Recapping Everything You Missed During the MLB Offseason
Quite a bit has changed in baseball since the Kansas City Royals defeated the New York Mets in the World Series last fall. No, Pete Rose has not been let into the Hall of Fame yet, but it was nonetheless a hectic offseason. To refresh everyone’s memory, here is a recap of the six biggest moves of the baseball offseason, and my take on whether or not these moves will be successful.
Tigers Make Splash by Adding Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann
Detroit is coming off of a very disappointing season, which explains why the Tigers signed two of the more notable free agents on the market with the additions of outfielder Justin Upton and former Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann.
The Tigers will likely regret signing both of these players to such large contracts. Upton, who has plateaued in multiple respects over the past few seasons, received a six-year, $132.5 million deal. Similarly, Zimmermann, whose ERA jumped from 2.66 in 2014 to 3.66 in 2015, received a $110 million contract. The Tigers will surely improve on their 74-win total from last season, but by agreeing to these two enormous contracts, the Tigers are making a key mistake. Detroit is banking on a few marquee names to hide the many holes on their roster. This strategy has not only backfired for many teams in recent memory, but it comes at the expense of adding under the radar players priced below market value. As the Kansas City Royals have proved, many of these lower-cost options provide nearly as much value as the Uptons and Zimmermanns of the world who are being paid based on past performance.
Yankees Add Aroldis Chapman
In one of the more controversial stories of the offseason, the Cincinnati Reds jettisoned one of the game’s best closers to the Yankees in exchange for four prospects. This move came after the Reds struck a deal to move Chapman to the Dodgers, only to have it fall through after Chapman was investigated by authorities for a domestic violence incident.
Scandals aside, Chapman, along with relievers Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, makes the Yankees bullpen the deadliest in baseball. Get this: the Yankees now have last year’s top three relievers in terms of strikeouts per nine innings, which is often cited as the truest measure of a pitcher’s dominance. With their bullpen, the Yankees could be very dangerous this year, provided they stay healthy.
Johnny Cueto to the Giants
The Giants have been winning titles every other year, which makes them due for another ring this season. But that cannot be the only reason why Vegas odds-makers have the Giants listed as the favorites to win it all.
Despite missing the playoffs last year, the Giants were by no means a mediocre team. According to Fangraphs, a baseball statistical analysis website, the Giants had the league’s second best offense and second best defense. The only thing holding them back was their pitching, which ranked 22nd in ERA. But by adding Johnny Cueto, as well as former White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija, to go along with Madison Bumgarner, the Giants will likely have no major weaknesses. I think the Giants will run away with the NL West this season.
Cubs Land Jason Heyward
Coming off an unexpected 97-win season and a deep postseason run, the Cubs were aggressive this offseason and landed one of the most sought after free agents: outfielder Jason Heyward. The Cubs gave Heyward an 8-year, $184 million contract, which even Donald Trump would tell you is a lot of money for a guy who has never hit above .300.
As was alluded to in the discussion of the Tiger’s free agent signings of Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann, high-priced free agents usually are not wise investments in the long-run. However, I think Heyward will turn out to be a great decision by the Cubs for a couple of reasons. The main reason is that Heyward is in the midst of his prime at age 26. Though the Cubs might be overpaying him by the time he is 34, they should get at least five highly productive years from Heyward. Moreover, he’s exceptional defensively even though his hitting statistics might not justify his huge contract. But that will not matter much for Chicago, who have plenty of young studs in their lineup. Though we all know the Cubs might be eternally cursed, signing Jason Heyward is another step in the right direction for the surging club.
Diamondbacks Steal Zack Greinke from Dodgers
In arguably the most surprising move of the offseason, Arizona landed last year’s NL Cy Young runner up, Zack Greinke, with a 6-year contract for $206.5 million. The good news for the Diamondbacks is that Greinke is coming off one of the most dominant seasons by a pitcher in recent memory (he just happened to be upstaged by Chicago’s Jake Arrieta). Acquiring Greinke also depletes the Dodgers, who now only have Clayton Kershaw to anchor their rotation.
But here is the problem with the Greinke deal. Ever hear the advice buy low, sell high when it comes to stocks? Of course you have. Basically what Arizona is doing is buying Greinke at the highest price imaginable. The Diamondbacks are making the same mistake many other teams have made when signing free agents: they are paying for past performance. Yes, Greinke has been exceptional of late, but his career stats suggest he is not as consistent as other top pitchers. Plus, he’s coming off a career high in innings pitched, which may put him at greater risk for injury. In essence, the Diamondbacks are hoping they receive the dominant Greinke from last year. As history suggests with big free agent signings, they might simply be getting very good production from him for a couple years and then regret paying $20 million a year for a washed-up thirty-six year old.
Red Sox Snag David Price and Craig Kimbrel
The Boston Red Sox certainly had the most notable offseason by signing a former Cy Young winning pitcher and one of the league’s most dominant closers. Yet I cannot help but wonder: haven’t the Red Sox been down this road before? Just last year, Red Sox nation was excited about the signings of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Yet, it only took a few months for those signings to be deemed failures. And what about the Carl Crawford signing or, to go back further, the Daisuke Matsuzaka experiment? Those did not turn out well either.
While I think Craig Kimbrel will pay huge dividends for the Red Sox, I think David Price will ultimately be their next free agent bust. I return to the notion of paying for past performance. Sure, Price could continue to play at an All-Star level. But the Angels probably thought the same thing when they gave 33 year-old Albert Pujols a $300 million contract. Since he signed with the Angels, Pujols has not been nearly as good as he once was. The same goes for other recent examples such as Robinson Cano in Seattle, Josh Hamilton in Los Angeles, Jose Reyes in Miami, etc. The point is that this idea of giving huge contracts tends to look reckless in hindsight. So while the Red Sox are the clear “winners” of this past offseason, I doubt signing Price will look smart a year from now.
Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report