The Orioles brought back lefty Sean Gilmartin on another minor league deal just days after having passed him through waivers. There were a lot of people talking about how Gilmartin deserved to remain on the 40-man roster thanks to very stellar bottom line results including a 3.00 ERA over 27 innings pitched. Unfortunately, many didn’t see his lackluster peripheral statistics including the fact that batters posted a .235 BABip against him, while he sported an 88.8 LOB% and a 5.42 FIP. My 2019 projections have him at a 4.71 ERA over 37.2 innings pitched. While it would seem as though Baltimore would present a very strong opportunity for Gilmartin, as they remain in full-rebuild mode, he will have a considerable amount of competition, as he is one of six left-handed pitchers who will be vying for a roster spot in spring training. While Tanner Scott and Richard Bleier seem to be near locks to make the roster, Donnie Hart, John Means, Paul Fry and Luis Gonzalez will be in the mix as well.
Another Orioles roster casualty, John Andreoli, will not re-join the Orioles in 2019. Instead, he will return to the Seattle Mariners organization, where he spent the vast majority of the 2018 season until he was claimed by Baltimore in August. While his Triple-A numbers were rather strong (.287/.397/.401), keep in mind that he spent some time in the Pacific Coast League and he did so with a .381 BABip. Nevertheless, the 29-year old outfielder has two options remaining with an excellent eye at the plate and elite speed. My projections had him hitting .213/.297/.337 over a 71-game sample size. Over the same sample size, he is slated for four home runs and 17 stolen bases. Andreoli could see a reasonably substantial amount of playing time, assuming the Mariners continue to break the roster down.
Meanwhile, catcher Chris Herrmann is on his way out of Seattle, as he was claimed by the division rival Astros. Herrmann will be eligible for arbitration this winter, and makes sense on an Astros’ team who just lost Brian McCann and Evan Gattis. I would expect him to earn about $1 million assuming the ‘Stros retain him via arbitration, as opposed to a non-tender and re-signing as depth. My projections have him slashing .241/.331/.414 with five home runs over 56 games. He brings with him defensive versatility, but his glove isn’t necessarily great anywhere.Free agency in @MLB is well into effect. BBE Analyst Joe Orsatti looked at each and every move thus far around The Show.Click To Tweet
There was a lot of additional movement around the remainder of the American League East as well, namely through New York and Tampa. The Yankees brought back a pair of veterans in Brett Gardner and C.C. Sabathia, with Gardner making $7.5 million and Sabathia making $8 million. I would imagine that Gardner will serve as the strong side of the platoon with Clint Frazier while Sabathia will probably serve in the same role that he did in 2018. There isn’t much to look into with this pair of transactions, as its simply a classy organization displaying loyalty to a pair of veterans who have each done a lot for the organization. While Sabathia announced that 2019 will be his swan song, there isn’t much indication as to Gardner’s future plans. Personally, I would not be surprised to see him traded during the offseason, as the Yankees are very deep in outfield talent with Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier all on the 40-man roster at this time.
The Yanks also welcomed a pair of new guys to the Brox, as they claimed Hanser Alberto from Texas, and Ryan Lavarnway was signed as a minor league free agent. The veteran catcher Lavarnway had once been a consensus top prospect with the division rival Red Sox, but ultimately fizzled out and has become a journeyman over the past four years seeing big league time with Baltimore, Atlanta, Oakland and Pittsburgh. He also spent 14 days in the Dodgers’ organization followed by four days in the Cubs organization. Now 31-years old, I would imagine he would serve as the back-up to Kyle Higashioka in Triple-A.
As for Alberto, he seems likely to pick up a lot of the slack for Didi Gregorius, who will miss some time in 2019 due to Tommy John surgery. I’m very excited about Alberto, as the 26-year old infielder can play exceptionally strong defense at every infield position with the exception of third base. If we’re going by his range factor, he clocks in at 6.58% above average at first, 25.24% above at second and 23.85% at short. While the bat isn’t great, based on a lack of plate discipline, he can still make contact rather consistently. My projections have him at .270/.292/.378, and it seems likely that he will initially split time with Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade until Gregorius heals, at which point, he could assume the role of full-time utility infielder, assuming he performs well. He is arbitration eligible this winter, and assuming he’s retained shouldn’t be expensive.
The Rays brought in three new players excluding the trade with Seattle: outfielder Jake Smolinski, and right-handed pitchers Oliver Drake and Ryan Sherriff. Sherriff recently underwent Tommy John surgery and seems likely to miss the 2019 season in its entirety, prompting the Rays to give him a two-year minor league deal. Sherriff throws a fastball around 91, and has a plus slider that he throws 30% of the time. He looks as if he will serve in a middle relief capacity for the Rays upon his return.
Drake will be joining his sixth team in the last calendar year, as he saw time in 2018 with the Indians, Brewers, Angels, Blue Jays and Twins, posting a cumulative 5.29 ERA over 47.2 innings, while sporting a much stronger 3.24 FIP. This has become a common theme through Drake’s career, as highlighted by a mediocre 4.59 ERA over 137.1 innings pitched despite a considerably more attractive 3.47 FIP. Furthermore, Drake has always shown the ability to induce a healthy amount of grounders, and limit strikeouts with a proportional walk rate. My projections, which consider most peripheral statistics, have Drake posting a 3.72 ERA over about 43 innings. The veteran reliever is out of minor league options.
Smolinski is a very strong under the radar pick-up for the Rays. The 30-year old would have been eligible for arbitration had the Athletics retained him, but he became a free agent in early October after refusing minor league assignment. Smolinski has shown the ability to play a rather decent center field, albeit it inconsistently, while swinging the bat well. My projections have him at .260/.323/.406 with five home runs over a 51 game sample size. Furthermore, assuming he remains healthy, I could certainly see him posting above average marks in center field.
While I’ll admit that I have been critical of the Rays’ organizations, and stand by some of my early criticisms including the Corey Dickerson, Dan Jennings, Jake Odorizzi and C.J. Cron moves, I have really liked what I have seen from them in the first few weeks of the offseason, namely the Mallex Smith trade. While Smith was excellent in 2018, it was mainly fueled by a .366 BABip, and committed a lot of mental mistakes defensively while leading the league in caught stealing. I completely expect to see his numbers come down in 2019, and loved how the Rays acknowledged this and sold high. While Mike Zunino is the centerpiece here for Tampa, I have been very high on Guillermo Heredia since he was signed out of Cuba. He has always exhibited strong plate discipline and has been a victim to low BABip’s over the past few seasons. He also brings with him a great glove and excellent speed. I would not be surprised if he broke out as an above average regular in 2019.
Another organization that I have been critical of is the Minnesota Twins. Every year, teams make moves to clear space on their 40-man rosters immediately following the season, but have you ever noticed that a considerable amount of players cut loose by the Twins draw a significant amount of interest on waivers and find success in the majors soon after? In 2017 alone, the list of Twins’ roster casualties who found success almost immediately after being cut loose includes Daniel Palka (0.6 WAR), Randy Rosario (0.3 WAR), Niko Goodrum (1.5 WAR), JT Chargois (0.2 WAR) and Anibal Sanchez (2.6 WAR). Together, this group of players accumulated 5.2 wins above replacement according to baseball-reference. To add to this story line, the Twins were only able to pass one of their roster casualties (Gregorio Petit) through waivers following 2018, while losing Juan Graterol, Johnny Field and Oliver Drake.
The question that I pose: How can a below .500 team have so many players, not deemed fit to be on their roster, attract such significant interest on the wire? The only answer that I can think of: They are continuously getting rid of the wrong players, which forces me to consider the front office as the major problem. Going off of this idea, their free agent signings, as well as a considerable amount of their trades haven’t inspired much confidence, nor did the sudden and controversial firing of Paul Molitor just one season after he was named the AL Manager of the Year.
Aside from losing the trio of players on waivers, the Twins added outfielder Michael Reed off of waivers from Atlanta. The nearly 26-year old outfielder posted some very eye-popping numbers in the minor leagues this season including a .363/.459/.539 line in Triple-A and a .314/.446/.496 line in Double-A. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with these numbers. Looking past the fact that he spent a lot of time playing against considerably less experienced players in Double-A, his BABip’s were .426 in Double-A and .477 in Triple-A. If you took his numbers and neutralized the BABip to the roughly league average .300, we’re looking at a .188/.320/.367 line in Double-A and a .189/.282/.362 line in Triple-A. My projections for 2019 have him hitting a similar .171/.259/.315 over 49 games at the major league level. Reed brings with him excellent speed, but while he brings versatility in the outfield, his glove isn’t all that great. I would expect him to serve as depth in Rochester who could see a cameo assuming there’s a considerable amount of injury.
While the Braves lost Reed, they acquired catcher Rafael Lopez in a minor trade with the Padres in exchange for future considerations. The 31-year old slashed .176/.265/.284 over 117 plate appearances with the Padres, but has always been known to be a defense oriented back-up type. At this point, he’s currently lined up to back Tyler Flowers up, although keep in mind that he has a minor league option remaining, and the Braves have been connected to catchers on the market in the early going. As for the Padres, they received future considerations, but the main goal of the transaction was to open up a 40-man roster spot for the claim of Greg Garcia, which had been announced just hours later.
Garcia, now 29-years old, was claimed by the Padres from the Cardinals after slashing .221/.309/.304 in 2018. Garcia is a utility infielder who brings with him strong plate discipline and a very nice glove at short (1.54% above average) and second (6.8% above average). My projections have him at .242/.347/.330 over 102 games. Seeing as how he is arbitration eligible this winter and has no remaining minor league options, it seems as though he has the inside track on a bench or possibly even a platoon job with the Padres, who are nearing the end of the rebuild. While he doesn’t bring much in terms of tools, he’s long been a reliable option off of the bench and shouldn’t be very expensive to retain via arbitration. I would imagine his 2019 salary comes in between $700,000 and $900,000.
Another arbitration eligible player headed out of St. Louis via the waiver wire is reliever Matthew Bowman who will take his talents to Cincinnati. Bowman was a Rule V selection out of the Mets organization during the 2016 season and had been an integral part of the Cardinals’ bullpen during both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Unfortunately, due in part to excessive use by former Cardinals’ manager Mike Matheny, he dealt with some issues with injury and overall ineffectiveness throughout the 2018 season. While I would imagine his results down the line will be better than they were in 2018, simply based on the fact that opposing batters posted a .373 BABip against him, I certainly believe the 134 games and 126.1 innings over two seasons as a reliever may have an adverse effect on his future. My projections have him posting 4.43 ERA over 54.1 innings pitched in 2019.
Also joining Bowman in Cincinnati is the aforementioned catcher Juan Graterol, who was among the Twins’ roster casualties. Graterol has always been a defensive minded catcher who has strong contact ability, but struggles in terms of plate discipline and other offensive tools. My projections have him at .271/.296/.328 with a 3% walk rate over 31 games and 82 plate appearances. Nevertheless, based on range factor, he comes in at 7.72% above average for a catcher. Like Bowman, the 30-year old catcher is out of minor league options, but something to take into account for both of these players, is that the Reds’ have a habit of being considerably active on the waiver wire early in the offseason, and taking advantage of the December 2nd non-tender deadline to clear 40-man roster spots without having to expose guys to waivers, assuming they remain on the roster even that long. Going off of the past two seasons, 2016 saw the Reds claim Gabriel Guerrero less than a week before the December 2nd deadline, and proceed to non-tender and re-sign him the following day. The same thing happened with Kyle Crockett last season. Looking at all waiver acquisitions since the end of the 2016 season, the Reds have made 19 waiver claims, excluding the two most recent ones. Of those 19, nine were off of the 40-man roster in less than one week, five in a month, and one in two months. Scooter Gennett is the only player who is still on the roster, and otherwise, Nefi Ogando was only retained as long as he was simply due to the fact that he was on the 60-day disabled list, Lisalverto Bonilla served as a taxi guy for the majority of the 2017 season and Arismendy Alcantara was a utility guy for the majority of 2017.
Speaking of Reds’ roster casualties, they have already lost a pair of players on the waiver wire this season as reliever Austin Brice will head to the Angels and Brandon Dixon will join the Tigers. Austin Brice is an example of a high-octane taxi guy with good stuff while lacking consistency. He brings with him a nice fastball-slider combo, but the control can be considered to be hot and cold, while he has struggled with the long-ball, despite his typically high groundball rate. My projections have him at a 4.74 ERA over 35.1 innings pitched. The 26-year old is out of minor league options and will compete for a job in the Angels’ bullpen in 2019. Seeing as how the majority of the bullpen options in Anaheim are out of minor league options, it will be interesting to watch the competition.
I am rather high on Dixon based on his versatility and intriguing mix of speed and power. All told, the 27-year old utility guy has three minor league options remaining, the ability to play five positions, two of which (second and third) well-above average, and the potential for double-digit home runs and stolen bases. His biggest problem, however, comes from his lack of plate discipline. My projections have him hitting .232/.277/.417 over 83 games and 244 plate appearances. I also have him with eight home runs and seven stolen bases. This is an ideal landing spot for Dixon as the Tigers are still in the early stages of what appears likely to be a lengthy rebuild.
The Tigers have actually been quite busy thus far this offseason, as they also claimed lefty Jose Fernandez off of waivers from the Blue Jays while signing pitcher Jose Cisnero and re-signing Pete Kozma and Harold Castro to minor league deals with camp invites and Chace Numata to a standard minors deal.
Fernandez is a 26-year old lefty who made his major league debut in 2018. While his 6.10 ERA wasn’t good, it was a rather small sample size of 13 games. Fernandez can work in the mid-90’s, but has control issues, doesn’t induce many groundballs and surprisingly struggles with racking up strikeouts. He seems likely to serve as a taxi lefty. My projections have him at a 4.59 ERA over 26.2 innings pitched.
Both Castro and Kozma each spent the 2018 season in the Tigers organization. Castro is just 25-years old, and has only seen ten plate appearances in the majors. While he has shown defensive versatility, his glove isn’t great, and offensively, we’re looking at a speed first guy who never walks and doesn’t have much power to speak of. My projections have him slashing .238/.260/.301 over 72 games and 275 plate appearances. I would imagine he spends the majority of the season in Triple-A until injury strikes and they need versatility.
Kozma is essentially just an older, more experienced version of Castro, with the main exception that he is an above average fielder at a few of the many positions that he can play. I would imagine that the Tigers brought Castro in as a depth piece who could serve as an emergency call-up, but they brought Kozma in knowing exactly what they were getting, with the full intention to use him later in the season once the strain of a 162 game season begins showing among the young roster. I would imagine Kozma spends April through mid-June in Triple-A Toledo and spends the latter 60% of the season with the Tigers, whereas Castro looks like a September call-up.
Cisnero hasn’t appeared in the majors since 2014, or the affiliated minor leagues since 2015 and is now 29-years old. After spending 2016 in the Mexican League struggling to a 5.25 ERA, he stepped away from the game. I would imagine that his purpose is to eat up innings in Double-A Erie, with the potential to see some time in Toledo. I would imagine that Numata will be the guy behind the plate while Cisnero is on the mound in Erie. While he will be 26-years old in 2019, Numata slashed just .180/.222/.242 over 135 Double-A plate appearances.
The Tigers did lose Artie Lewicki on waivers to the Diamondbacks this offseason as well. Lewicki will miss the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery, but can be retained through 2020 if he is sent outright, which is my expectation. Lewicki, the 26-year old reliever has a four pitch mix including a plus fastball that sits in the mid-90’s, an average slider and curve as well as a fringe change. While he has mainly been used as a starter, I believe that he would play up in the bullpen based on his wide pitch arsenal. He joins the former first-round pick Shane Watson as a new Diamondbacks injury gamble. While he may not require an initial 40-man roster spot, Watson will miss the 2019 season as well, which prompted the Snakes to give him a two-year minor league deal. I mainly see him as depth, as he never really showed much in the minors.
The Diamondbacks lost minor league free agent Patrick Kivlehan, as the 29-year old joined the Pittsburgh Pirates on a minor league deal after spending 2018 between the Mets and Diamondbacks. Kivlehan is a sneaky player, as he has the build of a power hitter, and while he certainly has that, he’s a strong defensive player, namely in right field, and seeing as how he picked the game up later in life, has some more potential despite his age. My projections have him slashing .204/.280/.423 over 63 games. While the retention on Jung Ho Kang makes it difficult to imagine a scenario in which Kivlehan receives much time, he is certainly a serviceable bench guy.
Vasto, 27, is a left-handed reliever who can ride the low-to-mid 90’s with his fastball while throwing a plus slider and a nice change-up. He performed rather well in the Pacific Coast League in 2018, posting a 3.16 ERA with a 3.88 FIP, and while his major league numbers were a bit rough (8.31 ERA, 5.70 FIP), it was over a minuscule sample size of 4.1 innings pitched. My projections have him at a 4.28 ERA in 2019. I believe that he will serve as a left-handed taxi squad option for the Cubs assuming he remains on their 40-man roster. If he is sent outright, he can be retained by the Chicago Cubs through the 2020 season.
As for Field, the 27-year old outfielder has a decent speed and power mix, but has awful plate discipline and while he can play all three outfield positions, he only grades above average in right field. I would imagine Field will be used in a bench taxi capacity for the Cubs, as he comes with minor league options. My projections have him slashing .244/.293/.420 good for a slightly below league average .713 OPS to go along with eight home runs and six stolen bases over 71 games.
Reinheimer, the 26-year old infielder, is a prototypical utility infielder. While passable, the bat doesn’t bring a ton of value, as his average numbers are rather low when BABip is taken into account, and he lacks power. What he does bring to the table, however, is nice speed and strong plate discipline. My projections have the young, optionable infielder slashing .235/.308/.329 over 47 games. I would expect him to serve in a depth capacity based on the sheer volume of strong infielders already on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. He currently slots behind the starters: Ben Zobrist, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, the suspended Addison Russell, as well as reserves Tommy La Stella and David Bote.
The Rangers made a very shrewd buy-low acquisition in starting pitcher Drew Smyly. The Cubs motivation to trade the returning starter likely stemmed from the re-emergence of Cole Hamels and the cost of his club option. Smyly missed 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and is expected to return this season on a $7 million salary. Smyly has shown legitimate signs of becoming an excellent starter, but has had significant trouble with injuries, never having pitched more than 180 innings in a season. The 29-year old lefty brings with him a very nasty curve, a nice change-up and a cutter and has long been a control over velocity type guy, which makes a return from Tommy John seem more promising. Seeing as how the Rangers are in a rebuilding phase, Smyly, as a rental, could be a very solid trade chip this summer if he is able to return to form.
Catcher Jett Bandy will also be joining the Rangers, as he agreed to sign a minor league deal with an invitation to major league spring training earlier in the week. At the moment, the nearly 29-year old catcher seems likely to be the primary option in Triple-A while Jose Trevino and Isiah Kiner-Falefa see most of the reps in the major leagues. I, personally, don’t expect to see Bandy a ton in the 2019 season, as I would imagine that the Rangers will add a veteran catcher, following the departure of Robinson Chirinos. Bandy is solid defensively, and while he has shown the ability to hit for decent power, he lacks plate discipline and strikes out a lot. Bandy hit well in Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2018, but only walked 4.6% of the time, and seeing as how his .292/.353/.510 line was achieved in the obviously hitter friendly PCL, they should be taken with a grain of salt.
On player who will remain with the Brewers, however, is former first round pick Jake Hager. The 25-year old infielder joined the Brewers on a minor league contract and split the 2018 season between Double and Triple-A slashing a cumulative .284/.348/.472 with 11 home runs. While about a third of those plate appearances came in the Pacific Coast League, they came with a sustainable BABip and a rather uncharacteristically high walk percentage. He’s a guy who could be something of a revelation for the Brewers assuming he continues to play like he did in 2018.
The White Sox have been rather active as well in the early going as they have made a trade and a minor league signing over the first month of the offseason.
The more notable transaction occurred when the Sox sent third base prospect Justin Yurchak to the Dodgers in exchange for Manny Banuelos. This is actually a fascinating trade to analyze, as Banuelos was projected to become a minor league free agent, but was near certain to attract a significant amount of interest after an encouraging 2018 with the Dodgers’ organization. Some may forget that Banuelos was once a top 100 prospect with both the Yankees and the Braves organization just a few seasons ago, but saw his stock drop after a few poor seasons and injuries, but the lefty returned in a big way in 2018 posting a 3.73 ERA with a 3.96 FIP over 108.2 innings in the Pacific Coast League. Furthermore, opposing hitters posted a .349 BABip against him suggesting there was some level of misfortune as well. While his 3.48 BB/9 wasn’t anything special, it was more than serviceable when placed next to his insane 10.52 K/9. The Sox added Banuelos to their 40-man roster as they believe in his four pitch mix including a mid-90’s fastball, above average change and average slider and cutter. While he has some durability concerns based on his past injury history and slight build, I don’t believe it will pose too much of a problem for him. He looks to me like a four starter, and seems likely to be given every opportunity to make it with the Sox.
As for the return, Yurchak is a contact first bat with average power and good plate discipline. The 22-year old was a day three selection in the 2017 draft and seems to be about two years away. I’m not sure what his future major league role would be seeing as how he doesn’t have the prototypical power for a first baseman, nor does he have the defensive versatility necessary to serve in a utility capacity. I would be interested to see him move to a corner outfield spot, where the bat would fit a bit more, as the plate discipline is certainly good enough for him to make it as a bench bat.
Joining Banuelos with the White Sox is reliever Evan Marshall. The 28-year old righty spent 2018 with the Indians’ organization logging 24 innings in Triple-A and seven in the majors. His Triple-A showing was rather solid, as he posted a 1.13 ERA with a 2.50 FIP to go along with a rather sterling 66.2% groundball rate, a 1.13 BB/9 and a 0.38 HR/9. One thing to note, however, was that there was a good amount of good fortune that went into his performance, as opposing hitters posted a .254 BABip against him, and he left 81.6% of runners on base. Marshall picked a nice landing spot, as there are a few open spots in the Sox bullpen, and he could see some major league time. My projections have him posting a 4.79 ERA over 24.1 innings pitched.
Catcher Kevan Smith is on his way out of Chicago, as he heads to L.A. to join the Angels. The 30-year old catcher was actually very solid with the White Sox in 2018 slashing .292/.348/.380 with a sustainable .311 BABip and a very low 9.6 K%. While he brings with him some nice power and a great arm, his glove as a whole is below average. I fully expect to see Smith stick with the catcher needy Angels, as he is currently projected to serve as the starter with Jose Briceno backing him up. Even if the Angels make a move to bring in a more stable starter, he should play at least twice a week as the back-up. My projections have him slashing .268/.318/.385, and while the counting stats are set for a sample of 59 games, based on weighted average, his home run level adjusted to a 162 game sample size comes to 11.
Finally, the Mariners brought in a pair of guys: catcher Austin Nola on a minor league contract and infielder Dylan Moore on a major league contract. Nola, the brother of the Cy-Young candidate, has always reminded me of an older version of Tony Wolters, as he has always shown very nice plate discipline and defensive versatility, a quality that is rare for guys who are primarily catchers. He slashed .279/.370/.376 for the Marlins’ Triple-A affiliate in 2018, but I would take the average numbers with a grain of salt seeing as how he rode a rather high BABip and was in the Pacific Coast League. As it stands now, he’s currently slated to back up for David Freitas, but I fully expect that to change, and believe that he will be an option for the Mariners’ Triple-A organization.
Moore, who is received his first taste of Triple-A last season with the Brewers, brings with him an intriguing mix of power and speed. Interestingly enough, the only reason that Moore was even eligible for minor league free agency this offseason was because of the fact that the Braves released him following spring training. The 26-year old brings with him versatility, as he logged over 75 innings at each infield position while playing a bit of outfield as well. While he didn’t perform very well defensively in 2018, historically, his defensive numbers are above average at first, second and short while third is around average. While I wouldn’t bank on him being able to hit for as much power in the majors, based on the fact that a lot of that came from the PCL, his average numbers are supported by a sustainable BABip and his speed has been obvious at every level. While the plate discipline isn’t great, it certainly works, and I expect to see him log a significant amount of time in the majors this season.
For one last parting shot, the Chiba Lotte Marines agreed to sign first baseman Kennys Vargas to a one year deal worth $1.5 million. Vargas has long been considered a strong candidate to head overseas, and it’s nice to see him get paid despite not being given much of a shot by the Twins over his career. While he didn’t do much in Triple-A during 2018, I would have certainly given him a shot when he was waived prior to the season.