Biggest MLB Offseason Winners and Losers 1 Month from Spring Training
With Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel still lingering on the open market, it's hard to say the Major League Baseball offseason is winding down, much less over.
Spring training is just over the horizon, however, and enough has happened for us to take stock of who has and hasn't made out well during the hot-stove season.
Ahead is a look at the four biggest winners and four biggest losers of the MLB offseason. For "variety is the spice of life" purposes, they include four teams, two free-agent signees and two traded players whose fortunes have or haven't been improved this winter.
We'll start with the teams.
Winner: Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals haven't re-signed Harper yet, but that hasn't stopped them from loading up on both the free-agent and trade markets.
Patrick Corbin is Washington's biggest new addition. His free-agent contract is worth $140 million over six years. He's coming off an All-Star 2018 campaign highlighted by a 3.15 ERA and 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Along with fellow new arrival Anibal Sanchez and incumbents Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, Corbin is now part of one of MLB's best rotations.
Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki, meanwhile, should fix a catcher position that produced negative wins above replacement in both 2017 and 2018, according to Baseball Reference. Brian Dozier and Matt Adams bring extra depth and offensive upside to the right side of the Nats infield.
Washington's bullpen also now includes Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough. Rosenthal is a former All-Star who should be recovered from Tommy John surgery. Barraclough is wild, but there's lightning in his arm.
In all, the Nats are a much deeper team now than they were before. According to FanGraphs' projections, they're also the team to beat in the National League East in 2019.
Loser: Chicago Cubs
As of now, Daniel Descalso and Kendall Graveman are the Chicago Cubs' two biggest additions. The former is a utility guy. The latter is a starter who'll miss 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
The Cubs' silence has much to do with their tricky payroll situation. Their luxury-tax bill for 2019 projects at $225.1 million. That's well over the $206 million threshold for baseline penalties, and less than $1 million away from the $226 million threshold for harsher penalties.
However, the Cubs weren't doomed to be in this position.
They could have let Cole Hamels go rather than picking up his $20 million option. They also could have cut alleged domestic abuser Addison Russell loose rather than tendering him a contract. They might also be trying harder to dump some bad contracts (e.g., Jason Heyward) via the trade market.
Failing all this, the Cubs could always just, you know, go ahead and spend and worry about cutting payroll after their contention window closes.
Instead, a team that likely overachieved in winning 95 games in 2018 looks no better for 2019. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds have been gearing up for a tough fight in the NL Central.
Winner: New York Mets
The New York Mets seemed ticketed for a rebuild after stumbling to 85 losses in 2018. Instead, Brodie Van Wagenen came aboard as their new general manager in October and immediately announced a plan to win now.
Thus began a major makeover which has thus far netted Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Jed Lowrie, Wilson Ramos, Keon Broxton and J.D. Davis.
New York's bullpen, which led the NL in meltdowns last year, now has arguably the best closer in baseball (Diaz) and an old friend (Familia) who's been an All-Star-caliber closer in his own right. This should equal better support for Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler.
On the offensive side of things, Cano, Lowrie and Ramos bring experience and reliability to a Mets lineup that was short on both. Davis and Broxton, meanwhile, pack enough upside to earn playing time.
Making this all the more impressive is how the Mets haven't blown up either their payroll or their farm system. They've spent money, sure, but their offseason has mostly been an exercise in creativity.
The result is a team that should at least be a wild-card contender in 2019, and potentially much more if a few things break right.
Loser: Cleveland Indians
Back in 2016, the Cleveland Indians came one win away from their first World Series championship since 1948. Compare this to 2018, wherein they got swept out of the first round of the playoffs.
Better things don't seem to be in store for Cleveland in 2019.
As expected, budgetary constraints have taken a toll on the roster. Michael Brantley, Josh Donaldson and Andrew Miller have departed as free agents. Gomes, Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso have all left via the trade market.
Comparatively, the list of new arrivals fails to impress. Carlos Santana's return is the big one. After him, there's Jake Bauers, Kevin Plawecki and assorted other depth pieces.
Granted, there's comfort in knowing that Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco and (for now) Corey Kluber aren't going anywhere. And for what it's worth, FanGraphs still projects the Indians to win the 2019 American League Central race.
This is nonetheless a weaker team than recent iterations. Maybe that won't cost the Indians the AL Central, but it'll almost certainly cost them in a wider AL race that was paced by three 100-win teams in 2018.
Winner: Patrick Corbin
As far as players go, the biggest winner from this winter's free-agent market will be revealed after Harper and Machado sign contracts. One or both of them could beat Giancarlo Stanton's record $325 million payday.
In the meantime, Corbin is the runaway champion among free agents.
Beyond being more than twice as large as the next-biggest deal found on the open market—Clayton Kershaw's $93 million pact with the Los Angeles Dodgers doesn't count—Corbin's $140 million contract with the Nationals is also more than he was expected to get.
To wit, MLB Trade Rumors pegged him for $125 million. FanGraphs and Fancred's Jon Heyman only went as high as $100 million. At a time when free agents are typically coming in well under projections, this makes Corbin a refreshing outlier.
Moreover, Corbin's $140 million deal landed him in a place where he should succeed. The Nationals can replicate the catching and defense advantages that aided the 29-year-old's big breakout with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018. He could get his first taste of postseason action in 2018. It might not be his last.
Loser: Yasmani Grandal
Front offices have become more apathetic toward free agency, and components such as the qualifying offer and the luxury tax have given owners an excuse to invest as little into it as possible. As a result, many players are walking away disappointed.
For a prime example, look no further than Yasmani Grandal.
The one-year, $18.3 million contract he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers is partially of his own making. Per Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times, Grandal had previously rejected a four-year, $60 million offer from the Mets. In so doing, he clearly misread his market.
In Grandal's defense, however, he was right to be optimistic. Talented catchers are hard to find right now, and he's arguably the best there is. Between his strong offense (.815 OPS and 24 homers) and excellent framing, he led all catchers in Baseball Prospectus' version of WAR in 2018.
Good on the Brewers for making an opportunistic play, of course, but more teams should have been in on Grandal.
Winner: Paul Goldschmidt
The winter's most underappreciated move has to be the Cardinals' blockbuster trade for Paul Goldschmidt. It outfitted them with baseball's best first baseman, and it's a sweet deal for him, too.
It might be good enough for Goldschmidt, whose contract runs out this season, that he's escaped from Arizona. The Diamondbacks installed a humidor at Chase Field for 2018. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Goldschmidt went from a career .959 OPS at home all the way down to a .782 OPS.
That didn't stop him from having another MVP-caliber season, in part because he posted a 1.053 OPS on the road. Though Busch Stadium isn't the best venue he could have asked for as a place to carry that success over at home, it's a place where he's hit well (.890 OPS) in the past.
As long as Goldschmidt, 31, does his thing, the Cardinals should build on last year's 88-win output. That would at least put them in range of a wild-card berth. It's not out of the question that they'll blow past that and reclaim the NL Central throne.
Altogether, Goldschmidt should find more success and exposure in St. Louis this year than he would have in Arizona. Those are ideal conditions for a walk year.
Loser: Tanner Roark
Players don't have much (if any) say in where they're traded, so there's always a possibility that a trade might leave one player grumbling.
Right now, that guy might be Tanner Roark.
The 32-year-old was sent from the Nationals to the Cincinnati Reds in December. He was due to spend 2019 in the back of Washington's rotation. Now he's slated near the top of Cincinnati's.
Since 2019 is Roark's walk year, however, he needs all the help he can get to recover from two straight mediocre seasons (4.50 ERA over 361.2 innings) and get back to being more like the All-Star-caliber pitcher he was in 2014 and 2016.
Such help may not be forthcoming. The Reds defense could be even worse than the unit that tied for 22nd in efficiency in 2018. Then there's Great American Ball Park to worry about. Roark was more of a fly-ball pitcher last year. Only Coors Field and Fenway Park yielded worse results for pitchers on fly balls than GABP in 2018.
Fellow newcomer Alex Wood also has to worry about these conditions, but he has a more reliable strikeout talent than Roark's to fall back on. Roark may simply need to hope for good luck.