With each passing winter day, we can take solace that the baseball offseason is nearing its end. Once again, it’s that time where we can take a look and proudly declare who won or lost the offseason before actual baseball does its thing and makes us all realize how naive and foolish we once 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 start things off in the NL West, with other divisions to follow.
Los Angeles Dodgers
We’ve already covered each of the Dodger’s biggest moves this offseason in relative depth: First, the re-signing of Rich Hill (link), followed by the back-to-back re-signings of Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner (link) and then, most recently, the trade of pitching prospect Jose De Leon to the Rays for second baseman Logan Forsythe (link). Beyond those moves, there were pretty much only the assorted DFAs, arbitrations and trades of minor leaguers for minor leaguers. So, where does that leave GM Andrew Friedman’s Dodgers now that the end of the offseason is drawing nigh?
Bringing in Hill continued their recent trend of spreading the risk on pitchers who have some question marks but plenty of upside, rather than spending outlandish money on top-tier free agents (not that there were any of those available this offseason anyway). The Dodgers were fourth in MLB for fWAR from their starting pitchers last season, and Clayton Kershaw missing time was the only thing keeping them from the top. Bringing back Hill on the kind of contract they did was a smart move and gives them the same kind of depth they had (and needed) last year and may very well need again.
It goes without saying that they were going to need a closer and a third baseman and the departing Turner and Jansen were the best options available. That they got them to return for less than they would have received elsewhere was the icing on the cake. Honestly, the only criticism of the Dodgers’ offseason would be that they weren’t able to pry Brian Dozier away from the Twins and had to settle for Forsythe instead, but that was still a reasonable trade that bettered the team.
All in all, the Dodgers brought back the same team that won the division last year and everyone that they re-signed did so for less money than folks were expecting. Then they improved at one of their weakest spots in their lineup via trade and held off on overspending in a lackluster year for free agents. It may not have been the best offseason ever or anything, but there’s not much to criticize them for here, especially given the options that were available in this particular offseason.
San Francisco Giants
While the Dodgers were doing everything they could to keep their four-year reign of the NL West going, the Giants were trying to figure out how to dethrone them. In 2016, San Francisco finished 4.0 games back from Los Angeles, which was the closest they’ve come to winning the division since 2012. Even if they won a World Series after making the postseason as a Wild Card, there’s something to be said for proceeding straight to the NLDS.
So, in the interest of making their team better and reclaiming the title of champions of the NL West, the Giants, well, signed a closer, Mark Melancon, who has been excellent but not quite as excellent as Jansen. As we discussed at the time of the signing, Melancon leads all pitchers who have pitched at least 250 innings with an ERA of 1.80.
That was it for flashy moves on the Giants’ part though. They signed Tim Federowicz to be backup catcher then signed another backup catcher in Nick Hundley. While Hundley (92 OPS+ over 9 seasons) certainly looks to be an improvement over the incumbent backup Trevor Brown (70 OPS+ in his two MLB seasons), any team that employs Buster Posey shouldn’t be giving too much playing time to anyone else if everything goes according to plan.
In a particularly interesting move, they signed Korean infielder Jae-gyun Hwang to a $1.5 million (plus incentives) minor league deal. Hwang, already a star in the KBO, is coming off of a breakout season where he cut his strikeout rate in half. Hwang, however, mainly plays third base and can also play shortstop, and the Giants have Eduardo Nuñez (and post-season hero Conor Gillespie) on hand already at third and a franchise cornerstone Brandon Crawford at short. Regardless of the players already in their system, the Giants were smart to take a chance on Hwang succeeding at that relatively small cost, though, because they can always figure out what to do with the other players later in the event that Hwang is another KBO-to-MLB success story.
One area that remains a question is whether the Giants are wise to leave un upgrade in left field unaddressed. With Angel Pagan’s contract having expired, the current situation looks to be a platoon of Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson. While that’s adequate as a stopgap measure, it’s not the ideal solution for a team that’s firmly in win-now mode with most of its roster. It’s been reported that the reason for this is financial, which means that the addition of Melancon limited their ability to upgrade in other areas.
All in all, the Giants look to be a better team than the one that lost to the Cubs in the NLDS last year. The upgrade to the bullpen should definitely make a difference in the standings and the Hwang signing could end up being one of the best values of the offseason. That being said, the Giants paid a lot for their bullpen upgrade and it may be limiting their ability to address another area of need. On paper, it still looks like the Dodgers will be the favorites to win the NL West again, even if the Giants give them the toughest divisional competition in all of baseball.
Not that they’re necessarily likely to give either of the above teams much too worry about, but, going into the offseason, you didn’t have to squint too hard to see Colorado improving a little, catching a few breaks and being in the mix for a postseason spot as well. They may be coming off a season where they still failed to break .500 and only won 75 games, but that was a rather large uptick from recent seasons and the closest they’ve come since 2010 and they did it with a bunch of young players.
Colorado’s first and biggest move of the offseason, and one of the weirder moves we’ve seen this offseason, was signing Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal. While teams are generally loathe to give up their high draft packs these days and we’re seeing more reluctance to hand out longer contracts to players on the wrong side of 30, the Rockies gave up the 11th overall draft pick to sign Desmond, who will be 36 when the contract expires. Further ratcheting up the weirdness is the fact that the Rockies don’t really have a spot to play Desmond, as they are currently set in the outfield and at shortstop, following Trevor Story’s phenomenal rookie campaign, so they’ll be playing him at first base, or at least that’s the plan for now.
To be fair to Desmond, he’ll almost certainly be an excellent defensive first baseman, and he’ll provide new Rockies manager Bud Black with plenty of positional versatility in case of injury, trades or a deep-seated desire to be creative. It was still an odd way to plan for the future and the present at the same time, even if the lineup in 2017 will be better with Desmond in it.
To provide some depth for the infield, Colorado signed a familiar face for Black, ex-Padre Alexi Amarista. While Amarista hasn’t ever really hit at all, he can play all over the place and, given that the Rockies don’t have much in the way of depth at all in the infield, was a necessary move. Rockies fans really need to be hoping that he’s limited to seeing time as a late-inning defensive replacement, though.
On the pitching front, Colorado’s bullpen was not good in 2016, whether by traditional metrics (5.13 ERA, last in MLB) or reliever-friendly saber ones (-5.82 WPA, last in MLB; -20.69 RE24, 26th in MLB), so Colorado could have stood to make some moves to strengthen their bullpen. The first was signing Mike Dunn to a three-year, $19 million deal (with a team/vesting option for a fourth year at $6 million), which seems like a rather large investment, especially in light of his new home park. While Dunn was very good for the Marlins, his proclivity for fly balls may not play as well in that good old, thin Denver air.
The second move to shore up the bullpen was definitely more intriguing: signing Greg Holland to a somewhat complicated, incentive-heavy contract. Holland didn’t pitch last year due to his 2015 Tommy John surgery, but prior to that he was unquestionably one of the best relievers in the game. We won’t dig too much into the convoluted structure of Holland’s contract, but the meat of of it is that it’s a one-year deal with $7 million guaranteed and another $8 million on the table for certain benchmarks. That’s a reasonable bet to take on a return to form, even if velocity issues scared off other suitors.
While the Rockies have one of the best players in baseball in Nolan Arenado and an intriguing, young rotation, they’re obviously (and seemingly always) still trying to figure out how to put together a combination that will work. While these moves certainly didn’t transform the Rockies into instant contenders, and there were some moves that may not pan out in the long term, they certainly look better than they did for 2017 going into the offseason and it’s not that far-fetched to imagine them jockeying for a Wild Card spot.
After the Diamondbacks’ insane 2016-2017 offseason, GM Dave Stewart was shown the door and Mike Hazen was given the job of trying to figure out what to do with the mess he inherited. We know that the Shelby Miller trade was even worse than we anticipated at the time, that Yasmany Tomas still hasn’t panned out and that Zack Greinke deal is going to be very problematic for a very long time if he doesn’t bounce back from a down 2016.
Hazen has showed a much more measured approach in his first hot stove season, but that didn’t meant he wasn’t going to make some noise, as his first and biggest move was the trade with Mariners that sent Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis to Seattle in exchange for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte.. As previously discussed, that trade featured both sides dealing from position of relative strength to address weaker areas and made sense for everyone involved.
The only other move of note was the signing of Fernando Rodney as a potential closer. Assuming that he pitches more like he did in the first half of 2016 (which led to Miami trading for him) than he did during the latter (which led to Miami failing to pick up his approximately $4.5 million option), it could end up being a bargain, as it’s a reasonable deal (one year, $2.75 million with incentives that could bring it up to $4 million). Other than that, there’s not much to speak of. Arizona signed veteran catcher Jeff Mathis, presumably for his skills on the receiving end, and swapped minor leaguers with the Royals.
That there isn’t much else to speak of is probably for the best. The D-Backs can’t undo the moves they’ve previously made and they’ve already got a lot of money committed to players that are underperforming. At this point, the best thing to do from their perspective was probably what they did: make some small moves and hope for some regression from established players like Greinke and Miller, some growth from younger ones and some better health for A.J. Pollock. If everything goes right, they could, like the Rockies, potentially be a fringe candidate for a Wild Card spot and, if not, they may have to start thinking about trading some players to restock the depleted farm system, but the route they’ve taken this offseason looks like a fairly smart one light of the current situation.
San Diego Padres
Now, we arrive at the Padres, who are the only team in the NL West who is clearly without any intentions of making the postseason this coming year. The biggest move that they’ve made this offseason was simply locking down Wil Myers with a six-year, $83 million deal. Myers' second season in San Diego fared far better than his first, and they wisely abandoned (for the most part) playing him in the outfield.
Other than Myers, the only player on a guaranteed deal after this season is the also re-signed Yangervis Solarte (who is only signed through 2018), so buying out Myers’ arbitration years and three years of free agency seems like a smart move for the team’s future, even if it didn’t come particularly cheap. It will also help in terms of watchability in the present, as he’s the only player on the team projected to put up more than 2 fWAR next season.
The only trade of note sent catcher Derek Norris to the Nationals for pitching prospect Pedro Avila. Norris had a torrid 2016 season (.186/.255/.328 for a 56 OPS+), and his departure definitely makes sense as he will be a free agent after this season. While it would have been nice to see if he could rebound next year and provide more value come the deadline, that is an ugly line, even for a catcher, so it wasn’t necessarily a bad move to cut ties and give younger players a chance.
The rotation should be “interesting” to say the least, as, in its current incarnation, it looks like it might be spearheaded by the “top three” of Jhoulys Chacin, Trevor Cahill and Clayton Richard, who all signed one-year, approximately $1.75 million deals in San Diego. That’s not reassuring for folks who will be watching the games, but in terms of potentially accelerating the rebuild, it’ll have to do and makes sense given the lackluster starter options available this offseason. Cahill in particular has potential, as he has been excellent in relief for the Cubs over the last couple of years and could end up being a tantalizing trade target for a contending team in need of a flexible arm at the deadline.
Preller and the Friars know full well that they aren’t going to be contending and they were wise not to make any rash commitments this offseason when there are greener free agent pastures on the horizon. The moves that they made are the right kind for a rebuilding team to be making given the market right now. It’s most likely going to be rough going for the fans in 2017, but that’s by design and we’ll just have to see whether their young and interesting players like Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe develop into regulars who will be there for the next competitive San Diego team or whether Myers is on the chopping block before too long as well. It’s going to be ugly next year, but that’s what the Padres need right now if they’re going to field a competitive team again any time soon.