Fresh MLB Offseason Winners and Losers One Month from 2017 Spring Training
With slightly more than a month remaining before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, there's theoretically time for every MLB team and unsigned free agent to rescue their offseason.
Let's get real, though. Some clubs and players have aced the winter, while others are sifting desperately through the hot-stove coals or looking back with regret.
We're not going to highlight every offseason winner and loser, but here's a fresh batch from the last few weeks to hold you over till actual baseball begins.
In some cases, losers could still reverse their plight. In others, well, not so much.
Tap the clay off your cleats and proceed when ready.
Loser: Detroit Tigers
At the outset of the offseason, the Detroit Tigers hinted they'd be sellers.
"I've talked to all the guys—[Miguel] Cabrera and [Justin] Verlander and [Ian] Kinsler and guys like that—just to let them know, 'Hey, this is just the way it is and it's part of the business,' but not to worry about anything unless I call them," Detroit general manager Al Avila said Nov. 8 on MLB Now (via MLB.com).
The Tigers have not moved a single significant trade chip this winter, including guys like left fielder J.D. Martinez and second baseman Ian Kinsler, who could both be free agents after the 2017 season (Kinsler has a team option for 2018).
They could certainly use an infusion of young talent to boost a farm system Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked No. 26 in the game.
At the same time, the Tigers' maxed-out budget has prevented them from making any impact additions.
Detroit could compete for a playoff spot. Maybe this veteran group has one more run left in it. But, as I argued, the Tigers may ultimately regret not following the lead of the Chicago White Sox and cashing in their chips.
Winner: Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians are the defending American League champs. They acted like it, signing one of the biggest bats on the market.
Edwin Encarnacion's three-year, $60 million deal includes a $25 million club option and $5 million buyout for 2020, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
It's the richest contract in franchise history, but it's also a relative bargain for a guy who hit 42 home runs with 127 RBI last season and has been among the game's most consistent power hitters over the past five years.
The folks over at MLB Trade Rumors predicted Encarnacion would get four years and $92 million, and that seemed like a reasonable guess.
The Indians still have a few question marks, including in the outfield, where former All-Star Michael Brantley is recovering from shoulder issues that cost him most of the 2016 campaign.
With Encarnacion in the fold, however, the Tribe are poised for another deep run.
Loser: Kansas City Royals
Staying in the AL Central, the Kansas City Royals, like Detroit, are stuck between a run and a rebuild.
Kansas City shipped closer Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs for outfielder Jorge Soler, a controllable, high-upside hitter.
More recently, they swapped speedy Jarrod Dyson to the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Nate Karns, another controllable player with upside.
Taken in isolation, each move is fine. Neither Soler (who hit .238 last season) nor Karns (who posted a 5.15 ERA between the rotation and bullpen) pushes this team over the top, however.
After making two straight trips to the World Series and winning a ring in 2015, the Royals fell to third place in the AL Central at 81-81 in 2016.
Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain are all set to hit free agency after the 2017 season. Either the Royals need to add pieces to the rotation and bullpen for one more run, or they should shop the members of their championship core, painful as that sounds.
General manager Dayton Moore is working on a tight budget but suggested there could be bargains as the winter wears on.
"When the music stops, there's always going to be a few guys without chairs," Moore said, per Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. "And unfortunately, for those players, the options dwindle."
Unfortunately for Moore, the same thing could be said of the Royals.
Loser: New York Mets
The New York Mets outfield is a mess. There's no other way to put it.
They've got Yoenis Cespedes, who returned on a four-year, $110 million deal and will once again be tasked with anchoring (and perhaps carrying) the offense. They've also got veterans Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce, plus Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares.
Five guys, but who's the center fielder?
Cespedes and Granderson can technically play center, the same way a water buffalo could technically work at a glass factory. OK, that's a little harsh. But both are much better suited for a corner outfield spot.
The same is true for Conforto and Bruce. Lagares grades well defensively in center but owns an anemic .633 career OPS against right-handed pitching.
The Mets need to make a trade to clear this logjam and possibly acquire a center fielder to at least platoon with Lagares.
Bruce is the most obvious candidate, but the Mets have apparently found few takers after exercising his $13 million option for 2017.
In hindsight, that looks like a bad decision, as Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal outlined:
Speaking of misreading the market, one rival GM says the Mets should have declined Jay Bruce's $13 million option, then signed a comparable player—maybe even Bruce—for far less.
The GM contends the Mets knew that Bruce was in relatively low demand when they acquired him at the non-waiver deadline, and that his subsequent struggles only made him less attractive in a trade.
At this point, the Mets may have to eat some cash and accept a minimal return to get Bruce out of Queens. If they don't trade someone, however, they're going to be stuck with an outfield that is paradoxically overcrowded and incomplete.
Winner: Chicago Cubs
The defending champion Cubs didn't need to do much this offseason. Their lineup is loaded with young stars, and their rotation is mostly set.
Their only obvious hole was in the back end of the bullpen after closer Aroldis Chapman hopped to the New York Yankees for an $86 million payday.
Chicago nabbed a closer, acquiring Davis from Kansas City for Soler, who was a superfluous piece in a crowded outfield.
The Cubbies also inked veteran Koji Uehara to a one-year pact. Like Davis, Uehara is right-handed. The top left-hander in Chicago's pen might be Brian Duensing, who posted a 4.05 ERA last season.
But a closer inspection reveals Uehara has held left-handed hitters to a .183 average and .555 OPS in his career.
The Cubs could still pursue a lefty bullpen arm such as Jerry Blevins or J.P. Howell. They've deftly shored up their only weakness, however, and are inarguably MLB's most complete team.
Loser: Jose Bautista
It's 2017, and Jose Bautista still doesn't have a job.
He's not the only slugger languishing unsigned. Other high-profile mashers, including Mark Trumbo and Mike Napoli, are likewise looking for work.
Bautista, though, is the poster boy for diminished expectations. Remember in February, when he was reportedly demanding five years and nine figures?
Now, according to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, he's willing to consider a one-year pact. Free falls like that usually require a parachute.
Bautista is 36 years old and coming off a down year in which he hit .234 with an .817 OPS, his lowest mark since 2009.
He's also a six-time All-Star who hit 40 home runs in 2015. On a one-year show-me deal, someone's going to sign him.
With each passing day, however, Joey Bats' free-agent standing plunges a little lower.