10 MLB Offseason Moves That Should Have Happened Already
It's no secret the 2017-18 MLB offseason has been a sputtering dud so far. Yes, there have been a few seismic trades such as the New York Yankees' acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton to break up the icy monotony, but all the top free agents and several enticing trade targets remain on the board.
There are multiple reasons for the slow-developing market, as Bleacher Report's Zachary D. Rymer recently outlined.
Some swaps and signings, however, seem too obvious not to have happened by now. Here are 10 examples in which the deal in question clearly behooves the player and team(s) involved. Each carries a degree of risk and possible downside; that's the nature of any transaction.
That said, they're all in the no-brainer ballpark.
Oakland Athletics Acquire C J.T. Realmuto from Miami Marlins
The Oakland Athletics could use a catcher. At the moment, their behind-the-dish depth chart is topped by Bruce Maxwell, who hit .237 with a .663 OPS in 76 games last season and was indicted in mid-November on charges of assault with a weapon and disorderly conduct. He pled not guilty.
J.T. Realmuto tied for the third-highest fWAR total among catchers last season with a mark of 3.6, behind only the Yankees' Gary Sanchez and San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey. He's also requested a trade away from the rebuilding/imploding Miami Marlins, per Craig Mish of SiriusXM.
The Fish don't have to deal him and would surely command a rich return. He's a far more enticing option than other names on the market, however, including the Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasmani Grandal (a trade target who'd be a free agent after 2018) and Jonathan Lucroy (a free agent whose pitch-framing skills fell off a cliff in 2017, per StatCorner).
The A's have been jettisoning pieces dating back to the 2017 July trade deadline, but they also acquired MLB outfielder Stephen Piscotty in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals this winter. Clearly, executive Billy Beane and company are willing to add established pieces to the big league roster.
Realmuto, who turns 27 in March, is entering his first year of arbitration eligibility and is under club control through 2020. He'd likely cost Oakland at least one name from the top tier of its farm system, such as outfielder Dustin Fowler or infielder/outfielder Jorge Mateo, plus a few ancillary pieces.
He'd plug a significant hole, though, without crippling the Athletics' perennially undersized budget.
Houston Astros Acquire LHP Brad Hand from San Diego Padres
The Houston Astros made headlines for their supposed pursuit of Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole, though talks appear to have fizzled for now, per Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan. They've likewise been linked to free-agent right-hander Yu Darvish, most recently by Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Another top-of-the-rotation starter wouldn't hurt Houston's chances of repeating as world champions, obviously. Its more acute need, however, is in the bullpen.
During the regular season, 'Stros relievers ranked 17th in baseball with a 4.27 ERA. In the playoffs, that number ballooned to 5.40. Closer Ken Giles was especially abysmal, coughing up 10 earned runs in 7.2 innings.
Suffice it to say, Houston hoisted the Commissioner's Trophy in spite of its pen, not because of it.
The Astros have made moves, signing right-handers Joe Smith (3.33 ERA, 54 IP, 71 SO, 22 HLD) and Hector Rondon (4.24 ERA, 57.1 IP, 69 SO, 10 HLD). Smith is a solid setup man, while Rondon is a bounce-back candidate after battling elbow issues.
Neither addresses the Astros' left-handed deficiency. At present, the only lefties with a realistic shot at making the Opening Day bullpen are 34-year-old Tony Sipp, who posted a 5.79 ERA in 2017, and converted outfielder/Rule 5 lottery ticket Anthony Gose.
That brings us to Brad Hand. The San Diego Padres southpaw posted a 2.16 ERA last season with 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings and is under team control through 2019. He'd give Houston a legitimate lefty setup man with ninth-inning experience.
Houston would have to deplete its farm and part with at least a couple of top prospects other than outfielder Kyle Tucker, who should be off-limits in a Hand deal. A package centered around Cuban outfielder/first baseman Yordan Alvarez and big-armed 21-year-old right-hander Hector Perez, however, should be enough to pique San Diego's interest and fix the reigning champ's biggest weakness.
Washington Nationals Sign Greg Holland
The Washington Nationals have won four of the last six NL East titles but have failed to win a playoff series in that stretch.
The Nats also could (read: probably will) lose right fielder and franchise cornerstone Bryce Harper to free agency after the 2018 season.
The sense of urgency is cranked up to "11" in the nation's capital.
Fortunately for the Nationals, the team has few glaring weaknesses. Even the bullpen, a clear area of need entering into 2017, is relatively solid at the top behind the late-inning trio of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler.
After that, it devolves into an array of question marks and crossed fingers. That won't do for a team in championship-or-bust mode.
Enter Greg Holland. The two-time All-Star and two-time top-10 American League MVP finisher came back strong from Tommy John surgery, posting a 3.61 ERA with 41 saves and 70 strikeouts in 57.1 innings for the Colorado Rockies. Considering he played half his games at Coors Field, those numbers are especially impressive.
The Nationals have interest in Holland, per FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman. Last winter, Heyman added, Nats general manager Mike Rizzo "badly wanted" to ink the right-hander.
Holland won't settle for anything close to the one-year, $6 million show-me contract he signed with Colorado. But for a Nationals team in full-throttle win-now mode, he's an investment worth making.
San Francisco Giants Sign CF Lorenzo Cain
The San Francisco Giants lost 98 games in 2017 and finished 40 games behind the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West. There are bad seasons, and then there are bad seasons.
Still, San Francisco is committed to retooling rather than rebuilding, as it indicated by acquiring veteran third baseman Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays.
In that trade, the Giants sent veteran center fielder Denard Span to Tampa Bay. It was a prudent salary-shedding move, but it also left the Giants with an outfield consisting of Hunter Pence—who turns 35 in April and was worth 0.7 fWAR last season—and a bunch of shrugging emojis.
The Giants could use a power-hitting corner outfielder after finishing last in home runs and OPS. They'd also like to get more athletic on the defensive end in the spacious confines of AT&T Park.
Bruce would've added one-dimensional thump. Hamilton would bring stellar defense and stolen bases, but no power and subpar on-base abilities.
There's another player who combines all those good qualities while shedding many of the bad ones: Lorenzo Cain.
An All-Star and top-three AL MVP finisher in 2015, Cain hit .300 with 15 home runs and 26 stolen bases last season for the Kansas City Royals. His glove isn't what it used to be, but he posted five defensive runs saved in center field in 2017.
Cain turns 32 in April. Any long-term deal will sting on the back end. The Giants have pushed their cards in on 2018, however, and no outfielder fits their needs better than Cain.
Chicago Cubs Sign RHP Alex Cobb
The Chicago Cubs followed their curse-busting 2016 title run with another NL Central crown but lost in five games in the National League Championship Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
To return to the top of the Senior Circuit and shower the Windy City in confetti once again, the Cubs need to bolster their starting rotation.
Both 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and postseason-tested veteran John Lackey are free agents, and both appear likely to sign elsewhere (we'll talk Arrieta shortly). The addition of Tyler Chatwood wasn't enough.
Chicago could aim high and sign Darvish, but we're tapping him to go to another World Series contender (more on that shortly, too).
The Cubs were linked to right-hander Alex Cobb in December, per Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago. After missing all of 2015 and most of 2016 to Tommy John surgery, Cobb posted a 3.66 ERA in 179.1 innings last season and would slot nicely behind Jon Lester and Jose Quintana in the Cubbies' starting five.
The 30-year-old isn't an ace, but he'd give Chicago the pitching depth to retain/regain its position as a legitimate championship contender.
Texas Rangers Sign RHP Jake Arrieta
OK, now on to Arrieta.
There are blemishes on the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner's recent resume. His ERA has climbed and his velocity has dropped in each of the last two seasons, and he had a hamstring issue in 2017 while throwing 168.1 innings, his lowest total since 2014. He turns 32 in March.
Giving him a long-term, nine-figure contract would be a gamble for any team, and it could be a disaster in the waning years.
Arrieta did rebound in the second half, however, lowering his ERA from 4.35 before the All-Star break to 2.28 after. And he posted a 0.84 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 10.2 innings in two playoff starts. He has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation arm.
That brings us to the Texas Rangers, who have made some ancillary additions to their starting rotation but could use another horse to pair with left-hander Cole Hamels, who posted a 4.20 ERA in 2017.
Arrieta went to high school in Plano, Texas; donning a Rangers uniform would be something of a homecoming. Texas, meanwhile, needs to make a big splash to maintain contact with the Astros in the AL West—and the Lone Star State pecking order.
Kansas City Royals Re-Sign 1B Eric Hosmer
Eric Hosmer was an All-Star in 2016 and has won four Gold Gloves for his play at first base. He posted career highs in average (.318), hits (192) and OPS (.882) while tying a career high with 25 homers in his contract year with the Kansas City Royals.
In theory, suitors should be knocking down his door.
Instead, most all of the rumors surrounding Hosmer have centered on the San Diego Padres and the Royals. That could be because Hosmer's 2017 numbers—particularly his power numbers—far outpaced his usual production. Or it could be because the market for first basemen isn't especially robust.
Still, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale, Hosmer has a seven-year, $147 million offer on the table from the Royals and a seven-year, $140 million deal from the Pads.
Both might be overpays. The only one that makes sense is the one from K.C.
The Padres are a rebuilding club that's at least a couple of years away from contention. Why blow big dollars on a 28-year-old who could be declining just as the club is picking up steam?
Plus, Hosmer had never hit as many as 20 home runs in his five full MLB seasons prior to 2015. Petco Park was the second-least-friendly home run yard in baseball last season, per ESPN's Park Factors statistic.
The Royals, one could argue, are also due for a rebuild. That's a valid point. Hosmer, though, is a beloved figure in Kansas City, the only MLB city he's ever known. His noted clubhouse leadership and fan-favorite status could be just the antidote for the painful process that's about to unfold in northwestern Missouri.
Toronto Blue Jays Trade 3B Josh Donaldson to St. Louis Cardinals
An All-Star third baseman has churned through the rumor mill this winter, and his name is Manny Machado. Another hot-corner-manning stud warrants mention, however: the Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson.
Like Machado, Donaldson could be a one-year rental. He's set to hit free agency after 2018.
The 2015 AL MVP is coming off a down season by his standards, in which he missed time with a calf strain. Still, he hit 33 home runs with a .944 OPS. Even at age 32, he's among the game's elite players in the field and the batter's box.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are staring up at the Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the AL East. The old rivals are engaged in an arms race, and Toronto can't keep up. Sure, they could scrape for the second wild-card spot after an 86-loss season, but the better play is to stock the farm system with an eye on the future.
Donaldson won't net the prospect return he would have last winter, but there is interest. Specifically, from the St. Louis Cardinals.
In December, Nightengale reported the Cards were pursuing Donaldson, partly because they believed they'd have a better chance of locking him into a long-term deal than they would with Machado.
Ace-in-the-offing Alex Reyes shouldn't be on the table, but the Cardinals could center a package around right-hander Luke Weaver and 22-year-old outfielder Tyler O'Neill and increase their chances of catching up to the Cubs in the NL Central.
New York Yankees Sign RHP Yu Darvish
The Yankees already got Stanton. They could hang back and call it an offseason, and few would fault them.
Still, as Heyman reported in late December, the Yanks were at least sniffing after Darvish, the biggest free-agent pitcher on the market.
After re-signing veteran lefty CC Sabathia to join Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka and Jordan Montgomery, New York doesn't need another starter.
Darvish is wading into the market after some notable postseason collapses with the Los Angeles Dodgers, though that could have been the result of pitch-tipping, per Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci.
Here's the thing: Darvish is a four-time All-Star who has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings across five big league seasons and posted 19 fWAR between 2012 and 2017, better than all but 17 other pitchers. And that's despite missing all of 2015 and part of 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Oh, and for anyone worried about the strength of his arm: Darvish's average fastball clocked in at 94.7 mph last season, a tad above his career average of 94.1.
The Yankees have holes to fill in the infield after trading second baseman Starlin Castro and third baseman Chase Headley. They want to stay under the luxury tax. Those could be viewed as impediments to a Darvish deal.
On the other hand, they got within a victory of the World Series last season. Their offense is anchored by an enviable core of Stanton, AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge and catcher Gary Sanchez. The bullpen is stout. Gild the rotation with Darvish—who won't cost even a compensatory draft pick after being dealt last July from the Texas Rangers to the Dodgers—and surpass the 'Stros as Junior Circuit favorites.
Come on, Yanks. It's not like you to hold back.
Boston Red Sox Sign LF/RF J.D. Martinez
As the Yankees load up, the Red Sox need to catch up.
So far, Boston has re-signed first baseman Mitch Moreland and kicked a lot of tires. That's not enough for a team that won its division in 2017 but finished last in the AL in home runs.
It's time for Boston to acquire a slugger, and there may be no better fit than outfielder J.D. Martinez.
Yes, the 30-year-old will be overpaid after hitting a career-best 45 homers in 2017 between the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks. Sure, broken-record alert, a long-term contract will look ugly on the back end.
The Sox need Martinez's thump, however. They're set in the outfield with Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts from left to right, but that could be solved by trading an outfielder or jettisoning broken-down Hanley Ramirez and slotting Martinez at designated hitter.
Either way, Boston is in a win-now window, and the Yanks are coming fast and hard. That means big action and a bigger bat.