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March 12, 2014

The Lineup Card

11 of Our Favorite Offseason Moves

by Baseball Prospectus


 

1. Royals Acquire Norichika Aoki from the Brewers for Will Smith
Aoki is an atypical corner outfielder, in that his game is built around getting on base and speed rather than power. Still, he's a quality player who has shown the ability to lead off and hang in there against left-handed pitching. Considering what the Royals gave up—Will Smith, a back-end starter should all go well—it's a solid deal, even if Aoki walks at season's end. —R.J. Anderson

2. Tigers Trade Doug Fister to the Nationals for Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi, and Robbie Ray
As soon as the last Lineup Card topic was sent to the BP email list, it was like a race among these other dopes to claim the Tigers’ side of the Doug Fister trade as the worst move of the offseason. Two of them even tied for the win, or something, and they both wrote about it. Well, Doug Fister is broken and will never pitch again. (Probably.) (I assume that’s how it works.) Detroit got out from under a $9 million obligation to an injury time bomb and got three actual baseball players who make no actual money for him. They fleeced the Nationals, and you people should all feel bad about yourselves for mocking the deal. —Zachary Levine

3. Mets Sign Chris Young to a One-Year, $7.25 Million Deal
He hasn’t had a good year since 2011 and has been terrible against right-handed pitching. So why do I like the Chris Young signing for the Mets? It’s simple. In this market and at this price, the Mets have almost nothing to lose. If Young flops, the club can shift Juan Lagares back into the starting outfield come June 1 and send Young on his merry way. But even if Young bounces back some of the way, the Mets have nabbed a useful piece who will hit for some power, provide some speed, and help out quite a bit on defense. With Matt Harvey out for the season, 2015 looks like the earliest realistic date the club will contend. It’s a back-handed compliment for the Mets brass, but I’d rather see a one-year, make-good deal like Young’s than a two-year commitment to an older outfielder, like Marlon Byrd, or an outfielder with less upside, like David Murphy or Nate McLouth. Best of all, if Young does pan out and the Mets don’t, they might be able to trade him for a minor-league chip in July. —Mike Gianella

4. Braves Sign Julio Teheran to a Six-Year, $32.4 Million Extension
Perhaps the least discussed of the Braves’ young talent extensions, Julio Teheran’s deal looks great even if Teheran himself is just okay. The current going rate for one marginal win is about $7 million; the Braves locked up Teheran for an average of $5.4 million per year. If Teheran posts 0.75 WARP per season for the next six years, the Braves will, at the very least, break even. And even if the worst case scenario comes true—Teheran suffers a catastrophic injury this spring and never pitches again—the Braves’ ability to remain competitive won’t wither and die.

Put simply, the risk is minimal, and since Teheran is only 23, his upside is considerable. He might not become the ace prognosticators expected him to be a year ago, but if he settles nicely into the middle of the rotation, the Braves won’t think twice about this deal. —Nick Bacarella

5. Athletics and Rangers Strike a Possible Win-Win Deal
Before I jump into why I liked Jon Daniels' haul in this trade, let me first say that I thought it was also a very good move for the Athletics, who received Craig Gentry and depth starter Josh Lindblom. Gentry, a fine defensive outfielder who thumps left-handed pitching and whose skill set is largely underrated, fits perfectly into manager Bob Melvin's platoon-oriented lineups. He chipped in 3.2 WARP in 287 plate appearances last year, and while we can't simply project that to more than six wins over a full season, because Gentry would probably falter if exposed to more righties, there's no denying that he is a valuable piece.

This was also an intriguing trade, in that it was struck by the likely top two teams in a competitive division—one that the A's, widely perceived as the underdog, at least in 2012—have won twice in a row. The Rangers probably made themselves worse in 2014, while making the A's better—or at least deeper, keeping in mind the fragility of Coco Crisp, who hasn't exceeded 136 games in a season since 2007. That's one reason why the A's needed Gentry, who has only three years and 49 days of service time and could serve as Crisp's caddy through 2016. 

But Texas may get the better end of the trade in every year after 2014, by reeling in a near-ready corner outfielder (Michael Choice) with the prototypical power profile for the position and a bat-first second baseman (Chris Bostick) who bolsters their already impressive pipeline of middle-infield talent. Think of it this way: The Rangers grabbed two of the A's top 10 prospects for a part-time player. One of the best part-time players in baseball, but a part-time player nonetheless. The trade gives them flexibility with Alex Rios, whose contract includes a $13.5 million club option for 2015, and helps the club during the timeframe when the Athletics, whose cost-controlled players will soon get pricier, are likely to regress. 

Even the best-laid plans often go awry, but this has the makings of a swap that will eventually benefit both sides. It's also one that many clubs, particularly those whose trade options are limited by the stigma of intra-division deals, would not have made. —Daniel Rathman

6. Tigers Do Not Extend a Qualifying Offer to Jhonny Peralta
In retrospect, it seems like an easy draft pick to stash, and all for giving Peralta the obvious chance to walk. Nobody has ever taken a qualifying offer in its teensy-tiny history, and now Peralta is $52 million richer over four years thanks to The Cardinal Way, which is paved with Pete Kozma's OPS. Peralta tied Edwin Jackson for the largest deal garnered by a player not receiving a QO. Previously, Torii Hunter received a $13 million AAV for half the years with no QO. The Angels didn't need Hunter in a crowded outfield. The Nationals had no value for Jackson in their deep rotation. And there was no longer a roster spot for Peralta in Detroit, even if you believe left field is a place he could survive in the wild.

Andy Dirks' aching back and Jose Iglesias' gimpy shins notwithstanding, the Tigers entered spring training with no need for a shortstop, left fielder, or DH, and if Peralta graced the 25-man roster, that would have strained its flexibility—something Detroit just corrected by pulling itself from underneath the Prince Fielder contract.

He probably wouldn't have accepted the QO, because good lord, even Kendrys Morales said "no" to one. Barring its early euthanization, someone's eventually going to say "yes" to it, and it could have been Peralta. It would have been a $14 million risk, all for a draft pick, which general manager Dave Dombrowski can make up by sending another nice person to Venezuela equipped with a radar gun, clipboard, and picture of Miguel Cabrera's house. —Matt Sussman

7. White Sox Acquire Adam Eaton from the Diamondbacks for Hector Santiago in a Three-Team Deal
During this offseason the White Sox have done a good job of acquiring young talent with good upside. This is perhaps best personified in the Adam Eaton acquisition that cost the White Sox Hector Santiago. The move addresses two needs as the Sox found a solid defender with good on-base skills and good speed. While the player they acquired was good, what I like most about this move is what it means for the long term. In recent history, the White Sox have earned a reputation as a team that will acquire veterans past their primes at the sacrifice of their farm system. That perception is slowly changing. —Mauricio Rubio

8. Red Sox Sign Grady Sizemore to a One-Year, $750,000 Deal
Coming off a World Series championship, there wasn't much the Red Sox needed. Even Jacoby Ellsbury's departure to the Yankees, while not preferable by any means, didn't pose a huge problem thanks to 23-year-old prospect Jackie Bradley, Jr. Bradley doesn't figure to be Ellsbury's equal out of the gate, but should be able to better his defense while getting on base and growing into his skills (he hit .275/.374/.469 last season in Triple-A). With that as a background, the Red Sox didn't need to sign another center fielder, so it was a bit of an odd moment when the news came through they’d signed former All-Star center fielder and recent medical school pin-cushion Grady Sizemore to a major-league contract.

Odd though it may have been, the move fits perfectly. Sizemore is nothing but upside for Boston. He’s always been productive when he’s been healthy, and he’s still only 31 despite not playing the past two seasons. If he’s healthy, then Boston has an extra average-to-above (or, dare to dream, something even better) outfielder on the roster. If he isn’t, hey, call up Bradley. That’s what the Red Sox were going to do before anyway. Considering Bradley is as yet unproven in the majors and right fielder Shane Victorino is coming off of off-season surgery and isn’t often the picture of health anyway, having an extra body that can handle the defensive rigors of the outfield makes sense. That maybe, just maybe he’s Grady Sizemore, makes this all the better. —Matthew Kory

9. Giants Sign Tim Hudson to a Two-Year, $23 Million Deal
If Tim Hudson is 6-foot-1, then I can dunk a basketball. Because I write about baseball on the Internet, you know that I cannot dunk a basketball. If Tim Hudson weighs 175 pounds, then I'm a sumo wrestler. Because I write about baseball on the Internet, you know that I'm probably the size of a sumo wrestler but have none of the athleticism. My point, before I get sidetracked, is that Tim Hudson is very small, and was never supposed to be durable enough to last as a starter. Where are we 2,813 innings later? We're at a Hall of Nearly Great'er, a pitcher whose rWAR-based JAWS score slightly exceeds that of Andy Pettitte. Which leads me to the actual point: yes Tim Hudson [messed] up his ankle by getting it stepped on last July, and yes he's an old 38 (turning 39 on July 14th), and yes he's got essentially 42,000 regular-season pitches on his arm, and yes he hasn't struck anybody out since 1999, but no, dammit, no, I'm not going to count him out. "This guy is a bulldozer with a wrecking ball attached. He'll leave a ring around your eye and tread marks on your back. He's an animal," and more importantly, he's an animal with a still-absurd ground-ball rate and a career BABIP that fits on the career leaderboards in the Bill Monbouquette/Claude Osteen area, and you can do things like this in the Play Index, and if all that's not worth $23 million over two years, well, hell, what is. —Jason Wojciechowski

10. Nationals Sign Nate McLouth to a Two-Year, $10.75 Million Deal
Part of the regression of the 2013 Nationals was due to a disappointing performance from bench players. The 2012 team’s pinch hitters had an impressive .786 OPS. Last season it was just .608. The backup outfielders—Tyler Moore (who’s really more of a first baseman), Roger Bernadina, and Scott Hairston—were all unproductive most of the year. Bernadina was the only one of the three with speed, but he also had the weakest bat by far (.270 SLG). He was cut by the Nationals in August after posting a negative WARP.

McLouth is a great replacement, even if more expensive. For $5 million this year (and next, with an option for 2016), the Nationals will get back most of Bernadina’s speed they lost (30 SB in 37 attempts in 2013, career 85 percent success rate). They also get considerably better offensive productivity (.267 career tAV vs. Bernadina’s .245) without losing too much in the field. Conveniently, McLouth also happens to be a lefty at the dish—one other hole that was created by Bernadina’s departure.

Finally, the Nats now have some depth in case an outfield wall jumps in front of Bryce Harper again and the fourth outfielder becomes the third one for a little while. —Dan Rozenson

11. Orioles Sign Nelson Cruz to a One-Year, $8 Million Deal
I never imagined that Nelson Cruz would be one of the best bargains of the winter; in fact, I expected the opposite. But with the help of a patient approach and a stupid draft-pick compensation system, Orioles GM Dan Duquette got a great short-term deal on a player who looked like a potential long-term mistake.

If the O's adding Cruz at the end of the winter proves as smart as it seems, it won't be an isolated occurrence. In November 2012, the Providence Journal's Brian MacPherson made the case that signings late in the free-agent spending period often yield the most bang for the buck:

As the offseason gets under way, most players have a dozen or more potential landing spots available to them — and the players with the best track records can sit back and let the bidders come to them. As the offseason progresses, however, more teams blow through the money they have in their budgets, and the number of potential bidders for each player begins to dry up. The remaining teams who were willing to be patient can be rewarded with terrific value.

The theory seemed sound, but but MacPherson also ran the numbers and concluded that the theory held up over a five-year period:

Before Jan. 1, teams have paid an average of $5.52 million to obtain 1 WAR’s worth of production from the free agents they’ve signed. (For context, that’s a little more than what the Red Sox will pay Jonny Gomes next season.) After Jan. 1, teams have paid an average of $3.60 million per 1 WAR of production they’ve received.

 

In other words, a team with $30 million to spend on the free-agent market could expect to get 5.4 WAR if it emptied its piggy bank before the end of December. If it waited until January, it could expect to get 8.3 WAR for the same $30 million.

While many of us on the internet questioned why he hadn't made a major move, Duquette bided his time, waiting for Cruz's other options to dwindle. Finally, in late February, when Cruz's requested salary sank and the Ubaldo Jimenez signing lowered the draft-pick cost to Baltimore, Duquette struck, making a measurable upgrade at a reasonable rate. We're sorry we doubted you, Dan.

In closing, I'll tip my cap to several more moves I praised this winter that weren't mentioned above: the Twins betting on a bounceback from Phil Hughes in a fly-ball friendly park, the Royals sealing their second-base black hole by signing Omar Infante, the Indians getting their platoon on with David Murphy, and the Rays doubling down on catcher defense, first by re-signing Jose Molina and then by trading for Ryan Hanigan. —Ben Lindbergh

Related Content:  Free Agents,  Transactions,  Offseason

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