With the offseason behind us for the most part, let’s take a look at the best move by each National League club since the end of the 2018 season.
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It was either going to cost the D-Backs $200 million to keep him or they had to move him. They chose wisely.
The haul may seem a tad light for what amounts to the game’s best first baseman over the past six seasons, not to mention the third most valuable position player by fWAR (32.9) over that same span.
But Goldschmidt is 31 and entering the final year of his contract and in return Arizona acquires five years of control of Kelly, who may be their next No. 1 catcher and as early as 2019, and five years of Weaver, who has a chance to be a mid-rotation value right away with a ceiling that could scrape No. 2 starter at his peak.
Kelly brings power potential and arm strength but is working on the hit tool, having struggled mightily in his short stints in the big leagues with the Cardinals.
Weaver sits 92-95 mph with plus control and command and an above-average changeup. His cutter is at least average and if his curveball, currently fringe-average at best, reaches average or better levels, he has a shot to hit the aforementioned ceiling.
On top of that, both players will combine to earn about $3 million total over the next two years — at best.
And for a club that’s kinda-sorta retooling, adding draft capital is never a bad idea.
One could easily make an argument the best move the Braves made this offseason was NOT trading multiple prospects for a veteran, but instead it’s the addition of former MVP Josh Donaldson that takes home the trophy.
Donaldson has had trouble staying healthy, but the Braves take a chance on the 33-year-old for one season and $23 million.
That deal pays off if Donaldson repeats either of his last two full seasons when he batted .284/.404/.549 with 37 HR in 155 games in 2016 and .270/.385/.559 with 33 HR in 113 games in 2017.
He wasn’t awful last season (117 wRC+) but managed just 219 plate appearances, but his peripherals look similar enough to his better days, even though he played much of ’18 at less than 100 percent:
Last 3 Years, Most Recent First
BB%: 14.2, 15.3, 15.6
K%: 24.7, 22.4, 17.0
EV: 90.2, 90.6, 92.0
LA: 11.8, 13.5, 14.7
Hard Hit%: 41.0, 44.0, 49.5
The Braves were already No. 5 in the NL in runs scored a year ago and add a boost with Donaldson, but there are two hidden values here:
If Donaldson holds down third base, utility man Johan Camargo (.272/.349/.457, 19 HR) can move around and spell Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies or venture into the outfield, while also providing insurance for Donaldson and giving the veteran time off when needed.
Also, the Braves were the NL’s best offense versus left-handed
pitching last season with a 107 wRC+. Donaldson not only helps the club improve upon that, but offers another boomstick to complement lefty-hitting Freddie Freeman.This could be especially helpful since the division went out and got more left-handed on the mound the past year and a half.
The Cubs’ best acquisition for 2019 probably came last summer when they stole Cole Hamels from the Texas Rangers, but the best move this offseason by Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein was to avoid the panic trade and hang onto Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Duane Underwood, Carl Edwards Jr., Dillon Maples, Adbert Alzolay, Miguel Amaya, among others.
It was clear before the winter hit the Cubs weren’t likely to splurge on payroll and buy Bryce Harper or Patrick Corbin, which means the Cubs brass had two choices; stand pat and get better from within or trade young pieces on the way up for above-average to great proven veterans.
But if the Cubs want sustained success, bailing on the present core as well as the future in one offseason could be disastrous and more likely than anything else ends in failure or at very best, short-term success but a shallow farm system and no 0-3s to build upon moving forward.
The Cubs weren’t one player away. They probably weren’t even two. The roster likely needs four or five upgrades to win 100 games and contend for the World Series, and the best bet for that to occur is to ask the same cast of characters to handle the chore.
There’s no reason Kyle Schwarber can’t improve on a .238/.356/.467 season or Anthony Rizzo can’t go from a .283/.376/.470 showing back to where he was in 2015, 2016 and 2017 when he hit 32 homers per season. Kris Bryant‘s 125 wRC+ pales in comparison to what he’s proven he’s capable of (146, 148, 136 his first three seasons), not to mention he played just 102 games last season.
Getting Yu Darvish back healthy may not be a guarantee, but the club had just one starting pitcher compile more than 1.7 fWAR last year and only two went over 180 innings.
While no one would have blamed them for spending on Harper or Corbin, the Cubs did the right thing avoiding the panic trade.
In their attempt to become more competitive, the Reds went out and added proven talent, but the best deal they made was the one that landed them LHP Alex Wood and OFs Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig and cash.
The Reds control the trio for just a year, but it cost them but Homer Bailey and two prospects not likely to help in the majors for a while, if at all, and the Dodgers are footing $7 million of the bill.
The move led them to more — trading for Sonny Gray, then extending Gray’s contract, signing Jose Iglesias and Derek Dietrich as key role players — and was set up by the club’s deal to acquire RHP Tanner Roark.
The Queen City could be fun this summer and the veterans give the Amir Garretts, Robert Stephensons and Jesse Winkers more traction to finish off their development, which lends confidence to the success of the club well beyond 2019.
The easy one here is the contract extension handed to Nolan Arenado to keep him in Denver for the next eight years, barring a player opt-out. But in terms of winning in 2019, the Rockies didn’t do a whole lot in terms of personnel. But the signing of Daniel Murphy could be huge for them.
Murphy can hit, even if he can’t play a legit second base anymore – if he ever could in the first place. Colorado got Murphy on the cheap — two years, $24 million — after the 33-year-old had microfracture surgery and missed a lot of time in 2018.
With DJ Lemahieu leaving via free agency, the Rockies potentially replace the production and then some by using Ryan McMahon at second and keeping Murphy at first base.
Don’t be surprised if Murphy runs out a .320/.380/.500 season again, as he did with the Nationals in 2016 and 2017.
Los Angeles Dodgers
If L.A. would have grabbed Manny Machado or Harper or added Corbin or Dallas Keuchel to their rotation, the best move they made this offseason might be the deal that sent Kemp, Puig and Wood to the Reds, which would be weird, but it saved them $40 million off the 2019 payroll.
But they didn’t do any of those things, so …
I like the Pollock move a lot, despite his injury history, but the biggest reason it’s their best move is the cost, or lack thereof, I should say.
Pollock received $60 million over four years and if the Dodgers get even two 140-game seasons out of him it will be worth it.
In two abbreviated seasons in 2017-18 that totaled 926 plate appearances, Pollock was worth 4.7 fWAR. His last full season was 2015 when he posted a 6.8 fWAR in 673 PAs.
Anywhere in between is a huge win for the Dodgers.
It’s not often trading your best player is the best move, but in the case of the Marlins and J.T. Realmuto, the club did well to trade two years of control of the All-Star catcher to Philadelphia for pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart, and catcher Jorge Alfaro.
Sanchez offers a potential frontline arm in a year or two when Derek Jeter‘s club wants to start competing again and the ceiling there is at least of a No. 2 starter. He’s up to 99 mph with a promising curveball and changeup and present average control and command. He’s just 20 and likely starts 2019 in Double-A.
Alfaro is a big-league catcher with five years of control remaining and coming off a 2.1 fWAR season of his own at age 25.
Stewart is the forgotten player in this trade. He’s a ground-ball lefty with a sinking fastball generated from a low 3/4 arm slot. He offers some deception to go with a potential big-league slider and changeup.
Yasmani Grandal signed a one-year, $16 million deal with the Brewers in January, and that’s the first of many reasons this move sits atop the list for the defending NL Central champs.
Grandal, 30, has had some defensive issues, primarily late in 2018 and into the postseason, but continues to offer above-average power and some on-base percentage. He batted .241/.349 with 24 long balls last season and posted a career-best 3.6 fWAR.
Despite the cult heroism of Erik Kratz in October, the Brewers struggled mightily at the plate from the catcher’s position in 2018, posting a 76 wRC+ (21st in MLB), .363 slugging percentage (20th) and .294 on-base percentage (19th).
Despite the issues at catcher, as well as second base and third base, the Brewers ranked No. 7 in the NL in runs scored, just three runs from ranking No. 5. Grandal shores up the position and then some.
New York Mets
A year ago, the Mets posted the No. 4 FIP in the NL and the rotation ranked No. 1. The bullpen, by itself, struggled, finishing dead last in the National League in FIP (4.61) No. 14 in fWAR (-0.6) and piled up the most losses (36).
If Edwin Diaz has anything to say about it, those lows won’t be repeated in 2019.
Diaz, acquired along with Robinson Cano and cash in exchange for Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak and prospects Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn and Gerson Bautista, was the game’s best reliever last season and comes with four more years of control and the first one costs under $600,000.
Diaz is relentless up to 100 mph with a wipeout slider and greatly improved control and command that led him to stardom in 2018. He struck out 44.3 percent of the batters he faced a year ago, walking just 6.1 percent and is as dominant as any reliever in baseball.
This one’s easy: Harper (13/$330).
The former MVP will change games with one swing as much as anyone in baseball when healthy and anchors a loaded lineup full of speed, power and patience. Harper can carry a team at times, but the Phillies won’t need to ask him to do that very often.
The Pirates might be No. 1 on a rankings list of moves the club should have made but didn’t, but …
Pittsburgh landed Chris Archer last summer at a steep price but did almost nothing to help their club this offseason.
It appears the move of the offseason for the Pirates was simply not tearing it all down, because the next best option is the signing of Lonnie Chisenhall.
The upside of the Pirates roster is high, but it also comes with tons of risk. And in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, the Bucs could play relatively well and lose 85 or more games.
San Diego Padres
Another easy one. Manny Machado (10/$300) gives the Padres a bona fide star in the middle of the lineup.
The winning might be a year or two away, but Machado’s presence allows the Padres brass to focus on developing Manuel Margot, Luis Urias, Francisco Mejia and to target pitching in the majority of future signings and trades.
The signing also legitimizes, a little bit at least, the Eric Hosmer signing (8/$144M) from last winter.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants flirted with Bryce Harper and perhaps made serious offers, but in the end, the biggest addition to the Giants over the winter is probably lefty swingman Drew Pomeranz.
As a result, the best move the Giants made over the offseason was NOT committing $300 million to Harper. With the Giants boasting an aging core, Harper likely would have ended up serving as the start of a rebuild rather than finishing off a title-contending roster.
Had they added more earlier in the winter when more options were available — like a high leverage reliever or two, more rotation depth behind Madison Bumgarner and another bat in an outfield that right now boasts three unproven players — Harper would have made more sense.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals’ addition of Goldschmidt not only adds a legit MVP candidate to their roster — a roster that had an MVP candidate a year ago in Matt Carpenter — it allows that other MVP candidate to play a position perhaps more fitting to the team’s needs.
But the best move of the offseason for the Cardinals is the signing of Andrew Miller to help solidify the bullpen.
It cost only money (2/$25M) and Miller’s experience and willingness to pitch in any role — closer, setup, situational, middle relief, setup — helps manage the usage of Jordan Hicks, who appeared in a career-high 73 games last season in his first year as a full-time reliever.
The signing of Patrick Corbin (6/$140M) reestablishes the Nationals’ Big Three when Jordan Zimmermann was posting 3-5 win season in D.C, and it gives the club the power lefty it’s lacked during the current run.
Corbin, 29, had a career year in 2018, posting his first 200-inning season since 2013. He posted his third healthy season in a row, however, and struck out 30.8 percent of the batters he faced.
With Max Scherzer still at the top of his game and Stephen Strasburg healthy this spring, the Nationals boast the league’s best 1-2-3 and despite the loss of Harper, added Yan Gomes to Anthony Rendon (6.3 fWAR), Juan Soto (3.7), Trea Turner (4.8) and a healthy Adam Eaton (1.9 in 95 G).
Corbin may put the Nationals over the top in the senior circuit 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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