MLB Free Agency: Updating the 5 Biggest Winners and 5 Biggest Losers

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2012

MLB Free Agency: Updating the 5 Biggest Winners and 5 Biggest Losers

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    Baseball is a game of numbers, but there aren't two more important numbers in the game than those which appear next to a team's name in the standings.

    There's a winner and loser in every baseball game, whether it's spring training, the regular season or the playoffs.

    But it's not just on the field of play where the game produces winners and losers.

    Each of the 30 teams in baseball compete for the same pool of available players during every Hot Stove League. Some emerge as winners, getting the players they believe they need to take the next step, while others are stuck on the losing end, striking out with every offer they make.

    The same holds true for the players themselves, some of which ended up as free agents by opting out of lucrative contracts in search for even more money. Sometimes their gamble pays off; other times, it doesn't.

    While there's still plenty of time for teams and players to change their fortunes, let's take a look at where things stand for a handful of those involved and see who has done well for themselves—and who still has significant work left to do.

Winners: San Francisco Giants

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    It wasn't cheap, costing them $78 million, but the San Francisco Giants did what they needed to do in order to keep three key pieces of their World Series championship team in place.

    Infielder Marco Scutaro (three years, $20 million), reliever Jeremy Affeldt (three years, $18 million) and center fielder Angel Pagan (four years, $40 million) may not be All-Stars, but they are perfect fits in San Francisco.

    Some will say that the Giants overpaid for Pagan, but when you consider what the flashier alternatives, such as Michael Bourn (still unsigned) or B.J. Upton (five years, $75.25 million), would have cost to provide a similar skill set, the Giants got a relative bargain in Pagan.

    Besides, you can't argue with success...and there wasn't a more successful team on the diamond than the Giants in 2012.

Losers: Baltimore Orioles

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    Other than Jason Hammel, there isn't a starting pitcher on the Baltimore Orioles roster with a track record of even moderate success in the major leagues—which is precisely why the Orioles needed to add at least one quality veteran arm to the mix this winter.

    Yet, the rumor mill remains eerily quiet surrounding the O's.

    A run at Zack Greinke never materialized, and if the team has serious interest in those pitchers on the second tier of free-agent starters—like Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Shaun Marcum and Edwin Jackson—they've done an excellent job of keeping that quiet.

    Mark Reynolds took his timely home runs to Cleveland, leaving Chris Davis as the Orioles first baseman and Wilson Betemit as their designated hitter, neither the ideal choice for their respective spots.

    The good vibes generated by their unexpected playoff run in 2012 could disappear if the Orioles fail to add another piece or two between now and the start of the regular season.

Winners: Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Pittsburgh made one of the great signings of the offseason so far with the two-year, $17 million deal they handed out to catcher Russell Martin.

    Martin, 29, isn't the big bat the Pirates needed to pair with All-Star Andrew McCutchen, but he is a major upgrade at what is arguably the most important position on the field. With a number of young pitching prospects possibly joining the fray in Pittsburgh this year, Martin's steadying presence could be invaluable.

    Couple that with the team's retention of 36-year-old reliever Jason Grilli, who has been one of the more underrated relievers in the game since joining the Pirates before the 2011 season.

    In his two seasons wearing a Pirates uniform, Grilli has pitched to a 2.76 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, averaging 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

Losers: New York Yankees

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    Heading into the offseason, it was a foregone conclusion that right fielder Nick Swisher and reliever Rafael Soriano were heading elsewhere for the 2013 season.

    But nobody counted on catcher Russell Martin jumping ship.

    Martin, who spent the past two seasons behind the plate in the Bronx, signed a two-year, $17 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of November (h/t Fox Sports).

    While it's true that the Yankees are trying their hand at fiscal responsibility for the first time in decades, that's certainly a contract they could have dished out without batting an eye, especially for someone who their pitching staff is familiar and comfortable with.

    Instead, they find themselves choosing between career backups Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, or prospect Austin Romine, who missed much of the 2012 season with a back injury (h/t CBS Sports).

    Sure, the Yankees re-signed some key pieces, namely starting pitchers Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda and, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, outfielder Ichiro Suzuki as well.

    They addressed the Alex Rodriguez situation by landing former Boston Red Sox All-Star Kevin Youkilis; a move that needed to be made.

    But the Yankees return with essentially the same team that barely got by the Baltimore Orioles and was thoroughly dominated by the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs.

    With their competition both in the division and the league improving, the status quo isn't going to cut it in 2013.

Winners: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    The Los Angeles Dodgers landed the biggest pitching prize on the free-agent market, signing 29-year-old ace Zack Greinke to a six-year, $147 million deal (h/t MLB.com) to give the Dodgers a deadly one-two combination at the front of their rotation with Clayton Kershaw.

    But the Dodgers weren't done adding to their rotation with Greinke, signing 30-year-old Korean import Hyun-jin Ryu to a six-year, $36 million contract less than 24 hours after landing the former American League Cy Young Award winner.

    There are still other moves that need to be made, but thus far, the Dodgers are one of the big winners on the free-agent market so far.

Loser: Rafael Soriano

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    Set to earn $14 million in the last year of his contract with the New York Yankees in 2013, Rafael Soriano figured that he'd opt out and land a big payday after stepping in admirably for the injured Mariano Rivera in New York last season.

    Instead, Soriano has found himself with absolutely no suitors, even from teams such as the Detroit Tigers, who are contenders without an established option to turn to in the ninth inning.

    Barring some sort of catastrophic injury to another team's bullpen, the 32-year-old Soriano likely will have to swallow his pride and take a one-year deal at far less money than he would have made had he simply stayed put in the Bronx.

Winners: Detroit Tigers

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    Detroit may have only made one move via free agency so far, but the Tigers made it count.

    In 37-year-old right fielder Torii Hunter, the Tigers land one of the most consistent players in baseball over the past decade, both at the plate and in the field.

    Offensively, Hunter joins one of the most formidable lineups in baseball, one that will be bolstered by the return of All-Star Victor Martinez and already has Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera on board.

    Defensively, Hunter is a Gold Glove-caliber defender who, next to Austin Jackson in center field, will have two-thirds of Comerica Park's expansive outfield on lockdown.

Losers: Boston Red Sox

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    After clearing out more than $200 million of future payroll in their blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers this past August, front office executives in Boston spoke of a "disciplined approach" to signing players going forward.

    Well, it seems that general manager Ben Cherington and the powers that be for the Red Sox understand the word "discipline" to mean a far different thing than the rest of us, given their choices in free agency so far.

    I understand the Mike Napoli signing (three years, $39 million), because while there's some risk involved, Boston needed a first baseman, and Napoli was the best available.

    We can't beat them up too much on that one.

    But committing nearly $50 million to outfielders Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes, well, that's a different story altogether, especially when you consider the plethora of outfield options they already have in-house: Daniel Nava, Jerry Sands and Ryan Kalish.

    Gomes, 32, was an on-base machine for the Oakland A's in 2012, getting on base nearly 38 percent of the time. But he's not an everyday player, and $5 million per season for a part-time player is a bit much.

    Victorino, also 32, is the bigger concern.

    A player whose value is largely predicated on his ability to run, Victorino is coming off of the worst season of his nine-year career.

    Between Boston's recent failed experiment with Carl Crawford and the other options that were available via free agency—B.J. Upton and Nick Swisher, specifically—Boston's money could have been better spent elsewhere.

    Sure, both Upton and Swisher would have been more expensive than Victorino, but they are better players than the "Flyin' Hawaiian."

    Couple that with their inaction on the starting pitching front, and Boston's offseason hasn't been anything to get excited about.

    You get what you pay for, and for Boston, that's not going to result in much of an improvement in the win column.

Winners: Atlanta Braves

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    Entering the offseason, most were under the belief that re-signing center fielder Michael Bourn, who I predicted would land a five-year, $55 million deal back in October, was going to be far too expensive a proposition for the Atlanta Braves.

    Instead, the Braves surprised everyone by signing B.J. Upton as Bourn's replacement, lavishing the outfielder with a five-year, $75.25 million deal, roughly $10 million more than I predicted Upton would walk away with.

    Upton isn't on the same level as Bourn was defensively, but Upton's combination of power and speed will serve him well hitting second in the Braves lineup between Martin Prado and Jason Heyward.

    Atlanta also made two shrewd signings in backup catcher Gerald Laird and outfielder Reed Johnson, both solid veterans who provide depth.

    While there is still work left to be done, Atlanta has done well for themselves in free agency thus far.

Losers: Seattle Mariners

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    As reported by multiple sources, including Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal (via Twitter), Seattle has been one of the most ardent suitors of the biggest prize left on the free-agent market, outfielder Josh Hamilton.

    While the Mariners continue to wait for the 31-year-old slugger to decide on where he'll call home in 2013, there are no guarantees that Hamilton is coming to the Emerald City—and if he doesn't, the Mariners will be left scrambling, trying to add a quality power bat that their lineup so desperately needs.

    Nick Swisher isn't going to sit around waiting for the Mariners to call, and ESPN's Jim Bowden tweets that the Cleveland Indians are hot on the trail of outfielder Nick Swisher, the next best power hitter available after Hamilton.

    So here's the rub: What happens in Seattle if Hamilton decides to go elsewhere, and their backup plan (you'd have to figure that's Swisher) is already signed?

    The Mariners would either be forced to use their young pitching prospects to go trade for a quality power hitter, trade lesser players for a lesser power hitter, or abandon the idea of adding pop to their anemic lineup altogether.

    If they land Hamilton, then it's all a moot point.

    But there's nothing to indicate that's going to happen, and Seattle simply cannot afford to put all of their eggs in Hamilton's basket, leaving the biggest move of their offseason being the signing of Jason Bay, who has hit a total of 26 home runs over the past three years.