The stove has been cooking overtime since we checked in last week. There’s been so much going on and we can’t afford to waste words, so without further ado, let’s get things started with the Nationals’ biggest move.
While they were reportedly close on a deal that would net them Chris Sale, that didn’t work out and he was instead traded to Boston. Then there were rumors that a trade for Andrew McCutchen was in the works, but that didn’t manifest and instead Washington headed back to White Sox GM Rick Hahn’s general store and gave up a hefty bushel of prospects to bring home outfielder Adam Eaton.
We spent some time early last season chatting about Eaton and his defensive breakout this year. Those numbers held up over the rest of the season, as he appears all over the fielding leaderboards and led all of MLB by UZR (23.1) and came in 2nd by DRS (22). Those defensive metrics, combined with a 115 wRC+/119 OPS+ were good for 6.0 fWAR/6.2 bWAR. By fWAR, Eaton was the 11th best position player in baseball.
Of course, that was as a right fielder. Thanks to the fact that a certain Bryce Harper currently occupies that position, there is talk that Eaton will slide back over to center in Washington, where his average to slightly-below average defense made him a very good player, but far from elite (3.1 fWAR in 2014 and 3.7 fWAR in 2015). But, as we just said, even those numbers are very good and we should mention that Eaton just turned 28 right before he was traded and is controllable for the next five years at the very team-friendly amount of $38.4 million. The ceiling may not be as high with Eaton as with Sale, but it’s still really high (as long as he plays in a corner spot) and the floor is high, as well.
Grade for White Sox: A+
With players like Sale and Eaton on the roster, the White Sox had a pretty good start towards building a winning team. We all know how things have turned out over the last couple years though and, once they decided to trade Sale, it would have been foolish not to see what they could get for the rest of their best players. They certainly got a haul for Eaton and, with just two trades, they now have one of the most intriguing farm systems in baseball.
Grade for Nationals: B
The Nationals may be catching a lot of flack from different angles for the trade, but Eaton is very, very good. He’s young and under team control at a reasonable price through 2021. It’s hard to give them the highest marks, because they really did reach pretty deep into their pockets, but them be the rules when you want to get yourself a great player on the trade market. Whether and for how long he plays in centerfield will certainly affect how valuable he is, so we’ll have to wait for clarity on that front for now, but the trade wasn’t as crazy as some of the initial hot takes were.
Another area where we’re still waiting for clarity for the Nationals is in the closer position. That’s even more true with the Dodgers resigning Kenley Jansen (and with the Nationals midseason free agent trade-acquisition Mark Melancon now on the Giants and Aroldis Chapman back on the Yankees). Los Angeles resigned their closer to a five-year, $80 million deal, despite the fact that Washington purportedly offered a larger deal with deferred money and the Marlins also put more money on the table, as well. Even so, this is still the second largest free agent contract handed out to a reliever, behind only Chapman’s recent 5-year, $86 million contract (and bumping the aforementioned Melancon down to third).
Going back to 2012, the first full season in which Jansen was the Dodgers’ closer, Jansen is second among relievers by fWAR (11.4) and second by FIP (1.97), falling short only to Chapman, and appears very high up the rankings of other “reliever-friendly” win probability stats such as WPA (10.42, 8th), +WPA (40.14, 10th) and RE24 (60.40, 11th). If we just look at last season, Jansen was first in fWAR (3.2) and second in K-BB% (37.1) and FIP (1.44, basically tied for first with Chapman’s 1.42). All this is to simply quantify what we already know: Jansen is unquestionably one of the best relievers in baseball.
Also of import, Jansen can opt out of the contract after three seasons when he will be 31. Of further import, Jansen is a converted catcher and didn’t start pitching until he was 21, with less mileage on his arm. He has yet to lose any significant velocity and has the kind of delivery that portends well for longevity. None of this is to imply that Jansen will make it to that opt-out date in perfect form (after all, he is, in fact, a pitcher playing baseball), but he’s as good a bet as any if you going to plop a bunch of money down on the table. The most important part is that the Dodgers need Jansen now if they’re going to continue riding their four-year streak of winning the NL West.
Grade for Jansen: A
Jansen had more money on the table, but he decided he’d prefer to stay in Los Angeles. I mean, I guess he would have gotten an A+ for remaining on a contending team and making all of the monies, but we’re kind of just splitting hairs at this point.
Grade for Dodgers: B+
The Dodgers still have money to burn, apparently, and managed to hang on to their closer, one of the most elite in the game. They also paid him less money than the Yankees did Chapman and he just might be a better signing longevity-wise. That being said, it’s hard to get into the “A” range on this kind of money going to relievers just yet. Even as we just witnessed an epic postseason where the relievers (including, obviously, Jansen) were seemingly stealing the show every night, this is a lot of money to allocate to folks who throw baseballs as little as closers do (even if they are in the spotlight more during the postseason) and are notoriously unreliable in the long term. That being said, the Dodgers actually paid less than the (admittedly insane) market rate to bring back a player who was instrumental in their recent success and should continue to be so for at least the front end of the deal, after which he can opt out.
Jansen wasn’t the only player the Dodgers just resigned, as they also brought Justin Turner back on a four-year, $64 million contract. If the Jansen deal was a bit of a bargain, well, that’s doubly true of the Turner contract, who has hit .296/.364/.492 in his three years in Dodger blue and been worth 11.2 bWAR/12.9 fWAR. The fact that Turner comes in sixth place by fWAR for his position over the last three years speaks to the fact that we are living in a golden age of third basemen. And while the depth throughout the league at that position would certainly seem to limit Turner’s earning potential a bit, the deal is still a win for Los Angeles.
For the sake of comparison, Houston signed Josh Reddick to a (previously covered) four-year, $52 million deal. Over the last three seasons, Reddick has been worth 6.8 fWAR while Turner has been worth nearly twice that. The fact that Turner’s AAV is only $3 million more than Reddick put things in perspective.
Grade for Turner: C
If Jansen gave a bit of a discount to keep playing in Los Angeles, the Turner signing was an absolute steal. It’s a virtual certainty that he could have found more money on another contending team. Then again, the Dodgers are perhaps up there with the Cubs in terms of positioning themselves for long term success. Let’s not be too hard on Turner, I guess, for wanting to stay in in Southern California (where he is from and has spent much of his life) and play for a contender.
Grade for Dodgers: A+
Any points that go against Turner and the contract that he ended up with go in favor of the Dodgers, who are doing a remarkable job of retaining the players that got them all the way to the NLCS last season. While these players will all be fighting the tides of time, the Dodgers have a ton of money coming off the books in the near future, so they can afford to take some chances to stay at the top of their division.
While the jury will be out on the long term success of Jansen’s contract (and the other elite closers who received record deals this offseason), the other moves that the Dodgers made to shore up their roster this offseason certainly look like wins so far. One thing is clear, despite the Dodgers’ talk of trimming payroll this offseason and perhaps using some of their prospect capital to fill some needs with trades, they haven’t done that. While the Dodgers haven’t yet figured out the magic formula to get all the way to a pennant, yet, they’re definitely the right mix of rich and smart that makes them a threat for the foreseeable future.