MLB Free Agency: Winners and Losers of the 2014 Offseason Through January

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2014

MLB Free Agency: Winners and Losers of the 2014 Offseason Through January

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    We've reached the month of February, meaning pitchers and catchers will begin reporting to spring training in a matter of weeks.

    The month January was not nearly as busy as prior months, but it was not without notable moves. Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka finally found a new team, and Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw netted a record-breaking extension, among other notable moves.

    There is still work to be done this offseason, with handful of impact arms still on the market and a few everyday position players still looking for new homes as well.

    As things stand now, though, here is a look at the biggest winners and losers of the MLB offseason.

Loser: Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    It's no big surprise that the starting pitching market was slow to develop this offseason, as a number of teams were playing the waiting game with Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka and weren't willing to spend on the market's other top arms until he picked his team.

    However, the four-year, $50 million deal that Matt Garza signed with the Milwaukee Brewers is less than most expected him to cost, and he was arguably the most coveted of the "big three" starters due to the fact that he did not have a qualifying offer tied to him.

    The remaining two, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, may have to settle for less than they were originally looking for when the offseason kicked off.

    The most recent reports on Santana had him seeking a four-year, $60 million deal, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. But Bob Dutton of The News Tribune pointed out that he is unlikely to get more than a three-year, $40 million deal at this point and could have to settle for less.

    Add to all of that the fact that A.J. Burnett recently announced that he plans on pitching in 2014 and is willing to sign somewhere other than Pittsburgh, and it's been a rough week for the free-agent outlook of Santana and Jimenez.

Winner: Milwaukee Brewers

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    Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

    It had been an incredibly quiet offseason for the Milwaukee Brewers up until last week, as they had yet to sign a free agent to a major league contract and had made only a few small additions of note.

    Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay were signed to minor league deals to compete for the first base job, and the team did pull off a trade when it shipped outfielder Norichika Aoki to the Kansas City Royals for left-handed reliever Will Smith.

    That changed this past weekend, though, as the team agreed to terms with right-hander Matt Garza on a four-year, $50 million deal that includes a $13 million option for a fifth year.

    He now joins a Brewers rotation that includes Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Marco Estrada and Wily Peralta, and the roation could really surprise if guys can stay healthy. For the second straight year, the Brewers were able to swoop in and land a solid veteran starter for less than he was expected to cost.

Loser: Baltimore Orioles

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    After 14 straight losing seasons, the Baltimore Orioles surprised many by reaching the playoffs in 2012. They didn't follow that up with a return trip this past season, but they were in the thick of things for most of the season before finishing 85-77.

    As the Orioles look to keep pace in an always stacked AL East, they've done very little this offseason, and by all accounts they look to be a worse team heading into the 2014 season.

    Their big move has been trading closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland A's for second baseman and bounce-back candidate Jemile Weeks. However, that's 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 lost outfielder Nate McLouth and is set to use some combination of David Lough, Nolan Reimold, Delmon Young and Henry Urrutia in left field and at designated hitter.

    A deal to sign Grant Balfour fell apart after heath questions popped up, and he's since signed with the Tampa Bay Rays.

    The Orioles also failed to add anyone to the rotation after their starters ranked 27th in the MLB with a 4.57 ERA. They are said to be "all-in" on A.J. Burnett, according to a tweet from Peter Gammons of ESPN. He has not been signed to this point, though, and all in all it's been a rough offseason for a team looking to return to the playoffs.

Loser: Philadelphia Phillies

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    After going 81-81 in 2012 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Philadelphia Phillies had another disappointing season last year when they slipped to 73-89 and finished fourth in the NL East.

    They have a ton of money invested in an aging superstar core, and their window to contend for a title has seemingly closed. With that, the Phillies' best course of action seemed to be blowing things up and rebuilding—or at the very least trying to move some veteran pieces.

    Instead, they re-signed catcher Carlos Ruiz (35) to a three-year deal and signed Marlon Byrd (36) to a two-year contract to be their right fielder. The team also signed fringe starter Roberto Hernandez to fill the No. 5 spot in the rotation after he posted a 4.98 ERA in 24 starts last season.

    The Phillies spent just $46.5 million combined on those three guys, but at this point it looks like a run at .500 is the best the team can hope for in 2014. Selling as opposed to buying would have been a better approach this offseason.

Winner: Chicago White Sox

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The Chicago White Sox began a long overdue rebuild at the deadline last year, trading Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton. There was still work to be done this offseason, though, as they continued to look for big league-ready young talent.

    The team signed Cuban defector Jose Abreu to a six-year deal at the beginning of the offseason to replace Paul Konerko at first base, and he should immediately provide a run-producing presence in the middle of the order.

    It then pulled off a pair of trades with the Arizona Diamondbacks, landing center fielder Adam Eaton and third baseman Matt Davidson. Eaton profiles as a plus table-setter atop the lineup, 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. The White Sox may still be a few years from legitimate contention, but they are heading in the right direction, and on the surface, it looks to have been a very successful offseason.

Winner: Washington Nationals

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    SP Doug Fister
    SP Doug FisterRick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

    There have been a number of trades made this offseason, but the Washington Nationals pulled off the best one of all, acquiring right-hander Doug Fister from the Detroit Tigers.

    All it cost them was two spare parts in utility man Steve Lombardozzi and middle reliever Ian Krol, as well as a mid-level pitching prospect in Robbie Ray. Fister now joins Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann to form arguably the best rotation in baseball.

    On top of that, the Nationals also landed a much-needed veteran left-handed reliever in Jerry Blevins in a trade with the Oakland A's and signed free agent outfielder Nate McLouth to a two-year, $10.75 million deal. The team dealt with injuries to their outfield last season, and McLouth is someone capable of stepping into an everyday role if needed.

Winner: New York Yankees

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    After missing the playoffs for just the second time in the past 19 years, the New York Yankees set out looking to overhaul their roster and spend big this offseason, and they did just that.

    First, they signed three of the market's top bats in Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years, $153 million), Brian McCann (five years, $85 million) and Carlos Beltran (three years, $45 million) to help bolster an offense that was hit hard by injuries last season. They ranked 16th in the MLB in runs scored and 24th in team batting average in 2013.

    Then the Yankees won the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, adding arguably the top arm on the market with a seven-year, $155 million deal. He joins a rotation that features CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, who was also re-signed to a one-year, $16 million deal.

    Throw in the additions of Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton, and there is no question it's been an incredibly busy offseason for the Yankees. Time will tell if it's enough for them to contend for a title once again, but they've landed everyone they targeted and have put themselves in a great position.

Loser: Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales

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    RF Nelson Cruz
    RF Nelson CruzCary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    Last offseason, it was right-hander Kyle Lohse and center fielder Michael Bourn who were hurt by the new qualifying offer system. Both were forced to wait until late in the offseason to find new homes, and both signed for less than they were originally seeking.

    This time around, it's a trio of position players who appear to have been hit hardest by the qualifying offer, as Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales all remain on the market entering February.

    Were it not for the draft pick compensation tied to him, coupled with the fact that he missed the final 50 games of last season serving a PED suspension, Cruz likely would have scored something in the neighborhood of the four-year, $60 million deal Curtis Granderson got from the New York Mets. Now, he'll likely have to settle for a one- or two-year deal and perhaps less than the $14.1 million he turned down.

    When Jhonny Peralta signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in November, it made Stephen Drew the lone shortstop left on the market capable of serving as an everyday shortstop. However, as a slightly above-average option at best, no one has been willing to part with a pick or to pony up the kind of money he's looking for to sign Drew.

    Morales may have been hurt most by the qualifying offer, as he could wind up having to wait until after the June draft, when teams no longer have to give up a pick to find a new home. He managed 23 home runs and 80 RBI while playing his home games in Safeco Field last year, but he's limited defensively and is best served as a DH.

Winner: Robinson Cano

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    Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

    Way back before the offseason ever began, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that Robinson Cano was seeking a massive 10-year, $300 million contract on the open market.

    However, the highest the Yankees were willing to go was a seven-year, $175 million deal, and Cano wound up testing the open market. When all was said and done, he didn't get $300 million, but he did wind up with third-largest contract in MLB history at 10 years and $240 million.

    It was a clear case of a player following the money, and Cano wound up with an awful lot of it. The Mariners may not be in as good of a position as the Yankees to win in 2014, but they are a team on the rise with some good young talent, and there are certainly worse places to land.

Winner: Clayton Kershaw

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    Already in the argument for best pitcher in the game entering the 2013 season, Clayton Kershaw left little doubt that he is the best in the business, as the 25-year-old enjoyed the best season of his career and one of the best in recent memory.

    He was just 16-9, but he had a 1.83 ERA, 0.915 WHIP and 232 strikeouts in 236 innings of work. That earned him a third straight ERA title and second NL Cy Young award.

    Set to hit the free-agent market next offseason, there was little doubt the Los Angeles Dodgers would do whatever it took to keep from losing him. The question was just how much it would cost to lock up the game's best pitcher.

    After countless rumors involving unfathomable amounts of money, Kershaw finally agreed to a seven-year, $215 million deal. That surpassed Justin Verlander (seven years, $180 million) for the richest contract ever signed by a pitcher.

    The deal also includes an opt-out for Kershaw after five years, meaning he can hit the free-agent market again at the age of 30 and perhaps score an even bigger deal from there.