MLB Free Agency 2012: Predicting the Big Winners and Losers
We're a long way from the end of the moving and shaking in MLB free agency this winter, but some things are already becoming clear. Teams are tipping their hands about their winter strategies. Some star players have already signed on with new clubs; we have seen teams take strange tacks in those negotiations.
Of course, even given all the information we have so far, there's a lot yet to be revealed. Not only are many key free agents still out there, but we don't know how all those who have signed will actually fare going forward. Will Albert Pujols' mega-deal be a worthwhile investment? Will C.J. Wilson make the Angels' starting rotation the best in the American League?
Here are the 10 teams who seem to be headed for the highest 2012 impact via all this free-agent frenzy.
First, we'll select five teams that will look like winners this time next year. Then we will look at who is headed for disaster.
Winner No. 5: Pittsburgh Pirates
It's no secret that the Pirates have no access to the elite free agents. That kind of expenditure simply is not possible for them. Pittsburgh goes on an annual dredge of the bargain bin, but this offseason it seems to have hit the mother lode.
Erik Bedard, Nate McLouth and Clint Barmes add probably five wins to the team's ledger relative to the incumbents they will replace, and for that upgrade the Pirates will pay only $11.5 million.
Dealing from bullpen depth has also helped Pittsburgh plug its holes at the corner infield spots, as it has added Casey McGehee.
Winner No. 4: Miami Marlins
In 2012, the trio of top-tier free agents the Marlins signed will cost "only" $22 million combined. Between Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell, though, the team has committed well over $100 million for the next several seasons.
Bell is a tenuous investment. Buehrle and Reyes both come with risks. The moves only really congeal into something special if the Fish also make another impact signing—hardly out of the question.
In the meantime, the triad of additions the team has made makes the Marlins headline news for the first time in years. In that way, it's already a success.
Winner No. 3: Milwaukee Brewers
Losing Prince Fielder hurts, but then, he would be prohibitively expensive to retain. In his stead, the Crew have added Alex Gonzalez and Aramis Ramirez.
The massive upgrade they have made on the left side of their infield more than balances what will be lost in the drop to Mat Gamel or a low-level free agent at first base.
Winner No. 2: Toronto Blue Jays
Other than the happy accident of having Kelly Johnson accept salary arbitration, the Blue Jays haven't done anything via free agency yet. All of their substantial moves have been trades.
That's going to change soon. Whether it turns out to be Prince Fielder, Yoennis Cespedes, Edwin Jackson or Yu Darvish, the Blue Jays are going to spend on a big name in the near future, and it could be the move the team needs to vault into honest contention in the AL East.
They are sleeping giants, a team with loaded owners and a whole lot of leverage the next time they go to the table to negotiate a TV rights contract.
Winner No. 1: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Honestly, I expect the Pujols and Wilson deals to be rather regrettable at their back ends. That doesn't matter. With all the money circulating in Angel Stadium these days, the cash was a disposable asset.
It has gone out the door, but it has been replaced by new cash—the Angels matched their merchandise revenue for all of December 2010 in two days after signing Pujols and Wilson—and a wealth of excitement.
From a baseball perspective, they overpaid for their new stars, but the monetary and goodwill gains they will make because of these signings overwhelm those practical concerns.
Loser No. 5: New York Mets
The loss of Jose Reyes seemed to suggest the Wilpons were brutally cash-strapped. Then the team somehow found over $15 million for Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch.
The dissonance there must be clear to everyone, right?
Reyes said the Mets never even made an honest effort to keep him. That reflects badly on the organization. Even if funds are a scarce resource, they should be allocated to secure a long-term cornerstone (like Reyes), not plug holes in a sinking ship from which everyone will have leaped by next June anyway.
Loser No. 4: Oakland Athletics
The A's don't usually participate much in free agency, and that will be true again this offseason. Therein lies the rub.
Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Coco Crisp all are leaving on a midnight train to wherever else they will be paid in 2012. That's all of Oakland's starting outfield last season. Hideki Matsui is not expected to re-sign. Meanwhile, the team has already traded Trevor Cahill, and all indications are that it will do the same with Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey in the near future.
This is as stark a rebuilding program as any team has pursued in years.
Loser No. 3: Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies spent $50 million on a closer, making it harder on themselves to sign Jimmy Rollins and keep him at shortstop. They have, it seems, an aversion to the idea of playing Domonic Brown in left field. They keep heading themselves off with big contracts, and though the money well has not yet come close to dry, it's shallower than it once was.
If they don't re-sign Cole Hamels to a long-term deal before the 2012 season, blame Jonathan Papelbon's contract and, by extension, Ruben Amaro Jr.
Loser No. 2: St. Louis Cardinals
They lost their franchise paragon. Everyone knew that might happen.
But the Cardinals once had backup plans. It still sounds as though they will entertain pursuits of Carlos Beltran or Carlos Pena, but they failed to make a strong enough push for Jimmy Rollins. They brought back Rafael Furcal instead, so shortstop will remain a weakness on next season's roster.
Signing one of the other impact bats on the market will not help that much at this point. They could still very feasibly win the NL Central next season, but the Cardinals' winter thus far has been a train wreck.
Loser No. 1: Los Angeles Dodgers
In new contracts alone, GM Ned Colletti and the Los Angeles Dodgers have handed out $17.5 million to the following players thus far this winter:
- Adam Kennedy
- Jerry Hairston
- Mark Ellis
- Matt Treanor
- Chris Capuano
- Aaron Harang
- Tony Gwynn Jr.
- Juan Rivera
If Dodgers fans think anything like I do, they wish that money would go to one, you know, good player. The money spent on them is more than the annual average values of C.J. Wilson and Jose Reyes' new contracts.
Throw in the $5 million they're going to owe James Loney after tendering him a contract for some ridiculous reason, and the Dodgers could afford Prince Fielder.
Don't tell me it's about long-term liabilities, because the team signed Matt Kemp for $160 million over eight years. Don't tell me it's about the flux of ownership, because those eight players are owed a minimum of $32.3 million after 2012.
This is simply horrendous mismanagement, which is to be expected. Ned Colletti is an horrendous GM.
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