Predicting the 2018-19 MLB Offseason Decisions That Will Crash and Burn
It's easy to identify a mistake with the benefit of hindsight.
The Boston Red Sox never should have sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.
The Cincinnati Reds would take a mulligan on trading Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles in the prime of his career.
If the Chicago Cubs could go back in time and hand Greg Maddux a blank check when he hit free agency after winning the NL Cy Young Award in 1992, they would.
And you better believe Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn regrets including Fernando Tatis Jr. in the trade for a washed-up James Shields.
It's a little trickier to call those mistakes ahead of time.
The following is a look at seven offseason decisions that could backfire badly in 2019—perhaps not on the level of the examples listed above, but potentially regrettable all the same.
New York Mets: Trading RP Bobby Wahl
The New York Mets have cast a wide net in their search for outfield help.
Aside from incumbent options Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares, they've also added veterans Rajai Davis, Gregor Blanco and Rymer Liriano on minor league deals and selected Braxton Lee in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft.
Yet even with all those options, they still decided to swing a trade to acquire Keon Broxton from the Brewers earlier this month. One of the three players sent to Milwaukee in the deal was right-handed reliever Bobby Wahl.
Wahl, 26, has seen limited action at the MLB level the past two seasons, posting a 6.92 ERA and 1.92 WHIP in 13.0 innings spanning 14 appearances. While those numbers don't paint him in a great light, a closer look at his minor league performance reveals a potential impact arm.
In 38 appearances at Triple-A last season, he tallied 12 saves and posted a 2.20 ERA and 0.87 WHIP with an eye-popping 73 strikeouts in 45 innings.
"This has a shot to be a really good deal for Milwaukee," one scout told Robert Murray of The Athletic, referring to the addition of Wahl.
His ability to go multiple innings and his starter's repertoire from his time in the Ole Miss rotation could make him an option in the "opener" role.
Oakland Athletics: Leaving SS Richie Martin Unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft
The Oakland Athletics used the No. 20 overall pick in the 2015 draft on shortstop Richie Martin.
A defensive whiz who hit a modest .291/.399/.430 with 21 extra-base hits and 20 steals during his junior season at the University of Florida, Martin was viewed as an MLB-caliber glove who would need to hit his way into an everyday role.
After a slow start to his pro career that included a .234/.311/.332 line between High-A and Double-A in 2017, his prospect star was all but extinguished until he turned in a breakout offensive season in a return to Double-A.
Over 509 plate appearances, he hit .300/.368/.439 while ranking among the Texas League leaders in hits (136, eighth), doubles (29, sixth), total bases (199, ninth) and steals (25, ninth).
Despite that performance, the A's opted against adding him to the 40-man roster this offseason, and the Orioles grabbed him with the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft.
"With Richie, we saw him as an above-average defender with plus range, with a plus arm at short and someone who can also move over to play second base," Orioles director of baseball operations Tripp Norton told reporters. "He had a resurgence offensively this year at Double-A. We view that as trending up."
The recent selections of Kevin Merrell (first round, 2017), Nick Allen (third round, 2017) and Jeremy Eierman (second round, 2018) has left the A's system flush with shortstop prospects. Facing a roster crunch, leaving Martin unprotected was justifiable.
That doesn't mean it won't be a decision Oakland winds up regretting.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Unloading SP Ivan Nova in a Salary Dump
The Pittsburgh Pirates traded for starter Chris Archer and reliever Keone Kela at the deadline last summer with an eye on contending in 2019. That makes the Ivan Nova trade a bit puzzling, as it doesn't make them better in the short term.
As a small-market team, the Pittsburgh front office is always looking for ways to save money. Trading Nova and his $9.2 million salary to the Chicago White Sox made sense as a means of freeing up payroll space.
However, nothing productive has been done with that money to this point.
While he's by no means an ace, Nova was a solid workhorse over the first two seasons of a three-year, $26 million deal in Pittsburgh. He averaged 174 innings with a 4.16 ERA (98 ERA+) and 1.28 WHIP.
The only significant move that's been made since that trade came on the same day when right-hander Jordan Lyles signed a one-year, $2.1 million deal. The 28-year-old has plus stuff and a first-round pedigree, but he also has a 5.28 career ERA, and 95 of his 113 appearances over the past three seasons have come in relief.
If Lyles can't hold down the No. 5 starter spot, the Pirates become increasingly reliant on the arrival of top prospect Mitch Keller.
A full season of Archer will no doubt provide a boost to the rotation, and Keller has a chance to make an immediate impact. Still, downgrading from Nova to Lyles to save $7 million looks like unnecessary penny-pinching.
Milwaukee Brewers: Non-Tendering Jonathan Schoop
Jonathan Schoop was one of the most productive hitters in baseball during the 2017 season.
After showing solid offensive potential during his first three seasons as the Orioles everyday second baseman, he exploded for a 124 OPS+ with 35 doubles, 32 home runs and 105 RBI to finish 12th in AL MVP balloting. A spike in his hard-contract rate from 26.6 to 36.1 percent provided further optimism that his breakout performance was for real.
Instead, he regressed considerably, hitting .244/.273/.447 (96 OPS+) with 18 doubles, 17 home runs and 40 RBI in 367 plate appearances before he was traded to Milwaukee at the deadline.
Despite those less-than-stellar numbers, his 2017 performance and team control for 2019 was enough for the Brewers to part with speedster Jonathan Villar and a pair of legitimate prospects—right-hander Luis Ortiz and shortstop Jean Carmona—in the trade.
However, rather than benefiting from the change of scenery, Schoop bottomed out. He hit a disastrous .202/.246/.331 with 41 strikeouts in 134 plate appearances following the trade.
Facing an arbitration salary expected to be north of $10 million, the Brewers decided to cut their losses, and Schoop was non-tendered just four months after the trade.
The Minnesota Twins moved quickly to sign him to a one-year, $7.5 million deal, while the Brewers are currently slated to rely on scrapheap signing Cory Spangenberg to man second base until top prospect Keston Hiura is ready.
So why not roll the dice on a solid bounce-back candidate filling a position of need?
St. Louis Cardinals: Signing Andrew Miller at a $12.5 Million AAV
Andrew Miller has a chance to be a huge addition to the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen.
The signing itself isn't the issue here; it's the cost.
If everything goes right and Miller not only stays healthy but returns to the elite form he showed in Cleveland, he's worth about $15 million to $17 million per year, based on the current market value for top-tier relievers.
At a $12.5 million annual value, there's not nearly enough room to account for the inherent risk that a pitcher of his age and with his recent injury history brings to the table.
In other words, the chances of him providing a positive net value on his salary are extremely low, while the risk that he dips into the red is extremely high.
Miller made three separate trips to the disabled list last season for issues with his right knee, left hamstring and left shoulder.
When he was able to take the mound, he never quite looked like his usual dominant self, posting a 4.24 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 37 appearances. He also logged his highest walk rate (4.2 BB/9) since 2013 and his lowest strikeout rate (11.9 K/9) since 2012.
On top of all that, he's also set to turn 34 on May 21.
With widespread interest, the Cardinals did what they needed to do to get a deal done.
Still, it's hard not to wonder if splurging on Zach Britton—who signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Yankees about a month after Miller joined the Cardinals—would have been the better investment.
Tampa Bay Rays: Swapping Jake Bauers for Yandy Diaz
The Tampa Bay Rays clearly see something in Yandy Diaz.
They jumped in as a third team in the trade that sent slugger Edwin Encarnacion from Cleveland to Seattle in exchange for Carlos Santana, with their part in the deal as follows:
- To TB: DH Yandy Diaz, RP Cole Sulser; To CLE: 1B/OF Jake Bauers; To SEA: $5 million;
Mandy Bell of MLB.com attempted to explain Tampa Bay's interest:
"Of 504 players over the last two seasons -- those who've made contact at least 100 times -- Aaron Judge's 54.6-percent hard-hit rate is No. 1. Diaz ranks 19th at 47.6 percent.
So why has Diaz hit one home run in 265 at-bats? Because he has the eighth-lowest launch angle and 25th-highest ground-ball rate. If the Rays can get him to elevate the ball, they could have a star."
Regardless of the upside, Bauers was a steep price to pay.
The 23-year-old ranked among top 100 prospects at the start of the 2016 (No. 78), 2017 (No. 70) and 2018 (No. 45) seasons. In his first taste of MLB action, he posted a 94 OPS+ with 22 doubles, 11 home runs and 48 RBI in 388 plate appearances while showing the defensive versatility to play first base and both corner outfield spots.
The $5 million sent to Seattle is also nothing to sneeze at for a team that had a total payroll of just $68.8 million in 2018.
If Diaz doesn't successfully change his approach and Bauers develops into the player he was always expected to be, this could be one the Rays really regret.
Cleveland Indians: Trading C Yan Gomes to Cut Cost
Buster Olney of ESPN reported at the start of the offseason that the Cleveland Indians were facing "market constraints" and open to the idea of moving some of their high-priced veterans.
The first to go was catcher Yan Gomes on Nov. 30.
Despite a bounce-back season at the plate and a reasonable $7.1 million salary in 2019, he was sent to the Washington Nationals for right-hander Jefry Rodriguez, outfielder Daniel Johnson and shortstop Andruw Monasterio.
In a bubble, it was a successful money-saving move.
However, the moves that have been made since have rendered it unnecessary.
After swapping Edwin Encarnacion for Carlos Santana and trading Yonder Alonso to the White Sox for a prospect, the small amount of payroll space created by the Gomes trade is hardly worth the hole it's created at the catcher position.
Light-hitting Roberto Perez (210 PA, .168 BA, 41 OPS+) and Mets castoff Kevin Plawecki (277 PA, .210 BA, 94 OPS+) now make up the catching tandem, with 26-year-old prospect Eric Haase also on the 40-man roster.
By comparison, Gomes hit .266/.313/.449 with 16 home runs and 48 RBI for a 103 OPS+ last season while also earning his first All-Star appearance and posting 2.6 WAR.
Taking it a step further, the decision to trade catching prospect Francisco Mejia last summer for reliever Brad Hand has left the Indians without a long-term solution at the position. That makes the 2020 ($9 million) and 2021 ($11 million) club options that Gomes has all the more difficult to lose.