MLB Free Agency

Ranking the MLB Offseason's 25 Best Signings, Trades

Karl BuscheckContributor IIIJanuary 23, 2014

Ranking the MLB Offseason's 25 Best Signings, Trades

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The MLB offseason's best signings and trades don't always include the biggest names.

    So, apologies to Clayton Kershaw and Robinson Cano, who are both undeniably among the best players in all of baseball. However, Kershaw's $215 million haul and Cano's $240 million payday are simply too exorbitant to be described as the best deals of the offseason. 

    The list does include some top-tier free agents who scored payouts well above $100 million. There's also room in the rankings for an array of lower-profile players who could prove to be absolute bargains. 

    With those considerations in mind, here's a ranking of the MLB offseason's 25 best signings and trades.

     

    Note: Stats via Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted. All salary information via Cot's Baseball Contracts on Baseball Prospectus.

25. Miami Marlins Sign Casey McGehee

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    Jason O. Watson-USA TODAY Sports

    When the Miami Marlins signed third baseman Casey McGehee to a one-year, $1.1 million deal, the move didn't exactly create much buzz. Still, at a minimal cost, the team has added an intriguing power bat.

    Last season, McGehee was a teammate of Masahiro Tanaka with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball. While with the Golden Eagles, McGehee clubbed a team-leading 28 home runs and also posted the highest OPS (.891).

24. Seattle Mariners Sign Corey Hart

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    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    Like McGehee, Corey Hart brings plenty of power potential.

    The Seattle Mariners landed the long-time Milwaukee Brewer on a one-year, $6 million contract, with the opportunity for Hart to earn up to $4.65 million more in performance bonuses. 

    The outfielder/first baseman missed all of the 2013 campaign after undergoing surgery on both of his knees, but from 2010-2012, he swatted 87 home runs. If Hart had maintained that level of production in 2013, he would have scored a major multiyear deal this offseason. 

23. Cleveland Indians Sign John Axford

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    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    The Cleveland Indians added John Axford on a one-year, $4.5 million deal back in the middle of December. The under-the-radar move could end up paying off nicely for Cleveland. 

    Last season, Axford lost his closer's job with the Brewers before ultimately finishing out the year with the St. Louis Cardinals. However, the right-hander never lost the ability to produce strikeouts. 

    In 65 innings of work, Axford racked up 65 punch-outs. The ability to get swings-and-misses is always a highly valuable commodity for any reliever working in late-game, high-leverage situations. 

22. Los Angeles Angels Sign Raul Ibanez

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Angels signed designated hitter Raul Ibanez to a one-year, $2.75 million deal to help make up for the power production the club lost with the departure of Mark Trumbo to the Arizona Diamondbacks. 

    The veteran slugger provided plenty of pop for the Mariners in 2013, as Ibanez totaled 29 home runs. However, just five of those long balls came after the All-Star Break.

    Still, there's good reason to believe that Ibanez will thrive in Southern California. The 18-year veteran owns a career slash line of .349/.407/.522 in 327 career plate appearances at Angel Stadium, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports

21. Cleveland Indians Sign David Murphy

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Coming off the worst season of his career, David Murphy agreed to a two-year, $12 million deal with the Indians. 

    In 2013, Murphy's average slumped to .220 and his OPS fell to .656. However, as recently as 2012, Murphy hit .304 with 15 home runs, an .859 OPS and a 126 OPS+. If the outfielder can rediscover that form, he will prove to be an excellent value for Cleveland. 

20. Houston Astros Sign Jesse Crain

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Jesse Crain will be a much-needed upgrade for a Houston Astros bullpen that posted a collective 4.92 ERA in 2013, which was the worst in all of baseball. 

    Last season, Crain was one of the best right-handed relievers in all of MLB, as he put up a 0.74 ERA with a K/9 of 11.3 on his way to an All-Star nomination. However, Crain missed extensive time last year with a right shoulder strain. 

    Shoulder injuries are always a major concern for pitchers, but he's worth the risk on a one-year, $3.25 million deal. According to Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, Crain's status for Opening Day remains up in the air. 

19. Oakland A's Acquire Luke Gregerson

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    The best part of Oakland's acquisition of Luke Gregerson is that the team was able to land the setup man in exchange for a player who didn't even have a clearly defined role on the club in 2014. 

    Seth Smith is a quality player, but he's a poor fit in the American League, where his pinch-hitting opportunities were limited. Gregerson, meanwhile, is an ideal addition to a loaded Oakland bullpen that also includes Jim Johnson, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, Dan Otero and Eric O'Flaherty. 

18. New York Yankees Sign Kelly Johnson

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    There wasn't a lot of hype when the New York Yankees added Kelly Johnson on a one-year, $3 million deal. However, there are at least two reasons to think that Johnson could be a solid player in New York. 

    First, the veteran is highly versatile, as he saw time at second base, third base, first base, the outfield and the designated hitter's spot for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. The ability to play all over the diamond makes Johnson a perfect fit for the Yankees, a the team that has question marks at second and third. 

    Second, the utility man is deceptively powerful. Johnson has clubbed at least 16 home runs in four straight seasons. With the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, he should make that five straight in 2014.

17. Boston Red Sox Sign A.J. Pierzynski

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    It's truly remarkable that the Boston Red Sox were able to sign A.J. Pierzynski on a one-year, $8.25 million deal considering that Carlos Ruiz snagged a three-year, $26 million payout from the Philadelphia Phillies. 

    Sure, Pierzynski is a couple of years older than Ruiz and doesn't exactly have the best reputation as a teammate. Nonetheless, it's hard to argue with the results on the field.

    The veteran has caught at least 128 games in each of the past 13 campaigns and also provides considerable pop for a catcher, as he's totaled 44 home runs over the past two seasons. 

16. Los Angeles Dodgers Sign Dan Haren

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    For a big-market club like the Los Angeles Dodgers, there's no such thing as a bad one-year deal. 

    While Haren posted a disappointing 10-14 record with a 4.67 ERA in his lone season with the Washington Nationals, the 6'5" right-hander enjoyed a strong second half of the campaign. After the All-Star break in 2013, Haren went 6-4 with a 3.52 ERA for the Nationals. 

    If Haren pitches like that for the Dodgers in 2014, he'll be well worth the $10 million the club is paying him. If not, the Dodgers can afford to discard Haren and make a midseason move for a Ricky Nolasco-type, just as the team did last summer. 

15. San Diego Padres Sign Josh Johnson

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Like Haren, Josh Johnson provides plenty of upside on a reasonable one-year deal. 

    The San Diego Padres snapped up Johnson on a one-year, $8 million deal after the right-hander suffered through a dreadful season for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013. In a season cut short by elbow surgery, Johnson posted a 2-8 record with a 6.20 ERA. 

    Johnson is primed for a bounce-back season, though, as he swaps the American League East for the pitcher-friendly environment at Petco Park. He is also far more experienced in pitching in the National League, where he owns a career 3.15 ERA over eight seasons of work. 

14. St. Louis Cardinals Sign Jhonny Peralta

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    It's not easy to find a shortstop. 

    It's even harder to find one who can hit like Jhonny Peralta. The 2013 All-Star will be a major upgrade over Pete Kozma, who posted a dismal .217/.275/.273 slash line in 2013, which was good for a .548 OPS.

    Of course, there are concerns as to whether Peralta will be able to live up to the terms of his four-year, $53 million agreement with the Cardinals. On Aug. 5, he accepted a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

    However, St. Louis helped to alleviate those issues by heavily front-loading Peralta's deal. Here's how the contract works out on a yearly basis:

    • 2014: $15.5 million
    • 2015: $15 million
    • 2016: $12.5 million
    • 2017: $10 million

    By structuring the deal in this way, the Cardinals will have a much easier time getting out from under Peralta's contract in the final two years of the agreement if necessary. 

13. Texas Rangers Sign Shin-Soo Choo

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    Shin-Soo Choo's seven-year, $130 million agreement with the Texas Rangers is the first of the megadeals to hit the list. 

    It's well-known that Choo struggles extensively against left-handers, as he hit .215 against them in 2013. There's also the consideration that the deal will take Choo through his age-37 season. 

    Still, it's hard not to like this signing from the Rangers' perspective. In the short term, Choo will provide Texas with a massive offensive boost. The outfielder brings a rare combination of speed, power and on-base skills that make him one of the most complete players in all of baseball.

12. New York Yankees Sign Jacoby Ellsbury

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Like the Choo deal, Jacoby Ellsbury's seven-year, $153 million pact with the Yankees could get ugly in the final years of the contract. However, Ellsbury does have a couple of advantages over Choo.

    First of all, the Yankees' new center fielder is roughly a year younger than Choo. There's also the larger economic equation to consider: Even if the Ellsbury deal goes sideways around the fourth or fifth year, one has to wonder just how much that would actually hamstring the heavy-spending Yankees.

    After all, the club has splashed out $503 million on free agents this offseason alone, per Joel Sherman and Dan Martin of the New York Post

11. San Francisco Giants Sign Tim Hudson

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    There's an undeniable risk in signing a 38-year-old pitcher, who is coming off of ankle surgery, to a two-year, $23 million deal. When that pitcher is Tim Hudson, though, there's also a ton of upside. 

    Last season, Hudson made 21 starts and posted an 8-7 record with a 3.97 ERA. However, the right-hander posted a 2.73 ERA in his final 10 starts before going down with the ankle injury, per Mychael Urban of the SF Examiner. Hudson explained to Urban: "I was just hittin' my stride, man."

    Assuming Hudson picks up where he left off last summer, he'll be an excellent addition to the San Francisco Giants in 2014. 

10. New York Yankees Sign Masahiro Tanaka

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    Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

    A seven-year, $155 million contract (plus a $20 million posting fee) is a lot of years and a lot of dollars to hand out to a starter who has never thrown a big league pitch. 

    However, the Yankees had no choice but to do whatever it took to sign the talented right-hander. The club was badly in need of a new ace, and the rest of the free-agent options like Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez simply didn't fit the bill. 

    From Tanaka's perspective, the best part of the agreement is that he can opt out after four seasons. That means he can effectively test the free-agent market as a 29-year-old after the 2017 season.

9. Arizona Diamondbacks Acquire Mark Trumbo

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The Arizona Diamondbacks had to part with some serious talent in order to land Mark Trumbo from the Angels. 

    In the three-team swap, the Diamondbacks sent left-hander Tyler Skaggs to the Angels and center fielder Adam Eaton to the Chicago White Sox. However, that's the price the Diamondbacks had to pay considering the dearth of power around the game.

    Trumbo, of course, provides plenty of that. One scout told Jayson Stark of ESPN that he thinks Trumbo could hit 40 home runs for the Diamondbacks in 2014. 

8. Kansas City Royals Acquire Norichika Aoki

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    In exchange for left-handed reliever Will Smith, the Kansas City Royals managed to add a highly productive leadoff man in Norichika Aoki. 

    Last season for the Brewers, the outfielder hit for a high average (.286), reached base at an impressive clip (.356 OBP) and flashed his speed with 20 stolen bases. He's also the most difficult batter to strike out in all of baseball, as he went down swinging just 5.9 percent of the time, according to FanGraphs

7. New York Yankees Sign Brian McCann

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Brian McCann won't be a catcher for all five seasons of his $85 million deal; there's a chance he'll only remain in the role full time for a couple of years.

    That's just fine, though, as the seven-time All-Star hits enough to justify a spot in the lineup at first base or DH. McCann has smashed at least 20 home runs in six straight seasons and owns a .823 OPS for his career. 

    McCann should have no trouble maintaining that high level of production for years to come, as his powerful left-handed stroke is an ideal match for the right field dimensions at Yankee Stadium. 

6. Miami Marlins Sign Jarrod Saltalamacchia

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    So, just how exactly does Jarrod Saltalamacchia rank one spot ahead of McCann?

    The answer is that Saltalamacchia is one of the few backstops in baseball who can match McCann's remarkable offensive production. Last season, Saltalamacchia posted a higher OPS (.804) than McCann did (.796). Plus, Saltalamacchia provided that production at just a fraction of the cost. 

    Of course, there are some serious shortcomings in the catcher's game. Saltalamacchia hit just .218 against left-handers in 2013, and there have always been concerns about his defensive prowess behind the plate. 

    Still, on a three-year, $21 million deal, it's hard not to like the Marlins' signing.

5. Washington Nationals Acquire Doug Fister

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    jim mone/Associated Press

    The best part about the Washington Nationals' acquisition of Doug Fister is that the move transforms the club's rotation from strong to downright scary. 

    Fister joins a group of starters that already includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. For his part, Fister is coming off the best season of his career, as he went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA for the Detroit Tigers in 2013. 

    The Nationals also managed to land Fister at a reasonable price. Washington sent reliever Ian Krol, utility man Steve Lombardozzi and minor league starter Robbie Ray to the Tigers. While Ray boasts the most upside of the trio, none of them figured to be major components for the Nationals in 2014. 

4. Texas Rangers Acquire Prince Fielder

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    In the short term, the Rangers' swap of Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder should work out perfectly for the club.

    The team already has a replacement at second base for Kinsler in Jurickson Profar. Meanwhile, Fielder provides the Rangers with a major left-handed hitting power source.

    As with Choo and Ellsbury, Fielder remains under contract for seven more seasons. So, of course, there is a very real possibility that this deal could become seriously problematic in the final few seasons.

    Then again, the first baseman has a stellar track record of staying on the field. Over the past four seasons, the five-time All-Star has missed exactly one game.

3. Chicago White Sox Sign Jose Abreu

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    It sure was a bold move for the White Sox to hand out a six-year, $68 million contract to first baseman Jose Abreu. 

    Based on the outlandish power numbers the slugger has produced in Cuba, though, it should prove to be a shrewd investment. During the 2010-11 Serie Nacional campaign, Abreu hit .453/.597/.986 with 33 home runs in 293 plate appearances, per Ben Badler of Baseball America.

    As Badler noted, Yoenis Cespedes also clubbed 33 home runs that season, but he need 122 more trips to the plate to match Abreu. 

2. New York Yankees Sign Carlos Beltran

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    It's easy to argue that Carlos Beltran's three-year deal is one season too long. 

    After all, Beltran's three-year, $45 million pact with the Yankees will take him through his age-39 season. Subsequently, there's a very real chance that the third year of the agreement will be a bust. 

    Still, there's no reason to think the outfielder will break down in the immediate future. The switch-hitter has logged at least 142 games in three straight seasons. Plus, if New York returns to the postseason, Beltran could be a vital contributor, as he owns a career 1.128 OPS in the playoffs. 

1. Boston Red Sox Re-Sign Mike Napoli

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Mike Napoli is one of the only premier free agents who didn't sign an absurdly long deal this winter. For that reason, the Red Sox's two-year, $32 million deal with the powerful first baseman claims the top spot for the best move of the offseason.

    Part of the credit goes to Napoli, who is believed to have turned down more lucrative offers in order to remain with the reigning World Series winners, according to Rob Bradford and Alex Speier of WEEI. Of course, part of the credit goes to the Red Sox organization as well. 

    It's no small feat to create such a winning and successful environment that players would reportedly leave money on the table elsewhere in order to stay with the club.

     

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck

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