Fresh MLB Offseason Winners and Losers 1 Month from 2016 Spring Training
Throughout the offseason, we've named a handful of winners and losers at various times based on the latest happenings both in free agency and on the trade market.
Obviously we won't know exactly how moves made this offseason will work out until the season gets underway, or in some cases not until several years down the road, so think of these opinions as a gut reaction of sorts.
That said, as we sit roughly a month from the start of spring training, in many cases it's moves that haven't been made and players who haven't signed that can result in both teams and individuals earning the dreaded "loser" title.
At any rate, ahead is a quick look at a few of the latest winners and losers around the league, and there figures to be plenty more to add to this in what should be a busy final month of the offseason.
Loser: Ian Desmond
A late addition to this list, Ian Desmond was dealt a significant blow Thursday afternoon when the San Diego Padres signed Alexei Ramirez to fill their need at shortstop, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
The Padres got a dismal .228/.279/.365 line from the shortstop position last season, with the light-hitting duo of Alexi Amarista (324 AB, .544 OPS) and Clint Barmes (207 AB, .633 OPS) seeing the bulk of the playing time.
That made them a clear potential landing spot for Desmond, who didn't have his best season in 2015 but rebounded with a solid second half.
One might point to the qualifying offer issue as a potential hurdle for Desmond, but since the Padres hold the No. 8 pick in the upcoming draft, it would only take their second-round selection to sign him.
A Desmond-to-San Diego match seemed even more likely after Asdrubal Cabrera signed with the Mets, as he was the second-best option at the position.
In the end, though, the Padres settled for Ramirez despite a rough .249/.285/.357 line last season, when his .642 OPS ranked 135th among 142 qualified hitters.
There was talk earlier this winter that some teams were looking at Desmond to potentially fill a super-utility role, according to Buster Olney of ESPN, and he may now be forced to accept such a gig with no other teams clearly in need of a shortstop.
He could wind up being one of the biggest bargains of the offseason if he returns to the level of production that saw him post three straight 20-20 seasons, but at this point, there's no clear landing spot for the 30-year-old.
Loser(s): Yovani Gallardo, Ian Kennedy, Howie Kendrick and Dexter Fowler
This offseason saw a record 20 free agents extended a qualifying offer, and for the first time ever, we saw someone accept. The trio of Colby Rasmus, Matt Wieters and Brett Anderson all agreed to the one-year, $15.8 million pact.
As the winter progresses, it has begun to look more and more like a number of other free agents should have given serious thought to accepting their offer.
The following four players in particular should have accepted:
- SP Yovani Gallardo
- SP Ian Kennedy
- 2B Howie Kendrick
- OF Dexter Fowler
In one of the deepest starting pitching markets in recent memory, so far teams have been unwilling to sacrifice a draft pick to sign Gallardo or Kennedy, who are both solid pitchers but far from being ace-caliber.
Next offseason's market is relatively thin on quality starters behind Stephen Strasburg, so accepting the one-year offer and gearing up for a big payday next winter seems like it would have been their best course of action.
In the case of Kendrick, the market for second basemen this winter was deeper than usual, and that hurt his stock.
Daniel Murphy and Ben Zobrist both cashed in with multiyear deals, while Stephen Drew, Chase Utley and Darwin Barney have also signed new contracts.
Zobrist got $14 million annually from the Cubs, while Murphy received $12.5 million per year from the Nationals, so that $15.8 million figure has to be looking better and better to Kendrick.
The most likely of those four players to still agree to a lucrative multiyear deal might be Fowler, as he represents the best center fielder and leadoff hitter on the market.
That said, the outfield market has been very slow to develop, and after Alex Gordon accepted less than expected to re-sign with the Royals, that could have a trickle-down effect on how much Fowler winds up getting.
Big picture, a $15.8 million payday and another run at free agency in a weak market next winter seems like it would have been the best course of action for each of those four players.
Winner: Wei-Yin Chen
Wei-Yin Chen was one of the more interesting qualifying offer cases this winter.
While clearly not on the same level as guys like Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann, it's also fair to say Chen is a notch above the likes of Kennedy and Gallardo.
That said, he found himself in the same position as those two pitchers for much of the winter, with a slowly developing market and wondering if he would have been better served accepting the one-year deal.
How would the market play out for the 30-year-old?
That question was finally answered earlier this week, when the Miami Marlins inked the left-hander to a five-year, $80 million deal.
That put him just behind the five-year, $90 million contract Jeff Samardzija signed with the San Francisco Giants and right in line with Mike Leake, who agreed to an identical five-year, $80 million pact with the St. Louis Cardinals.
So while we still sit back and question whether Kennedy and Gallardo should have accepted their qualifying offers, it's now clear Chen made the right decision in turning his down and diving into the free-agent pool.
Whether or not the Marlins will contend in 2016 or in the near future remains to be seen, but at least from a financial perspective, Chen comes away as a clear winner.
Winner: Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals began the offseason somewhat resigned to the idea that All-Star left fielder Alex Gordon would be taking his services elsewhere in free agency.
They continued to pursue him, but the door to a reunion appeared to be closing when MLB Network's Jon Heyman, then writing for CBS Sports, reported on Dec. 23 that the team had been told it had "no chance" of re-signing him at the time.
However, just a couple of weeks later, he officially rejoined the reigning World Series champions on a four-year, $72 million deal.
According to ESPN.com, Mike Sweeney and Gil Meche held the previous record for most lucrative contract signed by a Royals player at $55 million, so this represents a significant investment for the franchise.
It's also well below what Gordon was expected to receive, though.
At the beginning of the offseason, Heyman predicted a five-year, $100 million deal for Gordon, but a slowly developing market and a genuine desire to remain in Kansas City resulted in him taking less.
Getting their homegrown star back below expected market value makes the Royals obvious winners here, but how will Gordon's deal alter the rest of the outfield market?
Let's dive right into that...
Loser(s): Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes
It wouldn't be at all out of line to say Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton are among the best corner outfielders in all of baseball.
To that point, here's where they rank in WAR among all corner outfielders since the 2012 season, when Cespedes first debuted in Oakland:
- Jason Heyward: 22.2 WAR
- Alex Gordon: 19.9 WAR
- Bryce Harper: 19.8 WAR
- Jose Bautista: 18.8 WAR
- Giancarlo Stanton: 18.1 WAR
- Starling Marte: 16.0 WAR
- Michael Brantley: 15.9 WAR
- Yoenis Cespedes: 15.8 WAR
- Josh Reddick: 14.4 WAR
- Ryan Braun: 13.8 WAR
- Justin Upton: 12.9 WAR
- Nelson Cruz: 12.6 WAR
They are also both coming off strong 2015 performances compared to their counterparts:
- Bryce Harper: 9.9 WAR
- Jason Heyward: 6.5 WAR
- Yoenis Cespedes: 6.3 WAR
- Ender Inciarte: 5.4 WAR
- Starling Marte: 5.3 WAR
- Nelson Cruz: 5.2 WAR
- Jose Bautista: 5.1 WAR
- Curtis Granderson: 5.1 WAR
- J.D. Martinez: 5.0 WAR
- Justin Upton: 4.4 WAR
So why in the world are both sluggers still looking for a new home roughly one month before the start of spring training?
The market for position players has been historically slow to develop this offseason, and their case for a big payday was not strengthened at all by Gordon taking a below-market deal to return to the Kansas City Royals.
In fact, an argument can be made at this point that both players would benefit from taking one-year deals and entering a weak free-agent market once again next winter.
The offseason is not over just yet, and both players could still walk away with contracts north of $100 million if things fall into place, but at this point, both rank as offseason losers.
Winner: Gerardo Parra
While Upton, Cespedes and Fowler are all still looking for a new home and Gordon wound up signing for less than expected, one free-agent outfielder did manage to cash in.
That would be Gerardo Parra, who recently agreed to a three-year, $27.5 million deal with the Colorado Rockies.
Parra put up the best numbers of his career last season with the Milwaukee Brewers, hitting .328/.369/.517 with 38 extra-base hits in 323 at-bats before being traded to the Baltimore Orioles.
However, his numbers dropped off dramatically post-trade, as he hit .237/.268/.357 with 17 extra-base hits in 224 at-bats with the O's.
In the end, that dip in production did not wind up costing him, though.
Now the question is what comes next for the Rockies, as they already boast an outfield of Corey Dickerson, Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez. So it stands to reason that one of those guys will be moved before the offseason is over.
Parra was never going to land a $100 million-plus deal, but in a slow-moving market for outfielders, he still managed to walk away with a lucrative multiyear contract.
Big Winner: Free-Agent Pitchers...Big Loser: Free-Agent Hitters
It's been a great winter to be a free-agent pitcher, but the same can't be said for the top position-player options on the market.
Adding things up off the free-agent tracker from Roster Resource, it's staggering how much more money teams have spent on pitching compared to position players.
Here's the split:
- Pitchers: $1,369,107,500 (69.6 percent of spending)
- Hitters: $598,390,000 (30.4 percent of spending)
A whopping $1,164,300,000 has been spent on starting pitchers alone, with $423.5 million of that going to Greinke and David Price.
While Kennedy, Gallardo and Tyler Clippard represent the cream of the crop among remaining free-agent pitchers, an abundance of star-caliber hitters are still without a new contract.
Here's a list of the top 10 position players from this year's free-agent class, as ranked by Heyman at the beginning of the offseason. The bolded names represent unsigned players:
- 1. Jason Heyward
- 2. Yoenis Cespedes
- 3. Justin Upton
- 4. Alex Gordon
- 5. Chris Davis
- 6. Ben Zobrist
- 7. Ian Desmond
- 8. Dexter Fowler
- 9. Howie Kendrick
- 10. Daniel Murphy
That's a staggering amount of talent still searching for a new home in the middle of January, and the closer we get to spring training, the less leverage those players have in their asking price.
Blanket statements can be dangerous, and the offseason is by no means over, but so far pitchers as a whole have been the big winners of the offseason, and hitters have found themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.