With an action-packed December on the verge of ending (happy holidays, MLBTR fans!), the most entertaining moments of Major League Baseball’s Hot Stove season have likely passed. As evidenced by what’s left of a free agent class that was uninspiring from the outset, the majority of this winter’s top available players have already found new homes. On the trade front, it’s possible we won’t see any more blockbusters, though this month’s Winter Meetings certainly brought a couple memorable ones that will hugely impact the involved franchises for years to come.
Of all the transactions that have taken place in December, there are a few which arguably stand out as head-scratchers. We’ll touch on a trio of those moves below and ask the readers to share their opinions via the poll and comments section:
Nationals send a prospect haul to the White Sox for outfielder Adam Eaton: Both sides made out well in this trade from my vantage point, but the Nationals have drawn criticism for surrendering two of MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects, right-handers Lucas Giolito (No. 3) and Reynaldo Lopez (No. 38), and 2016 first-round righty Dane Dunning to acquire Eaton. After making the deal at the Winter Meetings, Nationals president and general manager Mike Rizzo told predecessor Jim Bowden (now of ESPN and Sirius XM) that he was “getting barbecued.” Bowden is one of Rizzo’s most outspoken critics in this case, as he regards it as the “worst trade” he has ever seen (via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post).
If you’re to believe wins above replacement, the well-rounded Eaton has been among the majors’ most valuable outfielders during his three full major league seasons, having combined for 12.8 fWAR and 15.3 rWAR in 1,933 plate appearances dating back to 2014. The 28-year-old also possesses one of the sport’s most team-friendly contracts for an established player, which made it all the more reasonable for rebuilding Chicago to demand a ransom in return. Eaton is controllable for the next five seasons, including club options in 2020 and ’21, at a maximum value of $38MM. He and Bryce Harper should form two-thirds of an excellent outfield in D.C. for at least two seasons (Harper will be a free agent after the 2018 campaign), though the latter’s presence in right will force Eaton to center. Eaton’s coming off a season in which he was an elite defender in right with a major league-high 23.1 Ultimate Zone Rating and 22 Defensive Runs Saved (second). The metrics haven’t liked Eaton nearly as much in center (minus-21 UZR, minus-8 DRS in 3,115 career innings), which – along with the young pitchers the Nationals lost – has led to skepticism regarding Washington’s half of the trade.
Rockies spend $70MM over five years on Ian Desmond … to play first base? After receiving replacement-level production at first last year from a slew of players (mostly Mark Reynolds), Colorado entered the offseason in desperate need at the position. The Rockies also came into the winter having promised to post a franchise-record payroll in 2017, so the fact that they prioritized first and allocated big money to it wasn’t a shock. But, instead of adding one of the many first base types available, they weirdly signed Desmond. The career shortstop/outfielder will now occupy the least valuable defensive position on the field, and his bat won’t play as well there as it has at short or in center field. With Texas last season, the 31-year-old Desmond spent the vast majority of his time in center and logged a solid 106 wRC+ (league average for the position in 2016 was 96). If he’d have recorded the same production at first, where the league-average wRC+ was 108, he’d have been a much less appealing offensive cog. Nevertheless, if you’re to believe Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich, Desmond will be their first baseman going forward. Considering both the money the Rockies gave Desmond and the first-round pick they lost to sign him (the eminently valuable 11th overall selection), it comes off as an odd choice.
Yankees reunite with Aroldis Chapman: It was hardly surprising that the Yankees brought back Chapman, whom they traded to the Cubs for star prospect Gleyber Torres at last summer’s deadline, or inked him to a record contract for a reliever. After all, MLBTR predicted he’d secure a five-year, $90MM accord from the Bombers, who ended up giving him an $86MM guarantee over a half-decade. The problem is twofold (and this ignores Chapman’s past domestic violence issues): 1. The Yankees are bent on getting under the luxury tax threshold soon (they’re on track to exceed it for a 15th straight year in 2017), and splurging on a reliever won’t help their cause. 2. The deal grants Chapman the ability to opt out after Year 3, which doesn’t seem to align with their window of contention. New York is amid a retooling phase and has been stockpiling youth as a result, so touted prospects like Torres, Clint Frazier and Jorge Mateo, among others, might not be ready to hit their respective strides for another few years. By then, Chapman could be in another uniform. In the meantime, and in fairness to the Yankees, the flame-throwing left-hander should continue serving as a dominant closer who helps them lock down late-game leads. But whether they’ll have enough of those leads to be a playoff team in the near future is in question.
(Poll link for Trade Rumors App users)