Early Spring Training Grades for MLB's Top 15 Offseason Acquisitions
With spring training underway, it's time to take a look around the league and dish out early grades for MLB's top 15 offseason acquisitions.
The following grades are based on two criteria. The first criterion is the performance level of each new acquisition to this point in the spring. The second and more important criterion is the degree to which these players are fitting in with their new clubs based on comments from teammates, coaches and even the players themselves.
For this story, players who re-signed with their previous team have not been considered, so that means there's no room for Mike Napoli. Ubaldo Jimenez has also been excluded from the list, as he has yet to throw a single pitch in a game for the Baltimore Orioles. The players who did make the cut are listed in order of overall contract value.
With those considerations in mind, here are the early spring training grades for MLB's top 15 offseason acquisitions.
Doug Fister, SP, Washington Nationals
Contract Details: One year, $7.2 million
In his first start of the spring, Doug Fister worked a pair of innings and allowed one run, as the Washington Nationals downed the Miami Marlins 10-3 on March 2.
After the game, Fister weighed in on his performance, via Mike Parsons of Florida Today: "I felt a little erratic out there. It's just a matter of fine-tuning, a lot of it is fine-tuning the sinker."
Fellow starter Jordan Zimmermann likes the change of pace that Fister and his sinker will bring to the Nationals rotation, according to James Wagner of The Washington Post: "He should have a really good year this year. We don't have a righty sinkerballer guy in the rotation, so that's good. A different look for other teams. It's going to be fun to watch."
For his part, Fister has enjoyed his brief time with his new club, per Parsons: "I am definitely fully adjusted, everyone is more than welcoming here, that is what we need to have and it is definitely going to show on the field."
Nelson Cruz, OF/DH, Baltimore Orioles
Contract Details: One year, $8 million
Signed to a one-year, $8 million deal, Nelson Cruz will provide the Baltimore Orioles with a ton of pop at a bargain price.
Cruz's presence will also provide the Orioles with the flexibility to keep all of the club's regulars fresh and rested, as manager Buck Showalter explained via Eduardo A Encina of The Baltimore Sun. While Cruz will see the majority of his playing time as the designated hitter, the slugger will also play left field against left-handed pitchers, which will allow the team to cycle players such as Adam Jones and Nick Markakis through the DH spot.
So far, Cruz is 0-for-4 in his first two games of the spring, but he did draw a pair of walks and score a run in his debut for the Orioles.
A.J. Burnett, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
Contract Details: Two years, $22.5 million
In his first outing as a Philadelphia Phillie, A.J. Burnett faced off against his former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. In the Phillies' 4-1 loss, the veteran right-hander worked two innings, allowing one run on one hit, and even managed to plunk a pair of his old teammates.
There was no ill will behind the erratic pitches, though, as Burnett joked with Pedro Alvarez after the 37-year-old had drilled him in the foot.
Manager Ryne Sandberg is thrilled to have Burnett on board, as he explained to Chris Branch of The News Journal: "Veteran-guy, quality right-hander. A guy that was needed, and the way he goes about his business...yeah. He fits in very well."
With Cole Hamels already ruled out for Opening Day, the addition of Burnett was absolutely needed. However, Burnett's grade remains rather low for now since he's only made a single start this spring.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers
Contract Details: Four years, $57 million*
With just two hits in his first five spring training contests, Ian Kinsler has yet to make a big splash on the field at the Detroit Tigers' spring training camp.
However, the second baseman did make some noise by sounding off on his old team, the Texas Rangers. Kinsler told Robert Sanchez of ESPN The Magazine that he "hopes" the Rangers, who traded him for Prince Fielder over the winter, go 0-162 in the upcoming season.
Kinsler's issues primarily appear to have been with president of baseball operations and general manager Jon Daniels, whom Kinsler described as a "sleezeball," via Sanchez. Trashing his former boss clearly wasn't Kinsler's finest moment as a professional.
Then again, it's possible that the frustration over how his time ended in Texas will spark Kinsler to a bounce-back season with the Tigers in 2014.
*Kinsler originally signed a five-year contract extension worth $75 million, including a $5 million buyout.
Carlos Beltran, OF/DH, New York Yankees
Contract Details: Three years, $45 million
In his first 10 spring training at-bats as a New York Yankee, Carlos Beltran has collected just a single hit. However, as you can see in the video above, that hit was a long home run in the Yankees' 8-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on March 2.
I've stopped paying attention to [spring results]. As long as I feel good physically and everything is going well for me, coming to the ballpark, going through my routine, I know everything will fall in place.
As Beltran points out, the key to a successful spring is making sure that he's healthy entering Opening Day. It's only a matter of time before the hits start falling in for the 36-year-old, and then this grade will rise substantially.
Matt Garza, SP, Milwaukee Brewers
Contract Details: Four years, $50 million
Matt Garza's first appearance as a Milwaukee Brewer didn't exactly go according to plan. The right-hander served up four runs on four hits and a pair of walks during the Brewers' 6-5 win over the Colorado Rockies on March 2.
After the outing, manager Ron Roenicke provided his assessment of Garza, via Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "He was just all over the place. His command, changeup, and fastball certainly were not where he wanted them. But, hey, he got in a lot of pitches."
Too much shouldn't be read into the rough first outing, especially since Garza had a difficult time falling asleep the night before the game, as he explained to Rosiak. Still, since he's only made one appearance this spring, the grade remains low for now.
Jhonny Peralta, SS, St. Louis Cardinals
Contract Details: Four years, $52 million
Jhonny Peralta only has three hits so far this spring.
However, two of them were home runs, and they both came against his former team, the Detroit Tigers.
The shortstop, who served a 50-game ban for PED usage last season, has already been welcomed into the St. Louis Cardinals clubhouse, as Adam Wainwright explained via Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via the Herald-Review):
What I told him, and what Yadi told him and what Matt Holliday told him, was 'You're here now. I don't care what happened in the past. I don't care about anything except what's going to happen going forward.' And that's what I meant. And I told him that I was glad he was here.
As long as he keeps crushing home runs, the Cardinals will be more than happy to have Peralta around.
Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Mets
Contract Details: Four years, $60 million
Giving Curtis Granderson a four-year, $60 million contract was a gamble for the New York Mets considering that the outfielder appeared in just 61 games during an injury-riddled 2013 season.
For at least a day, though, the investment is looking brilliant. The outfielder clubbed a pair of home runs in the Mets' 6-2 win over the Houston Astros on March 4. Through his first four games of the spring, Granderson is hitting .333 (3-for-9) with 2 runs and 3 RBI.
Jose Abreu, 1B/DH, Chicago White Sox
Contract Details: Six years, $68 million
With just one hit (a two-run double) in his first three spring training games, Jose Abreu has so far yet to flash the prolific power potential that compelled the Chicago White Sox to ink him to a six-year, $68 million contract.
However, his relentless work ethic has already caught the attention of Adam Eaton. The leadoff man told Scott Merkin of MLB.com: "He really works his tail off."
GM Rick Hahn has also been impressed with the Cuban's approach to the game, per Bob McManaman of The Arizona Republic: "He's a very serious hitter, a very serious professional. He has a regimen on what he wants to do and what he wants to accomplish each day with each drill."
With such meticulous attention to detail, it's only a matter of time before all of Abreu's hard work starts translating into lots of extra-base hits.
Brian McCann, C, New York Yankees
Contract Details: Five years, $85 million
Brian McCann is already excelling offensively and defensively in his first spring as a member of the New York Yankees.
In his first five games, McCann is batting .400 (4-for-10) with a double, a pair of RBI and a home run off 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.
The backstop has also already built a strong rapport with starter Ivan Nova, as the right-hander explained via Chad Jennings of The Journal News:
"He's a really good catcher. I told him the first time I saw him, 'I don't like to shake. I've got confidence in you, what you're going to do. ... If you give me a sign and you think it's the right one, I'll go [with it]."
One of the most crucial job requirements for a catcher is to earn the "confidence" of the staff, and for McCann, that process is already well underway.
Shin-Soo Choo, LF, Texas Rangers
Contract Details: Seven years, $130 million
Shin-Soo Choo is the first of the Texas Rangers' big-money additions to hit the list.
For now, the grade remains low for the nine-year veteran, as he has gotten off to a slow start this spring. Choo is hitting .167 (2-for-12) with one RBI after his first five Cactus League contests. The left fielder was also briefly sidelined with what assistant GM Thad Levine called "spring training arm," according to Richard Durrett of ESPN Dallas.
Obviously, it's much too soon to rush to any final judgements on Choo, and I'd expect this grade to rise considerably as the spring wears on and Choo rounds into form.
Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers
Contract Details: 7 years, $138 million*
In just his second at-bat of the spring, Prince Fielder crushed a home run into the right field seats off Kansas City Royals left-hander Danny Duffy. Through his first five games of the Cactus League schedule, the first baseman is hitting .364 (4-for-11) with three RBI.
The five-time All-Star didn't make much of the moon shot he hit off Duffy, as Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News reports: "I just got lucky. I threw my bat at it and just happened to be where the ball was going. I know they don't count, but it's good for you mentally."
The laid-back Fielder appears to be an ideal fit in the Rangers clubhouse, with Adrian Beltre commenting that it already feels like the slugger has been there "forever," via Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
*The Rangers acquired Fielder from the Detroit Tigers, who also sent the Rangers $30 million.
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, New York Yankees
Contract Details: Seven years, $153 million
The New York Yankees brought in Jacoby Ellsbury to provide a spark atop the club's lineup. So far, that's exactly what the center fielder has done, as he's reached base six times in his first four games with the Yankees. It's worth noting, however, that Ellsbury only has one hit but has racked up five walks.
Brian McCann likes what he's seen from the table-setter, via Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News: "He's an exciting player. He can do everything on a baseball field. When he gets on base, obviously he's one of the fastest guys in the game, so it's going to be big for us at the top of the order."
As long as he can stay healthy, Ellsbury should be a constant nuisance on the basepaths and should score a ton of runs.
Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York Yankees
Contract Details: Seven years, $155 million (plus a $20 million posting fee to the Rakuten Golden Eagles)
In his first outing as a New York Yankee, Masahiro Tanaka utilized seven different pitches, as the right-hander explained to The Associated Press (via Fox Sports) after the game.
Of course, it was his famous splitter that grabbed all the headlines. As you can see in the video above (skip to the 50-second mark), Tanaka used the pitch to strike out Ben Revere of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Teammate Hiroki Kuroda praised Tanaka for his composure on the mound, per the AP: "The biggest thing was he looked calm out there. And the command was there, so he was good." Manager Joe Girardi also added that he was "encouraged" by the 25-year-old's two scoreless innings in his first game action.
It was just a couple of innings of work in a Grapefruit League contest, but based on the early returns, the Yankees' decision to splash out $155 million on Tanaka will prove to be a shrewd investment.
Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners
Contract Details: 10 years, $240 million
Robinson Cano is off to a torrid start this spring, as the new second baseman for the Seattle Mariners is batting .500 (6-for-12) with three RBI in his first five Cactus League games.
However, the five-time All-Star has also attracted plenty of attention off the field thanks to his blunt assessment of the Mariners lineup in a recent interview with Jon Heyman of CBS Sports:
I'm not going to lie. We need an extra bat, especially a right-handed bat. We have many left-handed hitters. We need at least one more righty. You don't want to face a lefty with a lineup of seven left-handed hitters.
That wasn't the only suggestion Cano had for GM Jack Zduriencik and the rest of the Seattle brass: "If it was up to me, we'd have [Ervin] Santana, [Nelson] Cruz and Ubaldo [Jimenez] too. That's really more for the front office."
It's difficult to disagree with Cano's take that the Mariners still need to add lots of talent if the team hopes to battle for the AL West title. Still, for the club's new superstar to publicly admit that the Mariners aren't ready to compete before the regular season has even begun is a bad look for the player and the team.
If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.
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