Breaking Down the Impact of the Week's Biggest MLB Moves
This has been a week worthy of the Hot Stove Hall of Fame.
Though the winter meetings don't kick off until Monday, there were enough free-agent signings and trades made over the last few days for several winter meetings. Notably, the two best free agents are off the board, and some big pieces got moved via the trade market.
Since inspecting the impact of every deal that went down this week would take up a whole 'nother week, what I'm going to do instead is take a look at the 13 "biggest" deals that went down, analyzing their impact on both individual clubs and the offseason market as a whole.
Let's take it away...
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.
Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners
The Deal: 10 years for $240 million
Enter Cano. He owns a 141 OPS+ since 2010 and has hit more home runs (204) through the age of 30 than any second baseman in history not named Alfonso Soriano. That's a track record of a guy who can help Seattle's offense, and Cano should help at the gate as well.
The $240 million part of Cano's deal is fine. With plenty of TV money coming their way and only King Felix signed long-term, the Mariners can afford it. It's the 10 years that are concerning, especially given that he's already in his 30s.
Per Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, Seattle's wish list includes still-available stars like Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, a trade for David Price is another possibility. The Mariners have Cano, but they're very likely not done yet.
As for the Yankees, they obviously need a second baseman now. Omar Infante is the top option on the free-agent market, and Brandon Phillips is there on the trade market. Neither is on Cano's level, but the bright side for the Bombers is that the money not going to Cano can now be spent elsewhere.
And as we'll see shortly, it already is being spent elsewhere.
Jacoby Ellsbury to the New York Yankees
Story: Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com
The Deal: Seven years for $153 million (with $21 million option for eighth year and no-trade clause)
In Brett Gardner, the Yankees already had a speedy center fielder who could also lead off.
But they went for Ellsbury anyway, and in doing so acquired arguably the league's best baserunner and one of its top defensive center fielders. Baserunning and defense alone played major parts in Ellsbury ranking 13th in fWAR in 2013, and we all remember his 32-homer outburst in 2011. Yankee Stadium's short porch could revive some of that lost power.
The Yankees had better hope for that. Without any power, Ellsbury's contract could become an albatross once his speed starts to go. It's a good thing New York's current albatross deals are nearing their end.
When this deal was struck, it became up in the air whether there was still a place for Cano in The Bronx. Now that he's gone, that question has effectively been answered.
Elsewhere, Shin-Soo Choo is probably a happy man. He's undeniably the top leadoff man on the market now with Ellsbury spoken for. Clubs in need of one of those could certainly get into a bidding war for him.
The Red Sox are a team that could be interested in Choo after losing Ellsbury, but he wouldn't fill the hole they have in center field. With no great candidates on the open market, they'll either have to turn to the trade market or just stay in-house with Jackie Bradley Jr. to fill the hole left in center by Ellsbury.
Curtis Granderson to the New York Mets
The Deal: Four years for $60 million
Left-handed power was hard to find on the Mets last year. In the end, only the Padres and Marlins got less power from lefty hitters.
Adding Granderson is a solid way for the Mets to fix this problem. Before battling through injuries in 2013, he hit 84 home runs between 2011 and 2012. Nobody else in MLB hit more than 74.
However, he strikes out a ton and hits too many fly balls to hit for average. He's also an iffy defender, and is likely past his prime with his 33rd birthday due up. Completely justifying his deal will require the Mets to succeed in the short term, and they're not set up for that just yet.
Granderson didn't have any obvious suitors outside of the Mets, but taking his power bat off the market should increase demand for the power bats that are still out there.
That list is pretty much down to Nelson Cruz among outfielders, and Shin-Soo Choo to a certain extent as well. And while Choo was a candidate to take Granderson's spot in the Yankees' outfield, that position was filled late on Friday night.
Carlos Beltran to the New York Yankees
The Deal: Three years for $45 million
Upon signing Ellsbury, the Yankees could have gone with an outfield with him in center, Brett Gardner in left and a platoon of Alfonso Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki in right.
Instead, it looks like Beltran's the man for right field, and his bat helps replace some of the pop the Yankees lost with Cano moving to Seattle. The two posted very similar ISOs in 2013, and it's important that Beltran hit for power from both sides of the plate.
The AAV of $15 million is a raise on the $13 million per year Beltran earned in St. Louis, but the real surprise is the three years. Jon Heyman and others were saying the Yankees didn't want to go over two for the veteran outfielder. However, the Yankees have to spend all that extra Cano money somehow.
With Ellsbury, Granderson and Beltran all accounted for, the market for top outfielders is down to Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz. And since Granderson and Beltran both made over $15 million per year with Ellsbury making over $20 million per year, both available players have to like the way the market is playing out.
Beltran was linked to all sorts of teams, including the Red Sox, Royals, Mariners, Tigers and Reds. If those clubs are still interested in signing a big-name outfielder, they know who to call.
Joe Nathan to the Detroit Tigers
Story: Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com
The Deal: Two years for $20 million
Jose Valverde never really got settled closing games for the Tigers in 2012, and Joaquin Benoit ran out of gas after stabilizing the ninth inning for much of 2013.
The Tigers are thus getting the one thing their closer role needed most with Nathan coming aboard: stability. He's an all-time great closer, and is coming off a season in which he posted a ridiculous 297 ERA+ with 43 saves.
However, expectations for Nathan need to be held in check. Repeating his 2013 season will be extraordinarily difficult. In light of that, so will living up to his contract. Only the absolute best of the closing crop are worth $10 million per year.
As hard as it is for a closer to live up to a $10 million salary, that's the price the market for closers was set at when Nathan signed. That reality could have played into the contract Brian Wilson signed with the Dodgers, which guarantees him $10 million in 2014.
Two guys who have to like the sound of this are Fernando Rodney and Grant Balfour, as well as the guy Nathan is replacing in Detroit. Benoit is not a "proven closer," but he can easily make a case for himself as an elite late-inning reliever and, thus, worthy of some serious cash.
Mike Napoli to the Boston Red Sox
The Deal: Two years and $32 million
Red Sox Impact
David Ortiz was Boston's most productive regular at the plate with a 160 OPS+ in 2013, but behind him was Napoli with a 129 OPS+. And where Ortiz was the Red Sox's main lefty power source, Napoli was the team's main righty power source. Keeping him around was always in Boston's interest.
Napoli ended up earning $13 million in 2013 despite signing for only $5 million guaranteed. Tack on his new deal, and the Red Sox will pay him $45 million over three years rather than the $39 million the two sides initially agreed to last winter. But since Napoli proved to be an excellent defensive first baseman in 2013, a raise was indeed in order.
Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com reported on Friday that the Mariners, Marlins and Rangers were all in on Napoli along with the Red Sox. Any of the three could have used some righty power at first base.
With Napoli spoken for, however, that market is down to Corey Hart, Mike Morse and Mark Reynolds. Though powerful, none of the three is nearly as appealing as Napoli. The three clubs that were in on Napoli may move on to Nelson Cruz instead, choosing any righty power over righty power at first base.
Hiroki Kuroda to the New York Yankees
The Deal: One year for $16 million
For all the talk about all their other targets, this is a move the Yankees absolutely needed to make.
Kuroda was the Yankees' best pitcher in 2013, pitching to a 122 ERA+ over 201.1 innings. And while he was still un-signed, all the Yankees had for their rotation were CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova.
The money in this deal is a $1 million raise on Kuroda's 2013 salary, with a few incentives on the side. And in a market that's paying eight figures for back-end guys, $16 million is a great deal for a No. 2-type like Kuroda.
The Yankees seemed to be the only team legitimately in on Kuroda. If he didn't re-up with them, the best bet appeared to be a return to Japan. Or just plain retirement.
But while there may have been no other teams in on Kuroda, his deal is relevant to other veteran starting pitchers who might be had on short-term deals. The most obvious candidates are A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon and Bronson Arroyo.
Since the first two had better seasons than anyone else on the open market in 2013 and the third is a proven innings-eater, they could become expensive after Kuroda's deal.
Scott Feldman to the Houston Astros
The Deal: Three years for $30 million
Astros starters pitched to a 4.72 ERA that ranked 28th in MLB last year, and none of their starters pitched more than 153.2 innings. They needed a reliable innings-eater.
That's what they've found in Feldman. He was close to a league-average pitcher with the Orioles in 2013, posting a 99 ERA+ in his 15 starts with them. But he's topped 180 innings both years he's made 30 starts, and could do so again.
A $30 million contract for Feldman does feel like an overpay, but not much of one in this market. With guys like Jason Vargas and Phil Hughes getting $8 million per year, $10 million per year is fair enough for an innings-eater like Feldman.
With guys like Vargas, Hughes, Feldman, Josh Johnson, Dan Haren and, to a certain extent, Ricky Nolasco and Scott Kazmir all signed, the list of mediocre starting pitchers has been pretty well pillaged.
However, that the going rate for mediocre starting pitchers is somewhere between $8 and $12 million (i.e. four years and $49 million for Nolasco) is great news for guys like Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez. They're better than mediocre, and are candidates for multi-year deals to boot.
It's a fair expectation that they'll each sign deals worth $15 million per year.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Miami Marlins
The Deal: Three years for $21 million
According to FanGraphs, not a single team got less WAR from its catchers in 2013 than the Marlins. In signing Saltalamacchia, they're getting a guy from a team that got the fifth-most WAR from its catchers.
Salty had a hand in that, posting a 118 OPS+ while playing passable defense. It will be hard for him to repeat the .372 BABIP that made his season such a success, but he'll be an upgrade for the Marlins even if his bat does regress.
And let's be real. In a market that gave Carlos Ruiz $26 million over three years and Brian McCann $17 million per year, $7 million per year for a 28-year-old catcher with a solid bat is a great deal for Miami.
Salty agreed to his deal the same day A.J. Pierzynski agreed to a one-year contract with the Red Sox. Like that, Salty's place in Boston was filled, and the only two viable starting options left were taken off the catcher market.
There's not much out there now. Any team looking for a major upgrade at catcher—the White Sox and Blue Jays come to mind—will have to look to the trade market for an answer. Sadly, there are no slam-dunk upgrades clearly available there either.
Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals
The Deal: RHP Doug Fister to Washington, INF/OF Steve Lombardozzi, LHP Ian Krol and LHP Robbie Ray to Detroit
The Nationals already had Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann. In adding Fister, they now have a guy who's ninth among starters in fWAR since 2011.
In short: the Nationals now have one of baseball's best starting rotations. That they gave up two spare parts and a non-elite prospect to arrange it makes this deal highway robbery in their favor.
The Tigers will move Drew Smyly into their rotation to take Fister's place, and have spent some of the money saved in trading Fister on Nathan. Put together, the two moves weakened Detroit's rotation while also taking a big piece out of their bullpen, where Smyly was a quiet success in 2013.
As such, it's hard to like the Fister deal for the Tigers. Maybe they're not done adding pieces yet, but they won't do better than him on the free-agent market. A defining strength of theirs has been weakened.
If nothing else, this deal puts to rest the rumors about the Nats possibly making a move for Max Scherzer. Their rotation is all set now.
As for the Tigers, they won't replace Fister on the free-agent market. But one thing they might do is shop elsewhere. Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski downplayed the possibility of another deal, according to MLive.com, but Shin-Soo Choo would be a great fit in left field and at the top of Detroit's lineup.
Dexter Fowler to the Houston Astros
The Deal: CF Dexter Fowler and a PTBNL to Houston, RHP Jordan Lyles and OF Brandon Barnes to Colorado
Fowler is an easy upgrade for a center field job that had no stability in 2013. His 101 career OPS+ gives him about an average bat, and over the last three years he's been about a 2-3 WAR player. And while he hasn't yet realized his full potential yet despite being 27, perhaps he will in Houston.
The Astros can't lose in finding out. They parted with nothing they'll miss, and Fowler's contract can be easily traded when top prospect George Springer is ready.
Barnes will give the Rockies some depth for their outfield, and Lyles depth for their rotation. He still has room to grow at the age of 23, but fastball-breaking ball pitchers like him don't have a great track record at Coors Field.
The real benefit for the Rockies in this deal was clearing Fowler's $7.35 million salary for 2014. That money has already been spent on Justin Morneau, who Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com says has been signed for $12.5 million over two years.
With Ellsbury and Granderson signed, the two best center field options on the market have been claimed. Fowler could have been a backup plan for clubs interested in either one, but he's gone now too.
The team that could be most impacted by these moves is the Mariners. They were consistently linked to Ellsbury as a suitor, and Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com reported they were in on Fowler in November. If they still want a center fielder, they'll have to pursue other options now.
Norichika Aoki to the Kansas City Royals
The Deal: RF Norichika Aoki to Kansas City, LHP Will Smith to Milwaukee
Per FanGraphs, Royals right fielders own a .248 average and a .297 on-base percentage over the last two seasons. Aoki has hit .287 with a .355 OBP in his only two big league seasons, so this is yet another square peg going into a square hole.
Smith had a 128 ER+ in 2013, but only in 19 appearances. He likely would have played second fiddle to Tim Collins, and perhaps to Danny Duffy as well. Smith's a piece the Royals didn't need.
Mike Gonzalez was Milwaukee's primary lefty reliever in 2013, and he had an 85 ERA+ and walked 4.5 batters per nine innings. Smith is unproven, but the bar is low.
Moving Aoki also means some musical chairs in the outfield. According to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Ryan Bruan is moving to right field. Khris Davis will stay in left. He, Braun and Carlos Gomez look like a good trio on paper following Davis' 153 OPS+ showing in 2013.
The Royals had been strongly linked to Beltran, and Ken Rosenthal said their acquisition of Aoki wasn't going to change that.
With Beltran signing with the Yankees, so much for that. While the Royals might get in on Cruz or Choo in lieu of Beltran, it seems more likely they'll stick with an outfield of Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Aoki.
Jim Johnson to the Oakland A's
The Deal: RHP Jim Johnson to Oakland, INF/OF Jemile Weeks to Baltimore
The A's lost their closer when Grant Balfour hit the free-agent waters. Now they have a new one. And while Johnson wasn't as good as his 50 saves indicated, he did post a 143 ERA+ in 2013 and should benefit from exchanging Oriole Park at Camden Yards for O.co Coliseum.
That the A's will have to pay good money for Johnson (maybe around $11 million) in arbitration is the downside. The bright side is that they only gave up a player they had no real use for.
It's not a given that Weeks will be able to help the Orioles right away. His bat has gone missing since his breakout season in 2011, and exactly where he fits on the field is a question mark.
Weeks might emerge as a speedy utilityman, however, and the $11-ish million the Orioles don't have to spend on Johnson can now be spent on upgrades elsewhere. For them, it was a good business deal.
With extra money in their pocket, the Orioles can pursue rotation depth to replace Scott Feldman, as well as a bat for their outfield. Somebody like Nelson Cruz would be a good fit for them, and could be affordable if his age, shortcomings and ties to draft-pick compensation scare other suitors away.
That Johnson has found a home via the trade market is more good news for Balfour and Rodney. The trade might also explain why Ken Rosenthal says that the Phillies have put Jonathan Papelbon on the market. With closer options limited, dangling him can't hurt.