Offseason In Review Rumors

Offseason In Review: Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies addressed their outfield, third base, and late-inning relief concerns without making a major free agent splash.

Major League Signings

Minor League Signings

Trades and Waiver Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Phillies' needs were clear at the beginning of the offseason.  GM Ruben Amaro Jr. addressed the outfield, third base, and the bullpen without doling out any large contracts.

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The Phillies explored all avenues in center field.  They were linked to free agents such as B.J. Upton, Michael Bourn, Josh Hamilton, and Angel Pagan, but Amaro chose to acquire 24-year-old former first round pick Ben Revere from the Twins for a useful big league starter in Vance Worley and a respectable pitching prospect in Trevor May.  Credit Amaro for making a push for Revere (pictured) when many thought he'd be unavailable, since the Twins had already dealt Denard Span.  Revere, who is not yet arbitration eligible, is under control through 2017.  Revere will have to provide value to the team with his glove, as he doesn't possess power and doesn't draw walks.  The departure of Worley created an opening in the rotation, which Amaro addressed by signing Lannan as a free agent. 

The free agent market for third basemen was shallow, so Amaro went the trade route there as well by acquiring Young.  The 36-year-old is coming off his worst season in the last decade, though prior to 2012, he'd been a consistent three-win contributor.  Young escapes the trade rumors and lack of position that plagued his final years in Texas, and some level of bounceback seems probable.  Plus, he has a reputation as a good clubhouse guy.  The Phillies effectively have to contribute $7.2MM toward Young's salary, and they surrendered some bullpen depth in Lindblom and a decent relief prospect in Bonilla.

Adams was signed at top of the market setup man dollars to be the new bridge to closer Jonathan Papelbon.  At 34 years old with a significant injury history and slipping peripherals, Adams represents a gamble by Amaro.  At least the Phillies didn't have to guarantee a third year.  Durbin, signed at an affordable price, restores the depth lost by dealing Lindblom.

The Phillies chose an interesting route to filling right field, signing Delmon Young dirt cheap.  Young, the first overall pick in '03, had one decent season back in 2010.  He'll have a sub-par on-base percentage unless he hits near .300, since he doesn't draw walks.  Young will likely cost the team runs on defense, especially coming off November microfracture surgery on his ankle.  The Phillies will have to hope Revere can pick up Young's slack defensively, and Young stays out of trouble and pops 20 home runs.  The whole idea of Young as a productive regular seems unlikely to pan out, but the cost was barely above the league minimum.

Questions Remaining

Will the Phillies' new-look outfield provide any offense?  The best bet for usefulness is Domonic Brown, the former top prospect who was pegged as a breakout candidate by ESPN's Keith Law.  The infield offers a bit more offense, but it's an aging group.

The other looming question is what to expect out of Roy Halladay, who finally looked mortal last year.  If Doc shakes off the spring velocity concerns and musters up 225+ innings of sub-3.00 ERA ball, the team's trio of aces should keep them in contention all year.  Otherwise, the Phillies' rotation depth will determine whether they can even play .500 ball in 2013.

Deal of Note

Lannan, a 28-year-old southpaw, spent most of 2012 languishing with the Nationals' Triple-A club before reaching free agency via non-tender in November.  Since Lannan only has four years of Major League service, his arbitration eligibility after 2013 effectively serves as a club option.  At $2.5MM, the Phillies didn't have to invest much in a pitcher they mostly just need to take the ball every fifth day and not embarrass himself.

Overview

The Phillies are not going to be a trendy playoff pick for 2013, with the Nationals and Braves both looking strong.  But don't forget 2011, when the same trio of ace starters led them to 102 wins.  If Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Halladay, Papelbon, and Adams are healthy and effective, this team will be very tough to beat 60% of the time.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Kansas City Royals

After improving their starting rotation the Royals can be considered a sleeper team entering the 2013 season. 

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

  • Wil Myers, Vin Mazzaro, Joakim Soria, Mike Montgomery, Brandon Sisk, Patrick Leonard.

Needs Addressed

Dayton Moore made his move this offseason, exchanging one of the game’s top prospects for a dependable frontline starter. The Royals also re-worked the back of the rotation in an effort to improve their starting pitching and become a well-rounded team capable of contending for the postseason.

Not only does James Shields contribute on the field, he’s under team control through 2014 at a reasonable rate. It’s no surprise he had substantial trade value. Yet it was surprising to many that Moore parted with top prospect Wil Myers to obtain Shields and Wade Davis. The Royals still have a strong system without Myers, and their pitching staff now looks much stronger. As Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports explained, this depth figured in to the club’s decision making back in December, when multiple teams were pursuing Shields.

Giving up Myers was a bold move that generated lots of criticism. The Royals know Myers better than any organization, so they get the benefit of the doubt to an extent. However, generally speaking an elite prospect on the cusp of the Major Leagues has more value than a frontline starter under team control for two seasons. Plus, Odorizzi and Montgomery are significant pieces. It stands to reason that Shields will help the Royals in 2013-14 more than Myers would have, though the balance shifts for the next five years, when Myers will remain under team control.

Davis will also start for the Royals, along with another newcomer. The Royals traded for Ervin Santana, giving up no significant players while agreeing to take on considerable salary. Santana had a disappointing season in Los Angeles and at $12MM represents more than an impulse buy. It’s just a one-year commitment, but the salary probably exceeds Santana's free agent market value.

Jeremy Guthrie returns on a three-year deal (more on his contract later) to round out the rotation along with Bruce Chen. This bumps Luke Hochevar to the bullpen for now, and begs the question ‘might it have been simpler and more cost-effective to non-tender Hochevar in November?’ 

The Royals made the prudent decision to decline Joakim Soria's 2013 option shortly after the World Series. With many capable relievers already in the organization, the front office didn't have to spend on relief help this winter.

Questions Remaining

The Royals enter the season with Chris Getz and Johnny Giavotella at second base. While the free agent market for second baseman was lackluster, the Royals could have traded for a short-term option to handle the position while Christian Colon’s development continues. I suggested early in the offseason that a deal for someone like Skip Schumaker would have made sense. Instead the Royals must allocate playing time on the fly and hope they get average production, a proposition that seems unlikely for now.

Jeff Francoeur is a question mark for the Royals following an unproductive 2012 season. Still just 29, Francoeur added value as recently as 2011. However, now that Myers is in Tampa Bay the Royals don't have a clear alternative in case Francoeur hits poorly again in 2013. Hopefully ownership will be prepared to spend on upgrades in the outfield and at second base if they're required midseason.

In general the Royals have a young group of position players. There’s upside in Kansas City to be sure, with up and coming players such as Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas joining established stars like Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. Yet with youth comes the reality that players like Hosmer are still developing at the MLB level.

The Royals face questions in their rotation, though it's looking stronger than it has in recent years. Santana posted a 5.16 ERA in 2012 and must pitch better to justify the Royals' acquisition.

Plus, Davis returns to the rotation after pitching effectively out of the bullpen for the 2012 Rays. Credit Davis for his relief work, but don't expect those numbers to translate in 2013. His career strikeout rate, home run rate and batting average on balls in play are substantially better as a reliever, indicating his numbers will drop off in the rotation.

Deal of Note

The Royals clearly wanted Guthrie back, and they were willing to spend to keep him following a strong half season in Kansas City. Overpaying a little to sign a free agent you really want makes sense, especially for teams that haven't historically had an easy time convincing players to join their organizations. But the Royals didn't overpay by a little.

Four free agent starting pitchers obtained deals of at least three years this past winter: Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson and Guthrie. Not only are Greinke, Sanchez and Jackson coming off of stronger seasons than Guthrie, they're all just 29 years old.

Guthrie, who turns 34 next month, is hittable and homer prone. While he limits walks, he doesn't strike many hitters out or induce a particularly high percentage of ground balls. He's useful, but he's not an impact pitcher. The Royals’ decision to pay him like one was questionable at the time, and looks worse now that comparable pitchers have signed for far less. Spending $25MM to bolster the back of a rotation doesn’t seem necessary in today’s market.

Overview

Moore improved the Royals’ pitching staff and, in doing so, increased the chances that they contend in 2013. This team is vulnerable in many areas, however, so fans may have to wait until 2014 or beyond for the next contending Royals team.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Chicago White Sox

The White Sox retained their starting pitching and signed Jeff Keppinger after an 85-win season in 2012. 

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

  • Jake Peavy, SP: two years, $29MM. Club Option for 2015.
  • Chris Sale, SP: five years, $32.5MM. Club Options for 2018 and 2019.

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Rick Hahn kept Chicago's pitching staff together in his first season as the general manager of the White Sox. With Hahn in place and longtime general manager Kenny Williams promoted to the role of executive VP, the White Sox had a relatively cautious offseason.

Jake Peavy - White Sox (PW)

It began when Hahn re-signed Jake Peavy to a two-year, $29MM contract. The deal kept Peavy off of the free agent market following a tremendous 2012 season. The right-hander would have had a case for a three-year deal or a higher average annual value in free agency, so the White Sox did well to retain him on these terms. Making a two-year commitment to a 31-year-old pitcher of this caliber would make sense for most mid or large market teams.

The club also exercised Gavin Floyd’s option, preferring another year of production from the right-hander to the prospect of replacing him via trade or free agency. Floyd isn't a bargain at $9.5MM, but he's a solid mid-rotation starter who just turned 30. He has been worth two-plus wins above replacement for five consecutive seasons — good luck finding that kind of pitcher for less than $10MM in free agency.

The White Sox extended Chris Sale with a five-year, $32.5MM contract that buys out at least one of Sale’s free agent seasons. This contract makes sense for both sides, like most five-year deals in the $30MM range for players with two-plus years of service. The deal could become a big win for the White Sox if Sale, the sixth place finisher in 2012 AL Cy Young voting, continues pitching at last year's level.

Shortly after the World Series the White Sox declined Kevin Youkilis' 2013 option and turned to free agency to find a third baseman. They ended up signing Jeff Keppinger to a three-year, $12MM contract that looks like a scaled down version of Marco Scutaro's three-year, $20MM deal. Like Scutaro, Keppinger makes consistent contact and can play multiple positions. He's four years younger than Scutaro and cost significantly less. However, Keppinger broke his leg during the offseason, and he's not regarded as a valuable defensive player.

Hahn didn’t overhaul his club’s bench or bullpen, electing instead to add Matt Lindstrom and Dewayne Wise with a pair of low-risk moves.

Questions Remaining

A.J. Pierzynski was a fixture on the White Sox for the past eight years, averaging 134 games played with a respectable .279/.318/.424 batting line. The White Sox let the veteran catcher go after he established a career high with 27 home runs. While it was understandable for Hahn to avoid overpaying a 36-year-old coming off of a career year, the decision does leave the White Sox with reduced catching depth. 

Tyler Flowers now gets the chance to show that he can be a regular catcher at the MLB level. Given his limited offensive output at the MLB level it's somewhat surprising the White Sox weren't more aggressive in seeking catching this past winter. Few teams enter the season with inexperienced backstops if they expect to contend (though there are exceptions, such as the 2013 Yankees).

Replacing Pierzynski on the field for 130 games per season won’t be easy, and the club will also miss his left-handed bat. Other than Adam Dunn and Alejandro de Aza, the White Sox have a righty-heavy offense. It won’t be surprising if the need for a left-handed hitter re-surfaces midseason.

It would have been encouraging to see the White Sox add a left-handed hitting outfielder to complement Dayan Viciedo and limit his struggles against right-handers. They did add Wise, but there's a reason he has been bouncing on and off of 40-man rosters for the past few years: he doesn't hit. I expect the 35-year-old Wise to return to his career norms on offense instead of matching last year's career high total of eight home runs. Players such as Nate Schierholtz and Nate McLouth were available in free agency for modest prices and would have been worthy targets for Hahn in my view.

Deal of Note

More often than not managers are looking for increased job security. Few field bosses get long-term contracts and even those that do are just a long losing streak away from increased scrutiny. It was a surprise, then, to read that Robin Ventura turned down a one-year contract extension offer from the White Sox.

Ventura, who’s now entering the second year of a three-year contract, said he prefers to focus on one season at a time. It worked for him last year, when he led the White Sox to 85 wins as a rookie manager. By the time he negotiates his next deal, Ventura will have a longer resume as an MLB manager and, perhaps, enough accomplishments to increase his leverage with the team.

Overview

The White Sox showed last year that they can contend. But they didn’t add much at a time that many of their division rivals improved — at least on paper.  The AL Central is still the Tigers’ division to lose, and the White Sox don’t look like a probable 2013 playoff team.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: New York Mets

The Mets locked up their most famous player through 2020, boldly following that move by trading the NL Cy Young winner for prospects.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

In early December, the Mets locked up the face of their franchise by giving third baseman David Wright seven years and $122MM in new money.  Some will argue that the Mets "had" to retain Wright, unless they wanted to deal with a revolt from fans who haven't seen them finish better than fourth place since 2008.  The Madoff suit had been settled prior to the season, and Wright was coming off a vintage year.  This was more than just a contract extension; it was a grand gesture to fans.

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Signing Wright is certainly a decision that would require the involvement of ownership.  Still, back in 2010, GM Sandy Alderson had expressed a preference to avoid "second generation" contracts, and the Wright deal qualifies as such.  The extension covers his age 31-37 seasons, obviously not the ideal slice of any player's career.  In the Mets' defense, at an average annual value of under $17.5MM, Wright doesn't need to be a superstar for the team to recoup value.  Deferred money and a frontloaded structure are also points in the Mets' favor.

The positive P.R. from the Wright signing may have softened the blow for the team's half-hearted attempt to extend reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.  The knuckleballer was already under contract for a mere $5MM for 2013, after the team exercised its club option.  Dickey reportedly asked for two years and about $26MM for 2014-15, his age 39-40 seasons.  That request was more than reasonable even given Dickey's age, but the Mets reportedly stopped at two years and about $20MM.  The implication is that the team didn't really want to extend him, and Dickey was instead traded to Toronto.

For the Mets, the need to add a pair of blue-chip prospects outweighed the team's desire to field the best possible team in 2013.  The team's farm system was ranked 26th in baseball by Baseball America prior to the trade.  They added a consensus top 25 prospect in catcher D'Arnaud, plus a top 100 prospect in righty Syndergaard.  The deal pushed their system into the 18-20 range overall, according to BA's Jim Callis.  With Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Syndergaard, and Jon Niese, the Mets could have an intriguing, affordable rotation in place by 2015.

In the shorter-term, the Mets addressed the departures of Dickey and relievers Ramirez and Rauch by adding bargain free agents Marcum and Lyon and other potentially useful veterans on minor league deals.

Questions Remaining

When will the Alderson regime start spending significant money on new players?  The time to pounce could be the 2013-14 offseason, when players such as Johan Santana, Jason Bay, John Buck, and Frank Francisco come off the books.  The 2014 club has only Wright and Niese under contract, plus potentially decent arbitration contracts for Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, and Bobby Parnell.  It might be appropriate to bring in a few corner outfielders and late-inning relievers.

For 2013, the team's outfield could be quite bad.  The Mets could begin the season with players like Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Collin Cowgill, and Marlon Byrd holding starting positions.  The silver lining is that the Mets can offer opportunity, and could find a diamond in the rough.

There's also the question of the team's bullpen, which looks mighty shaky after Parnell and Lyon.  Again, the one benefit of such a shaky group is uncovering a sleeper.

Deal of Note

Alderson snagged Marcum in January for just a $4MM guarantee, much less than I would have predicted at the outset of the offseason.  With one of the slowest right-handed fastballs you'll find in the Majors, Marcum came cheap after missing two months due to an elbow issue.  He posted a 3.59 ERA in 396 innings over 2010-11, so he's not far removed from solid mid-rotation innings eating.

Overview

The Mets have been a sleeping giant under the Alderson regime, parting ways with their best veterans other than Wright, avoiding free agency, and allowing their attendance to slip to 17th in MLB.  A decent rotation won't be enough to overcome the team's gaping holes in 2013, but perhaps the season will provide a sneak preview for the Mets' return to relevance in the coming years.


Offseason In Review: Detroit Tigers

The Tigers signed two significant free agents to bolster a roster that already included its share of impact players.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

When the offseason began, the Tigers needed a starting pitcher and a corner outfielder. Within two months, Dave Dombrowski had addressed those needs, ensuring that the defending AL Central Champions will enter the 2013 season as favorites to defend their division title.

Torii Hunter - Tigers (PW)

Before the Tigers made any significant player moves, they brought back manager Jim Leyland. The longtime manager obtains another chance to lead the Tigers to their first World Series title since 1984.

The Tigers signed Torii Hunter to a two-year, $26MM contract after the Angels made it clear that the 37-year-old wasn’t in their plans. Hunter didn’t receive a qualifying offer from the Angels, which made it possible for the Tigers to sign him without surrendering a draft pick.

Victor Martinez isn’t a newcomer, but he seems like one after missing the entire 2012 season with a torn ACL. He should provide more offense at designated hitter than Delmon Young did.

Other than Zack Greinke, Sanchez was the top starting pitcher available in free agency. After teams such as the Cubs showed serious interest, the Tigers retained Sanchez with a five-year, $80MM contract. While Sanchez isn’t an ace starter, he just turned 29 and has pitched at least 195 innings for three consecutive seasons. He rounds out the Tigers’ rotation nicely without costing the team prospects or draft picks.

Questions Remaining

The Tigers are entering the season without a clear sense of how they’ll handle high-leverage, late-game innings. Their interest in potential upgrades makes sense, yet this doesn’t seem to be an urgent situation for Dombrowski. The Tigers won the American League pennant last year with Jose Valverde, a closer who was average at best (all MLB relievers in 2012: 3.66 ERA, 8.4 K/9, 3.4 BB/9; Valverde in 2012: 3.78 ERA, 6.3 K/9, 3.5 BB/9). Plus, quality relievers are always available at the trade deadline, so the Tigers will have the chance to upgrade their bullpen by June or July. In the meantime, Leyland will face innumerable questions about his closer unless an internal candidate such as Bruce Rondon emerges as a viable stopper.

Justin Verlander’s contract won’t expire for another two seasons, but it’s not too early to start talking about an extension for the 30-year-old right-hander. Verlander would like to become baseball’s $200MM pitcher, and why not? His representatives can convincingly argue he’s the top pitcher in the game following a four-year stretch during which he leads all MLB pitchers in wins, wins above replacement, and many categories in between. Yet a nine-figure commitment for any pitcher — even one as durable as Verlander — must be carefully considered. Even though the Tigers might minimize financial risk by letting Verlander walk following his age-31 season in 2014, owner Mike Ilitch has shown many times that he’s willing to spend to retain and acquire elite talent. There’s hope for Tigers fans that Verlander will stay in Detroit.

While the Tigers lack elite relievers, they have depth in other areas. Rival teams have inquired on Rick Porcello in the event that the Tigers are comfortable going forward with Drew Smyly in the rotation. A trade seems possible, though there's no indication the Tigers are hoping to make a move.

Deal of Note

Torii Hunter posted a .313/.365/.451 batting line with 16 home runs in 584 plate appearances as the Angels' right fielder last year. It’s an impressive line, and advanced metrics valued Hunter’s overall performance around five wins above replacement last year. However, it seems highly unlikely that he will replicate his league-best .389 batting average on balls in play in 2013, especially considering his career mark of .307.

In other words Hunter projects as a good player rather than an elite one going forward. That’s fine for the Tigers, who aren’t paying him like an elite performer and didn’t have to surrender a draft pick to sign him. Even as he enters his 21st professional season, Hunter represents an upgrade over Detroit’s other options, so this two-year, $26MM contract made sense for the Tigers.

Overview

After adding Hunter and re-signing Sanchez, the Tigers are built for another run at a World Series title. Like every team in baseball, they’re vulnerable in some areas, and it’d be easier to envision the Tigers playing deep into October if they had an ace reliever. But with a strong lineup including some of the game’s best hitters and a deep rotation featuring arguably the sport’s top pitcher, the Tigers are the closest thing to a playoff lock you’ll find in the American League.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Cleveland Indians

The Indians spent aggressively on free agents, hired a big-name manager and completed a major trade. Chris Antonetti’s third offseason in Cleveland was his most eventful winter yet, and in its aftermath, the Indians seem capable of surprising other American League clubs.

Major League Signings

  • Nick Swisher, OF: four years, $56MM. $14MM Vesting option for 2017.
  • Michael Bourn, OF: four years, $48MM. $12MM Vesting option for 2017.
  • Brett Myers, P: one year, $7MM. $8MM Club option for 2014.
  • Mark Reynolds, IF: one year, $6MM.
  • Ubaldo Jimenez, SP: one year, $5.75MM. Club option exercised.
  • Total Spend: $122.75MM.

International Signings

  • OF Takuya Tsuchida.

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Indians' deal with manager Terry Francona hinted at what would become apparent later in the 2012-13 offseason: ownership was ready to spend. After dismissing Manny Acta, the Indians hired Francona, who had worked in the Cleveland front office before managing the Red Sox to two World Series championships. 

Nick Swisher - Indians (PW)

With Francona's assistance, the Indians started pursuing some of the offseason's top free agents. Nick Swisher required a four-year, $56MM commitment and the forfeiture of a second round draft pick. Yet he’s a skilled, durable player who fits the Indians’ needs. This deal makes the Indians a better team. 

For most of the offseason the Indians didn’t seem particularly engaged in the market for Michael Bourn. Then, once the market for the center fielder cooled, the Indians struck, offering a four-year deal with a vesting option for a fifth season. This deal make sense from a value standpoint, as Bourn had been expected to sign for more than $12MM per season. Plus the Indians are just committed to Bourn for four years and didn’t have to surrender a first round draft pick to complete the deal.

Mark Reynolds should provide the team with his distinctive brand of power and strikeouts after signing a one-year deal. Jason Giambi, another free agent addition, will provide left-handed power off of the bench. The Indians also added to their bullpen and bench, bringing in newcomers Matt Albers, Matt Capps, Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn.

The Indians entered the offseason in serious need of rotation help, and they did add starting pitching. Antonetti traded for Trevor Bauer and signed Brett Myers, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Scott Kazmir. The club's willingness to spend on the top players available extended to pitchers as well. Edwin Jackson, who obtained a four-year, $52MM contract from the Cubs, has said the Indians were also finalists for his services. Myers projects as the team’s third starter and the others are all in the mix for starting spots, giving Francona a new-look rotation.

Questions Remaining

Even after adding Bauer, Myers and Matsuzaka, the Indians’ rotation looks weaker than those of other American League teams. Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson were hittable last year, leading a rotation that posted a 5.25 ERA and averaged fewer than six innings per start. 

The current group should pitch better than the ’12 team, which is something. Yet this rotation seems thin compared to the Tigers or other projected playoff teams in the American League. If the Indians are in contention midseason they could be searching for rotation help. In the meantime, agent Scott Boras can try to sell them on free agent right-hander Kyle Lohse.

Deal of Note

It was time for the Indians to trade Shin-Soo Choo. While Choo has significant on-field value, he’s one year away from free agency and not particularly receptive to extension talks. Credit Antonetti for obtaining Trevor Bauer, the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, in the deal for Choo.

It’s hard to imagine that the Indians could have done much better in the trade. They exchange one year of Choo for six years of Bauer, a 22-year-old who posted a 2.42 ERA with 10.8 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 in the upper minors last year. 

There’s no question that the Indians are taking on risk here, too. Bauer has a distinctive long-toss program and unconventional training methods. He appeared to have strained relationships with catcher Miguel Montero and manager Kirk Gibson in Arizona. And he has struggled to limit walks as a professional. All of that said, Antonetti obtained a consensus top 20 prospect in baseball for a player whose time in Cleveland was almost up. Long-term this deal looks like a coup for the Indians, and Bauer could even help the team in 2013.

Overview

The Indians are a stronger team now than they were at the end of the 2012 season, and if they get some breaks and stay healthy they could contend. However, their starting pitching seems thin and could get exposed. They’ve earned their status as a sleeper team, but until their rotation proves otherwise I have trouble viewing them as a likely contender.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Minnesota Twins

The Twins added pitching, but they still don't project as a contender in the AL Central.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

  • Jared Burton, RP: two years, $5.5MM. $3.6MM Club option for 2015.

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Twins needed pitching badly after a season in which they allowed more runs than all but two MLB teams. GM Terry Ryan added to his pitching staff by trading from enviable outfield depth and spending on free agents. 

Vance Worley - Twins (PW)

The Twins sent Denard Span to Washington to acquire Alex Meyer then traded Ben Revere to Philadelphia for Vance Worley (pictured). It’s not surprising that the Twins decided to listen to offers for Span, but it is surprising that they didn’t get an MLB pitcher back for an above-average outfielder playing on a team friendly contract. At least Meyer and Worley address the organization's most apparent need.

Free agents Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia signed with Minnesota, adding depth to the team’s rotation (more on Correia in the Deal of Note section). It made sense for the Twins to target free agent arms after seeing the contracts of Scott Baker and Carl Pavano expire. Even with prospects advancing through the minor leagues, the club needed outside help.

The Twins also acquired relievers such as Rafael Perez, Josh Roenicke and Rich Harden in a series of low-risk moves. Ryan successfully picked up Jared Burton and Casey Fien in similar moves a year ago, an indication that the Twins can find relief in unexpected places. Minnesota's rotation completed fewer innings than any American League team in 2012, and unless there's significant improvement from the 2013 group, the bullpen will again be absorbing lots of innings.

Questions Remaining

The Twins didn’t make major additions to their existing group of position players this offseason, which leaves them exposed at some positions. For example, the Twins will rely on Pedro Florimon, Jr. at shortstop and Chris Parmelee in right field.

It’s hard not to wonder if the Twins missed out on the chance to sell high on Josh Willingham, who had a tremendous offensive season in 2012. Teams would presumably have had interest in the outfielder given his strong 2012 numbers and reasonable contract. Expect Willingham and Justin Morneau to surface in midseason trades, assuming the Twins aren’t in contention.

Deal of Note

I still haven’t heard a convincing explanation for the Twins’ decision to spend $10MM on Kevin Correia (Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN relays the most compelling arguments I've seen). No disrespect to Correia — in fact, credit to his representatives at Lapa/Leventhal — but he’s not a $10MM pitcher in this market. Not when Freddy Garcia, Chris Young and Erik Bedard signed minor league deals after pitching 100-plus innings in 2012. Not when Joe Saunders and Shaun Marcum combined to sign for $10.5MM.

The Twins’ push for rotation depth is understandable. Every team needs enough arms to get through the 162-game schedule without over-exposing developing players. Outside reinforcements are vital, even to a team in transition such as the Twins.

In Mike Pelfrey the Twins obtained a pitcher who could have trade value at the non-waiver deadline, health permitting. In Vance Worley they got an affordable player under long-term control. These moves make sense for a team in the Twins' position. But the Correia deal won't net the Twins a key trade chip and it doesn't provide them with a low-cost piece for the future. Simply put, Ryan invested in a high-cost, low-reward pitcher when other more appealing options were available.

Overview

The Twins needed pitching, and they got some. But the fulfillment of offseason goals doesn’t always lead to competitive teams. In the Twins’ case, contention seems like an unrealistic goal for 2013. Instead, they can hope that the continued development of an exceptionally strong minor league system has them back in the playoff mix relatively soon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Offseason In Review: Miami Marlins

The Marlins have become synonymous with Major League fire sales after gutting the team once again.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria explained to reporters in February that the team needed to "push the restart button" after their splashy 2011-12 offseason spending binge failed to produce a winning club and the accompanying ticket sales in the inaugural season of the new ballpark.  The restart process actually began in July, when the Marlins traded Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Edward Mujica, and Gaby Sanchez for younger, cheaper players.  They took a step further in October, firing manager Ozzie Guillen and trading pricey reliever Heath Bell.

The team's actions up to this point were somewhat defensible.  Jacob Turner, Nate Eovaldi, Brian Flynn, Rob Brantly, Zack Cox, Gorkys Hernandez, and Yordy Cabrera were acquired in those trades.  The young players received had some warts, but the traded Marlins veterans were either impending free agents (Anibal Sanchez, Infante, Choate) or slipping in performance and/or overpaid (Ramirez, Gaby Sanchez, Bell, Mujica).  Many teams would have chosen not to spend $95.5MM to retain the three free agents, would have welcomed the payroll flexibility gained by moving the other four, and might have deemed the Guillen experiment a failure after one year.  The Red Sox, for example, pushed the restart button in a similar way by shedding Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto and firing volatile manager Bobby Valentine.

In November, however, the Marlins made it clear that they were not just retooling to take another shot at contending in 2013.  The payroll flexibility was not about reallocating money toward other players; it was about keeping the money and slicing payroll drastically.  The Marlins and Blue Jays shook the baseball world with a 12-player trade, in which the Marlins sent starters Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, starting shortstop Jose Reyes, utility man Emilio Bonifacio, and catcher John Buck to the Blue Jays.  The Marlins ditched over $160MM in contractual commitments to Johnson, Buehrle, Reyes, and Buck.

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Aside from the desire to reduce their financial commitments drastically, the Marlins acquired a collection of young players to bolster their farm system.  In the view of Baseball America, they acquired two top 100 prospects from the Jays in the trade: center fielder Jake Marisnick (pictured) and lefty Justin Nicolino.  ESPN's Keith Law seems to feel similarly about the total value of the pair.  The Marlins also acquired useful young players in Alvarez, DeSclafini, Hechavarria, and Derek Dietrich (for Yunel Escobar).  However, it is clear to me that adding the best young players possible was secondary to shedding contracts, because the Marlins would have gotten more back by auctioning off Reyes, Johnson, and Bonifacio separately while showing a willingness to include a notable amount of cash with Reyes.  I think they would have had a harder time unloading Buehrle and Buck had they not been bundled into the megadeal.

When the dust settled, the Marlins obviously improved their farm system.  By how much is subjective.  Loria was quick to suggest his team's farm system is now fifth in baseball, a nod to Baseball America's rankings, as opposed to 16th as per ESPN's Keith Law.  Loria left out the fact that the team's five best prospects, as ranked by BA, were already in the organization prior to the offseason purge.  Ultimately the Marlins have a couple of very good outfield prospects, four years of Giancarlo Stanton, fairly interesting young players around the infield, and an enviable collection of young pitchers.  The Marlins have at least drawn praise for choosing former catcher Mike Redmond to manage these kids.

Technically we should mention the $5.35MM the Marlins spent on Rauch, Polanco, and Pierre.  They're veteran placeholders, something even the cheapest rebuilding team usually acquires each offseason.  At least the Marlins can be a drawing card for low-rent free agents, since the team can provide playing time.  Aside from Stanton, who is hopefully part of the Marlins' plan for the future, the team is bereft of veterans with trade value.  A different team might spin a good first half from Ricky Nolasco plus relief for his $11.5MM salary into a decent prospect this summer, but it's reasonable to expect the Marlins to prioritize the salary relief.

Questions Remaining

There's an argument for the Marlins' binge-and-purge model, if done right.  Baseball Nation's Marc Normandin made the case in November 2011 that the Marlins had "loaded up and burned down successfully twice now," and the resulting pair of championships beat rooting for the Pirates, even if the Marlins were also hard to watch between their '97 and '03 titles.  One problem is that the Marlins didn't binge all that well in the 2011-12 offseason.  Bell was a clear overpay from Day 1, Buehrle was the second-best free agent starter in a weak crop, and the team opened 2012 with multiple issues.

Binging and purging on free agents has major consequences: fans hate you for it, and free agents don't want to sign with you.  The Marlins have taken a desirable place to play, Miami, and made it something free agents will make a point to avoid, as they do with a few other big league cities.  As for the fans, it's easier for an owner to play fast and loose with them when the prospect of moving the team is still viable.  Looking only at the roster and contracts, the Marlins' purge would have made them more valuable to a potential new owner if not for one thing: the $639MM, mostly publicly-financed ballpark they had built.  Because of the toxic situation the Marlins' ownership created, it might take a three-year run of success to even see if baseball has a chance in Miami.  The team would be in a much better position had they never binged in the first place.

Is there still a way to lock up Stanton and win back a few fans?  Loria knows he'll have to let the 23-year-old slugger play out the season, at which point a commitment over $100MM may be required.  Money talks, even the Marlins' money, but it might have to be a precedent-shattering deal to convince Stanton.  The counterargument is to trade him this summer, since the team still has plenty of needs and Loria's reputation can't get much worse anyway.  Before you cook up a lopsided trade proposal in the comment section, though, keep in mind that Stanton is far, far more valuable on the trade market than Reyes or Johnson was.

Overview

The Marlins chose an extremely unpopular path this offseason, although at least they didn't play it safe.  Nothing Loria can say will change the public's perception of him and the team.  The franchise might still be saved, if Loria eventually sells.  It could be a nice situation for a new owner: Loria takes the fall for the fire sale, and maybe in two or three years the Marlins will begin a sustained run of success.  But for 2013, at least, this team might not crack 70 wins.


Offseason In Review: Atlanta Braves

The Braves crafted a dynamic outfield by acquiring the Upton brothers, but were weakened at third base in the process.

Major League Signings

  • B.J. Upton, OF: five years, $75.25MM. 
  • Gerald Laird, C: two years, $3.3MM.
  • Brian McCann, C: one year, $12MM. Club option exercised.
  • Tim Hudson, SP: one year, $9MM. Club option exercised.
  • Paul Maholm, SP: one year, $6.5MM. Club option exercised.
  • Reed Johnson, OF: one year, $1.75MM. Includes $1.6MM club option for 2014 with a $150K buyout.
  • Ramiro Pena, IF: one year Major League Deal
  • Total Spend: $107.8MM.

Minor League Signings

Traded and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

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The Braves set out to secure two outfielders this offseason, and they wound up with an impressive combination in the Upton brothers.  Justin (pictured) is 25 and B.J. is 28, so both players are in the prime of their careers.  Justin, the first overall draft pick in 2005, has seemed on the cusp of superstardom for years.  He put up big seasons in 2009 and '11, but showed disappointing power in '10 and '12.  Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers publicly acknowledged entertaining trades for Justin for the second consecutive offseason, and finally pulled the trigger this time.  It had to have weighed on the player's mind.  Getting out of Arizona should be a big win for him, and playing alongside his brother is the icing on the cake.  B.J., drafted second overall in '02, has had a very good Major League career.  He's prone to the strikeout, and the subsequent low batting averages suppress his OBP.  He's also a 25-30 home run player with strong center field defense.  If he finds a way to cut down on the strikeouts, he too could unlock superstar potential.

The Upton brothers both bat right-handed, complementing left-handed bats like Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman, and Jason Heyward.  In Freeman, Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, and the Uptons, the Braves have secured a strong core of position players for at least the next three seasons.

The Braves' bullpen posted a 2.76 ERA and 3.06 K/BB ratio last year, so it was hardly considered a big need going into the offseason.  Nonetheless, the swap of Hanson for Walden adds four years of control of another hard-throwing, intriguing reliever.  With their bullpen, the Braves could shorten a lot of games.  Plus, they've got depth in the event of an injury.  Braves GM Frank Wren also aimed to secure quality backups at catcher and outfield, and the signings of Laird and Johnson fit the bill.

Questions Remaining

For all the excitement of acquiring the Upton brothers, is this team better in 2013?  Prado had been slated to replace Jones at third base, and the Braves had to include him to acquire Justin Upton from Arizona.  With Prado traded, Bourn departed for the Indians, and Jones retired, the Braves lost a third of their 2012 offense.  Accounting for defense, swapping Bourn for B.J. Upton might be a wash in '13.  And while Justin Upton has the higher ceiling, he and Prado could provide comparable value this year as well.  Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco will man the hot corner, after Jones and Francisco took the bulk of the at-bats there in 2012.  Johnson, the right-handed side of that platoon, actually hasn't hit lefties well in his career.  The market for third basemen was weak this offseason, so Wren will have to be on the lookout this summer if the Johnson/Francisco plan isn't working.  The team also needs a strong April return from McCann following shoulder surgery; he's entering a contract year.

After exercising club options on Hudson and Maholm, the Braves felt they had the rotation depth to deal Hanson and Delgado and cut Jurrjens loose.  None of the departed starters were anything special in 2012, nor were they workhorses.  Still, the team enters 2013 with no pitchers who reached 190 innings last year, a feat accomplished by 28 hurlers in the NL.  Brandon Beachy should return from Tommy John surgery by July to give the rotation a boost.  

Deal of Note

Though the Justin Upton trade is not a clear win for 2013 because of the loss of Prado, the latter had only one year of control remaining at the time of the deal.  Upton has three, and he's still on the upswing.  Delgado, considered among the top 50 prospects in the game a year ago, needs to develop into at least a mid-rotation starter for Arizona to prevent this deal from heavily favoring the Braves.  It was a trade Wren had to make.  No one would be surprised if Justin Upton becomes a perennial MVP candidate in his age 25-27 seasons.

Hindsight being 20/20, the loss of the 28th overall draft pick and a five-year, $75.25MM deal for B.J. Upton was a fairly steep price for someone with a .298 OBP last year.  That's only true because Bourn and Swisher signed with the Indians for less than expected — Upton's contract seemed fair when it was completed in November.  Plus, Upton is the youngest of those three by a long shot, and competition seemed stiffer for his services at the outset of the offseason.

Overview

The Braves should contend for the next several seasons, with a strong core of position players, good young arms in the rotation and bullpen, and a pair of top 100 pitching prospects in Julio Teheran and J.R. Graham.  The Braves may not quite stack up with the Nationals on paper, but they're better off now than they were four months ago.


Offseason In Review: Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox turned to the free agent market to address their various needs this winter, spending well over $100MM. 

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Red Sox chose to acquire useful players at a number of positions instead of spending on a single superstar, an understandable decision considering the value of draft picks and the team’s many needs. GM Ben Cherington distributed contracts to a variety of players, with no individual player signing for as much as $40MM. The result: a team that could rebound from a forgettable 2012 season to compete in the AL East.

David Ortiz - Red Sox (PW)

The Red Sox started by dismissing manager Bobby Valentine and acquiring John Farrell from the Blue Jays. It was evident toward the end of the 2012 season that Valentine was no longer the answer in Boston, and it’s reasonable to expect fewer distractions with the return of the more diplomatic Farrell.

Only two American League teams allowed more runs than the 2012 Red Sox, so Cherington entered the offseason seeking pitching. The Red Sox managed to add Ryan Dempster, an aging but perhaps underrated starter, plus relievers Koji Uehara and Joel Hanrahan. 

Dempster has been an above-average pitcher well after his 30th birthday, and should continue adding value for the duration of the team's two-year commitment. While homer-prone, Uehara brings an extremely impressive strikeout to walk ratio to Boston. In Hanrahan the Red Sox acquire a pitcher who had trouble limiting walks last year, sending a modest return to Pittsburgh in the process.

On offense, the Red Sox started by re-signing Ortiz, easily the top designated hitter available in free agency. They also added backup catcher David Ross, lefty mashing outfielder Jonny Gomes, shortstop Stephen Drew, and former Mariner Mike Carp, fortifying an offense that ranked fifth in the American League in scoring a year ago. 

Mike Napoli initially agreed to a $39MM contract with the Red Sox, but a hip issue led to a re-negotiation and a $5MM guarantee. This deal has the potential to be a bargain for the Red Sox, assuming that avascular necrosis doesn’t prevent Napoli from playing.

Victorino's $39MM contract went through, and it qualifies as the largest deal of the offseason for the Red Sox. While he's an imperfect player who struggles to hit right-handers, Victorino should make the Red Sox better in 2013.

Questions Remaining

The rotation includes Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront, who all posted ERAs above 4.50 in 2012. Each pitcher can be better, but counting on bounce-back performances from so many players seems risky. There's also John Lackey, who's returning from Tommy John surgery and an awful 2011 season. Even with the addition of Dempster, this group looks vulnerable compared to other American League rotations.

Health is a concern for every team this time of year. Jacoby Ellsbury, Napoli, Ortiz and Drew have faced significant, recent injuries. The depth of the organization could be tested if any of these players need more time on the disabled list.

Deal of Note

An ankle injury sidelined Drew for much of the 2011 and 2012 seasons, limiting him to 165 total games and an OPS+ of just 86. In other words, he hasn't been a $10MM player. Yet Ben Cherington's decision to sign Drew to a one-year, $9.5MM pillow contract makes sense.

The free agent market for shortstops tends to be weak, and teams have high asking prices for trade candidates at the position. In Drew the Red Sox acquired a high-upside shortstop for cash without having to trade from prospect depth or surrender a compensatory draft pick. Drew, who turns 30 this month, had been a league average hitter before injuring his ankle in 2011. A league average bat at shortstop is a valuable commodity, and looks like a major upgrade over Jose Iglesias, at least on offense. That said, Drew's contract doesn't block Iglesias or top prospect Xander Bogaerts long-term. He’s here for 2013 alone with the chance to prove that he’s worth $10MM and then some. It looks like a deal that could benefit the team and a player.

Overview

The Red Sox will be an improved team in 2013. But after falling to the bottom of the American League East standings a year ago, this club can no longer be considered prohibitive co-favorites, as they were for most of the last decade. Instead, they’re a fringe contender that could just as easily end up with another sub-.500 record.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.