As pitchers and catchers report this week and we transition from the baseball offseason to Spring Training, I thought this was the prudent time to reflect upon this winter’s hot stove season and state my opinion on the Best and Worst moves made this offseason. It has been a relatively busy winter in retrospect, with Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton signing $100+ million dollar free agent contracts, the Mets trading 2012 CY Young award winner R.A. Dickey, Diamondbacks OF Justin Upton now an Atlanta Brave, and the majority of Miami’s roster now residing in Toronto as Blue Jays: all this activity and we still have CF Michael Bourn and RHP Kyle Lohse seeking impressive free agent contracts themselves. In the interest of brevity, I have split this article into two pieces – Part 1 today will discuss my favorite moves this winter and tomorrow in Part 2 we examine some of the more questionable moves of the offseason.
The Best Moves of the Winter
5) New York Mets sign RHP Shaun Marcum 1-year $4 million plus incentives
Considering comparable but lesser pitchers Scott Baker, Joe Blanton, Kevin Correia, Jeremy Guthrie, and Brett Myers all signed larger contracts this winter, I am stunned Shaun Marcum had to settle for a 1-year deal for only $4 million dollars with incentives with the Mets just a few days ago. A career 3.76 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 916.2 career innings pitched, Marcum does come with some injury concerns but his decision to remain in the National League and playing in pitcher-friendly Citi Field should bolster Marcum’s statistics in 2013. If he can stay healthy, Marcum should give the Mets 4 months of slightly above-average pitching and thus could find himself as one of the best available starting pitchers at the July 31st trade deadline, offering an opportunity for the Mets to fetch a reasonable prospect in a trade for him this summer as well.
4) Tampa Bay acquires SS Yunel Escobar for INF Derek Dietrich
No doubt there are well-documented character issues surrounding his career, but Yunel Escobar the player is a 30-year-old above-average fielding shortstop who is coming off a down year with the bat, only hitting .253/.300/.344 with 9 home runs in 2012. That said, for his career Escobar is a .282/.353/.390 hitter and is signed to a team-friendly contract of $5 million for 2013 and team contract options for $5 million dollars in 2014 and 2015. Dietrich is a solid but flawed prospect as there are questions about if he has enough bat to be a starting third baseman or the skill defensively to be a 2nd baseman; to only have to part with him to acquire an above-average major league quality shortstop still in his prime is a steal in my estimation for the Rays, and likely the best under-the-radar move of the offseason.
3) Toronto Blue Jays sign OF Melky Cabrera 2-years $16 million
Granted there is some shadiness to Melky Cabrera and his outstanding performance in 2012, as he was suspended in August after testing positive for Performance-Enhancing drugs, then allegedly attempting to cover up his actions. This is the primary reason Cabrera signed for a reasonable 2-years and $16 million dollars, as it was speculated last summer he could be poised to capitalize on his .346/.390/.516 batting line and Most Valuable Player award in his first All-Star Appearance last July to the tune of a 5-year contract worth $50+ million dollars. Melky has been an inconsistent player over the course of his 8-year career, but at only 28-years old with a career batting line of .284/.338/.414 and an average defensive outfielder, there is little chance he should not provide positive value for the Blue Jays on this contract.
2) Tampa Bay acquires OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Mike Montgomery, and 3B Patrick Leonard from Kansas City for RHPs James Shields and Wade Davis
While I understand this trade from Kansas City’s perspective, I think Tampa Bay should be commended for capitalizing on their surplus of young major league pitching by parting with two established pitchers in James Shields, who was beginning to get expensive and under contract for only two more seasons, and Wade Davis, a talented pitcher who found other arms ahead of him in Tampa, for a package including one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball in Wil Myers. Myers projects as an excellent complement to Evan Longoria in the middle of their lineup and is the power hitting right-handed hitting outfielder Tampa has lacked ever since Delmon Young floundered and was shipped to Minnesota in 2007. Odorizzi projects as a solid mid-rotation starting pitcher and Montgomery has talent but has struggled in recent years: perhaps a change of scenery will rejuvenate his prospect status, which at one time saw him pitch in the Futures Game. This trade should not be viewed as a heist, but long-term I think the Royals still struggle to make the playoffs even with Shields and Davis in their rotation and will feel foolish as Myers develops into an All-Star caliber player.
1) Toronto Blue Jays acquire RHP Josh Johnson, SS Jose Reyes, LHP Mark Buehrle, INF Emilio Bonifacio, and Catcher John Buck from Miami for SS Yunel Escobar, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, RHP Henderson Alvarez, C Jeff Mathis, OF Jake Marisnick, LHP Justin Nicolino and RHP Anthony DeSclafani.
With no disrespect to the players sent to Miami, some of which can help the major league team and the prospects do have some talent as well, this trade was clearly a salary dump and an opportunity for the front office to hit the reset button on the Miami franchise after poorly constructing their roster last winter. Miami may have even been justified to make this deal to clear so much payroll, but Toronto should be commended for parting with little that should ever hurt them in exchange for making their team 8-10 wins better next season and filling most of the major holes on their roster. Toronto gets their much needed leadoff hitter in Reyes, starting pitching in Buehrle and Johnson, along with depth in Bonifacio and Buck. Rarely can one trade improve a team more than a few games, but if Reyes and Johnson stay healthy, this trade could take the Blue Jays from a likely 4th place finish to a playoff berth and possibly even the AL East title. This is a gutsy trade for GM Alex Anthopolous because of the addition of so much money to their future payroll and the increased expectations that accompany a trade like this, but a deal that should benefit Toronto considerably and my choice for Best Move of the Offseason.
Honorable Mention: Atlanta Braves acquire OF Justin Upton and 3B Chris Johnson from Arizona for Martin Prado and 4 Prospects, Washington Nationals acquire RHPs AJ Cole, Blake Treinen, and a PTBNL from Seattle via Oakland for OF Mike Morse, Cleveland Indians sign OF Nick Swisher 4-yrs $56mm, and Washington Nationals acquire OF Denard Span for RHP Alex Meyer
I will return tomorrow in Part 2 to discuss some of the more head-scratching moves the various clubs made this winter.