One Big Regret Each MLB Team Should Have This Offseason
Think of this as an early round of second-guessing regarding the 2018-19 Major League Baseball offseason.
With the changing of the year past and the start of spring training not far in the future, we've put on our know-it-all hats to point out one thing each club should regret about its hot stove season.
We're not about to wag our fingers at teams for not making moves they might still make. This is more about missing ships that have officially sailed, as well as questionable decisions and overall strategies.
We'll go in alphabetical order by city.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The Eduardo Escobar Signing
In October, the Arizona Diamondbacks jumped the gun on Eduardo Escobar's free agency and secured him with a modest three-year, $21 million deal.
It seemed like a smooth move then, but it's looking curiouser with time.
The D-backs' re-signing of Escobar, whom they acquired from the Minnesota Twins in July, seemed to signal a willingness to fortify their contention chances even as they fell short in 2018. Instead, they took a different turn when they traded Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals in December.
Granted, one trade of a franchise icon does not a rebuild make. But rather than bringing in players, Arizona's surrounded with speculation regarding whether it might send more noteworthy names—Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray and David Peralta—out of town.
In all, it's fair to question why a team engaged in a course correction bothered dropping $21 million on a good yet nonessential player.
Atlanta Braves: Missing Out on Michael Brantley
The Atlanta Braves checked two sizable boxes by signing Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann, but the shoes formerly worn by Nick Markakis in right field remain unfilled.
According to MLB.com's Mark Bowman, the reigning National League East champions began the winter with eyes on Michael Brantley for the job. They missed out, however, as the three-time All-Star signed with the Houston Astros.
It's possible that Brantley—who resembles a younger, better Markakis—didn't want to play in Atlanta, but it's hard to believe the Braves couldn't have used cash to convince him otherwise. He received only $32 million over two years from the Astros. Per Bowman, that's half of what the Braves can add to their 2019 payroll alone.
Alas, pickings on the corner outfield market are pretty slim now. The Braves may have to chance a big contract for A.J. Pollock or a trade for Nicholas Castellanos, or roll the dice on low-risk options such as Markakis or Carlos Gonzalez.
Baltimore Orioles: Taking so Long to Establish a New Power Structure
This never was going to be a busy offseason for the Baltimore Orioles. Not in terms of player transactions, anyway.
They offloaded the bulk of their best trade chips midway through their disastrous 115-loss season in 2018, and then they moved on from general manager Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter. This winter was always going to revolve around installing new leadership.
If there's a nit to pick, it's how slow progress has been on that front. The Orioles didn't name Mike Elias their new GM until mid-November, and Brandon Hyde their new manager until mid-December. As MLB.com's Joe Trezza covered, more coaches and executives are still needed.
Perhaps it's for the best that the Orioles aren't in a rush, but it's odd that a new year has arrived and everyone is still waiting on them to properly commence rebuilding. It's also hard not to wonder if opportunities that might otherwise have been available have already passed them by.
Boston Red Sox: Missing Out on David Robertson
The Boston Red Sox did well to re-up with Steve Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi, both of whom had huge hands in helping the club win yet another World Series in 2018.
Restocking their bullpen has been another matter. The Red Sox have already lost Joe Kelly, who signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for three years and $25 million. Ace closer Craig Kimbrel, who has a record-sized contract in mind, is almost certainly not coming back.
Boston couldn't even reel in David Robertson. There was mutual interest, according to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, and George A. King III of the New York Post reported the veteran right-hander would consider a discount to join the Red Sox. Instead, he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for two years and $23 million on Thursday, as first reported by Feinsand.
Robertson may have slipped away because of how tight money is in Boston. As noted by Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, the Red Sox's fear of the luxury tax seems to have put drastic constraints on their bullpen budget.
If so, the word "inexcusable" comes to mind.
Chicago Cubs: Picking Up Cole Hamels' Option
Picking up Cole Hamels' option isn't the worst way the Chicago Cubs could have kicked off their winter.
It officially cost them $20 million to do so. Factor in their corresponding flip of Drew Smyly and his $7 million salary to the Texas Rangers, and it effectively cost $13 million. That's not an exorbitant price to pay for the kind of stability Hamels should bring to the Cubs' starting rotation in 2019.
Yet, there was an argument for the Cubs to let Hamels go and roll with a starting five of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Mike Montgomery. They had other needs elsewhere, such as in their bullpen. They might have also moved to the front of the line for Bryce Harper.
Chicago White Sox: Non-Tendering Avisail Garcia
Even if they shock everyone by signing Harper or Manny Machado, the Chicago White Sox probably won't become contenders in 2019.
It therefore makes sense that they've thus far been busy gathering short-term assets such as Yonder Alonso and Ivan Nova. These are players they might flip for prospects later this summer.
But if this is the case, it's odd that they didn't keep Avisail Garcia around.
He was due to make $8 million, according to MLB Trade Rumors. That's a lot for a guy coming off an injury-marred 2018 season. It's not too much, however, for a guy who put up an All-Star-worthy .885 OPS as recently as 2017. What's more, Garcia is only 27 with just one more arbitration-eligible season ahead of him.
In other words, the White Sox had solid excuses to gamble $8 million on Garcia turning back into a trade chip.
Cincinnati Reds: Non-Tendering Billy Hamilton
The Cincinnati Reds have been busy bees on the trade market, where they've added Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Tanner Roark and Alex Wood.
If a few things break right, those four could be part of a surprise playoff team in 2019. If not, they and slugging second baseman Scooter Gennett are rentals the Reds might cash in on the summer trade market. Either way, they figure to make progress with their rebuild.
In retrospect, though, this makes their decision to non-tender Billy Hamilton puzzling.
The move saved the Reds from paying Hamilton (who signed with the Kansas City Royals) a projected $5.9 million, which is indeed a bit much for a one-dimensional speedster. But without him, the Reds are now would-be contenders without a true center fielder, much less another potential trade chip.
Barring another big addition, this looks like a move they might regret.
Cleveland Indians: The Yan Gomes Trade
Despite a laundry list of outgoing free agents, there was no payroll relief in sight for the Cleveland Indians when this offseason started. Thus, time to cut costs.
But did they really need to move Yan Gomes?
The Indians dealt Gomes to the Washington Nationals in November in exchange for three young players and relief from Gomes' $7 million salary. Even at the time, that was a waste for a catcher who had just enjoyed an All-Star campaign in 2018.
Time hasn't made it look better. Cleveland has subsequently cut even more salary by dealing Yonder Alonso and Edwin Encarnacion. The team now projects for a modest $116 million payroll in 2019, well below the $134.9 million mark at which it opened 2018.
Perhaps they should have looked to move Alonso and Encarnacion first, with a Gomes trade serving as Plan B. Because right now, it looks like they could have kept him.
Colorado Rockies: Missing Out on Billy Hamilton
The Colorado Rockies addressed a big infield need when they signed Daniel Murphy, but they still have major holes at catcher and in center field.
In Hamilton, one suitable fit for the latter problem has already sailed.
This is admittedly an arguable stance. Hamilton is a notoriously poor hitter who would have done little to boost a Rockies offense that needs as much help as it can get.
However, the Rockies probably had the most to gain from Hamilton's defense. Coors Field has the most fair territory of any major league stadium. Few, if any, players are equipped to cover it as well as Hamilton. Per Statcast, he's at his best when he ranges deep to his left or right.
Considering that Rockies center fielders ranked 28th in defensive runs saved last year, Hamilton's non-tender should have been music to their ears.
Detroit Tigers: Non-Tendering Alex Wilson
The Detroit Tigers' rebuild is chugging along. Among the trade chips they figure to cash in sometime in the near future are Nicholas Castellanos and newcomers Matt Moore, Tyson Ross and Jordy Mercer.
Alex Wilson might have been another for the list, but he was curiously non-tendered in November.
The 32-year-old righty's track record doesn't impress, but nor does it induce cringing. In four years as a regular in Detroit's pen between 2015 and 2018, he put up a 3.20 ERA in 246 appearances.
Wilson wasn't even on track to be paid more handsomely than he deserved. He was projected (per MLB Trade Rumors, via SB Nation) to earn just $2.8 million in his final season of arbitration eligibility.
Wilson wouldn't have been worth much on the 2019 trade market if he'd turned in another typical season. Still, he would have been worth something.
Houston Astros: Missing Out on Charlie Morton
To be fair, the Houston Astros wanted to bring back Charlie Morton. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, they made the right-hander an offer of one year with an option for 2020.
That just wasn't good enough for Morton, who accepted a two-year deal worth $30 million from the Tampa Bay Rays.
It makes some sense if the Astros weren't comfortable guaranteeing Morton more than a single year. He's a 35-year-old with an extensive history of injuries, including shoulder discomfort toward the end of 2018.
However, there's also the fact that Morton was very, very good in his two years with Houston. He posted a 3.36 ERA and whiffed 10.4 batters per nine innings in 55 starts. Beyond that lies the fact that the Astros sorely need depth behind Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in their rotation.
Regarding potential solutions for that problem, it looks as if the Astros missed an easy layup.
Kansas City Royals: The Terrance Gore Signing
It would be nice if the Kansas City Royals had moved some of their trade chips, but they still might. In the meantime, they've been making low-risk adds.
Among those, however, the Terrance Gore deal is worth a few scratches of the ol' head.
The money isn't the problem. Gore's deal is technically a split contract that maxes out at a $650,000 salary at the major league level. There's also some logic at play. According to GM Dayton Moore, per MLB.com's Jeffrey Flanagan, the Royals brought back Gore because they want to reclaim their speed-based identity.
The catch is that speed is literally all Gore has. He's had only 19 plate appearances in parts of five major league seasons, and he's barely played the field, to boot. He's a pinch runner and nothing else.
Even for such a small pittance, it makes little sense for a rebuilding team to waste a 40-man roster spot on such a player.
Los Angeles Angels: The Jonathan Lucroy Signing
Altogether, the Los Angeles Angels have guaranteed $25.85 million to Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Justin Bour and Jonathan Lucroy. That amounts to little risk for a decent amount of upside.
Save for Lucroy, who's out of upside to give.
Lucroy was an MVP-caliber player in 2014 and an All-Star as recently as 2016. Since then, he's had little to offer on either side of the ball. He's mustered a .668 OPS and 10 total home runs in the past two years. Meanwhile, his once-glorified framing talent has all but evaporated.
At this point, the 32-year-old isn't much more than a warm body behind the plate. That doesn't count for nothing at this particular position, but it's frustrating that the Angels didn't splurge on Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal or even old friend Martin Maldonado.
Had they done that, they would look like more than just an also-ran in a top-heavy AL West.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Making Hyun-Jin Ryu a Qualifying Offer
The Los Angeles Dodgers like to hold on to big stars—see: Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw—but that may not have been what they had in mind when they extended a $17.9 million qualifying offer to Hyun-Jin Ryu in November.
Though Ryu was fresh off a sparkling 1.97 ERA, he's also a 31-year-old who's been limited to just 41 appearances since 2016 due to injuries. The Dodgers may have been daring him to reject the offer and line them up to receive draft pick compensation if he signed elsewhere. Understandably, Ryu opted for the easy paycheck.
According to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, the Dodgers are trying to stay under the luxury tax in 2019. They'd presently be about $34 million under the threshold if they'd neglected to make Ryu a qualifying offer. They might have filled that space with Harper or any number of needed upgrades.
Instead, about half that space is going toward an injury-prone pitcher the Dodgers didn't need to bring back.
Miami Marlins: Parting Ways with Derek Dietrich
The Miami Marlins are in something of a holding pattern with their rebuild, in part because they don't have much to trade outside of J.T. Realmuto.
They might have had at least one other if they'd held on to Derek Dietrich.
Granted, the Marlins presumably wouldn't have designated him for assignment in November if they'd had interested parties on the line. It's not entirely inconceivable, however, that interest in Dietrich might have picked up in 2019.
The 29-year-old is certainly a limited player, particularly with the glove. But he at least has versatility going for him on defense, and his OPS since 2015 (.773) reflects his career OPS against right-handed pitching (.775).
The Marlins didn't even save much money by cutting Dietrich loose, as he was projected to earn a modest $4.8 million via arbitration. That shouldn't have been too much for a potential midsummer trade chip.
Milwaukee Brewers: Missing Out on Wilson Ramos
The Milwaukee Brewers have been laying low in the wake of their run to the National League Championship Series in 2018. It's not for lack of trying, however, as they've been linked to some big names.
Included among them is Ramos. According to Adam McCalvy of MLB.com, the Brewers had a "very good" meeting with the slugging backstop in December. Nonetheless, Ramos signed with the New York Mets for two years and $19 million not long after.
Yet, Ramos could have been the final piece of a World Series hopeful in Milwaukee, as opposed to just another piece of a playoff hopeful in New York. Assuming they didn't, the Brewers may come to regret not making Ramos an offer he couldn't refuse.
Minnesota Twins: Missing Out on Joakim Soria
The Minnesota Twins have already added Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron, and they have plenty of money left to spend.
It's too bad Joakim Soria got away, however.
Per Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN, the Brewers were interested in the two-time All-Star before he signed with the A's. Though he's only one of several impact relievers the Twins have had on their radar—Andrew Miller and Cody Allen are two more, per La Velle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune—he would have fit them well.
To completely move on from last year's meltdown-prone nightmare, the Twins need stability in the late innings. Soria's shtick is providing exactly that. He has a 2.88 career ERA, and he's coming off one of his best strikeout rates.
Missing out on Soria won't hurt so bad if the Twins land one of the top relievers lingering on the open market. But for now, it stings.
New York Mets: Not Closing a Deal for J.T. Realmuto
It's hard not to like the Mets' signing of Ramos. He's the kind of catching upgrade they sorely needed, and they got him for cheaper than expected.
Still, it wasn't a secret that the Mets really wanted J.T. Realmuto before they settled for Ramos.
Roughly half the rumors that came out during the winter meetings had something to do with the Mets trying to land Realmuto. Per SNY.tv's Andy Martino, they backed off because the Marlins wanted "significant" major league talent for the 27-year-old All-Star. Judging from the numerous reports that came out, that meant at least one of Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto or Amed Rosario.
It's understandable if the Mets value that threesome's collective controllability. Yet, only Nimmo matched Realmuto's value in 2018, and his platoon splits raise doubts about whether he can keep that up.
Given that new GM Brodie Van Wagenen is all about winning now, the Mets should have made tough sacrifice or two for baseball's best catcher.
New York Yankees: Re-Signing Brett Gardner
Before the New York Yankees traded for James Paxton, re-signed J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia and added Troy Tulowitzki, the first thing they did this offseason was re-up with Brett Gardner on Halloween.
To do that, the Yankees bypassed the outfielder's $12.5 million club option for 2019 and settled with him at a $9.5 million salary. On the surface, saving $3 million on an All-Star and Gold Glover is a good thing.
But necessary? Not so much. Gardner is 35 years old and on his way to being a glove-only player. His OPS has been below average in two of the last three years, including a well-below-average .690 in 2018.
Rather than bring back Gardner, the Yankees could have given Clint Frazier a shot or put that $9.5 million toward re-signing Andrew McCutchen. Or, given that they'd be that much further below the luxury tax threshold, the Yankees might have even gone for broke with a megadeal for Harper.
Oakland Athletics: Their Starting Pitching Strategy
In the words of executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane, per John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, the A's will be "opportunistic and patient" in their search for starting pitchers.
That can be shortened to "cheap." That's typically how the A's operate, and they haven't given themselves much choice but to stick with it.
In addition to bringing Soria aboard for two years and $15 million, the A's have also re-signed Mike Fiers at two years and $14 million. On their own, these are perfectly acceptable contracts.
Still, the sheer thinness of Oakland's projected rotation is alarming. There's nothing but question marks after Fiers, which invites speculation as to whether the A's should have spent every last dollar they had on starters.
Instead, the A's are already projected for an $86.7 million payroll. That's about as high as they have ever gone. Barring an unexpected splurge, their rotation will likely remain loaded with questions.
Philadelphia Phillies: Missing Out on Andrew Miller
The Phillies haven't signed Harper or Machado, but neither has gotten away yet.
In the meantime, the Phillies haven't swung and missed on many targets. Their offseason haul is headlined by McCutchen and Jean Segura, plus a couple of bullpen upgrades in Robertson, Juan Nicasio and Jose Alvarez.
The only notable miss is Miller. Per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, the Phillies were "strongly" in on the lefty before he landed with the St. Louis Cardinals on a two-year, $25 million contract.
Miller would have posed a good amount of risk to Philadelphia, but he also would have come with tremendous upside. Before he hit a wall in 2018, the 33-year-old posted a 1.72 ERA and 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings from 2014 to 2017.
Had Miller returned to form in Philadelphia, he would have been an excellent lefty complement for a late-inning relief corps that leans right-handed.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The Ivan Nova Trade
The Pittsburgh Pirates were never likely to have a busy offseason. Sure enough, the additions they've made have been of the low-risk, modest-reward variety.
Then there's the one notable subtraction: Ivan Nova.
The trade that sent him to the White Sox in December can be fairly described as "fine." The Pirates cut Nova's $9.2 million salary and got a young pitcher and some international bonus money in return.
Thing is, $9.2 million isn't too steep for Nova. Though the 31-year-old has a pedestrian 4.16 ERA since 2017, he ate 23.1 more innings than any other Pirates pitcher. With him gone, Pittsburgh's rotation has four solid arms and a hole.
Nick Kingham, top prospect Mitch Keller or a free agent may fill said hole if the Pirates feel like using their financial flexibility. Until then, the Nova trade is a risk for Pittsburgh.
San Diego Padres: Missing Out on Jurickson Profar
The San Diego Padres have done well to bring in a veteran presence (Ian Kinsler) and a massive upside play for 2020 (Garrett Richards) this winter.
They've been linked to even larger upgrades, however, and one has already been claimed by another team: Jurickson Profar.
Before the Texas Rangers sent him to the A's via a three-team trade in December, Profar had been on San Diego's radar, according to Dennis Lin of The Athletic. The possibility of an actual deal was supposedly "faint," yet the fit was there.
Profar could have slid into everyday duty at second base with the promise of serious upside. Though the 25-year-old has hit many speed bumps since he was a top prospect, he broke through with .793 OPS and 20 homers in 146 games in 2018.
A guy like this would have been better than the 36-year-old Kinsler, whose prime is squarely in the past.
San Francisco Giants: Missing Out on Tanner Roark
Former Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi is now the president of baseball operations for the San Francisco Giants, and he's in no rush to overhaul the club's roster. The Giants have been eerily quiet all winter.
Between the two, Roark would have suited the Giants better. He's a pitch-to-contact guy who likely would have gotten a boost from playing regularly at AT&T Park. And with free agency set to beckon him after 2019, the Giants could have flipped him if contention once again eluded them.
Instead, Cincinnati is taking precisely this sort of chance on Roark. Knowing how little the Reds gave up (Tanner Rainey) to do so, it's hard not to wonder if the Giants could have beaten them to it.
Seattle Mariners: Watering Down Edwin Diaz's Trade Value
The Seattle Mariners have been up to a lot this winter, and it's done them quite a bit of good. Their payroll is lighter. Their farm system has moved into the top 10. And while it's been weakened, their major league roster isn't terrible.
If there's room to complain about the Mariners' moves, it's regarding how the team traded Edwin Diaz.
Diaz finished 2018 with a 1.96 ERA and 15.2 strikeouts per nine innings. He's also only 24 and under club control through 2022. That, folks, is a hugely valuable trade chip.
Rather than cash in Diaz directly, however, the Mariners paired him with Robinson Cano in a deal with the Mets that netted them payroll relief and two good but not great prospects. In so doing, the Mariners chose the health of their payroll over the health of their farm system.
It'll only be worth it if they put the money they've saved to good use.
St. Louis Cardinals: Not Closing a Deal for Brad Hand
The Cardinals made one of the winter's biggest splashes when they traded for Goldschmidt in December. Not long after, they solidified their bullpen with Miller.
Yet, Miller may not have been St. Louis' first choice. According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals also considered signing Zach Britton and trading for Will Smith or Brad Hand.
Hand's name sticks out the most. All he's done since 2016 is pitch in 223 games and put up a 2.62 ERA with a dozen strikeouts per nine innings. With a hard fastball and sharp slider, he's resembled something of a Miller clone.
Because Hand is signed to a team-friendly contract that runs as far as 2021, it would have cost the Cardinals a big price to get him from Cleveland. Hand would have been worth it, though, particularly if the Cardinals could have based a deal around Jose Martinez's expendable bat.
Tampa Bay Rays: Missing Out on Nelson Cruz
The Tampa Bay Rays have responded to their surprising 90-win 2018 the right way. They've been busy making upgrades—the biggest of which was Morton on the team's largest-ever free-agent deal.
However, the Rays missed out on the upgrade they seemed to want the most: Cruz.
Per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, the Rays set out wanting to add "a right-handed hitter who can be a legit force in the middle of the lineup." Cruz, who's slammed 203 homers since 2014, headed their wish list.
According to Juan Toribio of MLB.com, the Rays made a "competitive" offer to Cruz. Unless he didn't want to play in Tampa—which is possible—it apparently wasn't good enough to beat the Twins' offer.
With Cruz off the table, the Rays may have to settle for a lesser option such as Encarnacion. He'd help, but he wouldn't close the gap between them and the Red Sox and Yankees as much as Cruz would have.
Texas Rangers: The Lance Lynn Signing
From one perspective, the Rangers' deal with Lynn is understandable.
The three-year, $30 million contract Lynn accepted in December is worth roughly twice what MLB Trade Rumors had projected him for. But given that the Rangers rotation struggled with a 5.37 ERA in 2018, it makes sense that they'd overpay for a starter.
All the same, $30 million is steep for a 31-year-old coming off a 4.77 ERA. And if the Rangers were willing to overpay for a rotation upgrade, it's possible they could have done better.
Morton signed for the same guarantee as Lynn, and Happ only beat it by only $4 million. Even if the Rangers had to pay more for either, they would have gained a better value than Lynn.
Toronto Blue Jays: Releasing Troy Tulowitzki
The Toronto Blue Jays no longer employ Tulowitzki, but they still have to pay him $38 million through 2020.
Perhaps it didn't have to be this way.
Though the Jays didn't release Tulo until Dec. 11, the five-time All-Star may have sealed his fate in September when he insisted on remaining at shortstop when he returned from surgery on both heels in 2019. With Lourdes Gurriel Jr. plugged in at the position and top prospect Bo Bichette on his way, it would have been tough for the Blue Jays to make that work. So, they didn't bother trying.
But since the Blue Jays have to pay Tulo either way, they might have given him a chance to show he was healthy so he could build trade value. In light of Jeff Passan of ESPN's report that the 34-year-old is showing his "best health in a long time," that wasn't such an outlandish possibility.
If Tulo is indeed healthy, he'll have a chance to give the Blue Jays an up-close look every time they play the Yankees.
Washington Nationals: Not Going for a Bigger Splash at Catcher
On its own, there's nothing wrong with Washington's trade for Gomes. He's a good catcher who doesn't cost a lot, and the Nationals didn't give up too much to get him from the Indians.
The Nats simply might have done better in their search for a catching upgrade.
With plenty of money at their disposal and a need to catch up in the NL East, they began the winter as a top candidate to sign either Ramos or Grandal. They've also been linked to Realmuto in the past, most notably around the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline.
A diagnosis such as this requires the best medicine possible. With Gomes, the Nationals settled for good enough.