With the offseason behind us for the most part, let’s take a look at the best move by every American League team since the end of the 2018 season.
The most impact-laden transaction of the offseason for the Orioles, in terms of the big club’s 2019 season, might be the signing of RHP Andrew Cashner in February. But the best move of the winter was a move they didn’t make.
Generally, in those scenarios, it’s best for clubs to clean house, Get what you can for players with any kind of proven record and look toward the future. But trading Dylan Bundy with three years of control left coming off a year when a trace of his upside revealed itself likely would have backfired.
By keeping the 26-year-old, they take a shot he can stay healthy again — 31 starts, 171/2 IP in 2018 — and stave off some of the implosions that ruined his season line (5.17 FIP, 0.8 fWAR).
The return on such a player over the offseason certainly wouldn’t have been much but there’s reason to dream here which suggests the O’s could get a lot more for Bundy this summer or after the season than they could have in December.
Bundy’s 12.7% swinging strike rate ranked No. 10 among starters in all of MLB last year Bundy also ranked No. 19 in contact rate on pitches in the zone at 84.3%, ahead of Zack Wheeler and a tick behind Trevor Bauer.
The raw stuff suggests there’s more, too:
91-93 mph FB, occasional sinker, above-average slider, average curveball and a changeup that has been significantly better than it was in 2018. Even just that one aspect — having a better version of his changeup — could pay rather large dividends.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox didn’t add much this winter after winning it all last fall. In fact, they lost more than they added.
While many might suggest the lost of Craig Kimbel is big — and it might be — handing Kimbrel six years and $100 million — reportedly the closer’s initial asking price — would likely have been one they’d regret as early as THIS SEASON, so for me the club’s best move was passing on Kimbrel, at least at that price.
Dave Dombrowski has a lot of future money with which to concern his payroll, including reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and ace Chris Sale, not to mention outfielder Andrew Benintendi another year or two down the line.
Sake and Betts are elite players are will be paid as such. If Boston wants to keep them both it’s likely to take north of $400 million combined, and that number could exceed $500 million.
Now, the Red Sox, as a franchise, could afford to pay all of those players AND Kimbrel, but because they CAN doedn;t mean ownership doesn’t have its self-imposed limits.
Besides, it’s not fun having a $15 million per season sunk cost on a closer you’re stuck paying for six years. Kimbrel is 31 in May and just had his worst season as a major leaguer.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox were in on Manny Machado with limits and eventually were outbid by $50-plus million TOTAL, which truly is shameful. If a player is worth $240 million to you, how is he not worth $300 million? Weird.
But the Sox did little else over the winter, suggesting their interest in Machado was never more than one of those “if he’s a bargain” ventures, so we’ll have to settle for the signing of RHR Kelvin Herrera.
The Sox’s bullpen needed veteran arms and they added two with late-inning experience in Herrera and Alex Colome. Since they gave up no talent to get Herrera, he’s a better value than Colome, who cost the club bat-first catcher Omar Narvaez.
Herrera’s best days may be behind him but he’s still sitting 95-98 mph and in The Cell, the White Sox need to miss as many bats as possible.
There were rumors Cleveland was shopping ace Corey Kluber and right-hander Carlos Carrasco, but neither were moved. In fact, Carrasco was signed to a terrific team-friendly deal worth $47 million over four years with a 2023 option at $14 million. The deal replaced the option year of Carrasco’s previous four-year, $22 million deal signed back in 2015 and is tremendous value for the club.
Carrasco was acquired in 2009 from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Ben Francisco and Cliff Lee and as good as Lee was for the Phillies — 16 fWAR first three full seasons — Carrasco has already surpassed that at 22.7 and the past two have been near-Lee like at 5-plus wins each.
The Tigers are in the early stages of a rebuild and may have failed miserably not maximizing the trade value of Nicholas Castellanos, who is a free agent after 2019.
Ross received $5.75 million guaranteed for one year and a 1.0-win season split between the Padres and Cardinals in 2018.
Moore received $2.5 million for 2019 after his option was bought out by the Giants in October. The lefty made 39 appearances last season, 12 of them starts.
There may be more upside with Moore if he’s given a shot to start again, but Ross found a way to give 150 league-average innings last season and serves as a safer bet. Either way, there’s at least a chance one of the two pops and nets the Tigers something useful in return in July.
Considering Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton were free agents — Morton signed with Tampa and Keuchel sits in purgatory at press time — amd Lance McCullers Jr. will miss the 2019 season, the Astros didn’t do much to fortify the rotation they’ve leaned on so heavily the past two years.
Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole remain, but the rest other 100ish starts will go to Collin McHugh, free agent pickup Wade Miley and Brad Peacock, at least until the club calls upon top prospect Forrest Whitley.
Left fielder Michael Brantley was the best offseason move for the Astros, however. Brantley signed a two-year, $32 million deal and is coming off his healthiest season yet. He’ll hit for average and play good enough defense in a smallish but oddly-shaped outfield at Minute Maid Park. He makes a lot of contact, walks a bit and offers average power that should play well in Houston.
Even if he reverts back to 120-130 games a year, he’s well worth the contract because the chance he performs is high.
Kansas City Royals
I didn’t love the Whit Merrifield contract for the Royals — he’s 30, not a long-term future asset and now might be tough to trade if for some reason he regresses in performance. The Royals are nowhere near contention and Merrifield is more of a sprinkle than a main ingredient.
But the club made a few moves over the winter that are very likable, including hanging onto Danny Duffy rather than selling low, though that really was a no-brainer.
The Brad Boxberger addition cost only money, but the best move was not blocking Aldaberto Mondesi. Sounds like a no-brainer, too, but clubs so often can’t help themselves when a veteran player — in this case Jose Iglesias, Alcides Escobar, Tim Beckham — is available for so cheap.
The Royals passed and can hand all the playing time at shortstop to their 23-year-old coming off a solid half-year at the plate: .276/.306, 14 HR, 101 wRC+.
Mondesi is a bit of a hacker, but has shown the ability to be more selective in the minors so if he can at least raise the walk rate to the 5 percent range and reduce the strikeout rates a bit, he’ll be an above-average shortstop headlined by plus defense.
Los Angeles Angels
While the Halos failed more miserably this winter than any team in baseball — seriously, where is the pitching to support a Mike Trout-led offensive attack now supported by Justin Upton, Zack Cozart, Justin Bour and Andrelton Simmons?
Trevor Cahill was the starting pitcher the Angels added and while Cahill can eat innings, he’s not going to help the Angels compete against teams that throw Verlander, Cole, Kluber, Carrasco, Sale and Porcello at them. And now Andrew Heaney‘s been shut down.
Allen wasn’t dominant in 2018 (4.56 FIP, 11.4% BB rate) and his velocity was down for the fourth year in a row, but he’s still 93-95 mph with a plus curveball and a better bet late than anything else the Halos had in 2018.
The Twins went out and did a few things over the winter that stand out and give the club a chance to surprise some folks.
Perez is a bit riskier, but a fun arm to keep an eye on for 2019. He’s 28 in April but has a history of 92-95 mph with a plus changeup and has been up to 98 this spring.
New York Yankees
The Yankees are my favorite to win the World Series in 2019 based very much on their pitching — even though they’re very much seen as a club that can score runs in bunches.
Check out this projected bullpen and their 2018 FIPs & K %:
If I had to pick one move it’s the deal the club made to land Paxton. Even though it cost them Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Dom Thompson-Williams and Paxton is controlled for just two years, there’s No. 1 stuff in that left arm and he can go toe-to-toe with anyone.
Profar probably isn’t an everyday shortstop, but the A’s have Marcus Semien for that. Profar still is just 26 and in just under 600 plate appearances last year showed some of the ability at the plate we’ve waited to see since 2012.
In any scenario, a producing Profar can handle both middle-infield spots, third base and left field and is equally dangerous from both sides of the plate: more power as a lefty but more contact and OBP as a right-handed batter — he posted a .341 wOBA and 108 wRC+ from each side in 2018.
The Mariners’ reimagine season — seriously, that’s one of the words they’ve used for 2019, the first year ever the club has admitted they’re not chasing every last win toward a playoff goal — led them to trading Paxton, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Jean Segura, Juan Nicasio, James Pazos, Alex Colome and Mike Zunino and letting Cruz walk via free agency.
Among the prospects acquired, their new No. 1, LHP Justus Sheffield, is near-MLB ready and certainly sees time in the bigs in 2019. Another, RHP Justin Dunn, may be within two seasons of filling another rotation spots and a third, RHP Erik Swanson, offers ready back-end assistance immediately, if necessary.
But the best move of the winter by Dipoto and company was the addition of LHP Yusei Kikuchi.
Up to 96 with the fastball, a savvy cutter, slider, splitter set of secondaries and a forward-thinking head on his shoulders for four years and $56 million, or roughly half what the New York Mets will pay Yoenis Cespedes over the same time frame. Also $26 million less than the Red Sox will pay Rick Porcello. Also, $12 million less than the Cardinals will pay Miles Mikolas over the next four seasons. It’s also $1 million less than Baltimore will have paid Alex Cobb over four seasons (2018-21).
Now, jury still is out on how well Kikuchi will perform, but there’s a good chance this is a bargain, considering what the lefty brings to the table, and no chance this is a bad contract, considering what Patrick Corbin (6/$140M) and Nathan Eovaldi (4/$68M) signed for this same offseason.
At his best, Kikuchi could be a legit No. 2 starter with above-average strikeout rates and a batted ball profile similar to Kyle Freeland, boasting above-average ground ball rate, a below 20-percent line drive rate, and a fly ball rate in the low-30s that keeps the home run ball from ruining the day far too often.
Freeland, by the way, is a solid comp for Kikuchi in that he’ll miss some bats and throw strikes, but won’t be elite in either area, but does a good job of inducing weak contact with a five-pitch mix.
Freeland (4.2 fWAR in 2018), sits 91-94 mph with a cutter, sinker, slider and changeup.
Kikuchi also cuts the fastball and offers a slider, splitter and what was described to me as a “short curveball” that I’m not sure we’ve seen him use in Spring Training. Kikuchi also varies the action on his four-seamer to climb the ladder.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays made a few smaller moves over the winter after a fairly busy summer. Truth be told, the addition of Tyler Glasnow last summer may prove to be huge for them, but for this past winter, filling the catcher vacancy with Mike Zunino was a really good get.
For all of Zunino’s shortcomings at the plate — he will hit for power but he also will strike out and not hit for much average, and it wouldn’t shock anyone if he struggled to stay above .200 — he’s a terrific defender, leader, game caller and framer and despite having Wilson Ramos a year ago, Tampa upgraded here.
Zunino is very durable — Ramos played just 79 games in 2018. Zunino’s MLB game and innings totals aren’t that high but it’s not due to injury. It’s because he’s been shipped to Triple-A to work on standard hitting adjustments.
I hated the Rangers’ offseason almost as much as the Angels’. It’s clearly rebuilding time for Texas yet they not only held onto veteran assets like Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Delino DeShields and Rougned Odor, but they added veterans with little upside, including C Jeff Mathis, RHP Lance Lynn, RHP Jesse Chavez, IF Asdrubal Cabrera and RHR Shawn Kelley.
None of the four are likely to return enough in July to be worth the combined $50.75 million the club spent to get them, and none will be a significant force on the next competitive Rangers club, so it makes zero sense.
Smyly has the best resume, but also the most significant injury history. Having said that, he’s still the best addition here, despite the cost, since he could reasonably return to good No. 4 starter form and net the Rangers a useful piece or two at the deadline.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays gave Buchholz just $3 million guaranteed ($3m more in incentives) and while it’s tough to bet on the right-hander staying healthy for 30-plus starts — something he’s never done — he was efficient and his changeup was a legit weapon for him in 2018.
The Jays need assets — as many as possible — as they look to compete as early as 2020 and their farm system, despite the presence of Vlad Guerrero Jr., isn’t going to provide enough on its own. Short of trading Marcus Stroman for more future value, the Jays need to hope someone like Buchholz does something for them in 2019.
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.
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