2011-12 Offseason In Review Rumors

Offseason In Review: New York Yankees

The Yankees restructured their rotation with trades, free agent signings and an extension this past offseason.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Even before November began, longtime Yankees GM Brian Cashman addressed his biggest offseason concern, signing Sabathia to a five-year extension hours before the pitcher was expected to opt out of his remaining four years and $92MM.  It's really a six-year, $142MM extension, with protection for the Yankees if the big lefty has a significant shoulder injury in 2016.  The guaranteed portion of Sabathia's new deal is a record average annual value for a pitcher, but I still think he would have found a bigger overall guarantee on the open market, and therefore, the Yankees signed him at a discount.

Cashman neared a deal to re-sign Garcia in late November.  After posting a 3.62 ERA in 146 2/3 innings, Garcia may have had better offers than one year and $4MM, but he preferred to stay.  At the time, he wasn't aware how far he'd be pushed down the team's rotation depth chart.  Even with Sabathia and Garcia in the fold, the Yankees still hadn't matched their 2011 rotation, as Bartolo Colon was a free agent at the time.  The team's starting five projected to round out with Ivan Nova, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes.  The Yankees' rotation still didn't seem much improved, but Cashman changed that drastically with a pair of moves on a late January day.

The Yankees first made a bold trade, acquiring Pineda and Campos from the Mariners for Montero and Noesi.  The Pineda-Montero component represented the type of old-fashioned need-for-need swap of young MLB-ready players we rarely see.  If Pineda stays relatively healthy and settles in toward the front end of the Yankees' rotation for the next five years, Montero will have to become an elite designated hitter to match that value.  Campos has more upside than Noesi, so it seems Cashman convinced Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik that Seattle needed to even out the deal.

On the same day, the Yankees secured Kuroda to a one-year free agent deal at a lower salary than he'd been earning with the Dodgers.  Kuroda had a consistently excellent four-year run with the Dodgers, though at age 37, there's plenty of uncertainty as he takes on the American League for the first time.  In trading for Pineda and waiting for a deal with Kuroda, Cashman chose to pass on $80MM+ commitments to available starters such as Yu Darvish and C.J. Wilson.

With a sudden overload of fifth starter candidates, Cashman set out to unload as much of Burnett's $33MM as possible.  The Pirates were willing to take on $13MM of the bill.  After the deal, the Yanks still had a formidable fifth starter battle between Hughes and Garcia.  Cashman, however, could not resist the allure of further boosting his depth with an essentially risk-free $2.5MM minor league deal with the unretired Pettitte.  Pettitte's return after sitting out all of 2011 is a double-edged sword: he has rust to shake off, but the 39-year-old is surely well-rested.  With seven starters for five spots, there's always the chance someone will be unhappy.  But I wouldn't trade Garcia or Hughes now because of Pettitte; the team will need all seven starters to get through the season.

On the position player side, the Yankees entered the offseason with everything locked down aside from designated hitter and bench roles.  Jones and Chavez were retained affordably for the latter, while Ibanez gets a shot at the DH job.  The minimal commitment to Ibanez will give Cashman the flexibility to seek a midseason upgrade if necessary.  Cashman's best minor move may have been the dirt-cheap Aardsma signing.  The hard-throwing righty can be retained for just above the league minimum in 2013, and could provide a second-half boost in 2012 after he recovers from Tommy John surgery.  After dislocating his ankle on a trampoline during Spring Training, Joba Chamberlain seems unlikely to provide an expected second half bullpen bonus.

Perhaps we shouldn't go overboard crediting Cashman for Sabathia and Pettitte — most GMs would make those moves given the opportunity.  But Cashman did show restraint against dangerous free agent contracts, instead swinging an old-fashioned baseball trade for Pineda.  With a revamped rotation and a returning strong offense, the Yankees are a World Series favorite for many.

Please note that this post was originally written at the end of Spring Training along with the rest of MLBTR’s Offseason in Review series.  The post was written before it became clear that Michael Pineda’s dealing with shoulder issues.


Offseason In Review: Texas Rangers

The Rangers outbid the competition for Yu Darvish in the hopes that the Japanese right-hander can help put them over the top in 2012.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Draft Picks Gained or Lost

  • Obtained 78th overall selection from Angels for Wilson. Also obtain supplementary first round pick.

Give the Rangers credit: you don't lose two consecutive World Series without fielding some pretty talented teams. They prepared for another run at their first championship by moving their closer to the rotation and winning the rights to one of the most highly coveted pitchers available.

Yu Darvish - Rangers (PW)

Yu Darvish (pictured) required a $107MM commitment, so he'll face intense scrutiny whether he succeeds or not. If he comes close to replicating the stats he put up in Japan, Rangers fans won't have much reason to miss new Angels starter C.J. Wilson. There are no guarantees of excellence, or even of mediocrity from Darvish, but this was a gamble worth taking for a large market team that had determined he could succeed in the Major Leagues.

Neftali Feliz will join Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Colby Lewis in a rotation that no longer includes Wilson or Alexi Ogando. The decision to pass on Wilson was understandable, but he'll now be an asset for their biggest rival. Ogando, who faded late in his debut season as a starter, will provide newly extended manager Ron Washington with depth.

Feliz should be more valuable to the Rangers as a starter, since he'll pitch more innings in that role. He started throughout his minor league career, so this isn't completely new to him. And if any team can convert relievers to starters it's the Rangers, who have transitioned Wilson and Ogando to the rotation under the watchful eye of pitching coach Mike Maddux.

Because the Rangers are six deep in the rotation, they didn't have room for Roy Oswalt. At the very least, Oswalt's interest in joining the Rangers shows that top-tier free agents view Texas as an appealing place to play. Several needs could emerge for the Rangers within the next 12 months, and their new TV deal should ensure that they have money to spend. They'll be well-positioned to sign players who prefer to join a contender.

The Rangers committed $14.5MM to Joe Nathan, and it seems like an awful lot for a 37-year-old who's one year removed for Tommy John surgery. However, Nathan struck out three times as many hitters as he walked last year and his fastball still checks in at 92.3 mph.

The Rangers signed Joe Beimel and former Brewers teammates Mitch Stetter and Sean Green to minor league deals, but left-handed relief remains a weakness for this team. Michael Kirkman and Robbie Ross haven't proven themselves at the Major League level, yet they'll be counted on to replace Darren Oliver and Mike Gonzalez. Despite Gonzalez's disappointing 2011 performance with the Rangers, he might be worth another shot if the team's young arms falter.

The Rangers could have been a fit for Prince Fielder, but they had the discipline to pass when his asking price soared to uncomfortable heights. As intimidating as Fielder would have been in Texas, Mitch Moreland should do just fine while earning 1/50th of Fielder's salary. Mike Napoli or Michael Young can play first against some tough left-handers when possible, reducing Moreland's exposure to same-side pitchers.

The Rangers locked up Nelson Cruz and Elvis Andrus to extensions that could save the club money in future years. Capping costs was the main motivation for the extensions, as the Rangers didn't obtain control of free agent years on either contract. Tim Dierkes questioned whether the Andrus extension was necessary and I agree that the potential savings probably don't justify the risk. The upside is limited for the Rangers on both deals, yet they took on most of the risk with these two extensions. The Derek Holland deal strikes me as an excellent fit for both sides, however. Holland obtains security, while the Rangers extend their control over the left-hander with two club options.

The Rangers tabled extension talks with Josh Hamilton after the outfielder had an alcohol-related relapse. Hamilton, a free agent next winter, may be playing his final season with the Rangers. Napoli, another prospective free agent, also enters the 2012 season without an extension despite his breakout 2011 season.

The team agreed to terms with Dominican outfield prospect Jairo Beras, but MLB and competing executives believe he is 16 and therefore too young to sign. It makes sense for the club to spend now (when doing so is permitted), before the new CBA's spending restrictions take effect.

The Rangers have increased their win total in each of the past four seasons, winning the past two division titles. The AL West figures to be considerably more competitive now that the Angels have added Wilson and Albert Pujols, so it's by no means a given that the Rangers will reach the playoffs this year. But GM Jon Daniels has assembled a well-balanced roster with enough pieces for another attempt at their elusive first championship. The Rangers appear to be one of the best teams in the game.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.

 


Offseason In Review: Minnesota Twins

Terry Ryan returned as Twins GM, attempting to keep his team afloat by dabbling in the middle of the free agent pool.

Major League Signings

Draft picks gained: #32 and #72 for Michael Cuddyer, #42 for Jason Kubel

International Signings

  • P Mauricio Silva ($370K)

Notable Minor League Signings

Extensions

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Bill Smith's Twins teams had success in 2009-10, winning two division titles.  However, Smith's 2011 club produced disastrous results, and the Twins decided to reinstate longtime GM Terry Ryan to clean up the mess.  Ryan had a decent amount of money to spend on a team with many needs, and his solution was to sign veteran free agents.

Re-signing Cuddyer was the Twins' number one offseason priority, assistant GM Rob Antony told Jesse Lund in February.  The Twins appeared to top out around three years and $25MM, but the Rockies went $5MM beyond that.  The Twins also failed to find common ground with Kubel, who seemed to prefer a more hitter-friendly ballpark.  Ultimately, Ryan was able to sign Willingham for less than he offered Cuddyer.  Both 33-year-olds have defensive shortcomings, and Willingham is the better hitter.  He's also, however, more prone to injury.

The Twins ranked Delmon Young below Cuddyer and Kubel, so they traded him to the Tigers in August rather than non-tender him.  Perhaps the range of right field contributor Ben Revere and center fielder Denard Span will limit the damage caused by Willingham's defense in left. 

The signing of Doumit generally compensates for the loss of Kubel, at a lower salary.  Like Willingham, Doumit has durability and defense issues.  Doumit will spend time at right field, catcher, designated hitter, and first base.  He's best-served as a designated hitter, but with Justin Morneau now set to spend more of his time at DH than first, the Twins will deal with more Doumit defense.  Another part of the domino effect of Morneau at DH means semi-regular at-bats for former first-rounder Chris Parmelee, which is not justified by his work last year in the 24-year-old's second try at Double-A.

Patching a team through free agency is always difficult, but Ryan was at least able to keep the offense in a similar place for less money by replacing Cuddyer and Kubel with Willingham and Doumit.  Carroll could add an OBP boost from shortstop, a position for which Twins hitters posted a .292 OBP in 2011.  Tsuyoshi Nishioka's role with the 2012 Twins will be eliminated or greatly reduced, and their middle infield will be better for it.  The best hope for the Twins' offense lies in incumbents, as Joe Mauer and Morneau must stay healthy and productive to compensate for below-average hitting at left field and third base.

If you think the three new Twins position players are solid but unspectacular, the pitching additions are something less than that.  The Twins had the league's worst bullpen in 2011, and Ryan remedied that by retaining Capps at an above-market price.  Joel Zumaya was a decent bullpen flyer, but he went down for Tommy John surgery in March and has been released.  Capps has always had a low strikeout rate for a late-inning reliever, and that dipped to just 4.66 per nine in 2011.  It was time for a change, especially with Capps wanting $4.75MM.  Capps being the team's only real bullpen signing is particularly baffling, especially with Nathan leaving.  Ryan did sign Perkins for the long-term, potentially securing three free agent seasons on the hope that last year's breakout was legitimate.

The Twins were unable to put aside their differences with Slowey, trading him to the Rockies prior to the non-tender deadline.  Marquis was the team's sole rotation addition.  An NL lifer, Marquis is a back-end innings guy in the best case.  The team will pray that Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker can stay healthy and pitch at the front end.

Ryan's first offseason back was a safe one, in that the Twins didn't make any aggressive signings or trades.  Once again, the team's fortunes will rest on a handful of key players who have had trouble staying on the field in recent years. 



Offseason In Review: Chicago White Sox

The White Sox invested in John Danks, but said goodbye to Ozzie Guillen, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, and Mark Buehrle.

Major League Signings

International Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Extensions

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

White Sox GM Kenny Williams has always marched to the beat of a different drum, and this offseason was no exception.  While Williams met expectations by sitting out free agency and trading some veterans, he also authored a surprising extension and bucked industry consensus in the nuances of his trades.

In September, Williams pulled off a rare type of trade, sending allowing manager Ozzie Guillen to join the Marlins for Marinez and Martinez.  Marinez and Martinez profile as a setup man and utility infielder, but it's still a win to get potential big leaguers for a manager who had seemingly already checked out.  I see the appeal of replacing Guillen with Ventura, who might be Guillen's polar opposite but also a fan favorite.  Someone like Davey Martinez might have been a more practical choice, however.

Sergio Santos seemed like a building block for the White Sox, even if they were mostly punting on the 2012 season.  Santos was extended to a team-friendly deal in September, but traded to the Blue Jays in December with no advance warning.  The hard-throwing 28-year-old closer was not known to be available.  In the trade, Williams placed his bet on a lone prospect, 23-year-old starter Nestor Molina.  Despite dominant numbers at High-A and in a short Double-A stint last year, Molina is seen by prospect experts as a back-of-the-rotation type.  It's unlikely the White Sox agree with that assessment.  They certainly had inside knowledge on Molina, having hired former Blue Jays director of Latin American operations Marco Paddy prior to the trade.  Paddy later convinced Williams to spend $250K on 17-year-old Venezuelan Luis Martinez, a big step for a team typically reluctant to spend internationally outside of Cuba. 

It was in response to a question, but Williams took the leap and agreed the Santos trade was "the start of a rebuilding."  The GM qualified that by saying it wasn't a "falling domino rebuilding," because the offers for his starting pitching were lacking.  Williams backed up his words by extending Danks about three weeks later.  Coming off his worst season in quite a while, Danks didn't give much of a discount on the eve of his contract year.  The White Sox made a sizeable five-year commitment, including four free agent seasons at $14.25MM apiece.  Just 27 in April, Danks represented a better investment to the White Sox than longtime ace Buehrle, who had recently signed a four-year, $58MM free agent deal with Ozzie Guillen's Miami Marlins.  

Danks' 2011 season was all over the map, with a reduced strikeout rate against left-handed hitters, an awful May, and strong work from June through August sandwiching a month missed from an oblique strain.  In three seasons prior, he'd posted a 3.61 ERA over 608 1/3 innings.  Danks' extension includes a full no-trade clause only for 2012, so Williams retains flexibility for a future trade.  Danks' rotation-mate Gavin Floyd seems more likely to be dealt in the near future, as a solid mid-rotation starter who can be controlled through 2013.  If the Sox aren't contending but Floyd has a decent first half, he'll be one of the better starters available. 

Quentin, on the other hand, was not extended heading into his contract year.  The 29-year-old right fielder was dealt to San Diego for pitching prospects Castro and Hernandez.  Castro, the headliner, has decent upside even after a lost 2011 season.  Still, no one considers him among the best 100 prospects in the game.  Unlike the Santos trade, I think the White Sox were just taking the best they could find for Quentin rather than bucking industry consensus in their prospect evaluations.  Quentin is good for only 120 games per season, his defense is average at best, and his OBP is respectable by virtue of getting hit by a pitch 20 times a year.  He's not the type of difference-maker for which a team can extract top prospects.

Frasor was an unnecessary bullpen luxury for the Sox even with Santos gone, so Williams shipped him back to the Blue Jays for a couple of prospects.  The deal justified Chicago's earlier decision to exercise Frasor's club option.

Ventura will provide a fresh outlook for the White Sox, especially since he has no prior coaching experience.  His hire signals a youth movement, and the White Sox need results from Dayan Viciedo, Brent Morel, Gordon Beckham, and Chris Sale.  However,  the team's 2012 chances still hinge on disappointing well-paid players such as Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, and Jake Peavy.


Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers spent aggressively on veteran free agents and locked up their top position player in their final offseason under the ownership of Frank McCourt.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Fernando Nieve, Ryan Tucker, Wil Ledezma, John GrabowJosh Bard, Alberto Castillo.

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Going from Frank McCourt to Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten represents the biggest upgrade of the offseason for the Dodgers. McCourt agreed to sell the Dodgers to a group including the NBA star and the longtime MLB executive for $2.15 billion. The change in leadership promises to turn the Dodgers into a West Coast superpower capable of outdrawing, outspending and outplaying the competition.

Matt Kemp - Dodgers

The team also has some hope in the short-term, even though Dodgers GM Ned Colletti didn't add much star power to the roster this winter. Toward the end of the 2011 season, Colletti said he was hoping to find "the most dramatic way [to] improve the offense" this offseason. The Dodgers appear to have offered Prince Fielder a seven-year deal in the $160MM range and, were it not for the torn ligament in Victor Martinez's knee, Fielder might have signed in Los Angeles. Instead, the Dodgers signed a number of veteran position players to deals that will fill out the lineup without radically improving the offense.

The Matt Kemp extension was Colletti's biggest offseason accomplishment. They're paying him like a superstar, but Kemp (pictured) earned his $160MM after putting up MVP-caliber numbers in 2011. While 2011 was in all likelihood a career-year, it was no fluke. The deal will expire after Kemp's age-34 season, so the Dodgers locked him up for his prime seasons. Not all teams can afford to make $160MM commitments, but the Dodgers can and should retain their elite players.

The Dodgers also extended Clayton Kershaw, but his contact couldn't be much more different from Kemp's in terms of magnitude and purpose. Kershaw's two-year, $19MM contract should provide the Dodgers a discount on the left-hander's 2013 salary, but it doesn't lock him up through any free agent seasons. For me this type of deal favors the player, not the team. The Dodgers will worry about delaying Kershaw's free agency with his next extension, when they discuss a potentially record-setting contract one or two years from now.

Joining Kershaw in the rotation are Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. The pair cost $22MM in total, which is a lot for back-of-the-rotation pitchers. But there's value in innings eaters and Nathan Eovaldi will still get the chance to start his share of games if an injury emerges. It's surprising the team let dependable right-hander Hiroki Kuroda walk, since he offers more upside than Harang or Capuano and seemed interested in returning to Los Angeles.

Mark Ellis signed a two-year, $11MM that provides the Dodgers with a steady defender at a premium position. The Dodgers are counting on the 34-year-old for his glove and if replicates his career line of .266/.331/.397 it'll be a bonus. This deal doesn't have much upside, but going with Ivan De Jesus Jr. would have been risky. A veteran addition was in order and given the free agent options, the decision to sign Ellis seems defensible.

Juan Rivera, a low-OBP 33-year-old who's losing his power, signed a $4.5MM deal with the Dodgers early on in the offseason. Rivera has been below replacement level in three of the past five seasons, according to Baseball Reference's version of the metric, so Jerry Sands, a powerful 24-year-old earning the league minimum, seemed like the better, cheaper choice.  Even if the Dodgers don't believe in Sands quite yet, more affordable ways of obtaining below average hitters with minimal defensive value exist.

Jonathan Broxton left via free agency and if the Dodgers were at all tempted to spend big on a replacement closer, they resisted, choosing instead to rely on internal candidates and make modest additions to the 'pen. The Dodgers signed Todd Coffey and re-signed Mike MacDougal to deals that should strengthen the bullpen for a relatively low price. Most teams enter the season with more left-handed relief than the Dodgers, who are hoping Scott Elbert can build on a promising 2011 season.

The club also added veteran backstops Matt Treanor and Josh Bard to complement the high-OBP duo of A.J. Ellis and Tim Federowicz. The additions of Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy will also deepen the bench.

The Dodgers didn't add a dynamic offensive player this offseason, but they extended their franchise center fielder and added complementary pieces. Health-permitting, there's no reason Los Angeles shouldn't remain in the hunt for postseason spots this year, though they're by no means favored to win anything. At the very least, the ownership of the franchise will change hands in the near future, ending the Frank McCourt era and ushering in an L.A. icon who aims to turn the Dodgers back into the National League's marquee franchise.

Photo courtesy of US Presswire.


Offseason In Review: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates locked up star center fielder Andrew McCutchen and added some decent veterans to the infield and rotation.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Extensions

  • Andrew McCutchen, CF: six years, $51.5MM. Includes a $14.5MM club option for 2018 with a $1MM buyout.

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Pirates GM Neal Huntington did his usual tinkering during the offseason, but he accomplished his biggest goal in March by locking up McCutchen potentially through 2018.  The Pirates acquired two of McCutchen's free agent years with an option for a third, also saving money on his arbitration years.  They gave McCutchen the same guarantee Justin Upton and Jay Bruce received, and the only contract of the three with a pair of club options, despite McCutchen's superior bulk credentials.  The team's timing was excellent, as McCutchen improved defensively last year and would have required more money had they waited.  I know there were intangible benefits to McCutchen's contract, but I'm mostly concerned with the value side, and the Pirates did well.

At 5.63 strikeouts per nine innings in 2011, the Pirates' rotation ranked last in the National League.  To remedy that deficiency, Huntington imported a pair of starters who were hot commodities four or five years ago in Bedard and Burnett.  The Pirates essentially gave Maholm's money to Bedard, likely trading innings for performance.  Bedard's shoulder surgeries have made him a comeback favorite for many years, but he actually didn't have to spend this offseason rehabbing an injury.  If the 33-year-old can find a way to provide 180 innings for the first time since '07, the Pirates will have found a huge bargain without risking much.

Before the Burnett trade pursuit began in earnest, Huntington placed multiple bids on free agent starter and Scott Boras client Edwin Jackson.  Jackson reportedly spurned a three-year offer from the Pirates in the $30MM range, as well as a one-year proposal worth less than $11MM.  Like many Boras clients, Jackson became focused on the idea of taking a one-year deal and re-entering the market after a year.  Three years wasn't his goal, and the Pirates didn't offer the largest one-year pact.  The Pirates don't have confederate money — they simply didn't make Jackson the best offer.

By late February, Huntington found a suitable alternative in Burnett.  The Yankees were probably desperate to unload him, especially with private knowledge that Andy Pettitte would join the crowded rotation. In a reversal of roles the Yankees dumped two years and $13MM worth of Burnett's contract on the Pirates for a couple of non-prospects.  Burnett's Pirates debut will unfortunately be delayed due to a freak Spring Training injury, but the logic behind the acquisition was sound.  Burnett can provide innings and strikeouts with a touch of upside, at the reasonable cost of two years and $13MM.

Low-strikeout Pirates starters such as Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens, and Kevin Correia will benefit from the addition of Barmes, one of the game's best defensive shortstops.  Barmes replaces Cedeno, who is something of a defensive enigma.  Barmes anchors a Pirates infield that will otherwise be populated by average or below-average defenders.

After throwing to eight different catchers in 2011, Pirates pitchers will also enjoy the consistency of having Barajas and Mike McKenry behind the plate.  Barajas will provide his usual blend of average defense, poor on-base skills, and some power.  Huntington hopes McLouth will rediscover some of the 2007-08 magic with a return to his original team.

The Bucs traded a quality reliever in Veras, but McGehee's right-handed stick pairs well with Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez at the infield corners.  Veras was a hard-throwing minor league signee with control problems a year ago, just as Juan Cruz is now.  The Pirates pen retains plenty of strikeout artists and could be a solid in 2012, especially if Evan Meek is fully recovered from last year's shoulder injury.

The Pirates had a decent offseason, though I'm not sure the 2012 team will be above-average at anything.  Rather than expecting to finish what they started over the first four months of 2011, a more realistic plan is to tread water until the farm system produces star-caliber players to surround McCutchen.


Offseason In Review: Washington Nationals

The Nationals could contend for the first time since moving to Washington after obtaining two above-average starting pitchers this offseason.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Mark Teahen, Rick Ankiel, Chad Durbin, Xavier Paul, Mike Cameron, Jeff Fulchino, Jason Michaels, Waldis Joaquin, Brett Carroll, Andres Blanco.

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Livan Hernandez, Laynce Nix, Alex Cora, Ivan Rodriguez, Jonny Gomes, Cole, Norris, Peacock, Milone, Balester.

The Nationals began their offseason by making Davey Johnson their permanent manager. Now that Opening Day's nearly upon us, it has become clear that the Nationals have legitimate hope of contending in 2012.

Gio Gonzalez - Nationals

They added a pair of hard-throwing pitchers to a rotation that already includes Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. First, they sent a group of highly-regarded prospects to the Athletics for left-hander Gio Gonzalez (pictured). Brad Peacock and Tom Milone both showed promise in their 2011 debuts and could contribute in Oakland's rotation this year. Gonzalez, who has reached the 200-inning plateau in each of the past two seasons, provides the Nationals with more certainty than Peacock or Milone would have. The Nationals are getting Gonzalez just as he's becoming expensive and his low ERA is likely slightly deceptive based on his peripheral stats, but they can afford the salary and some regression in terms of ERA. 

The club also signed Edwin Jackson to a terrific one-year, $11MM deal. He has averaged 200 innings and a 4.06 ERA since 2008 and seems capable of more. He turned down multiyear offers to sign with the Nationals, who deserve credit for one of the bargain signings of the offseason. They also brought back Chien-Ming Wang on a one-year deal in the hopes that he can build on last season's 11-start showing. The rotation has lots of upside, and its depth is already proving useful with Wang temporarily sidelined. Potential trade candidate John Lannan and Ross Detwiler provide options in case one of the top five starters misses time.

GM Mike Rizzo has spoken for a while about his interest in finding a long-term solution in center field, but the Nationals didn't strike a deal for one this offseason. They'll rely on internal candidates such as Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel and Brett Carroll at the position for now and continue monitoring the market for upgrades. They showed interest in Adam Jones, Gerardo Parra, Jason Bourgeois, Peter Bourjos and B.J. Upton this offseason without acquiring anyone. Perhaps they'll complete a deal next year when the free agent market could feature Upton, Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn.

The Nationals figured prominently in the offseason's Prince Fielder rumors, even though they don't appear to have been a finalist for the powerful first baseman. They ranked 24th in MLB in runs scored a year ago and Fielder would've provided some welcome offense. However, a $200MM commitment is never easy to justify, even when ownership has raised payroll in recent years.

Offense could be a concern in 2012. Though the Nationals scored just 624 runs in 2011, they chose to rely on improvements from within instead of signing free agents or trading for position players. Jayson Werth should provide more offense during his second season in D.C., and it's hard to imagine that Adam LaRoche will produce less than he did in 2011. Plus, top prospect Bryce Harper figures to join the team midseason (good sense prevailed and they're having him start the season in the minors). Perhaps Wilson Ramos — safe again after being kidnapped in Venezuela — can build on his impressive 2011 numbers.

The Nationals signed three players to extensions: Morse, Gonzalez and Zimmerman. Morse's two-year deal will save the Nationals money if he comes close to replicating the numbers he posted during his breakout 2011 campaign, but the upside is limited. It's hard to endorse the deal from the Nationals' perspective since they didn't extend their control over Morse. They did obtain the rights to three of Gonzalez's free agent seasons by locking him up to a contract that includes two team options. It's a win for the left-hander, who obtains considerable security before accumulating three years of service time, but there's real upside for the Nationals on this deal. The Zimmerman extension – $100MM for a player who's missed approximately one month per season since 2008 — carries risk. Still, I like this deal for the team because Zimmerman's worth more than an average annual value of $16.7MM when he's at his best.

The Nationals added longtime closer Brad Lidge and hard-throwing right-hander Ryan Perry to the bullpen this offseason. Lidge, now 35, showed flashes of dominance in 25 outings with the Phillies last year and if his slider resembles its former self, he'll be well-worth the $1MM commitment.

The Nationals are poised to contend for the first time since moving to Washington, especially since an extra Wild Card spot is now in play. They've got an electrifying rotation and a strong bullpen. If their offense rebounds the way they expect it to, this club promises to finish above .500 and make a run at the postseason.

Photo courtesy Icon SMI.


Offseason In Review: San Diego Padres

New Padres GM Josh Byrnes transformed the team with a series of bold trades.

Major League Signings

Draft Picks Received: #33 and #70 for modified Type A free agent Heath Bell, #44 for Type B Aaron Harang

International Signings

  • OF Franmil Reyes ($700K)

Notable Minor League Signings

Extensions

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

In two years' time as Padres GM, Jed Hoyer built one of baseball's best farm systems.  But back in '09, Josh Byrnes would have been owner-in-progress Jeff Moorad's first choice for GM, had Byrnes not been under an eight-year contract issued by Moorad when both were with the Diamondbacks.  Byrnes was fired as D'Backs GM in July 2010, and when Moorad brought him and former manager A.J. Hinch to the Padres' front office a few months later, Hoyer must have felt concern about his job security.  New Cubs president Theo Epstein came calling about Byrnes this offseason, but eventually found Moorad willing to let Hoyer leave.  Hoyer and assistant GM Jason McLeod went to Chicago, and Byrnes took over as Padres GM and promoted Hinch.

Moorad considered the front office changes a net win, but now Byrnes may lose his biggest supporter.  This month, Moorad resigned as CEO, withdrawing his application for complete control of the Padres.  Moorad lacked full support from MLB owners, partly due to years spent as an agent.  There's an expectation that John Moores will go back to the drawing board to try to sell the team.  If new ownership comes aboard, Byrnes' tenure as Padres GM might be short.

Even if Byrnes only had one offseason, he made his mark on the franchise through trades and extensions.  24-year-old starter Mat Latos was the Padres' greatest asset, under team control through 2015.   Teams often build around players like Latos, but Byrnes shipped him to Cincinnati in a four-for-one blockbuster trade.  The Reds were one of few teams with the talent and willingness to pull off a deal of this magnitude.  The Padres may have received their first baseman of the future (Alonso), catcher of the future (Grandal), closer of the future (Boxberger), and two years of an intriguing starter with upside (Volquez).  The Padres took a short-term hit with this trade, but it's an easy long-term win and diversifies their assets.

The Padres already had a first baseman of the future in Rizzo, and sure enough, Hoyer and Theo Epstein came calling for their former Red Sox draft pick.  I agree with the idea of the Padres converting one of the first basemen into a top starting pitching prospect, though I'm not sure Cashner was the right choice.  The 25-year-old began the 2011 season in the Cubs' rotation but missed most of the year with a shoulder injury.  The hard-throwing righty will be used as a reliever in 2012.  Should Cashner remain in that role, anything short of a dominant closer will be a light return if Rizzo lives up to his billing.  Certainly, though, the Padres did their due diligence in determining Cashner has a long-term future as a starter.

Byrnes mostly avoided the free agent market, instead finding a few short-term fixes via trade.  Street was a salary dump for the Rockies, and the trade is similar to Byrnes signing the closer to a one-year, $7MM free agent contract.  Perhaps Byrnes wanted some name value to replace the departed Heath Bell, but Bell himself was once a no-name reliever who blossomed at Petco Park.  Spending $7MM on any closer is an unnecessary luxury for the 2012 Padres.

The Quentin acquisition was confusing as well.  In the Padres' favor, the prospect price for a year of Quentin wasn't ridiculous, and it's easier for them to trade for offense than to find willing free agents on one-year deals.  Still, Byrnes did give up useful prospects for Quentin.  Much like Cashner, Castro had a lost 2011 but still retains plenty of upside.  Pedro Hernandez seems to have a big league future as well.  Perhaps Castro wasn't particularly high on the Padres' stacked prospect depth chart, and they wanted to make some short-term efforts.  

Byrnes also authored extensions for Maybin and Hundley.  The Maybin extension cost more than I thought it would, especially for the arbitration years.  There's still value for the Padres in the chance that Maybin breaks out and especially in what would have been the center fielder's first two free agent years.  Still, Maybin's agent Brian Goldberg drove a hard bargain for a player whose best season to date included a .264 batting average, nine home runs, and 40 RBI.  Snagging Hundley's three arbitration years for $9MM, plus a club option, is more of a clear win for the team.

This much is clear about Byrnes: he's not a timid GM.  He evaluated key players in the Padres organization and made significant bets on some and against others, in an offseason that should affect the team long after Byrnes is gone.


Offseason In Review: Boston Red Sox

The new-look Red Sox aim to return to the postseason in 2012 after an offseason of trades and restrained free agent spending.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Tony Pena, Jesse Carlson, Rich Hill, Pedro Ciriaco, Scott Atchison, Brandon Duckworth, Carlos Silva, Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, Max St. Pierre, John Maine, Ross Ohlendorf.

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Draft Picks Gained or Lost

  • Obtained 31st overall selection from Phillies for Papelbon. Also obtain supplementary first round pick. 

In their final offseason under Theo Epstein, the Red Sox signed Carl Crawford, traded for Adrian Gonzalez and generated an unprecedented amount of hype. The first offseason under Ben Cherington was far more subdued, but the 2012 Red Sox have the makings of a playoff contender nonetheless.

"After two straight offseasons filled with significant contract commitments we knew this one would look a little different," GM Ben Cherington told MLBTR. "We made moves that we hope give us a more balanced roster and give us a chance to come up with good pitching solutions."

The Red Sox traded for relief help and strengthened their bench after making their biggest offseason addition: manager Bobby Valentine. Cherington initially seemed to favor younger candidates such as Sandy Alomar Jr. and Torey Lovullo, but ultimately opted for the experience and energy of Valentine. From a strict sabermetric standpoint managerial hires matter less than player moves, but there’s no denying the importance of this decision. Following a 2011 season that skidded out of control under Terry Francona’s watch, the Red Sox needed new leadership.

After much discussion and speculation, the Red Sox obtained relievers Chris Carpenter and Aaron Kurcz from the Cubs for Theo Epstein. Chances are Epstein will make a bigger impact on the Cubs than Carpenter and Kurcz will on the Red Sox, but Red Sox ownership seemed to lose leverage once Epstein started working for the Cubs. At least they got something for letting their longtime GM go. 

Credit Cherington for offering Papelbon arbitration then letting him sign with the Phillies as a free agent. As successful as Papelbon’s tenure in Boston was, $50MM for a reliever represents a luxury item even the Red Sox should pass on. 

Instead, the Red Sox traded for right-handed relievers Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon, two pitchers whose stuff and makeup impressed Cherington from afar. The Red Sox surrendered some valuable pieces in the process, but the big league team wasn’t counting on Jed Lowrie, Kyle Weiland and Josh Reddick in a major way. Not only are Bailey and Melancon relatively affordable, they're under team control through 2014 and 2016, respectively. 

The acquisitions of Bailey and Melancon freed up reliever Daniel Bard, who has been preparing for the season as a starter. Perhaps the successful conversions of Rangers relievers C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando inspired the Red Sox to make the change. 

The Red Sox showed interest in free agents such as Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson and Hiroki Kuroda and trade candidates such as Gio Gonzalez, but ultimately passed. The team was painfully thin on rotation depth during last year’s collapse, so I expected Cherington to add at least one established starter this offseason. The Red Sox would have done well to acquire an above-average starter to slot in behind Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

"The acquisition cost of proven starters via trade or free agency just wasn’t to our liking," Cherington wrote in an email. "Therefore we are trying to come up with solutions out of a pool of guys who are less proven. It carries more risk but also more upside as there is an opportunity to build value."

Cherington added some interesting names on minor league deals, and perhaps they will prove just as productive as Yankees starters Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia did a year ago. Non-roster invitees such as Carlos Silva (since released), Aaron CookVicente Padilla or Ross Ohlendorf were candidates for the final rotation spot, though left-hander Felix Doubront may get the nod for now. 

As it turned out, Cherington’s biggest free agent signing was not Jackson, or Oswalt or Yu Darvish. Cody Ross and Nick Punto share that distinction after signing for $3MM each. Ross, who can play all three outfield positions and hit left-handed pitching (.912 career OPS against lefties), makes perfect sense for a Red Sox outfield that includes left-handed hitters Carl Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Ryan Sweeney. Punto, a candidate for regular playing time on the infield, provides defensive versatility. Kelly Shoppach, another free agent addition to the bench, offers strong defense in a reserve role.

David Ortiz accepted the team's offer of arbitration, and will play for $14.58MM in 2012. The Red Sox did well to retain Big Papi, the top DH in baseball, without committing to him on a multiyear deal. No team in baseball outscored the 2011 Red Sox, and Ortiz is a critical element of their offense.

It’s not completely surprising that the Red Sox traded Marco Scutaro after exercising his option, but it’s puzzling that they waited so long to complete the deal. If they had made Scutaro available earlier on, they could have engaged teams such as the Brewers, Pirates and Giants and might have obtained more in return than Clayton Mortensen. The trade appears to have been motivated in part by ownership’s interest in avoiding luxury tax penalties. The Red Sox remain a big-market team by just about any measure, but even baseball's most aggressive spenders are now sidestepping the luxury tax.

There's no mistaking this team for the 2011 Red Sox. Gone are Epstein, Francona, Papelbon, Drew and Scutaro. Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield both retired after long careers with the Red Sox, making Ortiz the team's longest-tenured player. Despite the devastating way in which Boston's 2011 season ended, this team is poised to contend in 2012 as long as the back of the rotation pitches as well as the Red Sox think it can.


Offseason In Review: Chicago Cubs

The Cubs' new front office took a modest approach toward free agency, instead making several aggressive trades with a eye on the long-term.

Major League Signings

International Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Jim Hendry and Theo Epstein became GMs within months of each other in 2002, aiming to bring championships to teams with long histories of losing.  Hendry fell short with the Cubs, creating three playoff teams in nine years and failing to reach the World Series.  Epstein reached the playoffs twice as often in the same amount of time with the Red Sox, winning it all twice.  But after missing the playoffs the last two years in Boston — and in epic fashion in 2011 — Epstein was ready for a new challenge and the Sox were willing to let him go with a year remaining on his contract.  Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, long an admirer of the Red Sox model, signed Epstein to a record-setting five-year, $18.5MM contract to become the team's president of baseball operations.

The Cubs-Red Sox connections lasted all offseason.  Both teams interviewed Dale Sveum, with the Cubs bringing him aboard as their new manager.  The teams had difficulty determining what the Red Sox should receive as compensation for Epstein.  Eventually, hard-throwing relief prospect Chris Carpenter was deemed acceptable as the main piece of compensation.

The hiring of Epstein allowed the Cubs to pull off the unthinkable: luring a second standing GM in the Padres' Jed Hoyer.  In two years on the job in San Diego, Hoyer had created a surprising 90-win team in 2010 and crafted one of the game's best farm systems.  Assistant GM Jason McLeod, who led the Red Sox and Padres through many excellent drafts, joined Hoyer and Epstein in Chicago.  With the former Boston trio, Ricketts created a stronger Cubs front office than most thought possible.

With a middling farm system and openings at the corner infield spots, right field, and the rotation, the new Cubs front office had their work cut out for them.  The team had offseason payroll flexibility, but Epstein and company recognized the team is a long shot for 2012 contention.  They attacked the roster by balancing short and long-term acquisitions.

The Cubs flirted with star first base free agents Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, but it's unclear whether they were ever serious.  Ultimately, the team's modest free agent approach brought in DeJesus on a two-year deal and Maholm, Wood, and Johnson on one-year pacts.  The Cubs secured club options on Maholm and Wood, making them possible two-year signings, while DeJesus has a third-year option.  Given the lack of offense he provided the Athletics, DeJesus didn't come at a bargain price for the Cubs.  Still, the 32-year-old will be worth the money if he bounces back in his first extended National League exposure.  Maholm adds depth to what had been an extremely shallow 2011 rotation.  He's a back-end type starter, but the Cubs limited risk with a one-year deal.  The same applies to Kerry Wood, a fan favorite.

The Cubs' ho-hum free agent acquisitions were countered by several aggressive trades.  Re-signing 33-year-old Aramis Ramirez on a pricey three-year deal didn't make sense for the Cubs.  Instead Epstein and Hoyer made a change-of-scenery deal with the Rockies, sending Colvin for Stewart as the trade headliners.  Stewart, 27 in April, is a former first-round pick who is potentially under team control through 2014.  He'll be an upgrade over Ramirez defensively, and provides pop against righties.  He's likely to strike out plenty, struggle against southpaws, and spend some time on the DL, however.  Those warts made Stewart available, but given the internal and external third base alternatives, he's a decent flyer.

By trading Marshall to the division-rival Reds, Epstein and Hoyer attempted to add some long-term pieces in exchange for one year of an elite reliever.  Travis Wood, 25, could reside in the middle of the Cubs' rotation for the next five years.  ESPN's Keith Law sees Wood as a potential league-average starter, though the flyball-prone lefty has work to do to return to that point.  He seems unlikely to make the Cubs' 2012 Opening Day rotation.  Sappelt profiles as a future fourth outfielder, while the 5'7" Torreyes is far from the Majors and could be a singles-hitting second baseman in the best case.  A controlled, useful starter plus other pieces will always beat one year of a reliever in a value sense, though I wonder if the Cubs should have aimed for at least one player with more upside in this trade. 

I discussed unloading Carlos Zambrano in August, with the expectation that the Cubs should expect a low-value player in return.  Zambrano came with temper-related baggage, declining performance, and a huge salary.  Getting Volstad was a huge win.  The groundballing 25-year-old seemed to quietly come into his own last year, posting a 3.84 SIERA in 165 2/3 innings.  There's a legitimate case to be made that Volstad is better than Zambrano right now, and the Cubs have Volstad potentially through 2014.

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29-year-old career minor leaguer Bryan LaHair won the International League MVP in 2011, but it wasn't enough to quiet talk that the Cubs should or would pursue Pujols or Fielder.  That talk ended for good when the Cubs acquired Rizzo (pictured) from the Padres, mainly for Cashner.  Epstein and Hoyer have loved Rizzo for a long time.  They drafted him for the Red Sox in '07, and Epstein traded him to Hoyer in the Adrian Gonzalez trade in 2010.  Keith Law and Baseball America consider Rizzo one of the 50 best prospects in baseball, and LaHair gives the Cubs the flexibility to make sure Rizzo is ready before promoting him as their long-term first baseman.  Acquiring a player like Rizzo requires a valuable asset, and the Cubs surrendered one of their most interesting young big-league ready pitchers in Cashner.  Cashner began 2011 in the Cubs rotation but missed most of the season with a rotator cuff strain.  If he's destined for a permanent relief role, as some believe, it's hard not to favor the Cubs in this trade.

Both the Red Sox and Padres ranked within the top nine for draft spending from 2009-11, so Epstein and Hoyer clearly believe in investing in amateur talent.  The new collective bargaining agreement will severely restrict the Cubs and other teams from spending big on the draft and internationally, so Epstein and Hoyer overspent on free agent Cuban lefty Gerardo Concepcion while they still could.  The Cubs would argue the assertion that they overpaid for Concepcion, but Jim Callis of Baseball America says he "projects more as a No. 4 starter than as a front-of-the-rotation option" and is not a top 100 prospect overall.  Maybe the Cubs are choosing certainty over upside with guys like Travis Wood and Concepcion, or maybe they disagree with the industry and see bigger things for these lefties.

The Cubs have some extra rotation depth at the moment, having held onto righty Matt Garza despite trade interest.  The 28-year-old is under team control for two more years, though he won't be cheap in 2013.  If the price is right, the Cubs are amenable to extending Garza, their de facto ace.

Expectations are low for the 2012 Cubs, as rebuilding the team the right way is considered more than a one-offseason project.  Given the size of the payroll and fan base, Epstein and Hoyer did not choose a complete rebuild, but they're going younger at the infield corners and staying young in the rotation.  It'll be interesting to see how they react this summer or in the 2012-13 offseason if the Cubs are better than expected this season.  When Hoyer's Padres exceeded expectations in 2010, he didn't deviate from his long-term plan, avoiding trading top prospects at the deadline and following through on the Adrian Gonzalez trade after the season.  I expect something similar from the Cubs, who still have a few decent trade chips.

Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.