Predicting MLB’s Best and Worst 2016-17 Offseason Moves
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Tony Dejak/Associated Press
The press conferences are so much fun. The new jerseys fit so well—and sell well in the club shops too!
By the warmth of a hot stove, almost any MLB winter move can look like a good one. Your team is adding a player it wants, and in a lot of cases, all it cost was a bunch of the owner’s money. How bad can that be?
It’s easy to get swept up. It’s easy to see what they see, to believe what they believe.
In many cases, you should believe. In most of the big moves this winter, the team that made the big announcement did get better.
Now we wait for spring training to see how those teams look. We wait for the season to see how it all turns out.
Here at Bleacher Report, we’d rather not wait. We’d rather tell you right now, right up front, which of those winter moves have the best chance of working out the way the team described them on announcement day.
We’ll ignore the moves that should have been made but weren’t, like the Pittsburgh Pirates’ trading Andrew McCutchen, or the New York Mets’ trading Jay Bruce, or the Detroit Tigers’ trading just about anyone. Those are issues for another day.
This issue is about the deals that happened.
Here are 10 of the biggest, from one to 10, ranked by the likelihood the winter promises become reality.
1. Chris Sale’s Change of Sox Pays off for Both Teams
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One thing Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has long understood is that a deal can be great even if it isn’t a steal.
Dombrowski didn’t steal Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox did quite well in the Dec. 6 trade. MLB.com ranks Yoan Moncada as the No. 2 prospect in baseball (behind Boston’s Andrew Benintendi), and one National League scout who saw Michael Kopech last summer said Kopech is one of the few pitching prospects he considers a true future ace.
Dombrowski understood Sale was worth the stiff price. He’s 27 years old, he’s left-handed and he’s finished in the top six in American League Cy Young Award voting in each of his five seasons as a starter. He works deep into games (only Clayton Kershaw has more complete games over the last four years) and deep into seasons (averaging 200 innings a season since he became a starter).
He’s under control through 2019 with a club-friendly contract.
The timing was right for the Red Sox, who won 93 games last year and figure to win even more when they team Sale with David Price and Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello atop the rotation. Deep in young talent, they could afford to part with Moncada, Kopech and two other players for a pitcher who could put them over the top.
In a few years, we should be able to look back and say it was a great deal for the White Sox too. Already, it’s a great deal for the Red Sox.
Prediction: Moncada and Kopech convince White Sox fans the rebuilding process will work, but Sale helps the Red Sox to the World Series.
2. Indians Win Big with Edwin
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Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Even in a year when they won the AL Central and went to the World Series, the Cleveland Indians finished 28th in the major leagues in attendance. When their executives justified past decisions by saying they’d never be able to afford the big free agents, it was easy to believe them.
Then the Indians ended up with the biggest hitter on this winter’s market.
They got Edwin Encarnacion for $60 million over three years, so it’s not like the Indians suddenly turned into the Steinbrenner Yankees. So what? The fact is they took a strong team and made it significantly stronger by adding a guy with the second-most home runs in baseball over the last five years (193, just four behind Chris Davis).
Credit the Indians for understanding timing and for seizing an opportunity that presented itself. Their young pitching and the overall weakness in the AL Central could give them a chance to dominate the division over the next few years, and adding Encarnacion puts them in a better position to end a World Series championship drought that (just) reached 68 years with the Game 7 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
Prediction: With Encarnacion boosting the offense, Indians go to the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since the glory days of the 1990s.
3. Cubs Get the October Closer They Need
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Ed Zurga/Getty Images
It all worked out for the Cubs last October. The Aroldis Chapman trade was worth the big price they paid, even though he had three blown saves in the postseason (including the dramatic one in Game 7). It worked out, because the Cubs won.
It worked out for Chapman, too, as he got to return to the New York Yankees with a record $82 million deal (more on that later).
The Cubs didn’t spend record money to replace Chapman, but they again paid a significant trade price to get Wade Davis from the Kansas City Royals. Jorge Soler may have been an excess piece in Chicago, but he could become a star.
But the Cubs won’t end up regretting this deal, either. Davis won’t be the radar-gun superhero that Chapman was, but he has a 1.18 ERA and a 0.892 WHIP in three seasons since the Royals made him a full-time reliever.
Even better, in 22 career postseason appearances out of the bullpen, Davis has allowed just one earned run. And when he was on the mound with a chance to finish a World Series, he did it without drama.
Prediction: Davis has a great season (and postseason), and the Cubs sign him to a contract extension.
4. With Kenley Jansen Closing, the Dodgers Get Close Again
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Harry How/Getty Images
The Los Angeles Dodgers were one of those teams that spent big on a closer. For the record, Kenley Jansen ($80 million for five years) cost more than Mark Melancon ($62 million for four years from the San Francisco Giants) but less than Aroldis Chapman ($86 million for five years from the New York Yankees).
Anyone who watched the NL playoffs can understand why.
Without Jansen’s 6.1 scoreless innings in the National League Championship Series, the Dodgers wouldn’t have gotten within two wins of their first World Series since 1988. Without his amazing 2.1 innings in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, they wouldn’t have even reached the NLCS.
The Dodgers also re-signed Justin Turner and Rich Hill, and they traded for Logan Forsythe to help them at second base and against left-handed pitching. It’s typical of their current management team that you’re left wondering if they’ve done enough.
At the end of the winter, they still have a team that has a chance. Without Jansen, that might not have been true.
Prediction: Jansen makes the Dodgers happy they kept him, but their lack of more big moves sees them fall short again.
5. Mets Keep Their Yo and Continue Their Run
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Joe Robbins/Getty Images
In 2000 and 2001, the New York Mets went to the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history.
Then they made it once in the next 14 years.
Now the Mets have made the postseason two years running again. They were determined not to fall into another 14-year drought.
Even with their super young rotation possibly getting healthy, the Mets weren’t going anywhere if they let Yoenis Cespedes go somewhere else. As I wrote in early November, there was no good backup plan.
The cost to keep Cespedes was high—$110 million over four years—but the Mets won’t regret paying it.
Prediction: Cespedes carries the Mets into the postseason for a third straight year.
6. Astros Get Beltran Back (and Get Back to October)
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Bob Levey/Getty Images
Like the Cubs, the Houston Astros turned a series of last-place finishes into a young core that could win. Like the Cubs, the Astros needed to add the right veteran players to that mix.
The Cubs chose right with guys like Jon Lester, Ben Zobrist and David Ross. The Astros have, too, by trading for Brian McCann and signing 39-year-old Carlos Beltran to a one-year, $16 million deal.
“We felt he’d be a great fit here,” general manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters.
Beltran is a perfect fit, just as he was when the Astros picked him up in a long-ago (2004) deadline deal. He helped that Astros team get to the playoffs, and his performance that October—20-for-46 (.435), eight home runs, 14 RBI in 12 games—won him a seven-year, $119 million deal with the Mets.
Beltran has made five stops since, going to the playoffs with four of the five teams and earning respect everywhere he has been.
He’ll help the Astros lineup, but he’ll also help the Astros team.
Prediction: Beltran relives his Houston youth, and the young Astros get back to the playoffs.
7. Cardinals Take Fowler from Cubs (but Can’t Take the Division)
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Jeff Roberson/Associated Press
The Cubs won the World Series after taking John Lackey and Jason Heyward from their closest rivals last winter. So who can blame the St. Louis Cardinals for taking away one of the guys who helped the Cubs win the World Series?
Who can blame them, especially since Dexter Fowler gives them the center fielder and leadoff hitter they needed? He cost less than Heyward ($82.5 million for five years vs. $184 million for eight years), but the Cardinals need him to be good more than the Cubs needed that from Heyward (who, in year one of the deal, wasn’t good).
Given the glut of outfielders on the market this winter, the Cardinals may have ended up overpaying for Fowler. But if he repeats the .393 on-base percentage he had with the Cubs, if Matt Carpenter responds to moving down in the batting order and if Fowler helps the Cardinals return to the postseason after a rare one-year absence, no one will complain about the cost.
After all, if you’re looking for someone to help you win in October, who better than someone who won with the Cubs?
Prediction: Fowler and the Cardinals have a decent year, but he can’t match 2016 and the Cardinals can’t catch the Cubs.
8. Yankees Get Their Chapman Back (but They Don’t Win)
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Speaking of ex-Cubs…
The way the New York Yankees see it, re-signing Aroldis Chapman after trading him to the Cubs at midseason means they basically got super shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres for free! Torres was the big piece in the Cubs’ package for Chapman, and now the Yankees have him and Chapman too.
It sounds great, and given the Yankees’ huge resources, it’s hard to complain that Chapman cost them a closer-record $86 million over five years on his new deal.
The issue here is the other part of that contract, the part that allows Chapman to opt out after three years. The Yankees are rebuilding, and while they’re trying to compete while they do it, there’s a real possibility the Chapman opt-out could come into play just as they’re ready to win.
They couldn’t win last year with Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances pitching the final three innings. It’s hard to see how they win this year even with Chapman and Betances reunited.
Maybe the kids come faster than expected, the Yankees return to contention and Chapman is part of helping them win a postseason game for the first time since 2012. If so, good for them.
If not, it’s going to look like the wrong contract at the wrong time.
Prediction: The Yankee kids continue to show promise, but they finish far behind the Red Sox as Chapman gets a year closer to the opt-out.
9. Blue Jays Keep Jose Bautista but Wish They Hadn’t
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Jason Miller/Getty Images
To use the word Jose Bautista used when complaining about umpiring last October, Bautista is back with the Toronto Blue Jays because of “circumstances.”
He didn’t find what he wanted on the free-agent market. They couldn’t find anyone better to replace him.
So after seemingly showing little interest in keeping him, the Jays signed Bautista to a one-year, $18.5 million deal with two option years.
It’s not a crazy amount of money. It’s not going to haunt the Jays for years to come. But Bautista’s skills were in decline last year at age 35. Now he’s going to play at 36.
Bautista has been a great player in Toronto. He hit home runs when the team needed them, and he batted leadoff when it needed that.
It was probably time for the relationship to end. Due to circumstances, it didn’t.
Prediction: Bautista continues his downward trend, and this is his final year in Toronto.
10. Rockies Realize Desmond Is Their First (Base) Mistake
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Rick Yeatts/Getty Images
I like Ian Desmond. He was a good shortstop with the Washington Nationals even though he had a bad year at a bad time when he was headed for free agency. He took a chance on a one-year deal with a team that already had a shortstop and became a quality outfielder with the Texas Rangers.
I like the direction the Colorado Rockies are headed. They have more good, young talent than most people realize, and they’ve begun to spend some money to become a team that can win.
But $70 million for five years for Desmond to play first base? Sorry, I still don’t get it.
Desmond is obviously a good athlete. There’s every chance he’ll be able to handle first base. But at his best, Desmond is a good-hitting shortstop or center fielder. Nothing he has done suggests he can match up offensively with the best first basemen in the game.
When the Rockies announced the Desmond signing in December, plenty of people (me included) expected the next move would be to trade one of their outfielders, move Desmond there and sign someone like Encarnacion or Mark Trumbo to play first base.
That didn’t happen. The Rockies are serious about this. Maybe it will work.
There seems at least as good a chance it won’t.
Prediction: The Rockies realize they made a mistake, and by July they trade an outfielder to make room for Desmond to move.