As always, there have been movers and shakers in the MLB offseason, resulting in players having to change addresses. I am not at all surprised, and seeing the action unfold so far has been a lot of fun, at least for me. Personally, I think some moves have been better than others and therefore, in my opinion, now would be a good time to do what I deem to be the 10 best moves of the offseason to this point.
We have seen so many good transactions that narrowing it down to just 10 is eerily tough. Having to rank them was not an easy task, either. Therefore, before I delve into the actual list, I am doing to do some honorable mentions.
Honorable Mention #1: Jacoby Ellsbury to the New York Yankees for 7 years, $153 million
I’ll explain later on in the list why this is merely an honorable mention, but I cannot possibly ignore the prominence and stature of this signing altogether. The 2013 Yankees missed the playoffs for just the second time since 1995. The first time was in 2008, in which the team, like in 2013, finished in third place. In the case of last year, however, the Yankees missed out and the Boston Red Sox went from last place in the AL East at 69-93 in 2012 to 97-65 and World Series Champions in 2013.
The last time the Yankees missed the playoffs before 2013, they threw money at their problem. This doesn’t always work, but in the case of the Bronx Bombers it did after 2008. They inked Mark Texeira to an 8-year, $180 million contract, C.C. Sabathia for 7 years, $161 million and A.J. Burnett got a 5-year, $82 million deal. In the case of Burnett, he had rather mediocre numbers in 2009 and the fact he led the American League with walks (97) and all of baseball in wild pitches (17) suggested he had control issues though. On the other hand, that season, Texeira finished runner-up to Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins for AL MVP, and C.C. brought the goods by finishing 4th in the AL Cy Young voting. The 103-59 Yankees finished with baseball’s best record, and added their 27th World Series title.
It remains to be seen if #28 is coming this year or not, but the “Evil Empire” is certainly doing a lot to make that happen. Signing Ellsbury to this deal away from their most hated rival does help. With recent multiple reports going on that Brett Gardner could be used as trade bait, this helps even more. Like Gardner, Ellsbury is a threat on the basepaths. He has stolen 50 or more bases three times in his career. He swiped an MLB leading 70 bags in 2009 and did the same thing again with 52 in 2013. On top of that, though, Ellsbury is an upgrae with his bat. This move could very well pay off handsomely for the Yanks in years to come.
Honorable Mention #2: Detroit Tigers trade Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler
Though it’s on my honorable mentions as one of the best moves of the offseason, I would put it at #1 for most shocking. In two seasons with the Tigers, Fielder delivered in the regular season, only to become a ghost come playoff time. Now is Fielder’s chance to get a fresh start in Texas and help this team back to the postseason. He’s going to a ballpark that favors hitters better than Comerica Park did and he’s part of a revamped Rangers lineup that is looking to redeem themselves from a disappointing 2013 finish.
The Tigers, meanwhile, got rid of somebody who helped stall their quest for a World Series title the past two seasons and got a perennial All Star second baseman in Kinsler in return. It’s hard to say who the winner of this deal was. Both teams could benefit greatly from this blockbuster.
Honorable Mention #3: Jose Veras to the Chicago Cubs for 1-year, $3.85 million
I went back and forth as to whether to put this on the actual list or not. Ultimately I decided against it because Veras hasn’t been consistent throughout his career. Sure, he can get a team some innings, but at what cost? Prior to last season, he wasn’t exactly the most effective reliever. His WHIP over a few seasons definitely comes into question. In 2008 for the Yankees, he appeared in 60 games with a WHIP of 1.405. In 25 appearances split between the Yanks and Cleveland Indians in 2009, it was 1.442 and in 2012 with the Milwaukee Brewers, he posted a 1.507 WHIP with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Then 2013 came around and he got his first real shot to close with the Houston Astros. The result was 19 saves, a 1.000 WHIP and 139 ERA+. The Detroit Tigers picked him up on July 29 for Minor Leaguers Danry Vasquez and David Paulino. Veras’ numbers declined slightly but not significantly, with a 133 ERA+ and 1.220 WHIP.
On top of that, postseason play comes into question. Though the Cubs aren’t likely to contend in 2014, surprise teams are part of this game. In 8 career postseason appearances, Veras has been a little all over the place. In 2 appearances and 2/3 innings pitched in the ALDS with the Yankees in 2007 against the Indians, Veras had a 3.000 WHIP, but didn’t allow a single run to cross home plate. Veras got a little more work in the 2013 Division Series against the Oakland Athletics with 1.2 innings pitched with a 1.200 WHIP, but in the number that matters most, no A’s crossed home plate. Then in five appearances and 3.1 innings pitched in the ALCS against the Red Sox, Veras had a 0.900 WHIP, but but his 2 earned runs translated to a 5.40 ERA and a bit of a blemish.
Still, there’s a reason why I put this in my honorable mentions list. Veras has showed signs while splitting time between the Astros and Tigers last season there is hope. The good news for the Cubs is Kevin Gregg was better in his second stint with the Northsiders in 2013 than he was the first time around in 2009. However, Gregg didn’t solve all their bullpen woes. The Cubs had a 4.04 bullpen ERA last season, good enough for 25th best in baseball. This team’s relievers struck out 418 batters, tied with the Astros and Washington Nationals for second worst in the Majors. Only the New York Mets can claim lower with 392 reliever punch outs.
Team saves aren’t everything, the Red Sox as a club only saved 33 games last year while the Cubs saved 39. However, 22 teams had as many saves or more than the Cubbies did. If Veras can get a decent number of saves like he did in Houston, along with some of the other numbers, this is definitely one area in which the Cubs can improve in 2014. His track record isn’t the greatest, but 2013 may have been the start of a new leaf for Veras and if so, the Cubs got their money’s worth on this one.
Honorable Mention #4: Boston Red Sox resign Mike Napoli for 2 years, $32 million
Ah yes, Napoli was on that 2011 Rangers team that lost a heartbreaker 7 game World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Redbirds winning also denied him an otherwise likely World Series MVP trophy. Fast forward two years, and Napoli is the one on top in Beantown against the team that sabotaged him two years prior. He helped turn around the Red Sox last year, and does have some pop. He has hit 20 or more home runs six seasons in a row. He wasn’t the greatest in the ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays or against the Cards in the Fall Classic, but sure had an argument for ALCS MVP against the Tigers. He also drove in a career high 92 runs in his first season with the Red Sox in 2013, and if they want to repeat, Napoli could be an important piece to the puzzle.
Now, for the list itself:
#10 New York Yankees resign Hiroki Kuroda for 1 year, $16 million
Hiroki Kuroda has never made the All Star team or had a finish in the Cy Young voting. That’s not to say, however, that he hasn’t been worthy of an All Star appearance or a few Cy Young votes his way. They don’t necessarily have to be first place votes either, but Kuroda has been consistent in his career and was a tough luck pitcher for this team in 2013. I wrote back on Dec. 8 on isportsweb that the Yankees should go after pitching. They made a lot of moves to help tinker with their lineup and could use more effective arms. However, by the time I wrote that piece, they had already chosen to bring Kuroda back and looking at his performance the last handful of seasons, I think this is one of the better moves the Yankees or anybody could’ve made.
#9 Seattle Mariners sign Robinson Cano for 10 years, $240 million
The M’s haven’t made the playoffs since 2001. Since 2004, the team has finished in last place 7 times and has had only two winning seasons. If they want to change their fortunes and get to the World Series for the first time in franchise history, Cano could definitely help that. Afterall, the lowest he has finished in the AL MVP voting in the last four seasons is 6th. It is possible this game is looking at a future Hall of Famer in the 31-year-old second baseman.
The team ought to keep in mind 10 years, $240 million is a little risky and pricey, which is why I am hesistant to have this a little higher. Yet, in 40 career games at Safeco Field, he has done pretty well there. He is a career .309 hitter there with a .350 on base percentage and slugging .487. He’s also belted 4 big flies and has driven in 20. This signing could spell doom for his new division rivals. In 31 games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, he has a line of .323/.353/.492 with 3 jacks and 16 RBI. He also seems to like the Oakland Coliseum a lot, with a slash line of .305/.365/.525. 5 of his shots have left the yard in that ballpark and 15 have crossed homeplate on his at-bat. If 2013 is any indicator, he’ll really enjoy Minute Maid Park. Though he has yet to hit one out in 5 career games there, he has driven in 5 and is batting .375. His OBP is .444 and slugging .438. Angel Stadium is a little bit in the air. In 31 games, he has 5 home runs and 20 RBI, but a line that includes .275/.299/.438.
On top of that, it’s just two offseasons removed from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim signing Albert Pujols for 10 years, $254 million. It looks like Pujols is showing decline rather quickly, as he hasn’t quite been the same player he was in St. Louis. However, he still has eight seasons to find his stride again, and therefore with such a big contract, the Mariners should hope Cano isn’t to them what Pujols is to the Halos. In any event, this was a splash and he should at least help them improve this upcoming season.
#8 St. Louis Cardinals trade David Freese and Fernando Salas to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Peter Borjous and Minor Leaguer Randal Grichuk
It’s very hard to argue with the success the Cardinals have had in recent memory. They won the whole thing in 2011, went to game 7 of the NLCS in 2012 and last season, won the pennant for the 19th time in franchise history to put themselves in sole possession for most appearances by a National League team. The scary thing is, they don’t look like they’ll be going away anytime soon.
Freese was a gigantic part of that 2011 team with his postseason marvels. Though he was an All Star in 2012, he cooled off in 2013. To be fair, he did hit a home run and drive in four against the Pittsburgh Pirates in the NLDS, but he wasn’t quite the 2011 David Freese with his performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS and the Red Sox in the World Series. Salas had a nice 2011 with 24 saves before being replaced by Jason Motte as closer towards the end. In that time he went 75 innings, a 163 ERA+ and 0.947 WHIP, but the numbers showed in 2012 and 2013 that he wasn’t quite the same after his demotion.
In return, the Redbirds got a speedy and reputable defensive center fielder in Bourjos. Not to mention their farm system is looking really nice. The team has promising prospects in Oscar Taveras and Steven Piscotty. The 22-year-old Grichuk can have some speed and pop as well. He hits his fair share of doubles and triples and belted 22 home runs in 2013, up from his career high in the Minors from the previous year of 18. His batting average dipped from .298 to .256, but the Cardinals are very good at developing talent, and things can only go up for Grichuk.
The team is doing very well. I previously praised them Nov. 24 on isportsweb for signing Jhonny Peralta, as I think he’s going to help for sure. Though I cannot say how Freese and Salas are going to do with the Angels, it looks like the Cardinals won this deal. If they want to avenge the last two years with a 12th World Series title, this trade, along with the Peralta signing, looks like it could definitely help advance that goal forward.
#7 San Diego Padres sign Joaquin Benoit for 2 years, $15.5 million
If the Padres fail to qualify for the postseason this year, I highly doubt it’ll be because of their bullpen. I would argue Huston Street has quietly been one of baseball’s better closers in the last 10 seasons. He had an All Star season with this team in 2012 and wasn’t too shabby for the Friars in 2013 either. They showed to be efficient last season with a 3.39 bullpen ERA, good enough for 10th in the Majors. Benoit can only add to that. Since 2010, he has been a really good reliever for the most part. Last season, he had 24 saves, a 209 ERA+ and 1.030 WHIP in 67 innings pitched. For hitters having to face both Benoit and Street, it could be tough to overcome a deficit if they are trailing this team.
#6 New York Mets sign Curtis Granderson for 4 years, $60 million
This is one of the reasons why Ellsbury is merely an honorable mention, look at the gaudy price in which the Yankees paid to get him. Like Ellsbury, Granderson is an MVP type player, finishing 10th in voting in 2007 and 4th in 2011. However, he’s coming at much cheaper than Ellsbury is and Ellsbury has shown that he can be injury prone in his career. Prior to Ellsbury’s 2011 AL MVP 2nd place finish, he missed nearly all of 2010, and also missed a great deal of 2012 before playing in 134 games last season. There’s no doubt Ellsbury is a dynamic player when healthy, but if he ends up being injured in the Bronx as frequently as Ken Griffey Jr. was during a good chunk of the time when he was with the Cincinnati Reds, then it may end up being a contract the Yankees would wish they could do over again.
Granderson was bitten by the injury bug last year, but he adds a whole lot of value to the Mets in many different ways. He has scored 100 runs or more four times in his career. He has hit for triples and though he isn’t the base stealer Ellsbury is, he isn’t that bad either. Granderson also has shown he has some pop in in the past and that he can go yard. It’ll be interesting to see how he transitions to the other side of town, but if healthy, Granderson can certainly play a role in this team’s improvement.
#5 Washington Nationals trade Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and Minor Leaguer Robbie Ray to the Detroit Tigers for Doug Fister
Expectations were sky-high for the Nats in 2013, except their record got worse by 12 games over the previous season and failed to qualify for the playoffs. Granted, 86-76 and 2nd place isn’t a bad season, but this is a team predicted by some to win it all. It’s obvious to me that this team wants to accomplish that in 2014, and Fister definitely gives them a boost.
He’s been one of the nicer pitchers in the game the last few seasons. Fister has shown he can eat up innings and strike batters out. If it’s for the postseason in which the Nationals acquired him for, they picked a pretty good pitcher to get, as he’s shown to be a nice playoff pitcher. In the 2011 ALCS, 2012 ALDS, ALCS and World Series, as well as the 2013 ALCS, Fister stepped things up for the Tigers. If the Nationals make the playoffs and if Fister continues his track record for them, they’ll look very good having made this trade.
#4 Texas Rangers sign Shin-Soo Choo for 7 years, $130 million
I’ve never been the type of person to believe a ballplayer is worth making anywhere near the kind of money Shin-Soo Choo is set to make, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Reality is reality. It’s been a lot of heartbreak down in Arlington in the 2010s decade so far. They started it off with back-to-back World Series losses in 2010 and 2011. Then in 2012 they lost the AL Wildcard game to the Baltimore Orioles and in 2013 they missed the postseason altogether, losing a one game playoff to the Tampa Bay Rays for the second AL Wildcard spot.
Choo has never hit 30 home runs or driven in 100 runs, but the Rangers ought to be pretty happy with their new leadoff man. He makes a difference in other ways. He scored 107 runs for the Cincinnati Reds in 2013. He walked 112 times and was hit by a pitch 26 times, good enough for the most in the game. He had a .423 on base percentage, a career high for him and once on, he can effective, as he has stolen 20 or more bases four times in the past five seasons. If the Rangers want to overcome all their heartbreak, Choo can only help them to its first World Series Championship.
#3 New York Yankees sign Carlos Beltran for 3 years, $45 million
Oh how this deal is going to look like a heist if the Yankees win the World Series with Beltran there.
Beltran is entering his age 37 season, so he’s not quite signed to a Teixeira or Ellsbury type deal, but that’s not to say he can’t give the Yankees a bang for their buck. He’s still a solid player, as indicated by the last couple seasons he spent in St. Louis. Beltran doesn’t run like he used to, but with Yankee Stadium being reputable as a hitter’s park, Beltran has done a lot of that. He hit 56 home runs in two seasons with the Cardinals and came close to driving in 100 runs both seasons.
Plus, I can imagine he’s very hungry to right his wrong of that World Series loss he experienced last year. Beltran has always stepped it up come postseason time, with 16 home runs. I’m not sure if he’ll ever make the Hall of Fame, but Beltran absolutely has a case. It would be unfortunate for him if the great career he has had ended with only one World Series appearance and him having to taste defeat. He played very well in his first Fall Classic and has been a terrific player in his career. Beltran has shown he can still be an asset. For now, there’s no reason for me to believe he’ll decline so rapidly in Pinstripes as this move could pay huge dividens for the Yanks.
#2 Chicago White Sox trade Addison Reed to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Matt Davidson
Last offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays made a trade that sent James Shields, Wade Davis and Elliot Johnson to the Kansas City Royals for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Minor Leaguers Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard. Well, Shields would go on to become one of the finer pitchers in the American League for the Royals in 2013. He led the American League in innings pitched and finished 11th in Cy Young voting. Shields helped Kansas City get its winning season since 2003. Myers would see himself win AL Rookie of the Year and help the Rays win the Wildcard game against the Cleveland Indians and advance to the ALDS against the Red Sox.
In other words, both teams greatly benefited from that trade. Low and behold, I think the same thing can be said for the Diamondbacks and White Sox in this one. The D-Backs found themselves in the bottom half of baseball with their bullpen in 2013 and with a 3.52 ERA. It looks like Heath Bell’s best days may be behind him he was slightly better for the Diamondbacks in 2013 than he was for the Miami Marlins in 2012, but still wasn’t great. Bell had 15 saves in his lone season in the desert, nowhere near the three straight 40 save seasons he posted in San Diego. He also had a 93 ERA+ and 1.371 WHIP. He’ll try to turn things around with the Rays in 2014.
Reed is only 25 and had a 40 save season himself in 2013 with pretty good numbers. He had a 113 ERA+ and 1.107 WHIP. On the plus side, Arizona’s bullpen had 493 strikeouts in 2013 and only four clubs had more in that department. Reed can get the strikeouts, 72 of them in 2013, as well as work the innings, with 71.1 of them last season.
The ChiSox traded away potentially an All-Star closer, but they got who may be their third baseman of the future in Davidson. True, in 31 games played in a small sample size in 2013, he could’ve been better, but he has a lot of upside. He’s been ranked as one of the top 100 prospects in the game and has nice power.
I think back to when the Cubs in 2003 got a young Aramis Ramirez from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Northsiders had so much trouble at third base for many years before that. Ramirez gave the team their man at the hot corner all the way through 2011. He rewarded them with four 100 RBI seasons, a couple of 10th place finishes in NL MVP voting and two trips to the All Star game.
Davidson is also younger in this trade than Ramirez was when the Cubs got him and I think Davidson could be for the White Sox what Ramirez was for their Crosstown rival. I think the Myers for Shields is the new benchmark for both teams doing well in a trade, and it looks like the Diamondbacks and White Sox are hoping for the same fortune by swapping Reed for Davidson.
#1 Baltimore Orioles trade Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics for Jemile Weeks and David Freitas
I don’t know how effective, if at all, Jemile Weeks and David Freitas will be for the Orioles. However, I can’t imagine either of them being as much of a hinderance to the O’s as Johnson was. Baltimore was paying Johnson $6.5 million in 2013. He had 50 saves, which tied with Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves for most in the Majors in 2013. However, Kimbrel only blew 4 saves, Johnson blew 9. As I wrote in my Dec. 22 isportsweb story, what good is 50 saves if someone blows a good number of them and/or at crucial moments?
Oh, I’ll give Johnson his credit. He’s one of only three closers with multiple 50 save seasons and one of only two to achieve 50 saves in back-to-back years. In 2013, Johnson became the third closer with two 50 save seasons, joining Mariano Rivera and Eric Gagne. Johnson joined Gagne in that two straight 50 saves seasons list. Mo is Mo and I can condemn Gagne for being in the Mitchell Report. However, facts are facts. Fact: Gagne is still on those lists despite being in the report. Fact: Gagne still holds the record for most consecutive saves with 84. Fact: Gagne is the last reliever to win the Cy Young Award, winning the NL award in 2003.
Despite Johnson being on that list, the O’s made a great decision to get rid of him. For his sake, I hope he reinvents himself with the A’s, but Baltimore has been on the rise the last couple of years. They had an amazing turnaround in 2012 and won the AL Wildcard game. They pushed the Yankees to game 5 of the ALDS before being eliminated. I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, Johnson was one of the reasons the O’s didn’t meet the Tigers in the ALCS. Yes, he got two saves, but he blew a save in game 3 that resulted in the Yanks winning in extras. The Bronx Bombers lit him up with a 10.38 ERA in the Division Series that year.
Now, what if Johnson doesn’t blow those 9 saves? Well, it may have helped the Orioles possibly secure one of the two Wild Cards for the second year in a row. People may say what they wish about wins and losses, but Johnson blew 9 saves and was 3-8 this past season. The O’s finished 6 1/2 games back of a Wild Card berth. If only he was more consistent, if only he didn’t blow as many saves as he did or at crucial moments in the past two years, maybe the Orioles could’ve gone to on to the ALCS against the Tigers and even have pulled off an upset special against Detroit. I highly doubt that, since the O’s offense at times struggled against the Yankees and Detroit’s pitchers shut down New York in the ALCS. However, it still could’ve happened. Then Johnson helped cost Baltimore a second straight trip to the postseason last year.
All one has to do is punch in Craig Kimbrel and Mariano Rivera in a Google search, and they’ll see a handful of stories asking if Kimbrel is the next Rivera. There’s a reason why Kimbrel is seen in that light and not Johnson, despite the latter having two straight 50 save seasons. Aside from the fact Kimbrel is 25 and Johnson is 30, Kimbrel is much more dominant and more consistent. 50 saves is 50 saves, but I’m less inclined to appreciate the 50 saves if Johnson’s mistakes come with them.
In my Dec. 22 piece, I advocated the O’s giving Darren O’Day a shot at closer and I’m going to stand by that. O’Day never has gotten a shot as a full time closer, but I think he’s worthy here. Since 2009, I think he has gone under the radar as one of baseball’s best relievers. He struggled with the Rangers in 2011, but besides that, he has gotten innings and has been very strong in his ERA+ and WHIP. One should keep in midn Jason Grilli didn’t get a chance to be a regular closer before 2013 and he and Mark Melancon paid off big time for the Pirates. In my opinion, O’Day has earned his shot to be a closer in this game. I think trading away Johnson was an excellent move, and if O’Day becomes their closer and is effective for them like Grilli and Melancon were for Pittsburgh, it could help catapult the O’s back into the playoffs and possibly even more.