 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).
He doesn't issue walks—his career 1.87 BB/9 is the lowest ratio among active pitchers—and with a far more potent lineup supporting him than he had in Washington, Haren's ability to keep things close is worth $10 million alone for a club that is expected to contend for a World Series crown.
Miami Marlins: 1B Garrett Jones
Free Agent: Signed a two-year, $7.4 million deal
In 2013, only two teams, the Rockies (70 wRC+) and the Brewers (64 wRC+) got less production out of their first basemen than the Miami Marlins did.
In fact, the 76 wRC+ that Marlins first basemen generated last year was bested by 51 players that made at least 100 plate appearances as a first baseman, a group that includes new Marlins first baseman Garrett Jones (97 wRC+).
Keep in mind that Jones had a down year in 2013, hitting .233/.289/.419 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI. Two years ago, he hit 27 home runs with an .832 OPS (123 wRC+) and has averaged 109 wRC+ a year since 2010.
He's a defensive liability and his power numbers will surely take a hit moving from PNC Park in Pittsburgh to cavernous Marlins Park in Miami, but for a rebuilding club, landing an experienced, inexpensive veteran at a below-market price—especially when other big-market clubs were thought to be interested—is a steal.
Milwaukee Brewers: Nobody
Like a bear hibernating for the winter, the Milwaukee Brewers have done almost nothing to improve a club that finished 14 games under .500 and 16 games out of a playoff spot a year ago.
In fact, the argument could be made that someone woke the bear and, in a sleepy haze, it decided to trade one of the team's best players—Norichika Aoki, who was also incredibly affordable—for a left-handed specialist in the bullpen before returning to its slumber.
Minnesota Twins: C Kurt Suzuki
Free Agent: Signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal
For a minimal cost, the Minnesota Twins have ensured that Joe Mauer finally moving out from behind the plate will be far less painful than it could have been by signing veteran backstop Kurt Suzuki.
Minnesota's improved starting rotation, with newcomers Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco, will benefit from his excellent defense and outstanding game-calling abilities. At only $2.5 million, it would be nearly impossible for him not to be an absolute steal, regardless of what he produces at the plate.
New York Yankees: IF/OF Kelly Johnson
Free Agent: Signed a one-year, $3 million deal
While much of the attention on the New York Yankees this winter has been on the team signing high-profile free agents like Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann, it's one of their more overlooked additions, soon-to-be 32-year-old Kelly Johnson, that will wind up being the team's shrewdest move.
Capable of playing second base, third base and a corner outfield spot, Johnson's versatility makes him a steal for a Yankees team that needs versatile players, especially in the infield.
Johnson figures to see playing time all over the diamond for manager Joe Girardi given third baseman Alex Rodriguez's uncertain future and the departure of second baseman Robinson Cano in free agency.
At the plate, he gives the Yankees some left-handed power toward the bottom of the lineup and some speed on the basepaths, recording double-digit steals four times over the past six seasons.
New York Mets: OF Chris Young
Free Agent: Signed a one-year, $7.25 million deal
The New York Mets desperately needed upgrades at both corner outfield spots this winter, and by signing Curtis Granderson away from the Yankees and Chris Young away from the Oakland A's, they've done just that.
While both are solid additions to the club, it's Young who will prove to be the steal of the winter in Flushing.
Yes, he's going to strike out a lot because, well, that's been his M.O. for the bulk of his career, and his home run totals will tick downward given the spacious confines of Citi Field.
That said, Young is incredibly athletic, and his combination of power and speed figures to translate into more extra-base hits as balls fall into the gaps.
An above-average fielder at any spot in the outfield, he can slide around as manager Terry Collins finds that either Granderson or center fielder Juan Lagares needs a day off. That versatility, while often overlooked, is incredibly valuable.
Oakland Athletics: RP Luke Gregerson
Acquired from the San Diego Padres for OF/DH Seth Smith
It wouldn't surprise me if Oakland GM Billy Beane was still smirking over his fleecing of the San Diego Padres, adding Luke Gregerson to the A's bullpen at the cost of a mediocre fourth outfielder and designated hitter.
Gregerson doesn't walk batters and keeps the ball on the ground, as evidenced by a 45.5 percent ground-ball rate. Since 2011, he has pitched to a 2.60 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while averaging 70 relief appearances a year.
An excellent addition to what was already a tremendous bullpen in Oakland, Gregerson only increases the A's chances of winning a third consecutive AL West title.
Philadelphia Phillies: Nobody
No general manager has gotten ripped off this winter as much as Ruben Amaro Jr., who somehow believes that handing out multi-year deals to middling players on the downside of their careers is the quickest way to get his already mediocre roster back into the playoff picture.
Spending a combined $46.5 million on contracts for 36-year-old outfielder Marlon Byrd, 34-year-old catcher Carlos Ruiz and 33-year-old pitcher Roberto Hernandez isn't a good idea, yet that's exactly what the Phillies did.
Amaro Jr. might as well jump inside the Phillie Fanatic's costume this season—it may the only way he can avoid the criticism that is coming his way.
Pittsburgh Pirates: C Chris Stewart
Acquired from the New York Yankees for RHP Kyle Haynes
While high-profile prospects like Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy remain in the New York Yankees farm system, the Pittsburgh Pirates have gone shopping in the Bronx for their needs behind the plate.
Last year, the Pirates signed Russell Martin away from the Yankees with one of the steals of the winter, and they have struck again this offseason, trading a minor league pitcher for 31-year-old Chris Stewart.
Stewart doesn't offer much at the plate, but what he lacks in offense he more than makes up for with phenomenal defense, excellent game-calling ability and a strong throwing arm, having thrown out 33 percent of would-be base stealers in his career.
Quality backup catchers are always overlooked and often unappreciated, but Stewart provides the Pirates with ample insurance should Martin need a day off or miss time due to injury. That peace of mind alone is worth a few million, much less a low-level prospect like Haynes.
San Diego Padres: SP Josh Johnson
Free Agent: Signed a one-year, $8 million deal
San Diego doesn't have the financial resources to contend with big-market clubs for the best talent available, so when the team has a chance to sign a big-time talent coming off of a miserable season, it has to jump at the chance, regardless of the risk involved.
To be sure, Josh Johnson's 2013 season with the Toronto Blue Jays was an abject failure. Injuries limited the 29-year-old to only 81.1 innings of work, over which he posted a terrible 6.20 ERA and 1.66 WHIP.
Yet he somehow managed to average more than a strikeout per inning (9.2 K/9), which, at the very least, suggests that his career may not be dead yet.
Getting out of the American League and into a pitcher's paradise, Petco Park, Johnson stands to see a massive improvement in his numbers across the board—as long as he stays healthy, that is.
A healthy Johnson is a legitimate Cy Young Award contender, and the chances to land a starter of that caliber for $8 million a year is almost unheard of in today's market.
San Francisco Giants: SP Tim Hudson
Free Agent: Signed a two-year, $23 million deal
When it comes to consistency on the mound, few pitchers in baseball have been as reliable over the years as Tim Hudson.
Only twice in the last 15 years has he pitched to an ERA over 4.00—the last time coming in 2006—and the three-time All-Star has never had a losing record in any given season.
While there's always some risk involved when signing a 38-year-old pitcher to a two-year deal, especially one who is coming off of an injury-shortened season (a fractured ankle cost him the final two months of the season), Hudson was on every contender's radar when free agency started back in November.
That the San Francisco Giants were able to land him on a two-year deal for slightly below market value, given the team's penchant for overpaying mediocrity (see recent deals for Tim Lincecum, Javier Lopez and Hunter Pence), is nothing short of a miracle—and it's the biggest steal that GM Brian Sabean has made in years.
Seattle Mariners: OF Franklin Gutierrez
Free Agent: Re-signed to a one-year, $1 million deal
Immensely talented but never able to stay healthy, there's almost no possible way that the Seattle Mariners can lose by re-signing 30-year-old Franklin Gutierrez.
Most teams spend well over $1 million on a fourth outfielder who doesn't offer the kind of defense that Gutierrez can provide, lest we forget that he took home an AL Gold Glove Award in 2010 for his work with the leather in center field.
That alone makes him a tremendous value and an absolute steal for the Mariners, regardless of what he may or may not be able to provide at the plate.
St. Louis Cardinals: OF Peter Bourjos
Acquired along with OF Randal Grichuk from the Los Angeles Angels for 3B David Freese and RHP Fernando Salas
It's not often that a team can strengthen three positions with one move, but that's exactly what the St. Louis Cardinals did by trading for center fielder Peter Bourjos.
Matt Carpenter moves to third base, prospect Kolten Wong gets a chance to play everyday at second base and Bourjos replaces Jon Jay in center field.
Entering the prime years of his career, the 26-year-old center fielder is a well above-average defender who has the speed to cover a large swath of ground and the skills to make difficult plays look routine.
With some pop in his bat and the speed to take extra bases on balls hit into the outfield gaps, it won't take long for Bourjos to endear himself to the Cardinals faithful. Considering the price that St. Louis paid to obtain him, this ranks near the top of the list when it comes to shrewd moves by GM John Mozeliak.
Tampa Bay Rays: Nobody
While the Tampa Bay Rays surrendered little in the way of assets to acquire catcher Ryan Hanigan from the Cincinnati Reds, they wound up with veteran reliever Heath Bell from Arizona in the deal, making it impossible to call the Hanigan acquisition a steal.
For those wondering why that's the case, consider this: Since leaving the cozy confines of Petco Park in San Diego, Bell has pitched to a 4.59 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, surrendering allowing 144 hits and 17 home runs in just over 129 innings of work.
I'm not sold on James Loney's 2013 campaign being a sign of things to come, and aside from that, GM Andrew Friedman has done little of note this winter, which is not all that surprising considering the financial constraints under which he operates.
Texas Rangers: Nobody
It hasn't been a bad offseason in Texas by any means, but the Rangers have traded talent to acquire talent and paid market price to sign free agents.
The one move that could wind up being a steal was the team's claim of 25-year-old right-handed reliever Shawn Tolleson off of waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sidelined by back surgery for much of the 2013 season, Tolleson throws hard but has struggled with his control and command in the past.
If his back proves to be a non-issue and the Rangers' minor league coaching staff can tweak his mechanics so that he can throw strikes consistently, he could be a valuable midseason addition to the Rangers bullpen.
Toronto Blue Jays: Nobody
You can't blame GM Alex Anthopoulos for being far less active this winter than he was a year ago considering how things ultimately worked out in Toronto last season.
The Blue Jays have essentially remained on the sidelines this winter, with the team's biggest acquisition being the addition of veteran catcher Dioner Navarro, who is best utilized as part of a platoon behind the plate.
Washington Nationals: SP Doug Fister
Acquired RHP Doug Fister from Detroit for LHP Ian Krol, IF/OF Steve Lombardozzi and RHP Robbie Ray
There's no way around it—Washington fleeced Detroit this winter.
The Nationals gave up a utility player (Steve Lombardozzi), an unproven reliever (Ian Krol) and a pitching prospect (Robbie Ray) who is at least another year away from making an impact in the big leagues to land Doug 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, GM Mike Rizzo was able to turn three relatively mediocre assets into what, to this point, has been the biggest steal of the winter.