Final Spring Training Grades for MLB's Top 15 Offseason Acquisitions
The huge gust of wind you feel coming from the western and southern parts of the country is the sigh of relief that all 30 Major League Baseball teams are breathing after making it through another spring training.
Of course, some teams made it through in better shape than others. For the top offseason acquisitions, a lot of the news this spring was very positive. It's not an indicator of what's to come during the regular season, at least in most cases, but does provide a lot of optimism when the real games start.
In honor of this momentous day, it is time to look back at what we have seen this spring and provide a final grade for the performance of players in new places. Most of the grades will be based on tools and health, though some consideration will be given to stats.
Here is our final look back at the events of spring training, complete with stats, analysis and grades. Rankings are based on how I would have placed them on a free-agent/trade big board.
Honorable Mention: Jhonny Peralta, SS, St. Louis Cardinals
Spring stats: 16 G, .292/.292/.563, 4 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 6 R, 10 K
Jhonny Peralta doesn't make my list of top 15 acquisitions because I question his ability to remain a shortsstop over the next four years and consistency on offense has never been his strongsuit.
That said, the Cardinals did well to add Peralta to replace the corpse of Pete Kozma in their lineup. Even if he has one of his down years, which consists of an OPS between .689 and .710, that's still more than 140 points better than what Kozma did in 2013 (.548).
This spring has been a microcosm of the good and bad things Peralta does, especially as a hitter. He has a good line-drive swing and can crush left-handed pitching, but the approach often lacks and breaking balls low and away give him problems.
If Peralta's power remains close to its 2013 level (.457 slugging), as it has so far this spring, the Cardinals will have the deepest lineup in baseball.
No. 15 Carlos Beltran, OF, New York Yankees
Spring stats: 16 G, .292/.306/.479, 3 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 6 R, BB, 9 K
The first of many new Yankees on this list, Carlos Beltran is hitting like he did in the second half of 2012 and all of 2013 in St. Louis.
Beltran's bat speed has decreased as he's gotten into his mid-30s, so in order to keep hitting at a high level, he has to start his bat earlier. This has worked well, with 56 doubles and 56 homers the last two years, but the 36-year-old had the lowest walk rate of his career (six percent) in 2013.
Seeing Beltran hit this spring, the song remains the same. He's making a lot of contact, not walking much and driving the ball well. The Yankees couldn't ask for anything more than that from the eight-time All-Star.
No. 14 Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Miami Marlins
Spring stats: 17 G, .186/.271/.349, 2B, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 5 BB, 9 K
The biggest news that Jarrod Saltalamacchia made this offseason, even more than leaving Boston for Miami, was hoping to instill a winning attitude and positive thinking into a Marlins franchise that needs something to be excited about.
He even provided the Lou Brown from Major League quote, "we're going to win this."
Saltalamacchia has gotten better as a hitter in each of the last three years, going from an OPS+ of 95 in 2011 to 118 last season, increasing his walk rate (6.2 percent to 9.1 percent) and lowering his strikeout rate (30.8 percent to 29.6 percent) in the same span.
There are always going to be weaknesses in Saltalamacchia's game, like the high strikeout rate and poor throwing mechanics behind the plate, but if the offense remains anywhere close to what it was in 2013, the Marlins will have gotten a bargain.
Despite some poor spring results, Saltalamacchia's walk rate and power output are fine and indicates small sample size bad luck.
No. 13 Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Mets
Spring stats: 17 G, .186/.265/.419, 2B, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, 3 BB, 12 K
As bad as Curtis Granderson's average and on-base percentage look, that's essentially what he's going to give a team at this stage of his career.
In his last two years with the Yankees, despite playing just 221 games, Granderson ranked 27th in baseball with 50 home runs. He hit .231 with a .319 on-base percentage and 264 strikeouts in 810 at-bats.
Seeing Granderson rack up 12 strikeouts in 43 spring at-bats is nothing new, nor is he suddenly going to start hitting left-handed pitching.
The Mets are paying Granderson to do what he does best: hit home runs. His .419 slugging percentage indicates that the 33-year-old is going to have no problems adjusting to Citi Field when the games start.
No. 12 A.J. Burnett, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Spring stats: 4 G, 14.1 IP, 7.53 ERA, 19 H, 2 HR, 8 BB, 6 K, 1.88 WHIP
The assumption all offseason was that A.J. Burnett would return to Pittsburgh or retire, mainly because he said those were the two options in an interview with 93.7 The Fan last October.
We should know better than to take an interview given by a local station as gospel, thus making Burnett's decision to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies more logical.
There are reasons to be skeptical about Burnett away from the Pirates, as the spring stats indicate.
The right-hander parlayed his success in Pittsburgh into a one-year, $16 million contract with Philadelphia, but the contract takes him away from Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. All you have to do is look at the volume of pitchers Searage has turned around in his three years with Pittsburgh, including Burnett and Francisco Liriano, to know that he's one of the best in the business.
Working with Searage turned Burnett into a ground-ball machine, leading the league with a 56.7 rate since the start of 2012. He also had the highest strikeout rate of his career in 2013 (9.85 per nine innings).
So far, the results this spring in his new home haven't been encouraging.
No. 11 Matt Garza, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers
Spring stats: 4 G, 11.2 IP, 10.03 ERA, 23 H, HR, 5 BB, 10 K, 2.40 WHIP
No free-agent acquisition has performed worse this spring than Matt Garza. The Brewers signed him hoping it would bring the franchise closer to the playoffs and further away from the 88 losses they had in 2013.
But Garza's been a volatile property for the last two years, making just 42 starts covering 259 innings with a 3.86 ERA. He was a bust in Texas with 12 homers allowed in 84.1 innings, which made him a natural candidate for a four-year contract.
"I thought way too short term with the Garza deal last year," Daniels said. "That one's got a chance to haunt us and haunt me."
In four spring starts, Garza has been dreadful. The best thing you can say about his performance is the strikeouts are still there. Unfortunately everything else looks exponentially worse.
No. 10 Ricky Nolasco, RHP, Minnesota Twins
Spring stats: 5 G, 18 IP, 5.50 ERA, 20 H, HR, 3 BB, 11 K, 1.28 WHIP
There are times when it is okay to interpret spring stats as a sign of things to come, especially when there's evidence of problems in real games.
Enter: Ricky Nolasco.
The Twins gave Nolasco $48 million over four years to lead a rotation that finished last in ERA and innings pitched in 2013. He has been reliable as an innings eater throughout his career, throwing at least 185 innings in five of the last six years.
However, Nolasco's spring struggles come on the heels of last September when the right-hander had a 6.66 ERA in 25.2 innings for the Dodgers. It's certainly not what the Twins wanted, or needed, to see from their Opening Day starter after giving him the biggest free-agent contract in team history.
One bright spot is that Nolasco looked good in his final spring start against Pittsburgh, allowing just one hit with three strikeouts in four shutout innings.
No. 9 Ervin Santana, RHP, Atlanta Braves
Spring stats: 2 G, 5 IP, 5.40 ERA, 6 H, K, 1.20 WHIP
Trying to provide a proper evaluation of Ervin Santana after just two spring starts is difficult. He signed so late that the odds of him being able to start the year in Atlanta are slim.
That does put Atlanta's pitching staff behind the eight ball coming out of camp, though it's nothing compared to what the team would be facing if Santana weren't around to soften the blow of losing Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy.
Right now Santana is incomplete, but should continue to get better over the next three weeks as his arm gets stretched out.
No. 8 Ian Kinsler, 2B, Detroit Tigers
Spring stats: 18 G, .278/.371/.556, 4 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 13 R, 6 BB, 7 K, 4 SB
With the exception of some bone-headed remarks about the Texas Rangers and Jon Daniels, this has been a nearly perfect spring training for Ian Kinsler.
Like some other players on this list, including the man he was traded for, Kinsler is trying to use his fresh start to reestablish the value he once had.
In 2011, Kinsler was a serious MVP candidate after hitting .255/.355/.477 with 34 doubles, 32 home runs, 30 stolen bases and 7.3 FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement. He's regressed the last two years, hitting a total of 32 home runs with 36 stolen bases in 293 games.
Now, entering his age-32 season, Kinsler looks to be in peak form. He's probably not going to be a seven-win player again, but the second baseman should be a more consistent performer than Omar Infante.
No. 7 Brian McCann, C, New York Yankees
Spring stats: 16 G, .225/.295/.375, 3 2B, HR, 5 RBI, 2 R, 4 BB, 11 K
Brian McCann's offensive numbers have been on a downward trajectory for years, though 2012 is a clear outlier because of a shoulder injury that required surgery; however, he now has the benefit of being a left-handed hitter with Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field.
While not a full-blown rebound to where he was at his peak, McCann did hit a solid .256/.336/.461 in 2013. The former Atlanta catcher slowed down considerably in the second half (.220/.296/.384), so that's something to keep an eye on as he enters his age-30 season.
After playing a total of 223 games the last two years, McCann's goal this spring is just to be ready for Opening Day. Barring a last-minute catastrophe, that doesn't appear to be a problem.
Even with a low spring slash line, McCann is still walking and striking out at roughly the same rate he has his entire career.
Considering that Yankees catchers hit .213/.289/.298 last season, McCann's 2013 slash line will be like going from a $2 steak to filet mignon.
No. 6 Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Spring stats: 3 G, 10 IP, 5.40 ERA, 9 H, HR, 4 BB, 4 K, 1.30 WHIP
Of the top pitchers available in free agency, no one had a more wide variance than Ubaldo Jimenez as far as potential impact.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports wrote after Jimenez agreed to a deal with the Orioles that they "look a lot more like a real contender in the AL East."
He'll probably never recapture what he was at the beginning of 2010, but he appears on his way to coming close past performances, thanks to the tutelage of Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who helped him find his old rhythm.
Heyman's colleague at CBS Sports, Matt Snyder, wrote that giving Jimenez four years is a gamble that's not going to pay off.
The Orioles have attached themselves to Jimenez reportedly for four years at a around $12.5 million per season. He now gets to face the AL East on a regular basis. In small samples, sure, but Jimenez's numbers against the Yankees (6.45 ERA in four starts) and Red Sox (11.72 ERA in four starts) are brutal, too.
Jimenez has been his usual, inconsistent self this spring. He had three strikeouts in two shutout innings his first start, came back with four runs allowed on four hits and three walks in his next start and gave up two runs on five hits (one homer) in six innings against Tampa Bay on March 22.
It's clear that Jimenez's second-half performance with Cleveland last year—1.82 ERA, 100-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio—is an aberration, not an indicator of a career resurgence.
No. 5 Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers
Spring stats: 21 G, .262/.286/.508, 6 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 11 R, 2 BB, 14 K
Prince Fielder was acquired by the Texas Rangers to be the middle-of-the-order thumper they lost when Josh Hamilton signed with Los Angeles last year.
Playing last season at age 29, Fielder had the worst year of his career. He hit .279/.362/.457 with 25 homers and 2.2 FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement.
The big first baseman compounded things with fans in Detroit by giving nonchalant responses after the team's playoff loss to Boston, saying "It isn't really tough, man, for me [to move on]. It's over. I have kids I have to take care of, so, for me it's over, bro."
Whatever reasons the Tigers had for trading Fielder, this spring has been a good indicator that things in Texas will be better for the slugger. He's driving the ball with authority, something that is sure to continue in Arlington during the hot summer days.
Even though the on-base percentage and strikeout-to-walk ratio leave something to be desired, Fielder's nine extra-base hits in 21 games and 11 runs scored are huge positives to take away from his first spring in a new home.
No. 4 Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Texas Rangers
Spring stats: 18 G, .170/.262/.283, 3 2B, HR, 3 RBI, 7 R, 7 BB, 13 K
Looking at OPS, Shin-Soo Choo is having the worst statistical spring of his career. He's been a machine the previous four years in March, with OPS totals ranging from .824 to 1.143, and has carried that over to the regular season.
Texas invested a lot of years and dollars in Choo, hoping he can solidify the leadoff role and right field.
Without going into a full-blown panic, Choo is a limited player who is likely to regress faster than a typical star of his stature. He's got a .680 career OPS against left-handed pitching, so opposing teams do have a way of getting him out.
Some of Choo's problems this spring can be attributed to random sample size variance and what the Rangers deemed "left arm soreness" in early March. He's still walking at a good rate and has scored seven runs in 18 games.
Put Choo in the Texas' ballpark, against a lot of right-handed pitching in the AL West (Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, Sonny Gray, Hisashi Iwakuma, et al.) and his numbers should be in line with the .285/.423/.462 mark he put up in 2013.
No. 3 Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees
Spring stats: 4 G, 15 IP, 3.00 ERA, 12 H, HR, 3 BB, 16 K, 1.00 WHIP
No player had more eyeballs watching everything he did this spring than Masahiro Tanaka. Some of that can be attributed to the $155 million the right-hander got from New York before throwing a pitch in an MLB game.
Most of it, though, has to do with Tanaka's status as a Japanese legend. He went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year for Rakuten in Japan's Pacific League.
For the most part, Tanaka has been as advertised. I've written about three of Tanaka's four spring appearances and been pleased with the results and his ability to battle without his best stuff.
The biggest flaws Tanaka has displayed are lack of fastball command and, with the exception of his splitter, inconsistent off-speed pitches. The slider moves all over the place, and his curveball is nothing more than a show-me pitch.
Tanaka has been challenged this spring. According to Baseball Reference's Opponent Quality stat, which uses a scale of 1-10 with 10 being like facing a full-time MLB player, the 25-year-old has a rating of 9.1.
Expectations for Tanaka in 2014 are going to be unrealistic because of the contract he signed, but a season with 180 innings, 3.50 ERA and 160 strikeouts has to be considered a massive success.
No. 2 Jacoby Ellsbury, OF, New York Yankees
Spring stats: 9 G, .174/.321/.391, 2 2B, HR, RBI, 5 R, 5 BB, 6 K
The one concern with Jacoby Ellsbury is health. It's no secret he's battled injuries throughout his career, having played in 140 or more games just three times in the last six years, but most of them have been contact injuries.
True to form, Ellsbury has been limited to nine games this spring because of a sore right calf muscle. The Yankees shut the former All-Star down for 10 days to recover, though he did get six plate appearances in a minor league game on March 25.
Bryan Hoch of MLB.com reported that Ellsbury played in another minor league game March 26, including five innings in center field.
Ellsbury told Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York after his first game back that he should be ready to play at full strength when the season starts.
I feel like I could just hop right in there and play right now and be ready to go. I'll take advantage of these next four games and do everything I can to be ready for Opening Day. I feel I will be ready. I don’t anticipate anything other than that.
Here's a case where the results aren't as concerning as the injury. Ellsbury is being counted on to ignite the top of New York's lineup, so any issues this early are going to be a problem.
No. 1 Robinson Cano, 2B, Seattle Mariners
Spring stats: 16 G, .435/.480/.522, 4 2B, 13 RBI, 4 R, 4 BB, 2 K, SB
A lot has already been made, and will continue to be, of Robinson Cano's massive 10-year contract with the Seattle Mariners, but let's put a pin in that and just admire what the man can do on a baseball field.
How good has Cano been this spring? Of the 15 games he's played in March, the All-Star second baseman has collected hits in 11 of them.
Cano has picked up this spring with his new team right where he left off with the New York Yankees. Don't worry that the 31-year-old hasn't hit a home run in 16 games—he only hit one last spring in New York and finished the year with 27.
Possessing one of the sweetest swings in baseball, Cano has an innate ability to drive the ball to all fields. His line-drive rate continues to go up at an age when most players start to show signs of wear and tear, jumping to a career high 26 percent in 2013.
Based on how confident, comfortable and easy Cano has been this spring, another jump in line drives wouldn't be out of the question.
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