Mid-Spring Training Grades for MLB's Top 15 Offseason Acquisitions
As with any offseason, a number of big-name players changed teams this winter, and the first couple weeks of spring training has been the first opportunity those guys have had to make an impression with their new clubs.
Spring training performance is not always a great indicator of future success, as guys are still generally working on different things and shaking off the offseason rust at this time rather than going all out for production. Still, it is worth taking a look at how these newcomers have fared in the early going.
What follows are mid-spring grades for the top 15 offseason acquisitions, based on their performance over the first two-plus weeks of spring games.
Players who re-signed with their club this winter were not considered, and I have also excluded Washington Nationals right-hander Doug Fister, who is dealing with elbow issues and has thrown just two innings this spring.
1B Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox
Acquired: Free Agent (six-year, $68 million deal)
Spring Stats: 7-for-24, 1 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K
Viewed by most as the best bat in Cuba, Jose Abreu defected and agreed to a big six-year deal with the Chicago White Sox this winter. He will replace Paul Konerko at first base and in the middle of the team's lineup.
He has the tools to be a 30-home-run player from the get-go, and the White Sox will be looking to build around the 27-year-old moving forward. They have added some quality young talent over the past year, and Abreu could be the best of the bunch.
RF Carlos Beltran, New York Yankees
Acquired: Free Agent (three-year, $45 million deal)
Spring Stats: 3-for-22, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K
Viewed by many as one of the better bargains of the offseason, Carlos Beltran is off to a slow start in pinstripes, though he has managed to go deep on two of his three hits this preseason.
He went just 2-for-13 last spring, and he followed that up by hitting .307/.351/.534 with six home runs and 17 RBI over the first month of the season. It's undoubtedly a slow start for Beltran, but there's really no reason to worry about the 36-year-old.
SP A.J. Burnett, Philadelphia Phillies
Acquired: Free Agent (two-year, $22.5 million deal)
Spring Stats: 3 GS, 9 IP, 10 ER, 12 H, 2 BB, 4 K
After giving up one run in two innings of work against his former team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, in his first start of the spring, A.J. Burnett has been hit hard by the Baltimore Orioles in each of his last two times out.
He's never pitched particularly well in the spring, as he has a 5.57 ERA and 1.42 WHIP over 108.1 career preseason innings. With Cole Hamels likely to open the season on the DL and the rest of the staff outside of Cliff Lee being a below-average group, the Phillies will definitely need the right-hander to come up big.
2B Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners
Acquired: Free Agent (10-year, $240 million deal)
Spring Stats: 14-for-23, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 3 R, 3 BB, 1 K
There will be no shortage of pressure on Robinson Cano this coming season after he signed the third-richest contract in baseball history during the offseason.
He didn't have much protection in the Yankees lineup last season, and he still managed to put up his usual MVP-caliber numbers. The Mariners will be counting on him to make a huge impact at the plate again this year.
He's off to a red-hot start this spring, and he'll be looking to keep it up once the regular season starts.
LF Shin-Soo Choo, Texas Rangers
Acquired: Free Agent (seven-year, $130 million deal)
Spring Stats: 3-for-19, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 R, 2 BB, 4 K
With a .389 career on-base percentage, including a fantastic .423 mark in his lone season with the Cincinnati Reds last year, Shin-Soo Choo is a serious threat atop any team's lineup. He joins Prince Fielder as a significant addition to the Texas Rangers lineup this year, as the team should once again have one of the most dangerous offensive attacks in the game.
With a 4.2 rWAR last season, there is no denying the impact he had on the Reds' run to the playoffs. And with plenty of run producers behind him in Texas, he could be in for a big year.
He's off to a relatively slow start this spring, especially in terms of drawing walks, but that is to be expected as he looks to get his swing right heading into the year.
CF Jacoby Ellsbury, New York Yankees
Acquired: Free Agent (seven-year, $153 million deal)
Spring Stats: 3-for-20, 1 2B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 4 R, 5 BB, 6 K
He may never return to the 2011 form that saw him hit 46 doubles and 32 home runs to finish second in the AL MVP voting, but Jacoby Ellsbury remains one of the most dynamic table-setters in all of baseball, and he was rewarded with a huge contract this offseason.
There will be plenty of pressure on him as he crosses over in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, but if he can get on base (.355 OBP) and use his speed (52 steals) like he did last season, he should do just fine in the Bronx.
It's been slow going for him this spring, though he did hit his first home run on Thursday afternoon.
1B Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers
Acquired: Trade (from DET with $30 million for Ian Kinsler)
Spring Stats: 7-for-27, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R, 0 BB, 5 K
Adding the left-handed Prince Fielder to hit between Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios in the middle of the Texas Rangers lineup was a huge move this offseason, and he could be in for a career year in the hitter-friendly Ballpark in Arlington.
He had just 55 total home runs in his two seasons with the Tigers, despite playing in all 162 games in both years, but his real value came in his ability to protect teammate Miguel Cabrera. He's managed to tally some extra-base hits already this spring, and he will look to continue piling those up once the regular season rolls around.
SP Matt Garza, Milwaukee Brewers
Acquired: Free Agent (four-year, $50 million deal)
Spring Stats: 3 GS, 5.2 IP, 12 ER, 19 H, 3 BB, 4 K
Viewed by many as the most attractive starting pitcher on the free-agent market outside of Masahiro Tanaka—due to the fact that he had no draft pick compensation tied to him—Matt Garza wound up settling for a four-year, $50 million deal to join the Milwaukee Brewers.
He joins Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada to form what could be a very good Brewers staff if everyone pitches to their potential.
Garza has struggled mightily this spring, though, with his last time out being particularly bad, as he allowed nine hits and 10 runs (six earned) in 1.2 innings of work.
CF Curtis Granderson, New York Mets
Acquired: Free Agent (four-year, $60 million deal)
Spring Stats: 5-for-22, 1 2B, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K
In desperate need of some outfield production and a power bat to protect David Wright in the middle of the lineup, the New York Mets signed Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60 million deal on the eve of the winter meetings.
The 32-year-old played just 61 games last season, but he topped the 40-home-run and 100-RBI marks in each of the previous two seasons. He will need to change his offensive approach a bit this season with no more short porch in right field, but he could give the Mets offense a big boost. He's already shown some power this preseason, though his average has not been great.
SP Ubaldo Jimenez, Baltimore Orioles
Acquired: Free Agent (four-year, $50 million deal)
Spring Stats: 2 GS, 4 IP, 4 ER, 4 H, 3 BB, 3 K
After a terrible first season-and-a-half with the Cleveland Indians, Ubaldo Jimenez finally turned things around in 2013. He was particularly dominant in the second half, when he went 6-5 with a 1.82 ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break.
He signed with Baltimore late this offseason, agreeing to a deal with the team on Feb. 19, but he has a chance to be the best starter on the roster. After a sharp first outing in which he struck out three in two perfect innings, he was hit hard his last time out against the Philadelphia Phillies; in two innings, he allowed four hits, three walks and four earned runs.
Still, he's a big addition to an Orioles team that clearly needed some help at the top of the rotation.
2B Ian Kinsler, Detroit Tigers
Acquired: Trade (from TEX for Prince Fielder and $30 million)
Spring Stats: 5-for-24, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 3 R, 2 BB, 6 K
A 30/30 player as recently as 2011, Ian Kinsler remains one of the best power/speed threats in all of baseball. Limited to 136 games last season, he still managed to hit .277/.344/.413 with 13 home runs and 15 steals.
The Tigers acquired him in their big Prince Fielder trade, and he gives the lineup a completely different look. Not only does he add a speed element to the roster, but his addition also allows Austin Jackson to slide out of the leadoff spot, where his susceptibility to the strikeout was an issue.
The biggest story this spring has been his comments surrounding his former team, the Texas Rangers. In an interview with Robert Sanchez of ESPN, Kinsler stated, "I hope they go 0-162. I got friends, and I love my friends, but I hope they lose their a**."
C Brian McCann, New York Yankees
Acquired: Free Agent (five-year, $85 million deal)
Spring Stats: 6-for-21, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 4 BB, 7 K
A year after letting Russell Martin walk in free agency and seeing their catchers combine to hit .213/.289/.298 with just eight home runs, the New York Yankees spent big to bring Brian McCann aboard this offseason.
He missed time last year but still managed to reach the 20-homer mark for the sixth straight season, as he was named to his seventh NL All-Star team. He could wind up moving to DH before his contract is up, but for the time being, he is still one of the better offensive catchers in the game and a big addition to the Yankees lineup.
RP Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers
Acquired: Free Agent (two-year, $20 million deal)
Spring Stats: 6 G, 6 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 3 K
The active saves leader now that Mariano Rivera has retired, Joe Nathan declined a $9 million option with the Texas Rangers at the start of the offseason. With Joaquin Benoit gone in free agency and questions surrounding the bullpen once again, the Detroit Tigers jumped at the chance to add Nathan on a two-year deal.
He's heading into his age-39 season, but he has shown no signs of slowing down, as last year was one of the best campaigns of his career. He was 43-of-46 on save chances with a 1.39 ERA and 10.2 K/9, and the Tigers will be hoping for similar results in 2014.
He's been lights out so far this spring, throwing six scoreless innings.
SS Jhonny Peralta, St. Louis Cardinals
Acquired: Free Agent (four-year, $53 million deal)
Spring Stats: 5-for-22, 1 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, 0 BB, 7 K
The only clear need on the St. Louis Cardinals roster entering the offseason was an upgrade at shortstop, and they wasted little time finding one, as they signed Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53 million deal all the way back in November.
Peralta was hit with a 50-game PED suspension last year, but he returned for the Detroit Tigers' postseason run and put up some solid numbers in October, so there's no reason to think he'll struggle at the plate after his suspension from last year. He does not have the range of Pete Kozma, but he has already flashed some pop this spring with a two-homer game against the Tigers.
SP Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Acquired: Free Agent (seven-year, $155 million deal plus $20 million posting fee)
Spring Stats: 2 G, 1 GS, 5 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 0 BB, 4 K
The top arm on the market this offseason, Masahiro Tanaka had no shortage of suitors this winter as he looked to make the jump from Japan to the MLB. He eventually settled on a seven-year, $155 million deal, following a $20 million posting fee.
He does not have the same strikeout stuff that fellow countryman Yu Darvish does, but he should be able to make an immediate impact in the middle of the Yankees rotation with the potential for more. He has pitched well in his two outings so far this spring, and all eyes will be on him when he makes his regular-season debut.
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