The Key “Non-Moves” Of 2012

As the cliche goes, sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make.  Some teams greatly benefited by standing pat on certain trades or signings during the past year while others may have hurt their prospects for the 2012 season and beyond by not striking when the iron was hot.  Here is a list of some of the most intriguing non-moves (the good and the bad) of 2012…

* Giants don't sign Tim Lincecum to a long-term extension.  San Francisco signed five of their biggest stars to multiyear extensions last offseason, handing out five-year deals to Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, a three-year deal to Pablo Sandoval and two-year contracts to Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong.  As MLBTR's Ben Nicholson-Smith pointed out in August, four of those deals already look like winners for the Giants, especially given the club's World Series victory two months later.  The one exception was Lincecum's two-year, $40.5MM contract, which suddenly looked like a mistake given how Lincecum struggled in 2012, though "the Freak" seemed to rediscover his form pitching out of the bullpen in the postseason. 

While Lincecum's $22MM salary in 2013 is a short-term concern, the Giants may have escaped larger pain given how they were exploring longer-term, nine-figure contracts with the two-time Cy Young winner last offseason.  Lincecum's stated preference for short-term deals may cost him millions unless he rebounds next year.  If he doesn't, then the Giants can part ways with Lincecum and free up payroll space for another acquisition or for extending Buster Posey.

* Reds don't move Aroldis Chapman to the rotation.  It's always been a matter of when, not if, the Reds would shift Chapman to starting pitching to see if his electric arsenal would translate into being a staff ace.  There were hints Chapman would make the room last spring, but after Ryan Madson underwent Tommy John surgery and was lost for the season, the Reds kept Chapman in the bullpen and eventually slotted him into the closer's job.  The rest was history.  Chapman delivered one of the most phenomenal seasons by a closer in baseball history (1.51 ERA, 5.3 K/BB ratio and 122 strkeouts in 71 2/3 innings) and the Cincinnati rotation didn't miss him, as the Reds' durable five starters combined to make 161 of 162 possible starts. 

One can't help but wonder, however, that the Reds might've gotten further than the NLDS if Chapman had been a starter and delivered anything close to his relief performance.  Now that Cincinnati has re-signed Jonathan Broxton, it looks like we'll finally see Chapman as a starting pitcher in 2013.

* Pirates don't sign Mark Appel.  The Stanford right-hander was considered to be a candidate for the first overall pick of the 2012 amateur draft but fell to the Pirates at #8, possibly due to the expected salary demands from Appel and adviser Scott Boras.  As you would expect, the lower draft standing didn't lower Appel's price tag and the Bucs weren't able to reach an agreement with Appel by the signing deadline, which Boras blamed on a lack of dialogue between Appel and the Pirates before the draft. 

This was the first high-profile instance of the collective bargaining agreement's new draft signing rules coming into play.  Pittsburgh could've gone over slot to sign Appel without any penalty in past years (as ESPN's Keith Law pointed out) whereas under the new rules, the Pirates would've risked losing future draft picks for exceeding their draft cap to sign Appel.  The end result is that Appel will again be one of the top prospects heading into next year's draft, and the Pirates will receive the ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft (considered by some pundits to be a relatively weak class) as compensation for not signing Appel last summer.  Taking the risk on Appel left the Pirates without a top prospect for the year, a setback for an organization that needs as much blue-chip talent as possible.

* Rays don't trade pitching depth before or during the 2012 season.  The Rays finished three games out of a wild card spot in 2012, a deficit that could've been surmountable if Carlos Pena hadn't been a bust or if Evan Longoria hadn't spent three months on the DL.  Still, Tampa Bay could also have upgraded its offense by dealing from its surplus of starting pitching but the team instead chose to stand pat.  You can't blame the Rays for being cautious given how valuable their trove of controllable young arms are, especially given how the Rays' financial situation requires them to get as much value as they can out of a talented player.  You wonder if their close call in 2012 prompted their big move for 2013, as Tampa pulled the trigger earlier this month on the blockbuster trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals in exchange for four prospects, headlined by the highly-touted Wil Myers

* Diamondbacks keep Justin Upton.  We're entering our third calendar year of Upton trade rumors and the D'Backs are seemingly no closer to dealing their talented right fielder.  They're in no particular rush (Upton is contracted through the 2015 campaign) though the longer the Snakes wait, the more other teams may question if there's something to Arizona's apparent lack of belief in Upton's ability or makeup.  Upton's good-but-not-great 2012 season (a .785 OPS) lessened his trade value slightly and if he puts up similar numbers next year, he could be seen as something less than a truly elite player, which will again lessen Arizona's return in a potential deal. 

If the D'Backs really had doubts about Upton, they perhaps should've dealt him even before the 2012 season when his value was at its peak, as now they're left with a player who is having to play under the cloud of these rumors.  For instance, the Rangers have refused to deal either Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar to the D'Backs in possible Upton trades, and you suspect Texas would've moved either player for Upton had Arizona made their offer in spring of 2012.

* Phillies keep Cliff Lee after the Dodgers claim him on waivers.  Money was no object to the Dodgers in their quest to improve their team, including putting in a claim on Cliff Lee when the southpaw was on waivers in August.  The Phillies pulled Lee back, a decision that over two-thirds of readers disagreed with in an MLBTR poll shortly after the Dodgers made the claim.  Lee is guaranteed $87.5MM through 2015, a total that includes a $12.5MM buyout option for 2016 (the 2016 option vests for $27.5MM if Lee hits certain innings totals and is healthy), which is a major commitment for a pitcher who turns 35 next season. 

While Lee is still effective, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro is already facing a bloated payroll filled with several aging, seemingly declining players.  Letting the Dodgers take Lee wouldn't have necessarily triggered a rebuild, but rather allowed Philadelphia to reload on fresh talent to contend next season.  It would've been tough for Amaro to let go of an ace for nothing but the payroll relief could've helped the Phillies beyond just next year.  This particular move will be revisited and discussed quite a bit if the Phils and/or Lee struggle in 2013.

* Padres keep Chase Headley.  The third baseman was having a very good year in 2012 that didn't really become great until after the July trade deadline has passed.  Headley was the subject of many rumors heading into the deadline and had a .791 OPS on July 31.  Once it was confirmed that he was still a Padre, Headley exploded with a 1.020 OPS in his final 57 games, finishing with a career-best 31 homers and a .286/.376/.498 line for the season. 

Headley is a Super Two player with two more years of arbitration-eligibility left and while an extension may be unlikely this winter, San Diego's new ownership group has been eager to show that they can afford to keep star players from leaving.  The Padres could lock up Headley and keep a rare star who has shown he can hit at Petco Park, or they could still explore trading him now that his value is at its highest.  Either way, it looks like the Friars made a smart move by hanging onto Headley at the deadline.

* Cubs keep Matt Garza.  This may have been a non-move that was forced by circumstance, rather than a conscious decision by the Cubs to stand pat.  Garza was the subject of many rumors heading into last July's trade deadline and he may well been dealt had he not suffered a stress reaction in his pitching elbow in late July, an injury that sidelined him for the last two months of the season.  Garza has begun throwing again and says he will be ready for Opening Day.  If he's healthy, the trade winds will undoubtedly again swirl around Wrigley Field as Garza is just a year away from free agency. 

The Cubs will get lesser value for Garza now or in July than they would've last year (when Garza was still controllable for a full year and two months) but one wonders if the club will look to move Garza at all.  The signing of Edwin Jackson was a sign that the rebuilding Cubs may be looking to contend sooner rather than later, and if Garza is healthy and effective in early 2013, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer could look to extend the righty.  A trade would only be pursued if Garza indicates that he wouldn't be willing to re-sign, or the Cubs could simply trade Garza at the deadline and then try to bring him back in free agency. 

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