Ranking the 10 Most Impactful Moves of the MLB Offseason So Far

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2020

Ranking the 10 Most Impactful Moves of the MLB Offseason So Far

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    SP Gerrit Cole
    SP Gerrit ColeMike Stobe/Getty Images

    The MLB offseason is not over just yet, but as the calendar turns from 2019 to 2020, now is the perfect time for a rundown of the most impactful moves of the winter thus far.

    There is still one significant free-agent piece searching for a new contract in third baseman Josh Donaldson, and trade rumors continue to swirl around superstars like Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor and Kris Bryant.

    For now, we've chosen the 10 most impactful additions of the offseason, based on the expected contributions of each player to his new team's success.

    This mix of free-agent signings and trade acquisitions should serve as a nice overview of the biggest deals of the offseason to date.

    Let's dive right in.

10. Chicago White Sox Sign Dallas Keuchel

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    The Chicago White Sox have had a busy offseason as they look to make the leap from rebuilding to contention on the heels of a 72-89 season.

    After their starters posted a 5.30 ERA last season, upgrading the rotation was a top priority, and they did just that by signing Dallas Keuchel to a three-year, $55.5 million contract.

    "We view this as the next logical step in our process, one that was a high priority for us entering this offseason," general manager Rick Hahn told reporters. "And that being adding someone who not only helps stabilize the rotation but someone who is going to be a key contributor inside the clubhouse, as well."

    Keuchel, 32, sat out the first half of the 2019 season when his free-agent market failed to materialize due in part to being saddled with a qualifying offer. He eventually joined the Atlanta Braves in June and went on to post a 3.75 ERA in 112.2 innings.

    The 2015 AL Cy Young winner brings a wealth of experience to a young White Sox staff, having pitched in the postseason each of the past three years and totaled 59.2 career playoff innings.

    He'll slot alongside breakout ace Lucas Giolito at the top of a rotation that also features promising young arms like Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and, eventually, a healthy Michael Kopech.

    The Chicago Cubs were at a similar point in their rebuilding process when they signed Jon Lester, and while Keuchel is not expected to make quite the same level of impact, this could prove to be a significant addition for the South Siders on multiple levels.

9. San Diego Padres Acquire Tommy Pham

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    There was a lot to unpack from the four-player trade that sent Tommy Pham from the Tampa Bay Rays to the San Diego Padres.

    The Rays brought in slugger Hunter Renfroe, who hit 33 home runs last season and is under team control through 2023, and infield prospect Xavier Edwards, who slotted in as the No. 5 prospect in a deep system, according to MLB.com. Intriguing two-way player Jake Cronenworth also went to San Diego in the swap.

    However, the clear centerpiece of the deal from the Padres' standpoint was the significant upgrade from Renfroe to Pham in the outfield:

    • Pham: 119 OPS+, .273/.369/.450, 56 XBH (21 HR), 3.7 WAR
    • Renfroe: 102 OPS+, .216/.289/.489, 53 XBH (33 HR), 2.6 WAR

    The over-the-fence production from Renfroe is nice, but it's impossible to ignore an 80-point difference in on-base percentage that should help make Pham a valuable table-setter in San Diego.

    "He'll definitely be in the mix in terms of setting the tone for our offense, being a producer, getting on base, grinding at-bats," Padres GM A.J. Preller told reporters. "He's somebody that on a day-in, day-out basis can be a mainstay for us."

    With two 20-20 seasons in the past three years and the defensive ability to play all three outfield spots, Pham provides the Padres with the more well-rounded player they were seeking as they try to return to relevance in the NL West.

8. Arizona Diamondbacks Sign Madison Bumgarner

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    When Madison Bumgarner decided to decline his qualifying offer from the San Francisco Giants and test the free-agent market, a number of teams looked like obvious speculative fits.

    The Arizona Diamondbacks were not one of them.

    Nevertheless, the D-backs inked him to a five-year, $85 million deal to fill the void at the top of the rotation left by the Zack Greinke trade.

    Arizona general manager Mike Hazen told reporters: 

    "I think this is a pretty important day for us. [It's] something that we didn't necessarily start out this offseason with this in mind ... but this piece, this player, this person, the more work that we did going through the offseason, [it's] what we felt like we needed at the top of the rotation. His presence, his leadership, certainly his track record. All the things we've watched from across the field, the success he's had with the San Francisco Giants."

    Bumgarner, 30, eclipsed the 200-inning mark for the seventh time in his career last year, posting a 3.90 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 203 strikeouts and 20 quality starts in 207.2 innings.

    Adding him to the mix could allow the D-backs to flip starting pitcher Robbie Ray ahead of his final year of team control, which might seem counterproductive but would mirror their decision to trade Paul Goldschmidt while still pushing for contention last year.

    More than a few pitchers have struggled at Chase Field over the years, but Bumgarner has strong numbers over a large sample size with a 3.13 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 118 career innings.

    After the D-backs closed out last season with a 31-22 record over the final two months en route to an 85-win season, Bumgarner could be the piece that vaults them into wild-card contention.

7. Chicago White Sox Sign Yasmani Grandal

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    On the surface, the catcher position did not look like a glaring need for the Chicago White Sox after James McCann turned in a surprising 3.8 WAR season and earned a spot on the AL All-Star team.

    In the end, the opportunity to add one of the best catchers in baseball proved too good to pass up, and Yasmani Grandal was signed to a four-year, $73 million contract.

    A promising young pitching staff proved to be a valuable bargaining chip for the South Siders.

    "I don't care where I'm going as long as I see a future in the pitching staff," Grandal told reporters. "If I see that I can help that pitching staff, for me that's pretty much No. 1. So, their sales pitch was: Look at the young arms we have, look at the guys we have coming up. We have an opportunity here to win, and we think you can help them out."

    One of the best pitch-framers in baseball and a solid defender overall who has been worth 64 DRS behind the plate during his eight MLB seasons, his ability to handle a staff will be invaluable to the long-term development of the White Sox's young arms.

    It doesn't hurt that he's also coming off a season when he set new career highs in home runs (28) and RBI (77) while drawing 109 walks and posting a .380 on-base percentage.

    The White Sox have made multiple significant additions this offseason, and Grandal has a chance to be the most impactful of the bunch.

6. Texas Rangers Acquire Corey Kluber

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    I've referenced the following stats more than once this offseason while discussing the Texas Rangers' 2019 rotation behind Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, and they are worth mentioning once again:

    "A grand total of 17 other pitchers started at least one game, none of whom topped 100 innings in a starting role or made more than 18 starts on the year. The side-by-side numbers are staggering:

    • Minor/Lynn: 65 GS, 36 QS, 30-21, 3.63 ERA, 416.2 IP
    • 17 Other SP: 97 GS, 19 QS, 15-39, 7.22 ERA, 391.1 IP

    Despite essentially playing the season with 40 percent of a starting rotation, Texas managed to win 78 games."

    The holes at the back of the staff were first addressed by signing Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles in free agency and then by swinging a trade to acquire two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber from the Cleveland Indians.

    There are some obvious question marks surrounding Kluber after a fractured forearm limited him to just seven starts in 2019, which left his trade value at an all-time low.

    If he comes even close to returning to the pre-injury form that saw him post a 2.85 ERA, 151 ERA+ and 1.02 WHIP while averaging 246 strikeouts and 218 innings from 2014-18, Kluber could be the piece that pushes the Rangers over the top.

    The 33-year-old is owed $17.5 million in 2020 and comes with an $18 million club option for 2021, so he can be more than just a rental if he bounces back. All it cost to acquire him was speedy outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. and hard-throwing reliever Emmanuel Clase.

5. Atlanta Braves Sign Cole Hamels

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Other pitchers landed bigger contracts this offseasonboth in years and moneythan the one-year, $18 million deal Cole Hamels signed with the Atlanta Braves.

    However, he has a chance to make as big of an impact as anyone pitching for a clear contender.

    "It made a lot of sense for us," GM Alex Anthopoulos told reporters. "You're betting on the person, the human being and the work ethic. He takes tremendous care of himself. We feel he has a chance to pitch at a high level for a long time."

    The 36-year-old posted a 2.98 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 17 starts through the end of June before missing time with an oblique strain and then scuffled to a 5.79 ERA in 10 starts the rest of the way.

    "We feel he has a good chance to be the guy he was in the first half of the year," Anthopoulos said. "I think it's been very well documented when he came back from the oblique injury, his shoulder wasn't 100 percent sound."

    Hamels joins the young trio of Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz and Max Fried in the Atlanta rotation, with the No. 5 spot still up for grabs among multiple young starters with varying levels of upside.

    With 100.1 postseason innings and a 3.41 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in October, Hamels brings a wealth of experience to a Braves team eyeing a third straight NL East title.

4. Los Angeles Angels Sign Anthony Rendon

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    The biggest need for the Los Angeles Angels this offseason was improving an extremely thin crop of starting pitching options.

    After missing out on Gerrit Cole and several of the market's other top arms, it looks like they will settle for Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran as the biggest additions to the rotation.

    So while Anthony Rendon has a chance to once again be one of the most productive offensive players in baseball slotted alongside Mike Trout in the middle of the lineup, it's hard to rank this signing any higher than the No. 4 spot since it did not address the team's biggest need.

    That said, Rendon is still a significant upgrade for an Angels team eyeing contention after the club's third basemen produced an MLB-worst .651 OPS with just 13 home runs in 2019.

    "[Rendon is] someone that embodies a lot of the characteristics we like in our players," general manager Billy Eppler told reporters. "When he's playing the game, he's calm and cool and just very measured. He doesn't get too high and doesn't get too low. He's obviously an impact player, so we're happy to get him here."

    The 29-year-old hit .319/.412/.598 for a 153 OPS+ with 44 doubles, 34 home runs and a league-leading 126 RBI, finishing third in NL MVP voting.

    After tallying 6.3 WAR in 2019, compared to the 1.9 WAR produced by Angels third basemen, Rendon clearly has a chance to be a difference-making addition.

3. Philadelphia Phillies Sign Zack Wheeler

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    The Philadelphia Phillies went into last season with lofty expectations, despite failing to make a significant addition to their starting rotation.

    They wound up finishing 17th in the majors with a 4.64 starters' ERA, and Aaron Nola (3.87 ERA, 202.1 IP) was the only starter to post a sub-4.00 ERA on the year.

    Enter Zack Wheeler.

    The right-hander was signed to a five-year, $118 million contract on Dec. 9 as one of the first major dominoes to fall on the free-agent market.

    Manager Joe Girardi told reporters:

    "Well, I think you're going to have a 1 and a 1A with him and [Aaron] Nola. When you look at what he's done the last few years and really throughout his career, he's continued to get better and better. This is a power guy with four pitches where I think he's just starting to reach his potential. I think there is more in the tank there. I think this guy can be more dominant than he's been, and we're looking forward to seeing the top of our rotation."

    Wheeler, 29, posted a 3.65 ERA and 1.20 WHIP with 374 strikeouts in 377.2 innings over the past two seasons.

    After missing the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery and posting a 5.21 ERA in 86.1 innings in 2017, he returned strong in 2018 and threw a career-high 195.1 innings this past season, erasing any lingering questions about his health.

    As the Phillies look to bridge the gap in an ultracompetitive NL East, Wheeler has a chance to be one of the most important players of the 2020 season.

2. Washington Nationals Re-Sign Stephen Strasburg

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    After a terrific regular season that resulted in a fifth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting and a brilliant postseason run, Stephen Strasburg opted out of the final four years and $100 million of his contract with the Washington Nationals.

    Just over a month later, he was re-signed to a massive seven-year, $245 million contract, thus keeping the three-headed monster of Strasburg, Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin intact until at least 2022.

    It was always highly unlikely that the Nationals would be able to keep both Strasburg and Rendon, and sure enough, the two ended up signing identical contracts.

    Bringing back Strasburg was the right choice.

    Nats GM Mike Rizzo told reporters:

    "We couldn't be happier to announce the re-signing of one of our most popular and most important players on our roster in Stephen Strasburg. As you all know, he's a player near and dear to my heart. Drafted, signed, developed and turned into a superstar right before our eyes with 'Washington' on the front of his chest. So we couldn't be happier that we've signed him long term. He's a wonderful person, a wonderful player and a true champion."

    The 31-year-old posted a 3.32 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and a career-high 251 strikeouts over an NL-leading 209 innings in his second 6-WAR season in the past three years.

    After dealing with some injuries earlier in his career, Strasburg proved durable in his contract year, and now he'll be counted on to continue leading the staff going forward.

1. New York Yankees Sign Gerrit Cole

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    It's not every year that a pitcher of Gerrit Cole's caliber hits the free-agent market.

    He now has a chance to join the likes of Greg Maddux (to ATL), Roger Clemens (to TOR), Randy Johnson (to ARI), Kevin Brown (to FLA), Max Scherzer (to WAS) and Jon Lester (to CHC) in the conversation for best free-agent starting pitcher in MLB history.

    The 29-year-old led the AL in ERA (2.50) and the league in ERA+ (185) and strikeouts (326) in 2019, finishing second to teammate Justin Verlander in AL Cy Young voting.

    He racked up double-digit strikeouts in 21 of his 33 starts, and his 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings set a single-season record for a pitcher who qualified for the ERA title.

    Now he joins an already stacked New York Yankees roster as baseball's most storied franchise looks to return to the World Series for the first time since 2009.

    It took a record-setting nine-year, $324 million contract to sign him, and he'll join Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ in the starting rotation, with top prospect Deivi Garcia and a healthy Jordan Montgomery in the mix for innings at some point in 2020.

    "We feel like we have the makings of a really good rotation," manager Aaron Boone told reporters. "I feel like sometimes our rotation doesn't quite get the credit that I think it deserves. Obviously adding a guy like Cole to that mix makes it one of the best."

    Cole was the prize of the offseason, and the Yankees landed him despite no shortage of rumblings that the California native preferred to return home. Now he has a chance to make the biggest impact of any free agent on baseball's biggest stage.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.