Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2017 MLB Winter Meetings
After four days of trades, signings and rumors about trades and signings, Major League Baseball's annual winter meetings came to a close Thursday.
It'll be years before fair judgment can be passed on the winners and losers. But for now, it's clear enough who appear to be the winners and losers of the meetings. The list ahead covers four of each and includes both teams and players.
Be warned that the New York Yankees and Giancarlo Stanton are not among them. Although the Yankees made their blockbuster trade for Stanton official during the first day of the meetings Monday, it was conceived a couple of days before executives, coaches, agents and players descended on Orlando, Florida.
Otherwise, it's on with the show.
Winner: Free-Agent Relief Pitchers
Anyone who monitored the action can be forgiven for thinking that MLB executives arrived in Orlando with a singular goal: sign relief pitchers.
Per MLB Trade Rumors, a dozen relievers signed during the meetings: Chris Martin, Pat Neshek, Brandon Morrow, Tommy Hunter, Juan Nicasio, Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee, Anthony Swarzak, Joe Smith, Brandon Kintzler, Steve Cishek and Fernando Rodney.
Combined, they pulled in $185.75 million over 25 years. That's an average of $7.4 million per year. Seven of the 12 names beat that mark.
This is, in part, simply due to supply. This winter's free-agent market doesn't have great relievers who can match the ultraexpensive contracts given to Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon last winter, but it's well-stocked with good relievers. Teams were inevitably going to help themselves.
There's also something to be said about the demand for relievers these days. Due to increases in both innings and dominance, FanGraphs WAR shows 2016 and 2017 as the most productive seasons ever for relief pitchers. Thus has a good bullpen transformed from a nice luxury into an absolute necessity.
Meanwhile, not cashing in at the winter meetings were...
Loser: Free-Agent Stars
At the start of the winter, players like Yu Darvish, J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain headlined a list of stars who could be had as free agents.
Few could have predicted that the winter meetings would come and go and that they and many other name-brand free agents would still be available.
This is partly owed to unusual circumstances that froze the hot stove at the outset. Everyone was waiting on Stanton to be traded and for Japanese two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani to pick an MLB home. These sagas dragged on until the eve of the winter meetings.
Also at play, however, are trends that should worry the MLB Players Association.
As teams have stocked their front offices with like-minded number crunchers who know where and how to find good value, the notion that free agents are good investments has died a slow death. As one official told Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports: "You can't be a genius if you spend on free agents."
In this environment, patience is a virtue. As spring training gets closer and closer, even the best talents on the open market might get squirmy enough to lower their asking prices.
In particular, the slow-developing market for star free agents is bad news for...
Loser: Free-Agent Third Basemen
Moustakas isn't the only free-agent third baseman who's still looking for work. The list also includes fellow slugger Todd Frazier as well as Yunel Escobar and Eduardo Nunez.
Unfortunately for them, they're now competing for attention with a stacked trade market.
All of a sudden, the Baltimore Orioles are aggressively shopping three-time All-Star Manny Machado, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Trade rumors also encircled Josh Donaldson of the Toronto Blue Jays and Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays during the winter meetings.
These three teams were borderline contenders to begin with and were pushed further from the center of the conversation when the Yankees traded for Stanton. Thus, the uptick in interest for three of MLB's best third basemen.
If it's any comfort to Moustakas and the other free agents, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports hears the Blue Jays have "no intention" to deal Donaldson.
Machado, however, seems like a goner, and Longoria wouldn't be the first All-Star trade chip the Rays have ever cashed in. Interest in them is going to overshadow interest in the free-agent third basemen out there and ultimately cross one or two potential homes off their list of possibilities.
In lighter news...
Winner: St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals responded to losing the Stanton sweepstakes by winning the sweepstakes for Marcell Ozuna.
Although Ozuna doesn't have Stanton's credentials, the former Marlin is fresh off a year in which he realized his considerable upside. He posted a .924 OPS, smashed 37 homers and won a Gold Glove in left field. Baseball Reference puts his full worth at 5.8 wins above replacement.
That ranked fourth among National League outfielders, two spots down from Cardinals breakout star Tommy Pham. The two of them plus Dexter Fowler equal one of the best outfields in MLB.
To clear space for Ozuna, the Cardinals did have to trade Stephen Piscotty to the Oakland Athletics. But that deal was partially spurred by genuinely heartwarming motivations (more on those in a moment) on the Cardinals' part. It also helped restock their farm system following the Ozuna trade.
As it is, Ozuna didn't cost too much. Although the Cardinals will have him for two years, the four-player package they sent to the Marlins included only two of their top 10 prospects, as ranked by Baseball America. None was among their top three.
Of course, this isn't so great for the...
Loser: Miami Marlins
Technically, the Ozuna trade is the only blockbuster that the Marlins made during the winter meetings. But even on its own, it's a disappointment.
His availability was a chance for Miami to turn a controllable two-time All-Star into a haul of prospects that, ideally, would include at least one top-100 prospect. Per MLB.com's Top 100 and Baseball America's most recent Top 100, the trade netted them zero.
The same is also true of the trades that sent Stanton and Dee Gordon out of town. That's of little help to a farm system that Bleacher Report ranked at No. 28 going into the offseason.
Even if the Marlins trade Christian Yelich, their lone remaining star, for a nice haul of prospects, they'll have failed to make the most of the start of their rebuilding process under new owners Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter. They'll only have succeeded in saving money.
If they're planning on reinvesting that money later, well, so be it. But in light of the $400 million in debt that Sherman and Jeter assumed and Heyman's report that they're actively seeking cash from investors, it sure looks like simply saving money is the end game.
Anyway, back to lighter matters...
Winners: Stephen Piscotty and Oakland Athletics
As alluded to earlier, the Piscotty trade is the feel-good story of the winter meetings.
A move from St. Louis to Oakland is a homecoming of sorts for the 26-year-old, a Stanford product who went to high school in nearby Pleasanton. And this particular homecoming isn't filled with hollow sentiment. He'll get to be near his mother, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease this year.
"There were certainly some opportunities to move him elsewhere, and when you're looking at how to break a tie, clearly that did play into it," said John Mozeliak, Cardinals president of baseball operations, per Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
The A's also made out well. It cost them two prospects (infielder Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock) but netted them an outfielder with a contract that controls him through 2023 and a track record that proves he can be successful.
Piscotty managed an .815 OPS and 29 homers through his first 216 games. Although he fell to a .708 OPS and nine homers in 2017, that decline likely won't be permanent. Injuries and his mother's diagnosis coincided with a prolonged slump. By the end of the year, he was back to hitting the ball hard.
Elsewhere in the AL West...
Winner: Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels pulled off a dandy trade of their own when they acquired Ian Kinsler from the Detroit Tigers.
The fact that the Angels could even trade for a four-time All-Star has significance in its own right. Their farm system is universally regarded as the worst in baseball. That leaves them ill-equipped to acquire big-name talent. Yet, a package of right-hander Wilkel Hernandez and outfielder Troy Montgomery got it done.
A related story is that Kinsler is coming off a down year. The 35-year-old posted a career-worst .725 OPS and 2.1 WAR, his worst since his rookie year in 2006.
Kinsler continued to get it done in the field, however, finishing with six defensive runs saved and a 6.1 ultimate zone rating. For an Angels team with Gold Glovers at catcher (Martin Maldonado) and shortstop (Andrelton Simmons) and a GOAT (Mike Trout) in center, Kinsler's second base defense amplifies what was already a strength.
As for the teams that didn't get anything major done at the winter meetings, at the top of the list is the...
Loser: Boston Red Sox
There's rarely an offseason in which the Boston Red Sox aren't obligated to throw their weight around. What makes this one different is the stakes involved.
The Red Sox are tasked with adding a slugger to a lineup that was good enough to win 93 games in 2017 but only powerful enough to hit an American-League-low 168 homers in the process. When the Yankees traded for Stanton, their slugging need became more severe.
It hasn't been filled yet. And their options appear to be dwindling.
Per Bob Nightengale of USA Today, a deal for Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Abreu may be out of reach. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the A's rebuffed Boston's interest in Khris Davis. Ozuna is already off the market. A trade for Machado is possible but unlikely as long as the Red Sox and Orioles share space in the AL East.
The Red Sox's best hope of landing a slugger is on the free-agent market, where Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald hears they're angling to sign both Martinez and Hosmer. If they can, their problem will have gotten one heck of a solution.
For now, though, it remains a problem. And the clock is ticking.