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February 27, 2013

The Lineup Card

12 Least-Favorite Off-Season Moves

by Baseball Prospectus

‚Äč1. The Diamondbacks Sign Cody Ross
In the sea of oddity that was their offseason, perhaps the Diamondbacks’ crowning achievement was signing Cody Ross to a three-year, $26 million deal. The room for Ross was created—if not intentionally—by trading two fine young outfielders in Chris Young and Justin Upton. Last season, Ross played in Boston for $3 million. He was 30. This season Ross, like the rest of us, has aged a year, but somehow the Diamondbacks decided that he was worth three times as many years and almost nine times as many dollars. They did so despite terrifying home/road splits (921 OPS at Fenway, 684 OPS on the road) and an inability to be anything above mediocre against right-handed pitching. Ross’ signing was perhaps the most perplexing move made by a front office that moved in mysterious ways this winter. —Matthew Kory

2. No, Seriously, Cody Ross to the Diamondbacks
At the risk of piling on the Diamondbacks after a very strange offseason, one of their moves was my least favorite because of the signing itself, but also because of the surrounding circumstances. Adding Ross at $26 million for three years in a vacuum is only slightly objectionable. (Actually, it’s very objectionable because he couldn’t breathe in a vacuum and would probably die well before the three years are up.) But the Diamondbacks already had four capable outfielders, and in adding a not-very-good one, they put themselves under pressure to get rid of a very good one, which they did in Justin Upton.

Ross, whose days as a center fielder are probably behind him, was a 2.1-win player last year and hadn’t been that high since 2008. In the four years since that peak season, he has averaged 1.5 wins above replacement player. So even before you figure in decline, the three years and $26 million is a little much. But when you do, and when you think about the fact that you already had an outfield of Jason Kubel, Adam Eaton and Gerardo Parra, much less Upton, much less Chris Young before that, it’s just throwing money at almost nothing and doing so for three years. —Zachary Levine

3. The Diamondbacks Send Chris Young to Oakland
The Diamondbacks might not have had the worst offseason of any team in baseball, but by many accounts, they had the strangest. And it all began on October 21, when, just days before the World Series, general manager Kevin Towers struck a deal with his counterparts in Oakland and Miami. The three-way trade (or, more precisely, two successive two-way trades) brought Heath Bell and Cliff Pennington to the desert, at the expense of Chris Young, who joined the Athletics.

Although Towers' future moves, from the Justin Upton trade, to the Trevor Bauer-for-Didi Gregorius barter, to the Cody Ross signing, did not flow directly from this October swap, the opening salvo was as curious as any of the moves. Pennington was acquired, presumably, to resolve Arizona's mess at shortstop, but Towers went on resolving that mess long after Pennington came to the desert. And, in the process, he may have made the Diamondbacks worse at two outfield positions, in addition to creating an apparent glut at the third.

The Bell acquisition—despite the right-hander's history with Towers in San Diego—was equally puzzling. Arizona agreed to take on $13 million of the $21 million remaining on Bell's contract, which runs through the 2014 season, and though the player cost (Yordy Cabrera, who was obtained from Oakland in the Pennington-for-Young precursor) was minimal, the decision to devote significant resources to a declining and aging middle reliever was incongruous with the short-term plan of improving the team. The Diamondbacks will pay Bell $5 million in 2013 to serve as, at best, the fourth-best righty in a pen that also features closer J.J. Putz, primary set-up man David Hernandez, and elite specialist Brad Ziegler. This, before a winter that saw Koji Uehara get $4.5 million over one year and Mike Adams net only $12 million for the next two.

Towers has built a strong enough reputation over his GM career to warrant the benefit of the doubt. But if the doubters prove prescient, history won't look kindly on his third offseason in Arizona, from beginning to end. —Daniel Rathman

4. Ozzie Guillen and Bobby Valentine Get Canned
There's a team I root for in baseball, and I am also one of those fans who has come to enjoy the well-played move (the trade that helps both sides or the free-agent signing that provides value to the team and security for the player), but in the end, outside of the A's winning the World Series every year, the main thing I want is for Major League Baseball to be hilarious: I want GIFs of dudes falling down and quotes from players with a sharp sense of humor (biased, but I'm looking at you, Mr. McCarthy) ,and tweets with ridiculous autocorrect ("cot for choice," never forget).

To that end, I have a strong interest in promoting the idea that managers shouldn't be tactically smart or savvy in the clubhouse or go-along-get-along guys with their general manager and owner so much as they should be good with a quote and occasionally willing to throw someone (verbally) under a bus or wave a bat in the direction of the most heralded rookie since King Tut. That is to say that my least-favorite moves of the offseason were the firings of Bobby Valentine and Ozzie Guillen, each of whom provided so much joy to everyone outside of Boston and Miami with their antics and their unpredictability and their hilarious praise of Fidel Castro and their inability to just shut the hell up for three seconds even though their jobs depended on it and, really, most of all, their belief that they actually matter and have power just because they're famous and signed contracts and had been good managers in the past, which power, actually, they proved they did have, if you think about it, because were those teams really 90-loss teams on the talent of it?

Either way, though, RIP Ozzie and Bobby, and here's hoping you make a reality sitcom together. —Jason Wojciechowski

5. The Mets Sign Marlon Byrd
Marlon Byrd is a great guy and was once a pretty good player—though how much of that was legitimate we’ll never know, after he was suspended 50 games for PEDs last year—but when the Mets signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to major-league spring training over the winter, the move was the equivalent of putting a bandage on a gaping wound. And not a regular bandage, but one of those tiny Band-Aids you would use on a baby. Granted, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson tried to sign Michael Bourn and trade for Justin Upton but, with all due respect to Collin “We Need More” Cowgill, he had to do something more with his outfield than sign Byrd.

The way it stands now, the Mets’ outfield will likely consist of Lucas Duda in left, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center and Mike Baxter in right field. Duda, at least, has a little pop, but Niewuwehuis projects as a fourth outfielder, and there will be no fringier fringe player in an Opening Day lineup than Baxter. It's no wonder why the always quick-witted Alderson replied, “What outfield?” when asked by a reporter about his outfield before the start of spring training. What outfield, indeed. —John Perrotto

6. The Padres Do Nothing
A team that incurred 86 losses last year, had more than 40 percent of households in the city it represents be unable to watch games on television, and switched ownership groups for the second time in four years might wish to show signs of life during the offseason. The Padres ranked 14th of 16 National League teams in attendance. Fans weren't clamoring to see the 2012 product, so presumably changes might be in order. If nothing else, the new owners could extend the proverbial olive branch by demonstrating a commitment to improve.

The biggest black hole last year was starting pitching. Injuries played a key role, but when 36 percent of your starts go to Jason Marquis, Eric Stults, Ross Ohlendorf, Andrew Werner, Kip Wells, and Jeff Suppan, that's as much bad planning as bad luck. The Padres, despite playing half their games at then-spacious Petco Park, saw their starters post the league's fourth-worst ERA.

They addressed this gaping hole by trading for Tyson Ross, re-signing Marquis and Tim Stauffer, and signing free agents Sean O'Sullivan and Freddy Garcia. Whether the team can re-establish credibility among its fan base by slapping duct tape onto an open wound remains to be seen, but there would seem to be better strategies for achieving that goal. —Geoff Young

7. The Diamondbacks Forget How No-Trade Clauses Work
We all forget things sometimes; it happens to the best of us. On Saturday night, I forgot to give my daughter her vitamins before putting her to bed. Turns out, she woke up on Sunday with all of her extremities still attached. On January 10, reports surfaced that the Arizona Diamondbacks had agreed to trade Justin Upton to the Seattle Mariners for a package of four players, including top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker. The only slight hiccup was that the Mariners were one of only four teams on Upton’s no-trade list, and the right fielder promptly rejected the trade.

It doesn’t matter if the reports that Upton “repeatedly” told the Diamondbacks he wouldn’t accept a trade to Seattle are true or not. Clearly, this is an important piece of information to have when negotiating a deal. Maybe Kevin Towers thought that news of the almost-trade wouldn’t leak out, which either paints him as naïve or having a lack of understanding as to how the baseball media and Internet coexist. Maybe he genuinely thought that the Mariners would make such a convincing case to Upton that he’d waive his no-trade clause. And that he’d choose to go play half of his games in a stadium that would suppress the numbers he’d need to cash in when he hit free agency after the 2015 season. Of course, that doesn’t paint him in a positive light either.

But maybe the most interesting aspect of this mini-saga is that it was not the first time Kevin Towers has done this. Back in 2002, when he was general manager of the San Diego Padres, Towers agreed to deal Phil Nevin to Cincinnati for Ken Griffey Jr.—and Nevin invoked his no-trade clause (h/t to Geoff Young, who reminded me about this). According to Nevin’s agent, he told Towers the prior summer that the only way his client would accept a trade would be if it were to a West Coast team. At least I only forgot my daughter’s vitamins once. —Bret Sayre

8. The Orioles Do Nothing
Well, they did re-sign hitters like Lew Ford (79 PAs, -0.4 WARP) and Nate McLouth (“erupted” for 0.9 WARP in 236 PAs after coming over from Pittsburgh). And they took flyers on pitchers such as Manny Delcarmen (last pitched in majors in 2010), Jair Jurrjens (mostly bad and injured since 2009), and Joel Pineiro (shoulder labrum surgery last July). Also, they gave alms to Adam Greenberg. In other words, the Orioles stood pat. Meanwhile, every other team in their division, the most competitive in baseball, aggressively worked the market over the winter, making deals, spending big, shoring up.

Were the Orioles complacent, or just financially limited? Perhaps Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter are already gearing up for another season of canny roster manipulation in order to hide its cracks and stains, but the intelligence and tirelessness required for the brain trust to pull that off in 2012—which they did, shrewdly, reanimating this lifeless franchise—should also have alerted them to the meager odds of Baltimore again exceeding their Pythagorean win expectancy by 11 games and going 29-9 in one-run contests. The O’s inaction could plunge the club right back into the depths of inconsequence. And they don’t even have Dana Eveland and Bill Hall around to save them anymore! —Adam Sobsey

9. The Reds Give Jonathan Broxton a Three-Year Deal
Three years and $21 million for Jonathan Broxton. I had to shake my head. By this point, the reader will probably be quite familiar with the reason that giving a bunch of money to a "proven closer" is a bad idea. And it is, especially given that Broxton, while he saved 27 games with a 2.48 ERA last year, did so with a high LOB% (79.2 percent) and a low HR/FB ratio (4.9 percent), which masked that his strikeout rate has fallen by 3.5 per nine innings(!!!) in the space of a year. Broxton is due to regress, and even if you buy that his performance over the past year was legitimate, there's nothing in his recent performance that screams "good investment." Actually, I worry about this signing for what will eventually happen in Cincinnati because of it.

Broxton theoretically takes over the closer role from Aroldis Chapman, who will join the Reds' starting rotation. If Broxton falters a couple of times (and even the really good closers do that), there will be calls for Chapman to be reinstated as closer, because blowing a two-run lead in the ninth feels awful. Beware the moment when someone says this: "A decent starter is easier to find than a good closer." It's the sin of false equivalence. In fact, there are more decent starters around than good closers, primarily because there are five starters to a team and only one closer. But even if Chapman turns out to just be a decent starter, he's more valuable in that role than as a good closer. Baseball is a game of attrition, and getting seven pretty good innings is much more valuable than getting one really good frame. Still, the Reds might give into that pressure. If they're going to do that anyway, why pay some guy $7 million to take the fall when they could have gotten someone else to do it for a cool million? —Russell A. Carleton

10. The Twins Sign Kevin Correia
I’ve already written and talked about how little I liked this move, so you know what I think about the idea of giving Kevin Correia, a roughly replacement-level pitcher, a two-year, $10 million contract in the abstract. What I haven’t done is consider the Correia signing in the context of this winter’s meat market. Which free agent starters could the Twins have signed with the same amount of money (or less) this offseason?

Here’s a list of every free agent starter who got a major-league deal for a total guaranteed commitment of $10 million or less, with contract terms and projected WARP for 2013:

Name

Team

Years

Annual Salary ($M)

Projected 2013 WARP

Kevin Correia

Twins

2

5

-0.5

Carlos Villanueva

Cubs

2

5

1.1

Brett Myers

Indians

1

7

0.7

Joe Saunders

Mariners

1

6.5

0.4

Scott Feldman

Cubs

1

6

1.2

Scott Baker

Cubs

1

5.5

2.3

Shaun Marcum

Mets

1

4

2.6

Mike Pelfrey

Twins

1

4

-0.2

Roberto Hernandez

Rays

1

3.25

0.3

Bartolo Colon

Athletics

1

3

0.6

Jason Marquis

Padres

1

3

-0.3

John Lannan

Phillies

1

2.5

0.0

Jeff Karstens

Pirates

1

2.5

1.1

Jeff Francis

Rockies

1

1.5

0.4

Francisco Liriano

Pirates

1

1 (Guaranteed)

1.5

Correia has both the worst projection and the biggest guaranteed contract of anyone on the list. Granted, it’s not as if the Twins could have snapped their fingers and ended up with any of those arms; maybe some of them wouldn’t have wanted to pitch in Minnesota. But even if you accept the premise that a rebuilding team like the Twins needed veteran rotation depth like Correia, it’s pretty hard to believe that they couldn’t have gotten more for their money. —Ben Lindbergh

11. The Dodgers Sign Brandon League
I could repeat the same exercise I just performed for Correia, listing every reliever who signed for less than Brandon League and projects to be better. But honestly, the list would be too long. —Ben Lindbergh

12. The Royals trade Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorizzi and Patrick Leonard for Wade Davis, James Shields and Elliot Johnson.
I've been asked about this trade in every baseball conversation I've been in since it went down, by people ranging from my landlord to random bar flies to my wife to Theo Epstein. Actually, that last name drop is cheating—Epstein asked me about it only after I had asked him. (The response was both diplomatic and off the record. Sorry.)

I don't want to steal my own thunder by going on about this because the Royals open the season in Chicago and it's going to take me many thousands of words to explain why the deal scares the living crap out of me. I certainly hope it works out. I hope that Shields wins the Cy Young and Davis proves to be the next Johan Santana and the Royals' young lineup matures and the bullpen is airtight and they win 100 games this season. I have zero confidence that any of this will happen. What I expect is that Shields will post a 5+ ERA, Davis will turn into Jonathan Sanchez, Myers will have a Mike Trout rookie season and Montgomery will discover the strike zone. I feel this way because I'm a Royals fan, and that's why I need a long form story to fully explain myself. Even if the reasoning for this trade had been unassailable from the Royals' perspective, I still would have expected it to turn out badly. As we approach three decades of losing, we Royals fans have collectively developed a massive inferiority complex. It's both understandable and very sad. —Bradford Doolittle

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