Updating the Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2014 MLB Offseason
While the polar vortex continues to chill our bones this winter, we have finally reached a point in the MLB offseason where we can say that spring training—and warmer weather—is drawing near.
The Hot Stove League is nearly complete. While there are still a number of quality free agents available and trades that could be made to swing perception of a team's chances in 2014 in one direction or the other, now is as good a time as any to take a look at the five biggest winners—and losers—of the offseason.
Winners: New York Yankees
The New York Yankees didn't just address their needs this winter; they went out and acquired the best available option to fill each one.
You could make the argument that the team didn't necessarily need Carlos Beltran, as they could have re-signed Curtis Granderson, a better fielder, to play right field. However, Beltran can hurt opposing pitchers in multiple ways, while the Grandyman is a one-trick pony.
While neither Kelly Johnson nor Brian Roberts is going to come close to equaling Robinson Cano's play at second base, the Yankees are stronger up the middle with the additions of catcher Brian McCann and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, whom they took from their hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
Without question, the team's most significant move was also its most recent, signing Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka, the most sought-after player of the winter. While he's far from a sure thing and the Yankees have struck out on Japanese pitchers before (Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa), signing the 25-year-old was a risk that the team had to take.
Tanaka fills a major void in the team's starting rotation, but more importantly, he gives it a foundation to build its future staff around. The Yankees didn't have a building block for their rotation at any level in the organization. Now they do.
Sure, over time, this winter's moves will have cost the team nearly half a billion dollars—and Yankees brass had to kiss the dream of getting under that pesky $189 million luxury tax goodbye in the process—but they enter 2014 in much better shape than they were a year ago.
Losers: Seattle Mariners
After being left at the altar last winter by Josh Hamilton, Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik knew that he was going to have to overpay to attract the biggest free-agent bat on the market to come to the Pacific Northwest.
He did just that, signing Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million deal. That move, coupled with his decision to hire Lloyd McClendon as the team's manager, sparked a great start to the Mariners offseason.
Then Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times published a scathing piece that described a dysfunctional front office under Zduriencik's watch, and the wheels seemed to come off on Seattle's offseason.
Rather than add another established bat to the mix, Zduriencik chose to add questionable role players in Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. Not only are they essentially the same player—mediocre defenders who should be used primarily as designated hitters—but both have knee issues that are a major concern.
Hart missed all of 2013 thanks to a pair of knee surgeries, while Morrison has battled knee problems for years, never appearing in more than 123 games in any of his four major league seasons.
Seattle also failed to address the starting rotation, which needed another veteran arm to go along with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma atop the rotation, taking some pressure away from stud prospect Taijuan Walker in the process.
Zduriencik, the man behind the curtain in Seattle, hasn't done nearly enough this winter to bring playoff baseball back to the Emerald City.
Winners: Chicago White Sox
There's always risk in a youth movement, but that's exactly what the Chicago White Sox needed. Each of the core pieces that GM Rick Hahn has added this winter—1B Jose Abreu, 3B Matt Davidson and CF Adam Eaton—has real upside and is under team control for years to come.
If you toss in last year's late-season additions of OF Avisail Garcia and IF Leury Garcia, few teams in baseball have as exciting a young foundation as the White Sox do.
Hahn still has a number of pieces that can be moved to improve other areas of weakness, especially behind the dish. Those trade chips include 24-year-old OF Dayan Viciedo, a player who has tremendous ability and upside but hasn't lived up to expectations in Chicago.
There's still work to be done, but no team in baseball has gotten more for less this winter than the White Sox.
Losers: Detroit Tigers
Trading Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler made sense on a number of levels, none bigger than Detroit's need to move Miguel Cabrera back across the diamond to first base, where the wear and tear on his body—and the impact of his shaky defense—lessens significantly.
But the Tigers have yet to address just how they'll replace the power and run production Fielder's bat provided. In the process, they've set prospect Nick Castellanos up to fail, as it'll be nearly impossible for him to fill Fielder's shoes at the plate in his first full major league season.
More troubling was the team's decision to trade Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals without getting anything substantial in return.
Sure, Ian Krol has promise as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen, and Robbie Ray could develop into a solid big league starter down the road, but those two, along with utility player Steve Lombardozzi, are far from enough in exchange for one of the 15 or 20 best pitchers in the game.
For a team that's built to win now, the Tigers have made that considerably more difficult to accomplish than it was a year ago.
Winners: Kansas City Royals
Say what you will about Kansas City GM Dayton Moore's moves this winter, but no team—not even the Chicago White Sox—was able to land a leadoff hitter for a lower price than the Royals paid to acquire Norichika Aoki from Milwaukee.
For a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen, Moore got the Royals a player who walks more than he strikes out, has enough speed to cause problems when he gets on base and, most importantly, allows manager Ned Yost to drop left fielder Alex Gordon to the middle of the batting order, where he belongs.
While some will nitpick over the number of years Moore gave to free-agent signings Jason Vargas and Omar Infante, the fact remains that both fill voids for the club at a reasonable price.
Vargas isn't as good a pitcher as free agent Ervin Santana, but the left-hander can keep the Royals in games and log 200-plus innings a season, while Infante solidifies a position that had seen the Royals use eight different players since 2010.
These moves might not be enough to get the Royals past the Detroit Tigers in the standings, but Kansas City hasn't lost any ground in an improved AL Central this winter.
Losers: Arizona Diamondbacks
Kudos are due to Arizona GM Kevin Towers for finding a sucker fellow GM in Tampa Bay's Andrew Friedman who was willing to take a chance on former All-Star closer Heath Bell, but none of the team's moves this winter have made the club much better.
What's worse is that Towers used some of his best trade chips—including a pair of the team's 10 best prospects—to enter 2014 in no better condition to contend than Arizona was a year ago, leaving the team's hopes of trading for a front-line starter nothing more than a pipe dream.
Those hopes could become reality should Towers suddenly dangle stud pitching prospect Archie Bradley in a deal. But Bradley is as close to an untouchable player as the Diamondbacks have, and moving young, team-controlled talent for more costly and less controllable veterans isn't always a good idea.
Towers did address the team's lack of power by acquiring slugger Mark Trumbo from the Angels, but he's best used as a designated hitter, where his defensive shortcomings aren't an issue. His troubles in the field, coupled with his inability to get on base with any consistency, are major concerns in the National League, where the DH spot isn't available.
Winner: Grady Sizemore
Nobody knows what, if anything, Grady Sizemore has left to contribute to a major league team, but the Boston Red Sox would like to find out.
Though he was once one of baseball's most exciting players and brightest young stars, injuries and surgeries, including microfracture surgery on his knee, have kept him out of the game since 2011.
When healthy, Sizemore was the prototypical five-tool player, hitting .281/.372/.496 from 2005 to 2008 while averaging 27 homers and 29 steals a season and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in center field.
While those days are likely behind him, if Sizemore can hold his own and stay healthy this winter, there's no reason he couldn't make the club as a fourth outfielder or part of a platoon in center field with Jackie Bradley Jr.
That he's worked his way back into good enough shape to get a chance to prove himself this spring makes Sizemore one of the winter's biggest winners.
Losers: Baltimore Orioles
What has Baltimore done this winter?
It's added RP Ryan Webb, OF David Lough and 2B Jemile Weeks—none of them a game-changing talent—while losing SP Scott Feldman, closer Jim Johnson, OF Nate McLouth and fan favorite 2B Brian Roberts.
Baltimore also managed to become a circus thanks to the fiasco surrounding Grant Balfour, backing out of a deal with the veteran closer due to concerns over the results of his physical. Balfour has since signed with the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that didn't share those concerns.
As Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal notes, this is standard operating procedure for owner Peter Angelos. Braves GM Frank Wren, in a 2006 New York Times interview, said, “That’s how Peter plays general manager. He uses medical reasons to kill or change a deal if he doesn’t like it.”
While the teams around the O's continue to improve, they head into 2014 with essentially the same team they ended 2013 with. That's a problem the Orioles must address before the season begins.
Winners: Back-of-the-Rotation Starters
If there's one thing that we learned this winter, it's that teams will pay for pitching, regardless of how good that pitching may actually be.
Take a look at some of the paydays scored by pitchers that, realistically, are No. 4 or No. 5 starters on a legitimate contender (stats from 2013 season):
|Player||ERA||WHIP||IP||H/9||BB/9||K/9||New Deal (Team)|
|Scott Feldman||3.86||1.18||181.2||7.9||2.8||6.5||Three years, $30 million (HOU)|
|Scott Kazmir||4.04||1.32||158.0||9.2||2.7||9.2||Two years, $22 million (OAK)|
|Mike Pelfrey||5.19||1.55||152.2||10.8||3.1||6.0||Two years, $11 million (MIN)|
|Jason Vargas||4.02||1.39||150.0||9.7||2.8||6.5||Four years, $32 million (KC)|
While the total of 11 years and $95 million for four pitchers may not seem like much, imagine, if you will, that this comprised the first four spots in your favorite team's starting rotation heading into 2014.
It wouldn't fill me with confidence, that's for sure, and chances are you wouldn't consider that $95 million money well spent.
There's nothing wrong with players getting paid and earning as much money as they can—but when back-end starters are commanding nearly $10 million a year, fielding a competitive, competent rotation is going to become harder and harder for teams to accomplish.
Losers: Non-Elite Free Agents
Heading into the winter, 13 high-end players turned down one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offers from their former teams, opting instead to test the free-agent market.
Less than a week away from February, five of those players remain unsigned:
|Player||2013 Team||2014 Team||New Contract|
|Robinson Cano||Yankees||Mariners||10 years, $240 million|
|Jacoby Ellsbury||Red Sox||Yankees||Seven years, $153 million|
|Shin-Soo Choo||Reds||Rangers||Seven years, $130 million|
|Brian McCann||Braves||Yankees||Five years, $85 million|
|Curtis Granderson||Yankees||Mets||Four years, $60 million|
|Carlos Beltran||Cardinals||Yankees||Three years, $45 million|
|Mike Napoli||Red Sox||Red Sox||Two years, $32 million|
|Hiroki Kuroda||Yankees||Yankees||One year, $16 million|
|Stephen Drew||Red Sox||???||???|
While none of the players that remain unsigned are superstars, all five are big-time talents that can change a team's fortunes, whether it be with their arms, bats or gloves.
We saw the effects of this newly agreed-to system of free-agent compensation last winter with Kyle Lohse, who didn't sign with the Milwaukee Brewers until the last week of spring training. But that was one player—this is five.
Clearly, this system, which the MLBPA agreed to during the last round of CBA talks with MLB, has become a problem for the non-elite players, those too good for a team to not extend a qualifying offer but not good enough to compel a team to surrender a draft pick to sign.
Until a new system is agreed to, those players will continue to flounder on the open market for months, forced to take short-term, below-market deals with clubs rather than what they're really worth on the open market.