2014 MLB Offseason Awards: Best and Worst Contracts, Signings, Trades
The New York Yankees dominated the offseason, not only with their acquisition of four elite players to help a decimated roster, but the Alex Rodriguez saga also took up a good chunk of headline space until it finally came to a conclusion last month—he ultimately had his 211-game suspension reduced but will still miss the entire 2014 season.
Other playoff hopefuls, such as the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates, were relatively quiet while the Seattle Mariners, hoping to avoid a fifth consecutive losing season, made the biggest free-agent splash of the winter.
Offseason plans, while not executed as well as a front office had hoped in some cases, have been completed for all 30 MLB teams, and it's now time to hand out the awards for the best and worst free-agent signings, trades and contracts.
Best Free-Agent Signing
Orioles sign SP Ubaldo Jimenez to four-year, $50 million deal
It's not a stretch to say that Ubaldo Jimenez may have been the best pitcher in the major leagues when the 2013 regular season ended.
Over his final nine starts, the right-hander was nearly unhittable, posting a 1.65 ERA with 15 walks and 79 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched while holding opponents to a .558 OPS. He allowed only one homer and struck out at least 10 batters four times, including 13 in his last start of the season.
The former Colorado Rockies ace, who had struggled mightily since being acquired by the Cleveland Indians in July 2011, had begun to find his previous form in late May. After posting a 2.41 ERA over his final 23 starts leading up to his first venture into free agency, a mega-deal would appear likely to follow.
With Masahiro Tanaka's posting process not concluding until late January, the free-agent market for starting pitchers was slowed, which was not unexpected. But Jimenez's four-year, $50 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles, which was announced on Monday, is significantly lower than had been anticipated.
For his age 30-33 seasons, an average annual salary of $12.5 million is a huge bargain if Jimenez can carry over his success from last season.
Every pitcher comes with risk, and one like Jimenez, who posted a 5.10 ERA with a 4.66 BB/9 in a 61-start span after being traded to the Indians, comes with major red flags. But the Orioles, after two consecutive winning seasons, were at risk of falling back down the ladder in a competitive AL East if they didn't make a major move or two this offseason.
Adding Jimenez to the top of their rotation should help tremendously in 2014, and his presence should make it easier for the team to ease top pitching prospects Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Eduardo Rodriguez into the mix over the next two seasons.
Worst Free-Agent Signing
Cardinals sign SS Jhonny Peralta to four-year, $53 million deal.
The St. Louis Cardinals improved their defense this offseason with the acquisitions of center fielder Peter Bourjos and second baseman Mark Ellis and the trade of David Freese to open up third base for Matt Carpenter.
But the one move they made toward improving their offense, the signing of shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53 million deal, is a risky investment for a player who was given a 50-game suspension late last season for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal and has a track record of inconsistency at the plate.
In addition to his ties to PED use in 2013, Peralta had put up subpar numbers at the plate in three of the previous four seasons (.690 OPS in 2009; .703 OPS in 2010; .689 OPS in 2012) and isn't considered to be more than just an adequate defender who may be destined for a move to third base or left field sometime in the next few years.
It's difficult to question a team like the Cardinals, who have a reputation for consistently making smart baseball moves. But with free agent Stephen Drew, who is widely regarded as a better all-around player than Peralta, very likely to get a lesser deal and next year's class of free-agent shortstops having the potential to be one of the best in recent memory, the move to sign the 31-year-old Peralta could prove to a poor one that could have had a much better result had they been more patient.
Nationals acquire Doug Fister from Tigers for IF/OF Steve Lombardozzi, SP Robbie Ray and RP Ian Krol
For two years of a pitcher with a 3.30 ERA, 1.8 BB/9 and 6.8 K/9 over the past three seasons, the Washington Nationals only had to trade a utility man (Stephen Lombardozzi) who had a .616 OPS in 2013, a lefty reliever (Ian Krol) who had a 3.95 ERA in 32 games a rookie and a pitching prospect (Robbie Ray) who profiles as a mid-rotation starter if his secondary pitches can develop.
While the Detroit Tigers did have a capable in-house replacement (Drew Smyly) who they were trying to make room for in their rotation, it would appear that they could've gotten a lot more for Doug Fister.
The 30-year-old right-hander slots in as the No. 4 starter on a Nationals team with one of the most talented rosters in baseball. Adding a consistent pitcher like Fister behind Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann could be a key to their return to the top of the NL East after a disappointing 2013 season.
Rockies trade CF Dexter Fowler and PTBNL to Astros for OF Brandon Barnes and SP Jordan Lyles
A Houston Astros team that lost 111 games in 2013 may not see much improvement from the acquisition of center fielder Dexter Fowler, who has a career OPS of .678 away from hitter-friendly Coors Field. And the Colorado Rockies may very well get solid production out of the group of replacements in the mix for Fowler's at-bats.
But trading away a 27-year-old center fielder with two years left of club control and a .793 OPS with an average of 43 extra-base hits and 17 stolen bases over the past five seasons, in exchange for two players, outfielder Brandon Barnes and starting pitcher Jordan Lyles, who are unlikely to make a significant impact, is a bit of a head-scratcher.
If anything, holding on to Fowler and hoping he could boost his value with a strong first half of the season would've been the smart move.
Lyles, who has a 5.25 ERA in 65 career starts, will battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation and is likely to end up in the Triple-A rotation. With elite pitching prospects Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray closing in on the majors, it wouldn't be a surprise if the 23-year-old Lyles never makes it to Colorado.
While Barnes does provide plus defense and depth behind injury-prone Carlos Gonzalez, who is moving to center field to replace Fowler, he offers very little offensively, and his acquisition is even less relevant after the team's acquisition of Drew Stubbs, who figures to be the right-handed hitting part of a left field platoon with either Corey Dickerson or Charlie Blackmon.
Fowler, in the meantime, will provide the Astros with a major trade chip if he plays well. General manager Jeff Luhnow has a chance to come out well on top in this deal, whether he holds on to Fowler or not.
Yankees sign OF Carlos Beltran to three-year, $45 million deal
After finishing his third consecutive highly productive and injury-free season by putting together yet another terrific playoff performance, Carlos Beltran could've easily commanded a four-year deal through his age-40 season and/or a $20 million annual average salary.
But the eight-time All-Star, who has an .860 OPS with an average of 26 homers and 88 runs batted in per season since 2011, settled on a three-year, $45 million deal to fill a major void in the middle of the New York Yankees lineup.
While the team's other major signings are risky, not only because of the high price tags but because no one knows how Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann will hold up as they approach their mid-30s or how Masahiro Tanaka's talents will translate to the major leagues, Beltran appears to be one of the rare players who can continue producing at a high level late in his career. A move to the American League, where he can be the team's designated hitter on occasion, should only help.
Rangers sign OF Shin-Soo Choo to a seven-year, $130 million deal
There may not be a more significant upgrade to an MLB team's lineup in 2014 than the Texas Rangers' addition of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo.
The 31-year-old Choo, who posted an .885 OPS with 21 homers and 20 stolen bases for the Cincinnati Reds last season, is a left-handed hitting, on-base machine who will be the catalyst at the top of the Rangers lineup and a very good defender out in left field. A 32- and 33-year-old Choo should also be highly productive.
But Choo at age 34 and beyond, when he'll make $82 million over the last four seasons of his seven-year, $130 million deal, could prove to be the kind of payroll albatross that haunts a team each offseason as they look to make necessary improvements caused by an aging player's decline. The Rangers will be lucky if this is only the case during the last two years of his deal and not the last three or four.
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