Finally, after a stupid-as-hell offseason, real baseball is basically here. We've got just one division left, the AL East, to take a look at 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.
New York Yankees
The Yankees were a game away from the World Series last October, so while it might seem a little ridiculous to sit around and talk about how they were actually a better team than the standings indicated, they were. They "only" won 91 games, but they had the second best run differential in MLB (+198) and underperformed their Pythagorean (-10) and BaseRuns (-11) records by the largest margin in either league. The Yankees were ostensibly already a 100-win team, before they headed into the offseason.
The Yankees also made their desire to get under the faux salary cap known. After all, you gotta reset the ol' luxury tax in advance of next year's free agent class if you're looking to spend. Given how good they were last year, and how little consequential roster turnover there was, GM Brian Cashman could have basically stood pat this offseason, maybe made a few incremental upgrades and New York still would have been a contender. As if they were ever going to do that, lol.
In one of the first moves of the offseason, the Yankees acquired Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins in exchange for Starlin Castro and not much in the way of prospects. We've already spent plenty of time on the trade, but the long and short of it is that they had the chance to grab one of the best players in the game for little more than money. They already had the almost AL MVP and second place home run hitter in Aaron Judge (52 dingers), so why not go and get the actual NL MVP and first place home run hitter (59 of 'em) in Stanton.
Stanton doesn't come without risk, because of his contract and his injury history (although there's some flukey injuries in the mix). However, if there's an American League team that knows how to deal with seemingly crippling contracts, it's the Yankees. And that's all before you get to the fact that Stanton can opt out of the contract after the 2020 season and might not even be around for the part where the contract gets ugly. The Yankees didn't give up anything of particular value to poach the reigning MVP, other than taking on salary. The structure of the deal included some potential money from Miami in the event that Stanton doesn't opt out, which helps New York in their quest to reset the luxury tax. All in all, it was a coup for the Yankees, who now look like they could fairly easily break the single season team home run record.
By the very nature of their first move, the rest of the offseason was bound to be less titillating. The next move was to ship third baseman Chase Headley back home to the Padres in what amounted to a salary dump, as Headley was owed another $13 million this season. Headley was perfectly adequate last year (273/.352/.406 for a 100 OPS+) but New York wanted more than adequate at that cost, and they gave up RHP prospect Bryan Mitchell, who didn't exactly excel in his first action against MLB hitters last year (4.68 K/9, 5.79 ERA, 4.20 FIP, 32.2 IP), in exchange for San Diego doing them a solid.
With Headley and Castro gone (as well as Todd Frazier), the Yankees needed to do something to sort out the situation at second and third as they wait for some combination of prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar to arrive. Cashman waited until late February to make his first move, which was a three-way trade with the Rays and Diamondbacks that netted the Yankees Brandon Drury. Drury's sophomore season represented a step back for him at the plate, as he hit .267/.317/.447 92 wRC+ over 135 games (versus a 102 wRC+ in 2016), but he was still a 1.2 fWAR player over 135 games and 405 PAs.
New York parted with two prospects, infielder Nick Solak and RHP Taylor Widener, who were rated fairly highly in the Yankees' farm system (8th and 14th by MLB.com, respectively), to get the deal done. While that might initially seem like a steep price to pay for Drury, it's worth noting that he's only 25 years old, with more room to develop as a hitter, and is controllable through the 2021 season. With the luxury tax looming, this was a sound move to acquire some an MLB-ready infielder who can play both second and third.
The Yanks still could have used some more of that infield depth, though, and Cashman waited until mid-March to sort it out, getting one of the best values of the offseason by doing so, when he signed Neil Walker to a one-year, $4 million deal (plus PA-based incentives). Dating back to to 2011, Walker has hit .270/.341/.436 for a 115 wRC+ and ranks 11th in fWAR among second basemen (19.6). While Walker was limited to 111 games last year thanks to hamstring issues (and 113 games the season before because of back injuries), he still hit .265/.362/.439 and was worth 2.1 fWAR.
That Walker would receive this sort of contract seemed somewhat unthinkable before the offseason started, but this hot stove season has been weird as hell. He can play at first and third, as well, and could end up in a utility role by the end of the season if the Torres and or Andujar develop as hoped. Given that they're paying him like a utility player rather than the starting-caliber player he is, that's another coup for Cashman this offseason.
The Yankees' sole move in the pitching department was to re-sign CC Sabathia to a one-year, $10 million deal. The 37-year-old is coming off of another relatively strong showing in New York, at least in terms of results. His 3.69 ERA over 148.2 IP meant that he contributed 2.8 bWAR for New York While his 4.49 FIP from last season might cause some concerns, he's outperformed his FIP for two full seasons running, thanks to a propensity for ground balls and soft contact, so there's reason to think that he'll continue to be a fairly reliable innings-eater for the Yankees.
If it's a little disappointing that they didn't do anything else, it's worth remembering that they're going to get a full season of Sonny Gray this time around, along with Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and Jordan Montgomery. They also have reinforcements on the way, with LHP Justus Sheffield (no. 48 on the Top 100 prospect list at MLB.com) and RHP Chance Adams (no. 75) both seemingly en route to receive call ups this season.
Given that they still have the platonic ideal of the "Yankees-style super bullpen" (9.2 fWAR in 2017, 1st in MLB), featuring Aroldis Chapman, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green, for the coming season, they still have the ability to shorten games and didn't worry as much about the rotation.
The Yankees already looked like they were going to be entering yet another period of prosperity heading into the offseason, but they went and outdid themselves. They nagged the reigning MVP and might have gotten one of the best values of the offseason in the mid-March free agency bargain bin. They have the core that took them a game short of the World Series and one of the best farms in MLB. I guess it's good to be a Yankees' fan again.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox, like the Yankees, also fell to the unstoppable force that was the Astros last October, just one round earlier in the ALDS. In an offseason where both those teams made significant additions, Boston was going to need to do something to keep up in the American League arms race, and it was pretty clear where they needed to do it.
Boston's offense was middle of the pack last season, with the offense combining for 17.8 fWAR (15th in MLB). Their overall hitters' 92 wRC+ (22nd) was even worse, and that WAR number was padded quite a bit by excellent defense, as they were first in MLB by both DRS (69) and UZR (26.9). The biggest problem in the Red Sox' lineup was a complete lack of power, as they ranked 28th in MLB by ISO (.149) and 27th in home runs (128), so it was up to President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski try and fill a the David Ortiz-sized hole in the lineup.
It may have taken until February, but Dombrowski finally did so when he signed J.D. Martinez to a five-year, $110 million contract with opt outs after years two, three and four and includes some medical protection for the team as well. Martinez hit .303/.376/.690 last year, which gave him a 166 wRC+, for 3rd in MLB behind Mike Trout and Aaron Judge. Since 2014, Martinez has a slashline of .300/.362/.574 for a 148 wRC+, which ties him with Bryce Harper for 4th in MLB and puts him just one digit shy of Stanton in 3rd place 1at 49 wRC+. While his WAR totals weren't quite as impressive (3.8 fWAR/4.2 bWAR), that's largely due to the fact that his outfield defense is less than stellar and that he only played in 119 games, thanks to a foot injury (which inspired the medical protection in the contract). With the move back to the AL, Martinez should be spending less time in the outfield in Boston and more at DH, which should limit his liability on both the fielding and foot-injury fronts.
Like so many other free agents this offseason, Martinez's contract fell short of pre-offseason projections. The market for one-dimensional sluggers just didn't develop and, with Arizona not able to keep pace with Boston in terms of financial commitment, Boston was able to sign Martinez for a relative pittance given his offensive production.
The only other moves worth mentioning were the re-signings of Mitch Moreland and Eduardo Núñez. Moreland returns to Boston on a two-year, $13 million contract. He's a career .252/.317/.439 (98 wRC+) hitter who has only topped 1.0 fWAR in one season of his eight-year MLB career. When the deal was made in December, well before the Martinez signing (but after the Yankees' trade for Stanton), it looked like Boston wasn't going to be able to keep up with the division rivals. After the Martinez signing, though it's easier to look at the Moreland move and say that it's fine.
The Núñez signing was for one-year, with $8 million guaranteed and provides some depth all over the field. If he hits like he did last year, in his career-best season, with a .313/.341/.460 line (112 wRC+), this deal is great. If he hits more like he has through most of his career (97 wRC+), the deal's just fine.
The rotation and bullpen are in pretty much the same shape they were last year. There are definitely some health concerns in the rotation, but we're talking about pitchers' health always and forever, and Boston's pitchers as a whole contributed 23.9 fWAR to the cause last season, good for 4th in MLB. They were never going to do much to upgrade their pitching this offseason and they didn't need to.
Boston had one glaring need this offseason and they addressed it. They look like they're primed and ready for another trip to the postseason, even if it might be as a Wild Card this time around. The Yankees appear to be ascending, while Boston's farm is starting to show some wear and tear. Graduating or trading so many excellent prospects will do that to a team, and Boston certainly still has an excellent core that will keep them in the thick of things for the time being, especially if their young position players continue to develop. Now, though, they also have a slugger who can attempt to fill Big Papi's shoes.
Toronto Blue Jays
Onto the teams that suffer the most when the Yankees and Red Sox battle it out atop the standings... The Blue Jays made it as far as the ALCS twice in 2015 and 2016, but finished 2017 with a 76-86 record. Their offense, which ranked 1st by fWAR in 2015 (35.0) and 6th in 2016 (23.7), plummeted down the standings, to 29th place in MLB (9.8).
Josh Donaldson was still excellent, but he only has one year of team control left and the trade rumors had already begun. Justin Smoak finally delivered on some of his promise with a breakout season. After that, though, things got ugly quickly, with a number of issues throughout the lineup, which we now get to address one by one, because GM Ross Atkins kept busy this offseason working on getting his team back in the postseason, rather than punting and trading away Donaldson.
The line for Jays shortstops last year wasn't pretty (.238/.289/.359, 70 wRC+, -0.5 fWAR). Troy Tulowitzki has spent far too much time on the DL for Toronto's comfort, amassing just 260 PAs last season, and he wasn't the threat he used to be when he was at the plate (.249/.300/.378, 78 wRC+). Atkins' first move this winter was to acquire Aledmys Diaz from the Cardinals in exchange for outfield prospect J.B. Woodman.
Diaz's rookie 2016 went very well (.300/.369/.510, 133 wRC+, 2.7 fWAR in 111 games) and he even picked up some Rookie of the Year votes. His 2017 (.259/.290/.392, 78 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR in 79 games) was less so and ended up back in AAA. He was playing through a hand injury, though, so there's certainly potential for improvement, even doesn't have quite as good a season as he did in the prior year.
Woodman was Toronto's second round pick in 2016 and not a huge loss on Toronto's part to get better if (or, rather, when) Tulo hits the DL. The Cardinals might very well have jumped the gun on trading Diaz and Toronto took advantage.
The Jays also went back to the Cardinals' well to fill another need this offseason when they sent right-handed reliever Dominic Leone and RHP prospect Conner Greene to St. Louis in exchange for Randal Grichuk, a 26-year old who plays solid defense all over the outfield. In 2015, Grichuk .276/.329/.548 for a 138 wRC+ over 103 games for 3.1 fWAR, but he hasn't shown that much power in the two seasons since and he has struck out quite a bit, limiting him to a 103 wRC+ in 2016 and a 94 wRC+ last season. His 1.4 fWAR last season in 122 games in 2017 would still have helped out in Toronto, as the outfield as a whole combined for 2.8 fWAR (tied for 27th in MLB).
As for those players who are headed across the border, Leone is coming off of an excellent season, with a 2.56 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 10.36 K/9, 2.94 BB/9 and 0.77 HR/9 in 70.1 innings of work (2.2 bWAR). That decreased HR/9 was instrumental in his success, and if he's able to keep it up, he could end up an important piece of the Cardinals' bullpen plans. But it's worth noting that Leone has had success before, with the Mariners in 2014, before the longball came back to bite him in the following two seasons.
Grichuk's defense alone will greatly improve the outfield situation in Toronto, which was not pleasant apart from Kevin Pillar, and they didn't stop there. They also brought in Curtis Granderson on a one-year, $5 million deal. The 37-year old had the worst season of his four years with the Mets, as he hit .212/.323/.452 for a 105 wRC+. Still, he played solid defense in right field and contributed 2.1 fWAR to his team's cause. Whether they platoon Granderson and play up to his strengths against right-handed pitching or not, he still has enough power, patience and defensive ability outside of center to make this look like a solid signing to improve the Jays' outfield.
The last major hole in Toronto's lineup last season was at second base, where the now-departed-to-free-agency Ryan Goins and others combined for -0.8 fWAR, the 2nd worst mark in MLB. They addressed their need there by trade, sending Edward Olivares, a 21-year old outfield prospect with power and speed, and Jared Carkuff, a pitcher we're not going to much write about, to San Diego for Yangervis Solarte. Solarte is a career .267/.327/.419 hitter (105 OPS+) and will be an instant improvement at the position for Toronto. While Solarte logged most of his games at second base last year, he can play all over the infield, giving the Jays more flexibility.
While the 2017 Blue Jays' rotation (4.58 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 10.1 fWAR) wasn't the hot mess that the lineup was, they still needed to sort out their fifth starter situation, so they added another former Cardinal Jaime Garcia on a one-year deal with $10 million guaranteed and a team option for 2019 for another $10 million. Garcia just had a 4.41 ERA/4.25 FIP season with 157 IP, the second year in a row that he's cracked 150 innings after our years of failing to do so. If he is able to provide even average pitching for enough innings, the deal looks great for Toronto, given the cost.
The only major bullpen addition was yet another formal Cardinal, Seung-Hwan Oh, who the Jays signed to a one-year, $2 million deal with a $2 million vesting option for 2019 and $1.5 million of incentives. Oh is coming off of a rough year in his second year facing MLB hitters, where his strikeouts dropped (2016: 11.64 K/9, 2017: 8.19), as did his groundball rate (2016: 40.0 GB%, 2017: 28.7 %), and his home runs went in the other direction (2016: 0.56 HR/9, 2017: 1.52). He went from being one of the best relievers in the game in 2016 (1.92 ERA, 2.13 FIP, 2.6 fWAR) to being replacement level last season (4.10 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 0.1 fWAR).
He was also involved in contract talks with the Rangers, but those fell apart after Oh's physical, which could be cause for further concern. But if Stephen Loftus at Fangraphs is indeed correct, and Oh is just a mechanical adjustment away from his 2016 self, this could be yet another steal for Toronto. And at what they're paying him and how high his ceiling is, it's certainly a chance worth taking.
All in all, Toronto seriously raided St. Louis's stash this offseason and definitely looks to have improved. The real question is whether they improved enough. Boston and New York look like they will likely be the toughest one-two in any division in baseball and it's certainly not clear that Toronto is going to be able to keep up. Even if they're can't, they've certainly improved, and done so at a relatively modest cost. The players that they traded for plugged major holes, come with years of control and the costs weren't steep. The players they signed were signed to reasonable, smart deals. If they end up as sellers come the trade deadline, they'll at least likely have more players in demand , which counts as a win in my book.
Tampa Bay Rays
If Toronto's front office's goal was to incrementally improve the roster wherever they could and pray for rain, the Rays had a very different, very Rays-ian goal in mind for the offseason: slash payroll at the behest of ownership, try not to get worse and pray for rain. Given the first part of that trifecta, you could expect a lot of players to be leaving Tampa Bay. You would be correct. Between the Marlins and Rays, Florida was where it was at this offseason for acquiring players.
The first deal of the offseason was relatively minor, all things considered. They sent Brad Boxberger to Arizona in exchange for RHP prospect Curtis Taylor. We already covered it, but, in sum, Boxberger is a former closer who has been dealing with injuries as of late. If he stays healthy, he's worth far more than the return Tampa got, and they were seemingly concerned about the close-to-$2 million he would have earned in the coming season.
That trade was just a taste of what was to come about a month later, though, when GM Erik Neander dealt the face of the franchise, Evan Longoria, to San Francisco. We all suspected this was coming at some point. Longoria, 32, is under contract through 2022 (with a team option for 2023), is owed almost $90 million and just had the worst season at the plate (.261/.313/.424, 96 wRC+) of his career.
The return for the Rays was shortstop Christian Arroyo, LHP Matt Krook, RHP Stephen Woods and outfielder Denard Span. The latter was included simply to offset some salary for the Giants. The pitchers are both young, low-level prospects with promise. The immediate reward is Arroyo, who is a former top-100 prospect who severely struggled in his first call up last season (.192/.244/.304, 44 wRC+, 135 PAs). He's almost certainly due for better results than that in the future, given his minor league numbers.
While it's not a massive return for Longoria, he's no longer on the most team-friendly contract in MLB. His age and contract considerations, combined with the fact that he would gain 5-and-10 rights this season that might hamper future trade prospects, made the Rays' decision for them. Should they have to make those decisions? Probably not, but that's a discussion for another day.
Next up, the Rays lost first basemen Lucas Duda and Logan Morrison to free agency, so they needed help there, which they accomplished by trading a PTBNL, who was recently revealed to be infield prospect Luis Rengifo, to the Angels for C.J. Cron. Cron is a career .262/.307/.449 (107 wRC+) coming off the worst season of his career (.248/.305/.437, 99 wRC+). Cron has, over 408 games in four years, been worth 2.2 fWAR. While the prospect return to Anaheim wasn't serious, there's likely to be a drop off in talent at first from the 2017 version of Morrison (.246/.353/.516, 130 wRC+, 3.3 fWAR). But Cron is controllable for three more years and the Rays are saving money by not signing a free agent, as ownership demands.
Tampa also made a couple of changes in the outfield that were a little more controversial in some circles. The first was sending Steven Souza to the Diamondbacks in a three-way trade with the Yankees that brought them back Nick Solak, Anthony Banda and a couple of PTBNLs from Arizona. The 28-year old Souza just delivered the best work at the plate of his career, doubling his walk rate from the prior season and posting a .239/.351/.459 slashline for a 120 wRC+ while playing average defense in right en route to 3.7 fWAR. He still had trouble laying off of fastballs and his propensity for the strikeout (29.0 K%, 10th in MLb) which certainly limits his upside, but, with another year until he reaches arbitration, it's not as if he was without value.
In terms of the return, second baseman Solak is the Yankees' 2016 second round pick currently hitting for a high average in AA-ball and expected in 2019 if all goes according to plan. LHP Banda is the most MLB-ready piece acquired by Tampa, as he pitched 25 innings for Arizona last year. While he struggled with walks en route to a 5.96 ERA, his 3.24 FIP suggests that there may be better things to come, and he still projects as a back-of-the-rotation starter. The lack of knowledge regarding the PTBNLs makes a complete assessment of the trade difficult, and it still looked a little strange for the Rays to part with Souza.
It looked doubly strange when they DFA-ed another outfielder, Corey Dickerson, to help set up a trade to Pittsburgh that brought back RHP Daniel Hudson, second base prospect Tristan Gray and cash to Tampa. Dickerson hit well in 2017 as a whole (.282/.325/.490, 120 OPS+ in 629 PAs), but he hit for 139 wRC+ in the first half and an 80 wRC+ in the second. Given that they received back a struggling veteran reliever in Hudson (2017: 4.38 ERA/4.34 FIP, 0.1 fWAR, 61.2 IP) and an unranked, 21-year old prospect in lower A-ball, this looks like another move intended to avoid paying a player who making too much money in arbitration.
But then they went and actually signed an outfielder, Carlos Gomez, for actual money (one-year, $4 million), which was about what Souza will make this year. If we disregard the Dickerson trade, and just focus on the Souza, Gomez actually compares favorably to Souza. Even though he doesn't have multiple years of control, the Rays now have a couple of prospects with more years of control, so I guess the Rays are just doing their thing and we can call those portions of the offseason a wash.
The final trade we have to discuss sent starter Jake Odorizzi to Minnesota Twins for shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios. As with the outfield trades, this one immediately raised eyebrows, even if Odorizzi is coming off the worst full season of his career. From 2015 to 2016, Odorizzi had a 3.53 ERA/3.98 FIP over 357 innings. Last season, his walks (3.8 BB/9) and home runs (1.9 K/9) rose to their highest point and his strikeouts (8.0) stayed steady. Tack on some time on the DL and closed out 2017 with a 4.14 ERA and 5.43 FIP (with a career low .227 BABIP keeping that ERA well below the FIP).
As with some of the other players to leave Florida this offseason, payroll concerns were paramount and the Twins were all too happy to take the $6.3 million Odorizzi will make in 2018 (with another year of arbitration in 2019 before he hits the market) off the Rays' hands and hope that Odorizzi is able to keep the ball down and bounce back next season. The Rays' return was fairly unimpressive, and it's hard to like this move unless the Rays know something we don't (which they might, I guess).
I don't even know what to think at this point, to be honest. There's a case to be made that the Rays really aren't much worse off for all they did this offseason. Sure, they traded away some recognizable players, shed salary and brought in prospects, but that's sort of the Rays' jam. They still look like a team that will hover around .500 and could be in the running for a Wild Card spot if things break in their favor a little bit. We're not going to get deep into the issue of whether they should have to deal with the payroll problems they do, since this seems to have always been the case and forever will be unless there's an ownership change. If we were grading this offseason purely on the Rays-scale, it would probably be something like a B+, but we're not.
While the Orioles started the offseason off dangling Manny Machado, no one was willing to deliver a package that moved them to move him. So, as it stands, they've got one more year of Machado and, well, a lot of problems to fix if they're going to make one last run at the postseason with him on their roster. After a 75-87 season in which quite a few things went wrong, was there anything they can even do to make things right?
The reason that (now-shortstop) Machado is still with Baltimore is that GM Dan Duquette's asking price was a pair of young, MLB-ready, controllable starters. That's a hefty price to pay for one-year of Machado, given that he's going to make $16 million this year, even if he is one of the best players in the game. Of course, there's a reason the Orioles were shooting for the moon: They really, really could use some starting pitching.
Baltimore's starters combined for the worst ERA in MLB (5.70), the third worst FIP (5.52), the fourth worst walk rate (3.74 BB/9) and the third worst dinger rate (1.69 HR/9). Both Wade Miley (5.61 ERA, 5.27 FIP, 157.1 IP) and Ubaldo Jimenez (7.20 ERA, 6.01 FIP, 125 IP) are gone, which should certainly help. But addition by subtraction only works if you either already have, or you go out and get, a different pitcher who will outperform the very bad pitcher you were previously running out every fifth day.
After waiting until February (probably in the hopes that he could move Machado), the first move Duquette made to improve the rotation was bringing in Andrew Cashner on a two-year, $16 million deal that comes with incentives and vesting options for a third year at $10 million. As long as you only look at the results from last year, Cashner was very, very good. His 3.40 ERA came in 15th in MLB, his 0.81 HR/9 was 3rd and his 4.3 bWAR was 16th. That's all very good, but it does fail to account for the fact that his FIP was 4.61, and thus his fWAR was a much more pedestrian 1.9 (since Fangraphs' WAR flavor uses FIP in determining pitcher WAR). He struck out only 4.64 batters per nine, the second-to-worst rate among qualified starters. He walked 3.46 per nine, the eight worst rate.
Now, Cashner is not getting paid for the season that he just had and there's a reason the Rangers declined to extend a qualifying offer. He's getting paid like a back-of-the rotation starter that he likely is, rather than for his results in 2017. Whether or not Cashner comes close to repeating his performance will likely have a lot to say in whether the Orioles are able to stay in the mix for the Wild Card, which will likely have a lot to say in whether Cashner and others are even Baltimore at the end of the season, but it's a reasonable buy-low signing by a GM who loves to make them, and it's just fine.
Not long after signing Cashner, Baltimore put the next piece in their rotation to accompany Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman when they re-signed Chris Tillman to a one-year, $3 million deal, with incentives that can take it as high as $10 million. Tillman was part of Baltimore's pitching problems last season, as he threw 93.0 innings with his worst BB/9 (4.94) since 2010 and the worst HR/9 (2.32) of his career, closing out the year with a ghastly 7.84 ERA, 6.93 FIP and -1.0 fWAR.
Tillman started the season on the DL with shoulder issues and he clearly never fully recovered. From 2012 to 2014, he was a perfectly adequate middle-of-the rotation starter, with a 3.42 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 118 ERA+ and 8.1 bWAR. Then his FIP caught up to his ERA for a more lackluster 2015 and then, in 2016, he did it again, with a 3.77 ERA and 4.23 FIP. If he's able to return to his former form, then the Orioles have themselves a steal. If not, they're just setting themselves up for more pain. If he weren't a depth piece, I would like the deal, but relying on Tillman, even as your fifth starter might very well be a dangerous game.
Rounding out Baltimore's rotation moves (and basically their whole offseason) was the signing of Alex Cobb just last week to a four-year, $57 million deal. While I certainly applaud Cobb for getting the kind of deal expected for him going into the offseason, it's a bit odd that he was able to pull it off. Given some of the other the deals we've seen this offseason, like say the one-year, $12 million deal that went to (fairly comparable) pitcher Lance Lynn, something seems a little off on the Orioles' side of the equation. Not that I don't want the players to get paid fair market value for their services (I most certainly do), but, in the context of "grading" moves front offices made, it just seems a bit bizarre.
To be fair, there's a reason we were all expecting Cobb to procure a four-year contract this offseason, as he was one of the best starting options available. From 2011 to 2014, he pitched almost 500 innings with a 3.21 ERA/3.43 FIP/118 ERA+. Then he missed all of 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and, after a very short (22 innings), rough return in 2016, appeared to have regained much of his former abilities in 2017 (3.66 ERA, 4.16 FIP, 113 ERA+, 179.1 IP). While his strikeouts are down, he was still very effective and gives the O's a pitcher with the upside to slot in closer to the top of the rotation than the bottom.
Further adding to the weirdness of the signing is Baltimore's track record of not signing free agent pitchers to long-term deals. Cobb's signing is the most expensive free agent pitcher contract that they've ever handed out, which, again, seems strange given his injury history and Baltimore's reputation for creating issues during player's physicals. But the only other long-term deal the Orioles currently have is Chris Davis, so they can certainly afford the payroll.
That's basically their offseason. They set out to acquire some starting pitchers after Bundy and Gausman who won't be a flaming hot mess and they definitely almost certainly acquired one that fits the bill. The Orioles are opting not to rebuild yet and, given that, you can certainly make an argument for the way they proceeded this offseason. They basically need everything to go right, though, in a division where the top is extremely heavy with the Yankees and Red Sox, the Blue Jays looking stronger and the Rays screwing around a bunch and looking to screw things up for them, too. It could work, but that doesn't mean it will.