Who needs the winter meetings? Apparently not Major League Baseball’s general managers, who, while evidently hopped up on krokodil, executed a flurry of trades and free-agent deals a week before the sport's offseason confab at Disney World. The 48-hour swirl of signings and swaps saw Jacoby Ellsbury commit the ultimate heel turn, the Nationals further solidify their starting rotation, and the A's begin filming their audition tape for Hoarders: Bullpen Strong. Tuesday's action was largely a series of middling moves and “my garbage for your trash” trades, but taken cumulatively, the effect was, well, startling.
As with any period of great upheaval, the stunned citizenry must have questions. Let's try to answer five of them, starting with the big one.
In 2013, Francisco Liriano, Koji Uehara, Russell Martin, Bartolo Colon, James Loney, and Marlon Byrd were the poster boys for that reality. They all had flaws that led to relatively low-price contracts, but wound up delivering big. Teams underrate defense and overrate offense. Too often, franchises focus on a poor recent season instead of considering a three-year sample, discounting that players in their late twenties and early thirties are still capable of bouncing back from off campaigns.
So who will these players be in 2014? Two have already signed amid a flurry of early activity. Three more remain there for the claiming with the winter meetings still two weeks away.
These five undervalued players look poised to help their new clubs reap big rewards in 2014, and possibly beyond.
A flurry of moves over the past few days has the hot stove firing earlier than usual this offseason. With the Prince Fielder–Ian Kinsler blockbuster swap already thoroughly examined, let's explore what these other trades and signings mean for the teams, the players, and the rest of the winter.
New York Yankees
What they've done: The Yankees signed catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract with a vesting option that could take the deal to six years and $100 million.
What it means: McCann gives the Yankees' offense a big boost. A few years ago, the Bombers fielded a lineup stuffed with power hitters and big on-base threats, the kind of attack that would wear down opposing pitchers and bash teams into submission, making up for New York's sometimes shaky run prevention. That formula unraveled in 2013, with major injuries knocking multiple boppers out of the lineup, reducing the Yankees' offense to no. 28 in baseball on a park-adjusted basis. Chris Stewart, the team’s primary receiver, hit an abysmal .211/.293/.272. Since 2006, McCann’s first full season, only four catchers have delivered more offensive value. Strip out Victor Martinez and Mike Napoli, who no longer catch, and McCann trails only Joe Mauer and Buster Posey; and once the 2014 season starts, Mauer won't be catching, either.
After months of waiting, Rafael Soriano finally landed a multi-year contract with perhaps the only team for whom such a deal would've made sense — the Washington Nationals.
The 33-year-old right-hander will make $28 million over the next two years, with a vesting option for a third if he finishes 120 games over the next two seasons, something only two relief pitchers did over the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
The Nats already owned a phalanx of capable right-handed relievers. Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen figured to line up as the team's eighth- and ninth-inning options, with manager Davey Johnson set to rotate roles as health and performance dictated. He did so in 2012 and got reasonable results given the duo's price (and relative lack of closing experience, if that's your jam), with Clippard seizing the closer role for much of the season as Storen recovered from elbow surgery, followed by Storen returning to ninth-inning duties later in the year. Ryan Mattheus and Christian Garcia figured to handle setup roles.
Maybe it's our short memories, and how overwhelming the news cycle can seem in the middle of it. But at this moment, the trade that would send R.A. Dickey and two other players to Toronto for a four-player package highlighted by two terrific prospects has shoved all other Hot Stove news to the backburner. Here's why we're freaking the hell out about it.
The wildest day of this Hot Stove season featured the winter's biggest contract for a position player, an affordable two-year deal for a veteran starting pitcher, and a fierce, two-team battle for an underrated starter.
A few hours after the Angels' 11th-hour rush ended with a $125 million deal for Josh Hamilton, the buzz turned to a Cubs-Tigers tug-of-war for Anibal Sanchez. Multiple early reports had Sanchez headed to Chicago for five years and $75 million. But while Hamilton reportedly reneged on a promise to give the Rangers a chance to match any competing offer, Sanchez had no such reluctance, approaching the Tigers to see if they'd match the Cubs' proposal and keep him in Detroit and they did, signing the best remaining pitcher on the free-agent market to a five-year, $80 million contract.
Five things to know about the five-year, $75.25 million free agent contract B.J. Upton signed with the Braves:
1. Upton's got age and skills on his side. Several of the biggest-name free agents on this year's market are on the wrong side of 30. Not Upton, who celebrated his 28th birthday three months ago. He's had a bit of a weird career, posting the two best seasons of his career (by WAR) in his first two full seasons as a starter, in 2007 and 2008, his age-22 and age-23 seasons. Also odd: He posted the best strikeout and walk rates of his career during the only full season in which he failed to hit double-digit home runs (2008), then did a passable Babe Ruth impression in that year's playoffs, cranking seven homers in 11 ALDS and ALCS games.
The series of tubes are still buzzing over Sergio Romo's parade-stopping T-shirt, and already we've got reams of Hot Stove news to sort through. Here are some of the biggest happenings from the past week: