Offseason In Review Rumors

Offseason In Review: Pittsburgh Pirates

USATSI_7736757After an inspiring playoff run in 2013, the Pirates accomplished little this winter, either on the trade market or through free agency, and instead will depend on their 2013 core to contend again in 2014.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

It's hard to address many needs with a $7MM offseason. The Pirates replaced Burnett in their rotation with Volquez, who has struggled since a strong season with the Reds all the way back in 2008. Volquez has good stuff and his recent peripherals have been better than his ERAs, however, and the Pirates have recently done well with previous reclamation projects like Francisco Liriano and Mark Melancon, so they may feel they can catch lightning in a bottle again with Volquez. The possibility that Volquez could become another Liriano likely made Volquez more attractive to the Pirates than a more reliable but lower-upside pitcher like Chris Capuano. The Pirates also re-signed Barmes, a poor hitter but a stellar defensive player, to back up Jordy Mercer at shortstop.

The Pirates also made a seemingly minor deal for Chris Stewart, a good defensive catcher with a solid pitch-framing track record. Stewart will back up Russell Martin at catcher, with the Pirates likely hoping that 2012-Yankees tandem will put their pitchers in the best possible postion to succeed. The Bucs also struck even-more-minor deals for depth pieces and semi-prospects like outfielder Jaff Decker and first baseman Chris McGuiness.

Beyond that, the Pirates will likely hope that their current core is strong enough to make another run, and that the potential midseason additions of top outfield prospect Gregory Polanco and pitcher Jameson Taillon can help augment it. Taillon (and Jeff Locke, who's currently suffering from an oblique injury and who could begin the season in the minors if both he and Wandy Rodriguez are ready by Opening Day) should provide the Pirates with other options if Volquez falters.

Questions Remaining

The Pirates have not yet found a left-handed platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez at first base. McGuiness and Travis Ishikawa probably aren't answers there. Going into the 2014 season with rookie Andrew Lambo, who hit for great power in the minors last year but had a sketchy track record before that, might not be the right move either, at least not without a better backup plan. It still wouldn't be surprising if the Pirates added another first baseman via trade, perhaps Ike Davis of the Mets or Mike Carp of the Red Sox.

Deal of Note

The Pirates signed Charlie Morton to an extension that bought out the ground-ball specialist's last year of arbitration and his first two years of free-agency eligibility. The Pirates also received a reasonable option on Morton for 2017 ($9.5MM, or a $1MM buyout). The deal creates a bridge between the Pirates' recent veteran-led rotations and a 2017 rotation that will likely feature Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, perhaps along with fellow youngsters like Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham.

Overview

The Pirates' remarkably quiet offseason following their first winning season since 1992 raises significant questions about the Bucs' willingness, or perhaps their ability, to spend. The Bucs did not extend A.J. Burnett a $14.1MM qualifying offer in the fall, even though Fangraphs pegs Burnett's 2013 value at around $20MM and a one-year deal for a pitcher of his caliber could potentially have been a boon for the Pirates. Burnett had previously said that he intended to play for the Bucs or retire, so if the Pirates took him at his word, there would have been no point in extending a qualifying offer anyway, particularly if they thought they could sign him more cheaply than the qualifying offer price. Then, however, GM Neal Huntington straightforwardly said that the Pirates were unwilling to pay market value for Burnett.

After declining to extend the qualifying offer and while waiting several months for Burnett to decide whether or not to retire, the Pirates tried a variety of other moves, most of which didn't work out. Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review describes the timeline. The Bucs tried to sign Josh Johnson to replace Burnett, but Johnson ended up heading to San Diego for one year and $8MM instead. They also tried to sign James Loney to platoon with Sanchez at first base, but Loney instead re-signed with the Rays at $7MM per year. 

The Pirates reportedly made competitive bids for both players. Sawchik suggests that if the Pirates were willing to commit around $8MM for Johnson and $7MM for Loney, plus $2MM for Barmes, their offseason budget may have been around $17MM-$19MM. Within this context, the logic for not extending the qualifying offer to Burnett becomes clear: $14.1MM for Burnett would have been too great a percentage of the Pirates' offseason budget, given that they also needed to address the first base and utility infielder positions.

"From a value you standpoint you can argue that $14 million should have been a no-brainer and we understand that," Huntington said. "But the reality is in ten to fifteen markets a qualifying offer, if accepted, becomes a large chunk of payroll and something – right or wrong -we were not comfortable in doing at that time."

The Bucs' plan of saving money on Burnett to upgrade at first base may have been a difficult one to pull off. The first-base market was thin, especially if the Pirates weren't willing to sign a big-ticket player like Jose Dariel Abreu or Mike Napoli (who are, of course, both righties, but project well enough offensively that the Pirates could have non-tendered Sanchez). The Bucs were also never seriously connected to Corey Hart, who ended up with the Mariners. When Loney re-signed with Tampa, the Pirates were left without serious first-base options to pursue. And so it looks like the Bucs' plan at first base may have amounted to Loney or a trade, which, of course, hasn't happened yet.

Homegrown players like Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Cole did, of course, play key roles in the Pirates' surprising 94-win season in 2013. But Huntington's excellent acquisitions of veteran players were also crucial. Those acquisitions began in February 2012, when Huntington acquired Burnett from the Yankees for pennies on the dollar. The following offseason, Huntington got Francisco Liriano on a bargain contract and Russell Martin on another modest deal, then acquired one of their best 2013 bullpen arms, Mark Melancon, for Joel Hanrahan

Faced with the task of building a team on a tiny budget, Huntington pulled a rabbit out of a hat. This offseason, his task was the same, only the magic trick didn't work. The plan may have depended too heavily on signing Loney, whose incentive to remain in Tampa, where he could play every day, likely was fairly strong.

After the Bucs missed on Johnson, they signed Volquez as a backup plan while they waited for Burnett to decide whether or not to retire, then reportedly increased their offer to Burnett to $12MM once it became clear that he was willing to sign elsewhere. ($12MM for Burnett plus $5MM for Volquez plus $2MM for Barmes is consistent with Sawchik's suggestion that the Bucs had about $17-19MM available to spend this offseason.) When Burnett signed with the Phillies, the Pirates were left mostly empty-handed. Signing a free agent who had declined a qualifying offer, like Kendrys Morales or Ervin Santana, to fill one of their first base or starting pitching vacancies didn't make much sense for them, either, since the Pirates surely preferred to keep the No. 24 overall pick in the draft this year.

The Pirates' future remains bright, and with a good big-league core and a very strong farm system, they likely will have more chances to augment a contending core in later seasons. They could also attempt to add in-season if the first few months of 2014 go well. The key question, though, is why Huntington only had $17-19MM to work with, despite Burnett, Barmes and Garrett Jones' contracts coming off the books.

The Pirates are finally a contending team. They've enjoyed healthy bumps in attendance in all of the last three seasons. They should have money from MLB's national TV contract coming to them. And they still chose not to spend, even on a one-year deal for Burnett that would in no way have reduced their long-term chances of contending. Burnett was one of the best pitchers in the National League last season, leading the senior circuit in K/9 and ground-ball percentage. $14.1MM for a one-year deal would have been a very reasonable price to pay.

The Pirates will likely remain one of baseball's lower-payroll teams this year, despite advantages that some other low-payroll teams like the Rays don't have, such as a beautiful stadium and a passionate fan base. If any offseason would have provided an opportunity for them to break the cycle and move into a payroll range more comparable to fellow NL Central small-market teams in Milwaukee and Cincinnati, this would have been it. But so far, they haven't taken it.

 Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Miami Marlins

The Marlins made a series of small moves as they wait for their young core to reach the Major League level and climb out of the NL East cellar.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

  • None

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Marlins' offseason began with a long-awaited shakeup that saw president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest dismissed, with assistant GM Dan Jennings being promoted to general manager and general manager Michael Hill assuming Beinfest's old role. The drama leading up to the decision was widely publicized, as Beinfest was long said to have clashed with owner Jeffrey Loria, who often went over Beinfest's head. One example was last summer's one-year extension for bench bat Greg Dobbs; the deal was said to be worked out by Loria and Dobbs' agent, with Beinfest not even being aware that the negotiations were taking place.

Saltalamacchia-Marlins

With the front-office shuffle out of the way, the Marlins set to work on supplementing their young core. While the Anibal Sanchez trade brought over young catcher Rob Brantly, who for a time looked to be the catcher of the future, Miami wasn't happy enough with Brantly's progress and elected to fill the void with their biggest signing of the offseason. Saltalamacchia (pictured) was brought in on a three-year, $21MM deal that proved to be far less expensive than most pundits had figured — particularly after 35-year-old Carlos Ruiz signed a three-year, $26.5MM deal to remain with the Phillies.

While Saltalamacchia has his flaws — he strikes out at a prolific rate and does not hit well from the right side of the dish — the deal looks quite favorable when juxtaposed with the much older Ruiz's contract. Saltalamacchia's deal pays him for his age-29 to age-31 seasons. Beyond that, he's bound to be an improvement for a team that saw its catchers post a collective .192/.249/.280 batting line (no, that is not a typo) in 2013 — good for the worst cumulative wRC+ (42) at that position in all of Major League Baseball.

Unhappy with the way former top prospect Morrison had turned out — both on and off the field — the Marlins traded the injury-plagued social media guru to the Mariners in exchange for a flamethrowing right-hander in the form of Capps. While Capps has a good deal of upside as a late-inning arm, it still seems a disappointing return for a player who once looked to be on his way to emerging as one of the National League's top young first basemen. Brash or not, LoMo twice ranked among Baseball America's Top 20 MLB prospects and slashed .259/.351/.460 in his age-22 to age-23 seasons before a pair of knee surgeries diminished his 2012-13 production.

The Marlins aimed big in their attempts to find an upgrade over Morrison, as they reportedly made a serious run at Cuban slugger Jose Abreu and were comfortable pursuing him even when it was learned that his price tag would exceed $50MM. Abreu ultimately signed with the White Sox on a six-year, $68MM contract, forcing Miami to look elsewhere.

It's no Abreu, but the Marlins were able to cobble together a cheap platoon that should be able to provide plenty of pop. The signings of Jones and Baker were met with little fanfare, but the duo could be an under-the-radar source of offense for the Fish. Baker pummelled lefties at a .314/.407/.667 clip with 10 homers in 123 PAs last season and has a career .298/.353/.522 line against southpaws. Likewise, the lefty-swinging Jones has a career .271/.337/.489 batting line against right-handed pitching. The pair may be defensively limited, but they could surprise at the plate.

Loria's issues with second base prospect Derek Dietrich were well-documented last year — Loria wanted to hold Dietrich down in the minors due to the belief that he was one of the reasons hitting coach Tino Martinez resigned after players dubbed him abusive — and the club sought to address that hole on the free agent market. Miami inked Furcal, a lifetime shortstop, to a one-year deal with the idea of him manning the keystone on an everyday basis.

Polanco provided veteran leadership but little else for the Marlins in 2013, and with retirement a likely outcome for Polanco, Miami plucked McGehee out of Nippon Professional Baseball on a cheap one-year deal. McGehee posted a monster season as Masahiro Tanaka's teammate with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, slashing .292/.376/.515 with 28 homers.

Losing Qualls was an undoubted hit to the bullpen, but Miami added Capps and took a reasonable gamble on Marmol's strikeouts. It's easy to chuckle at Marmol's struggles, but he's never whiffed fewer than 10.8 hitters per nine innings in a big league season. Even marginal improvement in his command could make him a weapon.

Questions Remaining

There's no doubt that Jose Fernandez is one of the best young pitchers in the game and the cornerstone of the Marlins' rotation; the $635K payday they gave him proves that, as the Marlins could've given him a mere $1K raise and not been alone in such a pre-arb payscale.

However, they neglected to add any veteran depth beyond re-signing Slowey to another minor league deal, and seem willing to proceed with Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez and Jacob Turner behind him in the rotation. Slowey, Tom Koehler, Brian Flynn, Andrew Heaney and others will compete for the fifth slot. The Marlins have depth, but a veteran arm on a one-year deal could've helped lessen the burden for their young stockpile of starters.

Likewise, they seem set to go with youth in the outfield alongside Giancarlo Stanton, as Jake Marisnick, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna battle for the other two slots. All three come with plenty of upside and have been Top 100 prospects, but each is also under the age of 24.

Turning toward the infield, there are question marks at all four spots. The aforementioned Baker/Jones platoon should hit, but neither has shown much defensive aptitude at first base. McGehee left for NPB due to a drastic decline at the plate. Adeiny Hechavarria's defense has impressed the Marlins, but he pulled off the rare feat of posting a sub-.300 average, OBP and slugging percentage in 2013 (.227/.267/.298). This year will be critical for him to show that his bat can trend closer to his Triple-A numbers (.327/.376/.446 in 606 PAs).

Furcal didn't play in 2013 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, and at age 36, how much does he have left in the tank? He batted .264/.325/.346 in 2012 with the Cardinals and has appeared in just five games at second base since 2001. Can he really be an upgrade over Dietrich, who struggled offensively but showed plus pop with a .214/.275/.405 batting line? Among second basemen with 200+ PAs, only Robinson Cano and Jedd Gyorko bested Dietrich's .191 ISO. He did skip Triple-A, so perhaps some time at that level will improve his all-around game.

Of course, the biggest question with the Marlins on a year-to-year basis regards Stanton. Miami has said that the plan is to build around Stanton (and now Fernandez), but outside of Saltalamacchia and a failed push for Abreu, the Marlins did little this offseason to impress Stanton. Miami is counting on its young core to make large strides and form the basis of a winning team, but that could take until 2016, when Stanton has just one year of team control remaining. Stanton tweeted that he was "pissed off" following the Marlins' 2012-13 firesale in which they traded Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and others, effectively hitting the reset button just one year into a new stadium. Has the bridge been burned, or could those same players' inability to win with the Blue Jays (along with Miami's bounty of prospects) have quelled Stanton's anger?

Deal of Note

As stated above, the Morrison trade brought back a young arm with some upside, but was that the best possible return the team could have gotten? It's odd to think that Morrison wound up with the Mariners — a team that already had Justin Smoak, Corey Hart, Jesus Montero and several other corner/DH type bats in house.

Fast forwarding to the present day, the Pirates and Brewers still lack a great deal of uncertainty at first base, and either team would likely consider Morrison an upgrade over its current in-house options. Capps has averaged 10.1 K/9 in his young career with decent control (3.6 BB/9) and an average fastball velocity of 96.5 mph. However, he's also yielded a .321/.414/.543 batting line to opposing lefties.

It's fair to wonder if a better deal for Morrison would have materialized had the Marlins exercised more patience.

Overview

The 2014 Marlins could be an improved team simply due to the fact that their young players have another year of big league experience under their belts. Adding Saltalamacchia should help to improve the team's production from behind the plate, but most of their other additions come with questions on defense, offense or both.

While the Marlins could win a few more games, their offseason dealings likely weren't enough to pull them out of last place in the NL East. They'll probably have another Top 5 to 10 selection in the 2015 draft after choosing second this year and sixth last year. However, the clock to extend Stanton is ticking, and an improved on-field product would likely help their cause. At some point, the results will need to show up on the field and in the standings, but for now, another Marlins rebuild continues.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Arizona Diamondbacks

One would be hard-pressed to offer a better description of this year's Diamondbacks offseason than that written at the same time last year by MLBTR's Steve Adams: "The Diamondbacks made a number of moves that raised eyebrows and invited skepticism this offseason, and they'll have to improve on last year's .500 record to silence those naysayers."

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings 
Trades and Claims 
Extensions 
  • Josh Collmenter, RHP: two years, $2.425MM. Club option for 2016 and mutual option for 2017.
  • Brad Ziegler, RHP: two years, $10.5MM. Club option for 2016.
Notable Losses
Needs Addressed
 
"Need" may not be the right word to describe the target areas for Arizona GM Kevin Towers coming into the offseason. After all, the club featured a fairly balanced set of players: a couple of young options at short to round out the infield; several youthful outfielders to join a returning Cody Ross; a nice group of rotation candidates; and the basis for a solid relief corps. There were questions, surely, but one would have been hard-pressed to point to a significant area where an addition was truly necessary.
 
Trumbo
Nevertheless, Towers had a clear set of priorities in mind, and saw room to reshape and improve his club. Power was the watchword, as rumors suggested that Arizona was intent on adding another big bat to accompany star young first bagger Paul Goldschmidt. Then, reports emerged that the team also hoped to add a major arm to the top of its rotation. 
 
As it turned out, the D'Backs worked the trade market hard. First came a stage-setting flip to get out from under $5.5MM of the $6MM still owed to Bell. In order to move those dollars, Arizona had to include a solid prospect in Holmberg. At the time, Towers said that the team's newfound flexibility would go to adding "bench pieces" (he mentioned re-signing Chavez), a top-of-the-rotation starter ("probably … via trade"), and "a corner outfield bat." 
 
With the added payroll space in his pocket, Towers worked quickly to replace the corner-outfield power output that went with Justin Upton to Atlanta last year. Striking a deal with the Angels and White Sox, Towers brought in the slugging Trumbo in exchange for two well-regarded prospects in Eaton and Skaggs. Trumbo brings undeniable 30-homer power to Arizona, and certainly promises to do what Towers hoped in that department. But he does not get on base consistently (career .299 OBP) and is not a good bet to add value through defense. (Though UZR and DRS both prefer his work in left to the opposite corner, his overall outfield numbers show that he is probably average at best.) Additionally, while Eaton and Skaggs had seen some of their prospect luster fade, the two are still considered high-end young talents who are just about ready to be big-league contributors.
 
Shortly thereafter came the acquisition of Reed, a powerful young closer. With Trumbo in left, the team planned to slot Martin Prado at the hot corner; that, in turn, meant that the young third bagger Davidson was blocked at the MLB level. So, he was flipped to Chicago for the right to plug Reed's electric arm into the back of the Arizona pen. Burning another top trade chip on a relief arm, however, may have hampered the club's stated desire to deal for an impact starter. 
 
After securing Chavez's return on a one-year, $3.5MM deal, Towers turned to a rotation market that was focused solely on one man: Masahiro Tanaka. Long rumored to be enamored of the Japanese ace, the Diamondbacks were reportedly willing to commit $120MM to acquire him. Of course, that fell far shy of Tanaka's stunning deal with the Yankees.
 
That left the D'Backs looking at a remaining crop of free agents that was fronted by mid-tier options that did not suit their needs. Having already dealt from the team's base of prospects, and being understandably unwilling to move top youngster Archie Bradley, potential trade scenarios involving arms like David Price and Jeff Samardzija never materialized. 
 
Instead, the team added depth and stability by inking the veteran Arroyo to a low-downside, low-upside deal. The signing unquestionably added solid innings to the Arizona docket, and decreased both the team's exposure to injury risk and the pressure to start Bradley's service clock. That Arroyo does not fill an obvious need — the team could have gone with Randall Delgado in the rotation — does not imply that he is not useful. But certainly Arroyo does not constitute the kind of impact addition that Towers had sought, and the team appears to have paid a full-market price for the durable veteran (having outbid the Orioles for his services).
 
The organization also used the offseason to lock down its leadership beyond the 2014 season. Arizona announced extensions of unknown length for Towers and manager Kirk Gibson in early February. 
 
Questions Remaining
 
Interestingly, one of the most obvious areas of real need — backup catcher — is a place that the Diamondbacks did not act decisively. The club brought in a few non-roster invitees, led by 42-year-old Henry Blanco, to fill in behind starter Miguel Montero. Arizona may not be done dealing, however, as the team is reportedly looking to ship one of its talented young shortstops for a young backstop.
 
Somewhat relatedly, if it plans to deal from its depth up the middle, the club needs to decide whether to run with Didi Gregorius or Chris Owings as the everyday shortstop to start the season. That decision — and, more importantly, the performance of whoever lands the job in the long term — could have a major impact not only on this season but the team's future outlook. 
 
Aside from the usual set of questions regarding performance, the D'Backs face some uncertainty in their outfield mix with Cody Ross still recovering from hip surgery. Though his recovery has reportedly been progressing quite well, Ross only just began running the bases. A setback would be tricky to cover, though Arizona has options. A.J. Pollock could step into a starting outfield role, but behind him lies only a group of minor league free agents. In theory, the club could instead shift Prado to the outfield and use Chavez and Cliff Pennington at the hot corner, but that too is an imperfect solution that could strain the team's depth.
 
Deal of Note
 
I'll stretch the scope of this heading to consider both of the Diamondbacks' big trades, because they carry similar characteristics. Trumbo and Reed are both still young (28 and 25, respectively) and came with several years of control (3 and 4). The two are each dynamic, powerful players with some premium tools.
 
But neither brings a ton of overall value to the table. Trumbo's power comes at the price of a ton of strikeouts and few walks, and he is not a plus defensively. Reed generates lots of whiffs and limits walks, but fails to get groundballs, has yet to line up his peripherals with results, and most importantly has a limited ceiling by the nature of his position.
 
Moreover, with lots of counting stats already in the bag, the two will not be cheap. With 95 career long balls, Trumbo already landed a $4.8MM deal in his first season of arbitration eligibility. Notably, MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected him to earn virtually the same amount as young star Giancarlo Stanton. Though Stanton ended up settling for a much higher figure, the point is clear: Trumbo's power inflates his cost in arbitration, and no discount is built in to reflect his inability to draw walks.
 
The same promises to hold true for Reed, who already has 69 saves to his name. Checking in some of the comps utilized by Swartz in discussing the exceptional arbitration case of Craig Kimbrel, it seems eminently possible that Reed could end up somewhere in the range of Brian Wilson ($4.46MM) and John Axford ($5MM) in their first years of eligibility. (Notably, of course, Axford was non-tendered in his second year of eligiblity, an unappetizing but realistic eventual possibility for Arizona with respect to Reed.) Curiously, the D'backs parted with a solid prospect just to unload Bell's salary, then gave up an even better youngster to bring in another reliever who may well price himsef off of the roster in relatively short order.
 
Most importantly, perhaps, the talent given up to obtain these two players — Eaton, Skaggs, Davidson, and (in effect) Holmberg — might have come in handy over the years to come. Somewhat remarkably, that group occupied four of the six top spots in Baseball America's prospect rankings of the Diamondbacks before the 2013 season. Though none had made significant leaps forward over the last year, they all also moved closer to MLB readiness without suffering any major injuries. 
 
Overview

 
In the aggregate, the D'backs gave up 23 years of control over those four prospects — much of which will come at league minimum — to shed Bell (along with $5.5MM of his salary) and add seven years of Trumbo and Reed (assuming both are not non-tendered at some point). While these moves probably make the team better for 2014, it is more than fair to wonder whether any near-term improvement is sufficient to have warranted that kind of sacrifice.
 
Towers has not hesitated to act aggressively to reshape his team's roster, but it is not clear that he has substantially improved it after two-straight .500 seasons. The heat is on for results, especially after the recent outflow of future talent. If the team struggles out of the gate, or looks in need of a trade-deadline jolt, it will be fascinating to see what bold new moves the GM has in store.
 
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers are hoping that a pair of late free agent signings and the return of two key bats will help them improve upon their fourth-place finish in a stacked NL Central division.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

  • None

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Though Milwaukee's starters finished the season well, the team's first-half struggles were pronounced. Even after the addition of Kyle Lohse — who pitched well in his debut season with the team — the Brewers' rotation combined for a 4.86 ERA prior to the All-Star break (third-worst in all of baseball). That mark dropped to a stellar 3.36 in the second half thanks to turnarounds from Yovani Gallardo, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada.

Garza-Matt-Rangers

However, Milwaukee lacked a clear fifth starter, as 12 different pitchers started games for the team in 2013. That's no longer an issue, as the addition of Garza not only improves the team's chances of sustaining its second-half surge, it gives manager Ron Roenicke no questions about which five pitchers will be taking the hill on a regular basis. Garza, Lohse, Gallardo, Estrada and Peralta form a solid quintet that could be one of the better rotations in the National League.

The Brewers also entered the offseason with a good deal of uncertainty in the bullpen, which made the decision to trade Badenhop for a low-level minor league arm a bit puzzling. Nonetheless, the additions of Smith and Rodriguez give Roenicke two arms to bolster his relief corps. Smith broke out in Kansas City last season, posting a strong 3.24 ERA with 11.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 33 2/3 innings (he was even better as a reliever, as he yielded four runs in four innings in his lone start of 2013). Smith held opposing lefties to a .557 OPS, and even righties managed just a .684 OPS against him. He could also be deployed as a starting pitcher should the club see some injuries in the rotation. Or, the club could prefer to Smith him in his best role to date and turn to Tyler Thornburg or Mike Fiers should a starter go down.

Rodriguez, the club's only other Major League signing besides Garza, signed his third separate one-year deal with the Brewers this offseason and provides a nice fallback option should Jim Henderson falter as the club's closer. K-Rod was outstanding for the Brewers in 24 2/3 innings before being traded to Baltimore for Nick Delmonico last year. Milwaukee now gets to keep Delmonico and deploy Rodriguez from its bullpen once again.

Questions Remaining

The biggest need for Milwaukee may simply have been to make sure the starters are able to take the field. Aramis Ramirez missed much of 2013 with injury, Ryan Braun was suspended for the season's second half and Corey Hart never played a game at first base after undergoing a pair of knee surgeries.

The club now is faced with questions surrounding those players. Will Ramirez, who turns 36 in June, be able to stay healthy? How will Braun respond to the media attention that he will undoubtedly receive all season and the negative reactions in visiting parks (and potentially his own home park as well)?

Perhaps the biggest question facing Milwaukee, though, is its first base situation. The Brewers were very interested in a reunion with Hart, but they neglected to match Seattle's price. The Mariners guaranteed Hart $6MM with the chance to earn up to $13MM total after incentives. Milwaukee's best offer to Hart, reportedly, allowed him to max out at $8MM. The Brewers were also connected to James Loney, though they balked at his asking price as well, and Loney returned to the Rays on a three-year, $21MM deal. Another possibility would have been Ike Davis, but GM Doug Melvin was unwilling to part with right-hander Tyler Thornburg to make a trade happen.

In the end, Reynolds was signed with the promise that he was a virtual lock to make the club out of Spring Training. The 30-year-old possesses light-tower power but also strikes out at a prolific rate and found himself released by the Indians last year. Reynolds got off to one of the hottest starts in recent memory but fell into what could be the worst slump of his career prior to being let go. He could platoon with Overbay or Juan Francisco, but each member of that trio comes with more red flags and question marks than guarantees.

The Brewers will soon learn if Khris Davis can be their everyday left fielder, or if that will be something they need to address in future offseasons. Davis posted a whopping .279/.353/.596 batting line with 11 homers in just 153 plate appearances last season, indicating that he has the potential to hit 25 or maybe even 30-plus homers in the Major Leagues. However, he's also never been too highly regarded as a prospect and comes with some defensive limitations. Already 26 years old, this will be somewhat of a make-or-break year for Davis.

Lastly, Jean Segura is penciled in as the everyday shortstop, but he will need to prove that he's capable of producing over a full season. The one-time Rookie of the Year candidate finished with strong overall numbers but batted a mere .241/.268/.315 in the season's second half.

Deal Of Note

Brewers GM Doug Melvin had drawn plenty of ire from fans and media alike for his lack of activity on the free agent market prior to signing Garza in late January. Milwaukee was the only club not to have signed a Major League free agent at that point, but Melvin's patience paid off, as he was able to get Garza for roughly the same price that netted the Twins Ricky Nolasco more than two months earlier.

There was some uncertainty regarding Garza's status, as after initial reports that the agreement was reached, pending a physical, the Brewers issued a statement to say that no deal was in place. While teams often refuse to comment on signings that are reported prior to completion of the physical, it's highly uncommon for a club to actually deny the deal and say the two sides are still in discussion.

Eventually, the deal was announced with a unique and complex fifth-year option that 1) was likely the cause for the delay and 2) demonstrates just how wary teams were of Garza's health issues. The Brewers have a very cheap $5MM option on Garza for the 2018 season that drops to just $1MM if he is on the DL for 130 days during any of the previous four seasons. However, it can vest at $13MM if he pitches 110 games over the first four years of the deal, is not on the disabled list at the end of the 2017 season and throws at least 115 innings in 2017. With $1MM available in incentives each season, Garza can earn up to $67MM over five years. His $50MM guarantee marks the largest free-agent expenditure in team history.

Overview

Melvin continued a trend we've seen from his team in recent years by waiting out the market in order to secure a couple of solid values on late-signing free agents. Milwaukee's rotation should be improved and will be a strength for this team. Full seasons of Ramirez and Braun will go a long way toward improving the offense, but the production of Davis and Segura loom as uncertainties. If even one of those two performs at a high level, it may be enough to overshadow what seems likely to be a first-base deficiency. Milwaukee plays in an exceptionally difficult division, with three teams coming off a season of 90 or more wins. Despite that, there's enough talent on the team to contend for a Wild Card spot if everything breaks their way.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: San Francisco Giants

The Giants won the World Series in 2012 thanks to a solid core, some savvy trades and a mammoth performance from Buster Posey. However, a number of their players were set to hit free agency.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

  • Buster Posey, C: eight years, $159MM. $22MM Club option for 2022.
  • Santiago Casilla, RP: three years, $15MM. Vesting option for 2016.

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

General manager Brian Sabean clearly placed an emphasis on retaining the group that won the Giants' second World Series title in two years. That line of thinking is exemplified by the Spring Training blockbuster (no pun intended) extension for Buster Posey. The 2012 NL MVP signed an eight-year, $159MM contract that will keep him in San Francisco through his age-36 season. PoseyAs is the case with any eight-year deal, the contract carries with it significant risk. The Giants undoubtedly believe that Posey is capable of sustaining his 2012 production and chose to lock him up now rather than next offseason, when he'd have a chance at breaking Joe Mauer's record for catcher contracts. Posey and Matt Cain have become the faces of the franchise, and Sabean spent to ensure the pair's best years come in black and orange.

Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Jeremy Affeldt and Melky Cabrera each also played large roles in the Giants' 2012 success, but all four entered the offseason eligible for free agency. 

Pagan's four-year, $40MM contract is a risk for a speed-oriented player entering his 30s, but his play over the past four seasons justifies the spend. Even if he regresses in the final year of the contract, he should be able to at least live up to — if not exceed — its value.

On the other hand, Sabean paid a steep price for to retain Scutaro and Affeldt. Scutaro looked like a replacement-level player prior to his trade to the Giants, and it's fair to assume he won't repeat the gaudy .366 BABIP that followed. Affeldt has proven to be a strong setup man, but paying top-of-the-market value for the age 34-36 seasons of a reliever with declining velocity is questionable at best.

Sabean doubled-down on that thinking by giving Santiago Casilla a three-year, $15MM extension. Casilla is younger than Affeldt but comes with some command issues. Paying $11MM per season for a pair of mid-30s setup men strikes me as an unnecessary risk.

The signing of Andres Torres brings back a veteran with excellent defensive skills that helped the Giants to a World Series title in 2010. The $2MM price tag is more than reasonable and gives manager Bruce Bochy a number of strong defenders in Torres, Pagan and Gregor Blanco. The importance of that defensive prowess in the outfield can't be understated, given the amount of ground that needs to be covered at AT&T Park.

Questions Remaining

Cain, Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong combine to form a strong 1-2-3 punch atop the rotation, but Tim Lincecum's struggles have persisted into the 2013 season. "The Freak" has lost nearly four miles per hour off his fastball from his first Cy Young campaign, and his command problems are even more concerning than the velocity drop. At this point, I have to imagine that the they'd be thrilled to get 175 league-average innings out of the former ace, but that's looking more and more unlikely.

Barry Zito was dominant on Wednesday, but there's the feeling that a meltdown is always around the corner with the soft-tosser. Starting pitching could become a big area of need for this team and cause fans to look back at the Zack Wheeler-for-Carlos Beltran swap of 2011 with heavy hearts.

Shortstop and first base are both areas of concern as well. Defensively proficient as he is, Brandon Crawford offers little with the bat. This is a big year for Brandon Belt, as he'll need to prove that he's a capable bat that can help a team lacking in power bats. Midseason acquisition Hunter Pence will also need to rebound after hitting a mere .219/.287/.384 for the Giants down the stretch and .210/.231/.290 in the playoffs.

Should the offense flounder, I imagine the Giants will be in on names like Josh Willingham, Justin Morneau and whatever other corner bats emerge on the trade market.

Deal of Note

Brian Wilson has long been a fixture in Giants culture, but the team faced a tough decision on him this offseason. "The Beard" underwent Tommy John surgery after making just two appearances last season, and the Giants wisely chose not to tender him a contract and pay him at least $6.8MM in 2013.

The Giants had interest in bringing Wilson back on a minor league deal, but he preferred to seek out a Major League opportunity. After failing to impress the Mets in a January audition, Wilson has decided to wait until he's 100 percent healthy before auditioning for teams again.

Back in October, Wilson stated that if the Giants "paid me to be me, I will be." The decision not to meet that asking price or even offer a smaller Major League deal months later has proven to be wise, but it was likely a difficult decision for Sabean and his staff to make.

Overview

The Giants have a strong, albeit top-heavy rotation backed by a solid bullpen. If they can receive league-average innings from Lincecum and/or Zito, they'll be in the mix until the end. As has become the norm in San Francisco, the offense doesn't look overpowering, but the middle of the lineup is strong. The new-look Dodgers and Diamondbacks pose threats, but San Francisco looks poised for another playoff push.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks made a number of moves that raised eyebrows and invited skepticism this offseason, and they'll have to improve on last year's .500 record to silence those naysayers.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

  • Paul Goldschmidt, 1B: five years, $32MM. $14.5MM Club option for 2019.
  • Aaron Hill, 2B: three years, $35MM.
  • Martin Prado, UT: four years, $40MM.
  • J.J. Putz, RP: one year, $7MM.
  • Cliff Pennington, SS: two years, $5MM.

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Diamondbacks made the first notable move of the "offseason" (it actually came prior to the World Series) when they traded Chris Young to the A's in a three-team deal with the Marlins that brought Cliff Pennington and Heath Bell to Arizona. Pennington provides the team with an immediate replacement for Stephen Drew, though his bat prevents him from being a long-term solution.  Prado

After publicly calling Drew out for durability issues and his desire to take the field last season, the Diamondbacks prioritized finding a long-term solution at shortstop. They believe that they did so in acquiring Didi Gregorius from the Reds in a three-team deal that also involved the Indians, but they paid a steep price in the form of prized pitching prospect Trevor Bauer. Bauer isn't without flaws; he has a 4.2 BB/9 in the minors and his personality reportedly clashed with teammates and ownership.

Scouts offer mixed reviews on Gregorius' bat, with many believing that he could end up hitting near the bottom of the order. The consensus is that the glove is legit, but presumably Gregorius will need to hit in order to justify parting with Bauer, who is the far more highly regarded prospect.

Even after dealing Young the team had a bulk of quality outfielders with Justin Upton, Gerardo Parra, Jason Kubel and Adam Eaton all in tow. That surplus made it all the more surprising when Cody Ross was signed to a three-year, $26MM deal.

The Ross signing made it even more apparent that Arizona was likely to part with one of Upton or Kubel. After nearly two years of speculation and an avalanche of trade rumors, they agreed to a trade with the Mariners only to have Upton enact his limited no-trade clause.

Weeks later, Upton was sent to the Braves in a trade that would put him in the same outfield as his older brother. GM Kevin Towers dealt Upton and Chris Johnson and received Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury in return. While that's a nice package of players, most agreed that the Mariners' proposed package (Nick FranklinStephen Pryor and Taijuan Walker) was a stronger offer.

Prado was one of five D-backs players to receive extensions this offseason, as he was locked up to a four-year deal worth $40MM. There seems to be a perceived gap between Prado and Upton, but Prado was worth 5.6 fWAR last season, and the D-backs will now control him for four years while Upton had only three years of control left.

Paul Goldschmidt, Aaron Hill, Cliff Pennington and J.J. Putz all received extensions as well, though one has to wonder if guaranteeing Pennington's 2014 salary was necessary given his questionable offensive track record.

Putz's $7MM extension is reasonable in price relative to the market, but I'd think David Hernandez could've taken over as closer in 2014 and excelled. Hill's free agent years were locked in more cheaply than peers such as Brandon Phillips and Ian Kinsler. He hasn't been as consistent as that pair, but 2012 showed that his ceiling is comparable. Goldschmidt is the only first baseman to sign an extension with one-plus year of service time, but the price is comparable to contracts signed by other position players with similar service time. Arizona could have played it safe and waited a year, but the price would have risen substantially if his power progresses as many expect it to.

Brandon McCarthy was added on a very reasonable two-year deal and offers considerably more upside than pitchers who signed for comparable amounts (e.g. Joe Blanton, Kevin Correia). McCarthy should be an upgrade over Joe Saunders, although he comes with questions surrounding his durability.

Towers and his staff once again spent on veteran bench bats and utility players. Last offseason it was Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald and Lyle Overbay. This offseason the team signed Eric Chavez ($3MM) and Eric Hinske ($1.075MM). There's something to be said for veteran leadership, and Chavez is coming off a strong 2012, but generally speaking the production provided by these types of players can be found cheaper.

Questions Remaining

Even after prioritizing shortstop, the Diamondbacks have opened the season with Pennington and his career .249/.313/.355 batting line as their starter. Gregorius could be ready to take over if Pennington struggles, but there's no guarantee that he will be a major upgrade with the bat.

Eaton and Ross opened the season on the DL, leaving the D-backs to deploy an outfield mix of Kubel, Parra, A.J. Pollock and Alfredo Marte. The collection of outfielders on Arizona's 40-man roster isn't a star-studded group, and any setbacks to Ross or Eaton could expose some depth issues. Both Kubel and Ross have significant platoon splits, so the group as a whole runs the risk of being overexposed.

Deal of Note

Not only was the timing of the Young trade odd, the approach the D-backs took was puzzling. Arizona received only Bell (and his contract) and Pennington in exchange for Young, who has averaged 3.6 fWAR over the past three seasons. Young isn't without flaws — he strikes out in 22 percent of his plate appearances and has noticeably better numbers against left-handers than right-handers — but I feel that he should've netted more in a trade. With so many teams looking to acquire outfielders later in the offseason, it seems they jumped too soon.

The strangest part is that those same strikeout and platoon caveats apply to Ross, but Young is a far more capable center fielder. Arizona essentially traded Young for a bad contract and then opted to sign an older version of a similar player with a weaker glove.

Overview

The Diamondbacks have been outspoken in recent years about their discontent with certain players, and they haven't been shy about cleaning house to remove those who they deem problematic (Drew, Upton, Bauer). While they drew plenty of skepticism for their trades, Prado stands out to me as an underrated commodity who should exceed the value of his extension. With a nice core of position players and a solid rotation locked up for the foreseeable future, Arizona should be no worse than a .500 club for the next couple of seasons. The top of the division looks tough with the Dodgers and Giants in the mix, but Arizona has the pieces in place to make a run.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Colorado Rockies

The Rockies added a late-inning reliever and a pair of back of the rotation starters, electing to have a quiet offseason after hiring new manager Walt Weiss.

Major League Signings

  • Jeff Francis, SP: one year, $1.5MM.
  • Jon Garland, P: one year, $500K.
  • Jorge de la Rosa, SP: one year, $11MM. Player option exercised.
  • Total Spend: $13MM.

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Uspw_6611622

With a move back toward the more traditional five-man rotation, the Rockies certainly won't be giving 46% of their innings to the bullpen again in 2013.  Still, you can never have too many late-inning relievers, so the Rockies acquired Wilton Lopez from the Astros in what turned out to be the biggest move of their offseason.  The club acquired three years of Lopez's services, with Alex White the main piece going to Houston.  Certainly neither Rockies senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett nor Astros GM Jeff Luhnow expected it at the time, but White will soon undergo Tommy John surgery.  The Phillies had nearly acquired Lopez (pictured) from the Astros in November, killing the deal after his physical, but the Rockies were more comfortable with his health.  The Rockies' bullpen seems in better shape this year, even with the losses of Reynolds and Roenicke.

The piggyback experiment aside, the Rockies simply had a terrible rotation in 2012.  Geivett addressed the rotation, in a sense, by re-signing Francis and adding Garland.  It's a low-risk, low-reward pair of signings, totaling just $2MM in guaranteed money.  Francis has become one of the game's softest tossers.  He led the team with just 113 innings last year, given their experiment.  An ERA around 5.00 seems like the best-case scenario for him.  The Rockies added another hittable hurler in Garland, who is bidding to make ten big league starts for the first time since 2010, due to shoulder injuries.  When they're right, these veterans can at least keep the ball on the ground, a Rockies mantra.

Geivett added additional depth on the cheap, picking up backup catcher Torrealba, reserve infielders Brignac and Wheeler, and starter-turned reliever Volstad.  The Torrealba signing allowed the Rockies to trade catcher Ramon Hernandez to the Dodgers, which nets the club about a million bucks plus whatever minor piece they can get for the already-designated Aaron Harang.

Perhaps Colorado's biggest move was not the Lopez trade but rather their managerial hire, Walt Weiss.  After Jim Tracy resigned, the team got in on the trend of hiring someone with no managerial experience.  Weiss, at least, should be on board should the front office decide to do something outside the box again.   

Questions Remaining

The Rockies' rotation consists of Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge de la Rosa, Juan Nicasio, Francis, and Garland.  Though the group is off to a nice start for the first four percent of the season, it's hard not to view them as a massive question mark.  Even if the Rockies didn't like the free agent prices, there were three front-rotation types traded this winter in R.A. Dickey, James Shields, and Josh Johnson, plus some mid-rotation arms.  The Rockies' rotation doesn't have much in the way of name value, but perhaps they can sneakily land in the middle of the NL pack, as FanGraphs' rotation rankings suggested last month.

The Rockies also have uncertainty in the infield, with Chris Nelson and Josh Rutledge taking on full-time roles and Todd Helton not a great bet to top 100 games.

Deals of Note

The Rockies did a pair of two-year extensions in the name of cost certainty, snagging arbitration years from Fowler and Chacin.  In the case of Chacin, I found it unnecessary.  Though he's the team's de facto ace, Chacin has shown a declining strikeout rate but a stable, high walk rate over his career.  He must continue to prevent hits to survive, a dicey proposition that did not hold up last year.  Why lock him in for $4.85MM in 2014?  The Rockies saved a little bit of money in the best case, but they've lost the ability to pay Chacin less if he has a lousy 2013.

Overview

The Rockies march to the beat of their own drum, and you have to respect that.  But even after a nice opening week, they look like a .500 club moving forward, and their quiet offseason is a factor there.  Still, with star power from Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki plus quality bats in Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer, and Wilin Rosario, the Rockies can put some runs on the board if everyone stays healthy.  I'll enjoy watching to see if Walt Weiss' team can continue to defy expectations.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Dodgers

Not surprisingly, the Dodgers issued the biggest contract of the offseason and spent more than any other club.

Major League Signings

International Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

It's tough to say that the Dodgers, who finished fourth in the Majors with a 3.35 ERA last season, really needed pitching this offseason. They added plenty of it anyway, and there's no denying that both their rotation and bullpen are better off for having done so. The Dodgers entered 2012 with a rotation consisting of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang. They're now set to run out Kershaw, international signee Hyun-Jin Ryu, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett and Billingsley (once he's healthy, which should be mid-April).  Greinke Dodgers

The additions of Greinke, Ryu and Beckett (acquired via trade last summer) push both Capuano and Harang to bullpen duty — something neither man figures to be happy about following successful seasons in 2012 (particularly for Capuano). Lilly, currently on the disabled list, appears headed for the same fate. MLB.com's Ken Gurnick recently wrote about the trio, noting that each still prefers to be in the rotation. Barring an injury, that seems highly unlikely.

Greinke's deal broke Matt Cain's record for the richest contract ever awarded to a right-handed pitcher at the time of the signing, and it's still the largest new-money guarantee for a righty. As was the case with CC Sabathia's record-setting deal, Greinke is able to opt out of his contract and test the market again following the contract's third season. 

On the bullpen front, the Dodgers dished out a three-year, $22.5MM contract to Brandon League in a surprising move early in the offseason. It's not that League is a bad pitcher, but does the ACES client really merit the second-largest contract for a reliever this offseason? Some would argue it's a fair deal, but given his struggles against left-handed pitching it seems like an unnecessary risk to me. GM Ned Colletti also signed J.P. Howell to a reasonable one-year contract to help combat opposing lefties.

Questions Remaining

The Dodgers' 25-man roster is loaded with star power, but they need to produce. Adrian Gonzalez homered just three times for the Dodgers following last summer's trade. Hanley Ramirez showed improvement after leaving Miami, but he still wasn't close to the 2007-10 version of himself. No one is sure what to expect from Carl Crawford at this point following a disastrous 18-month stint in Boston, during which he was essentially a replacement-level player before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Beckett posted a strong 2.93 ERA with the Dodgers, but did so with far and away the weakest fastball of his career (90.9 mph).

The pitching staff should be among the game's best, but it will be interesting to see how Ryu transitions to the Major Leagues. He was an elite star and strikeout king in Korea, but he lacks the typical velocity one would expect from such pitchers in Major League Baseball. League's deal, while questionable, is a mere drop in the bucket for the Dodgers' seemingly limitless payroll, and Kenley Jansen is one heck of a security net.

The Dodgers could find themselves in the market for a bench bat at some point this season, as manager Don Mattingly has little in the way of offensive threats late in games (apologies to Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston). Perhaps that's one area Colletti will target if he looks to move Capuano, Harang or Lilly.

Deal of Note

In spite of shelling out loads of money to Greinke, Ryu and League, perhaps the most curious decision made by the Dodgers this offseason was not to trade any of their excess starting pitching. Capuano racked up 198 1/3 innings of 3.72 ERA ball (3.95 FIP, 3.97 xFIP, 3.93 SIERA) and posted a stellar 3.00 K/BB ratio. He's under contract for just $6MM this year (plus a $1MM buyout on his mutual option) and surely would be appealing to other teams.

Harang, while not as solid and more expensive ($7MM plus $2MM buyout on a mutual option), posted a respectable season — a 3.61 ERA in 179 2/3 innings. Advanced metrics didn't like him as much (4.14 FIP, 4.95 xFIP, 4.87 SIERA), but he makes for an expensive long reliever.

One can only assume that once Billingsley and/or Lilly are healthy and ready to come off the disabled list, Colletti will begin exploring trades. Still, it's curious that he chose not to do so earlier this offseason when more trading partners would have been available.

Overview

The Dodgers probably have more starting pitching depth than any team in the Majors, and they also have a deep, talented bullpen with League, Jansen, Howell and Ronald Belisario. When Hanley Ramirez returns from his injury, their lineup will be stacked with big names and big question marks. The sheer amount of talent on this roster makes them look like a playoff contender. And, if Gonzalez, Crawford and Ramirez rediscover their All-Star form, the Dodgers could make a run at the best record in baseball.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: San Diego Padres

The Padres are banking on their younger players taking a leap forward in 2013 to help propel them into the playoff chase.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Padres' biggest need was pitching, but they didn't make any major shakeups in that department during the offseason.  In fact, they inked just one Major League free agent all winter and it was one of their own – Jason Marquis.  The veteran was signed to a one-year, $3MM deal in early December after turning in a 4.04 ERA with 7.6 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 across 15 starts for San Diego.  While those are decent numbers, we can't totally forget about his dismal 8.47 ERA with 3.2 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 in seven starts for the Twins that led to his May release.  General Manager Josh Byrnes hopes that he got to see the real version of Marquis in 2012 and that the right-hander's history of success in the National League continues in 2013.

The club's other addition to the starting five was Tyson Ross, who came over from the A's in a November trade.  The right-hander has shown promise but he'll have to put his control issues behind him to stick in a major league rotation.  Ross made 13 starts and five relief appearances for Oakland last season, posting a 6.50 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9.  He didn't get to finish the season in the A's rotation, but after a strong spring he'll be slotted in as the No. 5 starter for the Padres.

Questions Remaining

There are a good deal of question marks surrounding the Padres after the club essentially opted to stand pat after a 76-86 campaign.  The Padres don't necessarily have to reassemble the 1998 Braves rotation to keep the runs down in the spacious confines of Petco Park, but the Padres didn't make significant upgrades to a staff that didn't perform in 2012.  Clayton Richard turned in a 3.99 ERA but his strikeout numbers are trending downward and he had a career low of 4.4 K/9 last season.  Richard did manage to keep the walks down (career best 1.7 BB/9) but the same can't be said for Edinson Volquez, who had 5.2 BB/9.  The No. 3 starter in the rotation is Eric Stults, who did well in 14 starts for the Friars last year, but the 33-year-old has never turned in more than 99 innings of big league work in a season.

The Padres' offense was actually solid when they got away from their pitcher-friendly home park, but they're behind the 8-ball to start the year with several players out of action.  Yasmani Grandal, who hit .297/.394/.469 in his 60 game debut season, will be out for 50 games after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs.   As much as they'll miss Grandal in the lineup, they'll miss Chase Headley even more as he recovers from a broken thumb over the next 4-6 weeks.  His understudy, Logan Forsythe, is still dealing with a foot injury, forcing rookie Jedd Gyorko over to third with Alexi Amarista filling in at second.  Plus, Carlos Quentin generally misses some time due to injury.  The Padres are definitely a banged up team, but the fences at Petco have been moved in and that should help power numbers across the board. Headley

Headley is the Padres' premier bat, but will he finish the season in San Diego?  The third baseman has long been coveted by rival teams and if things aren't clicking as the deadline approaches, it stands to reason that Byrnes will give serious thought to the phone calls that he receives, despite his offseason assertions.  The 28-year-old will earn $8.575MM in 2013 and will remain under team control through next season, but it doesn't appear that the Padres have made serious headway with their star player on a contract extension.

Deal of Note

It's hard to say that the Padres had a deal of note this offseason with the Ross acquisition rating as their biggest move.  While San Diego flirted with doing something significant at times over the last few months, nothing wound up surfacing.  The Padres wanted to lock up Headley for the long-term, but that remains unfinished and doesn't appear to be imminent.  They explored adding another starter at a time when Kyle Lohse was still on the market, but they didn't follow through on that either.  Byrnes reportedly had interest in plucking Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks, but he was hardly alone there.  The Padres' inactivity either speaks to the confidence that they have in their young club or their financial constraints.  Or maybe it's a little from column A and a little from column B.

Overview

The Padres have been bitten hard by the injury bug to open the 2013 season and they could find themselves in a bit of a hole on the other side of April.  They'll have to vie with the Dodgers and Giants for traction in the NL West and it's tough to see them making the postseason unless everything goes right.  That means their offense getting/staying healthy, repeat pitching performances from the likes of Marquis and Stults, more power from Yonder Alonso at first, and a better all-around defensive effort.  None of those things are out of the question, but right now, it appears that the odds are against them.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Cincinnati Reds

The Reds were one of baseball's most complete teams in 2012 — as evidenced by their first-place finish in the NL Central — but they entered the offseason needing to address some holes in the outfield.

Major League Signings

International Signings

  • Jacob Constante, P: $730K.

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

With Ryan Ludwick hitting free agency and Drew Stubbs was coming off a season in which he batted just .213/.277/.333 with a 30.5 percent strikeout rate, Cincinnati needed to bolster its outfield. They did just that by re-signing Ludwick to a two-year deal and swinging a trade to acquire Shin-Soo Choo from Ohio's other team — the Indians.  Choo

General manager Walt Jocketty gave up Stubbs and shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius in a three-team deal with the Tribe and the D-backs to land Choo, who will man center field and hit leadoff for the Reds. Cincinnati also received infielder Jason Donald in the trade, though he's since been designated for assignment.

Scott Rolen's departure cleared the way for Todd Frazier to take over as the team's everyday third baseman. Frazier finished third in last year's Rookie of the Year voting and posted a solid .273/.331/.498 batting line with 19 homers. He's unlikely to match Rolen's defensive value, but he's an upgrade at the plate.

The offensive upgrade shouldn't be understated. The Reds finished with 669 runs in 2012 — just ninth in the National League and 21st in Major League Baseball. A full season of Frazier, the addition of Choo and a full, healthy season Joey Votto should help the team top last season's mark handily.

The Reds had little work to do on the pitching front. The team only had one game that wasn't started by Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo or Mike Leake in 2012. That honor went to Todd Redmond, whom they signed to a one-year Major League contract worth just over the league minimum. Cincinnati would ultimately designate Redmond for assignment to make room for Manny Parra, who landed a one-year deal of his own to bolster the bullpen.

Jack Hannahan was brought in on a two-year, $4MM contract. While he should provide solid corner defense for the Reds, I'm not sure a multiyear deal for a player of his ilk was necessary. The price is admittedly fairly insignificant, but Cincinnati has never been a deep-pocketed team and comparable defensive specialists like Brandon Inge signed minor league deals.

Questions Remaining

While Choo and his robust on-base percentage are more than capable of handling the leadoff position, there's less certainty about his ability to play center field at this point in his career. Choo entered 2013 with just 83 career innings in center field, and all but eight of those came in 2006 or earlier. The Fielding Bible rated his right-field defense at -12 runs last season, and UZR/150 thought he was worse, giving him a -15.8 mark. Choo's glove will have to show improvement while playing a tougher position to keep Cincinnati's outfield from being labeled a defensive liability.

The Reds have another question mark in the outfield thanks to the cartilage tear found in Ludwick's shoulder that forced him to go under the knife earlier today.  Cincinnati gave the veteran a two-year, $15MM deal – the first multi-year pact of his career – and will now have to get by without his bat for an indefinite period of time.  The 34-year-old posted a .275/.346/.531 batting line with 26 home runs in 472 plate appearances for the Reds in 2012.

Shortstop remains a potential area of weakness as well. Zack Cozart filled the spot last year but posted just a .246/.288/.399 batting line. Cozart held his own defensively (9.3 UZR/150; +12 runs per The Fielding Bible), but the team could seek an upgrade if Cozart's bat doesn't or defense takes a step back. With Gregorius now in Arizona, Cesar Izturis is likely the team's primary backup plan in the event of an injury.

Deal of Note

It seemed all offseason long that the Reds' plan was to use Aroldis Chapman in the starting rotation. That line of thinking was punctuated by a three-year, $21MM contract for Jonathan Broxton, who would presumably inherit the ninth inning.

Instead, Chapman has been placed back in the ninth inning, making Broxton one of baseball's highest-paid setup men. His $4MM salary in 2013 isn't prohibitive, but he'll earn $7MM in 2014 and $9MM in 2015 — a sizeable commitment to a team that prior to 2013 had never had an Opening Day payroll greater than $87.8MM. By the year 2015, Cincinnati will be spending a combined $15.5MM on setup men, between Broxton and Sean Marshall (assuming Chapman is still closing).

Overview

The Reds will once again enter the season with a strong rotation led by Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Arroyo and Leake. The Broxton signing, while questionable, shortens the bridge to one of the game's truly elite closers. Votto, Choo, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips will anchor what should be an improved lineup, health permitting. Jocketty and his staff have added to a strong offensive core and should be among the favorites in the National League Central once again in 2013.

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