Predicting Boom or Bust for Each Big 2016-17 MLB Offseason Move to Date

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2016

Predicting Boom or Bust for Each Big 2016-17 MLB Offseason Move to Date

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    Deals are made in MLB—both trades and free-agent signings—to make a team better. That's obvious. But it's worth saying nonetheless because that doesn't always end up being the case.

    Once games begin, some moves seem like bargains. Others become head-scratchers, and then some are just foolhardy.

    The final verdict on all of these deals won't be reached until the end of the 2017 season at least. But waiting for October is no fun. Let's take a look at how all the major moves of this MLB offseason break down right now.

Quick Reactions

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    RHP Bartolo Colon, Atlanta Braves

    Contract: One year, $12.5 million

    Whenever Bartolo Colon retires—heck, if he ever retires—his anti-aging regimen might become the subject of scientific study. At 43, Colon has more life in his right arm than some do at 23. While young minor leaguers are clamoring at the chance to make their MLB debuts, Colon is coming off a season in which he posted a 3.43 ERA and started 33 games. He has made at least 30 starts in each of the last four seasons, proving he is durable.

    Verdict: Boom

    RHP R.A. Dickey, Atlanta Braves

    Contract: One year, $8 million

    Perhaps the 2010 and 2012 seasons—R.A. Dickey posted a sub-three ERA in both—were aberrations. The knuckleballer is coming off a 2016 campaign in which he sported a 4.46 ERA, and he hasn't sniffed elite status since that 2012 season. But at this price and on a one-year deal, there's no risk. He's also reliable, having played in at least 30 games each year since 2011.

    Verdict: Boom

    C Jason Castro, Minnesota Twins

    Contract: Three years, $24.5 million

    In 2015 and 2016, Jason Castro hit .211 and .210, respectively. He gets on a base at a rate that elite hitters eclipse with batting average alone. Yeah, you read that right. He stinks offensively. Castro has built a career on what he can do behind the plate. His ability to handle a pitching staff is elite but hardly good enough to justify this contract considering he represents a huge hole in any lineup.

    Verdict: Bust

    RHP Edinson Volquez, Miami Marlins

    Contract: Two years, $22 million

    These days, it seems like teams desperate for pitching are forced to overpay for it. That was the case with the Miami Marlins, who were in need of a signing to bolster their starting rotation. The problem: Edinson Volquez is not that guy. After a 2016 season in which he posted a 5.37 ERA, there's more reason to question whether he'll overtax the bullpen than to suggest the right-hander will be an innings-eater in South Florida.

    Verdict: Bust

    DH/1B Kendrys Morales, Toronto Blue Jays

    Contract: Three years, $33 million

    Consider this a signing to try to counteract the departures of sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista (Note: As of this writing, neither player has signed but isn't expected to re-sign with Toronto). Morales is as good a power hitter as any of the two aforementioned right-handers, having hit 30 homers last season.

    Verdict: Boom

Boston Red Sox Acquire Chris Sale

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    To the Boston Red Sox: Chris Sale

    The left-handed Chris Sale will immediately enter Boston's starting rotation as its ace. He has been among MLB's dominant pitchers over the last several seasons. He has never made the postseason but has the ability to carry a staff through October.

    Sale has made five straight All-Star teams and finished in the top five in AL Cy Young voting each of the past four seasons. Concerns over his pitching motion appear to be unfounded, as Sale has appeared in at least 30 games in four of the last five seasons.

    Verdict: Boom

    To the Chicago White Sox: Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Basabe and Victor Diaz

    Having not made the playoffs since 2008, the Chicago White Sox were desperately in need of a reset. With a single trade, the organization's minor league system went from one of baseball's worst to among its best.

    Yoan Moncada, an infielder, is the top-rated prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com. The site ranks Michael Kopech, a right-handed pitcher who regularly throws over 100 mph, as the 30th-ranked prospect in the game. Luis Basabe (outfielder) and Victor Diaz (pitcher) are both high-ceiling guys who could make an impact down the road.

    Verdict: Boom

Washington Nationals Acquire Adam Eaton

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    To the Washington Nationals: Adam Eaton

    Adam Eaton gives the Nationals a bona fide leadoff hitter in front of 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper and 2016 NL MVP finalist Daniel Murphy. After joining the White Sox prior to the 2014 season, Eaton provided the team with a stable bat atop its lineup, slashing .300/.362/.401 that season, .287/.361/.431 in 2015 and .284/.362/.428 in 2016.

    He has added an element of power to his game, too, hitting 14 homers in each of the last two seasons. But Washington plans to put Eaton back in center field, where he was a disaster for the White Sox in 2015. He was so bad that they moved him to right field in 2016, where he became one of baseball's best defenders. The latter performance earned him interest from multiple teams on the trade market this winter, but to justify the package the Nationals sent to Chicago, Eaton will need to play center field at the elite level he played in right.

    Verdict: Bust

    To the White Sox: Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Dane Dunning

    The shock of this trade was the haul of prospects the White Sox got for Eaton—a far better package than anyone could have predicted. The right-handed Lucas Giolito is the top pitching prospect in the game and third overall, according to MLB.com. The site ranks Reynaldo Lopez, also a right-handed pitcher, 38th overall.

    The duo joins Kopech and Carson Fulmer (No. 58), who the White Sox drafted, giving the organization four pitchers in MLB.com's top 100 prospects. Should the quartet all reach their potential, Chicago will have a scary-good rotation in a few years.

    Verdict: Boom

Houston Astros Sign Carlos Beltran

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    Contract: One year, $16 million

    One-year deals are a baseball executive's favorite toy. There's no risk, no commitment. It only comes with upside, which makes the Carlos Beltran-to-Houston Astros deal one that can pay dividends for a club trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2016 campaign.

    At 39, the switch-hitting Beltran, a designated hitter, is the perfect fit in a lineup that boasts the best middle infield in baseball in second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa—both right-handed hitters. Beltran won't to carry the load offensively as he did with the New York Yankees in 2016 before the team shipped him to the Texas Rangers, but his 29 homers and 93 RBI last season certainly represent an upgrade in this lineup.

    Verdict: Boom

Houston Astros Sign Josh Reddick

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    Contract: Four years, $52 million

    After the Oakland Athletics shipped Josh Reddick to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a deadline deal last season, he flatlined. The corner outfielder hit .258/.307/.335 in 47 games with the Dodgers. But in 68 games with the A's in 2016, he slashed .296/.368/.449.

    Returning to the AL West, a division with which he is familiar, should help elevate his numbers from those he posted in Los Angeles. Reddick adds a left-handed bat to the Houston lineup and, though he had a subpar 2016 defensively, he is generally a serviceable corner outfielder.

    If Reddick can get on base in Houston at the clip he did with Oakland last season, the contract will be well worth it for the Astros, especially since he slots as a bottom-of-the-order hitter in 2017. His primary job will be to keep an inning going, which equates to getting on base however possible.

    Verdict: Boom

San Francisco Giants Sign Mark Melancon

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    Contract: Four years, $62 million

    At the time of its signing, Mark Melancon's contract was record-breaking for a reliever—that is, until closers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen signed even larger deals soon after.

    Melacon's contract may be, in part, due to a newfound emphasis on the value of relief pitching. He's also worth it, having saved 131 games over the past three seasons. And, well, the San Francisco Giants were desperate to sign a closer.

    After blowing saves in two games of their four-game NLDS with the Chicago Cubs, no team had a bigger priority this offseason than the Giants. They got one of baseball's best relivers in Melancon, who posted a 0.809 WHIP in 30 games with the Nationals last season after being traded to the club on July 30.

    Verdict: Boom

St. Louis Cardinals Sign Dexter Fowler

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    Contract: Five years, $82.5 million

    Dexter Fowler is a more St. Louis Cardinals-like player than the Chicago Cubs have traditionally coveted (though that has changed since Theo Epstein took over as the Cubs' president of baseball operations). Sure, Fowler earned notoriety as the leadoff hitter on the Cubs team that broke the franchise's 108-year World Series drought. The exclamation point on his tenure in Chicago came when he led off Game 7 of the World Series against the Cleveland Indians with a homer.

    But the center fielder is representative of the kind of player the smaller-market Cardinals have won with since 2000: a manufacturer of runs. Arguably baseball's most competitive franchise since the Joe Torre Yankees, St. Louis deviated from the way it traditionally won by relying more on home runs in 2016.

    During his final season in Chicago, Fowler slashed .276/.393/.447 and earned his first All-Star Game appearance. He's racked up at least 30 RBI and 60 runs in each of his past eight seasons.

    Verdict: Boom

New York Yankees Sign Aroldis Chapman

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    Contract: Five years, $86 million

    Ever watch Aroldis Chapman pitch? If not, have faith that watching the lefty heave a baseball at 105 mph is electric. It's easy to get enamored by his ability to throw harder than any other pitcher ever.

    But it's important to remember that throwing hard—just like locating a great curveball or slider—is a tool that a pitcher uses to get hitters out, and the latter is truly how a pitcher is judged. Now, Chapman is among the best in baseball at doing so, having averaged 15.5 strikeouts per nine innings during his stint with the Chicago Cubs in 2016.

    The closer relies heavily on his fastball. In fact, that's really his only pitch. The first thing a pitcher loses as he ages is velocity on his fastball, which means there's a definite shelf life to Chapman, who could struggle to get hitters out later in his career. The back end of this deal could ultimately be a burden for the Yankees.

    Verdict: Bust

New York Mets Sign Yoenis Cespedes

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    Contract: Four years, $110 million

    The contract implies Yoenis Cespedes is an elite, multitool hitter, but he has never hit .300 in his career, has hit more than 30 homers only twice and driven in more than 100 runs in as many seasons. As he ages—he'll turn 35 during the playoffs of the final year of this contract—he's certain to lose speed and become more of a liability as an outfielder.

    Really, this was a desperation move for a Mets team that ranked near the bottom of baseball in every relevant offensive category. Without his bat in 2017, the team would be destitute offensively.

    He is an All-Star-caliber player and a fringe MVP candidate, but at 31, it's fair to question how long he will be able to maintain that level of play. Given the annual salary in this deal, he needs to be mentioned in the same breath as the Cubs' Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo and the Nationals' Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy, whom the Mets allowed to leave in free agency last winter.

    Verdict: Bust

Colorado Rockies Sign Ian Desmond

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    Contract: Five years, $70 million

    After signing a one-year deal with the Rangers last offseason, Ian Desmond had a big year with the club by slashing .285/.335/.446 with 22 homers and 86 RBI. Moreover, he moved from his natural shortstop position to left field and eventually took over as the team's center fielder, showing an incredible defensive versatility that was not previously understood to be part of his makeup.

    Desmond couldn't have drawn up a better free-agent season, but he hasn't been consistent throughout his career, giving reason to question the length and dollar amount of this contract. In 2014 and 2015, he hit .255 and .233, respectively.

    What's most alarming about Desmond is that he doesn't get on base at a high rate and strikes out a ton, making him prone to extended slumps. Desmond has struck out 183, 187 and 160 times over the last three seasons. Plus, the Colorado Rockies plan to play him at first base—a position he has never played in his MLB career.

    Verdict: Bust

Chicago Cubs Acquire Wade Davis

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    To the Cubs: Wade Davis

    If the 2016 World Series champions had a weakness on their roster, it was their bullpen. So, Chicago has made its offseason priority restructuring its staff of relievers, most notably acquiring Wade Davis, a closer with heavy postseason experience.

    Chicago allowed Aroldis Chapman to leave in free agency, instead opting for the less flashy but equally as effective Davis. The 31-year-old right-hander saved 27 games in 2016. In 2015, the year he won a World Series with the Kansas City Royals, Davis posted a 0.787 WHIP and finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting.

    Davis did struggle with elbow issues this season, which is a perpetual red flag for any pitcher. But after missing all of August, Davis pitched well in September.

    Verdict: Boom

    To Kansas City: Jorge Soler

    Jorge Soler may have been the most misunderstood player on the Cubs' World Series roster. With Kyle Schwarber returning to Chicago's lineup in 2017, there wasn't an everyday role for Soler. It was a given that the Cubs would trade Soler this offseason, and his value was much higher to a team like Kansas City, which can play him every game.

    A corner outfielder, Soler may never be a plus defender, which means he could DH some for the Royals. Soler still has the potential to be a high-level hitter, though. Those in Chicago grew frustrated as he struggled to develop, but that was largely a product of the quicker development of other young players around him.

    When Theo Epstein took over as Chicago's president of baseball operations, he eyed the 2016 season as the first year the team would crack the playoffs. His plan accelerated at a pace no one predicted. While the development of players like Schwarber and Kris Bryant stunned the baseball world, Soler appeared to lag behind. Really, the 24-year-old was just developing at a more normal pace and should still be considered a promising young player.

    Don't forget Soler had a monster 2015 postseason, hitting .571 in the NLDS and .417 in the NLCS. He has big-game potential.

    Verdict: Boom

Arizona Diamondbacks Acquire Taijuan Walker

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    To the Arizona Diamondbacks: Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte

    Let's call this the Arizona Diamondbacks' second annual "What the heck are you doing?" trade. A year removed from sending a major package of prospects in exchange for pitcher Shelby Miller, who had a horrible 2016 season, Arizona acquired another pitcher—only this one has little promise. In two seasons as a full-time starter, Taijuan Walker has posted ERAs of 4.56 and 4.22, respectively.

    Ketel Marte is a shortstop who just completed his first full MLB season. Still, it's tough to see how either acquisition improves the club in 2017 or further into the future.

    Verdict: Bust

    To the Seattle Mariners: Zac Curtis, Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura

    With the other two players as spare parts, the key here is Jean Segura, a middle infielder coming off his best MLB season. Segura, who debuted as a rookie in 2012, slashed .319/.368/.499 last season with 20 homers, 64 RBI and an NL-best 203 hits. Why would Arizona give up a player of this caliber? The Seattle Mariners shouldn't care because it's their gain. Segura's high on-base percentage will fit nicely into a lineup that has good power coming back.

    Verdict: Boom

Los Angeles Dodgers Sign Kenley Jansen

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    Contract: Five years, $80 million

    If Jansen had signed a nine-figure deal, it still would have been worth it for the Dodgers. He was the best reliever in baseball and proved even more valuable during a postseason in which he was up to any relief task.

    He returns to a Los Angeles club whose manager, Dave Roberts, proved he knows how to maximize Jansen's right arm.

    Jansen was a monumental piece to a Dodgers team that advanced to the NLCS in 2016. Given that divisional rival San Francisco signed Mark Melancon, it was crucial for the Dodgers to lure Jansen back.

    Verdict: Boom

Los Angeles Dodgers Sign Justin Turner

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    Contract: Four years, $64 million

    The best part about this contract is its length. Justin Turner is 32, and the Dodgers didn't want to sign too long of a contract with the third baseman. He was one of the best hitters at his position in 2016, slashing .275/.339/.493 with 27 homers and 90 RBI.

    Turner's numbers may have been better had he played in a different home park. Dodger Stadium was among the toughest on hitters in 2016, per ESPN's MLB Park Factors.

    Nonetheless, Turner has prime years remaining and should be able to replicate his 2016 campaign, if not improve on it. Under the terms of this contract, Los Angeles will be able to enjoy those years without having to pay Turner in the twilight of his career.

    Verdict: Boom