Going straight from a seven-game World Series that featured a couple of the craziest games in World Series history to the signing and trading of a particularly lackluster offseason was always going to be rough, but it's off to an agonizingly slow start, even by normal standards. It's already December, and we're only just seeing the first wave of signings.
Sure, the Shohei Otani situation has muddied the waters, with basically every team attempting to put together a package enticing enough to get Otani on board for the relative pittance he's going to receive. And there's also the fact reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton is also on the chopping block with the new Derek Jeter-led ownership group looking to shed salary and part with one of the best players in baseball. With a couple of franchise-changing players available, it's understandable that things are moving a little bit slower than normal.
The reasons for the slow start to the offseason run much deeper, however, and I encourage you to read through Jeff Passan's insightful article from earlier this week on the factors that have been grinding free agency to a halt this offseason. Those reasons include the front offices attempting to wait out the players in an attempt to gain leverage, the large number of coaching changes in both leagues and more.
However, the hot stove tinders appear to have been sparked as we've seen a few deals go down in the past few days ahead of the December 10 start date for the Winter Meetings. Some of these deals might not warrant as much attention under normal circumstances, but some of them have more potential to shake things up than might initially seem.
The first (and only, as I write this) free agent signing for committed dollars this offseason is the Rangers' signing of Doug Fister to a one-year, $4 million deal ($3.5 million guaranteed for 2018 with a $500k buyout or a $4.5 million team option for 2019.) Fister is coming off of a rough season, one that started with him waiting for a deal all of last offseason only to end up with some not-so-pretty stats in a 4.88 ERA over 90.1 IP and 0.0 bWAR. His season literally ended in an absolute shellacking in his lone playoff appearance for Boston against Houston in the ALDS, where Fister could only get four outs and gave up three runs in the process.
What then is the big deal about the signing? Well, Fister's FIP for the season was 3.98, neck-and-neck with the 3.93 FIP he put up in 2014 with the Nationals, his lone season where he received Cy Young votes. Fister's velocity increased as the season wore on thanks to some mechanical changes and, while September saw him struggle again, his August numbers (3.71 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.13 K/BB) were enough to suggest that Fister might not quite be done, even if he'll turn 34 before the season starts. It's worth pointing out that, even though Fister did struggle in September and his lone postseason appearance, he was also sporting a .337 BABIP in September (compared to a career .295 BABIP), and his FIP during that month was 2.99, so there's the possibility that we're reading into small sample sizes in the admittedly small sample size of the two months since Fister's mechanics and velocity improved.
All in all, Fister is certainly not going to solve the Rangers' rotation problems. Rangers starters came in 24th in MLB by both ERA and fWAR on the season and they have to not only figure out what to do about the loss of Yu Darvish, but also Andrew Cashner and Miguel Gonzalez. Fister is just a part of the solution, but at the price the Rangers paid and with the potential upside that he has, it's a worthwhile gamble for a team in need of multiple starting pitchers.
While Fister was the first signing, and we're here to focus on the trades that have just gone down, we can't neglect to mention that the the first major-ish trade (and only major-ish one until this week) involved the Mariners. They received Ryon Healy from the A's in exchange for RHP Emilio Pagan and infield prospect Alexander Campos. We now return to your regularly scheduled recent deals, but it wouldn't be an early offseason Deal Roundup without a little Trader Jerry, after all.
The Diamondbacks made their first move to shore up their bullpen in an attempt to return to the postseason in 2018 when they traded for the Rays' Brad Boxberger. Boxberger, who will turn 31 in May, was the Rays' closer back in 2015 when he snagged an All Star appearance. While his 2016 saw him take a serious step back, he returned to form this past season at least in terms of the raw numbers (3.38 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 12.27 K/9 and 3.38 BB/9). The caveat is that he only pitched 29.1 innings, due to a flexor strain, and he has a history of injury issues, having only pitched a little over 50 innings in the last two seasons.
So, there's certainly some reason to doubt Boxberger's ability to stay on the field. In September, however, Boxberger showed that, when he's right, he can be one of the best relievers in the game. With a 0.96 ERA, 1.87 FIP, 16.39 K/9 ,1.93 BB/9 and 0 HR allowed, you can see why a team was willing to take a chance and trade for him.
The player that Arizona sent back to Tampa Bay, Curtis Taylor, is a 22-year old pitcher coming off of a solid season in A-ball who ranked 14th in the Diamondbacks' (admittedly not-that great_ farm system per MLB.com. The Rays have a large number of arbitration-eligible players who are going to be making more money and the approximate $2 million Boxberger will likely earn, combined with his injuries over the last couple years, made him first on the chopping block. While the book on Taylor's career has yet to be written, it's hard not to see much to like about Arizona's decision to make this trade.
Arizona was already in need of relievers before the offseason started, as their bullpen ranked 26th in MLB last year by fWAR (0.7), and that was before Fernando Rodney, Jorge de la Rosa and David Hernandez all hit free agency. As with the Rangers and Fister, this isn't going to solve all of the Diamondbacks' problems, but it's an admirable first step and didn't cost them too much, so it was certainly a smart deal to make.
Finally, if there is a trade that symbolizes just how much of an effect Otani is having on the market this offseason, that would be the Jim Johnson to the Angels deal. Johnson enjoyed an excellent 2016 (3.06 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 9.46 K9, 2.78 BB/9, 0.42 HR/9 over 64.2 IP) with the Braves and earned a two-year, $10 million deal back in Atlanta last offseason. That didn't work out quite as well as Atlanta had hoped, with Johnson's walks (3.97 BB/9) and home runs (1.27 HR/9) increasing and causing problems for him in 2017, en route to a 5.56 ERA/4.22 FIP. As Johnson will turn 35 and cost $5 million this season, it certainly seemed like an odd move on the part of the Angels, even if only cost them a lottery ticket prospect.
But that's before you get to the more interesting part of this trade: It also included all $1.21 million of the Braves' international bonus funds going to Anaheim. The Angels only had a little over $100k of bonus pool money prior to the trade and they are, as everyone else, doing anything they can to win the Otani lottery. They already had the possible advantage of being on the West Coast and the definite advantage of employing the best player in baseball, but now they can add a big chunk of cash to sweeten their pot.
Even if it doesn't work out on the Otani front, there are a bunch more international free agents of interest on the market as of December 5 anyway, thanks to the punishment handed down to Atlanta in extremely-complicated-international-signing-bonus-pool-gate. So even if Anaheim doesn't win the Otani lottery, they can still use some of that precious international bonus pool money they got from Atlanta to sign some of the Braves' former prospects.
That just about does it for the recent deals. See you next week when we can discuss the Dodgers' Otani signing and Stanton trade!