By Edward Overend
With less than 3 weeks until Pitchers and Catchers report to Spring Training, we really are not far away from the start of the year.
This year there have been more key players from teams shuffled around than is typical. Indeed some teams, such as the Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox are barely recognisable from the end of last year. The only major free agent left to sign is James Shields.
Here is a run down of perhaps the most high profile moves since the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. These are not necessarily the moves that are the best, indeed, in a few years, throw-in pieces in some trades may turn out to be the prize assets acquired. However, for those who haven’t kept up with the comings and goings, it should be a useful summary of who is now where.
1 – Joe Maddon to the Chicago Cubs
Unusually, we start with a manager.
We tend to overstate the impact of managers (the Royals did just fine last season despite the blunders of Ned Yost) but Maddon – perhaps the most underpaid man in baseball over the last few years – will be worth every cent of his contract with the Cubs. If there’s one manager in baseball who could single-handedly transform a franchise it is him. Face of the franchise, company spokesman, clubhouse motivator, master tactician: he will be all these things and more for the Cubs.
Without Maddon, there would be no Jon Lester. Without Maddon, we wouldn’t be talking about the Cubs as legitimate contenders in 2015. No single addition this winter will have a bigger impact than Maddon will on the Northsiders.
2 – Mat Latos to the Miami Marlins
The Cincinnatti Reds needed to shed payroll this offseason in the hope of being able to resign ace, Johnny Cueto, at the end of 2015 when he becomes a free agent. Latos is also a free agent then too, which is why Miami only had to give up Anthony DeSclafini and Chad Wallach to acquire him.
At age 27, Latos has a career 3.34 ERA and is coming off a down year due to injuries. He’ll help bridge the gap until ace Jose Fernandez returns from Tommy John surgery and gives the Marlins an experienced starter to go along with their youngsters.
3 – Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres
Matt Kemp was traded to San Diego as part of a five-player trade that included the Padres giving up catcher Yasmani Grandal. Kemp, a two-time All-Star should help improve last year’s league worst offense.
He is owed $107m over the next 5 years, $32m of which is being picked up by the LA Dodgers. Even so the $75m remaining makes Kemp’s contract the largest in Padres history.
It seems the days of a near 40/40 season as Kemp produced in 2011 are long gone. A healthy Matt Kemp remains a valuable hitting asset as his second half of last season shows, however, he is now very much a liability in the outfield and will be manning left field for the most part. How much playing time he gets due to injury is the key factor in deciding whether this trade works out for the Padres or not.
4 – Justin Upton to the San Diego Padres
As you might be able to tell, the Padres have been one of the busiest teams this offseason. Another trade, this time with the rebuilding Atlanta Braves, brought Justin Upton to Petco Park. He is only under club control for one season but he offers the kind of right-handed pop that is typically very hard to acquire. The outfielder has connected with 56 Home Runs over the past two seasons with the Braves.
Upton has yet to live up to the huge expectations from when he burst onto the scene as a 20 year old in Arizona, however, he is still unbelievably only 26 and is certainly capable of making the Padres hitting lineup much more potent than in previous years.
5- Wil Myers to the San Diego Padres
Myers makes up the third piece in the Padres brand new outfield. GM AJ Preller’s clear aim seems to have been to make the lineup more powerful and that he appears to have done. It may, however, have been to the detriment of defence as the Upton, Myers, Kemp triumvirate projects to be one of the worst run prevention units in baseball.
Just a couple of seasons ago Myers was the centrepiece in the Royals acquisition of James Shields from the Rays. An injury riddled 2014 means he is coming off a down year. However, Myers is still extremely young and could develop into a star. Remember he was the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year and is under team control for the next five years.
6- Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays
Donaldson has been one of the darlings of the sabermetric community over the past 2 seasons, while manning the hot corner in Oakland. Stellar defense added to a power bat has meant he has been right up there in the league leaders in WAR.
To pry the 29 year old way from the A’s Toronto had to send four players, Brett Lawrie, Sean Nolin, Kendall Graveman and Franklin Barreto in the opposite direction. However it may prove to be worth it as players like Donaldson do not hit the trade market very often.
7 – Jon Lester to the Chicago Cubs
When the Red Sox traded Lester to the Athletics at the trade deadline last season, many assumed it was with the assumption that the left-handed starter would soon be back in Boston once he hit free agency. However, Red Sox management reckoned without the Cubs move for manager Joe Maddon, a major factor in Lester deciding to sign with the Cubs.
Lester has been nothing if not reliable, posting an average season of 15 Wins and a 3.47 ERA since 2008. He becomes a veteran ace the Cubs can add to an up and coming starting rotation.
8 – Jason Heyward to the St Louis Cardinals
Justin Upton was not the only big name outfielder the Atlanta Braves let go this offseason. Whilst the power numbers expected from Jason Heyward have yet to materialise, he has provided stellar defense in right field and is one of the very best, if not the best, corner outfielders in all of baseball.
Shelby Miller was among the players the Cardinals gave up to acquire Heyward. He hits the free agent market at the end of 2015 and it will be interesting to see if St Louis look to lock him up long terms, especially after the tragic death of Oscar Taveras.
9 – Giancarlo Stanton resigned with the Miami Marlins
Perhaps nobody in all of baseball has more brute power than the young Marlins outfielder. Coming off a stellar 2014, Miami decided, very untypically, to lock up their star man. The resulting deal became the largest contract in the history of professional sports, a whopping $325m over the next 13 seasons.
Whilst there is no denying the talent of Stanton, any deal for that length and that amount of money has to be seen as a huge gamble. He is unquestionably one of the very best players in baseball but that contract is just too exorbitant to justify for anybody.
10 – Max Scherzer to the Washington Nationals
Washington already possessed one of the most talented rosters and one of the very best starting rotations in MLB. To add a pitcher of the talent of Scherzer seems almost unfair. However, when you consider that Max is 30 years old, the $210m over 7 years does seem steep for a starter, especially when compared to the younger and better Clayton Kershaw.
Scherzer possesses a 3.24 ERA over the last 3 seasons ranked 3rd amongst MLB starters, and when added to Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gonzalez and Fister means that Washington should have the best rotation in baseball and be very much a team to fear in the National League.
11 – Jeff Samardzija to the Chicago White Sox
The one time standout Wide Receiver for Notre Dame, arrives back in the Windy City having spent the second half of last season over on the West Coast with the A’s. Over the whole of 2014, Samardzija produced a 2.99 ERA and 202 K’s.
He should provide a very strong second arm to ace Chris Sale in the White Sox starting corps. “Shark” has always been very capable of striking batters out and at 30 he should be in his prime as a pitcher. The potential is there to become one of the very best pitchers in the American League.
12 – Nelson Cruz to the Seattle Mariners
One of the things Seattle has been crying out for years is a power right handed bat. GM Jack Zduriencik has tried and failed to land amongst others, Justin Upton and Matt Kemp. Power sapping Safeco Field can’t have helped lure players in the past, however, last season’s acquisition of Robinson Cano and the best record the M’s have had in years meant that Cruz chose the Pacific North West in free agency.
Last season’s performance should have ended any doubters about Cruz’s power post his PED ban, as he hit 40 home runs, albeit in the much more hitter friendly Camden Yards. A 4 year $57m deal for a player who turns 35 midseason is a lot but he should kick start the Mariners offence that was the reason there was no postseason play in Seattle.
13 – Pablo Sandoval to the Boston Red Sox
Kung Fu Panda signed a $95m 5 year deal with Boston to become their next third baseman, a position the Red Sox have struggled to fill since Adrian Beltre left Fenway. Sandoval is a career .294 hitter and should provide an offensive upgrade to the platoon that Boston has had over the last couple of years at the hot corner.
It is perhaps surprising that he left the Giants, having won 3 World Series in 5 years with them, indeed it is reported he left some money on the table to head to the North East. However, moving over to the American League, with the DH in play, should allow Sandoval to forget playing the field in future years once David Ortiz finally retires.
14 – Melky Cabrera to the Chicago White Sox
The Melk Man signed a 3 year $42m deal with the White Sox following a return to form following his PED ban from a couple of years ago. If he can reproduce his production from 2014, when he hit .301 with an OPS+ of 126, he should provide great value as he is just 30 years old.
Cabrera is not a power bat, as his 16 home runs in the launching pad at the Rogers Centre testifies, but he should be able to lay the table for Jose Abreu and the middle of the South Siders batting lineup.
15 – David Robertson to the Chicago White Sox
Robertson comes off a very good first year as a full time closer, following the unparalleled Mariano Rivera in that role with the Yankees. However, 4 years and $46m for any reliever is an awful lot of money, as deals like the one Jonathan Papelbon has in Philadelphia show.
David Robertson can be one of the top ninth inning guys in baseball but season on season it is becoming more clear that standout closers are one of the easiest positions to fill on any major league roster and dollars can be spent more wisely elsewhere.
16 – Yoenis Cespedes to the Detroit Tigers
There is no doubting the raw power that is present in the Cespedes’ bat, as his showing in the All Star Home Run Derby a couple of years ago showed. When added to a middle order of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez the run potential for the Tigers is huge.
Along with that pop, the Cuban has an arm built for a big outfield like the one in Detroit but his On Base Percentage (.294 last year, .316 in his 3 MLB seasons) is a major problem.
17 – Hanley Ramirez to the Boston Red Sox
The mercurial and often frustrating Ramirez returns to Boston having spent time in Miami and Los Angeles. He signed an $88m 4 year deal and is projected to move away from the infield and out to left field. Hanley is one of the most dangerous bats that was available in this year’s free agency.
His defence at shortstop has suffered in recent years so the move to the outfield does not lessen his value, especially considering the amount of time he has lost to injuries in recent years. Over his 9 year MLB career he averages .283/.369/.448 with an OPS+ of 132 and with the Green Monster looming in left, a bounce in homers is certainly a possibility.
18 – Russell Martin to the Toronto Blue Jays
Russell Martin is a ridiculously valuable player. Last year, the backstop was a Gold Glove finalist while reaching base at a fantastic .402 clip and posting an OPS of .832 with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The problem is the contract. Signing a 32 year old catcher to a 5 years $82m contract is a bad idea considering the wear and tear that comes with playing the position.
However, Martin has consistently guided his staffs into postseason. His last and only two years with the Pirates, who hadn’t appeared in October since 1992, both resulted in Wild Card berths. If he can bring that to another success starved organisation the money will have been seen as worth it.
19 – Martin Prado to the Miami Marlins
Prado is consistently one of those under the radar players that contributes enormously to his team despite not putting up gaudy numbers. He also brings with him the added bonus of being able to play in multiple positions in the field.
For the Marlins this is a win-now move when added to the acquisitions of Mat Latos, Dee Gordon and Michael Morse, along with Giancarlo Stanton’s mega deal. The .291 lifetime hitter is projected to be Miami’s third baseman.
20 – Ben Zobrist to the Oakland Athletics
Like Prado, Ben Zobrist’s versatility has made him one of the most valuable players in baseball over the last few years in Tampa Bay. He ranks second in Fangraphs WAR over the past six years and is a typical Billy Beane player.
He walks, he switch hits and he plays multiple positions. His acquisition enables the platoon loving A’s to field an entirely right handed lineup when facing a lefty starter and vice versa, typical of the sabermetrically inclined front office. At 33, his best years are probably behind him, certainly in terms of home runs, however, such flexibility in a roster can never be understated.