Key Takeaways from Week 6 of MLB Hot Stove Chatter
We are a week removed from the Major League Baseball winter meetings, but the action has cooled only slightly.
The last eight days provided a headline trade that furthered the Cincinnati Reds' rebuilding project, and the Los Angeles Dodgers lost a player they thought they had acquired. But nothing was as noteworthy as the next-best starting pitcher coming off the market when the San Francisco Giants signed Johnny Cueto.
That deal made the Giants a favorite in the National League West and jump-started the week in hot stove happenings.
It's time to examine the week’s takeaways, including San Francisco's new front-line arm.
Dodgers' Disappointments Mounting
This offseason started slowly for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it appeared things were about to get smoking hot when they agreed to trade for Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman during the winter meetings.
Because of that, Los Angeles left the meetings only having come to an agreement with right-handed free agent Hisashi Iwakuma. But on Thursday, the agreement fell apart when Iwakuma failed his physical, which led to him signing a one-year deal with his previous team, the Seattle Mariners.
Both those deals collapsed after the Dodgers refused to outbid the Arizona Diamondbacks for Zack Greinke, who signed a deal struck at the 11th hour. That leaves Los Angeles steaming toward Christmas without having made a single impact trade or signing this offseason.
This week's three-team trade in which the Dodgers sent a trio of prospects to the Reds for what most see as an upgrade could have been a way to stockpile prospects for a later trade. But for now, it did nothing to improve the big league club the way the rival Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants did.
Los Angeles is rumored to be working on deals with the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays for a starter, according to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports. But Indians general manager Mike Chernoff told MLB Network Radio: "We're in a really strong spot when every team's calling us on our [starting pitching, but] we have no interest in trading those guys."
This has certainly been a disappointing offseason for the Dodgers to this point, though it is not over, and the team is in great position to pull off a blockbuster trade.
Cueto Could Become Best Offseason Bargain
Johnny Cueto is an ace. Let us not forget that, and let us not be completely blinded by a tiny fraction of time over the last handful of seasons. The guy is a legitimate No. 1 starter, and the numbers prove as much.
But Cueto, for whatever reason, was treated as a pariah on the free-agent market and lowballed at every turn. Eventually, he caved and agreed to a below-market contract with the San Francisco Giants: six years, $130 million.
A pitcher with Cueto's track record is usually worth about $70 million more over a similar time period, according to what the open market has borne over the last couple of offseasons. In other words, Cueto could be a big-time bargain for the Giants.
He has an opt-out clause after the second year of the deal, which includes $46 million guaranteed. If Cueto pitches like an ace, or something close to what he had been with the Reds since 2011, he may choose to opt out to seek another big contract.
In that case, the Giants wouldn't have to pay a pitcher entering his mid-30s big bucks—and they would have gotten ace-like production from someone they payed like a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. It's a win-win.
Of course, Cueto could age poorly, and the Giants would be on the hook for the entire deal. But even then, considering the market for starting pitchers is going up and up, that wouldn't look so bad.
Reds' Rebuild off to Uninspiring Start
The Cincinnati Reds' rebuild started in July when they traded Johnny Cueto to the Kansas City Royals, and the consensus was the Reds did quite well in that deal.
They had more chips to move in Aroldis Chapman and Todd Frazier, but things are not looking as promising as they did when the offseason started.
This week, the Reds traded two years of Frazier to the Chicago White Sox in a three-team deal. In return, they got three Los Angeles Dodgers prospects who might not be as good as the trio the White Sox sent to the Dodgers. And since Los Angeles held on to its elite prospects and stockpiled others, one has to wonder what Cincinnati is seeing in its return that other evaluators are not.
The Reds are also working on a deal to send second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Washington Nationals, but they are not likely to get much in return aside from salary relief.
To top it all off, Chapman, who could have brought Cincinnati a significant package of young players, is virtually untradable right now as MLB investigates domestic violence allegations against him. That is why the Dodgers did not complete their deal for Chapman, which had been agreed to earlier this month.
The Reds are not going to compete in the National League Central anytime soon, and it seems like this offseason has pushed back their timeline.
Molina's Lingering Thumb Injury Will Hit Cardinals Hard
Pitching was certainly a strength of the St. Louis Cardinals last season, but they have since lost John Lackey in free agency and Lance Lynn to Tommy John surgery. Beyond those two hits, Carlos Martinez had a shoulder issue that caused him to be shut down at the end of last season.
The pitching concerns are real, and so is the possibility Yadier Molina will not be ready for Opening Day after he had a second surgery to repair a thumb ligament. Molina is as important to the Cardinals staff's success as the pitchers themselves, evidenced by his major league-leading 2.80 catcher's ERA, far and away the lowest in the game.
His backup, Tony Cruz, had a 3.51 catcher's ERA and is nowhere near the defender Molina is when healthy.
With the Chicago Cubs improving all over the field during the offseason, the Molina situation is another major setback for St. Louis. If he misses significant time during the regular season or is limited when he returns, things could get worse.
The Cardinals' hold on the division was likely gone before this news about Molina broke, but now they might not even be the second-best team in the National League Central. The Pittsburgh Pirates did finish as the runners-up last season with 98 wins.