What work is still left to be done for some of baseball's playoff contenders?
Although this year’s Baseball Winter Meetings were regarded as relatively slow, only seven teams checked out of the Opryland without making some sort of move. While Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton remain at large and Angel Pagan was the highest-ranked free agent removed from the market, many clubs found ways to fill holes during the four-day event. But even though the most eventful week of the winter is over, it’s still fairly early in the offseason, and a number of teams left Nashville with help wanted at one or more positions. Here are six winning teams from 2012 that will have to plug holes before Opening Day to return to contention in 2013:
Oakland Athletics, Shortstop: As of today, Oakland’s shortstop depth chart is topped by 29-year-old Adam Rosales, a career .241 TAv hitter without a great glove. The A’s have been open about their desire to upgrade at the position, with Stephen Drew and Hiroyuki Nakajimanamed by Billy Beane as their top free-agent targets. Drew declined to exercise a $10 million mutual option that would have kept him in Oakland through 2013, but he and the team continue to discuss another deal. The A’s aren’t depending on Drew: the team reportedly engaged in trade talks for Yunel Escobar and Asdrubal Cabrera in Nashville and could go afterJhonny Peralta if Drew departs. While the outcome is no clearer than it was a week ago, A’s director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the team was able to “lay some groundwork” that could lead to a solution later this winter.
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If an expansion team with a Yankees budget wanted to build a team out of this year's free agents, what would it look like?
You can’t build a team around free agents, say the people who don’t think you can build a team around free agents. To them, the only way to build a team is through the draft, waiver claims and occasional trades. To paraphrase the great movie Waterboy (which is such a great movie that you can watch it for free on YouTube), “Free agents are the devil!” Well, maybe so if you’re living in the real world, but this is Baseball Prospectus where we can do anything we want provided it fits on a spreadsheet and won’t wake our parents upstairs.
Another thing some people like to say is that baseball teams aren’t just names on paper. They’re real people. Well, not here they aren’t, mister! Here players are one-dimensional entities devoid of emotion and everything else that won’t show up on our computer machines. In that spirit, I’m not only going to build a baseball team exclusively out of free agents, but I’m going to do it only on (virtual) paper. Eat that, straw men I just created!
Smart GMs don't pay for the brand name, but for the product. These players might have baggage but they get the job done as well as their expensive counterparts.
The free agency period, which got underway over the weekend, is a time when smart teams tread carefully, aware that the market contains as many potential pitfalls as it does opportunities. Land a high-profile free agent and you’re likely to improve your team, but you’ll also run the risk of succumbing to the Winner’s Curse, the tendency of a team to have to overpay for a player in order to outbid all his other suitors.
However, some less prominent players with lower contract demands stand a chance to approximate a more expensive player’s production, so a team can always try to cut costs and minimize risk by looking for comparable players with a little less buzz. Just as a smart shopper saves on over-the-counter medications by buying generic instead of paying a premium for a patent and nice packaging, a smart GM ignores name recognition in favor of production and price.
The names baseball will be obsessing over for the next three months.
With free agency beginning at just after midnight Eastern early Saturday, it’s time to look at this year’s class. Along with Ben Lindbergh, Sam Miller, and others, we put together a list of the top 50 free agents available this winter. Some analysis and predictions are also included. You can quibble with the rankings (especially after a certain point) and many of the predictions, but this is meant to serve as a primer for the free-agent period.
1. Zack Greinke (Angels): Greinke may not consistently perform like an ace but he is a durable no. 2 starter with a deep arsenal, and an understanding of how to use it. After trading three top prospects at the deadline for Greinke and then having his club miss the postseason, Jerry Dipoto is in an unenviable position. Dipoto cannot recoup draft picks, which provides further incentive to re-sign Greinke. It seems Dipoto is heading down that path if recent payroll shearing is any indication.