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March 5, 2014

The Lineup Card

11 of Our Least-Favorite Offseason Moves

by Baseball Prospectus


1. Tigers trade Doug Fister to Nationals for Robbie Ray, Ian Krol, and Steve Lombardozzi
Just as Dave Dombrowski was hitting a crescendo on the heels of the Fielder-Kinsler deal, news of the Doug Fister trade broke and sent DD’s stock tumbling the other way. You don’t have to be an elite sabermetrician to understand that Fister is a very valuable pitcher who jumped up a level, if not two, with the Tigers. He stood to benefit greatly from the revamped Detroit infield defense with his elite ground-ball rate, and his stuff, while not overwhelming, showed strong strikeout potential capable of lingering just north of league average, which is quite exceptional when you pair it with the ground-ball-heavy approach.

It almost doesn’t matter how good Robbie Ray—the centerpiece return for Detroit—ends up being because everyone on the outside continues to believe they could’ve gotten more. It’s also a wonder how the Nats got away with just sending Ian Krol for the bullpen as opposed to a more substantial piece like Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, or even Rafael Soriano… just someone more proven and capable of being an impact relief arm.

As news trickled out of the trade and pieces were added to Detroit’s side, everyone was waiting for that final piece with Ray, Krol, and Steve Lombardozzi, but it never came resulting in a resounding “that’s it?” from Motown. There is a scenario where this is really the best they could do and/or they really believe that Ray shares Fister’s mid-rotation potential, but for a GM who has repeatedly shown his savvy at the trade desk, this particular transaction left this Tigers diehard a bit cold. —Paul Sporer

2. The Fister Trade
All that stuff Paul said. Each and every word. Maybe double it. Put extra vowels in to make the words longer. I mean, did you read what Paul wrote? Read it again, but this time out loud. Now yell it. Trade Doug Fister? What? Yell it again, but this time slowly. Let your neighbors know Doug Fister was dealt for a minor leaguer. Put an exclamation point after every word, even the ones immediately followed by question marks. More vowels! Now read it again, but this time yell it in an English accent. Don't ask questions, just do it! Now yell it with an English accent while hopping on one foot. More hopping, but now with your pants around your ankles. Ha ha you look like an idiot! What was the question again? Oh, right, Doug Fister. Good gosh. Yeah, everything Paul wrote. —Matthew Kory

3. Marlins sign Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a three-year, $21 million deal
I get it, baseball is a business and players are going to sign for large bucks for teams we may not care about. But this one. Saltalamacchia is going from the Red Sox, by all accounts a great organization that wins regularly… to the Marlins, the nation's pioneer of turning good situations into bad. At this point we get about six months of guessing to which team he'll be traded.

I don't think the financial terms are that bad, but the entire transaction just feels a little icky. (And it's not just his auto mechanic's hair.) Now the Marlins can straddle the line by saying they bought a World Series catcher, all the while traipsing the ghosts of Casey McGehee and Rafael Furcal into the very same infield. Additionally, Saltalamacchia will be teammates with Adeiny Hechavarria, and I'm sorry, but as a baseball purist, that's way too many letters for one lineup. Matt Sussman

4. Mariners sign Willie Bloomquist to a two-year, $5.8 million deal
A two-year deal for $5.8 million in guaranteed money for a 36-year-old utility guy who has missed a full season's slate of games due to injury over the last two seasons doesn't scream astute signing. Add in the fact that said utility man is hovering at around average in terms of TAv, and below average in wRC+ and wOBA, to go with below-average defense across all positions he typically mans (per UZR), and you begin to wonder who really thought the money and the at-bats—at-bats more than likely siphoned from Nick Franklin—thrown at WIllie Bloomquist was a good idea. However, with both Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker off the table with cheaper deals at the time of Bloomquist's signing, what other option did Seattle have in the high-stakes, tempestuous "gritty utility player" free-agent market niche? —Stuart Wallace

5. Diamondbacks sign Bronson Arroyo to a two-year, $23.5 million deal
General manager Kevin Towers set out this offseason to find a frontline starting pitcher. On February 7, he settled for Bronson Arroyo—a durable innings-chewer, but one with little upside.

The two-year pact, which includes an option for 2016 that carries a $4 million buyout, is unlikely to be a disaster. Pitchers who can be counted on for 200 innings have value, and Arroyo has worked 199 or more frames in every season since 2005. The problem is that he's hovered around (or below) replacement level in four of the last five years. He probably won't be more than a win better than Randall Delgado, whose spot in the rotation he usurped, and he certainly shouldn't stand in the way of Archie Bradley, who might be the top pitching prospect in the upper minors.

If the Diamondbacks were going to add a non-elite starter, they needed one with upside—the sort of pitcher who could propel them from .500 territory toward wild card contention if everything broke right. Scott Kazmir, a 2.7 WARP pitcher for the Indians last year, who got $22 million over two years from the Athletics, might have been a worthwhile gamble. Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez might have cost a bit more in the short run, but the Diamondbacks had money to spend, and the greater risk might have been worth a shot at a much greater reward.

Instead, the Diamondbacks got Arroyo. At best, they'll pick up a win or two—inching toward the playoff mix but likely falling a few games short. At worst, Arroyo will finally show signs of wear at the age of 37 or 38, and they'll win one or two fewer. He won't be an albatross. But for $23 million, Towers probably could have done better than a move that leaves you wondering, what's the difference? —Daniel Rathman

6. Mariners trade Carter Capps for Logan Morrison
When the Mariners signed Corey Hart and traded for Logan Morrison in rapid succession this past December, the whole offseason was ahead of them. They had two months before spring training, and nearly four months before the season started, to finish adding the pieces that would turn them not just from a 72-win team into an 82-win team but into a 92-win team. But, I worried in the Transaction Analysis for the move, the Morrison deal seemed to seal off their best avenues for further upgrades:

Hart plays right field as much as he can; Morrison plays right field as much as Hart can’t; and the Mariners have used up all the positions on the field to update their offense. There’s still a long offseason ahead, and there’s still a lot of years left for the Mariners to win something with this core. But, though Hart and Morrison make them better than they were this morning, it’s a pretty unambitious way to upgrade two very upgradeable positions.

We now know that the Mariners wouldn't make another significant move until signing Fernando Rodney at the start of spring training. When Robinson Cano lobbied for Nelson Cruz, or when he lobbies for Kendrys Morales, the glut caused by Morrison's presence surely is a factor in Seattle’s sitting still. DH, the corners, and the bullpen should be the relatively easy parts for a front office, but the Mariners blocked themselves by adding a player who can't field and barely hits but is juuuuuust good enough to convince a front office that the job is filled. The open spot on the depth chart arguably would have been worth more in December and January than the player who filled it. —Sam Miller

7. The universal rejection of qualifying offers
In 2012, the first year that the qualifying offer system was in place, nine players received qualifying offers from their clubs, and all nine rejected the deals. Last November, 13 potential free agents were given qualifying offers, and all 13 turned down the $14.1 million reward. But three of those 13 are still looking for work, and another, Nelson Cruz, had to settle for a one-year deal at a steep discount ($8 million) just to find a home. In retrospect, some of these players might have been better off accepting the generous single-year contract.

One can understand a player's desire to parlay a good year into the biggest payday of his professional life, leading to situations like Ervin Santana's refusal to back down from demands of four years and $50 million despite being one year removed from a sub-replacement season. In the case of Stephen Drew, the qualifying offer would have amounted to $4.6 million more than he has earned in any year of his career, yet the oft-injured infielder was counting on cashing in after a 2013 campaign that was his first season above 2.0 WARP since 2010. The outlook is even worse for Kendrys Morales, who would have equaled his six-year earnings to date had he accepted the one-year deal.

The X-factor in the calculus of these players’ values is the draft-pick compensation tied to their signing, which creates a large value gap between extending a qualifying offer and signing a player who has already rejected one. For an offer-rejecting free agent, the theoretical gap bridges the combined value of a first-round pick (lost by his future team) plus a compensation pick (gained by his former team).

Free agents may choose not to focus on factors that are out of their control, but agents now have two years of evidence with which to recalculate the risk factors when advising their clients. Draft-pick compensation is an albatross, and future qualifying offer recipients will have to consider the pros and cons carefully before saying “no” to a qualifying offer that would guarantee them the highest single-season payout they’ve ever earned. —Doug Thorburn

8. The Diamondbacks extend Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers
You'll have to forgive me if this entire thing comes off a little addled. More addled than you're used to, I mean. But really, to be one of about eight BP writers to bring the Diamondbacks into this particular topic, I can't think of a better place to be than just having finished 14 hours of solid work with a brief break for cashews, to which I think I might be allergic. In any event, what in god's green hell did Arizona do with Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson this winter? "You will be lame ducks forced to earn your way into a 2015 contract!" "Oops, no you won't! Here you go, nooooo worries, guys, haha, just ... HEY IS THAT SOMEONE IN THE PO-- no it's just a bird, what were we talking about? Let's go kick some [Dodger] butt this year, huh!"

To be clear, my issue isn't with the extensions qua extensions so much as the way the organization went about them and what this says about the likely hell it is to work there. If Ken Kendrick is going on the radio ripping players and can't decide how long he wants to have you (general/) managing his team, how are you supposed to get anything done as either a FOT or a field person? What's your horizon for success? What's your gameplan? Can you gameplan? Is Kevin Towers a gunslinger or is slinging guns the only thing you can do when you don't know where the shots are coming from? Wouldn't we all be gunslingers if our boss were Yosemite Sam? —Jason Wojciechowski

9. Dodgers decline option on Mark Ellis
In spite of his annual leg muscle strain, Mark Ellis has been worth a couple wins in each of the past two seasons, thanks to plus defense and an above-average bat. The Dodgers held a 2014 option on Ellis for $5.75 million, roughly the going rate of a win this winter. Instead of picking it up and giving themselves some solid Alex Guerrero insurance, they cut the veteran loose by triggering a $1 million buyout. The odd thing is that they reportedly wanted him to return, which suggests that they may have underestimated his market and believed they could convince him to come back for less than $4.75 million. St. Louis wisely snapped him up for the same base salary he had last season ($5.25 million) plus $1 million in incentives.

This sequence of events worked out fine for Ellis, who went to another winning team and got more money than he would have had the Dodgers exercised the option. But Los Angeles may already regret not bringing him back. Guerrero, a former shortstop, might need “extensive time” at Triple-A to regain his timing and learn second base after missing last season, and the team’s other realistic options at the position are Dee Gordon, Chone Figgins, and Justin Turner (a pretty good pickup on a minor-league deal, but not Ellis' equal on defense).

Between Ellis, Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker, and Jerry Hairston (not to mention Michael Young), the Dodgers probably had too many scrappy utility infield types last season. Without Ellis, they might not have enough. —Ben Lindbergh

10. Giants extend Tim Lincecum for two years and $35 million
“If his name were anything else, he’d be seeking a non-roster invite instead of re-signing for $35 million,” says Lincecum’s comment in Baseball Prospectus 2014. A $17.5 million AAV for Lincecum looked large at the time; in light of some of the smaller sums it took to sign free-agent starters who’ve been far more effective over the past two seasons, it doesn’t look any less large now. —Ben Lindbergh

11. Pirates decide not to extend a qualifying offer to A.J. Burnett
Doug wrote above about the mistake some free agents might have made by rejecting qualifying offers, but at least one team erred in not extending one. One could argue that the Tigers should have made a qualifying offer to Jhonny Peralta, but the four-year, $53 million deal Peralta got from the Cardinals came as a surprise, much as we may have justified it in hindsight. What wasn’t surprising was A.J. Burnett landing a single-season base salary that exceeded the qualifying offer amount once he decided to talk to teams other than Pittsburgh. As I wrote last month, the Pirates seemingly must have misread either the market or Burnett’s intentions when they decided not to extend the offer. Neil Huntington said, “Every indication we had was that [Burnett] wanted to return and only to return to Pittsburgh,” but it’s hard to see how it would’ve hurt the team to hedge its bets—or, given their payroll projection, to pay the $14.1 million price. —Ben Lindbergh

12. The Rockies Trade Dexter Fowler and a PTBNL to the Astros for Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes; Sign Boone Logan for three years and $16.5 million
Sam Miller puzzled over the Rockies’ end of the Fowler trade when it went down; a few months later, it still looks like a cost-cutting move that didn’t help the team from a performance perspective. As for Logan, I put it this way in December:

Logan is the least useful of the three relievers who have inked three-year contracts this winter—Javier Lopez ($13 million) and Joe Smith ($15 million) are the others—and he signed for the highest AAV. Even if the money doesn’t matter, though—and owner Dick Monfort would surely insist that it does—this looks like an inessential addition. The Rockies had a serviceable relief corps last season, and they’re bringing back two effective lefties in Rex Brothers and Josh Outman. If one last bullpen piece were all they needed to put them over the top, this might be more defensible, but this is a team that just dumped Dexter Fowler, not one that appears poised to win now. Making a third lefty who averaged 44 innings a season in New York their sixth-highest-paid player doesn’t do much to move the needle either now or in 2016.

—Ben Lindbergh

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