Biggest Winners and Losers of MLB's Offseason with Most Big Names Gone
This past weekend saw another major free agent find a new home with Shin-Soo Choo agreeing to a seven-year, $130 million deal with the Texas Rangers.
There are certainly still some impact players available, especially on the pitching side of things, but the market has thinned considerably here at the end of December and with the winter meetings already long passed.
It's hard to really say who the true winners and losers of the offseason are until we see teams in action, and I'll be the first to admit at this time last year I didn't love what the Red Sox had done with their offseason. Things turned out OK in Boston.
That said, here is my take on the biggest winners and losers of the offseason now that most of the big names are off the market.
Winners: Setup Relievers
The price of good starting pitching continues to steadily climb, and signing a top-tier closer costs a pretty penny as well, but this offseason more so than any in recent memory has seen a number of non-closer relievers cash in as free agents.
Left-handers Boone Logan (three-year, $16.5 million) and Javier Lopez (three-year, $13 million) netted three-year deals, while fellow southpaws J.P. Howell (two-year, $11 million), Matt Thornton (two-year, $7 million) and Manny Parra (two-year, $5.5 million) earned multiple years as well.
Joe Smith (three-year, $13.75 million) has been the top earner among right-handed options, while Joaquin Benoit (two-year, $15.5 million), Edward Mujica (two-year, $9.5 million) and Randy Webb (two-year, $4.5 million) got two years. The Dodgers also gave Brian Wilson $10 million on a one-year contract.
Losers: Arizona Diamondbacks
Let me preface this by saying that Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed are both solid players. They fill key needs in the middle of the lineup and at the back of the bullpen for a Diamondbacks team looking to bounce back in 2014.
That said, trading Adam Eaton, Tyler Skaggs and Matt Davidson to acquire those two guys was far too steep a price to pay. All three of those guys ranked among the Baseball America "Top 100" at the start of last season, and they have the upside to be stars in this league.
Granted, A.J. Pollock emerged as the starting center fielder over Eaton, Skaggs was passed by Archie Bradley as the team's top pitching prospect and Davidson was stuck behind Martin Prado on the depth chart.
Still, that was too much young talent to give up for a pair of second-tier players, even if they did fill a need. They sold low on Ian Kennedy at the trade deadline and likely could have gotten more for Justin Upton had they moved him at the right time, and this looks like another miscalculation by the front office on the trade market.
Winners: Midlevel Starting Pitchers
The market's top free-agent starters in Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana have all yet to sign to this point, and the same goes for solid veterans A.J. Burnett and Bronson Arroyo. However, a number of second and third-tier pitching options have cashed in with multi-year deals this offseason.
Ricky Nolasco (four-year, $49 million), Jason Vargas (four-year, $32 million), Scott Feldman (three-year, $30 million) and Phil Hughes (three-year, $24 million) all managed to top two years on their deals. Meanwhile, Tim Hudson (two-year, $23 million), Scott Kazmir (two-year, $22 million), Bartolo Colon (two-year, $20 million) and Mike Pelfrey (two-year, $11 million) managed to land multi-year contracts as well.
As the price of starting pitching continues to skyrocket, more and more middle- or even back-of-the-rotation starters will get big money. With draft-pick compensation now likely to be tied to the top starters (though not to Garza this winter), teams are even more likely to targets second-tier guys.
Losers: Baltimore Orioles
After 14 straight losing seasons, the Orioles have turned things around in the past two years, going 93-69 to make the playoffs in 2012 and staying in the thick of things for much of 2013 before finishing 85-77.
Looking to keep pace with the rest of a talent-rich AL East, Baltimore had a number of needs to address this offseason. To this point, the Orioles have been mostly quiet as the free-agent pool continues to shrink by the day.
Their big move was trading closer Jim Johnson to the A's for second baseman and bounce-back candidate Jemile Weeks. However, that has left a hole at the back of the bullpen, and Weeks is far from a sure thing to shore up second base.
The team also needs a replacement for Nate McLouth in left field, as he signed with the Nationals as a free agent. David Lough was acquired in a trade with the Royals, but he's probably better suited as an oft-used fourth outfielder.
The Orioles also find themselves in a messy situation with free-agent closer Grant Balfour after they pulled a two-year deal off the table following his physical. But there have now been mixed reports about his health, and he could now file a grievance against Baltimore, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
Winners: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox took the first steps in rebuilding at the trade deadline last year, moving the likes of Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton. But there was still a lot of work to be done for a team thin on young talent.
They started their offseason by signing highly regarded Cuban slugger Jose Abreu to a six-year deal to replace Paul Konerko at first base, then pulled off a pair of trades to add Adam Eaton in center field and Matt Davidson at third base.
Eaton profiles as a plus table-setter, while Davidson has good power potential and should be able to step into an everyday role at third base right out of the gates.
Those three players will join Chris Sale and Avisail Garcia to form a decent young core of high-upside players on the South Side. While they may still be a few years from legitimate contention, they certainly look to be heading in the right direction.
Losers: Philadelphia Phillies
After a disappointing 81-81 season in 2012 that was preceded by five straight division titles, the Phillies fell off even further this past year when they went just 73-89 and slipped to fourth in the NL East standings.
With an aging core of superstars making a ton of money, rebuilding seemed like the best course of action for them last July at the trade deadline and on into this offseason. Instead, they have made a handful of signings that should keep them competitive but still on the outside looking in as far as contending goes.
Catcher Carlos Ruiz, 34, was signed to a three-year, $26 million extension after a down offensive season, and 36-year-old Marlon Byrd, who appears to be a prime candidate for significant regression after a surprising season last year, signed a two-year, $16 million deal. Right-hander Roberto Hernandez was also signed to fill out the starting rotation.
Granted they didn't spend a ton of money to sign the trio, but the signings essentially represent the opposite of rebuilding, and it looks like the team will limp along through another subpar season in 2014.
Winners: Texas Rangers
Last offseason, the Rangers lost a good deal of thunder from what was arguably the most feared lineup in all of baseball. Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young all joined new teams, and Texas failed to make a splashy signing to replace them.
This winter has been a different story, as the team pulled off a blockbuster deal to send Ian Kinsler to the Tigers for slugger Prince Fielder. Then, this past weekend, they agreed to terms on a seven-year, $130 million deal with the market's top remaining bat in Shin-Soo Choo.
The Rangers' pitching staff still needs to stay healthy and productive if they are going to keep the A's from winning their third straight AL West title, but Texas has once again made itself a force to be reckoned with on the offensive side of things.
Losers: Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew
Last offseason, the new qualifying-offer system went into effect in the MLB. As a result, Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse—who should have been two of the market's most sought-after free agents—had to wait until February before they finally found a new home.
As we quickly approach the month of January, six of the 13 players who received qualifying offers this year remain unsigned, with two in particular looking like they could have a long wait ahead of them in Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew.
Morales, 30, spent last season with the Mariners and hit .277/.336/.449 with 23 home runs and 80 RBI over a career-high 602 at-bats. He spent 122 of his 156 games as a designated hitter, and he has a -2.9 career dWAR, so he's best served remaining in a DH role at this point. His moderate power and run-production ability has not been enough for anyone to offer up a deal that includes draft-pick compensation.
Drew, 30, was the top shortstop available on the free-agent market alongside Jhonny Peralta. With Peralta agreeing to a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, Drew is the cream of the remaining crop.
He was solid last year, hitting .253/.333/.443 with 13 home runs and 67 RBI, and he is a plus defender. That said, Drew is just a year removed from a rough .223/.309/.348 season. That lack of consistent production could mean it takes a while for him to find a taker.
Winners: Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals pulled off the best trade of the offseason to this point, at least in my opinion, when they acquired Doug Fister from the Tigers for utility man Steve Lombardozzi, middle reliever Ian Krol and midlevel prospect Robbie Ray.
The 29-year-old Fister was 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA in his second full season with the Tigers last year, and he steps into a Nationals rotation that already includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.
They also filled a much-needed spot in the bullpen by acquiring left-hander Jerry Blevins from the Oakland A's. And they signed Nate McLouth to a two-year, $10.75 million deal to give them a fourth outfielder capable of stepping into an everyday role if injury strikes again.
Winner: Robinson Cano
Back before the offseason ever began, it was reported that Robinson Cano was seeking a massive 10-year, $300 million contract on the open market, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.
The highest the Yankees were willing to go on the second baseman was a seven-year, $175 million contract, and while Cano was not able to land the massive deal he was seeking, he did wind up signing the third-largest agreement in baseball history.
It was a clear case of a player following the money, as the Yankees are in a far better position to win this coming season than the Mariners, but that's not to say that Seattle is not a team headed in the right direction.
With an impressive young core of position players and a fantastic rotation fronted by arguably the best one-two punch in the game in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma—and joined by top prospects Taijuan Walker and James Paxton—there are far worse places to be in 2014 and beyond than Seattle.