Actual baseball is looming, which means the offseason is nearing an end. Now, we can take a look and proudly declare who won or lost the offseason before actual baseball does it’s thing and makes us realize how foolish we were. For teams that appear to be attempting to contend, we’ll be looking at whether the moves they made should help them do so. For rebuilding teams, we’ll be looking at whether they are getting enough for the players they are trading away. And then there are the teams that don’t seem to know what they’re doing or otherwise don’t fit into either of those categories, but don’t worry, we’ll address them, too.
We’ll get things started with the NL West with the other divisions to follow.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Since Frank McCourt sold the team, we’ve grown accustomed to the Dodgers taking on bad contracts, paying millions just to DFA players and generally emptying their wallets to get the players they covet. Surely they were going to re-sign Greinke or sign David Price? Nope. Rumors tied the Dodgers to nearly every premium free agent or impact trade, especially pitchers, but the pitchers kept going elsewhere, often inside this very division. December came and went, and the Dodgers’ rotation looked the same as last year’s, minus Greinke.
Then, in January, the Dodgers got busy. They signed Japanese ace Kenta Maeda to an eight-year incentive-heavy contract due to longevity concerns, veteran Scott Kazmir to a reasonable three-year contract with an opt-out after the first, and Cuban prospect Yaisel Sierra to a six-year deal. Signing old friend Joe Blanton to any sort of a deal, even a one-year $4 million deal with incentives, would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. Since then he’s converted from starter to reliever, and quietly had an amazing 2015 season (2.84 ERA with 9.4 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 76 innings). Given the potential left-handedness of their starters, having a righty middle reliever who puts up those kind of numbers could work out for LA.
While these aren’t the extremely flashy moves we’re used to seeing from LA, they certainly give the Dodgers a deep rotation in case of injuries and there’s plenty of upside.With Kershaw as their ace, the aforementioned newly signed pitchers, Alex Wood, Brett Anderson, a potentially healthy Hyun-Jin Ryu and/or Brandon McCarthy and super-prospect Julio Urias (who will get a look in spring training), the Dodgers may even be forced to make some trades.
In terms of position players, the biggest moves were signing Chase Utley to a one-year, $7 million deal and Howie Kendrick to a two-year, $20 million deal after Kendrick rejected LA’s qualifying offer. Whether or not the qualifying offer is a fair system, and Kendrick certainly doesn’t think so, the Dodgers certainly used it to their advantage in securing a contract with Kendrick at a seemingly below-market rate. On the other hand, it’s certainly not clear what they’re thinking paying that much to a 37-year-old Utley who will basically be backing up Kendrick. Depth is great, but that certainly looks like an overpay.
That’s basically it for lineup changes, but it may turn out that they didn’t need to do much more. A full year of Corey Seager, a bounceback year from Puig and a little more health in their lineup could make a huge difference for LA.
All in all, it’s pretty tough to say that the Dodgers “won the offseason” unless you’re talking about hiring office personnel. But they made calculated, responsible moves and are certainly still a threat to win what looks to be a very competitive division.
San Diego Padres
Last offseason, the Padres were the “it” team, making bold move after bold move and totally rejiggering the team. Whether you agreed with the moves new GM AJ Preller was making or not, there was no denying that what was going on was fascinating. A season passed, and we know that those moves didn’t exactly work out, with the Padres losing 88 games on route to a 4th place finish in the division. We’re not here to talk about those moves, but whether Preller and company have made any progress in righting their previous moves that clearly didn’t work out.
First, gone is closer Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox for prospects, of quality and in quantity. The prospect cupboard was looking more bare after all the wheeling and dealing last year when Kimbrel arrived, and the return that San Diego received makes this move look OK, depending on what else was in store. The Padres further tinkered with the bullpen when they traded Joaquin Benoit to the Mariners (whose new GM Jerry Dipoto has been going “full Preller” this offseason), which also netted San Diego a couple of decent prospects. The addition of Fernando Rodney for his age-39 season in the bullpen certainly makes it look like the Pads might be in a semi-rebuild, despite executives saying otherwise.
Through a series of trades and signings, the Padres have finally found a home for Wil Myers at first base and can try to forget about last season’s ill-fated centerfield experiment. In swapping Jed Gyorko and cash for the Cardinals’ Jon Jay, they obtained a centerfielder who isn’t playing out of position, but who is also not without risk, as he suffered from wrist injuries last year and failed to crack the 80-game mark. Gone is first baseman Yonder Alonso, who failed to meet high expectations, to the A’s in a player swap that, while perhaps slightly tilted in the Padres’ favor, doesn’t really merit too much discussion beyond the fact that it allows them to park Myers at first.
Melvin Upton Jr. is still with the Padres, even if he did bounce back somewhat last season, and his brother Justin is now on the Tigers. To address the issues they had last year at shortstop, the Pads signed 34-year old Alexei Ramirez who is coming off his worst season to date at 1.0 WAR but is also only one year removed from being an All Star.
All in all, there are still a lot of questions, both in terms of health and ability when healthy, especially in the rotation. Most of the moves that San Diego made seemed to be of the lateral variety, with the exception being the moves that smell of “rebuild,” such as the Kimbrel trade. It’s hard to imagine that the Padres are going to fare much better this season than they did last, but at least they restocked the prospect coffers a bit after last season’s craziness.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants went into the offseason with some clear needs. With Tim Hudson, Mike Leake, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong, Yusmeiro Petit and Jeremy Affeldt all on expiring contracts, pitching was obvious. Whatever the rumors say, the Giants’ modus operandi these days is to extend their own players, trade for a player midseason and then extend him or, if those fail, grab a player out of the value bin, hope for the best and call it a day.
So, it wasn’t surprising that the Giants kept popping up in rumors about David Price and Greinke, nor that they failed to sign either. The surprise came when the Giants’ still made their first foray into big free agent contracts for pitchers since Barry Zito when they signed Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to five and six-year deals respectively (although Cueto’s comes with an opt-out after two). While Samardzija is coming off an unimpressive season and Cueto had some injury issues last year, both these signings make sense from the Giants’ perspective, even if they carry some degree of risk. The Giants had a lot of money to pitchers coming off the books and they weren’t afraid to spend on these two pitchers. Your mileage may vary, as they could have landed Greinke with that kind of money, but this is a pretty solid ”spread the risk” move.
Although the Giants resolved their pitching situation by mid-December, that didn’t mean they addressed all their needs. With Nori Aoki on the Mariners and fill-ins Marlon Byrd and Alejandro De Aza gone as well, the Giants were looking at an everyday outfield of Gregor Blanco, Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence. For the first time since his first full season in 2008, Hunter Pence failed to break the 150 game mark and barely hit the 50 mark due to injuries. Rather shockingly, Angel Pagan played almost everyday, although he was far from effective and ended up with -1.9 WAR.
In early January, they signed Denard Span to a three-year $31 million guaranteed contract with a 4th year team option. Span had some hip issues and missed the majority of last season, which certainly hurt his value, but he’s been roughly worth 3 WAR per year since he broke into the league. Span should also presumably push Pagan over to left field where he has less of a chance to be a liability on defense.
Other than those moves, there wasn’t too much going on, other than some minor league shuffling. Other than those needs, there wasn’t really much for the Giants to address. They still have the best homegrown infield in baseball and a quietly effective and generally reliable relief core. They saw their needs and addressed them as best they could and are ready for the even year season to start.
The Diamondbacks entered this offseason after flirting with a .500 finish, a far cry from last offseason, where they had just flirted with 100 losses. After Dave Stewart’s first full season as GM, it was obvious that, while Arizona had one of the better offenses in MLB last season, their rotation was clearly holding them back. While it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Diamondbacks go after some pitching upgrades, the manner in which they did so certainly shook things up.
When Arizona signed Zack Greinke, they were revealed as the truest kind of “mystery team.” As Ken Rosenthal reported, the Diamondbacks were in pursuit of Greinke for less than six hours. Surprise or not, there’s a great deal to like about this deal from Arizona’s perspective, especially in light of the fact that the only other teams purportedly in the mix for Greinke were the Dodgers and Giants and keeping extra wins away from division rivals in what looks to be a potentially close division is worth its weight in gold.
The next big move Arizona made was a bit more puzzling. Arizona may have still needed more pitching, but the Diamondbacks got it by trading for Shelby Miller, in what was certainly on overpay. We’ve already been over this, but even discounting the potential future talent that Arizona gave up to get Miller, giving up Ender Inciarte after a 5.3 WAR season for Miller, who is coming off his best season and was still only worth 3.6 WAR and offers two less years of team control, seems like a questionable move.
The last big move on Arizona’s part was a trade with the Brewers, the centerpiece of which brings shortstop Jean Segura over. Aaron Hill, who had been dead weight at second base for Arizona for the last couple of years, moved over to the Brewers in that deal, but that begs the question of how much Segura will actually do to improve the infield. He had a couple of disappointing seasons after his breakout season in 2013 and maybe the change in scenery will do him some good, but it’s unclear how much this trade actually improves the team (other than shipping some salary out to help pay for Greinke).
Apart from Goldschmidt at first, the offensive contributions from the infield are by no means guaranteed. In the outfield, moving Inciarte will give Cuban outfielder Yasmany Thomas a full time gig, but so far Inciarte has looked like the better player. The Diamondbacks don’t want to waste the window they have right now due to Goldschmidt’s team-friendly contract and A.J. Pollock really raking, and they clearly needed pitching. While they’re certainly in the mix for the division next season, they gave up too much to get there and for a team that looks like it’s in full on “win now” mode, they could have made some better plays.
We finish with the Rockies, who perennially seem to live in that strange area where they aren’t contending but aren’t fully committed to rebuilding. During the prior season, they finally dealt Troy Tulowitzki for pitching prospects and it started to look like they might be throwing in the cards and starting over.
Then, the first big moves of the offseason consisted of signing relievers Jason Motte and Chad Qualls to two-year contracts ostensibly to replace Jon Axford and Rex Brothers, which hardly seemed like much of an upgrade. Next, they signed Mark Reynolds to a one-year deal. Again, while an improvement over Wilin Rosario, this doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade. A theme appeared to be emerging (although we were wrong about what it was) and the rumors were flying about Colorado looking to unload an outfielder if they were in fact going to be rebuilding.
After signing outfielder Gerardo Parra to a reasonable $27.5 million, three-year deal, you could smell the outfielder trade cooking. The Rockies did, in fact, trade one of their young, cost-controlled outfielders in the form of Corey Dickerson, but the return they received from Tampa Bay, reliever Jake McGee, left folks scratching their heads, even if McGee is certainly an elite reliever.
Conventional wisdom makes you go, “what the hell was Colorado thinking.” But, then again, “conventional wisdom” does not seem to be all that applicable to the team that plays half their games at altitude at Coors Field. As the dust settled, some started to speculate that it might not even be that crazy and then we began to hear more from GM Jeff Bridich and it turned out that the Rockies might actually have a plan.
There’s a lot of focus on building elite bullpens right now, what with the Royals’ seriously bullpen-aided route to a World Series victory and the Yankee’s stockpiling of flamethrowers. The Rockies’ focus on predominantly fastball throwing arms is something different, and “something different” is good news for Colorado fans, as the status quo clearly hasn’t been working. It’s too early to give Colorado too high marks yet, but they have quite a bit of talent not too far away from the majors and at least they’re thinking outside the box and trying something different. Also, Todd Helton approves, that’s got to be worth something.
Grade: B (mostly based on effort, since “incomplete” is not an option)