Offseason In Review Rumors


Offseason In Review: Washington Nationals

The Nationals signed the best available reliever, re-signed their slugging first baseman, and made strong choices for center field and their rotation.

Major League Signings

  • Rafael Soriano, RP: two years, $28MM. $14MM vesting option for 2015.
  • Adam LaRoche, 1B; two years, $24MM. Mutual option for 2015 with a $2MM buyout.
  • Dan Haren, SP; one year, $13MM.
  • Zach Duke, SP; one year, $500K.
  • Total Spend: $65.5MM 

International Signings

  • Neivy Pilier ($225K)

Notable Minor League Signings

Traded and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

In November, the Nationals agreed to a new contract with manager Davey Johnson.  It seemed an easy choice for both parties, after Johnson guided the Nats to the playoffs in 2012.

The Nationals wisely made a qualifying offer to first baseman Adam LaRoche, ensuring they'd receive a draft pick if he signed elsewhere.  Perhaps the team also anticipated that the attached draft pick would cause difficulty for LaRoche on the open market.  It took until January, but ultimately GM Mike Rizzo was able to retain the 33-year-old on his terms: a two-year, $24MM deal.  With Mike Morse under contract, Rizzo was able to remain patient with LaRoche.

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Rizzo did not extend a qualifying offer to Edwin Jackson, preferring not to get locked in (presumably, Rizzo thought there was some chance Jackson would accept the one-year, $13.3MM proposal).  This decision surprised me, because it seemed unlikely Jackson would pass up a chance to find his deserved multiyear deal for the second consecutive offseason.  As it turned out, Rizzo was saving his money for Haren, who signed in December.  In November, the Cubs had nearly acquired Haren from the Angels, with the intent of exercising his $15.5MM club option and unloading ineffective reliever Carlos Marmol.  The Cubs reportedly killed the deal over concerns with Haren's health.  Rizzo did not share those concerns, and Haren (pictured) seems hellbent on returning to his innings-eating days.  The Nationals were thinking big for their rotation vacancy, and were willing to spend much more on Haren than teams spent on other one-year deal starters like Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Joe Saunders, and Brett Myers.

It was thought the Nationals would make a push for a free agent center fielder such as Michael Bourn or B.J. Upton, but instead they swung a deal with the Twins for Span.  Rizzo found an established center fielder who can get on base and play the position well, and can be under contract affordably for three seasons.  He surrendered a quality pitching prospect in Alex Meyer, but creating assets to trade for Major Leaguers is one purpose for the farm system of a contending club.  The Nats had not yet re-signed LaRoche at the time of the trade, which further reduced the first baseman's leverage against them.

Once Span and LaRoche were both in tow, Rizzo was free to trade Morse.  He chose to restock his farm system, acquiring Cole, Treinen, and Krol.  Having drafted Cole in 2010 and sent him to the A's in the Gio Gonzalez deal, Rizzo was happy to get the pitching prospect back into his organization.  It seems a solid return for a year of Morse, who has his warts.

The Nationals non-tendered Gorzelanny and lost Burnett and Gonzalez to free agency.  The trio of lefties had accounted for a third of the team's bullpen innings at a 2.74 ERA, so the Nats saw a match with closer Rafael Soriano still available in mid-January (more on that later). 

Questions Remaining

Considered one of the most complete teams in baseball, the Nationals are light on question marks. They've got a righty-heavy bullpen, but that's not necessarily a concern.

The Nationals signed arbitration eligible players Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann to one-year deals.  It's always nice to lock up young talent and grab a few free agent years in the process, but it's not clear what the players were seeking.

Deal of Note

Soriano seemed to have few suitors entering the new year, but Scott Boras is tight with Nationals' ownership and brokered a two-year, $28MM deal with heavy deferrals and a vesting option.  It's top dollar for a reliever, but the term is short, and Soriano is very good when he's healthy.  The Nationals also had to surrender their first-round pick, which would have become the 28th overall.  At this stage in the team's competitive cycle, it makes sense to swing the pendulum toward Major League talent over prospects or draft picks.

Overview

It's plain to see why the Nationals are often named the best team in baseball.  The entire roster just seems to be overflowing with talent and depth, phenoms and veterans.  It'll be fun to see if the World Series predictions come true, but for now, the Nationals have assembled a potential juggernaut.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Seattle Mariners

The Mariners locked up their franchise player with a record-setting contract and added a number of bats this winter.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

After finishing last in the league in scoring for three consecutive years, the Mariners focused on adding offense this offseason. The team started by moving in the fences at Safeco Field in an attempt to make the ballpark more hitter-friendly. Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik followed up by adding a number of established hitters through free agency and trades.

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The middle of the Mariners' lineup will look much different in 2013. Michael Morse (pictured) has established himself as a productive MLB hitter since the Mariners traded him to Washington in 2009. He'll add welcome right-handed power to Eric Wedge's lineup, though he's a below average defender who's one year away from free agency. The Mariners sent lefty masher John Jaso to Oakland in the deal, only to sign righty masher Kelly Shoppach two weeks later. 

Earlier in the offseason, the Mariners dealt from an area of depth -- the rotation -- to complete a trade with a different division rival. They acquired Kendrys Morales from the Angels for Jason Vargas in a deal that should work for both clubs. The switch-hitting Morales bounced back nicely in 2012 and should provide power again in 2013. Like Vargas, he's a year away from free agency, so neither team surrendered a long-term piece.

After trading Vargas the Mariners had a void in their rotation, which they later filled by signing Joe Saunders to a one-year deal. Zduriencik's patience paid off, as he signed Saunders to a contract worth $6.5MM instead of overpaying early in the offseason. This deal gives the Mariners stability at the back of the rotation in 2013 without saddling them with a cumbersome long-term contract.

The Mariners also turned to free agency, expressing varying degrees of interest in Josh Hamilton, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Ultimately the most prominent free agent position player they signed was former Mariner Raul Ibanez. The 40-year-old should continue to produce as long as Eric Wedge mimics Joe Girardi's strategy of limiting Ibanez's exposure to left-handed pitching.

Zduriencik remade his bench this offseason, with Shoppach, Ibanez, Robert Andino and Jason Bay. It's been a while since the 34-year-old Bay added value on offense, so it won't be surprising if the Mariners end up releasing him. Even so, the British Columbia native required just a $1MM commitment.

The Mariners acquired Andino, non-tendered him and re-signed him. Every team needs a utility infielder for its bench, and Andino won’t be worse than Munenori Kawasaki. Still just 28, Andino posted a .327 on-base percentage in 511 plate appearances in 2011.

Seattle had considerable pitching depth entering the offseason, so the front office didn't need to spend aggressively on pitching. Newcomers Kameron Loe and Jon Garland joined the pitching staff on modest free agent contracts. 

Questions Remaining

The Mariners scored 619 runs in 2012, a dropoff of more than 100 runs compared to the average American League club (721). In other words they must improve considerably to measure up to their rivals. Morse, Morales, Ibanez and others will make a difference, but the group doesn't include an impact bat. There's potential for a breakout season from someone like Dustin Ackley or Jesus Montero, and the dimension changes could help. Still, the Mariners' offense remains a question mark until the lineup proves otherwise.

Determined to add offense, the Mariners acquired a number of players -- Ibanez, Morse, Bay and Morales for example -- who have questionable defensive skills. Incorporating a number of these players into the lineup at once will be a challenge for Wedge, especially with Michael Saunders in right field and Justin Smoak at first base.

Finally, many of the team’s additions will hit free agency this coming offseason. The contracts for Joe Saunders, Morse, Morales, Ibanez, Bay and Shoppach expire after the season. Even if Zduriencik’s plan works, this team will face another busy winter a year from now.

Deal of Note

The Mariners extended Felix Hernandez with a record-setting seven-year, $175MM extension last month. The deal establishes a new record guarantee for pitchers, so it’s hard not to like it from the perspective of Hernandez and his representatives at Octagon. The Mariners were never going to get a substantial discount on an extension covering only free agent seasons. Record contract or not, the Mariners do well to keep one of the top pitchers in baseball in the organization. 

The contract includes a noteworthy eighth-year option. Once some concern emerged regarding Hernandez's elbow, the sides agreed to add a $1MM option that triggers if he sustains a specific elbow injury and misses substantial time. This provides the Mariners with a measure of protection against the possibility that Hernandez’s elbow issues will linger.

Overview

The 2013 Mariners won’t be mistaken for the 2012 version of the club. They should score more runs than in years past, and with multiple career years and good health they could win more games than they lose. Even so, the most realistic outcome for this club seems to be a fourth place finish in the AL West.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Angels

The Angels added the top position player available and rounded out their rotation after narrowly missing the 2012 playoffs.

Major League Signings

  • Josh Hamilton, OF: five years, $125MM.
  • Sean Burnett, RP: two years, $8MM. $4.5MM Club option for 2015.
  • Joe Blanton, SP: two years, $15MM. Club option for 2015.
  • Ryan Madson, RP: one year, $3.5MM.
  • Ervin Santana, SP: one year, $13MM. Club option exercised. Later traded to Royals.
  • Total Spend: $164.5MM.

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Teams seeking bargains don't shop for elite free agents. Fortunately for Angels fans, owner Arte Moreno seems more concerned about adding impact players than uncovering bargains. For the second consecutive offseason, Moreno and general manager Jerry Dipoto landed the top free agent position player. Josh Hamilton signed a five-year, $125MM deal after being pursued by division rivals Seattle and Texas.

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On the field, Hamilton makes the Angels a markedly better team. He has tremendous power and his high batting averages drive his on-base percentage well above league average. The top of the Angels’ batting order will now intimidate even more teams. The off-field questions surrounding Hamilton are well-documented, and $125MM represents a massive commitment. The Angels are assuming considerable risk with this deal. But as a large market team they can afford take on risks, so the decision to spend on MVP-caliber talent is defensible.

After declining the club option for Dan Haren and re-directing Ervin Santana to the Royals, the Angels needed to acquire starting pitching depth. They signed one pitcher and turned to the trade market for two more additions.

In Blanton the Angels added a dependable back-of-the-rotation arm. A two-year, $15MM commitment strikes me as fair value for both sides considering Blanton offers durability but limited upside. Angel Stadium has ranked among the ten most difficult home run environments in MLB for each of the past three seasons, which could benefit Blanton, a pitcher who struggles to limit homers.

Vargas is a fly ball pitcher who could also benefit from the depressed home run environment and the Angels' speedy outfield of Hamilton, Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos. Dipoto acquired Vargas from the Mariners for Kendrys Morales in a deal that makes sense for the Angels and their AL West rivals. Vargas should provide steady innings in the middle of the team's rotation, something the Angels can use more than Morales' bat, especially after the Hamilton signing.

Tommy Hanson took a step back in 2012, both in terms of traditional stats and fastball velocity. At $3.73MM he is no longer the bargain he once was. It's not clear what Hanson can offer, especially now that he has encountered triceps soreness. This isn't the only injury question with Hanson, who has recently dealt with back and shoulder issues. Nevertheless I like the decision to acquire Hanson for hard-throwing 25-year-old Jordan Walden. The Angels should have a capable bullpen without Walden, and if Hanson pitches poorly he can be non-tendered a year from now.

Dipoto added to his bullpen, spending on free agents Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett. Burnett, one of the top left-handed relievers available in free agency, obtained a two-year, $8MM deal. He and lefty Scott Downs will give manager Mike Scioscia plenty of flexibility late in games.

It appears that Madson will start the season on the disabled list as his recovery from Tommy John surgery continues. The results have been troubling so far, yet the decision to invest $3.5MM in a reliever as accomplished as Madson was justifiable.

Questions Remaining

The Angels' rotation remains questionable entering the season. Hanson represents an injury concern, and there doesn't appear to be much depth beyond Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards. As long as Kyle Lohse remains available in free agency he could be a tempting option for Dipoto. The Angels already gave up their first rounder to sign Hamilton, which lessens the impact of signing players linked to draft pick compensation. As Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote in January, Lohse does a lot of things well.

Vernon Wells, now a bench player, surfaces in trade rumors from time to time when rival teams are looking for veteran right-handed bats. At this stage it looks as though Wells is staying put. Whether the Angels trade him or not, they'll be responsible for nearly all of the $42MM remaining on his contract.

Deal of Note

It doesn't appear that Mike Trout will obtain a long-term deal just yet, and the team's seemingly patient approach looks prudent. Trout had a historic 2012 season, which means potential comparables are either in the Hall of Fame or Cooperstown-bound. For this reason the outfielder would have a strong case for a record-setting contract for players in his service class -- potentially $100MM plus. If Trout repeats his performance then the Angels will eventually pay him at that level. Yet they will have avoided an unprecedented commitment if he’s less exceptional in 2013.

On a related note, the recent hand-wringing over Trout’s 2013 salary seems unwarranted to me. Yes, baseball’s most recent collective bargaining agreement depresses salaries for inexperienced players. But this structure is hardly new. The MLBPA signed off on the CBA, so the suggestion from agent Craig Landis that Trout should be paid more than $510K isn’t convincing (not that it hurts to ask!). We don’t often see players renouncing salaries when they’re overpaid, and we shouldn’t expect owners to pay players extra when teams have the chance to take advantage of a collectively bargained benefit.

Overview

The Angels are poised to contend for the postseason after another winter of aggressive spending by Moreno. With a strong offense and a capable pitching staff they project as one of the most complete teams in the American League.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Oakland Athletics

The A’s made modest forays into free agency and completed a number of trades after winning the AL West in 2012.

Major League Signings

International Signings

  • Jean Carlo Rodriguez, IF.
  • Miguel Mercedes, 3B.
  • Hiroyuki Nakajima, SS. two years, $6.5MM. $5.5MM Club option for 2015.

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

The Athletics addressed their infield this offseason, acquiring the versatile Jed Lowrie and signing a veteran Japanese infielder. Billy Beane also added pitching depth in an offseason that wasn’t quite as dramatic as his exceptionally productive 2011-12 winter.

The A's acquired Lowrie from the Astros for Chris Carter and prospects Max Stassi and Brad Peacock. Though Beane gave up lots of long-term value in the deal, Lowrie helps the Athletics now, addressing their biggest offseason need at a time that free agent infield options were limited (more on his deal later).

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In Hiroyuki Nakajima (pictured) the Athletics added an accomplished Japanese hitter who projects to replace Stephen Drew as the team's everyday shortstop. The A's are paying Nakajima like a backup, so financial considerations won't prevent the team from making a change if his production in the U.S. doesn't compare to his NPB line of .310/.381/.474. The A’s also had interest in re-signing Drew, who ultimately signed a one-year deal with Boston.

The A's gave up three prospects, including A.J. Cole, to Washington in the three-way deal that sent John Jaso to Oakland. Jaso, who's controllable through 2015, hits right-handed pitching really well. Manager Bob Melvin didn't hesitate to use platoons in 2012 and he has the making of a new one in Jaso and Derek Norris.

Early on in the offseason the A’s acquired Chris Young for Cliff Pennington in yet another deal with the Diamondbacks. The A’s did well to obtain an up-the-middle player with some offensive skills for Pennington, even though they don’t presently have a starting role for Young. Teams tend to find opportunities for talented bench players over the course of a six-month season, so expect Young to contribute.

Bartolo Colon re-signed with the A's on a one-year, $3MM contract that provides the team with additional depth. The 39-year-old will begin the season on the restricted list to serve a suspension for violating MLB's drug policy. Once he serves the final five games of his suspension he'll be able to contribute as a back-of-the-rotation starter. At $3MM this is a worthwhile low-risk, low-reward expenditure.

The A's added to their bullpen, exercising Grant Balfour's 2013 option and sending minor league right-hander Zach Thornton to Pittsburgh for Chris Resop. The 30-year-old Resop provides the A's with a durable arm; he made 60-plus appearances in both 2011 and 2012 with the Pirates.

Questions Remaining

The middle infield remains a question for the club, as it’s not clear how much Nakajima, Scott Sizemore and Jemile Weeks can contribute. Beane is a deal-maker and could obtain an upgrade midseason if necessary. However, there are rarely many above average middle infielders available in trades and the asking prices on the few quality players tend to be high.

Other teams could inquire about players like Young given the Athletics’ outfield depth. The team seems content to keep all of their outfielders for now, but could strike a deal if a need emerges in Oakland midseason.

Deal of Note

The A's entered the offseason in need of help on the left side of the infield. Lowrie, an oft-injured 28-year-old, represents an upgrade for the Athletics whether he plays shortstop, third base or second. They surrendered an intriguing collection of talent to acquire Lowrie, who's under team control for two more seasons. Even though he doesn't appear to be a long-term piece, Lowrie gives the A's what they need now. For a team set up to contend in 2013-14 this exchange makes sense. While the team assumes some risk here, the free agent market for shortstops was barren besides Drew, another player with recent health issues.

Overview

The A’s did a tremendous job at preventing opponents from scoring in 2012. With many of the same players back for another season, the club should stay in most games and contend again in 2013.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Houston Astros

The Astros’ patient approach to building a contender won’t lead to many wins at the MLB level in 2013. The club remains focused on developing a strong base of prospects and young players for future seasons.

Major League Signings

  • Jose Veras, RP: one year, $2MM. $3.25MM Club Option for 2014.
  • Carlos Pena, 1B: one year, $2.9MM.
  • Total Spend: $4.9MM.

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

There’s reason to believe general manager Jeff Luhnow will build a contender in Houston. He has a track record of success, the support of ownership, and even an endorsement from Bill James. Be that as it may, Luhnow doesn’t have much proven talent at the MLB level. And as the Astros enter their second full season under Luhnow and owner Jim Crane, they’re expected to finish with the fewest wins in baseball for the third consecutive time.

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The Astros took advantage of their status as a non-contender this winter, acquiring players with upside in the hopes that some become part of the team's core. Chris Carter could be one such player for the Astros. Acquired along with prospects Brad Peacock and Max Stassi, Carter provides the Astros with a powerful bat coming off of his strongest season to date. And unlike Jed Lowrie, the primary piece headed to Oakland in the deal, he's controllable for the long-term. The 26-year-old Carter won't be eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season. Lowrie's a talented player, but given his injury history (career high in games: 97), cost ($2.4MM) and proximity to free agency (two years of team control remaining) it made sense to trade him for a controllable player with power such as Carter.

Houston added pitching depth with a series of low-risk acquisitions. Though Alex White struggled as a member of the Rockies' rotation, the former top prospect offers a hint of upside. The Astros parted with Wilton Lopez to acquire White with another decision that emphasizes youth over experience. Luhnow also traded for Peacock, who entered the 2012 season as the 36th-ranked prospect in MLB, according to Baseball America. Like White, Peacock struggled in 2012, posting an unsightly 6.01 ERA in 134 2/3 innings at Triple-A. There's also John Ely, who had a strong season with the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate in 2012 and now provides Houston with depth as a long man in the bullpen or extra starter. 

A team in the Astros’ position must take advantage of the waiver wire, and Luhnow did just that, claiming players often when 40-man roster space became available. Houston used its Rule 5 draft pick to add Josh Fields a 27-year-old right-hander who struck out 78 hitters in 58 1/3 innings in the upper levels of Boston's minor league system in 2012. The 2008 first round selection might never succeed at the MLB level, but the Astros are much better positioned to find out than a club that hopes to contend in 2013. Credit the team for identifying a promising player and giving him the chance to stick.

The Astros claimed Philip Humber, who struggled down the stretch in 2012 after pitching a perfect game in April. With a salary of just $1.3MM and recent success as an MLB starter, Humber is worth a look at the back of the rotation. Erik Bedard, who signed a minor league contract with the Astros, provides intrigue with the familiar ‘health permitting’ caveat.

Luhnow rounded out the team’s roster with veterans such as Carlos Pena, Rick Ankiel and Jose Veras. These players aren’t here to make a long-term impact. Instead, they’re stopgaps who could be flipped for valuable long-term pieces at the 2013 trade deadline. Luhnow, who acquired Matt Dominguez for Carlos Lee last year, could look to make similar trades this coming summer.

Questions Remaining

The Astros' roster is full of question marks, and that’s by design. In order to determine what they have, they must see their players at the MLB level. Luhnow told Keith Law on ESPN's Behind The Dish podcast that he’s ready to embrace the unpredictability of young players and acknowledged that an inexperienced roster means lots of variability (the entire interview is worth a listen). Acquiring too many established players could also prevent younger players from getting the playing time required to develop.

Virtually all of Houston's lineup, rotation and bullpen includes question marks. The roster includes a handful of veterans, and some relatively young players such as Jose Altuve and Bud Norris who have established themselves as productive Major Leaguers. However, most others on this team have lots to prove.

The Astros now face the question of how soon to begin selling. Some owners would find it unseemly to consider trades before June or July, but Crane could be an exception. Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris are already drawing interest and veteran players such as Pena could soon generate interest as well. The Astros could enjoy additional leverage in early-season trade talks, when most teams are dreaming of making a run at the Wild Card and few clubs are willing to sell.

Deal of Note

Like most of the Astros’ recent additions, manager Bo Porter joined the organization because of what he can offer in the long term.  Luhnow recently told the New York Daily News that he can envision Porter leading the Astros "for decades, not just years.” For now the former Nationals third base coach has been tasked with creating a culture of opportunity in Houston. “I believe that the number one job you do as a manager is to do what you can to let players play to their potential,” he explained at the Winter Meetings. If Porter can accomplish his goal with Luhnow’s new acquisitions, the Astros will be that much closer to contention.

Overview

Building a contender takes years, and the Astros need more time to become relevant again. Even so, 2013 will be an important year for the Astros as they look to uncover some core pieces for future seasons. They'll select first overall in the upcoming amateur draft and should have a top selection again a year from now. Don’t expect many victories at the MLB level though. This year’s Astros project as one of the worst teams in baseball.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Texas Rangers

The Rangers lost significant contributors this past offseason, and while they countered by adding some newcomers, the gap between the Rangers and the rest of the AL West has disappeared.

Major League Signings

International Signings

  • Todd McDonald, OF: $475K.

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

It's easy to focus on what the Rangers lost -- Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, Michael Young and Ryan Dempster, among others -- and overlook their offseason additions. In fact, GM Jon Daniels added two prominent free agents. While neither player figures to become a long-term piece for the Rangers, both add value for 2013.

In Lance Berkman, the Rangers obtain an aging but accomplished hitter who projects as their primary designated hitter. The club considered other DH options, including Mike Napoli and David Ortiz before adding the 37-year-old Texan. Though Berkman missed most of the 2012 season with knee problems, he hit 31 home runs with a .301/.412/.547 batting line as recently as 2011. If healthy, he’ll offer power and on-base skills (more on Berkman’s deal later).

If a team had signed Pierzynski to a lucrative, multiyear deal on the basis of his career-best 27 home runs, I would have criticized the move. A repeat performance seems unlikely at the age of 36. However, a one-year, $7.5MM commitment for a catcher as durable as Pierzynski seems more than reasonable. The longtime White Sox backstop has averaged 132 games played since becoming the Twins' full-time catcher in 2001. At that price, Pierzynski will be a worthwhile addition provided he stays healthy and comes reasonably close to matching his career norms.

The Rangers also re-signed Geovany Soto days after non-tendering him. It's a $2.75MM deal, approximately $2MM less than Soto would have made through the arbitration process in the estimation of MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz. The Rangers are paying Soto more than most backups earn, and getting more upside in return.

Joakim Soria continues rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but that didn't stop the Rangers from signing the 28-year-old to a two-year, $8MM contract that includes a club option for 2015. Soria has successfully limited home runs and walks at the MLB level, while averaging more than one strikeout per inning. Given his pedigree, age and the frequency with which pitchers make full recoveries from ligament replacement surgery, Daniels did well to sign Soria for these terms.

Daniels also signed Jason Frasor to a one-year deal worth $1.5MM. The veteran reliever generates lots of strikeouts and should continue to add value as a middle reliever. Josh Lindblom can also strike out lots of hitters and, unlike Frasor, he's under long-term control. Acquiring Lindblom made sense, even though it meant moving a fomer star in Michael Young. The Rangers didn't have a role for Young, and they got salary relief by sending him to Philadelphia.

Questions Remaining

Early in the offseason, most questions about the Rangers centered around potential acquisitions. Now that Spring Training is well underway, many questions relate to a potential loss. Nolan Ryan, the club’s CEO, could leave the organization as a result of a change in the team's power structure. Should the Rangers let him go, or work to retain him? That’s for others to determine. What’s apparent is that an internal conflict went public and created an unnecessary distraction for the team.

The Rangers appeared to consider major acquisitions this winter. Name a prominent free agent and he was probably connected to the Rangers during the 2012-13 offseason. Outfielders such as Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn and B.J. Upton were viewed as potential fits in Texas. Free agent starters like Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Lohse seemed like possible targets for the rotation. Others, such as Adam LaRoche, negotiated with the team, but none of the players signed in Texas. The Rangers maintained a disciplined approach, choosing not to overpay for players whose asking prices exceeded their own valuations.

Texas had the most prolific offense in the American League last year. After losing Hamilton and Napoli the lineup seems less potent. In particular, center fielders Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry project as below average offensive contributors. In my view it would have made sense to sign a free agent (Bourn, Upton and others were available) or complete a trade (Denard Span was on ther market) at a time that the center field market was unusually flush with options.

The Rangers’ rotation also seems vulnerable. Not only did Dempster and Scott Feldman depart as free agents, Martin Perez will miss the beginning of the season. Trading for a pitcher like James Shields, David Price or R.A. Dickey would no doubt have meant surrendering top prospects. At the same time, teams such as the Cubs, Royals and Blue Jays remade their entire rotations. Surely the Rangers could have managed to add one pitcher as insurance to round out an offseason of relatively modest spending. Instead, they'll await the return of Colby Lewis, who should provide the rotation with a midseason boost once he recovers from flexor tendon surgery.

Some wonder if the Rangers will trade from their enviable shortstop depth sooner, rather than later. Daniels maintains that he’s content to keep Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, and that stance makes sense given that Profar just turned 20. 

Deal of Note

Games played often correlate pretty well with free agent paydays. To play in lots of games, players must be healthy and reasonably productive, which increases their earning potential. Last offseason 22 position players signed for $10MM or more (including club options exercised). All but one of those players had appeared in at least 90 games in 2012. The lone exception obtained a one-year, $11MM contract from the Rangers following a season in which he appeared in just 32 games: Lance Berkman.

The deal stood out at the time, because teams so often pay players based on their most recent performances. Berkman had an unproductive, injury-plagued walk year and obtained a substantial guarantee nonetheless. This doesn’t make the Rangers’ decision a poor one, though. The switch-hitting 37-year-old had a heavyweight offensive season as recently as 2011 and seems capable of reaching base and providing power as he nears his 40th birthday.

Overview

The Rangers are a good team, even though they now seem vulnerable. They lost significant pieces this past offseason, and there’s no doubt that the Athletics and Angels represent serious threats. Expect the Rangers to contend in 2013, but don’t count on them to stand apart from the competition.



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.









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