Rethinking 2018-19 MLB Offseason Moves We Judged Too Quickly
Though April isn't even over yet, it's not too early to begin second-guessing what happened during Major League Baseball's 2018-2019 offseason.
Or at least our perception of what happened, anyway.
Looking back, there are 10 hot-stove deals—there are certainly more that deserve retrospectives, but 10 will do for now—that we think we judged too soon. They're a mix of trades and free-agent signings: five that we judged too harshly and five judged too generously.
We'll start off on a positive note with the better-than-expected deals.
The Carlos Santana-Edwin Encarnacion-Yandy Diaz Trade
The Deal: Cleveland Indians get 1B/DH Carlos Santana and 1B/LF Jake Bauers and cash; Seattle Mariners get 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion, a competitive balance pick and cash; Tampa Bay Rays get 3B/1B Yandy Diaz and RHP Cole Sulser
Last December's three-team trade between the Cleveland Indians, Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays was at once compelling and uninspiring.
For the Indians, it seemed to be about payroll considerations more than anything else. For the Mariners, it was about taking on a potentially valuable trade chip. For the Rays, it was about taking a chance on a largely unproven player to provide some right-handed thump.
As it actually turns out, everyone's getting something out of it.
Edwin Encarnacion has helped fuel Seattle's offensive onslaught with a .929 OPS and five homers. Yandy Diaz has aided the Rays' early rise with a .923 OPS and four long balls. While the rest of the offense has struggled, Santana and his 1.052 OPS have been a godsend for the Indians.
All three of these guys deserve a mea culpa for our underestimating them, but none more so than Santana. He's been a reliably above-average hitter for years, and that didn't really change in 2018 despite what his .766 OPS suggested. He really only had two bad months.
At this rate, the Indians won't regret taking on the remainder of Santana's three-year, $60 million contract.
Miami Marlins Trade for Jorge Alfaro
The Deal: Philadelphia Phillies get C J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins get C Jorge Alfaro, RHP Sixto Sanchez, LHP Will Stewart and international bonus money
Good talent at catcher is hard to find right now, so we joined everyone else in celebrating the Philadelphia Phillies for landing J.T. Realmuto in a February trade with the Miami Marlins. According to Baseball Reference wins above replacement, he was baseball's best backstop in 2018.
The Marlins' haul deserved good marks in its own right, in large part because Sixto Sanchez was included in it. He's an elite pitching prospect who's drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez.
Right now, however, it's Jorge Alfaro who's looking like the real prize for Miami. Through 14 games, the 25-year-old has an .889 OPS and three home runs.
This is a departure from the .731 OPS and 10 homers Alfaro mustered in 2018, yet it's actually in line with his second-half improvement during which he registered a .788 OPS. And he's no one-trick pony, as Baseball Prospectus' metrics rated him as a top-five defensive catcher for 2018.
Evidently, what the Marlins have in Alfaro is a catcher who's only now coming into his prime as a two-way threat and who'll be with them through 2023. "The Jorge Alfaro Trade" should come to have a nice ring to it.
Arizona Diamondbacks Sign Adam Jones
The Deal: One year, $3 million
It was strange to watch Adam Jones linger on the free-agent market until March 11, when he was finally snatched up by the Arizona Diamondbacks on a dirt-cheap $3 million deal.
The deal itself, however, seemed about right. Jones may have gone into the offseason with five All-Star nods and four Gold Gloves to his name, but his 2018 season produced only 0.2 WAR. When coupled with his 33 years of age, that looked like clear evidence his prime was truly over.
Not so much, as it turns out. Jones has cranked his OPS up from .732 to .999, and the five homers he's hit put him well on pace to surpass the 15 he hit last season.
None of this was foretold by Jones' underlying 2018 metrics. He was his usual free-swinging self, and Statcast's xwOBA metric—which is based on strikeouts, walks and contact quality—didn't see any bad luck in his results.
Still, we'll knock ourselves for not giving more consideration to the possibility of Jones being energized simply from escaping a 115-loss Baltimore Orioles club. To this end, he's certainly having a hand in keeping the D-backs reasonably close to first place in the National League West.
Toronto Blue Jays Sign Freddy Galvis
The Deal: One year, $5 million
The Toronto Blue Jays could have given Troy Tulowitzki a chance to stick at shortstop in 2019. Or, they might have entrusted the position to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or top prospect Bo Bichette.
Go figure that the Blue Jays are getting much more from Galvis than they bargained for. The 29-year-old has mashed to the tune of a .970 OPS and five home runs.
Per the .664 career OPS that Galvis carried into the season, this almost certainly isn't going to last. But had we endeavored to look closer, we might have noticed the .776 OPS and nine homers Galvis put up in the second half of 2018.
An even closer look would have shown that he had joined the Launch Angle Era and cut way down on his ground balls. That trend is ongoing and very much fueling his hot hitting.
To be sure, Bichette is still at the center of the Blue Jays' long-term shortstop plans. But if nothing else, their signing of Galvis is on track to yield one of the summer's hottest trade chips.
New York Yankees Sign DJ LeMahieu
The Deal: Two years, $24 million
If the New York Yankees were going to make a deal with an infielder during the 2018-2019 offseason, just about everyone expected it would be a megadeal with Manny Machado.
In actuality, the Yankees took themselves out of the Machado sweepstakes in January when they inked DJ LeMahieu to a lesser contract worth $24 million.
We weren't the only ones who were puzzled. LeMahieu's Gold Glove-winning second base defense was half his appeal, yet the Yankees signed him as a utility guy. Otherwise, there was the question of whether he could hit as well at Yankee Stadium as he did at Coors Field, where he put up a .329 average and .834 OPS.
Well, maybe the Yankees knew that LeMahieu's presence would loom large after Miguel Andujar and Troy Tulowitzki joined Didi Gregorius on the injured list. If so, then perhaps they're not surprised to see LeMahieu hitting .351 with an .845 OPS.
In other words, the .299 average he put up as a member of the Colorado Rockies clearly wasn't all Coors Field's doing.
New York Mets Trade for Robinson Cano
The Deal: New York Mets get 2B Robinson Cano, RHP Edwin Diaz and cash, Seattle Mariners get OF/1B Jay Bruce, RHP Anthony Swarzak, RHP Gerson Bautista, OF Jarred Kelenic and RHP Justin Dunn
The New York Mets didn't risk more than they had to in the December blockbuster with the Seattle Mariners that netted them Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. So far, they must be happy that both are part of a winning team.
Still, it's not too soon to start worrying about Cano.
We (and probably the Mets, too) figured the 36-year-old would stop hitting eventually but not right away. Yet that's what's happening, as he has just a .582 OPS and two homers through 17 games.
Cano came into 2019 with an .848 career OPS, not to mention fresh off an .845 OPS in 2018. Moreover, he was actually better after he returned from an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
But if the PED suspension wasn't a warning to be heeded, Cano's power output should have been. He's had only one good power-hitting season since 2014, and his early returns in 2019 are continuing that pattern. Neither his fly ball/line drive exit velocity nor his pull rate suggests that it's a fluke.
Unless something gives, the Mets will be stuck with an albatross through 2023.
Washington Nationals Sign Brian Dozier
The Deal: One year, $9 million
When the Washington Nationals signed Brian Dozier to a $9 million contract in January, it seemed like a potential mega-steal.
This was the same Brian Dozier who'd slugged 76 homers with an .871 OPS in 2016 and 2017. He slumped to a .696 OPS and 21 homers in 2018, but he told Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register in September that was because he had been playing through a bone bruise in his right knee.
It's a new season now, yet you'd never know it from looking at Dozier's offensive production. Through 14 games, he's sitting on a .469 OPS and one lonely home run.
In retrospect, we should have been in less of a rush to take Dozier's knee excuse at face value and more concerned with the fracturing of his offensive style. His power stroke is all about getting the ball in the air to his pull side, yet his ability to do so has been steadily diminishing since 2015.
There's no recovery for that in sight right now. And from looking at how much more aggressively they're pounding the strike zone against Dozier, opposing pitchers know it.
St. Louis Cardinals Sign Andrew Miller
The Deal: Two years, $25 million
The St. Louis Cardinals needed to find a late-inning partner in crime for young fireballer Jordan Hicks. Their solution was to take a chance on Andrew Miller, whom they signed for $25 million in December.
We were optimistic because, when healthy, Miller has proved himself to be one MLB's best relief pitchers. One need look no further than the 1.72 ERA and 14.5 strikeouts-per-nine rate he racked up between 2014 and 2017.
The "when healthy" part was always iffy, however. Miller missed a chunk of 2017 with a bad knee and a chunk of 2018 with a bad shoulder. He was able to muster a 1.44 ERA in the former season, but he slipped to a 4.24 ERA in the latter.
So it goes out of the gate in 2019, wherein Miller is struggling with a 6.35 ERA and a 7-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio through his first nine outings. This is happening because the 33-year-old has recovered none of that which once made him special. His fastball velocity is down, and he can't find the strike zone or avoid contact.
Like the Cardinals, we hung our hats on Miller's best-case scenario. What's unfolding in reality is the opposite of that.
New York Yankees Re-Sign Zack Britton
The Deal: Three years, $39 million
Zack Britton is another late-inning left-hander who could have suited the St. Louis Cardinals, but he ultimately returned to the New York Yankees on a $39 million deal in January.
His contract looked excessive in light of his 2017 and 2018 seasons—which featured a 3.00 ERA over only 79 appearances because of forearm and Achilles injuries—but we had his 2014 to 2016 run in mind. He would be a steal if he could come anywhere close to the 1.38 ERA he posted in those three seasons.
So far, so not good. Britton has appeared in seven games and racked up a 4.05 ERA with five strikeouts and four walks in 6.2 innings.
Britton is still inducing ground balls with the best of 'em, but the declines in his strikeout and walk rates are looking realer by the day. Furthermore, it would seem that the 31-year-old's age isn't letting his good health revive his fastball velocity.
It's also fair to wonder if Britton's pitching style has become outdated. Whereas many pitchers have adjusted to the Launch Angle Era by throwing more high fastballs, Britton is still operating primarily at the bottom of the strike zone, where the slugging percentage against him is climbing ever higher.
Los Angeles Dodgers Sign A.J. Pollock
The Deal: Four years, $55 million
Should the Los Angeles Dodgers have splurged for Bryce Harper? Had you asked us or pretty much anyone else over the winter, the answer would have been yes.
Yet the $55 million deal they signed A.J. Pollock to in January didn't strike us as a pitiful consolation prize. Pollock was nearly Harper's equal in WAR between 2013 and 2018, and his two most recent seasons produced an .801 OPS, 35 home runs and 33 stolen bases despite injuries that limited him to 225 games.
Pollock's defense should recover but probably not to the level he was at between 2013 and 2015, when he racked up 34 defensive runs saved. He will need his bat to carry him.
Alas, what's eating him now are the same difficulties we should have noticed were eating him amid his .699 OPS in the second half of 2018. His ground balls are still up, and his hard-hit rate is still down.
In hindsight, now we're really thinking the Dodgers should have signed Harper, who's off and running with a .984 OPS for the Philadelphia Phillies.