Zona needed a new closer that bad?
Chicago does well in Addison Reed deal.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Chicago White Sox get to accomplish several things at once with the trade of reliever Addison Reed to the Arizona Diamondbacks for third baseman Matt Davidson -- they fill a chronic hole at third, which also happens to be a position of scarcity across the minors right now, with a player who gives them six years of control, and in turn they convert their closer into something valuable before he himself gets expensive through the arbitration process.
Davidson has ranked in my top 100 prospects in each of the last three years, all between 86th (2011) and 75th (2013), and will likely appear there one more time before graduating from the list in 2014. He's a polished hitter for his age, turning 23 in March, with sound plate discipline and a smooth right-handed swing with good hip rotation for at least average power. He doesn't boast great bat speed, and his legs are on the heavy side, so it's taken a lot of work (much of it with former Arizona coach Matt Williams) to get Davidson to the point where he's playable at third, but I think he'll end up right around average there on defense. That plus mid-.300 OBPs and 20 or so homers a year will make for a very good regular at a position where the White Sox haven't had that in ages.
The Diamondbacks continue to trade away assets based not on their market values but on their own internal opinions of what those players are. Just because you don't think Justin Upton is a superstar, or Tyler Skaggs is a future mid-rotation starter, or Matt Davidson could become a regular doesn't mean that the other 29 teams share your view. The best front offices trade players for the most they can get on the market, not for what they believe is a fair return.
Addison Reed is a good reliever, a Proven Closer" who misses a lot of bats thanks to a fastball that went from solid-average when he worked as a starter to 95-99 mph when he moved to short relief and could air it out on every pitch. He's fastball-heavy and almost entirely works as a fastball/slider guy, giving up a lot of fly balls (bad in Chicago, worse in Arizona), and worth under 2 WAR even in a season where he worked an un-closer like 71 innings. That's less than you'll get from even a slightly below-average regular at third base (a reasonable, if slightly pessimistic, forecast for Davidson), and doesn't consider the part about Reed getting massively overpaid after 2014, when he'll likely take more than 100 career saves into the arbitration process and let Jerome Holtzman's Folly continue to do its damage to the sport.
Davidson was a surplus part for Arizona after the acquisiton of Mark Trumbo, whom the Snakes will try in left field, pushing Martin Prado to third and Davidson off the team. The White Sox can replace Reed as they have plenty of power arms -- Nate Jones would be one potential candidate, as would Daniel Webb, but they could also convert a starter like Andre Rienzo or Felipe Paulino to the bullpen, or even try to recreate Reed in the minors by moving someone like Chris Beck (who gets ground balls but can't miss bats as a starter) or Scott Snodgress (similar story, but left-handed) to short relief.
They have options, starting with Jones, but more importantly, GM Rick Hahn seems to recognize that the closer role itself might be overrated, and that you'd rather have a 150-game starter at third than a 70-inning closer in the ninth.
Quick thoughts on two Pittsburgh moves.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Pittsburgh Pirates made a pair of smaller moves on Wednesday, one great, one ... a little less so.
Signing Charlie Morton to a three-year, $21 million extension that buys out two of his free agent years at a small discount to market makes a ton of sense for a team that ordinarily can't play in the deep end of the free agent pitching pool. Morton had his best season to date in 2013, coming back from Tommy John surgery to throw more strikes than ever while still getting ground balls, leading the league with a ground ball rate of 62.9 percent (min. 100 IP).
He's probably a $10-12 million per year starter in free agency if healthy, but given his injury history I don't blame him for taking the security.
Signing Edinson Volquez, who posted a 5.71 ERA in 2013, led the National League in runs allowed, finished third in the NL in walks allowed, and didn't garner any Rookie of the Year votes, to a major-league contract for $5 million isn't such a great use of the savings.
Mike Trout and the $400 million question.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
During the winter meetings last week, general managers rotated through the ESPN workroom to answer thematic questions. Their responses are used going into and coming out of commercials during "Baseball Tonight," and one of the questions posed was: Who is the best player in the game?
I was unable to eavesdrop on all the answers given to Jennifer Chafitz, the producer in charge of that project, but the GMs I did hear stepped around that question -- maybe out of respect for their own players, and maybe to honor the general MLB rule that you shouldn't speak about another team's player.
If you gave the GMs truth serum, their answer would be unanimous, or almost unanimous, because the vast majority of executives view Mike Trout as the best player in the game -- and not by a small margin.
He is 22 years old as he wakes up today, at the outset of his career, and over the past two seasons, he has reached base 564 times. How does that stack up? Zachary Jones of ESPN Research dug this out for me:
Most times on base 2012-2013
Mike Trout: 564
Miguel Cabrera: 562
Shin-Soo Choo: 556
Prince Fielder: 542
Andrew McCutchen: 541
Joey Votto: 541
And here is how Trout stacks up in a few other key stats over the past two seasons.
Runs: First (238)
Extra-base hits: Sixth (140)
Stolen bases: Second (82)
WAR: First (20.1)
As you'll note, the stats mentioned above are all counting stats, and Trout's standing is all the more impressive when you consider that he didn't get called up until four weeks into the 2012 season. In terms of WAR, the No. 2 player is Robinson Cano, a full 4 WAR (16.1) behind Trout.
And in the divisional era (since 1969), just two players have had a higher two-year WAR than Trout.
Barry Bonds: 23.7 (2001-02)
Barry Bonds: 21.0 (2002-03)
Joe Morgan: 20.6 (1975-76)
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that Trout is fast approaching that time when he will be in position to wreck the Angels in arbitration, setting new records, given that his case argument will be: He is doing stuff that no player in the history of baseball has ever done before.
The Angels have three distinct paths to take with Trout:
1. They could trade him -- but let's dismiss that, because owner Arte Moreno is a smart guy and can draw upon the 1919 Red Sox's decision to swap Babe Ruth as an example of what not to do with an all-time great talent.
2. They go year to year with him on his contract decision, protecting themselves against the possibility that he gets hurt or regresses -- but also risking the very real chance that his arbitration cases will net $15 million to $30 million or more before he reaches free agency and sets up the craziest bidding war in the history of free agency. (For the record, he will be eligible for arbitation for the first time next winter.)
3. They could sign him to a long-term deal.
If the Angels go this route, of course, they can assume that signing him will cost a lot more than the $180 million that Moreno spent to buy the team a decade ago.
I asked a long-time agent who does not represent Trout what he might ask for in a negotiation for a multiyear deal, and he paused for a few moments, like someone savoring a good piece of steak.
"Why not do something that's never been done before?" he asked rhetorically.
What do you mean?
"Twelve years, $400 million."
No player has ever signed a contract guaranteeing $300 million. If what the agent suggests actually happened, Trout would simply skip over the hundreds-of-millions figure that starts with a "3" and just go right to the "4."
It seems insane. But it also seems possible, given that all of the usual negotiating rules for agents don't apply to Trout.
Sometimes, a team will give a young player a long-term deal gambling that they will continue to develop into a high-level player. This is what happened when the Rays signed Evan Longoria and what the Rockies did with Troy Tulowitzki.
But Trout alters that equation because he already is the best player in the game. He already is doing things that no other player has ever done. He has been in the big leagues only two years and 70 days, and has yet to accrue enough service time to qualify for arbitration -- but once he does that, he's in line to be paid over the top of any scale.
There's really no reason for Trout's agent, Craig Landis, to allow the Angels to buy out one or two of the free-agent seasons given that Trout might be making $15 million or more by the 2015 season, through arbitration. Trout really is in position to go one of two routes:
1. He could go through his arbitration year to year, setting records, and then become a free agent at age 26. If healthy -- and the chance of injury is his primary risk -- he may well wreck Alex Rodriguez's record for a contract of $275 million.
2. He could ask the Angels for the type of record-setting, $400 million-ish deal to sign now. In other words, something that has never been done before.
He is in a position with an absurd amount of leverage, in position to make an absurd amount of money. He figures to become the first player in history to sign a deal for more than $30 million annually.
The Angels have to keep that in mind as they plan out their future, and prepare budgets that are already becoming cramped under the confines of the $189 million luxury tax threshold, because of the forthcoming obligations to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, this is what they already have on the books going into seasons beyond 2014:
2015: $117 million
2016: $112 million
2017: $58.4 million
All of that before they pay Trout -- who is seemingly destined to become the highest-paid player ever -- a single dime.
Everything that the Angels do should be informed by the reality that Trout will be making $30-plus million a year in the not-too-distant future. They need to start carving out that room ASAP. Yes, Matt Garza would make a lot of sense for them in 2014, to augment a rotation that should already be improved by the addition of Hector Santiago and (perhaps) Tyler Skaggs.
But if signing Garza requires a long-term, big-money deal, the Angels might be better suited taking somebody else on a shorter, cheaper deal, like a Bronson Arroyo.
One executive mused last year that the best thing about working for the Angels would be knowing that you could watch Trout every day in his career. There will be a day soon that Moreno and the Angels will be paying handsomely for that privilege.
Around the league
• John Axford is on the verge of signing with the Cleveland Indians; it appears he will be their closer, writes Paul Hoynes.
With Axford coming off the board for Cleveland, Grant Balfour could land with the Orioles, Joaquin Benoit with the Padres and Fernando Rodney with Seattle in this closers' game of musical chairs.
• Mark Ellis signed with the Cardinals, seemingly a great piece of depth for them, someone who will fit perfectly into their culture. Ellis could complement Kolten Wong at second base, or challenge him for the full-time job, writes Derrick Goold.
• The Yankees have no intention of trading Brett Gardner, says team president Randy Levine.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. David Ortiz doesn't want to wait for an extension.
2. The Cubs have targeted Jonathan Sanchez, writes Mark Gonzales.
• The Yankees' second base options are dwindling daily.
• Jacoby Ellsbury is not likely to be a Bronx bust this year, writes John Tomase.
• Will Middlebrooks needs more plate discipline, writes Brian MacPherson.
• Robin Ventura is recharged.
• The Rangers have not been wild shoppers, writes Jeff Wilson.
• The Marlins realize that trading Logan Morrison is a big gamble.
• Chris Stewart is happy to be with the Pirates.
• Charlie Morton explains his multiyear deal with the Pirates.
• Carlos Gonzalez is excited about shifting to center field, writes Patrick Saunders.
Many teams capable of a big move.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Mariners have spent about $250 million this offseason, and the Yankees more than $300 million. Most of the best free agents have come off the board, and as general managers rushed out of the building with the dolphin on the top to catch flights out of Florida on Thursday, a lot of the winter work was done.
But some teams still have room for a big move before the offseason is over:
1. Texas Rangers: GM Jon Daniels says he does not expect any more major moves for the Rangers this winter. But Texas remains in an excellent position in its negotiations with Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, because it appears the Rangers are one of the last teams -- maybe the last team -- prepared to spend big money on an outfielder. The Rangers don’t want to spend $140 million on Choo and they don’t want to give a third year to Cruz, so Daniels can use Choo and Cruz against each other in grinding to get the deal he wants.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers: The Dodgers locked up Juan Uribe to a two-year, $15 million deal, re-signed Brian Wilson, and could still work out something with J.P. Howell. These are all modest deals for a team with a $217 million payroll, and an ownership group with raging championship aspirations. It would surprise no one if they worked out an extension with Hanley Ramirez.
But the Dodgers continue to be seen as the favorite by rival executives to be the team that makes the deal with the Rays for David Price. They have the range of prospects needed to make a Price trade, they have the money to keep him, and their ownership has a willingness to be bold.
Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
Xander Bogaerts is another player who gives Boston flexibility.
3. Boston Red Sox: GM Ben Cherington is in an excellent spot because he can do nothing if he chooses. Now that Jacoby Ellsbury has departed, he’s got center field options in Jackie Bradley Jr. or, if necessary, Shane Victorino. If circumstances don’t force Stephen Drew back to the Red Sox -- and it’s possible that he’ll return -- Cherington has Xander Bogaerts. Boston has made moves this winter to put itself in position to defend its championship, but at the same time, has maintained the payroll and roster flexibility that has been a trademark since the blockbuster trade with the Dodgers.
What that means is that if any opportunity evolves in the weeks ahead because of declining prices -- for Choo, Cruz, Masahiro Tanaka, whoever -- the Red Sox can choose to participate, or not. And the reality is that the Red Sox's championship buys time for Cherington to continue to be patient. The Red Sox need to factor in possible performance regression as they assess 2014, writes Brian MacPherson.
4. New York Yankees: They lost out on Omar Infante, and they’ll need another solution at second base, although it’s hard to see them making a big strike for an infielder. If they get aggressive now, it’ll probably be for pitching, and more specifically for Tanaka.
5. Seattle Mariners: The signing of Robinson Cano will only truly reignite the franchise if the Mariners make the follow-up moves necessary to build a winning team. The worst-case scenario for Seattle at this point would be if the Mariners floundered at the outset of 2014 in what should be a very competitive AL West; if that happens, fans will stay away, again, and Cano will be only an expensive bauble for a losing team.
Cano is a great player, but the Mariners need a few more good players for him to truly make a difference. They need another power hitter (and Cano has been lobbying on Cruz’s behalf), a closer and a starting pitcher.
6. Detroit Tigers: They say they’re done, Tony Paul writes. But we’ve been down this road before. Agent Scott Boras represents Shin-Soo Choo, and in the past, Boras has had a good working relationship with Detroit owner Mike Illitch and placed such players as Magglio Ordonez and Prince Fielder with Detroit. Choo would be an excellent fit in left field for the Tigers, which leaves a lot of rival officials wondering whether Boras will again work something out with the Tigers in January.
7. Arizona Diamondbacks: They’re going to get a starting pitcher, a guy who could be at least a No. 2 or No. 3 in their rotation. GM Kevin Towers is a deal-maker, and ownership is pushing. Will this mean a trade for Jeff Samardzija? A signing of Tanaka, or Matt Garza? We’ll see. But they’ll get somebody.
• James Loney is a good fit for the Rays, writes Marc Topkin. I think Tampa Bay sees higher value in Loney’s defensive abilities than other teams did, which might explain why the Rays stepped up higher than the Brewers, Pirates and other teams in the bidding.
The defensive metrics used to assess first basemen are more than imprecise, but Tampa Bay loved Loney’s aggressiveness, his willingness to make plays and throw -- which is not always the case with first basemen.
• San Jose’s lawsuit is advancing. Delay could be the name of the game.
• Gavin Floyd is closing in on a one-year deal. He’s talking with the Braves.
• The Royals look like a solid team with the signing of Infante. Consider their projected lineup:
RF Norichika Aoki
2B Omar Infante
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Billy Butler
LF Alex Gordon
C Salvy Perez
CF Lorenzo Cain
3B Mike Moustakas
SS Alcides Escobar
It would be very interesting to see what the Royals’ response would be if the market doesn’t develop for Ervin Santana, who is tied to draft-pick compensation, and Santana comes back to K.C. looking for a deal. The same could be true for the Indians and Ubaldo Jimenez.
The Royals’ positive offseason continues, writes Sam Mellinger.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Phillies continue to be extremely motivated to move Jonathan Papelbon, which is a really tall task in light of his contract. Papelbon is owed $13 million for 2014 and $13 million for 2015, and he has a very makeable vesting option for 2016: If he finishes 55 games in 2015 or 100 games in 2014 and 2015, he’ll get $13 million in 2016.
2. The Pirates have officially announced the signings of a couple of players.
3. The Mets announced the Bartolo Colon signing.
4. A source says the Reds have told Bronson Arroyo they could offer him a one-year deal.
5. The Blue Jays signed Tomo Ohka.
6. The Padres are closing in on a deal for Joaquin Benoit. Bill Center wonders whether this will change San Diego’s offseason.
7. Sources say the Giants and Blue Jays have been among the teams to check in with the Rays on Price.
• The Twins signed Mike Pelfrey, along with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. The Twins’ finished dead last in starters’ ERA in 2013, by far, but it should be better in 2014.
• Vinnie Pestano is prepping for 2014.
• Danny Worth is the odd man out of the Tigers’ infield.
• The Angels acquired another pitcher.
• The Pirates’ decision-makers met with fans.
• The Pirates have earned more trust, writes Joe Starkey.
• The Brewers are looking to fill a hole at first base.
• The Cubs shut down a prospect.
• Towers expects talks to linger.
• The Rockies need help, but should be improved.
• Bruce Bochy will manage his 20th season in 2014, and is building his case for the Hall of Fame, writes John Shea.
• The Giants worked out a deal with Mike Morse.
• Evan Drellich writes that it’s unlikely the Astros will sign Shin-Soo Choo.
• David Freese picked Stan The Man’s number, which is pretty cool.
• Here’s why the Rangers paid $12,000 for the rights to Russell Wilson.
• The Mariners unveiled their latest additions.
• Cano’s stardom was years in the making, writes Larry Stone.
Offseason grades thus far: NL.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On Saturday, I graded every American League team based on the moves they have made thus far this season, and today we move to the NL.
While the free-agent class wasn't as exciting in years past, we've seen some bold trades that should change the baseball landscape in 2014 and beyond. (Teams are listed in order of their grade, by division.)
National League East
Washington Nationals -- Grade: A
The Nats entered the offseason with four major needs: A manager, starting pitcher, lefty reliever and fourth outfielder. GM Mike Rizzo has fulfilled all of them. First, he signed Matt Williams to replace Davey Johnson at the helm, then he traded three nonelite players for Doug Fister.
At the winter meetings, he snagged lefty Jeremy Blevins from Oakland and signed outfielder Nate McLouth to a two-year deal. The Nationals were a disappointment in 2013, but expect them back in the playoffs next year.
New York Mets -- Grade: B-
After years of sitting out on big-name free agents, the Mets signed two in the span of a week. First, they got Curtis Granderson with a four-year, 60 million deal, then they gave Bartolo Colon $20 million over two years. The former will give them a credible corner outfielder; the latter will lessen the sting of Matt Harvey's absence, and could be a valuable trade chip come July.
As a bonus, these moves will give the fans a little hope that the team is ready to spend to compete again.
Miami Marlins -- Grade: C+
The addition of Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a three-year, $21 million deal was reasonable, as was the trade of Logan Morrison to Seattle for right-handed reliever Carter Capps. Morrison has talent, but the front office decided a change of scenery would be best.
This club is still a year or two away from competing, but they have a lot of promising young players on the way.
Philadelphia Phillies -- Grade: C-
The Phillies are going for it one last time, signing Marlon Byrd to a two-year deal and Carlos Ruiz for three years. Both guys will be on the wrong side of 35 on Opening Day, and there is serious downside.
Make no mistake: If the Phillies are out of the race in July, there will be a fire sale.
Atlanta Braves -- Grade: D
The Braves lost Brian McCann to the Yankees and Tim Hudson to the Giants and haven't done anything to replace either. If they want to win a World Series, I think they need to trade for David Price or Jeff Samardzija, though the latter seems more likely.
They would like to bring back lefty reliever Eric O'Flaherty, but that won't change their trajectory very much.
National League Central
St. Louis Cardinals -- Grade: A
First, the Cardinals solved their shortstop problem by signing Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53 million deal. Then they traded David Freese for Peter Bourjos, which will enhance their outfield depth while allowing Matt Carpenter to shift over to third and open up second base for Kolten Wong.
This is a balanced roster with all kinds of talent, and GM John Mozeliak did a great job of making all the pieces fit a little bit better this winter.
Cincinnati Reds -- Grade: C-
The Reds are still in discussions with their own free agents, Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo, and they have talked about various Brandon Phillips trade scenarios. They did pick up some depth by adding lefty David Holmberg, but for a team that seems so close to being a World Series contender, they haven't done anything to improve significantly.
Milwaukee Brewers -- Grade: D+
They added lefty Will Smith from Kansas City in a trade for Norichika Aoki, and Corey Hart left as a free agent. It's likely they'll trade for Ike Davis to play first base, but none of these moves are going to get them out of the cellar.
Chicago Cubs -- Grade: D
The Cubs need to stop messing around with Jeff Samardzija and either trade him for prospects or sign him to a long-term extension. This team has a ton of position-player prospects who will arrive in the next two years, but they need to figure out who is going to be on the mound.
Pittsburgh Pirates -- Grade: D
They lost Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau via free agency and desperately need another big bat in the middle of the lineup to get back to the playoffs. If they don't add someone, Andrew Lambo and Gaby Sanchez will have to step up, and relying on that is a gamble.
National League West
San Francisco Giants -- Grade: B
They started the offseason by re-signing Tim Lincecum and Hunter Pence, then added Tim Hudson on a two-year deal and Michael Morse for one year. The latter two deals aren't sexy, but they give the Giants some depth at a reasonable cost.
Los Angeles Dodgers -- Grade: C+
The Dodgers paid Brian Wilson like a closer to pitch the eighth inning, and he and Kenley Jansen give them one of the best late-game duos in the game. They also re-signed Juan Uribe to a reasonable two-year deal. However, they still have four highly paid outfielders for three spots, so there is still much work to be done.
Colorado Rockies-- Grade: C+
The Rockies have been extremely active. They've made a lot of moves in an effort to improve their rotation and bullpen, trading for Brett Anderson and Jordan Lyles, and signing LaTroy Hawkins and Boone Logan. They also signed Justin Mourneau to give them some lefty power at first base.
Of course, they had to give up Dexter Fowler and Drew Pomeranz to get Lyles and Anderson, so it's unclear how much they improved as a team.
Arizona Diamondbacks -- Grade: C
They wanted another right-handed power bat to pair with Paul Goldschmidt, and they got it in Mark Trumbo, but the cost was severe. Both Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton have promise, and Trumbo will be forced to play out of position in Arizona, which could mitigate his impact.
There is pressure to win now in Arizona, and if they make the playoffs, no one will be unhappy. But there's a decent chance that Skaggs and Eaton will really make them regret this deal in five years.
San Diego Padres-- Grade: C-
I like the decision to roll the dice on Josh Johnson on a one-year, $8 million deal, but trading Luke Gregerson -- one of baseball's best setup men -- for Seth Smith has me scratching my head.
They want to replace Gregerson with someone like Joaquin Benoit, but I think they could have easily added a comparable outfielder to Smith at less than what Benoit will cost.
Offseason grades thus far: AL.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Entering the offseason, the 2013 free agent class was generally regarded as one of the weaker ones in recent memory. Thus, most industry insiders were banking on a healthy trade market to develop and they were right.
In addition to the generous free-agent signings, blockbuster trades dominated the news, re-sculpting several teams in a single move. Here's how each American League team has done this winter, thus far. Mind you, there's still a long way to go, several big-name free agents to sign and blockbuster trades to make. (Teams are listed in order of their grade, by division.)
American League East
New York Yankees -- Grade: B+
GM Brian Cashman deserves credit for holding firm in the Robinson Cano negotiations, and the Yankees have done a good job of cushioning the loss of Cano by signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, arguably the next three best position player free agents.
Boston Red Sox -- Grade: B-
Losing Ellsbury to the Yankees surely stings, but GM Ben Cherington was able to bring Mike Napoli back on a reasonable two-year deal, while also replacing the departed Jarrod Saltalamacchia with A.J. Pierzynski on a one-year deal. Boston has young players ready to contribute and payroll flexibility going forward.
Tampa Bay Rays -- Grade: B-
The Rays haven't done anything major, but they've continued to supplement their roster with solid role players, such as Ryan Hanigan, and manager Joe Maddon knows how to put his players in position to succeed. They also re-signed James Loney to a three-year deal, so they clearly believe his 2013 season was no fluke.
Of course, everyone in baseball is waiting and watching to see what they do with David Price.
Baltimore Orioles-- Grade: D
The Orioles traded closer Jim Johnson in a salary dump and left fielder Nate McLouth left as a free agent. Not only does GM Dan Duquette need to find a will to fill those holes, but also needs to find an elite starter, all with a modest budget.
Toronto Blue Jays -- Grade: D
The Jays signed Dioner Navarro at catcher to improve their offense behind the plate, but he's not exactly a game-changer. Their biggest need is getting a healthy starter who can give them 200 innings and they remain on the clock to get it done.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox-- Grade: B+
GM Rick Hahn is doing a nice job rebuilding this club, first by trading Jake Peavy for Avisail Garcia over the summer, and then last week he added Adam Eaton from Arizona in a three-way deal that cost him Hector Santiago. Eaton was my NL rookie of the year pick, but an injury in March derailed his season.
With the signing of Jose Abreu earlier this winter, the White Sox's long-term outlook is looking a lot more appealing as they have a promising group of young position players for the first time in a while.
Detroit Tigers -- Grade: B
As I wrote a few days ago, I think the Tigers were on the wrong end of both the Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler deal and the Doug Fister trade. That said, they made their roster more balanced in the process, and put themselves in good position to give Max Scherzer an extension.
Minnesota Twins -- Grade: B-
The Twins' rotation has been so bad the last couple of years that GM Terry Ryan had to take action, signing Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to multi-year deals. Neither will take the Twins to the next level, but they should give them quality innings, which the club desperately needs. Their real window of contention will arrive along with Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, two of the game's very best prospects.
Kansas City Royals -- Grade: C+
Coming off of an 86-win season, the Royals rewarded GM Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost with contract extensions, and while they haven't made any moves as big as last year's James Shields trade, they have made a few transactions.
First, they gave a four-year, $32 million to Jason Vargas, and then traded lefty Will Smith for outfielder Norichika Aoki. Some may say Vargas was an overpay, but that's the going rate for a reliable No. 3 or 4 starter. And then, on Friday night, they filled their hole at second base by signing Omar Infante to a four-year, $30 million deal.
That said, they still have no one who can replace what Ervin Santana gave them last year, and he's as good as gone as a free agent.
Cleveland Indians -- Grade: D+ Relievers Joe Smith and Chris Perez will not be returning, and they still haven't replaced them, though Grant Balfour and John Axford remain on their radar. They would also like to bring back Ubaldo Jimenez, but that's no guarantee.
American League West
Oakland Athletics -- Grade: A
Billy Beane continues to show why he is among the best in the business, making a series of smaller moves -- such as trading for Craig Gentry, Luke Gregerson and Johnson -- that will give manager Bob Melvin the kind of deep and dynamic roster he knows how to make work. Johnson will replace free agent Balfour, and the departed Bartolo Colon will be replaced by the newly-signed Scott Kazmir. The A's are in great position to win the AL West for a third straight year.
Los Angeles Angels -- Grade: A-
GM Jerry Dipoto knew he needed to rebuild his rotation, and he was able to add two good young lefties -- Tyler Skaggs and Santiago -- for the price of Mark Trumbo and a pair of low-end prospects. Trumbo has elite power, but prospect C.J. Cron is almost ready and can provide similar production, and the Angels got an influx of arms they desperately needed.
The Halos could also be a player for Matt Garza, and might enter the season having turned their rotation from a weakness into a strength.
Texas Rangers -- Grade: B+
The trade for Fielder was huge, as Texas really needed a middle-of-the-order power bat from the left side. Fielder is still just 29 years old and should thrive in Arlington.
Not only that, but the Tigers threw money into the Fielder deal and the Rangers cleared up their middle infield logjam in the process.
Houston Astros -- Grade: B
Slowly but surely, the Astros are beginning their climb back toward relevance. They added Dexter Fowler in a trade for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes, which will instantly make their lineup better.
They also signed Scott Feldman to a three-year deal, and he can be the reliable starter they depserately need. There is a good chance they still finish last in the AL West, but they are going to be a lot more competitive.
Seattle Mariners -- Grade: C+
The $240 million deal for Cano gives the Mariners the kind of buzz they haven't had in ages, but this club still has plenty of holes. Corey Hart and Logan Morrison were intriguing pickups, but now the club must decide what to do with Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero, as they now have a logjam of DH/1B types.
Furthermore, they have holes in the rotation, bullpen and outfield, and it's quite possible that Cano will be in decline by the time the rest of the roster takes shape.
Who needs Choo the most?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It seems that every year, agent Scott Boras plays the waiting game with one of his more in-demand clients, until one team gets antsy and offers a contract that may be for more than what it had budgeted. This year, that client is Shin-Soo Choo.
There are a few factors that are drawing out the courtship of Choo, of course. With Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury being the position-player free agents in the highest demand, it was natural for Choo to have to wait a little bit. There is also the fact that he received a qualifying offer, which means he will cost the team that signs him a draft pick. Lastly, there are his platoon splits.
As Keith Law stated in his top 50 free agents story in November, Choo has a bit of a platoon split. It's not that his batting eye vanishes against lefties -- his 10 percent walk rate and .333 on-base percentage are still healthy against southpaws. But he becomes a slap hitter. In the past three seasons, Choo has slugged just .293 against lefties.
With all of that said, few players are better at getting on base than Choo -- Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera are the only two players to reach safely more times than Choo in the past two years -- and he is still a $20 million per year player.
As we look to where he fits, there are obviously a bunch of teams that could use him, but I've honed in on four realistic suitors who "need" him the most. And there they are.
4. Detroit Tigers
It's not that Andy Dirks, Rajai Davis and Torii Hunter aren't good players -- it's just that they're not good enough to put the Tigers in the driver's seat for a pennant run. The Indians and Royals both figure to be strong challengers to Detroit again in 2014, and right now the Tigers' corner outfield options pale by comparison.
Using the projected WAR per position from the depth charts at FanGraphs, we find that the Tigers rank 26th in terms of combined left-field and right-field WAR. Right now the projected margin of error between Detroit and Kansas City is thin. Choo would help the Tigers break away from the pack a little more -- on paper, at least.
3. Texas Rangers
Here some of the players who are currently populating the Rangers' depth chart in the corner outfield and DH spots: Jim Adduci, Engel Beltre, Michael Choice and Chris McGuiness.
Choice might be a decent player someday, but the 2010 first-round pick is unlikely to ever be a star. He tallied just 19 plate appearances in his major league debut last season, and Steamer projects him to hit .276/.341/.431 as a 24-year-old in the majors in 2014. To be certain, that is not awful. But it is also no sure thing. And he will probably turn out to be the best of this particular bunch.
The other three are projected to be three of Texas' four worst position players, and it's not hard to see why. Between them, they have 110 plate appearances at the major league level. And because Adduci will be 29 in 2014, McGuinness will be 26 and Beltre 24, you would have expected that total to be higher. Mitch Moreland is still ostensibly around to collect some first base/DH at-bats, but he is also not someone who should prevent the team from signing Choo.
Simply put, the Rangers need both offensive punch -- overall FanGraphs projects them to be just the 18th-best team offensively in 2014 -- as well as depth, and Choo would give them both.
2. Cincinnati Reds
There's a good argument to be made that only one team needs Choo more than the Reds do. Cincinnati is counting on Ryan Ludwick to man left field next season, and that probably isn't going to turn out too well for them. Last season, Ludwick injured his shoulder on Opening Day and missed the next 116 games following surgery. When he returned in August, he was only able to muster a meager .240/.283/.326 line across his final 138 regular-season plate appearances.
Now, with the benefit of an offseason to rest, it's possible Ludwick will be just fine in 2014. But it's even more possible that he will be a 35-year-old with a bum shoulder who can't hit the ball with authority and who has always been overrated. Ludwick has never played great defense, so he has to be a very good hitter to be worth much in the grand scheme of things, and he does that sparingly.
Whether you want to look at the past one, three or five seasons, Choo has been a much better player than Ludwick, and Choo is coming off of a year in which he was worth 5.2 WAR to a team that won 90 games.
With the Cardinals and Pirates still big-time threats in the National League Central, Cincy can't afford to take a step back and finish with a middling 85-86 wins. Re-signing Choo is the Reds' best chance of competing with the Cardinals and Pirates. Without him, third place seems quite possible.
1. Baltimore Orioles
While Ludwick is no great shakes, he is at least a single entity that can be counted on to suit up in left field every day. With Nate McLouth headed down the Beltway, the Orioles don't really have a starting left fielder.
It would be tremendous if Nolan Reimold could step up and be that player, but since he is heading into his age-30 season having never accrued more than 411 plate appearances in any one season and just 209 in the past two seasons, the odds on that happening are fairly long. Neither he nor Henry Urrutia is projected to be more than a league average hitter. Steve Pearce is projected to be slightly above average with the bat, but he is also slightly below average with the glove. He also will be 31 in 2014, and has never logged 200 PA in any single season.
The Orioles could piece together the position with these guys, but any combination of them is going to leave them a) at the bottom of the heap and b) no closer to a playoff spot. To make matters worse, those same players plus Danny Valencia are currently slotted in at DH as well.
General manager Dan Duquette's reluctance to hand out big free-agent contracts is admirable, but if he wants to get Baltimore back into the conversation in the American League East, he needs to get Choo.