Offseason In Review Rumors


Offseason In Review: Detroit Tigers

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

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

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

Torii Hunter - Tigers (PW)

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

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

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

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

Questions Remaining

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

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

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

Deal of Note

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

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

Overview

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

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Cleveland Indians

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

Major League Signings

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

International Signings

  • OF Takuya Tsuchida.

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

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

Nick Swisher - Indians (PW)

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

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

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

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

Questions Remaining

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

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

Deal of Note

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

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

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

Overview

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

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Minnesota Twins

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

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

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

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

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

Vance Worley - Twins (PW)

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

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

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

Questions Remaining

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

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

Deal of Note

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

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

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

Overview

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

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Miami Marlins

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

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

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

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

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

Uspw_7069960

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

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

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

Questions Remaining

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

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

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

Overview

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



Offseason In Review: Atlanta Braves

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

Major League Signings

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

Minor League Signings

Traded and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Uspw_7061568

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

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

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

Questions Remaining

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

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

Deal of Note

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

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

Overview

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



Offseason In Review: Boston Red Sox

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

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

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

David Ortiz - Red Sox (PW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions Remaining

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

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

Deal of Note

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

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

Overview

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

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays seem poised to contend for the playoffs following a series of bold offseason moves by GM Alex Anthopoulos.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

  • R.A. Dickey, SP: two years, $25MM. $12MM Club option for 2016.
  • Josh Thole, C: two years, $2.5MM.

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

A transformative offseason began with a change of leadership for the Blue Jays. They traded manager John Farrell to the Red Sox, ending a two-year relationship that concluded with the revelation that Farrell preferred to to manage in Boston. John Gibbons returns to Toronto, where he managed from 2004-08.

The Blue Jays re-built their rotation, acquiring R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in a pair of high-profile trades. These pitchers provide the Blue Jays with much-needed depth following a season in which a thin rotation got exposed when injuries struck. The Blue Jays also addressed bullpen needs, bringing back Darren Oliver and acquiring Jeremy Jeffress and Esmil Rogers.

Jose Reyes - Blue Jays (PW)

The starting lineup has a new look, with Jose Reyes, Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio up the middle. These new acquisitions and holdover Rajai Davis could add significant value on the basepaths, as Dave Cameron of FanGraphs recently explained. 

Melky Cabrera becomes the team's primary left fielder after signing a two-year, $16MM contract. It's a substantial commitment for a player linked to performance enhancing drugs, but the deal has significant upside. Newcomers Mark DeRosa, Henry Blanco and Josh Thole provide the team with depth on the bench and at Triple-A Buffalo.

Anthopoulos spent aggressively on free agents Cabrera and Izturis and, after years of stockpiling prospects, traded from minor league depth. In Dickey, Johnson, Buehrle, Reyes and Cabrera the team acquired five former All-Stars. Best of all, the Blue Jays didn't have to surrender much off of their MLB roster to acquire these players and establish themselves as contenders. 

Questions Remaining

The Blue Jays have significant health questions entering the 2013 season. Jose Bautista underwent surgery on his left wrist last year and Johnson and Brandon Morrow have had trouble staying healthy in recent years (recent DL trips are reason enough to have some concern going forward, as Russell A. Carleton of Baseball Prospectus recently showed). Knee and elbow issues plagued Ricky Romero in 2012, and the left-hander put together a career-worst season. The Blue Jays can’t afford a repeat performance from Romero. 

Colby Rasmus, who played so well early on in 2012, struggled mightily in the second half. The Blue Jays need more from Rasmus in 2013. Meanwhile, Cabrera will have the chance to quiet skeptics after missing the end of the 2012 season due to a violation of MLB’s drug policy.

Adam Lind, the Blue Jays' projected designated hitter, has a 93 OPS+ over the course of his last 1500 plate appearances. He had a great 2009, but that’s a long time ago now, as ’09 All-Stars Brad Hawpe and Zach Duke can attest. If an argument exists that Lind is now anything more than a platoon hitter with little defensive value, I haven't seen it.

Deal of Note

The blockbuster trade with Miami did more than re-stock the Blue Jays’ roster. It signaled a change in direction for a Blue Jays team that had previously spent modestly under the ownership of Rogers Communications. The Blue Jays play in one of North America’s largest markets, and they clearly view themselves as Canada’s team. Now they’re actually acting like a large market club.

The blockbuster trade improved the Blue Jays in a number of areas, none more important than the starting rotation. They had one of the worst starting rotations in baseball this past season in terms of innings, ERA, wins above replacement, strikeout rate and walk rate. Injuries contributed to the disappointing year, but the club didn’t have enough depth.

Toronto’s blockbuster trade with the Marlins addressed the issue of rotation depth in a meaningful way. Buehrle has completed 200-plus innings in every one of the last 12 seasons and Johnson rebounded from an injury-shortened 2011 season to pitch 191 1/3 innings in 2012. Gibbons and the Blue Jays would surely welcome similar performances in 2013. 

The acquisitions of Johnson and Buehrle pushed pitchers such as J.A. Happ, Chad Jenkins and Brad Lincoln down on Toronto’s depth chart. Just about every team goes through five or ten starters over the course of the season, so Happ and others will get their chances. The difference is, they’re no longer the team’s best options.

Overview

The Blue Jays entered the offseason as a flawed, 89-loss team with a manager who preferred to leave. They emerged from it as the World Series favorite -- at least according to Las Vegas. In between Anthopoulos made a series of tremendous moves, restoring hope for a fan base that hasn’t had a playoff team in two decades. The players are in place. Now it’s a matter of staying healthy and meeting expectations.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: New York Yankees

The Yankees seem determined to avoid the luxury tax in 2014, yet the club entered the 2012-13 offseason with a variety of major needs. They addressed most of them with short-term solutions, only to see more issues emerge. 

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

  • Acquired RP Shawn Kelley from Mariners for OF Abraham Almonte.
  • Claimed UT Russ Canzler off waivers from Indians.  Later claimed off waivers by Orioles.
  • Claimed RP Jim Miller off waivers from Athletics.
  • Claimed RP Mickey Storey off waivers from Astros.
  • Claimed RP Josh Spence off waivers from Padres.
  • Claimed RP David Herndon off waivers from Blue Jays.
  • Claimed C Eli Whiteside off waivers from Giants. Later claimed off waivers by Blue Jays.

Notable Losses

Ichiro  Suzuki - Yankees (PW)

Needs Addressed

Lavish spending set the Yankees apart from other MLB teams for years. No other franchise spent as aggressively, and it was difficult to argue with the results: five championships since 1996. Their wild spending habits have now disappeared, but Brian Cashman’s job description hasn’t changed. He’s still tasked with bringing another championship to New York.

Cashman retained starters Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte on one-year deals, solidifying the rotation for 2013. The veteran pitchers didn't require long-term commitments -- a bonus for any team, especially the suddenly cost-conscious Yankees. 

Mariano Rivera returns for a 19th season in pinstripes after signing a one-year deal. Spending $10MM on a reliever returning from a lost season wouldn’t make sense in most instances, but this is the greatest closer of all time, someone who has proven he can succeed past his 40th birthday.

The Yankees added a number of accomplished but aging position players in Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner and Juan Rivera. Suzuki required a two-year commitment, which was something of a surprise considering his combined .308 on-base percentage for 2011-12. Yet Suzuki played well after joining the Yankees in a midseason trade, providing strong defense. Plus, the Phillies reportedly offered more than the Yankees did, so the market for Suzuki was strong. 

The addition of Youkilis makes sense in my view. He’s not the player he once was, but considering the thin offseason market for third basemen and Alex Rodriguez’s hip issues the Yankees did well to acquire Youkilis, a longtime New York nemesis. 

Though Hafner is another player in decline, the Yankees don’t need him to perform at the level he did seven or eight years ago. Instead, they’ll hope his left-handed swing translates into lots of Yankee Stadium home runs. It’s a gamble worth taking and -- notice a pattern here? -- it’s just a one-year commitment.

Questions Remaining

Even though the free agent market for catchers featured Russell Martin, Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski, the Yankees passed, choosing instead to rely on Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli behind the plate. Neither Stewart nor Cervelli has played 100 games in a season, so the Yankees are taking on significant risk here.

The starting rotation must be considered a concern, especially now that Phil Hughes may not be ready for Opening Day. Pettitte hasn’t started 30 games since 2009 and can’t be counted on for a full season. And while David Phelps, Ivan Nova and Adam Warren are valuable arms, the Yankees would presumably prefer not to have to rely on these players to lead them to October.

Health is a concern for many Yankees, including Derek Jeter, who’s recovering from ankle surgery, and Rivera, who missed almost all of the 2012 season. The embattled Rodriguez won’t be back before midseason due to his hip issues.

Another infielder, second baseman Robinson Cano, has received a "significant" contract offer from the Yankees. The club must now determine whether Cano and agent Scott Boras define "significant" differently than they do, or if a long-term deal remains within reach.

The Yankees also have a potential need in left field, now that Curtis Granderson is sidelined with a broken arm. In one sense the timing is ideal -- half of Granderson’s recovery period overlaps with Spring Training. In another sense, it’s too late for Cashman to pursue upgrades now that the best trade candidates and free agents are no longer available. 

Deal of Note

Credit the Yankees for their handling of free agents Kuroda, Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher. All three players obtained qualifying from the Yankees early on in the winter, and all three players declined the $13.3MM offers. The results could hardly have been better from the Yankees’ perspective. Kuroda later signed a one-year deal with New York, where he’ll look to build on a strong 2012 season. Swisher and Soriano left, bringing the Yankees valuable compensatory picks in the upcoming amateur draft. 

In particular, the Yankees’ dealt with Soriano much differently than they did two offseasons ago, when they initially signed him. During the 2010-11 offseason, upper level Yankees executives were intent on signing Soriano, even though it cost them a draft pick to do so. Two winters later, the Yankees preferred the draft pick to the player.

Overview

The Yankees’ offseason moves weren’t particularly exciting. The organization changed course, bypassing the elite free agents they would have pursued five or ten years ago in the hopes of avoiding baseball’s luxury tax by 2014. Limited by this goal, Cashman signed veterans to short-term deals, addressing most needs, and setting the team up for another run at a championship. After a good, but not great offseason, the Yankees have a good, but not great team.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles added outfield depth and bolstered their bench this winter. Yet Dan Duquette’s second offseason as the club’s top baseball executive was even quieter than his first. The Orioles spent with extreme caution this winter, even after making their first playoff appearance in 15 years.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

Duquette re-signed left fielder Nate McLouth to a deal that's both low-commitment and low upside. While McLouth hit respectably with the Orioles last year, recent history suggests he has become a below-average hitter (.221/.320/.346 batting line since 2010). It's possible Nolan Reimold will produce at the plate and McLouth will be the club's fourth outfielder, a role he may be better suited for given his struggles against left-handed pitching.

Manny Machado - Orioles (PW)

The club also bolstered its bench with a pair of former Twins: Danny Valencia and Alexi Casilla. Valencia could provide some pop against left-handers and Casilla, a switch-hitter, represents insurance in the event that Brian Roberts spends time on the disabled list.

The Orioles didn't sign any prominent free agents, but Duquette did add Jair Jurrjens on a low-risk deal. This move could pay off for the Orioles, who are positioned to create room in their rotation in case Jurrjens proves to be healthy. Still just 27, Jurrjens required only a minor league commitment.

The relatively quiet offseason seems to reflect confidence in internal options. Perhaps Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez can build on last year’s success while Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman prepare themselves for significant MLB roles. There’s reason for optimism elsewhere, as Manny Machado prepares for his first full season and the bullpen returns undiminished.

Questions Remaining

The Orioles would look stronger now if they had found an everyday alternative to Roberts at second base. Or if they had added a number three starter to pair with Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen atop a rotation that includes its share of uncertainty. Or if they had acquired an impact bat for left field or designated hitter.

Flirtations with Joe Saunders and other free agent starters didn’t develop. Nor did inquiries to the Diamondbacks regarding outfielders Justin Upton and Jason Kubel. The Orioles reportedly showed interest in free agent bats such as Josh Hamilton and Nick Swisher, only to see them sign elsewhere. 

There were potential upgrades available on the trade market (Kubel, Michael Morse) and in free agency (Cody Ross, Lance Berkman, Mike Napoli). Instead the Orioles are left with DH Wilson Betemit hitting right-handers and Valencia and others matching up against lefties. There’s no point in spending for the sake of spending, but the Orioles had real needs at a time that solutions were available in free agency. It would have been encouraging to see owner Peter Angelos spend on a power bat or a free agent starter.

Deal of Note

The Orioles didn’t sign any players to long-term deals this winter, but their leadership structure figures to remain in place for a while. The club extended Duquette and manager Buck Showalter through the 2018 season with deals that were completed last month. Both had strong cases for extensions. Duquette’s moves, particularly his ability to find quality pitching in unexpected places, led to the Orioles’ first playoff berth in 15 years. Showalter managed the pitching staff skillfully, coaxing 93 wins from a team picked by many to finish in last place. 

Overview

The Orioles enter the 2013 season with questions in the rotation, at second base and in left field. Some regression seems likely, especially in the stacked American League East. It’s a good thing the Orioles have experience proving doubters wrong. They know better than most that pre-season predictions can be wildly inaccurate.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.



Offseason In Review: Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays addressed long-term needs with a blockbuster trade and the most lucrative contract in franchise history. They addressed short term needs with modest forays into the free agent market.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Trades and Claims

Extensions

Notable Losses

Needs Addressed

When the offseason began, it was clear that the Rays could part with David Price or James Shields in the right trade, particularly if an elite prospect such as Wil Myers or Jurickson Profar were involved. Executive VP of baseball operations Andrew Friedman was able to obtain Myers, one of the game’s best hitting prospects, for Shields, who’s under team control through 2014. While Myers will almost certainly start the season in the minor leagues, he’s expected to make an impact at the MLB level starting in 2013. From a value standpoint, six-plus years of Myers trumps two years of Shields, so it’s clear why the Rays made this deal, which also included Wade Davis, Elliot Johnson, Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard. However, it's likely they'll miss Shields in 2013, as Myers transitions to the MLB level. 

Evan Longoria - Rays (PW)

Evan Longoria was already under team control through 2016, so locking him up for additional seasons hardly seemed like a pressing need entering the winter. That didn’t stop the Rays from adding six years and $100MM in guaranteed money to the deal, which extends their control over Longoria through 2023. There’s risk with any nine-figure deal, especially when it's between a player who appeared in just 74 games in 2012 and a team that operates with one of the most modest budgets in MLB. That said, this extension pays Longoria less than $17MM per season -- Andre Ethier territory rather than Joey Votto territory. For the Rays this was a risk worth taking.

The Rays lost a first baseman, a starting infielder and a center fielder this offseason, which led to a long offseason shopping list for Friedman. The Rays will ask Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar to do what they couldn't do for the 2012 Blue Jays: match their career norms on offense while providing steady middle infield defense. However, off-field questions accompany Escobar and Johnson’s contact skills are in steady decline. 

The Rays addressed other short-term needs on the free agent market, signing James Loney, Luke Scott, Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth, Roberto Hernandez and Jamey Wright. Loney and Scott don’t figure to drastically alter the offense of a team that ranked 11th in the American League in scoring last year. Friedman’s annual search for bullpen reinforcements turned up some familiar names and intriguing options. Hernandez figures prominently among the Rays' buy-low arms. The right-hander had an All-Star season as recently as 2010, back when he was known as Fausto Carmona.

Questions Remaining

The Rays won’t have an imposing offense in 2013. It’s a shortcoming, but one they’re accustomed to dealing with. Jose Molina's pitch-framing skills, the versatility of Ben Zobrist and the depth of their pitching staff enable the Rays to prevent runs as well as any team (they allowed the fewest runs in MLB in 2012). As long as newcomers such as Escobar, Johnson and Loney contribute something on offense, the Rays should continue to outscore their opponents often enough to remain a threat in the AL East.

There’s also the question of health. Longoria, the Rays’ franchise player, has missed considerable time with injuries in 2011-12. And now that Shields and Davis are gone, there seems to be less room for error on the pitching staff.

Deal of Note

The Rays made a number of major moves this offseason, including the Myers-Shields trade and the Longoria extension. But in one respect, Joel Peralta’s contract with Tampa Bay was the most noteworthy of all. 

Peralta’s new two-year deal includes three -- yes, three -- club options. He becomes the first player with at least six years of service to sign a deal with three or more club options in seven offseasons. Peralta joins Tim Wakefield (Red Sox, 2002-03) and Preston Wilson (Astros, 2005-06) as the only players with six or more years of service to sign deals with at least three club options since 2000. 

The Rays have pursued club options on deals with young players in the past. Yet Peralta turns 37 next month, so this contract is out of the ordinary -- even for the Rays.

Overview

Since their breakout 2008 season, the Rays have averaged 92 wins per season, reached the 90-win plateau in four of five seasons and made three postseason appearances. During that five-year period, we’ve learned not to bet against the Rays. This is far from a perfect team, though, and, as usual, the Rays enter the season with legitimate question marks on offense. Expect their run prevention to keep them in contention throughout the 2013 season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.









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