The Winners and Losers of the 2016-2017 Offseason

Winners

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, New York Mets

Cespedes, after inking a 3-year, $75MM contract last offseason, opted out in November and ended up with a shiny new 4-year, $110MM deal. The career .272/.325/.494 hitter was the beneficiary of a rather lackluster free agent class; he garnered the largest contract of all free agents this past offseason, but his contract wouldn’t have been the largest in any of the prior six.

In addition to the massive contract, Cespedes will be able to play his preferred position for the next four seasons. He played center for the Mets a few times this past season prior to his injury, but, after getting banged up, said that he wanted to stay in left field. The Mets seem to have no problem with keeping him, and his absolute cannon of an arm, in left.

Lastly, Cespedes will be able to call New York his home for at least the next four years. He has expressly stated that he wants to finish his career out in New York, and he’s on the right track. Also, the 100+ golf courses on Long Island are definitely a plus.

The New York Mets

Perhaps I’m a little biased (or a little more than biased), but the Mets were most definitely winners this past offseason. They were able to re-sign Cespedes, who figures to slot into their lineup behind David Wright (or Jose Reyes, on Wright’s days off) and Curtis Granderson.

The team also bolstered its bullpen by re-signing Fernando Salas (who they traded for in 2016), and lefty specialist Jerry Blevins. Matt Harvey underwent successful surgery for his thoracic outlet syndrome and should return healthy, Steven Matz had a bone spur removed from his throwing elbow, and Zack Wheeler seems to be close to returning to MLB action (though until he throws a pitch in the big leagues, I won’t be convinced he is still alive).

The team was not able to find any buyers for Jay Bruce or Curtis Granderson, so they will enter the season with a logjam of solid bats vying for time in right field. There could be worse problems than having two former all-stars competing for at bats.

Overall, the team improved where it needed to, but more importantly did not get worse in any areas. If the starting rotation can stay healthy this season, the Amazins should have no trouble challenging the Nationals for the NL East title or even the Chicago Cubs for the NL pennant.

Free Agent Relievers

Sometimes, timing is everything. This past offseason was one of those times for relief pitchers.

Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon, and Brett Cecil brought in a combined $258.5MM over 18 years (or roughly $14.4MM per year), an unprecedented number for four relief pitchers. Jansen’s 5-year, $80MM deal would have been the largest deal ever for a reliever, but Chapman’s 5-year, $86MM deal edged the Jansen deal by a couple million. Chapman, Jansen, and Melancon’s contracts are the top three contracts in terms of total dollars to ever be signed by relief pitchers. Needless to say, it was a good year to be a free agent relief pitcher.

Not only the closers cashed in, though. Cecil, who spent the first eight years of his career in Toronto mowing down lefties, now heads to St. Louis to continue his work. He is not projected to be the closer for the Cards, so they paid a hefty sum for a guy who will “only” be a middle reliever (though he will be one of the better ones out there). This is a great sign for soon-to-be reliever free agents like Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and others who have outstanding resumes but lack saves. I mentioned in my previous post that MLB front offices are now correcting for their prior overvaluing of closers and undervaluing of non-closer relievers. This seems to be a step in the right direction.

The Chicago White Sox

Some folks might want to call the White Sox losers for being unable to trade Jose Quintana, but that doesn’t change the fact that they got rid of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, and, in the process, went from having zero top-50 prospects to having two of the top three. It’s hard to label the South Siders’ offseason anything other than a success because they were able to overhaul their farm system and finally kickstart the rebuild they have been in need of for a long time. Now, all that’s left to do is deal Quintana and 3B Todd Frazier, both of whom should net the White Sox a very good package of prospects.

Chris Sale, SP, Boston Red Sox

Well, he doesn’t have to wear those uniforms anymore.

On a more serious note, Sale will hang up his white socks for red ones, and in doing so, will join a team that will likely capture the AL East title, and has a very legitimate possibility of capturing another World Series. The Red Sox rotation was already superb before adding Sale, but now that he’s there, the Sox have three Cy Young contenders (Sale, Price, Porcello). It’s going to be a fun summer in Beantown.

The Cleveland Indians

It’s tough to call the Indians huge winners this past offseason, because they did not revamp their entire roster or make any huge trades, but they acquired one DH by the name of Edwin Encarnacion. E5 will fill the gap left by the departure of Mike Napoli, and will likely slot into the order behind Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and Francisco Lindor. Encarnacion, who ranks second in baseball in dingers since 2012 (193; Chris Davis has 197), will bring his 40-homer bat to Cleveland for the next three years, where he will join the aforementioned three hitters in addition to all-star Michael Brantley.

The Indians also added lefty specialist Boone Logan to their already-solid bullpen which features Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen, who combined for a 2.64 ERA, and 11.1 K/9 over 163.2 regular season IP. Miller, Shaw, and Allen also combined for a ridiculous 1.66 ERA and 13.7 K/9 over 43.1 IP in the postseason. Adding Logan to the bunch should only improve an already-stellar bullpen.

I don’t see the Indians having any trouble capturing the AL Central given that none of the other teams in the division have made significant improvements, and by signing Encarnacion, the Indians have once again put themselves on the fast track toward the playoffs.

The New York Yankees

The Yankees have been doing everything right as of recent. At the trade deadline last year, they shipped Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman away and received a king’s ransom of prospects in return. This past offseason, they have only continued their success on the market.

The Yankees started the offseason with a bang by bringing Chapman back to New York on a monstrous 5-year, $86MM deal. They also added veterans Chris Carter and Matt Holliday on one-year pacts, both of whom can be flipped at the deadline for prospects if they play well.

They also were able to save $2MM by winning their arbitration case with fireballer Dellin Betances, who will make $3MM as opposed to the $5MM he filed for. The Yankees have successfully done a quick retooling of their minor league system and their major league team, and are poised to be contenders for a long time to come starting in 2018, assuming they make a splash in the obscenely loaded upcoming free agent class.

The Colorado Rockies

I’m going to go against the grain here and say the Rockies were one of the winners of the offseason. Everyone seems perplexed by the fact that Colorado signed SS/CF Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70MM deal, just to play first base, but I think it was a good move; they got a great hitter to play in a hitter’s park, and Desmond will be able to fill in whenever needed in the outfield or at shortstop.

The Rockies also added two solid relief options, Greg Holland and Mike Dunn, the former of whom could be flipped for younger talent if he gets off to a good start. It’s so difficult to predict how the Rockies will perform each year due to the Coors effect: they could run away with the NL West, or they could finish last, all depending upon how their starting rotation does. It’s tough to forecast how pitchers are going to fare in the thin Coors air, but their lineup is one of the most potent in the National League, so they are definitely on the right track.

Losers

The Commissioner’s Office

Okay, technically it’s not a team or a player, but the commissioner’s office had a terrible offseason.

That’s not to say there weren’t any positives in the offseason for the commish’s office; the MLBPA and MLB came to a new five-year labor agreement just before the deadline in late November. It was all downhill from there, though.

At the end of January, the St. Louis Cardinals were finally punished for hacking the Astros’ database, and anybody who was not a Cardinals fan found the punishment to be nothing more than a slap on the wrist. I wrote about how Major League Baseball botched the Cardinals’ hacking case in a previous post, click here to read about it if you haven’t already.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Major League Baseball then decided to institute two ridiculous rule changes, one at the minor league level, and one at the major league level. I wrote about those as well in prior blog posts, and you can check them out here and here.

I guess if there’s one good thing to come out of the new intentional walk rule, it’s that there can now theoretically be an entire 9-inning MLB game played without any pitchers throwing a single pitch (intentional walks and pickoffs), but that will never happen for obvious reasons. The intentional walk rule simply did not need changing, and starting extra innings with a runner on second base isn’t baseball. I don’t classify myself as a baseball purist, but these changes are so ridiculous, it’s hard not to hate them.

I’d finish this by saying it can’t get any worse, but I don’t want the commissioner’s office to see that as a challenge.

Chris Carter, DH, NYY

As I said before, timing is everything. Carter seems to have been a victim of poor timing.

Carter led the National League in HR in 2016 with 41. It was a contract year for him, and, generally speaking, players who lead their respective league in homers in a contract year are handsomely rewarded with a large contract, right?

Not for Chris Carter.

It’s definitely more than just timing (Carter is a career .218/.314/.463 hitter with a 33% strikeout rate, not exactly set-the-world-on-fire marks), but if Carter posted the kind of season he had in 2016 fifteen years prior, I have no doubt that he would have at least gotten a multi-year deal. Instead, he had to settle for a one-year, $3.5MM deal with the Yankees. This is likely because of the shift of focus from power-only first basemen to more contact-heavy guys (or at least guys who don’t hit around the Mendoza line). Carter has tons of power; he’s hit 131 HR over the past four seasons, (tied for 6th in the majors with Josh Donaldson) but that alone wasn’t enough to get him more than a few million for one year.

To add insult to injury, Carter will have to compete with the youngster Greg Bird and Matt Holliday (who was also just signed to a one-year deal) for ABs in 2017. After the season he had, I’m a bit surprised by the fact that Carter has ended up where he has, but by the same token, he’s a high-strikeout, low-contact slugger. They have those everywhere now.

Jose Bautista, RF/DH, Tor

Joey Bats and Chris Carter both were unlucky in their timing. For Bautista, though, his bad timing might lead to the end of his career.

Bautista re-signed with the Blue Jays, who gave him a one-year, $18MM deal that has the potential to end up as a three-year, $60MM deal based on vesting options and mutual options. Prior to 2016, Bautista was projected to get a contract in the three-year, $75MM range, but because of his abysmal season (by his standards…116 games played, 22 HR, .234/.366/.452 triple-slash) he was stuck with a short-term contract and less money than he had hoped. Timing may not be the key factor here; I think age is catching up with Bautista.

Last year, in his age-35 season, Bautista posted is lowest ISO, SLG, OPS, HR/FB, wRC+, and WAR since his 2009 season. Add to this the fact that his strikeout rate was the highest it’s been since 2009 (by nearly 3 points) and you’ve got the profile of a bad free agent. Bautista is aging, his defense is on the decline, and his bat is losing life. Not a good combination if you’re trying to get big money on the FA market, and everyone seems to have come to the same conclusion: Bautista is not worth the money he’s asking for. That’s why he had to settle for a relatively paltry deal with the Jays.

 

The Detroit Tigers

I hate to call the Tigers losers, because they didn’t do anything bad, it’s just that they didn’t do anything. And based on this team’s roster makeup, they need a big-time overhaul.

When the only free agent addition you make on the MLB level is Alex Avila, you know you had a quiet offseason. The Tigers are the 6th-oldest team by average age, and that’s not a good thing when you consider that their payroll is the second-highest entering 2017. The Tigers have some solid young talent (Nick Castellanos, Michael Fulmer, Matt Boyd, Daniel Norris) but they can’t go anywhere because they have so many large contracts on the books (Victor Martinez, Justin Upton, Jordan Zimmermann, etc.) The Tigers have J.D. Martinez, a very enticing power-hitting RF, who will become a free-agent after the season. The Tigers didn’t deal Martinez, their best asset, and because of the situation they’re in right now, that puts them at a huge disadvantage. Of course, the team could try to contend for the AL Central crown, but I don’t think anyone will be able to catch Cleveland, and the Tigers’ farm system is so depleted that it may be time for a rebuild anyway. If the Tigers don’t get anything for Martinez, though, it could be a long time before they contend again.

(Image Credit: MLB.com)

 

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