The Most Underrated Additions of the 2020 MLB Offseason
We're still in the initial stages of MLB spring training 2.0. The moves that made headlines this winter seem like they happened a long time ago.
As we await the delayed start of the 2020 campaign, let's gaze back at 10 underrated trades and free-agent signings from the protracted 2019-20 offseason.
These deals didn't garner as much attention as the megacontracts Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon inked with the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. And the trades we'll cover weren't greeted with the same fanfare as the one that sent Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But all 10 additions could have a significant impact on the upcoming 60-game slate and, in some cases, beyond.
Note: In discussing contracts, we're including full, original dollar figures. All 2020 pay will be prorated for the shortened season.
OF Kole Calhoun, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Arizona Diamondbacks made several key additions this offseason, including the marquee signing of left-hander Madison Bumgarner. That one got the most notice, but we'll delve into two others here. First up, the Snakes' signing of outfielder Kole Calhoun.
In December, Calhoun agreed to an affordable two-year, $14 million deal with Arizona with a $9 million team option and $2 million buyout for 2022.
Kalhoun is entering his age-32 season, but he's coming off a strong year with the Angels during which he hit a career-high 33 home runs. The defensive metrics didn't love his play in 2019, but he's generally known as a strong outfielder with an excellent arm and posted seven defensive runs saved in right field in 2018.
On a relatively short, affordable contract, this looks like an under-the-radar win for the D-backs.
DH Edwin Encarnacion, Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox are a team on the rise, loaded with homegrown talent and ready to contend soon, possibly this season.
But every young club needs some veteran leaders, and the ChiSox added one by signing Edwin Encarnacion in December to a one-year, $12 million deal with a $12 million club option for 2021.
The 37-year-old can still rake, as he proved by hitting 34 home runs with an .875 OPS in 109 games last season.
Getting an experienced power bat with gas in the tank on a one-year deal was a savvy move by Chicago that could pay big dividends.
OF Avisail Garcia, Milwaukee Brewers
When the Milwaukee Brewers signed Avisail Garcia, they got a 29-year-old who hit .282 with 20 home runs and was worth 2.1 WAR last season.
Garcia should slot nicely into right field, where he posted three defensive runs saved in 2019 with the Tampa Bay Rays. His bat will help offset the free-agent losses of key offensive contributors such as Mike Moustakas and Eric Thames.
Considering the Brewers inked him for two years and $20 million, this could be one of the offseason's best bargains.
LHP Rich Hill, Minnesota Twins
Health is always a question with Rich Hill. In 2019, he was limited to 58.2 innings with the Los Angeles Dodgers, though he returned from a June arm strain to pitch in September and the postseason. He finished with a 2.45 ERA and 11.0 strikeouts per nine innings.
When he's right, the 40-year-old lefty is an effective starting pitcher, and the Minnesota Twins signed him to a low-risk one-year deal worth $3 million.
If Hill can stay off the injured list, he and former Dodgers teammate Kenta Maeda—acquired by the Twins in a trade with L.A.—will strengthen Minnesota's starting corps and improve the club's chances of repeating as American League Central champs.
RHP Corey Kluber, Texas Rangers
Corey Kluber is coming off an injury-marred 2019 season that saw him post a 5.80 ERA in only 35.2 innings while dealing with a broken forearm and strained oblique.
As recently as 2018, the Klubot was among the best pitchers in baseball with a 2.89 ERA and 222 strikeouts in an AL-leading 215 frames. That's the pitcher the Texas Rangers hope they acquired when they sent light-hitting outfielder Delino DeShields and reliever Emmanuel Clase to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
Kulber was set to earn $17.5 million in 2020 and has a team option for $18 million in 2021 with a $1 million buyout. If the 34-year-old can approach his old form, he'll be worth the cost and will join Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles to form one of the deepest rotations in the game.
OF Starling Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks
Returning to the Diamondbacks outfield, Arizona made another savvy win-now move when it acquired Starling Marte from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The 31-year-old stuffed the stat sheet in 2019 with a .295/.342/.503 slash line, 23 home runs, 31 doubles and 25 stolen bases.
The Diamondbacks sent two prospects, shortstop Liover Peguero and right-hander Brennan Malone, to Pittsburgh. Both have notable upside, but neither has played above Low-A.
Arizona also got $1.5 million from the Bucs to offset the already reasonable $11.5 million Marte was set to earn in 2020. He has a $12.5 million team option and $1 million buyout for 2021.
RHP Emilio Pagan, San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres have one of the best bullpens in baseball fronted by closer Kirby Yates. They added to an area of strength when they acquired right-hander Emilio Pagan from the Rays.
In his third big league season in 2019, Pagan posted career bests in innings pitched (70), ERA (2.31) and K/9 (12.3) while notching 20 saves. He should thrive in a setup role throwing his home games at pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
The Padres gave up Manuel Margot, a strong defensive outfielder who had yet to find his hitting stroke in three-plus seasons with San Diego, and catcher/outfielder Logan Driscoll, a mid-tier prospect.
The 29-year-old Pagan won't reach arbitration until 2021 and is controllable until 2024.
INF Travis Shaw, Toronto Blue Jays
The 2019 season was a disaster for Travis Shaw, who slashed .157/.281/.270 in 86 games with the Brewers and was demoted for a time to Triple-A.
Now, the 30-year-old infielder has a chance at a fresh start after signing a one-year, $4 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I know last year was not the player I am," Shaw told reporters in January. "That's not going to be the player that I am in the future."
There's reason for optimism for both sides. Shaw hit 31 home runs with an .862 OPS in 2017 and 32 homers with an .825 OPS in 2018. If he rediscovers that stroke in 2020, he'll be an absolute steal for the Jays.
INF Eric Thames, Washington Nationals
The Washington Nationals lost a key lineup cog when Anthony Rendon signed with the Angels. But they added a number of interesting bats to fill the void, including Eric Thames.
The 33-year-old, who has logged innings at first base and both corner outfield spots, hit 25 home runs with an .851 OPS in 2019 for the Brewers.
In three seasons with Milwaukee since returning from a successful stint in the Korea Baseball Organization, Thames has swatted 72 homers with an .848 OPS.
And he came at the right price for the Nats, who inked him to a one-year, $3 million deal with a $3 million mutual option and $1 million buyout for 2021.
RHP Blake Treinen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Blake Treinen wasn't merely one of the best relievers in the game in 2018. He was one of the best pitchers, period.
In 80.1 innings with the Oakland Athletics, the right-hander posted a minuscule 0.78 ERA with 100 strikeouts and finished sixth in AL Cy Young Award voting.
Last season, however, Treinen battled a shoulder injury, his ERA ballooned to 4.91 and he was ultimately non-tendered by the A's. Sensing a reclamation project, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed him for one year and $10 million.
The 32-year-old will slot into a setup role behind Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. Health and a change of scenery could help him approach his '18 form, which would make L.A.'s pen one of the best in the game.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.