Predicting the MLB Offseason Decisions That Will Crash and Burn
There's a lot of business left to be done in this slow-to-develop MLB offseason. Top free agents remain unclaimed. Tantalizing trade targets are dangling.
Still, enough swaps and signings have been consummated to pick a handful that are destined to crash and burn.
In some cases, it's the years and dollars involved. In others, it's the unrealistic expectations being placed on the acquired player. We've also included two instances where deals should happen but appear as though they won't, which is its own brand of folly.
Strap on your pessimism cap and proceed when ready.
New York Mets Sign Jay Bruce for Three Years, $39 Million
The New York Mets reunited with Jay Bruce on a three-year, $39 million deal on Jan. 16. On the surface, it's not a back-breaking contract.
Bruce clubbed 29 home runs for the Mets last season before a trade-deadline swap to the Cleveland Indians and should once again inject power into New York's outfield.
That said, he'll 31 in April and has been worth a modest three fWAR between 2014 and 2017. Steamer projects a .241/.310/.468 slash line for 2018. Things won't get better as Bruce trudges into his mid-30s.
Another 30-plus-homer season is possible, but Bruce's ho-hum on-base capabilities and lack of speed and consistent defense tether his value to his power. If and when that diminishes, his worth will plummet accordingly.
The Mets are hoping to return to relevance next season. Bruce could be a part of that. He could also end up as a one-dimensional payroll drag whose paycheck far outpaces his performance.
Seattle Mariners Acquire Dee Gordon to Play Center Field
The Seattle Mariners need help in the starting rotation. They sent a whopping 17 starters to the hill last season amidst an avalanche of injuries and underperformance.
So far, their biggest move has been acquiring Dee Gordon in a trade with the Miami Marlins.
Gordon brings value, particularly speed. The MLB-pacing 60 bases he swiped in 2017 leap off the stat sheet. A 2016 performance-enhancing drug suspension tarnishes him, though, and his offensive track record is far from spotless, as Sports Illustrated's John Tayler spelled out: "All told, he's posted an 88 OPS+ and a total of 3.9 WAR since the start of the 2016 season, with a BABIP-inflated batting average dragged down by his abysmal plate discipline (just 43 walks in 1,041 plate appearances!) and non-existent power."
More troublingly, the Mariners are asking Gordon to move from second base to center field, a position he's never played in the big leagues. It's possible his enviable wheels will serve him there, but it's equally possible he'll be a defensive liability at a key spot.
Add the fact that Gordon is owed $37.9 million over the next three seasons and that Seattle gave up a trio of prospects—including intriguing right-hander Nick Neidert—and this has all the makings of a face-palm misplay.
Colorado Rockies Sign Wade Davis for Three Years, $52 Million
The Colorado Rockies needed to reinforce a bullpen that was a strength in 2017 but was set to lose several key pieces, including closer Greg Holland.
They signed arguably the best reliever on the market when they handed a three-year, $52 million deal to Wade Davis in late December.
Mission accomplished, right?
Maybe. Or, maybe the Rockies grossly overpayed a player who won't deliver the value they're expecting.
Davis posted a 2.30 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 58.2 innings last season for the Chicago Cubs. He's a three-time All-Star. The credentials are there.
He's also 32 years old and coming off a season in which he posted a career-worst 4.3 walks per nine. Plus, he's about to pitch half his games in the hitter-happy confines of Coors Field, which can grind even great pitchers into mediocrity.
It's admirable Colorado is trying to build on its 2017 postseason run. But giving Davis the largest-ever contract for a relief pitcher in terms of average annual value ($17.3 million) is a Mile High roll of the dice.
San Francisco Giants Acquire 3B Evan Longoria
The San Francisco Giants lost 98 games in 2017 but decided to retool rather than rebuild this winter. Their first major move was acquiring third baseman Evan Longoria from the Tampa Bay Rays.
A three-time All-Star and incumbent Gold Glove winner, Longoria unquestionably makes the Giants better at the hot corner.
He's also owed $86 million through 2023, including a $5 million team buyout in the final year. By that time, Longoria will be in his age-37 season.
San Francisco has the most committed payroll of any MLB club for every season from 2019 through 2021, per Spotrac. It could contend for a wild card next season with Longoria and other pickups, including outfielder Andrew McCutchen, but the third baseman's salary will be a significant drag sooner than later. Adding salt to the wound, the Giants sent promising infield prospect Christian Arroyo to Tampa Bay in the deal.
A win-now mentality usually means mortgaging the future, but in this case the Giants are staring at a massive bubble on the brink of bursting.
Baltimore Orioles Don't Trade 3B Manny Machado
FanGraphs projects the Baltimore Orioles to finish 75-87, dead last in the American League East.
Yet, the O's are apparently planning to hang on to third baseman Manny Machado and try to make one more run before their franchise superstar bolts via free agency.
Granted, the best solution is for the Orioles to build a time machine and zip back to last winter, or the winter before, when they could have landed a trove of prospects for Machado.
Now, they'd likely have to settle for a lesser package that isn't commensurate with Machado's worth. Is riding out a sub-.500 season and losing him for nothing more than a compensatory draft pick preferable?
To answer that rhetorical question: No. No it is not.
Unless something changes, that looks like the route Baltimore will take. Machado trade talk has cooled to the point of freezing. Barring an eleventh-hour overpay by a desperate contender—which is exceedingly dubious given the availability of free agents such as Mike Moustakas—Machado will be an Oriole in 2018.
For better or, probably, worse.
Toronto Blue Jays Don't Trade 3B Josh Donaldson
Speaking of elite third basemen who should be traded from AL East teams with no real shot at contention: Josh Donaldson is still a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Yes, the Jays made the playoffs in 2015 and 2016. They sunk 10 games under .500 in 2017, however, and lack the farm system or financial muscles to hang with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
They could claw for a wild-card spot. The smarter play would be to move Donaldson, an MVP-caliber talent when healthy and an impending free agent, for whatever chips they can get.
In December, USA Today's Bob Nightengale reported the St. Louis Cardinals were interested. The Cards' farm is perpetually stocked with underrated, high-upside pieces. It sounded like a match made in baseball heaven.
Instead, Toronto seems committed to keeping Donaldson and embarking on another, likely ill-fated, October run.