Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2014 MLB Winter Meetings
After starting out slow on Monday and then building to a magnificent crescendo by mid-day Thursday, Major League Baseball's winter meetings are over.
Now that the flurry—nay, absolute avalanche—of signings and trades in San Diego are complete, here's the question: Are you all caught up on the transaction action?
If not, don't worry: We're here to run through a bunch of the winners and losers from one of the most hectic, chaotic and, most of all, exciting stretches of moves the sport has seen since the July 31 trade deadline.
Winner: Jon Lester, LHP, Chicago Cubs
For one thing, everyone can stop complaining that Jon Lester was holding up the entire pitching market now that the southpaw finally has signed—with the Chicago Cubs!—after the speculation and talks between the Cubs, Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants and others dragged on for weeks.
On top of that, the lefty gets to reunite with his former general manager, Theo Epstein, and try to make the Cubbies something they haven't been in a long time: relevant, if not outright contenders.
Oh, and netting $155 million while getting to say "smell ya later" to a Red Sox team that kept coming up short in its negotiations with him is enough to declare anyone a winner.
Winner and Loser: Boston Red Sox
On one hand, the Red Sox lost out on Lester—they reportedly came up a not insignificant $20 million short, per Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston—and still don't have an ace.
On the other, general manager Ben Cherington was able to remake the pitching staff by adding a pair of 200-inning mid-rotation arms in Rick Porcello (from the Detroit Tigers) and Wade Miley (from the Arizona Diamondbacks), per Ian Browne of MLB.com. The club also brought back former Red Sox pitcher Justin Masterson on an intriguing one-year roll-of-the-dice deal.
And even after making those moves, the Red Sox still have the pieces left to land an ace if they want to. Cole Hamels, anyone?
Winner: Max Scherzer, RHP, Free Agent
Put it this way: Imagine how much Max Scherzer, who turned down a $144 million extension with the Tigers last March—or $11 million less than Lester just got—is going to get as arguably the bigger prize and clearly the top name remaining on the free-agent market with Lester out of the way.
While the $200 million asking price that's been floated from his camp, via Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, might seem steep, there's a legitimate chance Scherzer could get it.
That would make a winner out of agent Scott Boras too.
Loser: Matt Kemp, OF, San Diego Padres
Leaving the big-money Los Angeles Dodgers—who have won the NL West the past two years and have an ownership on a crusade to win the World Series—in a trade reported by ESPN is bad enough for Matt Kemp.
The slugger, who led the majors with a .606 slugging percentage in the second half of 2014, also has to head down the road to San Diego to play in a park that makes right-handed power hitters look like Nick Punto.
Oh, and the Padres haven't finished with more than 77 wins since 2010.
Winner: Jimmy Rollins, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jimmy Rollins is basically doing the Matt Kemp experience but in reverse.
The veteran shortstop oh-so-wisely was willing to waive his no-trade rights to bolt from the sinking ship that is the Philadelphia Phillies and join the contending Dodgers.
To top it off, Rollins was born in California, so he'll be closer to home too.
Loser: Fans of the Oakland Athletics
Look, A's fans: You know well enough by now that it's never smart to count out GM Billy Beane or even judge his sometimes-questionable trades at first blush.
That said, the continued dismantling of a team that was arguably the best in baseball in July by unloading Brandon Moss and Jeff Samardzija (and Josh Donaldson before the meetings) has now turned Oakland into a club that is once again in full rebuild mode.
If that weren't tough enough to take, it's hard to justify the underwhelming returns Beane has managed in exchange for three of his best players.
In trying to defend Beane's maneuvers, here's Richard Justice for Sports on Earth: "In the last [two weeks], he has traded three All-Stars for nine players between the ages of 18 and 26 years old. Only one of them—third baseman Brett Lawrie—has significant Major League experience."
"What we're trying to do is walk that delicate balance to getting younger and also trying to be as good as we can as quickly as possible," Beane said via Justice. "How competitive we are is yet to be determined."
Winner: Chicago Baseball
Has any baseball city brought in more talent in the past few days than Chicago?
In addition to Lester, the Cubs signed right-hander Jason Hammel and traded for catcher Miguel Montero, giving them three key veterans to reinforce the emerging young core of prospects and barely big leaguers, like Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Addison Russell, on the North Side.
And on the South Side, the White Sox did very well to pick up righty Jeff Samardzija via trade (from you-know-who) and splurge on closer David Robertson ($46 million over four years) to solidify what was a terrible bullpen in 2014.
Suddenly, the rest of the teams in the two Central divisions are going to have to watch out for the clubs from the maybe-not-so-Second City.
Loser: Baltimore Orioles
While the rest of the AL East has been busy trying to get better of late, the Baltimore Orioles' "big move" was—wait for it—snagging a pair of right-handers, Logan Verrett and Jason Garcia (via trade from the Houston Astros), in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday, per Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com.
Sure, this club won the division with 96 double-yoos in 2014, but after failing to counteract any of its significant losses—Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller come to mind—and enduring odd rumors that general manager Dan Duquette was considering leaving for the Toronto Blue Jays, per Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun, the outlook for 2015 isn't nearly as bright.
"We are not about signing high-profile free agents," Duquette said via Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com. "We are about bringing good players through the farm system, we are about making trades, we are about being active in the Rule 5 Draft, signing international players, and that's who we are."
That doesn't mean things didn't get a heck of a lot tougher for the O's, as their subtractions are mounting—and so are the additions by the Red Sox, Blue Jays and, perhaps soon, the Yankees.
Winner: Brandon McCarthy, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Back in early July, when he was 3-10 with a 5.01 ERA while pitching terribly for the Arizona Diamondbacks, free-agent-to-be Brandon McCarthy might—might—have been a candidate to get a one-year deal guaranteeing him something like $8 million to $10 million (think: the $9.5 million Masterson just grabbed after his disastrous, injury-riddled campaign).
But after just three strong months—and all of 14 starts—with the New York Yankees, McCarthy essentially made himself upward of $40 million extra by turning his season (and career) around with a 2.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 8.2 K/9.
In ponying up $48 million over four years, the Dodgers are banking not only that McCarthy is more that second-half version but also that the injury-prone pitcher can stay relatively healthy. Through 2018.
Winner: Baseball Fans in General
This week was a crazy, fun and crazy-fun time to be a baseball fan.
While winter meetings of the past had proved to be more chatter than action, this year's was the opposite, as just about every rumored signing or trade came to fruition—and even a few that weren't rumored did too. At least, that's how it seemed.
"In all, MLB.com counted a whopping 79 players who changed teams via trade, free agency, waiver claims or the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft this past week in San Diego," writes Adam Berry of MLB.com.
There was a move involving at least one big-name player every day from Monday through Thursday. And the whole thing was capped off with a final 24 hours—from midday Wednesday through midday Thursday—that provided almost too much to keep track of in real time.
It's great to be a baseball fan, even in the anything-but-offseason.
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11.