10 MLB Offseason Decisions That Will Backfire Badly in 2018
It's easy to point out a mistake with the benefit of hindsight.
The Boston Red Sox should never have signed Pablo Sandoval.
Trading uber-prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. for a washed-up James Shields no doubt haunts Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.
It's a little trickier to call those mistakes ahead of time.
We did just that in naming the 10 offseason decisions that will backfire badly in 2018. It's a healthy mix of free-agent signings, trades and unfilled roster needs.
Seattle Mariners: Trading Emilio Pagan
Emilio Pagan went from well off the MLB radar to being a key part of the Seattle Mariners bullpen last year.
The 2013 10th-round pick posted a 3.22 ERA and 0.93 WHIP with a sparkling 56-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 50.1 innings in his first big league action.
The decision to send him to the Oakland Athletics in the deal that brought slugger Ryon Healy to Seattle is not one that general manager Jerry Dipoto took lightly.
"In a group that’s not unused to changing bodies, a lot of guys were crushed we traded Emilio," Dipoto told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. "He's an unbelievable guy, a tremendous human being, he does all the right things. I said when we made that deal it was probably the most painful trade we've made, because of the person."
It's easy to see what the Mariners liked about Healy. He's fresh off a 25-homer campaign and comes with team control through the 2022 season. However, his .302 on-base percentage and 3.8 percent walk rate raise some questions about his offensive ceiling, and he could wind up as a one-dimensional platoon partner for Dan Vogelbach.
Meanwhile, Pagan has control through 2023 and the stuff to develop into an impact late-inning reliever in short order.
Washington Nationals Not Finding a Better No. 5 Starter Option
Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark stack up against the top four of any rotation in baseball.
It's the No. 5 spot in the Washington Nationals rotation that looks like the biggest question mark on the roster.
A.J. Cole will begin the season in that final spot.
He could just be keeping it warm for Jeremy Hellickson, though, as he's still working his way into shape after signing a minor league deal on March 16.
Then again, if last season is any indication, both guys could have a hard time holding down a job.
- Cole (AAA): 18 GS, 4-5, 5.88 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 79 K, 93.1 IP
- Hellickson: 30 GS, 8-11, 5.43 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 96 K, 164.0 IP
For a Nationals team that is all-in in 2018 with Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gonzalez all headed for free agency, taking advantage of the slow-moving free-agent market to swoop in and sign a mid-level starter seemed like a no-brainer.
Instead, they'll have to hope the back end of the staff doesn't become a revolving door.
Tampa Bay Rays: Trading Steven Souza Jr.
After trading Evan Longoria, Jake Odorizzi and Corey Dickerson, the Tampa Bay Rays kept the retooling train rolling when they shipped Steven Souza Jr. to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team deal.
Here are the full details:
- To TB: 2B Nick Solak (NYY), LHP Anthony Banda (ARI), 2 PTBNL (ARI)
- To ARI: OF Steven Souza Jr. (TB), RHP Taylor Widener (NYY)
- To NYY: IF Brandon Drury (ARI)
Solak (No. 12) and Banda (No. 16) immediately jumped into the organization's top 20 prospects, according to MLB.com, and both have a chance to develop into solid big league players.
It's tough to see that being a suitable return for Souza, though.
The 28-year-old was arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, so his $3.6 million salary was not exactly a burden on the club's payroll.
Cutting payroll and rebuilding made sense for the Rays.
Trading Souza was an unnecessary step too far.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Not Properly Replacing Brandon Morrow
The Los Angeles Dodgers had big shoes to fill following the departure of Brandon Morrow in free agency. That he appeared in 14 of the team's 15 playoff games speaks volumes to his importance to the relief corps.
Left-hander Scott Alexander (58 G, 2.48 ERA, 1.30 WHIP) was acquired from the Kansas City Royals and Tom Koehler (15 G, 2.65 ERA, 1.29 WHIP in TOR) was signed as a free agent.
Will that be enough?
Pedro Baez has been the team's primary setup man the past few seasons, and he's still around. He absolutely imploded down the stretch last year, though:
- April-Aug.: 55 G, 1.79 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .202 BAA
- Sept.: 11 G, 10.38 ERA, 2.42 WHIP, .341 BAA
Prospect Walker Buehler could also be a factor if the team decides to delay his development as a starter for the sake of utilizing him now at the MLB level.
Still, for a team with a seemingly endless flow of money, not spending on a proven late-inning reliever to replace Morrow could come back to bite them.
Cleveland Indians: Signing Yonder Alonso Instead of Logan Morrison
The Cleveland Indians gave Yonder Alonso a two-year, $16 million deal with a $9 million option for the 2020 season to replace Carlos Santana at first base.
His 2017 season was a tale of two halves:
- 1st Half: .934 OPS, .275/.372/.562, 20 HR
- 2nd Half: .774 OPS, .254/.354/.420, 8 HR
- Overall: 133 OPS+, .266/.365/.501, 28 HR
Roughly two months later, the Minnesota Twins signed Logan Morrison to a one-year, $6.5 million deal that includes an $8 million option for 2019.
He too had a drastically split season:
- 1st Half: .931 OPS, .258/.367/.564, 24 HR
- 2nd Half: .786 OPS, .231/.333/.452, 14 HR
- Overall: 135 OPS+, .246/.353/.516, 38 HR
Along with better overall numbers last season and a more team-friendly deal, Morrison looks like the safer bet to avoid significant regression.
The 30-year-old posted a 101 OPS+ with 14 home runs in 398 plate appearances during the 2016 season. Not amazing numbers, but still solid production.
Meanwhile, Alonso looked like a non-tender candidate prior to his out-of-nowhere breakout, posting an 88 OPS+ and minus-0.3 WAR.
Both players benefited from buying into the new fly-ball trend. But Morrison looks better equipped to back up his breakout based on physical tools and past performance.
Not signing him looks like a missed opportunity.
St. Louis Cardinals: Not Adding a Proven Closer
The St. Louis Cardinals have not enjoyed stability at closer since 2015, when Trevor Rosenthal converted 48 of 51 save chances.
- 2016: 38-for-55 SV—Seung Hwan Oh (19-for-23), Trevor Rosenthal (14-for-18)
- 2017: 43-for-60 SV—Oh (20-for-24), Rosenthal (11-for-13), Juan Nicasio (4-for-4), Tyler Lyons (3-for-4)
With Oh, Rosenthal and Nicasio all having departed in free agency, it seemed like a no-brainer that the Redbirds would make a run at one of the market's top free agents.
Instead, the front office settled for signing Luke Gregerson and acquiring Dominic Leone from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Randal Grichuk.
With that, here's a look at the team's crop of relievers and their career save totals:
- Luke Gregerson: 66
- Bud Norris: 19
- Brett Cecil: 12
- Tyler Lyons: 3
- Matt Bowman: 2
- Dominic Leone: 1
- John Brebbia: 0
- Sam Tuivailala: 0
Gregerson has a 30-save season to his credit, but he pitched to a 4.57 ERA last year in a setup role, and he'll open the season on the disabled list with an oblique injury.
Even if they didn't make a run at Wade Davis or Brandon Morrow, someone like Addison Reed would have been a terrific signing.
His two-year, $16.8 million deal wasn't all that much more than the two-year, $11 million contract Gregerson signed, and Reed has ample closing experience with 125 career saves. That includes 19 saves in 21 chances while filling in for the injured Jeurys Familia last season.
Toronto Blue Jays: Not Trading Josh Donaldson
Josh Donaldson will reach free agency for the first time next offseason.
The 2015 AL MVP has racked up an impressive 36.1 WAR over the past five seasons—trailing only Mike Trout (43.1) among all players.
While his impending free agency made him a popular name on the rumor mill this winter, the Toronto Blue Jays never gave any indication he was available.
Still, it sounds like he'll be testing the open market after the two sides were unable to make any headway on extension talks.
"We've had conversations about it, and I just think that we are not quite there," Donaldson told reporters in February. "Not quite there meaning there's not a deal done and we're just not there. We're not in the same type of area, the same ballpark, to make a discussion to moving forward."
So what happens if the Blue Jays fall out of the playoff hunt by midseason? With the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox both looking like superior AL East foes and a crowded wild-card picture, it's a very real possibility.
Even if Donaldson is the prize of the trade deadline, his actual value could be very underwhelming if the return package the Detroit Tigers received for J.D. Martinez last summer is any indication.
That leaves the Blue Jays with a missed opportunity to secure an impressive prospect haul in the name of treading water for one more year.
Milwaukee Brewers: Not Making a Significant Addition to the Starting Rotation
There's no question the Milwaukee Brewers improved this offseason with the additions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain—two of the game's best two-way outfielders.
The outfield wasn't a glaring need, though.
It's the starting rotation that looked like the biggest question mark on the heels of a surprise second-place finish in the NL Central, and on paper, the club looked to be one front-line starter away from being a serious playoff threat.
Despite rumored links to Jake Arrieta and several of the market's other top arms, the team instead settled for signing Jhoulys Chacin (180.1 IP, 4.26 FIP) to a two-year, $15.5 million deal and veteran Wade Miley (157.1 IP, 5.27 FIP) to a minor league pact.
They'll join Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Brent Suter and eventually Jimmy Nelson—once he returns from shoulder surgery—to form the team's stable of starting pitching options.
Anderson and Nelson both enjoyed breakout seasons in 2017, but they're better served as a No. 2/3 starter on a contender, while Davies and Suter fit best at the back of a staff.
In the end, the $80 million they gave to Cain might have been better spent on Arrieta.
Baltimore Orioles: Trying to Contend Instead of Selling off Valuable Assets
Do the Baltimore Orioles really look like a playoff-bound team?
FanGraphs projects 75 wins and gives them a 4.3 percent chance of making the playoffs—last among AL East clubs and 23rd among the 30 teams.
It's hard to see the starting rotation being any worse than last year when the team's starters compiled an MLB-worst 5.70 ERA.
At the same time, it's also hard to see free-agent additions Alex Cobb (179.1 IP, 4.16 FIP) and Andrew Cashner (166.2 IP, 4.61 FIP) moving the needle enough for the rotation to be anything but mediocre.
And on the subject of Cobb, it looks an awful lot like they were bidding against themselves with that four-year, $57 million deal, considering he signed it nine days before Opening Day.
So with slim chances of reaching the playoffs, the Orioles enter the season with impending free agents Manny Machado, Zach Britton, Brad Brach and Adam Jones all still on the roster.
With each week that passes during the regular season, the trade value of those players is going to decrease.
Rather than accepting what everyone outside of Baltimore seems to be able to see, the front office continued on like a legitimate contender, and it could wind up costing them a golden opportunity to bolster a fairly weak farm system.
That, in turn, hinders an inevitable rebuild and sets the franchise back even further in the years to come.
San Francisco Giants: Aggressively Buying Instead of Starting a Rebuild
Even before the unfortunate injury to ace Madison Bumgarner, this offseason looked like a misguided attempt to cling to contention by the San Francisco Giants.
Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen are big names but more on paper than on the field at this point in their respective careers.
Tony Watson and Austin Jackson were nice complementary additions, and Derek Holland will break camp with a rotation spot after signing a minor league deal.
But are those moves enough to make this team a contender on the heels of a 98-loss season?
Bounce-back seasons from Johnny Cueto, Mark Melancon, Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence could go a long way, but this still looks like the fourth-best team in a stacked NL West.
Meanwhile, the decision to trade Bryan Reynolds and Christian Arroyo robs a paper-thin farm system of two of its top prospects.
With an aging core, the Giants are going to have to accept the idea of rebuilding sooner than later, and what they've done this offseason hurts the future more than it helps the present.