Ranking the 20 Best and Worst Moves of the 2020 MLB Offseason
It may feel like it's been a lot longer, but only months have passed since the Major League Baseball offseason gave way to the first round of spring training.
With teams back in preparation mode for the upcoming 60-game campaign, we're taking a fresh look at the best and worst moves of the winter.
Because there are no results to go off yet, we had to take an abstract view of the deals that were (and in one case, weren't) made last offseason. This involved judging the intent behind each trade and signing, and weighing the likelihood that teams will be rewarded for their actions.
We also set a rule that allowed for no more than one best and one worst move per club. Likewise, we limited ourselves to analyzing trades from one team's perspective.
Let's count 'em down.
No. 10: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo Signing and Todd Frazier Signing
No. 10 Best: Tampa Bay Rays Sign Yoshitomo Tsutsugo
The Tampa Bay Rays were busy adding bats over the winter, including Hunter Renfroe, Jose Martinez, Manuel Margot and Randy Arozarena. But while they should help the Rays improve offensively—specifically regarding home runs—the biggest boost may come from Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
The Rays signed the 28-year-old to a two-year, $12 million contract in December. Though the left-handed slugger figures to serve in a platoon role, that should only make it easier for him to carry his outstanding production (e.g., a .910 OPS) in Japan to the majors.
If so, the Rays will have landed a steal.
No. 10 Worst: Texas Rangers Sign Todd Frazier
This deal only happened, however, in part because the Rangers whiffed on their preferred targets. They were linked to Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson (see here and here) in free agency, as well as to Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado on the trade market (here and here).
Whereas any one of them would have dramatically increased the Rangers' championship odds for 2020, the 34-year-old Frazier only figures to be a minor upgrade.
No. 9: Will Harris Signing and Stephen Strasburg Signing
No. 9 Best: Washington Nationals Sign Will Harris
Though it didn't get in the way of the club's winning the World Series, the Washington Nationals bullpen was a problem in 2019. All told, its 5.68 ERA was the worst in the National League during the regular season.
The Nats did well to bring back reliever Daniel Hudson (two years, $11 million), but their biggest score was landing Will Harris on a three-year deal worth $24 million. The 34-year-old has been a steady reliever for years, and he's coming off a season with the Houston Astros that was marked by a 1.50 ERA in 68 outings.
With more of that, Harris can help the Nats avoid further problems with their relief corps.
No. 9 Worst: Washington Nationals Re-Sign Stephen Strasburg
At the outset of this offseason, Stephen Strasburg's market value seemed to be in the $150 million range. But after Zack Wheeler signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for $118 million, it wasn't the biggest shock that the Nats paid out $245 million to retain Strasburg.
They'll gladly take more of what he did last year, when he had a 3.32 ERA in the regular season and stellar 1.98 ERA in October. Trouble is, he'll be 32 on July 20, and his red flags include a cluttered injury history and slipping velocity.
Despite the feel-good vibes surrounding Strasburg's contract, it's a massive risk with a low likelihood of paying off.
No. 8: Nicholas Castellanos Signing and Mike Moustakas Signing
No. 8 Best: Cincinnati Reds Sign Nicholas Castellanos
The Cincinnati Reds had a darn fine pitching staff in 2019. But because their offense scored a below-average 4.3 runs per game, they finished the year with only 75 wins.
Hence why the Reds went hard after hitters over the winter, and their biggest get was surely Nicholas Castellanos on a four-year, $64 million contract. He boasts an .840 OPS since 2016, and that's in spite of how he's routinely underperformed his expected production.
Because he's set to play half his games amid Great American Ball Park's bandbox dimensions, Castellanos should explore new offensive heights over the next four years.
No. 8 Worst: Cincinnati Reds Sign Mike Moustakas
Before they lured Castellanos, the Reds inked Mike Moustakas to his own four-year, $64 million contract.
Despite the club's obvious need for offense, a couple of things made Moustakas' deal stand out as an odd one. His .817 OPS since 2015 captures how he's generally a good but not great hitter. Moreover, the Reds plan to play the 31-year-old at second base in lieu of his customary third base.
There have been more befuddling gambles than this one, yet it nonetheless has an Ian Desmond-to-the-Colorado Rockies energy to it.
No. 7: Emilio Pagan Trade and Failed Joc Pederson/Ross Stripling Trade
No. 7 Best: San Diego Padres Trade for Emilio Pagan
The San Diego Padres' biggest winter move was to bring in ace reliever Drew Pomeranz on a four-year, $34 million contract.
Their best move, however, was the trade that sent Manuel Margot and prospect Logan Driscoll to the Rays for Emilio Pagan. In that one, the Padres essentially gave up a defense-first outfielder for a reliever who dominated with a 2.31 ERA and a 7.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2019.
No. 7 Worst: The Los Angeles Angels Don’t Trade for Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling
Though it's arguably unfair to include a move that didn't happen, it seems fair in this case because the Los Angeles Angels bear some responsibility for the failed Joc Pederson/Ross Stripling trade.
Those two were set to head to the Angels in February via a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But according to Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Angels owner Arte Moreno grew impatient at delays stemming from other deals the Dodgers had in the works and ordered his front office to back out.
Had Moreno shown a bit more patience, the Angels might have landed a powerful left-handed-hitting outfielder and versatile pitcher they very much needed.
No. 6: Madison Bumgarner Signing and Michael Pineda Signing
No. 6 Best: Arizona Diamondbacks Sign Madison Bumgarner
The Arizona Diamondbacks made some nice additions to their outfield by signing Kole Calhoun and trading for Starling Marte. Yet none of their winter deals moved the needle like their five-year, $85 million pact with Madison Bumgarner.
Though the 30-year-old's standing among his fellow aces has slipped in recent years, his stuff is hanging in there. To wit, the velocity and spin rate that he enjoyed in 2019 indicate that he was finally healthy after dealing with injuries in 2017 and 2018.
Following their 85-win season in '19, Bumgarner should at least help the D-backs stay relevant in the National League West.
No. 6 Worst: Minnesota Twins Re-Sign Michael Pineda
We'll get into what the Minnesota Twins did right during the offseason, but first we have to express our befuddlement over their two-year, $20 million agreement with Michael Pineda.
This is a 31-year-old who missed all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery, and who had his 2019 season cut short by a 60-game suspension (for testing positive for a diuretic) that still has 36 games left on it. When he did pitch last year, it was to the tune of a modest 4.01 ERA.
For what they spent on Pineda, the Twins could have signed Cole Hamels or Wade Miley and wouldn't have had to put up with bad optics.
No. 5: Josh Donaldson Signing and Marcell Ozuna Signing
No. 5 Best: Minnesota Twins Sign Josh Donaldson
The Pineda signing notwithstanding, the Twins otherwise had a productive winter that included adding Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill, Homer Bailey, Alex Avila and, best of all, Josh Donaldson.
The Twins brought Donaldson aboard on a four-year, $92 million contract. Though that's a big commitment to make to a 34-year-old, Donaldson is an MVP-caliber player when he's right. So it went last year, when he posted a .900 OPS and 37 home runs while playing a mean third base.
If he can pick up where he left off, Donaldson will help the Twins build on last year's power-boosted 101-win season.
No. 5 Worst: Atlanta Club Signs Marcell Ozuna
Rather than spend what it took to re-sign Donaldson, Atlanta effectively sought to replace him with a committee that will be headed by Marcell Ozuna.
To be fair, Atlanta only took a small risk when it signed Ozuna for one year and $18 million. The deal will pay dividends if he reverts to his All-Star form of 2017, or even so much as realizes his outstanding expected production from 2018 and 2019.
No. 4: Christian Yelich Extension and Hyun-Jin Ryu Signing
No. 4 Best: Milwaukee Brewers Extend Christian Yelich
Because he's coming off a broken kneecap and his previous contract still had two years left on it, there's an argument that the Brewers jumped the gun with Yelich's deal. But from another perspective, they gave a 28-year-old who's been MLB's best player since the 2018 All-Star break what he deserved.
That's something the Brewers should be applauded for, especially given that their alternative was to pocket the savings from their recent payroll-clearing ventures.
No. 4 Worst: Toronto Blue Jays Sign Hyun-Jin Ryu
Speaking of moves that arguably should be applauded, what's wrong with the Toronto Blue Jays' attempt to force an early end to their rebuild via a four-year, $80 million deal with Hyun-Jin Ryu?
They needed a No. 1 starter, after all, and he's coming off an MLB-best 2.32 ERA in 2019.
However, there's a good chance the Blue Jays will be bitten by bad timing. Even if the move to the American League doesn't get him, Ryu could be undone by his age (33) and injury history. And given that they lost 95 games last year, his downfall could happen before the Blue Jays are ready to contend.
No. 3: Anthony Rendon Signing and Zack Wheeler Signing
No. 3 Best: Los Angeles Angels Sign Anthony Rendon
Because their starting pitchers mustered only a 5.64 ERA in 2019, the Angels arguably erred in missing out on Gerrit Cole and Strasburg.
Yet it's hardly a bad thing that they landed Anthony Rendon on a seven-year, $245 million contract. After years of flying under the radar, he finally blossomed as a superstar with a 1.010 OPS and 34 home runs in 2019. He was also a huge part of the Nationals' championship run in October.
Between Rendon, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, the middle of the Angels' batting order will be as exciting as it gets for years to come.
No. 3 Worst: Philadelphia Phillies Sign Zack Wheeler
The issue with the Philadelphia Phillies' five-year, $118 million contract with Zack Wheeler doesn't necessarily have to do with Wheeler himself.
Sure, it's odd that a Tommy John recipient with a league-average ERA+ is the subject of such a big commitment. However, Wheeler's stuff is more than electric enough to be worthy of a gamble on his becoming an ace.
We're just not sure the Phillies were the right team to make it. Their rotation already featured a handful of volatile starters after staff ace Aaron Nola, and their launching pad of a home ballpark won't be any help to Wheeler's quest to unlock his upside.
No. 2: Yasmani Grandal Signing and Corey Kluber Trade
No. 2 Best: Chicago White Sox Sign Yasmani Grandal
The Chicago White Sox closed the book on their rebuild over the winter by adding Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnacion, Dallas Keuchel, Nomar Mazara and Gio Gonzalez and extending top prospect Luis Robert's contract.
But if we must pick one move as the White Sox's best of the winter, we'll go with their four-year, $73 million deal with Grandal.
Grandal is one of the best framers and hitters out of all catchers, and he's played on winning clubs in both Los Angeles and Milwaukee. Those talents and that experience ought to serve the White Sox well as they chase after their first postseason berth since 2008.
No. 2 Worst: Cleveland Club Trades Corey Kluber
Cleveland didn't get much when it traded two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to the Rangers. Just a speedy outfielder (Delino DeShields) and a hard-throwing reliever (Emmanuel Clase).
Rather than give in to Kluber's diminished value, however, Cleveland could have kept the 34-year-old and hoped for a rebound. That it didn't makes it fair to conclude that the club was mainly motivated to move the $18.5 million remaining on his contract.
No. 1: Gerrit Cole Signing and Mookie Betts Trade
No. 1 Best: New York Yankees Sign Gerrit Cole
The New York Yankees made an unprecedented splash when they signed Gerrit Cole for nine years and $324 million, so it's a good thing he's arguably the best pitcher in baseball.
By way of the highest single-season strikeout rate in MLB history, Cole needed only 212.1 innings to whiff 326 batters in 2019. He also posted an AL-low 2.50 ERA, with easily the lowest xwOBA of any starting pitcher.
As the 29-year-old ages, his stuff and effectiveness will surely decline. But until then, he should remain in his prime long enough to help the Yankees not only return to the World Series, but also add to their collection of 27 championships.
No. 1 Worst: Boston Red Sox Trade Mookie Betts
Cynically speaking, the Boston Red Sox's trade of Mookie Betts and David Price doesn't look so bad now. Price has opted out of playing in 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns, and Betts will only play 60 games before becoming a free agent.
Yet this doesn't excuse the cynicism that made the trade happen in the first place.
Though the Red Sox landed a good-looking young outfielder (Alex Verdugo) and a top prospect (Jeter Downs) from the Dodgers, it's no secret that they primarily wanted to ditch Betts' and Price's salaries so they could reset their luxury-tax penalties. That's no way for a deep-pocketed team to act, much less one that's only two years removed from winning the World Series.