White Sox and the Biggest Winners and Losers from 2020 MLB Winter Meetings
Major League Baseball's winter meetings have been a bit different in 2020, going virtual for the first time ever in deference to the coronavirus pandemic.
That might explain why there hasn't been much activity on the trade and free-agent markets. Still, enough happened during the first three days of the winter meetings for us to make calls on the biggest winners and losers.
We've made four selections for each category. These concern teams that did or didn't score impact talent as well as a couple of teams that are seemingly lined up for a step back in 2021. We also tabbed some players who are or aren't poised to do well this winter.
Let's get to it.
Winner: Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox's $151.5 million splurge in free agency last winter ultimately helped them snap a 12-year playoff drought in 2020. Unsurprisingly, they're now upping the ante.
The White Sox made the biggest splash of the winter so far on Tuesday, acquiring ace right-hander Lance Lynn from the Texas Rangers in exchange for pitching prospects Dane Dunning and Avery Weems. With that, Chicago's rotation got a pitcher with a 3.57 ERA over 292.1 innings since 2019.
The White Sox also reunited with right fielder Adam Eaton via a one-year, $7 million deal Tuesday. He'll bring speed and energy to the top of a lineup that was already loaded with power.
Even if they're not done just yet, the White Sox are already positioned to leapfrog the Minnesota Twins—who have yet to fill holes left by Nelson Cruz and other key free agents—in the American League Central.
Loser: San Diego Padres
Once Lynn went to the White Sox, no team may have been kicking itself harder than the San Diego Padres.
After the team ended its own long absence from the playoffs (14 years) in 2020, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the Padres were eyeing Lynn as an upgrade for a rotation that's missing Garrett Richards (free agent) and Mike Clevinger (Tommy John surgery).
It should have been no problem for the Padres to acquire Lynn. For one thing, he only had so much value with one year left on his contract. For another, San Diego's collection of prospects runs deeper than that of the White Sox and, well, just about every team.
But for whatever reason, the Padres couldn't get it done. Whether it means signing Trevor Bauer or trading for Sonny Gray, their remaining options for a new top-of-the-rotation starter figure to cost them a great deal more than Lynn would have.
Winner: Kansas City Royals
Elsewhere in the AL Central, the Kansas City Royals continue to veer back toward relevance after a fourth straight losing season in 2020.
On Tuesday, the Royals agreed to a two-year, $17 million contract with veteran first baseman Carlos Santana. Though Cleveland declined the 34-year-old's $17.5 million option for 2021 following his disappointing effort in 2020, he'll bring power (240 HR) and on-base acumen (.366 OBP) to Kansas City's lineup.
The Royals must also be commended for the moves that preceded Santana's signing. They had previously picked up left-hander Mike Minor on a two-year, $18 million contract and center fielder Michael A. Taylor on a one-year, $1.75 million pact. Thus did they upgrade their rotation and defense, respectively.
Whether the Royals are now set to contend in 2021 is at best debatable. But they're at least trying to field a competitive team, which amounts to yet another nail in the coffin for the tanking style of rebuilding.
Loser: Philadelphia Phillies
Perhaps it's unfair to label the Philadelphia Phillies as a "loser," but they're definitely not doing a lot of winning these days.
More than two months have passed since Matt Klentak stepped down as the club's general manager, yet a replacement still hasn't materialized. Among those who've said no to the Phillies are Minnesota Twins general manager Thad Levine and Los Angeles Dodgers senior vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes.
The uncertainty in the Phillies front office might explain the kerfuffle that arose over whether ace right-hander Zack Wheeler is or isn't available in trades. The situation was emblematic of how, in Rosenthal's words, the Phillies are "stuck in neutral" in the wake of three straight disappointing seasons.
That's not an ideal mode in relation to the rest of the National League East, which otherwise doesn't feature any teams that aren't gunning for the division title in 2021.
Winner: Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels still have major holes to fill in their starting rotation, but at least they now have a pretty good closer lined up for 2021.
The Angels acquired right-hander Raisel Iglesias in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds on Monday. Going the other way to Cincinnati was fellow righty Noe Ramirez, who boasts three remaining years of club control to just one for Iglesias.
Still, the Angels should be happy with how they're equipped for the ninth inning. Iglesias, 30, was hittable in 2019, yet his 2017, 2018 and 2020 efforts are those of a true shutdown closer. The latter, in particular, saw him dominate with 31 strikeouts and only five walks, 16 hits and seven earned runs in 23 innings.
If the Angels go on to fill the aforementioned rotation holes, they'll have what they need to make a play for the AL West title in 2021.
Loser: Cincinnati Reds
As for the Reds, the Iglesias trade was merely the latest move in a distressing direction.
By moving Iglesias and non-tendering ace reliever Archie Bradley and others, the Reds have shaved millions of dollars off their projected 2021 payroll. And they may not be done subtracting salary, as ace right-hander Sonny Gray is reportedly available and garnering interest.
Granted, whatever savings the Reds ultimately accrue may yet be put to good use. They might re-sign Bauer, who captured the NL Cy Young Award in November. Or, they might make good on their pursuit for a brand-name shortstop.
But as things stand now, Cincinnati's pitching has been dealt a significant blow by Bauer's free agency, Bradley's non-tender and the trade of Iglesias. If Gray is also removed from the equation, that would be still another loss for a staff that had a sturdy 3.89 ERA and paced the club's postseason push in 2020.
Winner: Francisco Lindor
As of now, four-time All-Star Francisco Lindor is still Cleveland's shortstop.
Yet indications that this will soon change are only growing stronger. Whereas MLB.com's Jon Morosi reported in November that Cleveland is likely to trade Lindor this winter, ESPN's Buster Olney wrote on Wednesday that a trade "finally seems inevitable" as the club prepares to listen "aggressively" to offers.
Lindor himself may be all too glad to hear it. Though it was his call to end extension talks with Cleveland in March, his contract situation may have impacted his play as he posted a career-low 0.8 WAR in 2020. He truly seemed distracted throughout the season.
If nothing else, a trade would bring Lindor a change of scenery for his final season before free agency. Provided he were to land with a deep-pocketed team, he could also take a page from Mookie Betts and preemptively sign a megadeal.
Loser: National League DH Candidates
Wondering why the free-agent market has been so slow? There are a couple of possible explanations:
- Slow-moving markets have more or less been the norm in recent years.
- Teams lost a lot of money amid the league's shortened season in 2020, and it's still unclear what the 2021 season will look like.
- Specifically, it hasn't been certain whether the NL will have the designated hitter again in 2021.
There is, however, finally some clarity over the latter issue. According to Rosenthal, the league sent a memo to teams last week instructing them to proceed as if the DH won't be universal next season.
That may yet change, according to Olney. But for now, only American League clubs can count on having the DH in 2021. That's no help to offensively talented yet defensively limited free agents such as Cruz, Marcell Ozuna and Kyle Schwarber.