An old baseball adage says that sometimes the best moves a team makes are the ones that didn’t come to fruition. While that may border on cliché, it is true. As each season unfolds, general managers can look back at the previous offseason, wipe their brow, and let out a sigh of relief about a plan that failed.
So here’s a look at 10 moves teams didn’t make last winter that have them smiling now:
Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti spent most of the winter dangling the right-hander in a search for a much-needed power bat. While the Dodgers could still use another big bopper, they are certainly glad they did not deal Penny since he’s having a great season.
Penny is second in the National League behind San Diego’s Jake Peavy in SNLVAR (3.9) and VORP (33.5), while going 9-1 with a 2.12 ERA in 97 2/3 innings. Most importantly, he’s provided the starting rotation with an ace while free-agent acquisition Jason Schmidt‘s season has been ruined by shoulder problems that have required surgery.
Part of the reason the Dodgers were willing to trade Penny, though, is that he tailed off badly in the second half last season after being the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star Game. He was 10-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) before the All-Star break, and just 6-7 with a 6.25 ERA in 15 starts after.
Feeling Casey Kotchman might never live up to his vast potential, Angels GM Bill Stoneman spent a large portion of the winter looking for a first baseman. The player he pursued most was Atlanta’s Adam LaRoche, but the Braves wound up trading him to Pittsburgh.
Kotchman is having a breakout season with the Angels and looking like a star. LaRoche has been a bust with the Pirates, failing to provide the left-handed power bat they were looking for.
Kotchman is 13th in the American League in VORP at 26.9 and hitting .333/.411/.556 with eight homers and 35 RBI in 236 plate appearances. LaRoche’s numbers are .224/.316/.390 with eight homers and 38 RBI in 282 plate appearances. His -2.4 VORP ranks 382nd in the NL.
The Cubs got labeled as cheap in some circles for signing left-hander Ted Lilly (four years, $40 million) and right-hander Jason Marquis (three years, $21 million) as free agents instead of going after big game like Barry Zito and Schmidt. However, no one is questioning Cubs GM Jim Hendry’s choice in pitchers anymore.
Marquis ranks 20th in the NL in SNLVAR (1.9) and 23rd in VORP (15.2) and is 5-3 with a 3.14 ERA in 83 innings. Lilly’s 16.2 VORP is 20th in the league and his 1.7 SNLVAR is 29th, as he’s 5-4 with a 3.69 ERA in 85 1/3 innings.
4. Philadelphia doesn’t trade Aaron Rowand
Phillies GM Pat Gillick is still looking for bullpen help nearly three full months into the season, but he decided not to part with center fielder Aaron Rowand in any deals for set-up men over the winter. While the Phillies’ bullpen is shaky, trading Rowand would have created a huge hole that couldn’t have been filled internally.
Rowand’s 26.0 VORP ranks 10th in the NL, and his triple-slash numbers are .314/.389/.490 with 10 homers and 38 RBI through 300 plate appearances. If Rowand had been traded, rookie Michael Bourn would have been inserted in center field. While he hasn’t been a total disaster in limited play, there’s a big dropoff in production. Bourn is hitting .275/.325/.370 with no homers and two RBI in 46 plate appearances with a 3.5 VORP in limited duty.
5. St. Louis doesn’t re-sign Jeff Weaver
Weaver was a post-season hero for the Cardinals in their unlikely run to a World Series title last season. While GM Walt Jocketty endured his share of criticism for not retaining the right-hander when he became a free agent, his decision not to match Seattle’s one-year, $8.3-million offer has been wise.
Weaver has been horrible. His SNLVAR (-1.1) is 251st–and last–in the AL, and his VORP (-19.8) ranks 250th, ahead of only Tampa Bay’s Edwin Jackson. Weaver’s record is 0-6 with a 10.97 ERA in 32 innings.
As much help as the Cardinals could use in the rotation, Weaver would be the weightiest anchors if still in St. Louis.
6. Baltimore doesn’t trade Brian Roberts
The Orioles are in disarray as manager Sam Perlozzo was fired Monday and the once-proud franchise continues on its way to becoming the Pittsburgh Pirates of the AL, as they have a 10th straight losing season in sight. At least Orioles owner Peter Angelos vetoed the trade his top baseball decision makers, Jim Duquette and Mike Flanagan, had worked out with Atlanta that would have sent second baseman Brian Roberts and right-handed pitching prospect Hayden Penn to the Braves for LaRoche and second baseman Marcus Giles.
LaRoche’s struggles in Pittsburgh have already been touched upon. Giles, who was non-tendered after the trade fell through, hasn’t made a huge impact with San Diego as a free agent, as his offensive production has fallen in recent seasons. Giles’s VORP is 4.7, which ranks 99th in the NL, and he is hitting .266/.342/.371 with four homers and 27 RBI in 295 plate appearances.
7. Atlanta doesn’t trade Chuck James
While the Braves were disappointed not to get Roberts, GM John Schuerholz has to be happy that his offer of a package of players that was headed by left-hander Chuck James to Tampa Bay for center fielder Rocco Baldelli was turned down.
James is quietly having a solid season as the No. 3 starter in a Braves’ rotation still looking for two adequate fillers at the back end. James currently sports a 1.9 SNLVAR and 12.6 VORP, which rank 21st and 34th in the NL, respectively. He is also 6-6 with a 4.11 ERA in 81 innings.
While no one will dispute Baldelli’s vast physical talents, he has again been injured and unproductive this season, amassing just 150 plate appearances so far, and hitting .204/.268/.358 with five homers and 12 RBI. His -4.0 VORP ranks 282nd in the AL.
8. Florida doesn’t sign Danys Baez
The Marlins‘ underrated GM Larry Beinfest pushed hard to sign Danys Baez as a free agent to serve as his team’s closer, but was trumped by Baltimore’s three-year, $19-million offer to become as Chris Ray‘s set-up man. While the Marlins have already had three closers this season–trading with Colorado for Jorge Julio late in spring training then giving the job to Henry Owens before going to veteran Kevin Gregg when Owens was injured–they are glad not to have Baez.
9. Texas doesn’t sign Keith Foulke
Not much has gone right for the Rangers and GM Jon Daniels this year as they are buried in the AL West standings. However, at least Keith Foulke turned down the Rangers’ offer to be their closer.
Foulke wound up signing with Cleveland before having second thoughts the day before spring training began, eventually deciding to retire. Perhaps the Rangers will sign Foulke for next season, as he is contemplating a comeback in 2008.
The Rangers did sign Eric Gagne as a free agent to close. And while the save opportunities have been few, he has bounced back from two injury-filled seasons with the Dodgers to post seven saves, a 1-0 record and a 0.50 ERA in in 18 innings. His 1.070 WXRL ranks 20th in the AL.
10. Pittsburgh doesn’t sign Tomo Ohka
The Pirates offered Ohka a two-year contract but he turned them down to sign a one-year deal with Toronto. Ohka took the shorter-term deal in order to have the flexibility of becoming a free agent sooner. Well, free agency came earlier than Ohka expected when the Blue Jays released him earlier this week and he signed a minor-league contract with St. Louis. He was 2-5 with a 5.79 ERA in 56 innings for the Blue Jays while posting a 0.4 SNLVAR and a -1.2 VORP, ranking 61st and 178th in the AL in those categories.
Had the Pirates signed Ohka, he would have been the latest in a long line of free-agent busts since Dave Littlefield became GM in 2001, a list that has had Tony Armas added to it this season to join Jeromy Burnitz, Joe Randa, Randall Simon, Chris Stynes and Raul Mondesi, among others.