Scott Miller's Starting 9: The Winter's Bests and Worsts (So Far)

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Scott Miller's Starting 9: The Winter's Bests and Worsts (So Far)
Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

Why, some things aren't even worth the paper they're printed on! Good thing you're reading this on your computer or phone...

1. Best Paper Tigers

Remember last winter at this time, how we all loved the Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres? And to think, we weren't even buried under a blizzard back then. So yes, things might look way different when the summer sun starts melting stuff. But for now...

Mets: Re-signing Yoenis Cespedes tipped the NL East scales back toward Queens. We saw what Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz could do last year. Add a presumably healthy Zack Wheeler at some point this year, along with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and former Pittsburgh second baseman Neil Walker, and it all looked pretty good. Then the brilliant Sandy Alderson figured out a path that led back to Cespedes. Bravo.

Tigers: On his own, Justin Upton isn't a guy who will carry a team. Which is why his complementary role to Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez is absolutely perfect. OK, so Mike Ilitch is paying $21.25 million a year to a complementary piece, but he also shelled out for starter Jordan Zimmermann, and new general manager Al Avila strengthened the bullpen by acquiring Francisco Rodriguez. A healthy and productive Justin Verlander remains vitally important.

Cubs: Add Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey to a team that won 97 games last year and whose young players are still improving, and what's not to like? If the uber-consistent Cardinals win another NL Central crown this year, it will be their most impressive feat yet.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press/Associated Press
Zack Greinke

Diamondbacks: Paul Goldschmidt is to Arizona what an in-his-prime Albert Pujols was to the Cardinals a decade ago. A.J. Pollock is the best player too many have never heard of. Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller are terrific adds. And second baseman Howie Kendrick, still lurking on the free-agent market, would be a perfect final piece (hint, hint).

Giants: Arizona got all the pub, but adding Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to its rotation and Denard Span to the top of its order puts San Francisco in terrific shape for 2016.

Red Sox: They swiftly addressed key areas of need under new president of baseball operations David Dombrowski. David Price is the ace Boston was missing last year. Closer Craig Kimbrel elevates their bullpen. Outfielder Chris Young adds depth. This could become one of Boston's last-place-to-first-place seasons.

2. Best Winter Intrigue

Mark Cunningham/Getty Images
Justin Upton

Very interesting that the Tigers, who in December indicated they were probably done spending the big bucks, veered toward Upton and not Cespedes when they decided to add one more big bat.

All things being equal, the Tigers knew far more about Cespedes than Upton simply because they employed him for the first 102 games of 2015. And when a team gets that kind of insight into a player, it is the kind of inside intelligence that few others are privy to.

Which is why it was so interesting when the Tigers signed Upton to a monster six-year, $132.75 million deal and left Cespedes out there to fall to the Mets on a three-year, $75 million deal that includes an opt-out clause after one year.

Clearly, in putting their efforts into Upton, the Tigers judged him a better all-around player and better all-around value than Cespedes. At 28, Upton is two years younger than Cespedes (30). And statistically, Upton has produced a better on-base percentage (.352 career) and OPS (.825) than Cespedes (.319, .805).

Furthermore, clubs appeared wary of making a long-term commitment to Cespedes for many reasons. As one American League executive told Bleacher Report last week, among other things, the quality of Cespedes' at-bats often declined the longer he stayed with one team.

That said, he still smashed a combined 35 homers with 105 RBI for the Tigers and Mets last season. He inserted himself into NL MVP talk by September despite the fact that he wound up playing only 57 games for the Mets.

Did the Tigers make a smart move by committing to Upton over Cespedes for the next six years?

Did the Mets make a mistake by giving Cespedes an opt-out after only one year?   

With both teams intent on contending, and with Cespedes and Upton being mirror images of each other in some ways (both are streaky hitters, that's the main way), this debate won't be settled anytime soon.

3. Best Winter Chuckle

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Here we go again: The Kansas City Royals have played in two consecutive World Series, won it all in 2015, and yet in the first projection for this season, FanGraphs has the 2016 Royals winning just 79 games.

LOL!

We laugh with them, not at them, even if coming out of spring training last season I picked the Royals third in the AL Central (though, in fairness, I did write that any of the four division teams other than the Twins could win the title).

No, what's particularly humorous about this FanGraphs prediction is that the good folks at Baseball Prospectus went through the same thing last year, predicting that the Royals would win just 72 games. And...

I imagine the line outside of their doors waiting for the 2016 predictions announcement is longer than the lines when the new Star Wars movie premiered.

Hey, as my therapist Jimmy Buffett sings, if we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane.

4. Worst Winter Impression of a Filthy Rich Team

John Minchillo/Associated Press/Associated Press
Aroldis Chapman

The New York Yankees did not spend a dime in the free-agent market.

Didn't spend a nickel. Didn't even spend a penny.

It's true. They were one of five clubs to sit out the entire free-agent market. Their company? The Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays.

"Everybody knows in the next few years we've got significant amounts of money coming off the payroll just with a few guys," Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner and managing general partner, said during last week's owners meetings, per MLB.com. "We're going to do as much as we can to put as much of that back into the team as we possibly can.

"There's money coming off, and it's going to give me a chance to do a lot of things, have a lot of flexibility that we just haven't had."

Those to whom Steinbrenner is referring: Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million a year) and Carlos Beltran ($15 million) both are entering the final year of their contracts in 2016. Alex Rodriguez ($20 million) is up after the 2017 season.

In the meantime, CC Sabathia ($25 million for 2016) will be tied to the Yankees in 2017 at $25 million if his contract vests in '16. His 2017 salary is guaranteed if he does not finish '16 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury, if he does not spend more than 45 days in '16 on the DL with a left shoulder injury or if he does not make more than six relief appearances in '16 because of a left shoulder injury.

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press/Associated Press
Joe Girardi

Despite the Yankees sitting on the sidelines during free agency, waiting for contracts to fall off of their payroll like autumn leaves from trees, they absolutely improved.

For one thing, Starlin Castro, acquired in a trade with the Chicago Cubs, lines up at second base.

For another, Aroldis Chapman, acquired in a trade with Cincinnati, joins Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in what could be the game's best late-inning bullpen combination.

"We're definitely a better team," Steinbrenner said at the meetings. "We're a bit younger. What we did at second base, I'm excited about. We were certainly struggling there. So we've improved some positions. In any given year, I think health is one of the biggest factors anyway.

"Again, I think if we had not lost [Nathan] Eovaldi and Teixeira at the end of the season, we might have had a better chance. Who knows? But you'd better stay healthy."

5. Best (and Worst!) Allocation of Resources

Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press/Associated Press
Jason Heyward

With an intriguing number of free agents still out there, here, courtesy of this cool portion of ESPN.com, are the winter cash standings:

Winter's Top Free-Agent Spenders
Rank Team Money Spent
1 Cubs $276,250,000
2 Tigers $271,750,000
3 Giants $251,000,000
4 Red Sox $230,000,000
5 Orioles $207,800,000
6 Diamondbacks $206,500,000
7 Royals $178,500,000
8 Mets $122,500,000
9 Cardinals $92,500,000
10 Marlins $81,500,000
11 Dodgers $74,800,000
12 Nationals $65,500,000
13 Blue Jays $63,050,000
14 Rockies $46,100,000
15 Athletics $38,000,000
16 Astros $33,800,000
17 Mariners $31,750,000
18 Pirates $12,500,000
19 Indians $12,250,000
20 Twins $12,000,000
21 White Sox $8,750,000
22 Braves $8,750,000
23 Padres $7,500,000
24 Angels $6,550,000
25 Rangers $6,000,000
26 Reds $0
27 Yankees $0
28 Brewers $0
29 Phillies $0
30 Rays $0

ESPN.com

6. Worst Premature Rumor

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press/Associated Press
Rob Manfred

The designated hitter is coming to the National League...soon?

When MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred floated the idea at the owners meetings and Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told fans at St. Louis' Winter Warm-Up that momentum for the DH in the NL is increasing, it began to look like the NL might adopt the DH as soon as the next collective bargaining agreement. Play under that would begin in 2017.

While most people in the industry believe it is just a matter of time before the NL adopts the DH, maybe (and, yes, hopefully) the change isn't as imminent as we thought a week or so ago.

"The most likely result on the designated hitter for the foreseeable future is the status quo," Manfred told ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick this week in an interview centered around Manfred's one-year anniversary on the job. "I think the vast majority of clubs in the National League want to stay where they are."

7. Best Winter Promise

Ron Schwane/Associated Press/Associated Press
Dustin Pedroia

At another winter warm-up function, the Red Sox's Winter Weekend at Foxwoods Resort and Casino, Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said he again will be a man in motion.

"I'm going to run more," he said, per MLB.com's Ian Browne.

Pedroia is 32 now, so that's an intriguing strategy.

So is the fact that after swiping 20 or more bags in four different seasons, Pedroia logged only two steals in 93 games last summer and six in 135 games in 2014.

Did he discover a Fountain of Youth this winter? Nah, it's just based on what the Red Sox are doing.

"The last couple of years, when I was running, David [Ortiz] was getting walked," Pedroia said. "I kind of want him to hit. So that stuff changes. But certain parts of last year, [Xander Bogaerts] hit behind me, so it's time to go."

8. Best Potential Trade Bait

LM Otero/Associated Press/Associated Press
C.J. Wilson

The Angels spoke with several clubs earlier this winter about dealing left-hander C.J. Wilson, according to Bleacher Report sources, but no trade was made.

They do not want to go over the $189 million luxury-tax threshold, but they've got a Disney-sized issue in left field: Right now, the Angels are looking at a platoon of Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry, two players who combined for one (one, count 'em...er, it) home run last summer.

In fact, Gentry has zero homers over the past two seasons, which covers 314 plate appearances.

Nava's one homer last season came in 166 plate appearances.

By trading Wilson (yes, still), the Angels would clear at least part of the $20 million they owe him for 2016 off the books. Dealing Wilson perhaps could bring back an outfielder in return or, at the very least, clear room for the Angels to pursue Dexter Fowler (they also need a leadoff man).

One other obstacle in dealing Wilson: He missed much of last year following surgery to have bone chips and spurs removed from his elbow. Clubs potentially interested in him may want to see him pitch some Cactus League games before deciding whether to try to deal for him.

9. Best Pimping of an Advice Columnist

David J. Phillip/Associated Press/Associated Press
Keith Hernandez

Alert readers of the "Ask Amy" advice column noticed the other day that Feeling Foolish had an awfully familiar problem: Met a famous sports figure at the gym, said sports figure wanted to have coffee, then said sports figure wanted to date his new friend's ex-girlfriend, new friend reluctantly said OK then found out that the sports figure canceled plans so he could go out with the ex-girlfriend and...

If this all sounds exactly like the plot of a Seinfeld episode, well, ask Amy. It's real, and it's spectacular!

9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Week

Chris Pizzello/Associated Press/Associated Press
Chris Stapleton

A theme song for the many free agents still unsigned? Why, here's guest artist Chris Stapleton, whose disc Traveller is absolutely tremendous if you like good, old-school country:

"You only need a roof when it's raining

"You only need a fire when it's cold

"You only need a drink when the whiskey

"Is the only thing that you have left to hold

"Sun comes up and goes back down

"And falling feels like flying till you hit the ground

"Say the word and I'll be there for you

"Baby, I will be your parachute"

—Chris Stapleton, "Parachute"

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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