Top 5 Moves of MLB Offseason

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for Spring.” -Rogers Hornsby

Aroldis Chapman became the highest paid relief pitcher in baseball history this offseason after signing a 5 year/86 million dollar deal to return to the New York Yankees.

Jeff Lombardi Jr., Sports Editor

As of Monday all 30 clubs pitchers and catchers have reported to Big League camp while the position players will be making their way to their respective location in Florida or Arizona as we round out the week.  As we now wait for the first Grapefruit and Cactus League action of the spring, it presents a great opportunity to look back on the long winter and the number of impact moves that were made across Major League Baseball.

I’ll start with those that just missed my list.  The most notable omissions; the Mets re-signing OF Yoenis Cespedes (4 year, $110 million) and the Cardinals signing OF Dexter Fowler (5 year, $82.5 million). Last year I ranked the Mets re-signing Cespedes 5th on my list.  This year he would likely slide back into the same spot with a similar reasoning so you can check out what I said regarding his signing last year here MLB Free Agent Frenzy: Class Lead by Starting Pitching and Outfielders. If you really want to get deeper into the Cespedes signing, the 3 year, $75 million dollar contract (with a first year opt out) was the perfect dollar value and length for both sides.  I typically don’t look into money when judging a deal because in most scenarios it is the length of the contract that can become problematic.  

With that being said, the Mets may have overpaid for Cespedes signing him to the largest free-agent deal in franchise history.  With the way the market was this offseason it is more than likely that Cespedes would have fallen back in the Mets hands for a cheaper price, however I understand why they moved so quickly to assure “La Potencia” would be returning to Queens for 2017 and beyond.

As for Fowler, I swung and missed last season when I ranked the Cubs signings of OF Jason Heyward and RHP John Lackey as the number one move of the 2015 offseason.  I was so hung up on the idea of the Cubs “stealing” two top players from their division rival (Cardinals) that I felt these moves were the icing on the Cubs cake.  Maybe it wasn’t a complete swing and miss as they finally did the unthinkable, and the Cardinals did miss the postseason for the first time since 2010, however Heyward had the worst year of his career and was ultimately benched throughout the postseason.  While Lackey turned in a solid season at age 37, his value was significantly outweighed by 3 of his fellow rotation mates finishing in the top 10 in the NL Cy Young Award voting.  The Heyward and Fowler signings are just too similar for me to fall in love again.  Two players whose offense won’t jump out at you but are are above average defenders.  Heyward signed an 8-year, $184 million deal covering his age 26-33 seasons, Fowler was inked to a 5-year, $82.5 million dollar deal for his age 31-35 seasons.  And of course the obvious, both went to the “darkside” with Heyward leaving the Cardinals for the rival Cubs and Fowler doing the reverse.

5) Chicago White Sox trade OF Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals in exchange for RHP Lucas Giolito, RHP Reynaldo Lopez and RHP Dane Dunning

The Nationals finally have their leadoff man in Adam Eaton, but it came at a steep price dealing 3 of their top 6 prospects. Eaton, 28 is under a very team friendly contract being owed $38 million over the next 5 years.

This is perhaps the most intriguing move of the off-season as the Nationals acquired the leadoff hitter they have coveted but paid a hefty price. This move came just one day after the Red Sox sent ace Chris Sale to Beantown for a haul of prospects.  Well it was groundhog day for GM Rick Hahn as he now has a plethora of big name prospects at his disposal. Eaton, a career .284 hitter will be heading into his age 28 season is on a very team friendly contract and is under club control.  On the other hand, the Southsiders acquired the Nats #1 prospect in Giolito, #3 prospect in Lopez, and a first round pick from this past June’s draft in Dunning.  From the Nationals point of view their window of opportunity is closing.  An aging manager in Dusty Baker who will be 68 in June, veteran Jayson Werth in the final year of his contract, and the inevitable 2019 free-agency of Bryce Harper put the Nats in win now mode.

4) The Dodgers trio of re-signings:

RHP Kenley Jansen: 5 years, $80 million

3B Justin Turner: 4 years, $64 million

LHP Rich Hill: 3 years, $48 million

Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and third baseman Justin Turner pose for photos with manager Dave Roberts, left, and Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, right, following a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Los Angeles. The two re-signed with the team as free agents. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Although I would traditionally say that off-season re-signings are “boring” and have no place in a list of the best off-season moves, the trio of re-signings the Dodgers made are going to prove to be vital on their quest to become NL West Champions for the 5th straight year.  The Dodgers retained 3 key members of their team from a year ago in closer Kenley Jansen, third baseman Justin Turner (4-year, $64 million) and 36 (soon to be 37) year-old southpaw Rich Hill (3-year, $48 million).

The second richest closer of this off-season (and of all-time) Kenley Jansen signed a 5-year $80 million dollar contract to return to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team he has spent his entire professional career with.  For those of you on the East Coast who can’t stay awake for those late west coast games, Jansen was as dominant as ever in his age 28 season with career bests in saves (47), ERA (1.83) and WHIP (0.67) while striking out 104 batters in 68 ⅔ innings.  Jansen added to his impressive campaign by displaying both dominance and versatility in the postseason including pitching more than 1 inning on 5 different occasions.

Turner, the former Orioles farmhand spent the majority of his big league career with the New York Mets as a role player prior to his arrival to his native California prior to the 2014 season.  In his first season as a full-time starter in 2015 at the age of 30, Turner did not disappoint and followed that up with a breakout 2016 campaign where he posted career bests in nearly every offensive category, including home runs (27) and RBI (90) en route to garnering a 9th place finish in the NL MVP voting.  Despite being a late bloomer, I love the idea of “Red Turn” manning the hot corner for the Dodgers for the next 4 years.

After making about $9 million through the first 12 years of his career, Rich Hill will make $48 million over his age 37-39 seasons.

As recent as July 2016, Rich Hill was pitching for the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.  Fast forward a little over a year and the veteran southpaw has pitched for 3 clubs and has become one of the game’s most dominant pitchers. Huh? Since his comeback he has made 24 starts with a 14-6 mark, a sparkling 2.00 ERA and 165 punchouts in 139 ⅓ innings pitched.  Though he has had some injury history including nagging blisters that caused him to miss a few starts at the back end of last season, Hill should slot in nicely in the #2 spot in the Dodgers rotation behind the best pitcher on the planet.

3) Big Name Closers:

LHP Aroldis Chapman sings a 5-year, $86 million dollar deal with the New York Yankees

RHP Kenley Jansen re-signs with the Los Angeles Dodgers: 5 -years, $80 million

RHP Mark Melancon sings a 4-year, $62 million dollar deal with the San Francisco Giants

2016 World Series Champion, Aroldis Chapman became the highest paid relief pitcher in baseball history this offseason after signing a 5-year, $86 million dollar deal to return to the New York Yankees.

Since the 2014 Royals started the trend of shortening games by pitching from the back up, closers and “relief aces” have seen a tremendous spike in value.  This off-season further proved that this way of conducting a pitching staff is here to stay. The “big 3” of free-agent closers accounted for 3 of the 6 highest paying free-agent contracts of the off-season.

Joining the previously mentioned Jensen, perhaps the biggest name (and the highest paid) flamethrower, Aroldis Chapman inked a 5-year, $86 million dollar contract to return to the Bronx after being dealt by the Yankees to the eventual World Series champion Chicago Cubs prior to last season’s August 1st trade deadline. Though Chapman looked like he ran out of gas during the Cubs playoff run last season; apparent by his blown save in Game 7 of the World Series, he still remains a top the list of the game’s most most dominant closers.

Since the start of 2014 Melancon’s 131 saves are the most in the big leagues. Over that same span he has blown just 10 saves, the Giants had 9 blown saves last September alone.

Rounding out the list is Mark Melancon who signed a 4-year, $62 million dollar deal with the San Francisco Giants.  Melancon has quietly became one of the most dominant closers in the league since taking over the roll full-time for the Pirates in 2014.  His 131 saves in that span are the most among any closer, including a league leading 51 in 2015.  After a brief stint with the Washington Nationals following a deadline deal, Melancon will make his way to the Bay Area where his impact will be felt immediately.  After years of shuffling closers which included 3 different closer’s during each of their 3 most recent World Series championships, the Giants luck ran out last season as they had nine different relievers blow at least one save, and their 59.7% conversion rate (43/72) was the worst in MLB.  While Melancon’s deal is the most team friendly, I am not opposed to the money Chapman and Jansen received from their respective clubs.  Of course I think they are being “overpaid” but that is market in the current state of the game and the trend of building a pitching staff from the back up seems to be moving forward, full force.

2) 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion signs a 3-year, $60 million dollar deal with the Cleveland Indians

After spending the past 7 1/2 seasons North of the border, Edwin Encarnacion will join the defending American League Champions as the highest paid player in franchise history.

After letting a 3-1 series lead slip away in last year’s Fall Classic the Indians responded by signing the top free-agent slugger in Edwin Encarnacion.  Since 2012, Encarnacion has been one of the most consistent hitters in the AL averaging 39 home runs and 110 RBI, including a league leading 127 RBI last year. The price was right for Encarnacion as his price tag plummeted to a very reasonable rate for his age 34-36 seasons.  Encarnacion will take the place of Mike Napoli in the Tribe’s lineup and present the true, consistent power threat that the club has lacked since the likes of Travis Hafner in the early 2000’s.

1) Chicago White Sox trade LHP Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for INF Yoan Moncada, RHP Michael Kopech, OF Luis Alexander and RHP Victor Diaz

Southpaw Chris Sale will be changing sox after spending the last 7 years in Chicago. The 27 year-old is in the final year of a 5-year, $32.5 million dollar contract with team options for 2018 and 2019.

In a relatively weak free agent pitching class, former White Sox ace Chris Sale emerged as the top available starting pitcher on the market.  The 27 year-old southpaw will be “changing sox”.  For the second consecutive off-season the Boston Red Sox added one of the premier starting pitching talents in baseball, this time however it came at a much steeper price.  Moncada, the 21 year-old Cuban defector who cost his former Sox $63 million back in 2015, is baseball’s #2 overall prospect according to Kopech, baseball’s #16 ranked prospect has had some off the field issues including serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a performance enhancing substance.

Sale who has finished in the top 6 in the AL Cy Young Award voting each of the past 5 seasons will not only emerge as the Red Sox ace but also as a frontrunner to win the award. 2017 will also mark the first time in Sale’s career that he will pitch for a contender.  This move also benefits David Price who after struggling through his first year in Beantown will turn to Sale to take over as the ace and could lead to more succes for Price as the #2 starter.

Other notables: COL signs 1B/OF Ian Desmond (5-year, $70 million), RHP Wade Davis traded by KC to CHC for OF Jorge Soler, HOU signs OF Josh Reddick (4-year, $52 million), OF/DH Carlos Beltran (1-year, $16 million), and trades RHP Albert Abreu and RHP Jorge Guzman for C Brian McCann, 2B/SS Jean Segura, LHP Zac Curtis and OF Mitch Haniger traded by ARI to SEA for RHP Taijuan Walker and SS Ketel Marte, OF Jose Bautista re-signs with TOR (1-year, $18.5 million), OF/DH Mark Trumbo re-signs with BAL (3-year, $37.5 million), NYY signs OF/DH Matt Holliday (1-year, $13 million)