It's been a long, brutal slog of an offseason. While there are a multitude of reasons it's moved so slowly, some of which don't appear to be going away, we can at least take solace in the fact that the signings have picked up as of late. Regardless of the unsigned state of quite a few free agents, Spring Training is upon us, which means it’s time to take a look and declare who won or lost the offseason before actual baseball makes us look dumb.
As always, 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 see you, Marlins. We’ll start things off in the NL West, with other divisions to follow.
Los Angeles Dodgers
In a quiet offseason full of teams desiring not to spend, the Dodgers have been among the most quiet. The front office made it clear from the start that they intended to spend this offseason getting under the luxury tax, and that's what they've done.
The Dodgers' first move of the offseason was the deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Charlie Culberson and some cash to the Braves in exchange for Matt Kemp. While we're talking about some players who were among the best in the game several years ago, that's no clearly no longer the case and this trade was done to move around money so that Los Angeles could clear some faux salary cap space, presumably in preparation for next offseason's free agent class. Exciting? Absolutely not.
The other trade of note was a three-way with the Royals and White Sox. Los Angeles ended up with lefty reliever Scott Alexander and infield prospect Jake Peter. Alexander was the big get in the deal for the Dodgers, as he pitched 69 innings last season to the tune of a 2.48 ERA/3.23 FIP, and delivered an extremely impressive 73.8% ground ball rate. Alexander has five years left before free agency, and he will slot into the relief corps in the absence of fellow LHP Luis Avilan, who went to the White Sox in the deal and only has two years of team control left. More exciting than the first move? Yes. A solid move, but not exactly titillating.
The only other move other than non-roster camp invites was the signing of Chase Utley to a two-year, $2 million contract. Given that the 39-year-old Utley has produced a 96 wRC+in both of the last two seasons, it's not surprising that he wants to continue playing and that the Dodgers wanted to bring the left-handed hitter back both for his ability to spell Logan Forsythe at second and to keep providing a veteran presence in the clubhouse. Sure, it's a small deal, but we have to note it because it's also the biggest free agent signing the Dodgers have made this offseason.
While it's shocking to see the biggest spending team in baseball be this quiet, there wasn't really that much that the front office needed to do. Apart from midseason acquisitions like Yu Darvish and Tony Watson, the Dodgers didn't lose any important pieces other than Brandon Morrow. That being said, the rotation has health questions aplenty and it wouldn't hurt to add a little depth there. But they've stuck to their guns on resetting the luxury tax for the next offseason, when they'll no doubt be in the mix for a number of players, including their own Clayton Kershaw, assuming he opts out.
The Dodgers are almost exactly the same team that they were last year, which is the team that won 104 games, the most in baseball. They're "only" projected to win 93 games this year by Fangraphs, but this is almost the same team that made it to Game 7 of the World Series and, barring absolute catastrophe, the Dodgers still look like a lock to win their division and make another deep postseason run, so it's hard to be too upset that they haven't done much, even if it would have made things more exciting if they had.
On the other hand, the team the Dodgers defeated in the NLDS didn't enter the offseason quite as complete. While all of Arizona's rotation (5th in MLB by fWAR in 2017) will be back, the rest of the roster was going to require a bit of tweaking.
While he was only a mid-season acquisition, J.D. Martinez was the Diamondbacks third most valuable position player last season, despite the fact that he only played in 62 games. He was one of the best deadline acquisitions of all time, and that sort of production is going to be hard to replace. Despite rumors that Arizona was trying to make a reunion happen, the most likely scenario occurred when Martinez signed with the Red Sox and it only took a matter of hours for Arizona to announce that they had signed Jarrod Dyson.
While Dyson is certainly a step down at the plate from Martinez (to say the least), he's still been a quite valuable player during his MLB tenure. While Dyson has been a serious liability against same-handed pitching (55 wRC+) throughout his career, he's been good enough against RHPs (93 wRC+) that he's still been able to contribute positively thanks to his extreme prowess on the field and basepaths. Despite the fact that he's only averaged 302 PAs a season in his six "full" seasons since 2012, he's still been worth an average of 2.3 fWAR each season.
While signing a speedy, defense-first 33-year-old isn't without risk, the two-year, $7.5 million deal that brings him to Arizona could be one of the better values of the offseason, assuming that Dyson doesn't completely fall off a cliff. He can platoon with the right-handed and defense-last Yasmany Tomas in left and give A.J. Pollock the occasional day off and, at what Arizona is paying him, it's a perfect pairing, even if he's no replacement for Martinez.
The true Martinez replacement came one day after the Dyson signing, when Arizona acquired Steven Souza from the Rays in a three-way deal involving the Yankees. The 28-year old Souza enjoyed a breakout 2017 season, hitting .239/.351/.459 for a 120 wRC+ and playing average defense in right en route to 3.7 fWAR. For comparison's sake, Martinez (166 wRC+) may have hit much better than Souza, but Martinez's defense hurt his overall value and he was worth a nearly identical 3.8 fWAR.
The D-Backs also acquired an A-level RHP prospect but they certainly paid for the Souza portion of the trade. They sent Brandon Drury to the Yankees and LHP Anthony Banda and two PTBNL to the Rays. Drury's departure leaves Arizona with a hole at second base (Chris Owings, anyone?) and, while Banda struggled in his first call up last season, he's a hard-throwing LHP who could turn into something more. There are conflicting reports on the quality of the PTBNL prospects, which makes a complete assessment of the deal difficult. It is clear that Arizona did get immediately better with the trad and, at the least, Souza will be around until 2021, so the Diamondbacks have a bit of outfield insurance in the event that Pollock takes off after this season.
Arizona also needed to address its situation at catcher with the departure of Chris Iannetta, who caught the majority of innings and was the only catcher on their roster to get into positive fWAR territory (2.2). Enter Alex Avila, who is coming off of a strong 2017 where he was worth 2.5 fWAR over 112 games and 376 PAs and was sneakily one of last year's best hitters. On a two-year, $8.25 million contract, this is another smart deal for a team that's looking to improve incrementally.
Arizona also lost a couple of key bullpen pieces in RHPs Fernando Rodney and David Hernandez. To fill the void, their first move was to acquire Brad Boxberger from the Rays in exchange for hard-throwing A-ball pitching prospect. Boxberger has been a #AllStarCloser in the past, but has also struggled to be effective and with injuries. In the last two seasons, he's failed to get past 30 innings, but he at least had more success finding the zone in his 29.1 innings last season, and wound up with a 3.38 ERA, 3.43 FIP and 12.27 K/9. It's far from a certainty that he will return to his prior dominant, healthy form, but it's a reasonable, smart move to bolster the bullpen.
In other reasonable and smart bullpen-bolstering moves, the D-Backs also signed RHP Yoshihisa Hirano to a two-year, $6 million deal. Hirano, who will turn 34 next week, has been a closer in the NPB for the has accumulated 143 saves to go along with his 2.62 ERA, 9.4 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 lines over 271.1 innings. While there are always going to be questions about how the move from Japan to MLB will play out, it looks like another smart gamble to shore up the bullpen, especially given the cost of skyrocketing cost of relief arms (which we'll get to soon enough).
The Diamondbacks addressed most of their needs this offseason and they managed to do it in creative ways that didn't stretch their already ballooning budget (at least by their standards) too much. Every move they made improved them a little bit, and they've done enough that they are certainly in the mix for a Wild Card spot again, even if they're unlikely to catch the Dodgers.
San Francisco Giants
As was the case with the Dodgers, the Giants have been playing a rousing game of "get under the luxury tax" this offseason. Unlike the Dodgers, however, the Giants lost almost 100 games last season and, unsurprisingly, had quite a few holes to fill. They've done it a way that's certainly interesting (and could have been even more interesting given that they were finalists in both the Shohei Ohtani and the Giancarlo Stanton sweepstakes). Whether or not you agree with the moves they made is a different story.
The first splash San Francisco made this offseason was a trade with the Rays that brought franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria (and cash) to the Giants in exchange for shortstop Christian Arroyo (the prize), outfielder Denard Span (the salary offset), LHP Matt Krook and RHP Stephen Woods (the lottery tickets). The Giants needed help at third base in a very, very bad way, as Giants third basemen combined to hit .229/.284/.333 for a 64 wRC+ and -1.8 fWAR (last in MLB, unshockingly). That's including contributions from Eduardo Núñez (.308/.334/.417, 110 OPS+) who was traded before the deadline. Third base heading into 2018 was not a tire fire, it was the aftermath of the Michelin Man assaulting Daenerys Targaryen in the presence of her children.
The good news is that Longoria makes that situation quite a bit better. Last season, he hit .261/.313/.424 for a 96 wRC+. He was still solid on defense and was worth 2.5 fWAR. That's a serious step up from a Giant predicament heading into the offseason, and that doesn't even take into account the fact that Longoria hit .273/.318/.521 for a 123 wRC+ and put up 4.5 fWAR and snagged MVP votes way back in 2016. Improvement? Yes, no doubt.
The bad news is that Longoria is 32 years old and is under contract through 2023, when he will be 3 -years old. The other bad news is that he is owed scores of millions over those many years. The other, other bad news is that the Giants gave up prospects in the process. Arroyo struggled in his first taste of MLB pitching last season (and was a part of those terrible third base numbers for San Francisco), but he was a top-100 prospect for a reason, and it's not unfathomable that he figures something out and makes the Giants regret this move in the not-too-distant future. But, for now, the Giants are better.
Moving onto the next issue, if third base was a very, very big problem, the outfield as a whole wasn't much better. San Francisco outfielders combined to hit .255/.309/.375 and put up 0.8 fWAR in 2017. Shockingly enough, the now-in-Tampa Bay Denard Span was the Giants' biggest contributor last year. As with third base, the Giants made a trade with a small-market team for a veteran on the wrong side of 30, this time in the form of Andrew McCutchen. We've already covered this move in detail, but it suffices to say that there's less to raise eyebrows here than there was with the Longoria move, long-term at least, as McCutchen is only around for another season.
The other move that San Francisco made to address the situation in the outfield was signing Austin Jackson to a two-year, $6 million deal with $2.5 million of incentives based on the number of PAs he gets. Jackson is coming off a one-year pact with the Indians where he hit .318/.387/.482 for a 131 wRC+ and was worth 1.8 fWAR, although he was limited to 85 games due to injuries. He also reaped the benefits of a .385 BABIP, which makes the 31 year old's ability to repeat those sort of numbers over another full season unlikely. But it's a reasonable, short term deal that improved their god-awful outfield situation at a relatively modest cost in line with their goal to get under the luxury tax.
The final move of import that the Giants made was to sign lefty reliever Tony Watson to a two-year contract with a player option for 2020. The amount on the deal is a little confusing, but Watson will earn between $7 and $14 million over two-to-three years. The unusual structure of the deal will allow the Giants to remain under that dreaded fake cap, at least for the time being. Watson, now 32, has long been a successful southpaw reliever, but the last couple of years saw him thrust into the closer role on the Pirates after they traded away Mark Melancon, where the increased exposure to right-handed batters hurt Watson's numbers.
After Watson was traded to the Dodgers last season, and he spent more time pitching against fellow southpaws, his numbers improved again. So, while he's certainly not a LOOGY, he's a left-handed reliever who can get outs against righties, but whose peripherals have also long outperformed his stats. Regardless of any negatives, the fact that the Giants were able to structure a deal like this to land Watson in the current reliever contractual climate is a boon to a team that had some serious bullpen problems last year.
I, for one, do not want to think about the state of the Giants' situation come the next decade. They are going to have an insane amount of salary committed to players in their thirties. The farm system was already hurting and they took out a mortgage this offseason to improve. That being said, things were already looking dark and the Giants have certainly improved enough to put themselves in a position for a postseason appearance, which is not something we often say about teams that had a 64-98 record in the prior season.
A little bit of regression, a little bit of health and a little bit of their first baseman not taking baseballs to the head is all that stands between San Francisco making another run with their current core. The Giants may have just kicked the can down the road, but it's not like they were to trade away Madison Bumgarner or Buster Posey. The Longoria deal is almost certainly going to sting in the long run, but all the other moves they made seem reasonable given their goals this offseason.
The Rockies turned in a surprising season last year, winning 87 games and securing a Wild Card spot one season after losing 87 games. They lost a lot of players this offseason, who were of varying degrees of importance, including Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Holland, Matt Reynolds, Tyler Chatwood, Jonathan Lucroy and Pat Neshek. Let's see whether they've done enough to replace them.
One player not mentioned amongst all those losses above, however, is Jake McGee. Colorado signed him to a three-year deal with $27 million guaranteed. McGee struggled after coming over to the Rockies via trade in 2016 (4.73 ERA, 5.29 FIP, 7.49 K/9, 3.15 BB/9, 1.77 HR/9), but enjoyed a nice bounceback season last year (3.61 ERA, 2.93 FIP, 9.10 K/9, 2.51 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9) and was the Rocks' best reliever by fWAR (1.5) and second best by RE24 (12.84). He pitched as many innings as closer Greg Holland and actually got better results, so, assuming that McGee builds on his strong 2017, it could certainly work out.
On the same day they signed McGee to a new deal, they also signed Brian Shaw to a eerily similar 3-year, $27 million deal. Shaw might have been overshadowed by his Cleveland compatriots Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, but he's been a very effective reliever, and he's been extremely healthy. His 2017 numbers (3.52 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 8.57 K/9, 2.58 BB/9, 0.59 HR/9) were the 30-year old's best overall to date, as he managed to keep the ball in the park more effectively than ever before. GM Jeff Bridich will hope that continues to be the case in the Rocky Mountain air, but at least he induces a lot of ground balls (50.6 GB% for his career) regardless.
While McGee and Shaw certainly strengthen the bullpen, Colorado didn't have a "proven closer" earmarked after the loss of Holland, so they threw down for another three-year deal and signed Wade Davis for $52 million. The contract also included a vesting option for a fourth year which would take the value of the contract to $66 million and set a record $17.33 million AAV for a reliever. Davis was excellent last year and has been since he converted to relief in 2014 (1.45 ERA in 241.1 innings), but that is collectively an awful lot of money for relievers.
Any one of these bullpen moves by itself wouldn't necessarily raise a flag of a too-crimson shade, but the fact that Bridich committed such a large amount of money to relievers in a single offseason certainly does. If all goes according to plan, they'll have one of the best bullpens in MLB. However, we haven't talked about their moves on the position player side of things yet.
The loss of deadline addition Jonathan Lucroy will certainly hurt. Lucroy was an excellent pickup for Colorado, as he hit .310/.429/.437 (115 wRC+) after coming over for a PTBNL (who eventually, at least, made the deal slightly more palatable for Rangers fans). To replace him, they signed Iannetta away from Arizona at the cost of a $8.5 million guaranteed contract over two years (with a team option for $4.25 million in 2020). Assuming that Iannetta is able to hit the way he did in Arizona (.254/.354/.511, 114 OPS+) and not the way he did over the prior two seasons (.199/.298/.332, 76 OPS+), he will be just fine.
The problem is that Iannetta is the extent of the Rockies' offensive additions. By fWAR (13.7), Colorado's position players collectively ranked 22nd in MLB last season. They made the postseason on the strength of their pitching and they're looking to do the same thing again this year (Fangraphs is currently projecting 14.1 fWAR, which ranks 25th in MLB). After Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado, there are a whole mess of question marks, especially at first and in right.
There's plenty of room for some of their players to bounce back. Trevor Story and Ian Desmond could certainly have a better 2018. Overall, however, Colorado certainly hasn't done as much to improve as the Giants and Diamondbacks this offseason, and that could hurt their chances of returning to the postseason again next year. The bullpen they've built could be extremely dangerous in the postseason, but you have to get there first.
San Diego Padres
This offseason, the Padres signed Eric Hosmer, which we already covered and graded.
Just kidding, we're digging a little deeper than that. San Diego currently has one of the best farm systems in baseball, one that Scott Boras recently called "a volcano of hot talent lava." They have six of MLB.com's top 50 prospects and the Hosmer signing was a reflection of the team's belief in that talent. While the other moves were certainly less exciting, they were made with the goal of continuing the rebuild, so let's see how they did.
San Diego's first move of the offseason was a trade with the Yankees that brought Chase Headley back to his original team. This was a salary dump by New York, as they were playing the luxury tax game after their signing of Stanton, and Headley is owed another $13 million in 2018. They also wanted to improve at third base, given that they were a game away from the World Series. Headley was fine at third, hitting .273/.352/.406 for a 100 OPS+, but fine doesn't cut it when your aim is to win the World Series.
In exchange for doing the Yanks a financial favor, RHP Bryan Mitchell also came to the Padres in the deal. Mitchell has struggled for the Yankees in his work against MLB hitters, but he's been excellent in AAA ball. He throws hard, with his average fastball sitting at 96.2 MPH, and he has an excellent cutter, even if he hasn't figured everything out. As it currently stands in San Diego, Clayton Richard leads the rotation and there are a lot of question marks
Question marks aren't a bad thing for a rebuilding team, however. Obviously, the likelihood is that Mitchell doesn't figure it out, but he'll get a chance to try in San Diego. If he does, the Padres have him under control for another four years and all they did was send a player (Jabari Blash) with serious swing-and-miss issues away and take on some salary and a veteran player in Headley. This is kind of move a team in the Padres' position should do every time.
Immediately after that move, they sent third baseman Ryan Schimpf to the Rays in exchange for 23-year-old shortstop prospect Deion Tansel. Schimpf has been a disappointment in San Diego, after a 2017 season in which he hit .158/.284/.424 in his 53 games with the MLB club and a meager .202/.311/.475 in AAA. An example of the fly-ball revolution taken to its extreme, Schimpf failed to provide value except when he was hitting home runs. Tansel doesn't project highly, but Headley will make the club more watchable in 2018 and perhaps bring something back if there's a team looking for help at third at some point during the season.
The Padres needed a body at shortstop in 2018, so they traded for the Phillies' Freddy Galvis. Galvis is a fine defense-first shortstop, but he also only has one year of team control left. The prospect they sent to Philly, RHP Enyel De Los Santos, is currently in AA-ball, throws in the mid-90s and is projected as a middle-to-back of the rotation arm who could arrive as early as 2019. While there weren't many attractive targets on the market this offseason, with the notable exception of Zack Cozart, there also wasn't much demand (so little that Cozart is now playing third). I'm not particularly high on this move, as a rebuilding team shouldn't be giving up prospects who would slot into the top ten in most farm systems just to fill spots in the lineup.
The last trade to discuss sent second baseman Yangervis Solarte to Toronto in exchange for a 21-year old outfield prospect with power and speed in Edward Olivares and some org-filler pitching in Jared Carkuff. Apart from his 2016 season in San Diego (.286/.341/.467, 119 wRC+, 2.8 fWAR), Solarte has been, well, just fine. He's a high floor, low ceiling player, but he's also due north of $4 million this season and his options for 2019 ($5.5 million) and 2020 ($8 million) will make him even more expensive. He certainly isn't the long term solution for San Diego and they'd rather see if Carlos Asuaje can develop into a useful player, so they're taking a flyer on a young prospect. Again, fine.
They also made a two-year, $3.8 million commitment to Japanese pitcher Kazuhisa Makita, who owns a career 2.83 ERA over 921 innings. He doesn't get many strikeouts at all, but his submarine delivery is plenty fun to watch and it's another good depth move for a team that was lacking that in the bullpen. The same goes for their re-signing of RHP Craig Stammen, who pitched 80.1 innings in sixty appearances (3.14 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9) for them last season.
One other move of note was the signing of Brad Hand, one of the best relievers in the game over his past couple of years in San Diego, to a deal that buys out his remaining free agency years and gives the Padres a team option for the 2021 season. As with most of the other moves the Friars have made, this deal looks smart, whether he's around for the next contending team or moves somewhere else in a trade to further pack the prospect larder.
The Hosmer signing was certainly a curious move and I'm not high on the Galvis trade, but overall, the Padres made mostly the right kind of moves this offseason. They aren't going anywhere in 2018, but the pieces are starting to come together and they might be timed to take advantage of the potential downswing by some of the other aging teams in their division in the not-too-distant future.