Offseason In Review Rumors


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

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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.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: St. Louis Cardinals

by MLBTR's Steve Adams

The Cardinals didn't make any significant changes, but spent big to retain their own players following a season in which they were one game from a return to the World Series.

Major League Signings

International Signings

  • Alex Reyes, P: $950K.
  • Henry Alvarado, P: $150K.

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Cardinals finished the 2012 season with 88 wins, a wild card playoff berth and a trip to the National League Championship Series. That was a strong enough showing for rookie manager Mike Matheny to cause the team to pick up his option for the 2014 season in February.  Wainwright

Rather than investing money and/or prospects in order to pursue middle infield upgrades, the team elected to spend money down the line with extensions for Adam Wainwright and Allen Craig. General manager John Mozeliak was able to secure Wainwright for under $100MM, which many pundits thought would be difficult to do.

Mozeliak correctly determined that Kyle Lohse would turn down a qualifying offer in search of a hefty free agent payday (more on that later). Following the news of Chris Carpenter's season-ending (and career-threatening) injury, Lance Lynn and top prospect Shelby Miller are slated to round out manager Mike Matheny's rotation.

The Cardinals added a second left-hander to his bullpen to complement Marc Rzepczynski by adding Randy Choate on a three-year deal. Three years and $7.5MM for Choate was surprising, but it's hard to deny his dominance over left-handed hitters; in the past four seasons he's held opposing lefties to a .163/.230/.237 batting line.

Ty Wigginton was signed to add some right-handed pop off the bench. The 35-year-old is capable of handling both infield and outfield duty. He appeared at third base, first base and left field for the Phillies in 2012 and has a career .270/.354/.456 line against southpaws. He'll give the team a solid, albeit unspectacular bat off the bench.

Two long-time Cardinals were sent packing this offseason, as Kyle McClellan was non-tendered (he would go on to sign with the Rangers) and Skip Schumaker was dealt to the Dodgers. The two moves saved roughly $3.9MM, as McClellan had projected to earn about $2.4MM as a third-time arbitration-eligible player.

Ronny Cedeno was brough in to compete for infield playing time, but even after the news that Rafael Furcal would miss the entire season with Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals elected to release him and go with Pete Kozma as the starting shortstop. Cedeno has since signed with the Astros to be the team's everyday shortstop.

Questions Remaining

The Cardinals made a significant investment in Craig despite the fact that he's played just 238 career games at age 28 and has never topped 112 games in a season thanks to injuries. He'll need to prove that he's able to stay on the field and maintain his impressive level of production from 2011-12 (.309/.357/.532) over the course of a full Major League season.

The Cardinals are set to enter the season with a middle infield consisting of Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, following the Furcal injury and Schumaker trade. Middle infield was already a potential weak spot for St. Louis entering the season, but this tandem now looks even more exposed in light of Furcal's injury. Top prospect Kolten Wong is nearly ready for the Majors, but if that trio falters Mozeliak could be in the market for a middle infielder this July.

Lynn and Miller have yet to prove themselves over a full season of starting at the Major League level, but the team has players like Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly as insurance in the event of an injury or poor performance.

Deal of Note

Even after the news of Carpenter's injury, the Cardinals still decided to go with internal rotation options rather than approach Kyle Lohse about a reunion. In a show of tremendous faith in its young pitching, the team decided it valued a draft pick and the resulting boost to its draft bonus pool that would come when Lohse signed elsewhere.

St. Louis watched a division rival -- the Brewers -- sacrifice value in this year's draft in order to strengthen its team and make a run at the division title or a wild card spot. Should Lohse thrive while this year's Cardinals rotation underperforms, there will be no shortage of people who look back to the month of March and wonder if signing Lohse would have altered the course of events.

Overview

Despite question marks in the middle infield, St. Louis has a deep lineup and enough pitching depth to make a run at a third consecutive trip to the NLCS. They may need to search for a shortstop and/or second baseman come July, but an NL Central Division title isn't out of question for a team that figures to be among the most well-rounded clubs in baseball.



Offseason In Review: Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers waited until the eleventh hour to make a splash, but they made a significant upgrade to put themselves in the playoff mix.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

After trading Zack Greinke last July and losing Shaun Marcum to free agency, the Brewers seemed content to head into 2013 without making a significant upgrade to the rotation.  However, Milwaukee decided to give Kyle Lohse a home last week by giving him a three-year, $33MM deal.  Aside from the money, the deal also means that the Brewers have to forfeit their No. 17 pick in the June draft.   Gallardo

You can debate whether or not it was worth it for Milwaukee, but there's no denying that it makes them a better team to open the season.  Lohse joins Yovani Gallardo atop the rotation and their presence is especially important given the lack of experience on the rest of the staff.  Marco Estrada pitched to a 3.64 ERA with 9.3 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 23 starts and six relief appearances in 2012 and the Brewers would love to see something similar this year, but he had just nine starts on his resume prior to last season.  They'll also be counting on Mike Fiers in the No. 5 spot after slotting Chris Narveson in the bullpen.

The Brewers' biggest need was their bullpen and they made major changes in an effort to turn things around.  First, Milwaukee traded Raul Mondesi Jr. to the Rays for right-hander Burke Badenhop.  Then, they picked up a pair of former Nationals in free agent left-handers Tom Gorzelanny and Mike Gonzalez. All three should help the Brewers' cause this season and they should improve upon their NL-worst 4.66 ERA from last season.  

Alex Gonzalez was picked up in February to provide an alternative to Jean Segura, but he'll be serving an even more important role to open the season.  With Corey Hart sidelined until mid-to-late May and Mat Gamel out for the season, Gonzalez will start the season as the club's first baseman.  Which leads us to..

Questions Remaining

The Brewers scored the most runs in the National League last season (third in the majors) but the Hart injury could hurt them depending on his recovery time.  Hart's slash line of .270/.334/.507 was a big reason for their offensive surge last season but they'll have to get by with Gonzalez in the interim, a player who hit .241/.270/.372 in his last full campaign.  It's cause for concern defensively as well.  Gonzalez has 13,207 2/3 innings of experience of at shortstop but exactly none at first base.  

The trio of Badenhop, Gorzelanny, and Gonzalez should improve the Brewers' bullpen but there are still plenty of question marks about their relievers.  John Axford took a major step back in 2012, posting a 4.67 ERA (versus a 2.26 ERA in the three years prior) with 12.1 K/9 and 5.1 BB/9.  They'll need better than that in 2013 to compete in the NL Central.

Deal of Note

In mid-March, the Brewers gave Carlos Gomez a three-year, $24MM extension that will keep him locked up through the 2016 season.  The deal buys out the first three years of Gomez's free agency and could prove to be a bargain for the club if he continues to progress and hit right-handed pitching.  It also came as something of a surprise since agent Scott Boras typically urges his players to test the market rather than sign an extension with a year to go before free agency.  The 27-year-old posted a .260/.305/.463 batting line in 452 plate appearances with a career high 19 homers as Milwaukee's everyday center fielder last season.  He also provides solid defense at the position, as his career 14.7 UZR/150 shows.

Overview

The Brewers finished the 2012 season in the middle of the pack with 83 wins - enough to claim a .500 record but not enough to play in October.  While things looked stagnant for much of the winter, the Lohse addition gives their starting rotation a boost that cannot be overstated.  As Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently noted, Lohse has 331 career starts to his credit, which is more than the combined 270 starts that the originally planned rotation of Gallardo, Estrada, Wily Peralta, Narveson, and Fiers have made.  

On paper, Milwaukee's starting five should be strong enough to help reduce demand on their potent offense.  If the bullpen can climb out of the cellar, then the Brewers should find themselves in the playoff hunt this year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates were far from the most active team in baseball this winter, but they did make a few significant moves.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Last season, Rod Barajas started 98 games behind the plate for the Pirates, hitting .206/.283/.343 and posting his worst OPS in nearly a decade.  His defensive play wasn't particularly strong either and one has to assume that Pittsburgh didn't spend too much time deliberating over his $3.5MM option for 2013.  Instead, the Bucs got a significant upgrade behind the plate in Russell Martin.  Martin's two-year, $17MM deal is the largest free agent contract signed during GM Neal Huntington's tenure in Pittsburgh and the Pirates expect to get their money's worth out of the three-time All-Star.  Two years ago, the Dodgers non-tendered Martin after an underwhelming couple of years and replaced him with the cheaper Barajas.  Since then, the 30-year-old has gotten back on track with the Yankees, posting a .224/.317/.405 slash line with 39 homers across two seasons.

Martin

It took a while to get everything hammered out but the Pirates ultimately inked Francisco Liriano to help fortify the rotation.  The two sides originally agreed to a two-year deal in mid-December, but the Pirates backed out after Liriano broke his non-pitching arm at his home in the Dominican Republic.  Everything finally got wrapped up in February, with language in the new deal that protects the team in case Liriano's arm puts him on the DL again.  

The Pirates are highly unlikely to get the 2006 version of the left-hander, but they'll be doing cartwheels if Liriano can give them something in the neighborhood of his 2010 campaign.  Liriano posted a 3.62 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in that season, but it's the only year out of the last four that he's had a sub-5.00 ERA.  Thanks to the arm injury, Liriano's season won't get underway until May.

The club's other needs were taken care of with more affordable contracts.  The Pirates signed Jonathan Sanchez to a minor league deal in February and he's now penciled in as the club's No. 4 starter due to Gerrit Cole being in Triple-A, Liriano's aforementioned injury, and Jeff Karstens' shoulder issues.  Huntington also added some name players on non-guaranteed deals, including Brandon Inge, who will break camp with the club.  Inge, 36 in May, can provide support off the bench for Pedro Alvarez at third and overall infield depth.

Questions Remaining

If all of the Pirates starters were healthy, they'd be entering the 2013 season with a rotation of A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Karstens, and Liriano.  However, the back of the rotation will instead feature Sanchez (8.07 ERA with 6.3 K/9 and 7.4 BB/9 in 2012) and Kyle McPherson/Jeff Locke in the No. 5 spot.  Burnett and Rodriguez are both solid, but the rest of the rotation will be chock full of question marks until the summer when they're back at full strength.  They could use some reinforcements to help tide them over and they're keeping a close eye on the Dodgers' Chris Capuano as the season nears.

The PIrates were a lackluster defensive team in 2012 and were ranked in the lower-third of the majors.  Substituting Barajas' arm with Martin's (24% of runners caught stealing vs. 6%) should help keep everyone honest but they'll need more improvement than that to make signficant strides.

Deal of Note

The Pirates have a great deal of confidence in Jason Grilli so it only made sense for them to flip Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox in December.  The swap allowed Pittsburgh to deal from an area of strength and add first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands, infielder Ivan De Jesus Jr., reliever Mark Melancon, and right-hander Stolmy Pimentel to the organization.  Sands, who was a prized prospect in the Dodgers system before being shipped to Boston in the blockbuster deal, has impressive power and the PIrates obviously believe that the 25-year-old has a high ceiling.

Over the last two years with the PIrates, Grilli has looked like a brand new pitcher, posting a 2.76 ERA with 12.5 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9.  The 36-year-old was one of the better available relievers this winter and figures to slot in nicely as the Bucs' closer.  Unlike other closing options, Grilli didn't require a three-year pact and his two-year, $6.75MM deal amounts to less than Hanrahan will earn in 2013 alone.  However, it's worth noting that Grilli has limited experience in the role, finishing just 15 games across the last two seasons.  

Overview

The Pirates certainly have promise for the future with the likes of Cole, Jameson Taillon, Alen Hanson, Gregory Polanco, and Luis Heredia in the fold.  However, the 2013 Bucs don't appear to be world beaters.  However, they do have the talent to win 82 games and snap their 20 year losing streak.  After all, they came just three games shy of hitting that mark even after their late season collapse in 2012.

Manager Clint Hurdle believes that his club has improved across the board, even if most of that improvement comes in the way of the younger players having another year of experience under their belt.  It's hard to see the Pirates finding their way into the playoffs, but they can certainly crack the .500 mark.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Chicago Cubs

The Cubs were heavily involved in free agency, adding four starting pitchers as well as relief and outfield depth.

Major League Signings

International Signings

  • Armando Rivero, P: $3.1MM.
  • Chang-Yong Lim, RP: $5MM.
  • Kyuji Fujikawa, RP: two years, $9.5MM. $5.5MM Club option for 2015. 

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Last year the Cubs gave a total of 54 starts to Chris Volstad, Justin Germano, Chris Rusin, Brooks Raley, Jason Berken, Randy Wells, and Casey Coleman.  With the injury to Matt Garza and trades of Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, a rotation that seemed decent at the start of the season was exposed for its lack of depth.  By signing four starting pitchers this offseason -- almost an entire rotation -- the Cubs are better-equipped to handle injuries and potential trades.  President Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer committed $73.5MM to Jackson, Villanueva, Baker, and Feldman, and did not have to surrender a draft pick or young player in the process.

Uspw_7034746

The Cubs ran parallel pursuits of my second and third-best free agent starters of the offseason, Jackson and Anibal Sanchez. From the team's point of view, both pitchers are young enough to help the next good Cubs team, and neither required surrendering their second round pick.  Ultimately the team landed Jackson, giving him the sixth-largest free agent contract of the offseason.  Before signing Jackson, they'd taken a run at a hurler who became my fourth-best available free agent, Dan Haren, then of the Angels.  Shipping walk-happy, $9.8MM closer Carlos Marmol to the Halos for Haren seemed like a big win for the Cubs, who balked over medical concerns.  If Haren does stay healthy and somewhat effective, the Cubs will be second-guessed for killing the trade.

Villanueva, 29, set a career-high last year with 125 1/3 big league innings for Toronto.  His 3.44 K/BB in 92 innings as a starter was promising, though he allowed 18 home runs in that span.  He'll be a useful swingman.  Feldman allowed 130 hits in 110 innings as a starter last year for Texas, though he seemed serviceable otherwise.  He pitches to contact generally, so the Cubs' infield defense will be put to the test.  Baker had Tommy John surgery in mid-April of last year, and I think the Cubs' expectations for the former Twin early in the season were low.  It's concerning that he's still experiencing elbow issues, however.  With Baker and Garza set to open the season on the DL, the Cubs will use Feldman, Villanueva, and Travis Wood from the outset.  If eventually all seven starters are healthy at once, that'll be a good problem to have.

Fujikawa landed a two-year deal to serve as Marmol's setup man, at least until the Cubs move Marmol or his contract expires.  I like the pickup.  Japanese relievers have had success in MLB, and Fujikawa was quite good with the Hanshin Tigers.  Camp was retained at a small salary, but the bullpen is still a weak spot for the Cubs.  International signing Armando Rivero could move quickly through the minors given his professional experience in Cuba, though Ben Badler of Baseball America says the pitcher has just "middle relief potential."  Like Fujikawa, Korean reliever Chang-Yong Lim is another successful NPB closer.  However, Lim is sidelined into 2014 due to Tommy John surgery.  The Cubs are clearly thinking short-term here, as the righty is 36.

The Cubs took an affordable platoon approach to right field, and it might work in terms of getting some pop out of the position.  Nate Schierholtz hit .270/.334/.440 against right-handers over the last three years, while Scott Hairston is at .263/.308/.464 against lefties.

The Cubs re-signed Stewart for $2MM, saving a little money versus tendering him a contract.  Stewart's wrist is finally better, but now he's nursing a quad injury.  His non-tender mostly closed the thread on the Cubs' December 2011 deal that sent Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu to Colorado for Stewart and Casey Weathers.  At the time I sensed that Epstein and Hoyer moved Colvin without much regard because he wasn't one of their guys.  Elsewhere in free agency, the Cubs snagged Navarro on a big league deal to be their backup catcher, though he played only 24 games in the Majors last year.

Questions Remaining

With major question marks in the offense and bullpen, the Cubs don't seem to be making a big push to contend in 2014 despite their rotation expenditures.  They still seem much more likely to be sellers than buyers at the July trade deadline, stripping the team down again for another ugly finish.  Cubs fans seem fine with another punted season from the new front office, if it will bring long-term success.  I think fans will require a strong contender by 2015, after enduring an intentional two or three-year rebuilding project in a major market.

On a smaller level, the Cubs were unable to extend 2012 breakout starter Jeff Samardzija.  Samardzija is a Jim Hendry guy who worked out, but the new front office deserves credit for giving him a shot in the rotation.  In October I suggested a four-year, $27MM deal for Samardzija, similar to one signed by the Reds' Johnny Cueto in January 2011.  The Cubs did make a five-year offer, though the amount is unknown.  Another good year will likely send the price tag north of $50MM on a five-year deal.

Deal of Note

The Cubs' push for two of the better available starters this offseason was surprising.  They paid about market value for Jackson, which could net a profit if he improves.  The contract will make more sense to me if the Cubs aim to contend in 2014.  Otherwise, they won't get a lot out of the first half of the contract, when Jackson is closest to his prime.  A contract of this nature might have been a better move during the 2013-14 offseason, when the team will be presumably closer to winning.

Overview

Fourth place seems to be the best case scenario for the Cubs, who will probably remain more focused on acquiring young talent and could certainly finish last.  ESPN's Keith Law ranks their farm system fifth in baseball, while Baseball America had them 12th.  Epstein and Hoyer may sell off pieces one more time this summer, particularly Garza, Marmol, and Alfonso Soriano, and then it will be time to create a Major League winner.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.









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