Spring training is upon us and almost all the free agents have finally found homes. After so much waiting, we can finally get down to our annual tradition of declaring who won and lost the offseason. 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’re going to spend some quality time with them as well. We’re starting things off in the NL West, with the other divisions to follow.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers finished their 2018 season with their sixth straight division title and a second consecutive World Series appearance. The big question going into the offseason was whether President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman would go big with a premier free agent this offseason. After all, last offseason, all of the talk was that the Dodgers were trying to reset the luxury tax, presumably so they could get back to being the new Yankees.
Friedman’s first major move of the offseason was to ship out Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, Kyle Farmer, and cash to the Reds in exchange for young prospects Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray and bad pitcher Homer Bailey. We already covered this in detail, but this was more about Los Angeles clearing out salary, presumably in anticipation of further moves and furthering the narrative that a Bryce Harper deal was in the works.
Although the Harper hearsay was just getting started, the first major signing of the offseason came the same day as the Puig trade, when the Dodgers signed right-handed reliever and SoCal native Joe Kelly to a three-year, $25 million deal. Kelly’s numbers last offseason were good, if not great (9.32 K/9, 4.39 BB/9, 0.55 HR/9, 4.39 ERA, 3.57 FIP), thanks mainly to control issues. Perhaps Friedman and company were wooed by their first-hand experience with Kelly in the World Series, where he recorded six shutout innings in five appearances. At about $8 million a year, the contract is fairly standard for a pitcher of his pedigree, and the Dodgers, like every other team in baseball, need reliable relief arms.
One of the biggest losses that the Dodgers needed to address this offseason was catcher Yasmani Grandal hitting free agency. Given his struggles in the postseason last year, it wasn’t entirely surprising that they opted to let him walk as a free agent to the Brewers, but they were going to need to figure out a replacement for him. Despite the rumor mill cranking out plenty of JT Realmuto material, the Dodgers instead traded two prospects, infielder Ronny Brito (who’s aways away) and RHP Andrew Sopko (who’s could be filling in for depth soon), to the Blue Jays for the 36-year-old backstop Russell Martin. Martin just had the worst season of his long career, appearing in only 90 games and hitting .194/.338/.325 for a 91 wRC+ and 1.3 bWAR/0.6 fWAR.
Martin probably won’t hit below the Mendoza line again, and he’s still drawing walks at a respectable pace, but the decrease in power and the injuries are certainly going to limit his value, even if he’s still a sold defender. Sure, he’ll be splitting time with Austin Barnes, but it still leaves me wondering why the Dodgers cut ties with Grandal (who despite those small-season postseason struggles was still a 3.3 bWAR/3.6 fWAR player last season), and was signed to a one-year, $18.25 million deal by the Brewers. The fact that the Dodgers also got a whole lot of money in the deal probably had something to do with it...
The final major signing of the offseason was a bit of a surprise, given any Harper-related hopes, as Los Angeles signed former Diamondback center fielder A.J. Pollock to a four-year, $55 million deal. With the exception of the two years from 2014 to 2015 (.311/.363/.498), Pollock hasn’t really hit like the superstar we all thought he might bloom into. He also missed a lot of time in in that 2014 season and has averaged only 79 games in the past three.
Now, most of Pollock’s injuries have been fractures form sliding into bases and whatnot, so they’re not necessarily indicators of ones to come. But it’s still a little troubling and it’s worth noting that a certain outfielder they traded away has actually been more valuable over the past three seasons (Puig: 7.7 bWAR, Pollock: 6.0). The ceiling is clearly high with Pollock, given his 7.2 bWAR/6.8 fWAR 2015, but signing him effectively closed the door on the Dodger’s landing Harper (although they were still in it until the end, just on a short-term, high AAV deal that wasn’t going to get the job done).
On the pitching front, although they didn’t sign any starters, that doesn’t mean they didn’t do anything of note aside from trading away Wood. While Clayton Kershaw had arguably the worst season (2.73 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 8.65 K/9, 1.62 BB/9, 0.95 HR/9) since his rookie year, that was due, at least in part to the fact that he was limited to only 161 innings. He was still successful enough to opt out of the two years and $65 million remaining on his contract and the Dodgers re-signed him on a three-year, $93 million deal. The bad news is that Kershaw is already sidelined with a shoulder injury and isn’t throwing off the mound yet during spring training. L.A. also brought back Hyun-Jin Ryu for another year for $17.9 million via a qualifying offer.
They also signed David Freese to a one-year, $4.5 million deal, which is a perfectly reasonable price to pay for someone to back up Justin Turner (given his injuries over the last couple seasons) and the fact that the 35-year-old Freese just had his best season at the plate (.296/.359/.471) since 2012. And we’d be remiss not to note that shortstop Corey Seager is set to return extremely soon, making it a non-issue that they let mid-season acquisition Manny Machado leave for the next team on our list. The return of a healthy Seager alone should work wonders for L.A.’s lineup.
Despite the additions that the Dodgers made this offseason, it’s difficult to say that they really improved, given their losses from free agency and trades. Like last offseason, this is another offseason gone where the Dodgers didn’t really do much, apart from the Pollock signing. All that being said, though, they’ve still got the majority of their core (plus some new prospects), and they’re still favorites to win the division and are arguably the best team in the National League, even if they’re not the juggernaut they could have been.
After the Dodgers, though, the whole division is riddled with question marks. The Rockies made their first Division Series since 2009 last year (and back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in franchise history), before being swept by the Brewers. The biggest move they made towards attempting to build on their recent successes this offseason was neither a trade nor a signing, but an extension.
Nolan Arenado hasn’t just been the Rockies’ most valuable player since his debut in 2013 with 33.1 bWAR, he’s been the fifth most valuable in MLB by that stat, behind only Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt and Mookie Betts (he comes in 11th since 2014 by fWAR, for the record). His career slashline .291/.346/.539 (118 wRC+/121 OPS+) is certainly boosted by his home park, as he’s been a much better hitter at altitude, but he’s also improved every single year by wRC+ and that stat neutralizes park effects. He’s also an absolute defensive wunderkind, as evidenced by both the eye test and the stats one (in case you don’t want to click on the link, Arenado is already third place all time in DRS for third basemen).
This was Arenado’s walk year, and Colorado went ahead and put any questions about his future behind them with an eight-year, $260 million contract (that pays him his already agreed upon $26 million this year and extends him for seven years at the cost of $234 million). It’s a huge contract, but one for an excellent player who is the cornerstone of the franchise, and it was the cornerstone move of their offseason.
But, while extending Arenado was an important part of making plans for the future, he didn’t actually improve the team for 2019. While Colorado made the postseason last year, it wasn’t on the strength of their offense as a whole. The 87 wRC+ for the team as a whole, which is (again) park-neutral, was tied with the Orioles for the 26th worst in MLB. They certainly needed to add some offense if they’re going to have any hopes of making the postseason again. Enter the Rockies’ only free agent signing of the winter: Daniel Murphy on a two-tear, $24 million deal.
First base was an absolute black hole of suck for Colorado last year, with Ian Desmond and company combining for -1.8 fWAR that was the second worst in MLB. While Murphy has primarily played second during his time in the majors, his defense has been declining there and he’s always been an overall better defensive first basemen, which is where he’ll be spending the next couple of years in Denver. He should be an instant improvement defensively there, given that groups negative performance at the easiest defensive position on the field, but Murphy isn’t coming to Colorado for his defense.
From 2016 to 2017, Murphy hit .334/.387/.569 for a 145 wRC+ that was the ninth best in baseball, sandwiched between Kris Bryant and Giancarlo Stanton. After his 2018 (.299/.336/.454, 110 wRC+), there might be some reasons for concern, give the fact that Murphy will turn 34 right after season starts and his power seems to be dropping. But you know what will help with that? Moving to Coors Field. Even if Murphy were to hit for around a 110 wRC+ again in 2019, that would still be quite an improvement over last year’s 69 wRC+ from Colorado first basemen.
Murphy alone isn’t going to solve the problem. DJ LeMahieu also hit free agency and left for New York and, even if he was more valuable defensively, they’re still going to need someone to play his position. Moving Desmond back to the outfield most likely isn’t going to bring back his bat. But they at least did something to address their biggest need.
But that’s it for the major moves of the offseason. If the Rockies young starters, led by German Marquez (4.5 fWAR) and Kyle Freeland (4.2 fWAR), truly have figured out how to pitch at altitude and can repeat or build on what they did last year, then the Rockies have another chance at yet another Wild Card Game. Retaining a current player doesn’t make for the sexiest of offseason moves, but it was important for Colorado to do so if they’re going to build on their recent success, so that alone earns them solid marks for the offseason.
San Diego Padres
The Arenado extension was big news in the division, but not the biggest. That honor falls to the Padres, who surprisingly are now in possession of one Manny Machado on a ten-year, $300 million contract. It wasn’t too long ago that I wrote a lot of words about it, and about how Machado is a very special sort of player and how he pushes up the potential for the Padres to field a competitive team up remarkably. All that remains relevant, so we’ll look now at how the acquisition fits into the bigger picture of San Diego’s offseason moves and future.
The Padres had no shortage of problems all over the field last year. Their offense as a whole ranked 28th in all of MLB by both wRC+ (84) and fWAR (7.8). Manny Machado alone could feasibly double the production of the offense, which is both a testament to how good Machado is and how awful the Padres were last year. But a large portion of the Padres’ ability to field a competitive team in the coming years depends on the development of young players who have already arrived and the prospects in their top-rated farm system. So the moves they make should reflect that.
The other “important” position player signing this offseason (albeit slightly less so than Machado) was Ian Kinsler on a two-year, $8 million deal. At 36 years old, Kinsler’s days of getting MVP votes are likely behind him, but he’s remained relatively productive over the last couple of seasons, averaging about 2.4 fWAR. If San Diego gets their way, he’ll hopefully be acting in more of a mentor role soon anyway and just filling in while Luis Urias, a consensus top-25 prospect who got his first call up in September, refines his approach at the plate. At a modest cost, he’s certainly an improvement over the second baseman who got the majority of the PAs in San Diego last year, Jose Pirela (.249/.300/.345, 78 wRC+, -0.8 fWAR).
While we can’t know what will happen just yet (especially since Urias is currently dealing with hamstring issues after a strong start in spring training), the best case scenario for San Diego is that Urias will fill in at shortstop until top-three consensus prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. can get called up later in spring after the Padres have held out for another year of service time. It’s not unimaginable that this is one of the best infields in baseball by time the year is over. There are lots of ifs here, but Kinsler at least gives them a chance to make sure they take their time in development of the youngins (and ensure those extra years of arbitration).
The outfield projects as middle-of-the-pack yet again, and backstop will probably be so as well, unless until top catching prospect Francisco Mejia arrives. But it wasn’t just the offense that was problematic for San Diego last year, as the pitching was pretty awful, too, as you’d expect from a team that lost almost a hundred games. Padres starters collectively had a 5.09 ERA/4.71 FIP and 4.0 fWAR (28th in MLB).
The good news is that they have a mess of prospects hoarded on that front, too. They have a few right-handers appearing on all the top 100 lists (Chris Paddack, Luis Patino and Michel Baez) and even more southpaws (MacKenzie Gore, Adrian Morejon, Logan Allen and Ryan Weathers). While only Paddack and Allen are expected to arrive this year, that’s a whole lot of pitchers waiting in the wings.
The bad news is that we all know the story about pitching prospects. But GM A.J. Preller seems more or less content to see what happens, because the only starting pitcher signing of the offseason was a two-year, $15.5 million deal to Garrett Richards. Richards is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and not expected back until the end of the year at the earliest, and he’s dealt with health issues throughout his career. When healthy, though, he’s been effective, as evidenced by his career 3.54 ERA/3.62 FIP. This was clearly more a move for next year, and yet another gamble made with the assumption that some of these prospects are going to pan out.
The bullpen was one of the few bright spots in San Diego last year, as it was one of the best in the baseball, both before and after they traded Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. Still, you can always use more relief arms, and the low-key deals to Adam Warren and Aaron Loup provide them.
It’s still too early to bet big on San Diego, as there’s a lot hinging on the development of both position players and pitchers for this all to work out. Maybe Machado ends up somewhere else in a Stanton-style trade in a few years, but you can’t blame the Padres for grabbing arguably the best player available when all it cost was money and they have a plethora of prospects so close to the majors.
Where the Dodgers already have their franchise cornerstones, the Rockies reupped theirs and the Padres signed one, the Diamondbacks spent their offseason going in a different direction. We knew this was going to be a tough offseason in Arizona, but it was made abundantly clear just how rough it would be relatively early in the offseason, when GM Mike Hazen shipped Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis for prospects.
Goldschmidt is a perennial MVP candidate, arguably the best hitter in the NL since his first full year in 2012 and certainly the best position player in the franchise’s history, so Hazen’s decision to trade him away hurts, even if this is Goldschmidt’s walk year. In exchange for a year of Goldy’s services, Arizona received a majors-ready, change-of-scenery candidate in pitcher Luke Weaver, who had a strong 2017 (3.88 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 10.74, 2.54 BB/9, 1.04 HR/9) but took a step back last year (4.95 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 7.99 K/9, 3.56 BB/9, 1.25 HR/9) and is controllable through the 2023 season. They also received a majors-ready, as-yet-unproven-at-the-plate catcher in Carson Kelly, who has hit only .154/.227/.188 in 131 PAs and has received so few because apparently Yadier Molina is going to play until the end of time. Arizona also netted an infield prospect in Andy Young, as well as a competitive balance draft pick.
While two of those players will hopefully fill holes for Arizona immediately, the loss of Goldschmidt still stings. However, it’s not as if the Goldschmidt trade happened in a vacuum, though, as their other most valuable players, A.J. Pollock and Patrick Corbin, both hit free agency this winter. We already talked about Pollock’s departure to the Dodgers, and Corbin signed in Washington. The Diamondbacks path to the postseason was a perilous one, so it probably made sense to trade Goldschmidt now, assuming they weren’t going to attempt to contend one last time before he left or to re-sign him, that is. The fact that they didn’t even seem to make a good faith attempt to do so, given his expiring extremely team-friendly contract and his history with the franchise is certainly disappointing, though.
In terms of other moves, the Diamondbacks re-signed midseason acquisition Eduardo Escobar to a three-year, $21 million deal, presumably to play third base. The 30-year-old is coming off his best season at the plate, where he hit .272/.334/.489 (118 OPS+), but, from 2011 to 2017, he only hit 253/.301/.397 (89 OPS+). If last year was the new Escobar, then this deal is a steal, but Escobar’s power drops back to the prior levels, he’s not going to provide much value at the hot corner. While he can play shortstop and second base as well, his defense there isn’t exactly stellar. His signing moves Jake Lamb over to first base to take over for Goldschmidt, which, well, isn’t quite an adequate replacement.
They also signed Wilmer Flores to a one-year, $4.25 million deal (with an option for 2020). Flores has matured as a hitter over the past three seasons (.268/.315/.456, 109 OPS+) and he can play all over the infield, but his defense leaves something to be desired by most metrics. Still, it’s a reasonable amount of money to spend to give Arizona more flexibility in arranging their infield situation.
The biggest move in the bullpen was signing Greg Holland to a one-year deal that guarantees him $3.25 million and offers $3.5 million of incentives. While Holland hasn’t been the lights out reliever he was earlier in his career over the past few seasons, the low amount of committed money makes him a reasonable bounceback candidate and the Diamondbacks will be happy to shell out those incentives if he performs well enough to earn them, and he might end up an enticing trade chip come midseason.
The Diamondbacks had some tough choices to make this offseason, which muddies the waters in terms of assigning them a grade. I, for one, am certainly not expecting them to stay in the mix into September as they did last year, and there’s really no saying where they go from here. If they weren’t going to re-sign Goldschmidt, then they were probably right to trade him for some pieces that can help fill needs immediately, but their outlook doesn’t look particularly promising in the near future and this offseason didn’t really do too much other than make sure they don’t have too much in the way of long term, expensive financial commitments. They look like they’re going to be stuck in baseball’s middle, but they’ve still got enough quality players to keep them from embarrassing themselves. So I guess we’ll just put them right in the middle.
San Francisco Giants
If figuring out how to grade the Diamondbacks’ offseason was difficult, the same goes for the Giants. After their doubling down on past-their-prime franchise cornerstones gambit didn’t work out last year, San Francisco found itself with its farm system in even rougher shape than it was last offseason. All the players from their 2010 to 2014 run are another year older, and their contracts make them either unmovable or unlikely to fetch anything of value in return. So what should we make of an offseason where perhaps the biggest news is a front office signing?
First off, that signing was of the utmost importance for the team’s future. After firing GM Bobby Evans in the final week of the season, the question of who was going to take reins and attempt to lead San Francisco out of the corner into which they’ve backed themselves was perhaps the most important move of the Giant’s offseason (short of signing Harper, for better or worse). So it was the best kind of news possible that the Giants are bringing in Farhan Zaidi, who is much respected throughout the industry for his work as GM with the Dodgers during their current reign over the division and, before that, with Billy Beane and the Moneyball A’s, as their new President of Baseball Operations.
The Giants have a tough road ahead of them, but Zaidi is as good a bet as any to help them navigate it. That being said, let’s look at what he did in his first offseason behind the helm.
The Giants' biggest financial commitment this offseason was a one-year, $7 million deal (plus incentives and an option for 2020) with Derek Holland, who was quite good for the Giants last year (3.57 ERA, 3.87 FIP, 2.0 fWAR) after a truly abysmal 2017 (6.20 ERA, 6.45 FIP, -1.0 fWAR). In an offseason where Lance Lynn got three years and $30 million, that seems like a pretty savvy buy-low move to fill out a rotation.
Zaidi also addressed the rotation was signing Drew Pomeranz to a one-year, $1.5 million deal. While the oft-injured Pomeranz struggled last year (6.08 ERA, 5.43 FIP, -0.3 fWAR), he’s only one year away from back-to-back seasons of over 170 IPs with identical 3.32 ERAs. Again, at that cost point, it’s another reasonable move to provide rotation depth. Also, from an entertainment standpoint, you have to appreciate the signing of switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, even if the results are iffy.
After that, the Giants basically just made so, so, so many minor league signings, headlined by Gerardo Parra, Yangervis Solarte and Cameron Maybin, but we won’t really know how these moves play out until after spring training is behind us and the roster is more settled.
Even if the Giants get maximum production out of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik (plus a potential platoonmate in, say, Yangervis Solarte), Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria, the outfield and rotation are going to limit their ability to field a competitive team next season. But there isn’t really much they can do at this point, given their financial commitments, so it’s probably best that their offseason was all about hiring the creative, analytically-minded Zaidi to guide them through the darkness to come, starting with some low-key signings that make sense.